Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Getting organized in the garden and pantry.

I'll admit it. If you came to my house, opened the top level of my "pantry", and plastic containers fell out on your head (which is a distinct possibility), you probably wouldn't think kitchen organization was my strong suit. First off, I want to let every building contractor, real estate agent, and anyone else concerned know that a two ft. wide set of floor to ceiling cabinets is to the world of pantrys what a 4' x 5' slab of concrete in front of your door is to porches. A sad, sad little imitation of the real thing, and not worthy of the name. Also, you have to bear in mind that the vast majority of dishes washed in my house are not washed by me, and even fewer get put away by me. I've told them how to do it properly, but you know how it goes; unless I stand in there watching, shortcuts will be made. And since I don't have anymore available time to sit and watch than I do to try and keep the kitchen clean all by myself, I just continue to rant and rave everytime the plastic containers fall out on my head, and routinely assign people to reorganize the cabinets and drawers. *Before any of you girls come complaining to me that you're not the culprit, I'll admit that some of you are much worse about this than others.*
But I digress.
What I'm specifically talking about today is keeping records. I've only been canning since moving to this house three years ago, so I'm still fairly new at it. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to keep a list of everything I made, but it wasn't until after reading a post about keeping a canning log on the Food in Jars blog that a light bulb went off in my head. Well that would be useful. It would be much better to keep a log of what you made and how much of it you ate during the course of the year, than to blindly can whatever suited your fancy, ending up with shortages in some things and overwhelming abundance in others. In June, with that in mind, the girls and I pulled all the jars we had left out of the cabinets in order to take inventory. I used that opportunity to purge a couple of jars from the first year we canned, along with some things that just didn't look like they held up as well. I also went ahead and purged some jam that had not been as popular; no since keeping it if no-one will eat it. I made a list of everything that went back into the cabinet, and as soon as we started our canning again, I purchased a small (6.5"x9.5"), three subject notebook to keep my canning log in. I transfered the list of already canned items to the first section, and started listing the things I was currently canning in the second. When the final batch of peaches was finished last week, I took inventory of my jars and lids, listing that in the third section. I plan on putting a note of any major seal failures in the first section. We had several jars of pie filling pop their seals last year after we had an accident in the cabinet, so we wouldn't want to count those in with the amount we actually consumed. I'm looking forward to seeing how everything turns out in the coming year.

The other thing I've decided to start keeping records of is my garden. Our gardens have never been particulary large. It's been easy to remember where everything is planted, or which types of plants I've grown. This year we doubled our garden space and I plan on putting at least a couple more beds next year, so I don't want to continue relying on my memory to keep up with what was planted where, or how each variety of plant performed. I've already drawn maps of the garden beds for the last two years, noting where each different type of plant was grown; not necessarily the particular variety, just whether it was a cucumber, tomato, etc. My notebook will hold these maps, along with information that will help me keep track of which varieties of veggies or herbs I chose to grow each year and how they performed. There are several things I'll be making note of from this year, and a few things that I remember from last year.  For instance: I grew purple cherokee tomatoes last year but was not impressed with their taste or yeilds. A friend from church had similar results with hers, but that won't necessarily rule them out.  My aunt loves them, and another friend's son produced impressive cherokees this year. Sometimes where you get your seeds or starts from has a lot to do with it. However, the purple calabash tomatoes I planted this year turned out so delicious, and with such good yeilds, I may just stick with them. Also, I had excellent results from my Roma tomatoes last year, but the Amish Paste tomatoes I grew this year have been a sad disappointment. They produced poorly and repeatedly developed blossom end rot, though the conditions that cause it are usually quite easy to reverse. They also did not produce true. This may be the result adulterated seed, or because the strain is not completely stable, but whatever the reason, I got several small tomatoes that were more like typical tomatoes than the oblong, thick walled paste tomatoes. Though many of the fruit that did develop fully were huge, it doesn't make up for such a small, overall yeild. The one Roma volunteer that popped up in front of the house more than out-produced all six of the Amish Paste tomatoes I planted. I plan on saving seed from that prolific little plant.  Another thing it may help to keep a record of would be pests. An example of that would be how I chose not to plant Rutger tomatoes this year. The plants did pretty well last year (especially given the circumstances), and the tomatoes tasted good, but they were a magnet for tomato horn worms. Almost all of the worms we picked off our tomatoes last year came from those plants. At one point they munched the entire tops out of all the Rutgers, seemingly overnight, while leaving the Romas beside them alone.  The Rutgers rallied quite well after we diligently picked off worms for several days, but if they are that attractive to the ugly little buggers I'd rather not deal with them.       

So we'll give the log books a shot. I'm sure they'll be very helpful if I'm conscientious with my record keeping.
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