Thursday, June 29, 2023

"Two to three hours in a water bath will do anything"

Okay, confession time: I just "lost it" on a blog reader. Forgive me as I rant a bit.

Eleven years ago, I put up a post called "The Invincible Canner" which chronicled my canning education, specifically how I got knocked off the self-built "invincible canner" pedestal I had put myself on, and learned some humility. Go on, go read that post. I'll wait.

Now that you're back, you may have noticed that post received a lot of comments – nearly 100. It was a lively discussion from many people interested in canning, both newbies and experienced.

And it's still getting comments. One came in yesterday afternoon as follows:

"I find this all so funny since the Amish have never used pressure canners, but can meat, milk, eggs and pasta all with water bath canners! Cleanliness and two to three hours in a water bath will do anything. I've been doing it myself as well. Haven't lost anyone to botulism yet!"

And I confess ... I lost it. No matter how much you try to educate someone about something as critical as food safety, they'll still dismiss it – tra la la – as immaterial. "Two to three hours in a water bath will do anything." NO IT WON'T. But I guess this person thinks they're special and the laws of science don't apply to them.

"Just let it go," Don suggested when I read the comment out loud to him. But I can't. I simply cannot stand by and watch someone promote something as unsafe as water-bath canning low-acid foods.

So I replied. Here's what I wrote:

"Well, if you're going to completely disregard the proven science behind canning, I suppose there isn't a lot I can do to change your mind. It's like driving without a seat belt; most of the time you'll be fine ... until you're not. Personally I don't want to play Russian roulette with the safety of my canned food, so I'll continue to follow USDA guidelines for safe canning procedures."Oh, regarding the Amish: A few years ago, my daughter and I were in Pennsylvania and visited a place called Kettle Kitchen Village which sold tons of Amish-canned foods. I saw many Amish women working in the kitchen facility, preparing the various commodities for canning. The food was all canned safely in pressure canners because they would not have been able to sell to the public otherwise. Do you really think they could have gotten away with canning those food products in a water bath? Of course not, BECAUSE IT'S NOT SAFE."Yes, many Amish can low-acid foods in water baths in their home kitchens. My admiration for the Amish is second to none, but that doesn't mean it's a safe practice. Even two to three hours in a water bath won't kill botulism spores. It’s not the length of time that matters; it's also the temperature. Botulism spores aren't killed at 212F; they require temperatures of 240-250F, which can only be achieved in a high-pressure environment."Good luck with your canning; you're going to need it."

I'm sorry if I came across as snarky ... but honestly, what else could I do? Let it go? It was clear this person had read all the comments and still came away unconvinced about the need for a pressure canner.

Some people are unteachable. I doubt my snark will make a difference, but at least I tried.

Okay, rant over.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

New (to me) flower

I'm not normally stopped in my tracks by a flower I've never seen before, but it just happened yesterday. I may not be able to identify every wildflower around here, you understand, but at least I can recognize almost everything (if that makes sense).

But yesterday morning while walking Mr. Darcy back home, I took our lower driveway and saw a flowering plant growing straight out of a gravel pile. Somehow I hadn't noticed it earlier, and I had never seen this plant before. The flowers were a fiddleneck style, similar to the lacy phacelia we used to plant in our old garden as a rich nectar source for our honeybees.

But these flowers were white, not purple like lacy phacelia. What could it be? I scoured my flower books and couldn't identify it.

Finally Older Daughter looked it up on a flower-identifying gizmo on her phone, and correctly identified it: Shade phacelia (Phacelia nemoralis), a native perennial. Well, what do you know. No wonder it resembled lacy phacelia. I've literally never seen these growing in the wild, much less thriving straight out of a gravel pile.

Online sources say it "prefers moist slopes, stream banks, and mixed evergreen or coniferous forests." A gravel pile is the last place I expected such a plant, but there's no question it's large and beautiful.

I sincerely hope this flower spreads (I may harvest the seeds and help it along).    

Not only is it native, but it's also a nitrogen fixer and an enormous attractant to pollinators because of its rich nectar. Woot!

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

So. Much. Packaging

Older Daughter needed some 1/8-inch brass rod, which she uses as a "hinge" in making lidded tankards. This rod comes in various diameters and is three feet in length. It's hard to find locally, so she thought she'd try ordering some online and see if the product meets her standards.

So she got on Lowe's and ordered a sampling of two rods. I'm sorry this photo came out blurry, but it lets you see the diameter – 1/8-inch across.

Here's the full three-foot length of a rod. Skinny, no?

To her surprise and dismay, the rod was delivered in an enormous box packed with enormous amounts of air-filled plastic padding (to pad a non-breakable brass rod!). Even worse, all that packaging was for one rod; of the two sample rods she ordered, they had to back-order one of them. (You can see the rod laid across the box.)

The next day she received the single back-ordered brass rod, more sensibly packaged in a flattened box with no plastic wrap.

That is so much packaging for just two skinny pieces of brass rod.

She says she's going to have to figure out something else, because this degree of ridiculous waste is unacceptable.....

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Pastor: A love story (the sequel)

Back in March of 2022, I put up a post called "Pastor: A Love Story" which chronicled how our pastor met the woman who was to become his wife.

The wedding happened last September, and Mrs. Pastor has become a beloved member of the congregation. She's also a writer (unpublished) so we have a lot in common.

Last week – on Father's Day – the pastor concluded the service and then made the announcement everyone was hoping would eventually happen: He just learned he was going to be a father. The poor guy still looked a little shell-shocked at the news.

Yes, Mrs. Pastor is expecting, and we're all thrilled for them. During communion at today's service, the pastor touched his wife's abdomen and gave to his unborn child the blessing he normally gives to young children who aren't old enough to take communion. I nearly burst into tears, it was so sweet.

Both our pastor and his wife are nervous about their impending responsibilities – but hey, that's normal. (I always say there's a reason a baby takes nine months to develop; it takes that long to get used to the concept of being parents).

I've been researching ring slings (baby slings) as a gift to the soon-to-be parents. We wish our pastor and his bride every happiness as they embark on this new adventure.

Baby birds everywhere

Naturally this is the season for baby birds. And let me tell you, they're everywhere.

Let's start a few days ago when I noticed a Western Kingbird fledgling on a pile of rocks, waiting for its parents to feed it.

These are surprisingly hard birds to photograph, so I was pleased to get these shots.

Here's an adult.

Next up, a juvenile black-capped chickadee that got under our porch roof and couldn't quite find its way out for a bit. Its wings weren't the strongest, so it blundered around for a few minutes.

Here's a darling little fledgling robin (I'm a sucker for robins) that hung around inside the strawberry enclosure. Made me want to pinch his little cheek. The parents were clucking around me in alarm, so of course I didn't get any closer.

And then there are the magpies. I can't pretend to enjoy these fledglings as much. They're noisy and raucous and demanding, and they're everywhere. You can distinguish juvies from adults by the length of their tail feathers.

(Bonus photo: Here's Frumpkin watching the magpies on the roof.)

And finally, the pièce de résistance, some killdeer. Here's the parent:

S/he was shepherding around four offspring, which were moving around fairly fast. I was lucky to get all four in one photo.

Even though we have killdeer everywhere, it's rare to glimpse the babies.

That's our inventory of baby birds so far.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Potato update

As you may recall, I planted potatoes in grow bags (again) this year. I tried this technique last year, but between a bad location and bad clay soil, it was a complete flop. This year I relocated the grow bags to a better location and used better soil.

The idea with indeterminate potatoes is to bury them in layers, because more potatoes will form from the stem. When I first planted them in grow bags in April, I put in about four inches of soil in bottom of the bags, laid down the seed potatoes, and buried them in about four more inches of soil. This meant the grow bags were about half-full. I also gave a modest sprinkle of fertilizer at this stage.

After that, it was a matter of waiting until the potatoes had grown enough that I could finish filling the bags with soil while still allowing enough leaves poking out to let the plans photosynthesize.

I did this over a period of a few days in late May/early June. It took a bit of practice before I got the hang of how best to get the dirt in among the potato plants without burying them irrevocably (the secret, I found, is to take a shovel-full of dirt and shake it over the plants, rather than dumping it).

This allowed me the chance to try to un-bury leaves as well. New tubers form from the stems, not the leaves, so I didn't want to bury the leaves unnecessarily. I accidentally broke a few leaves off during this process, but I figured it was early enough in the season to give the potatoes time to recover.

As of this writing (June 22), the potatoes are so lush and beautiful that I will often just pause and admire them (Don and Older Daughter never miss the opportunity to tease me about that). They're doing even better in these grow bags than in the garden in our old place. 

I'm thrilled at the thought of what's happening at the root level. How many tubers will we be able to harvest per bag? That remains to be seen, but I'm optimistic.

In fact, assuming this experiment is a success, I'll continue using grow bags for indeterminate potatoes even after we get the raised-bed garden built (which, by the way, is a project I'll post about shortly). So far I'm impressed with them!

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Welcome to summer (shiver)

Today is the solstice, officially the first day of summer.

This morning it was 38F outside.

We've had the heater running in the house for the past three mornings.

Any questions?

Monday, June 19, 2023

Living your best (fake) life

I came across a bizarre article a few days ago entitled "New Grads Chasing 'TikTok Lifestyles' Struggle In NYC As Rents Surge."

As the title implies, it seems "influencing" has become a way of life for a lot of college grads. The opening paragraph reads: "Some social media influencers and college graduates defy financial logic and sign leases for New York City apartments at record-high prices. Some of these kids who don't have access to the 'bank of mom and dad' are finding side hustles or draining their savings to afford the high cost of living expenses."

The aim for these young influencers, bizarrely, is to pretend they're living high on the hog while being absolutely broke. Rather than spending their money on useful things (or – gasp – putting some away for a rainy day), they're spending their meager income on silly stuff while pretending they're rich.

One young woman "said her priorities this year were to maintain living at a prime location in the city while documenting her life on social media. She admitted she has trouble affording $20 cocktails and $90 dinners with her friends, who all have high-paying banking jobs."

Am I missing something here?

The article covers the sky-high rental prices in New York City (about $4,395 per month in Manhattan), which is shocking enough and an incredible hardship for anyone who isn't earning way more than six figures. Rent prices are being called, with justification, a "once-in-a-generation housing crisis." So why do these broke young grads prance around in what looks like designer clothing while eating pricey meals and such? Who are they fooling? What am I missing?

Apparently this lifestyle is justified in the eyes of those with a lot of "followers." One 22-year-old influencer "posts TikToks on her personal account, where she commands $1,000 for sponsored posts, or creates content for other companies. Her side gigs put her on track to bring in a total of roughly $100,000 this year, she said."

She goes on to say, "I worked so hard to get here, I didn't want to compromise on the life I wanted to live. ... The cost of living here is an investment in myself. It sounds crazy to justify $25 cocktails, but being here opens doors for my career. That's worth the costs."

Opens doors for her career. A career as what? What am I missing?

I know these infleuncers are fake. They know they're fake. Their followers know it's all fake. So what's the purpose?

I am genuinely baffled.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Clearing the forest

Here on our new (to us) home, about two acres are in woods on a steep hillside.

This area was covered in brush and fairly unusable except by passing deer. The underbrush was such that very little grazing grew. Clearing these acres, we knew, would be a long and laborious process, and it fell verrrry low on our priority list.

But last year we caught wind of a county project in which approved applicants would have the underbrush cleared out for them by contractors for purposes of fire mitigation. At first we were skeptical – it seemed too good to be true – but after careful research, we learned it was, in fact, legitimate. Sign us up!

Still, we had no idea what to expect as far as how the final result would look. Then, during our daily walk up a nearby road, we saw some acreage where this county program had taken place.

Here is an example of the tangled brush and scrub plum trees on this roadside property (these photos were taken in March, so still snow on the ground):

With brush this thick, you can understand the concerns of the fire personnel. Now here's what the property looked like after clearing it:

We were impressed by how open and park-like the result was. The goal, we were told by the county, is to clear away "ladder" brush – things that could catch fire and send the flames into trees via the "ladder" of burning brush.

Applying for this program was a slow process, though the county official was very nice and helpful. Last March, she called and told us the contractors would be arriving the next day to view our property and make bids.

Sure enough, early the next morning, our lower driveway was full of vehicles.

After everyone left, Don and I took some flagging tape and a couple of Sharpies, and went through the property to flag anything we did NOT want cut.

However it wasn't until late May when we got word the contractors would be arriving. I took a few "before" photos.

Aside from the predictable array of chainsaws and other tools, the contractors were armed with some impressive and intimidating equipment designed to chew up anything and everything in its path.

Logs, brush, debris ... anything on the ground was ground up and spat out to make, essentially, mulch.

These men were working hard and working fast, so we stayed out of their way as much as possible. But when we peeked our heads in and took a look, we were impressed!

Not only did they remove the underbrush, but they also trimmed tree branches to a height of eight feet from the ground.

I happened to see this one displaced and very frightened robin. Doubtless she lost her nest, something I was very sorry to see.

The contractors also worked on some trees and brush along the road.

It was easier to see what they were doing during this process. They removed wild rose bushes, blackberry canes, and trimmed all the tree branches to eight feet.

Everything was fed into a chipper.

The result was a very clean area along the road.

They even chewed up the pile of black hawthorn brush from where I spent days trimming out the grove a few months ago.

As a final flourish, after the contractors had completely cleaned up, they even used a leaf blower to clean the road so neighbors would not be inconvenienced by any remaining debris.

"Wow, they're a full-service organization," I exclaimed when I saw this.

"Do you suppose they'll leave a mint on the pillow?" Don inquired.

We couldn't be more pleased with the result of this activity. Clearing out that brush opened up that section of property. We can seed it with grass and our future cows will be able to use it for shade.

And – not incidentally – it's safer for fire conditions. Win win.