Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

Harvesting SunflowersCaden’s sunflower seeds were ready to harvest, so I had his mom and dad (my son) bring him over to cut the heads off the stalks.  The sunflower plants were more than twice his size, so he cut the stalk in half first, then cut the stalk closer to the head of the actual sunflower.  We set them in an open paper bag outside to finish drying.  Harvesting Sunflowers

I also cut down the four sunflowers that I had growing.  The largest head turned out to be 15″ across!  These were the Mammoth Sunflower Seeds I was given for free from Barra Vineyards in Mendocino County.  I can still taste their Moscato ……..mmmmmmmm

Anyway, I also put these sunflowers in a paper bag to dry a few more days.  From what I have read, it is very important to thoroughly dry the sunflower heads by keeping them in a warm, dry place (outside in an open paper bag), turning them over once or twice a day, until the seeds start to fall out by themselves. The last thing you want is for the seed heads to start molding!Harvesting sunflower seeds

Once I could tell the seeds were dry, I sat in front of the TV one evening and literally rubbed over the seeds with the palm of my hand and they just fell out of the seed head. It was this easy because once the seeds are dry they shrink just a little and the head releases them.  I did have to pick out just a few, but not many.  The seeds were all placed in a colander so they could dry on the kitchen counter just a bit more for a couple of days, giving the seeds a quick stir every time I passed by.  I left the center of each head intact because those seeds were pretty small, and I figured the birds would benefit from them more than I would, so I gave them to Caden to place on the bird feeder in his backyard.

Soaking sunflower seeds

I had to put a pie plate over the seeds soaking in the salt water so the seeds would stay submerged.

I tasted a couple of the seeds and they were pretty good raw, but I decided to roast them with some salt because that is the way my dear hubby likes them.  I found some simple directions on the National Sunflower Association‘s website on how to salt and roast the seeds.  I soaked the seeds overnight in two quarts of water with 1/2 cup of sea salt, as directed, then roasted them at 300 degrees for about 30 minutes the next day.

We had a lot of seeds and I didn’t want them to go bad before we could eat them all, so I decided the best thing I could do with all those seeds was to share them!  I thought it might be fun for Caden to give away two bags of the roasted, salted seeds – one to Ms. Stewart, his 1st Grade Teacher last year, and the other to his dad for his birthday. It was in Ms. Stewart’s class that Caden first planted his sunflower seeds, that we later transplanted into my garden.  You can see those poor, sun starved seedlings HERE.  Those spindly plants survived thrived in my backyard garden, growing two decent sized seed heads!   Harvesting and Processing Sunflower Seeds

To present the seeds, I thought it would be fun to make a label that could then be attached onto the front of a closable sandwich baggie.  I used the computer to print “Caden’s Sunflower Seeds”  and underneath “Roasted and Salted” (see below), overlaying his picture, essentially making a custom label!  The label was printed on paper that is sticky on one side.  All Caden had to do was to stick the label onto the sandwich baggie and then fill the baggie with the roasted and salted sunflower seeds.  This was a fun way to finalize his experience growing sunflower seeds.  I think Caden is proud of his final product and I hope Ms. Stewart likes her gift!  I know his dad will.Harvesting and Preparing Sunflower seeds

Hmmmmm…… This was a such a fun project for me and my grandson, perhaps we can do something similar with pumpkin seeds next month!

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Murder, Rats and Almonds

I had a murder in my backyard.  A murder of crows.  That’s what good old Webster’s calls a group of crows – like a litter of puppies, a pod of whales, a pride of lions – a murder of crows.  Why do I have so many crows?  Because the rats are finally gone.

Whaaat???? Rats???!!!   To make a long story short:Harvesting almonds

When we had our house built many moons ago there was a prune orchard and an old barn in the large lot behind us.  Along with some owls, the old barn must have also had rats.  We didn’t know the barn had rats until a new street went in through the prune orchard and a house was built right behind us.  Our new backdoor neighbor had a large dog that they fed kibble – outside!  Well, once the old barn was burned down (on purpose?), the owls and the rats had to find a new home elsewhere.  You know that old saying “when the owl is away the rats will play” (or something like that) – you guessed it – without the owls keeping the rat population in check, the rats were free to move over to our neighbors and started eating the dog kibble.  Apparently the rats took up residence in some large bushes near the dog bowl, and while the kibble was their main source of nutrition, they began to branch out their tastes to other things – like our almonds.

Harvesting almonds

The pool deck under the almond tree is littered with almond shells and husks!

We first noticed this a couple of years ago when hubby and I were taking in a late evening swim.  We may or may not have had our bathing suits on  😉  but we heard some rustling in the almond tree and were alerted to the fact that we weren’t alone!  Oh my.  But then we saw the silhouettes of several rats running up and down the branches of the tree!  A lightbulb literally went on inside our heads!  Oh!  So that’s why we had so many nut shells and no nuts these past couple of years!  Seriously – those rats cleaned out the tree!  The next year, after they again cleaned the almond tree, we started realizing the bite marks in our apples weren’t from birds, but probably from the rats!  EEEeeeewwwwwwwwwww………..  We decided last year that we had to do something. We didn’t want the rats to take over all of our fruits and nuts, nor did we want them to take up residence in our house!  First, we tried a live animal trap. Let me tell you, they aren’t cheap, and for rats at least, they don’t work. Our rats must have been from NIMH (a great animated movie about smart rats), because they didn’t even go near the trap!

Harvesting almonds

Our beautiful cat, Shadow, in the orange tree – not the almond tree!

We were nervous about putting out poisons because there are so many cats in our neighborhood, including our own, but we found a simple device that allowed rats inside to eat an organic cake poison, but didn’t allow cats or birds access because of the design. I don’t know about you, but doesn’t organic and poison seem odd in the same sentence?  Anyhow – Bingo!  It must have worked because this year we haven’t seen any rats.

Almond harvest

The rat poison must have worked because we still have a few almonds left in the tree!

And speaking of cats – aren’t they supposed to eat rats?  Are the cats in our neighborhood so spoiled by store bought food that they won’t chase after their natural food?  Seriously?

So, now that the rats are gone and the almonds were ripe for the picking, the crows moved in.  Ummm – great.  Almond harvest

So, like I said, I was able to harvest (ahem steal from the crows) some of the almonds this year, and they sure are good!  We were told years ago when we realized we had a volunteer almond tree in our backyard, that almond trees must be grafted or the nuts will be very bitter and not edible.  Not true!  Our tree produces wonderful, crunchy, sweet nuts!  No wonder the rats and crows like them!

Almond harvest

One episode of X-Factor and this is what I accomplished!

I sat in front of the TV one evening to shell out the nuts, and after about an hour, I had four cups of raw nut meats.  Now, what to do with them?   EAT!!!!!

Thank you for your comments and questions!  I try to answer each one, so please, feel free to leave one below!

 

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Flash Freeze Green Beans

Lately my McCaslan 42 pole beans have been producing a lot.  A whole lot.  The Bumblebees have been doing a great job of pollinating.  I have had to harvest the beans about every other day, because if I don’t the bean pods get huge and ugly and lumpy and bumpy and stringy and mealy and…….. well, you get the picture! How to freeze green beans

Warning:  green bean leaves can make your arms itchy and rashy because of the serration on the leaves!  I found this out the hard way.  During my first harvest, as I was plunging my arms into the foliage over and over again to harvest the beans, my arms started to get a bit itchy.  By the time I had filled a large bowl full, it felt like I had a thousand needles pricking my arms, and as I looked at the tender insides of my forearms, I could see a serious red rash appearing right before my eyes!  Some Benadryl and calamine lotion helped, but it took the better part of an hour to get the intense itching to stop!  Who knew?  I certainly didn’t.  So, now I just harvest with a long sleeve shirt on.  Problem solved.

Once I had my beans harvested, I had to figure out what to do with them:  freeze or can.  I do have a pressure cooker, but I don’t think it is made to be a pressure canner because it does not have a gauge on it – only a weight for 5, 10, or 15 pounds of pressure.  So, that means I will need to go out and buy a pressure canner.  In the meantime, I decided to flash freeze the beans.  Why don’t I just use my Sucky Machine (aka Food Saver) and freeze the beans in those convenient freezer bags?  Simply because I want to be able to pour out as many beans as I want, instead of having to estimate the amount of beans to pack in each bag for future meals.  By flash freezing the beans, each bean is frozen individually.  Once frozen they can be packed into one freezer safe storage bag (I double bag mine) and in the future I can pour out as much or little as I want!  Convenient!

There are probably as many methods out there to freeze vegetables as there are paint colors at Lowe’s or Home Depot, but I thought I would share with you how I do it!

Pick your beans in the morning. How to freeze green beans  Not only is it more pleasant for you, as some summer days can have brutal heat, but the beans will actually have a bit more turgor (kind of like water pressure within the plant), making them stay plump for a longer time without going limp. This is when I put my air insulated cookie sheets into the freezer to “pre-chill” them.  Rinse the beans with cool water to get off any dust, old blossoms or insects.

How to freeze green beans Next you can either snap them (which helps to get any strings out, if they have developed) or cut them into pieces.  While I am cutting the beans, I also sort them by thickness – thin ones into one bowl and thick ones into another.  If you want to look professional you can certainly attempt to cut them all in about the same length pieces, but instead I tend to cut them between the bumps (seeds), so the seeds stay in the bean during the processing.  I know it’s not as pretty, but I’m kind of weird that way.   😉   Once all of the beans are cut it’s time to blanch them.  Why do we blanch the beans?  Because there are enzymes within every vegetable working to break them down, reducing the amount of vitamin C, turning starch to sugar, etc., and while freezing slows down this process, heat stops it. How to freeze green beans So, if you want to have the flavor of “just picked” green beans in the winter, you must blanch.  Bring a large pot of water (about one gallon of water to one pound of beans) to boil.  You can salt the water if you prefer, but it isn’t necessary.  Once the water is boiling at a good pace, drop in you beans and start timing.  This is where size of bean matters and why I separate the skinny ones from the fat ones – blanch the fat ones for about four minutes and the skinny ones for about three.  As soon as the beans have been blanched their allotted time, plunge them into ice water. How to freeze green beans  It is absolutely imperative that the water be cold!  Very cold!  You have to stop those beans from cooking ASAP or they will over-cook and get mushy and lose a lot of nutrients.  They also need to be cold before you put them in the freezer, so that they freeze faster, which is our next step.  Drain the beans into a colander and then pour the beans into a bowl that has been lined with a very absorbent dish cloth or paper towels and shake for a second or two to get a lot of the water off the beans. How to flash freeze green beans This is when I get those previously frozen air-insulated cookie sheets out of the freezer, place a sheet of parchment paper on top, then quickly spread out the beans on the parchment.  As fast as you can, get them into the freezer!  Once the beans are in the freezer, mine are pretty much frozen within 15 to 20 minutes or so.  I guess the length of time it takes to freeze your beans will depend on how cold they were to begin with, how many you have, and how cold your freezer is.  Once you do this a couple of times you will know how long it takes to freeze them.  Since I do this every other day or so in fairly small batches (about a pound or two at a time), then mine freeze pretty fast.  Once you get the hang of it, this whole process doesn’t take long to do and is a great way to preserve all of that fresh green bean goodness for the winter.  When the beans are completely How to flash freeze green beansfrozen (they snap apart when you bend them), all you have to do is pour them into a gallon sized freezer safe bag!  It is so convenient to be able to pour out the amount you want and not have them all stuck and clumped together!  Just make sure you put the bag right back into a fairly cold part of your freezer, preferably not on the door, because if they begin to thaw and then refreeze, the beans will form a big, nasty, cement hard clump!  Regrettably, I’ve seen the clump before, and it’s not pretty.   😉

 

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Black Turtle Beans

For my practice garden I wanted to try growing things I have never grown before, and one crop I wanted to try was beans – the kind you use dried.  Years ago I grew green beans in our backyard – the common pole bean – which just about everyone tries at one time or another.  But I had never grown beans that would be used dried.

So, this past winter when I ordered our Worm Farm from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, I was offered 5 free seed packets because my order was over $100.  One of the seed packets I purchased was the Black Turtle bean.  I think I ordered this variety partly because I liked the name.  🙂Black Turtle Beans

It was a bit difficult getting them to germinate.  I guess the soil wasn’t warm enough when I first planted them and some that did germinate got uprooted by our neighborhood cats.  Eventually I had a total of 7 plants;  four on one hill and three on the other.  Their blooms are a purple-pink color, absolutely beautiful!  When the bumble bees started visiting the blossoms I knew we would have a good crop.

The package said that the plants would get 18-24 inches tall and they were a bush type.  Well, ours got a bit taller.  We decided to give them a trellis to climb on, which turned out to be a good thing because it was then easier to see the bean pods and kept them off the ground.  The package also said that since they were a bush type, that all the beans would produce their fruit over a few weeks’ time and to leave the pods on the plant until they had completely dried.  Well, I have been harvesting dried pods for a couple of weeks now and the plants are still flowering!  It looks like they are behaving more like the tried and true string bean type plants in that the more of them I harvest, the more blossoms the plant puts on! Flowering Black Turtle Beans

I have harvested a handful of dried pods every few days for the past two weeks and so far, from the 7 plants, I have 7-1/2 ounces of the shelled black beans, or almost exactly 1 cup. A quick assessment of the plants and developing pods reveals that I will harvest at least twice as much, if not more, than I already have. Not bad for just 7 plants!   7-1/2 ounces of black turtle beans

I know, I know.  Many of you will say that I could go down to the local grocery store and buy a pound of black beans for a dollar, and that’s true.  But at least I know where my beans came from.  They are heirloom and non-GMO.  And mine were grown completely without pesticides or harsh chemical fertilizers!  Can you say that for the store bought variety?  Besides, separating the beans from the pods is a very cathartic activity.  Separating the black turtle beans from their pods

So, will I grow these Black Turtle beans again?  You bet I will!  Only next time I will grow a lot more, planting them in succession as the seed packet suggests.

 

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