Simply Grateful Gardener

Gardening To Fill The Pantry!


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Corn Catastrophe

Back in May when I planted corn in my garden for the first time, I had high hopes of eating fresh ears right off the stalk. As the corn began to grow,

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I kept a watchful eye on its progress,

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not really knowing what I was looking for,

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just that I was thrilled my stalks had ears of corn growing on them.

By July the stalks hadn’t really grown as tall as I’d hoped,

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but attributed this to the fact that corn drains all the minerals from the soil and seeing as I hadn’t planted the corn in compost or manure, their stunted growth was not something I could really do anything about. Even so, the ears of corn continued to grow, albeit a bit smaller than what we were used to seeing at the farmer’s markets.

Then came August and Hubby asked me how the corn was doing.

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I told him I thought it was fine, but really had no idea how to tell if it was ready. We headed out to the garden and pulled a few ears off the stalks and they were beautiful. Thrilled that the corn appeared to be ready, I put them in the microwave, as this is our preferred method of cooking corn on the cob, and cooked it for 5 minutes. After turning it, and cooking for an additional 3 minutes, it was time to taste our first ever home-grown corn.

It was not at all what I expected. Although sweet, it was chewy, almost gummy. I was devastated. What had I done wrong? Why was it so awful?

Hubby choked it down, unsuccessfully trying to convince me that it wasn’t “that bad.” Gotta love him.

Once I’d cleaned up the dinner dishes, I went straight to the computer to find out what had happened. Well, turns out that there is apparently a very small window of opportunity for picking corn and if you miss that window, the corn gets old and chewy right there on the stalk. Go figure. I had no idea it was temperamental or that waiting too long would ruin an entire crop.

Not wanting to waste the corn I had, I researched other ways to use corn, especially old, over-ripe corn. What I found was the perfect solution — homemade cornmeal.

Seeing as I had left the corn on the stalks all through July and August, leaving it on another month or so surely wouldn’t hurt. This way the corn would dry enough for me to harvest it and jar it for grinding into cornmeal at a later time. Which is exactly what I did. I harvested the corn in late September.

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To be sure that the corn was dry enough though, I decided to let it sit in my dehydrater overnight.

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Once dry, I jarred it until ready to put through my coffee mill.  A coffee mill is the best way to grind corn or any dried vegetable for that matter.

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First add the corn to the coffee mill.

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Then on a medium setting, grind the corn into a fairly fine meal.

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Return the meal to the coffee mill and run it through again on the finest setting.

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And Viola! fresh homegrown cornmeal.

Half a pint of kernels yielded nearly a full pint of cornmeal.

Half a pint of kernels yielded nearly a full pint of cornmeal.

What could have been a complete loss, turned out to be a great mistake. Hubby loves cornbread and we all love cornmeal crusted pork or chicken. I had never thought about making my own cornmeal until this happened, but tell you what, I’ll never think about buying it again.

Next year I plan on planting twice as much corn as I did this year. It will be planted in compost or manure and we will harvest it as soon as the ears of corn feel full. I’ll test it often until it is perfect. Then, when we’ve eaten to our hearts content and I’ve frozen what we’ll eat through the winter, I will leave the corn on the stalks until they are dry and harvest them for cornmeal.

Nothing goes to waste, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Summer In The Pepper Mines

Being fairly new to the pepper growing aspect of gardening, I truly had no idea how many pepper plants to plant this year in order to yield enough peppers for canning, eating and cooking for one season. I knew I wanted enough peppers to can at least one quart for every month for the next year, but depending on the size of the peppers, the amount would vary.

Two years ago I tried growing a few bell pepper plants with no success. Last year I planted only four pepper plants – two jalapeno and two green chili. Both yielded an unbelievable amount of peppers. I still have enough pickled jalapenos on the pantry shelves from last year for another year and the green chilies will get us through at least the fall and part of the winter.

Learning that two peppers plants could yield so much, I was still not convinced that I would have that sort of luck in growing the white bell peppers I wanted this year. With one unsuccessful attempt and one successful attempt at pepper growing, this year I decided to plant a lot of plants, to stack the deck if you will, in my favor. Plus, I put plants in two separate areas around the house to see which area was more conducive to pepper growing.

White bells are not sweet like a yellow, red, or orange bell. These peppers tend to be somewhat more mild with a touch of bitterness. I would use them in place of green pepper on tacos sooner than I would use them in place of any sweet pepper. These peppers are the ones I uses for pickling and what Hubby loves to eat raw all summer with dinner.

In the spring I planted a total of 40 white pepper plants – a combination of Szegedi, White Cloud, and Romanian peppers in cups April 1st. They sprouted April 11th and went into the ground outside sometime in early June. Twenty-five plants went in the back garden and fifteen went up front right next to the front porch.

For just about a month I watched as my plants seemed to stall and linger in a state of limbo, not growing much at all. Then at the beginning of July they just seemed to take off. July 19th I picked my first pepper and was absolutely thrilled with all the flowers and tiny peppers on the plants. Immediately I began to dream of canning peppers and filling the pantry shelves. Check out my instructions and recipe for pickled peppers on Simply Grateful Canning – Pickling Peppers.

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Well, you know the old saying “Be careful what you wish for?” Yeah, I am never going to forget this old adage, that’s for sure.

For three months I have harvested peppers. Some weeks I’d only get a few (pretty much all of July) but then starting the beginning of August, the peppers really started to come in. Every week I was canning peppers, sometimes twice a week. I would harvest 60 peppers at the beginning of the week and within a few days there were more to pick. I felt like I was a slave to the pepper mines.

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Last week, the first week in October I harvested the most ever in one picking – 225 peppers, bringing the total peppers picked for this year to 921. I am beginning to wonder if perhaps, just maybe, now I’m not absolutely certain, but it is possible, I planted just a few too many plants. I say this because although I practically cleaned every pepper off the plants regardless of how big they were last week, there are still flowers and tiny peppers just beginning to grow. If left to produce all fall, I bet I’d top the 1000 mark for peppers this year with no problem.

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At first, as the peppers began piling up and the pickling process began, I was thrilled. By mid-August I already had my 12 quarts of pickled peppers (enough for one a month for the next year) and thought I could relax. That was short-lived. As the peppers continued to come in and I continued to pickle them, it became clear that I really didn’t need this many peppers. Hubby even made comments like “Who’s going to eat all these peppers?” and “Do we really need this many jars of pickled peppers?”

This is what the pepper garden looks like this morning.

This is what the pepper garden looks like this morning.

No, no we do not. But I couldn’t even give enough of the peppers away to make a dent in the harvesting. After wallowing in self-pity for a few days while continuing to can though, I had an epiphany. Canning this many white bells in one year would free up next year and possibly even the following one to concentrate my pepper growing to other varieties of peppers. Thus, a plan emerged.

With the pantry shelves overflowing with pickled peppers, more than enough for at least two years, more likely three, next year I will concentrate on growing green chilies and red & yellow bells. My goal will be to grow enough to can green chilies for two to three years and freeze enough roasted red and raw yellow bells for at least two years. Then the following year I can grow jalapeno, green bells, and red chili peppers.

Rotating crops every three years will give me a break from canning the same thing every year. — The Silver Lining!

So, the question is: Did I plant too many pepper plants?

The answer: If I didn’t can the peppers and they weren’t something that we definitely enjoy all year-long, then yes. But seeing as this is a staple in our refrigerator and something that will not go to waste, absolutely not.

I do have to note here that the peppers in the back garden, yielded about 90% of the 900+ peppers that have been picked. Next year I will find a different crop to plant up front, rather than waste the space on peppers. Perhaps tomatoes or beans will do better there.

As for this year, I’d have to say my pepper crop was definitely a success. I survived three months in the pepper mines, have more than 40 quarts of pickled peppers in the pantry, and for this I am (albeit exhausted) — Simply Grateful.