Archive for category The Frugal Yard & Garden
These days, it seems difficult to begin any article without pointing out that spring is at our door. Yet as I write this, today, it snows and snows and snows. Just 24 hours ago, the ground was nearly bare and we could be walking on grass again by Friday. Everything is possible.
Maybe stating that spring is here is a personal reminder for all of us. We do this instinctively, as if we could hear our internal clock urging us to get busy. So many projects await in the garden shed, in the yard and the kitchen. Here in the northeast, gardens are merely a thought at this time, yet we are already planning canning projects. Apple season is even further down the road, but the arrival of spring brings fresh energy and we will be busy preparing, repairing and cleaning equipment so that all is in order well before it is needed.
Yesterday, I shared a great picture of an antique cider press on our Facebook page. This reminded me that preparing the cider press for the new season will be on many to-do lists this spring, so I thought I’d review a few frequently asked questions about cider and fruit presses.
1- Why is there a grinder? Won’t the press itself do the grinding? The press alone compresses the fruit to extract its juices. The grinder’s purpose is to turn your fruit to the right consistency for maximum juice with minimum effort, because small pieces mean there is less resistance to compression. It makes the pressing process efficient and fast. Chopped fruit offers more exposed flesh, which increases juice flow. Without a grinder, you would have to pre-chop your apples (or other fruit) for optimal results. Can you imagine doing that, bushel after bushel?
2- What is the best way to clean a cider press thoroughly? As with any tool, appliance or implement that is used to process food, proper cleaning is vital. A dirty cider press puts you at risk for food-borne illness. To clean your press adequately, you will need a hose, hot water, a clean sponge, mild soap and chlorine bleach. First, rinse the cider press down with the hose. This will remove any food particles. After this, you must still clean the cider press thoroughly with warm water and soap. Water pressure alone will not suffice.
Disassemble the cider press and thoroughly wash each component by hand with hot, soapy water. This will discourage bacterial growth. When this is done, rinse all parts with the hose. Next, rinse again, using a sanitizing solution made of 2 ounces of chlorine bleach and 10 gallons of water. When this is done, rinse twice with the hose, to ensure all sanitizing solution is removed. Allow to dry completely before re-assembling.
Disassembling your fruit or cider press to clean it thoroughly also gives you an opportunity to inspect all of its components and make sure everything is in good order. Cider presses are extremely well built pieces of equipment, but they have moving parts and this means normal wear and tear over time.
3- Are pressing bags really necessary? Pressing bags allow you to get more juice out of your fruit. They help contain the pulp within the pressing barrel while allowing juices to flow out.
If you are not yet familiar with cider presses, the pressing bag is inserted in the barrel with its opening folded over the sides. Apples (or other fruit) fall into the barrel from the grinder. When the barrel is filled to desired volume, a plug (pressing cover) is fitted to the mechanism above it. As pressure is applied, pulp, seeds and skins remain in the barrel, within the pressing bag, and the juice filters through in perfect drinking consistency. Without the pressing bags, you would get very chunky cider and pressing would be inefficient since the pieces of fruit could escape through the slats of the barrel. Pressing bags are reusable, of course.
4- Do I have to seal the wood on my cider press? How do I do this so it does not end up in the cider? The barrel and all wooden parts of your cider or wine-press should be sealed so that moisture does not damage the wood. This also prevents mold from forming. To this end, be sure to use a non-toxic, food-grade polyurethane. We have used and recommended the EZ-DO Polyurethane Gel for many years with all of our fruit and wine presses. It is an FDA approved, food safe product. Ordinary lacquer or varnish seal wood, but are not food safe and do not have the durability of a specifically designed product like the EZ-DO gel.
The next question is for you to answer: What wonderful wine or cider concoction will you be making this year?
Lately, I’ve been getting sidetracked browsing the internet for images of rooftop and balcony gardens. It must be spring. There is something about the angular architecture and business of the urban landscape and the flamboyant, free-spirited flow of the lush terrace garden that I find reassuring. It says something powerful and poetic about nature’s persistence.
While many leave the city to establish homesteads, farms and gardens in the country, many others enjoy the urban lifestyle and choose to find ways to incorporate nature, even sustainability, within the confines of apartment balconies and condo rooftops; proving, quite naturally, that this is not an all-or-nothing world at all.
Gardening is not just for the countryside or suburban backyard, nor is it limited in any way. We grow flowers in pots all the time, don’t we? All that is required are a few proper ingredients, tender care and dedication. This last condition turns out to be quite effortless, for the moment we begin a relationship with a garden, no matter how large or small, it is natural to feel a sense of devotion.
By proper ingredients I also mean proper equipment. A small space can yield an interesting crop. For those who are completely new to gardening, it makes sense to start with a proven system and well spelled-out instructions.
Take the UrBin Growing Kit, for example. It provides endless organic vegetables by facilitating growth through a mixture of the Square Foot Gardening method, all natural soil amendments, and a unique self-watering reservoir. This is good for the gardener with a hectic schedule who forgets to water the plants once in a while (ho! Gosh!), but it also ensures consistent and optimal moisture for your crop. This clever system includes seed trays, for those who wish to start from scratch, but seedlings from a trusted supplier can be used as well.
One of the great advantages of the container gardening method is that it diminishes the incidence of plant disease. Also, when the plants remain healthy, you can reuse the same soil mix for subsequent crops by top-dressing it with a bit of compost. This contributes to a very healthy environment for the plants since, over time, the soil mixture builds up beneficial microbes that contribute to highly efficient nutrient absorption.
With a well-designed growing kit, it is easy to get the children involved with gardening. You know how they love scientific exploration games they have to put together and that allow them to see results over time. Container gardening offers plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning and quality family time.
I love clever systems that use little space and lots of common sense, and that save money and contribute to a wholesome lifestyle on top of this. Simplicity is always in season, after all. I’ve even heard of people who move their UrBin Grower indoors in winter to grow different varieties of edible plants, such as herbs. I think they’re hooked!
Picture this: Sicily, 1934. A young peasant girl walks in the garden… Oops! Wrong show. Don’t you love the Golden Girls? But I digress.
Picture this: It is a beautiful spring morning. Birds are everywhere. The sun rises above the mountain and soon turns spider webs in the field, below the house, into luminescent dream catchers. It is one of those spring mornings when all concerns, no matter how heavily they had weighed on your heart, seem insignificant.
From the window, I can see our first garden; a long, rectangular patch with sunflowers and corn at one end and strawberries at the other. It was a spur of the moment decision. We bought random seeds, tilled a patch, gave each variety of seed its own small territory within the garden, watered them and waited. It did not take long.
This was nearly 20 years ago. I grew up with a garden; a very well-tended and, I must say, esthetically beautiful garden. My father had taken great pains to design it so it would provide sustenance, but also very distinct beauty. I was very young then, but remember the taste of fresh string beans, straight from the garden, unwashed. Can you imagine? Unwashed, in the 1960′s, when the first defense against pest was chemicals.
20 years later, my husband at the time and I planted our first garden without so much as a gardening catalog for guidance. We were both Aries and each one of us as stubborn as two rams. On that morning, as I looked out the window at our first crop, I realized we needed to learn a trick or two.
My husband had installed a net over the strawberries, to discourage birds from stealing them. I personally did not mind sharing, but I could see his point that it was discouraging to lose our entire crop, even to beautiful winged creatures. That morning, however, I noticed something fluttering on the ground, at the base of the netting. I ran out.
A small crow had its leg tangled up in the net and was trying, in vain, to fly free. I rushed back to the house to get a small pair of very finely pointed scissors. I had no idea how I would manage to free the bird without risking having my hand shredded to pieces, but this did not matter. I could always go to the hospital; the bird did not have that luxury.
I took a moment to speak to it softly. What I actually did was to explain what I was about to do. I reasoned that it did not matter that the bird did not understand my words, just calmly stating the facts would calm us both; and it did. Soon, I was able to hold it still, allowing it to see my face the entire time so it could at least, maybe, get from my expression that I was not a predator. I managed to free it without a scratch to its legs and without it so much as attempting to poke at me. When it flew away, I sat there and cried.
I cried because our ignorance had caused an innocent creature to experience fear for its life, and I cried because of how it had trusted me in a moment of utter vulnerability.
We humans go to great lengths to protect our possessions, we even invent poisons to this end, until we realize that maybe there is a better, healthier way. It is, well, only human to want to care for our things and when those things are produce that provide sustenance, protecting them is the smart, logical and natural thing to do. What matters is the method. Had we used a proper row cover, the bird would not have been able to take our berries and would not have become tangled up in a flimsy net.
I suspect that my father, years ago, might not have used row covers in a suburban garden that was visible to neighbors. “How unsightly!” he might have thought. But that was then. Gardening is a balancing act and row covers are part of the landscape, an elegantly efficient part in fact.
Row covers protect seedlings and small, low-to-the-ground plants from intruders of all shapes and sizes, they can extend the growing season and they prevent possible intruders from getting hurt. They also save money. Install once; no need for refills!
As I think back on the view of my garden from a second floor window, years ago, I imagine how it would have looked with a few row covers. Frankly, I find the linear, rounded tunnels add perspective to the garden. And we could have planted an entire, uncovered section just for the birds.