A New Beginning

10Jan15_BrewingIt has been quite a while since my last post. Much of the issue with posting is that I am doing the same thing most of the time. Gardening and working, but not much hiking or brewing.  Because of our extensive canning projects last fall, not much canning either.

Brewing beer became somewhat of a chore and “boring”, so I stopped brewing beer.  I think that part of the issue is that I became tired of the same equipment and recipes.  Also, I really do not like the layout of the garage for brewing with the equipment I have, so I stopped brewing.

I have been looking at re-starting the brewing process, but knew that I wanted to try some new equipment that would enable brew the same beers with repeatable temperatures and volumes.  So, after much research, I 10Jan15_Grainfather1decided to purchase a Grainfather, pictured above left with my mash tun and HLT. 

The Grainfather came in a box with several pieces/components to assemble, but the process was very simple.  All components seem well built, sturdy, and were in good shape.   Reviewing the online comments, I also decided to add a double layer of Reflectex to aid in the boil and mash.  Again, the process was simple and looks good. 

I did not install the Reflectex to the top of the boiler, but to just below the clips on top.  I used Reflectex tape on the seams, and none of the seams overlap between layers. 

Before I go into detail, I will just say that my first brew went extremely well with no struggle or challenges.  The Grainfather worked flawlessly, and I am quite pleased with my purchase.  With that –  the negatives.

    • While I knew that the Grainfather would be slow heating my 60 degree mash water to 151 degrees, it was still slow.  It took 57 minutes to go from 60 to 151 F in a 56 degree garage.  From start of sparge to boil took another 51 minutes, and is the only area that I found disappointing, especially considering this was a fairly small water volume.
    • While it was easy to connect and disconnect the sparge arm and chiller, quick connects would be nice.
    • Handles on the boiler for ease of movement of a hot metal object would be nice.

The above “negatives” are somewhat picky, and in no way interfere with the positives of the machine.

10Jan15_Grainfather2To remedy the slow mash water times, I will simply use my propane burner, which I need to use for the sparge water anyway.  As for the other two points, maybe someday I will install quick connects, or not.  Handles are beyond me so that will not happen.

The entire brewing process took 6 hours with a 75 minute mash and a 90 minute boil (used Pilsner).  I can shave about 45 minutes off of that use propane to heat the mash water.  I expect a sub 5 hour brew this weekend with the Grainfather.

I set the mash temperature at 151 F, and the unit was fairly stable, with the temperature fluctuating between 149 and 153 the entire time, which I am happy with.  As for the boil, while, as noted, it took a bit of time to come up to boil, the boil was quite ample.  Not propane vigorous, but satisfying.

The chiller worked wonderfully well, and I transferred straight from the boiler to the fermenter at a constant 68 degrees.  The entire chilling/transfer took 29 minutes, which is about 7 minutes longer than it took to cool my wort to 75 degrees with my immersion chiller, but there was no need to come back later to transfer after the trub had settled, and the temp in fermenter was 68 degrees instead of 75, so I was able to immediately pitch yeast.  The wort was fairly clear, considering there was almost two pounds of wheat in the brew.

In all, I am extremely pleased that I purchased the Grainfather, and am now planning doing a minimum of 8 (or more) brews over the next 8 weekends. 

Click:
RSS21
Follow by Email
Facebook0
Google+
http://idv8.org/?p=1688
Twitter
Pinterest2

Hiking in the Wilson Creek Area

10June2015_BeerSixty-one bottles of Cream Stout – My favorite beer recipe!  It spent 3 months 3 weeks in primary, but tasted very good when I bottled it, so I am hoping for a great beer when it is done carbing.  With the end of the school year, the kids getting me sick, and the garden, I simply did not have the time or energy to bottle. 

Just thought I would add a few images of a few of our short (6 –8 mile) hikes in the Wilson Creek area. 

We have been to Wilson Creek four times this year, each time trying to hike a different path.  In February, our first hike, there were no other people and we did a short 8 mile circuit.  While the trails are mostly marked with trail numbers, they do not necessarily correspond to the map that is provided (for free).  However, it is (almost) impossible not to find your way back to the main parking area.  The area is well laid out, with bathrooms in the parking area.  The area is used by hikers, cyclists, ATVers, and people riding horses, with some trail restrictions to keep everything friendly. 

10June2015_Hike1

While there was little wild life other than two herds of wild horses in the winter, there are now thousands of lizards that just love to run right in front of you while you are hiking and not paying attention.  I have seen 4 kinds of lizards, including the one on the right. 

We found a nice place to get out of the rain, if it ever rains, close to the end of the trail.  The area is so different from what we are used to in Juneau, but it, it nice being in an open area, seeing for miles, and watching the small and large animals as the seasons progress.

10June2015_Hike2 10June2015_Hike3 10June2015_Hike4

Click:
RSS21
Follow by Email
Facebook0
Google+
http://idv8.org/?p=1675
Twitter
Pinterest2

The Beginning of Summer

Flashjpg_Page1The image on the left shows the final garden layout as planted (using Garden Planner), with the exception of the corn.  My germination rates for the corn was about 20%, so I needed to do a second planting/replanting.  I did the replanting a bit closer than before, and I staggered in a zig-zag pattern in order to have more corn and to provide support for when it is windy.  Wind damage was a huge problem last year.  The newly planted corn is coming up now, so I am expecting a good corn year.

The garlic is growing quite well, and the garlic scapes were harvested (and eaten) last week.  I am turning off the water to the garlic, and will check it in about 4 weeks to see if is ready for harvest.  A quick look underground revealed some nice large bulbs!10June2015_Garden  There are about 186 or so garlic bulbs planted, which should last us for a while.  I plan on saving a portion to replant, as garlic bulbs for planting are quite expensive. 

The image on the right is of our over-wintered onions and the potatoes.  The onions are going to seed, and since I have never done this, I have no idea what will happen, other than I will get some onion seeds.  Overall, we planted over 120 new onion plants, including a red, yellow, and sweet.  I also planted about 100 green onions.  Next year, I will be planting Walla Walla Onions in the fall rather than in the spring, in order to obtain larger onions.  I actually did not know that you could fall plant them. 

10June2015_Garden4

The potatoes now have a layer of mulch around them for protection from the heat and for better water retention in the soil. The potatoes suffered a bit last year from dryness, and I hope to dramatically increase the yield this year with the mulch and the new irrigation system.   The mulch will be extended to much of the garden, with the future plan to establish a no (or limited) till garden.  For now, however, we do need to get some organics into the soil, as it is fairly poor, and I have yet to see a worm in the soil when digging. 

As for the irrigation system, it is working wonderfully well, and we are seeing an increase in yields already.  So far, we have harvested over 30 pounds of really large and sweet strawberries, as well as other berries, and now snap peas.  Overall, the garden looks healthier, the plants are bigger, and I am using over 50 percent less water than last 10June2015_Garden3year. 

The image on the right is of out Egyptian Walking Onions and Garlic Chives that are in the herb garden.  The Walking Onions are fun to watch grow.  We are leaving them alone for now, hoping to find a place to plant more in the future.

The image below left is of the garlic (on the left) and the onions (on the right).

10June2015_Garden2

One thing I did is move my three hops plants into the main garden.  They were simply not happy where they were, and the only place that has water and support this year is the garden. 

Miscellaneous:  Hatched 3 chickens in January – All three turned out to be males.  They, plus one other year old rooster, and now part of the freezer inventory.  Our main rooster, who kept the others in line, died, and the others simply started tearing up the hens.  They will now soon be broth.

Click:
RSS21
Follow by Email
Facebook0
Google+
http://idv8.org/?p=1662
Twitter
Pinterest2

It Begins–Again!

GardenPlan_2015Once again, it is time to start the garden. On the left is a rather poor quality image of my garden design that was done in Garden Planner.  This is the second year I have used Garden Planner in Idaho, and I do enjoy it a bit better than paper and pencil for planning the garden each year.  There are some limitations, such as print quality, but overall it is an easy product to use, especially when changing plans.

The start to the gardening season was delayed by about a month, mainly due to the kids at school donating their various toxic germs to me.  But, things are starting to move along, and with the long growing season here, I have no doubt that we will once again produce more food than we need. 

Last year, I used soaker hoses for irrigation, but the hoses did a very poor job, with some areas receiving very little water, and some areas becoming flooded with water running into the furrows.  This year I amusing a Garden_2015_1ribbon system that has little slits every 8 inches to let the water drip out.  So far, the product is working amazingly well, and cutting my watering time down by at least half.  We will see what happens then things start growing, but the drip system has been watering the garlic and onions for the past month with no problems. 

The image on the right is of the garlic (6 different varieties) that I planted last fall, and the onions that we transplanted after cleaning up the garden last year.  The onions were hidden in the Tomato plants, and were very small, so I decided to try to over-winter them to see if they would grow. 

In the furrow you can see strips of cardboard.  We are in the process of lining the entire garden with cardboard and newspaper.  When that is done we will apply a thick layer of alfalfa as mulch.  This is an attempt at improving the soil, as well as using less water and having cooler soil temperatures during the summer heat.

The plant count so far is:

180 heads of garlic
200+ onion plants
144 corn plants (actually 288 as I always grow 2 plants per hole)
150 potato plants (3 varieties)
66 feet of sugar snap peas
150 or so carrots

I will be planting the cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, melons, pumpkins and watermelon this weekend.  I plan on growing the cucumbers on a trellis system, and may try to do the same with the melons. 

Click:
RSS21
Follow by Email
Facebook0
Google+
http://idv8.org/?p=1649
Twitter
Pinterest2

A Bit of Catching Up!

DSC00004_1The summer has passed, and winter is now upon us. We were quite fortunate this year, with an abundant harvest, great health, and a generally satisfying life. We were able to harvest over 1,000 pounds of tomatoes, 1,000 pounds of various squash, a few dozen smaller watermelons and other types of melons, including two watermelons which weighed in at over 80 pounds. I was able to save a bit over 50 pounds of dried corn, 85 pounds of potatoes, thousands of individual sweet and hot peppers, a few hundred pounds of cucumbers, and much, much more.

The tomatoes and squash were preserved, with the tomatoes canned as either tomato2014_DSC00004 sauce, pasta sauce, or salsa, or dehydrated and frozen for later use.  The squash, especially the zucchini, was dehydrated, and the cucumbers were turned into pickles.   All together, we have over 350 jars of various things that I canned this year, and an entire chest freezer full of dehydrated fruit and vegetables.  We are still dehydrating peppers, making the upstairs a very spicy experience!

The chickens are laying around 40 eggs per week, though the cold weather has slowed them 2014_DSC00003down a bit this week.  Prior to this past cold spell which brought freezing temperatures and snow, I was able to plant  garlic, which consists of 7 types of garlic with a total of about 500 cloves planted. 

Planning for next years garden has begun, incorporating lessons learned from this year, including the elimination of some vegetable varieties, increasing other types of vegetables, and placing certain crops, especially the corn, in a more protected location that is out of the wind. 

A very small sample of some of the vegetables we harvested this year, and a small batch of tomato sauce:

2014_DSC00002  2014_DSC00021    2014_DSC000412014_DSC00050  2014_DSC00005

Click:
RSS21
Follow by Email
Facebook0
Google+
http://idv8.org/?p=1637
Twitter
Pinterest2

Sunrise–16 July 2014

 

16Jul42014_300_2102

Taken from my side patio, 6:38 AM, 16 July 2014.  Caldwell (Sunnyslope Area) Idaho.

Click:
RSS21
Follow by Email
Facebook0
Google+
http://idv8.org/?p=1553
Twitter
Pinterest2

Peppers, Tomatoes, and Another Batch of Pickles, and More!

25July2014_DSC_0036

It would seem that all we are growing are cucumbers, but we are really growing other things too. 

We are starting to harvest tomatoes and peppers now and carrots.  The peppers on the left are Anaheim and Banana, which are now strung up and hanging outside sun drying. Later this week I will also be harvesting some of the Pepperoncini Peppers for, well, pickling….  We have about 45 pepper plants of 13 different varieties.  Interestingly, I forgot to plant one of the peppers I really wanted, and one that we use frequently – Jalapeno Peppers.  I will make sure they are planted next year.

Some of the larger tomatoes are starting to be ripe, as in the Pink Berkley seen on the right.  25July2014_DSC_0010The others that are ripe are the Golden Nugget Cherry Tomatoes and the Principle Borghese, which is a paste tomato that is often used for sun dried tomatoes.  Instead of sun drying out tomatoes, we are using our dehydrators to dry them.  We have already completed one batch, which we vacuum sealed. 

Below are some of the tomatoes ready for the dehydrator.  The red ones are the Principle Borghese and the yellow are the Golden Nugget.  24Jul42014_DSCF7198

As I said, I made another batch of pickles using a different recipe. This time I used the Dill Sandwich Slices recipe from the Ball – Complete Book of Home Preserving book.

***One thing about the Pickle recipes that I post is that I do not include complete instructions. If you have never canned, or are unfamiliar with the processes I describe, please look up how to can, jar preparation, hot water bath versus pressure canning, and all other things canning related. To make it easy, you can just buy the referenced book.  Canning is safe, but you really need to understand what you are doing before you do it. ***

While I plan to process more cucumbers, I will more than likely not post the recipe unless it is something new.

Pickle Recipe – Dill Slices: 25July2014_DSC_0050

Batch Size:  9 – 10 Pints

Ingredients:

6 Tbsps. pickling spice (as discussed in this post:  Click Me!)
8 cups Braggs vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
8 cups Water (filtered)
1 1/2 cups white sugar 
1 cup canning or pickling salt 
10 each bay leaves 
20 garlic cloves
10 Dill Heads
5 tsps. mustard seeds
24 cups pickling cucumbers

Place 5 tablespoons picking spice in a cheesecloth bag, tying closing the top.  In a non reactive pan, place the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spice bag.  Slowly bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes.

In prepared jars, place 2 cloves garlic, one dill head, 1/2 tablespoon mustard seeds, and one bay leaf.  Pack pickles leaving 3/4 inch head space and top with pickling liquid, leaving 1.2 inch head space. 

26Jul42014_DSCF7205Process for 15 minutes (again, because of altitude, I did 20 minutes).  Turn off heat, remove canner top, and remove jars after 5 minutes.

In other news, we are staring to actually get a nice supply of eggs.  We are now up to 3 per day as the chickens are starting to get to the right age.  I am still not sure which rooster I will keep (we have two) as they are both getting along and are fairly calm roosters. 

Click:
RSS21
Follow by Email
Facebook0
Google+
http://idv8.org/?p=1604
Twitter
Pinterest2

Canning Pickles

17Jul42014_DSCF7125

The cucumber plants are still churning out cucumbers, to once again I am making pickles.  This time I am doing two batches, and ended up with 15 quarts of pickles total.  This brings our pickle stores to around 32 quarts and 8 pints.  A lot of pickles with more to come I am sure.

One of the issues for these two batches may be the size of the cucumbers.  They were a bit large, but fresh, so I am hoping that they will end up crisp.

For this batch of pickles, I used a recipe based on the Ball – Complete Book of Home Preserving, and modified the base recipe to our needs.

***One thing about the Pickle recipes that I post is that I do not include complete instructions. If you have never canned, or are unfamiliar with the processes I describe, please look up how to can, jar preparation, hot water bath versus pressure canning, and all other things canning related. To make it easy, you can just buy the referenced book. Canning is safe, but you really need to understand what you are doing before you do it. ***

Pickle Recipe 2:17Jul42014_DSCF7120

Batch Size:  7 – 8 Quarts 

Ingredients:

Brine –

8 lbs. pickling cucumbers 
1/2 cup pickling or canning salt
Water (filtered) to cover cucumbers

Pickling Ingredients –

3/4 cup  pickling or canning salt
8 cups water (filtered)
2 Tbsp. Pickling Spice  (see below)
6 cups vinegar (Braggs)
1/4 cup white sugar 
7 – 8 tsp. yellow mustard seeds (1 tsp. per quart) 
10 (approximately) heads dill
14 garlic cloves 
14 Arbol chilies – whole dry

Pickling Spice:24July1024_DSCF7130

1 ea. – cinnamon stick broken into small pieces 
5 bay leaves – crushed 
2 Tbsps. yellow mustard seeds 
1 Tbsp. allspice
1 Tbsp. coriander seeds 
1 Tbsp. whole black pepper corns 
1 Tbsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cardamom seeds 
2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. cloves – whole

For the pickling spice, I mixed the ingredients and put into a half-pint jar and further mixed by rotating (not shaking) the jar until all ingredients looked fully integrated. Smelled really good. 

17Jul42014_DSCF7125The cucumbers were brined by placing them in a non-reactive pan after 1/4 cups of sale was mixed with 8 cups of water.  The cucumbers were brined for about 14 hours.  When ready to use, I triple rinsed the cucumbers, and then drained.

To process, first prepare the jars and lids (look it up if you are not sure how to prepare jars).  Then take 2 tablespoons of the pickling spice and place in a piece of cheesecloth, making a small bag and tying closed.  Place the spice bag in a pan containing the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and summer for 15 minutes.  Turn on low and cover until ready to use.

Pack jars with 1-1/2 dill heads, 2 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon mustard seed, and cucumbers to within 3/4 inches from top.  I put the Abrol chilies in between the cucumbers, on the sides of the jars to they looked nice.  Top up 19-July-2014_DSCF7144with the pickling solution to within 1/2 inches of the top of the jar.

Wipe the rim with a damp clean cloth, and attach lid and ring.  Place in canner.

Slowly bring the water up to a boil (I use medium heat).  When a boil is achieved, process for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude.  because I am at 2224 feet, I processed to 15 minutes.  After the appropriate time, turn off heat, take lid of canner, wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, placing them on a towel.

Click:
RSS21
Follow by Email
Facebook0
Google+
http://idv8.org/?p=1563
Twitter
Pinterest2

Lemon Pickles

17Jul42014_DSCF7145

One of the varieties of cucumbers that I planted this year was Lemon Cucumbers.  Though I only planted 4 plants, they have produced over 20 pounds of cucumbers, and are still going strong.  So, I decided that I would pickle some of them.

One nice thing about this batch is that I was able to use some of the Walla Walla Onions that I planted from seed.  The onions are still a bit small, but big enough to cook with in this case.  The smell from the onions was quite fresh and strong, but not harsh.  Fairly pleasant actually.

***One thing about the Pickle recipes that I post is that I do not include complete instructions. If you have never canned, or are unfamiliar with the processes I describe, please look up how to can, jar preparation, hot water bath versus pressure canning, and all other things canning related. To make it easy, you can just buy the referenced book. Canning is safe, but you really need to understand what you are doing before you do it. ***

Pickle Recipe – Lemon 1: 20Jul42014_DSCF7152

Batch Size:  7 – 8 Pints

Ingredients:

Brine –

8 lbs. pickling cucumbers 
3 lbs. onions
1/2 cup canning or pickling salt
Water (filtered) to cover cucumbers

Pickling Ingredients –

4 cups vinegar (Braggs) 
4 1/2 cups white sugar 
2 Tbsps.. yellow mustard seeds  
1 1/2 Tbsps. celery seeds 
1 Tbsp. ground turmeric

20Jul42014_DSCF7157Prepare cucumbers and into 1/4 inch slices.  Thinly slice the onions.  Combine onions and cucumbers, place in a non-reactive bowl and add canning salt.  Cover with cold water and store in the refrigerator for 4 hours.

When ready to process, in a non-reactive pot, add vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, and turmeric, slowly bringing to a boil.  Boil for 10 minutes.

Drain the cucumber and onion mixture.  Add to liquid and slowly return to boil.

Take off heat and pack jars with cucumber mixture to within 1/2 inch or the top of the jar.  Add liquid to top off 20Jul42014_DSCF7160to within 1/2 inch of the top of the jar.

Wipe rim with a damp towel, add lid and ring.

Process to 10 minutes (15 for me because of altitude), turn off heat, take off lid, and then take the jars out after 5 minutes.

This recipe made very good looking pickles.

Click:
RSS21
Follow by Email
Facebook0
Google+
http://idv8.org/?p=1580
Twitter
Pinterest2

Wine Update, and Squash!

20Jul42014_DSCF7147Racked my wines today, and I am very pleased with the results, so far.

The Cherry Wine came in with an SG of 1.000 and the Cherry Mead at 1.010.  As I mentioned in the original post, Cherry Wine and Mead, with care, 71B will go way above 14% ABV.  For the mead, it stopped in the perfect spot.

The mead it amazingly good for a 20 day old product.  The honey is present but does not mask the presence of the cherries.  There is a very pleasant sweetness, but not at all cloying. If the mead stops where it is, I will be happy and will not need to back sweeten or add any acid.  Wood?  Maybe.  I do have some wonderful medium toast French Oak chips hanging around, and I think they will go quite well with the mead.  I may split the batch and do half wood half no wood.

The issue is now what happens with the 48 ounces of cherry wine base that I added on the 20th to both the mead and the wine.  I did notice that there was some airlock activity 5 hours after adding the additional fruit, which I expected, so we shall see on the 4th of August how the wines were affected.

As for the Cherry Wine – It is really hot.  A lot of alcohol that I think will age out.  The wine I will have to back sweeten a bit, which I originally thought I might have to do anyway.  There is good cherry flavor and nothing except the alcohol that is harsh.  No wood for the wine though, as it is going to be a light and delicate wine if all goes well.

Look!  It is Misty is a zucchini standing in front of out 8 foot corn!

20Jul42014_300_2111

Click:
RSS21
Follow by Email
Facebook0
Google+
http://idv8.org/?p=1569
Twitter
Pinterest2
Next Page »