Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Little Update

Went to the beekeeping meeting last night. We're getting pretty close to crunch time I think. The beekeeping thing may not work out this year. We'd only have the rest of June and all of July to get our gear and hives together before ordering our bees in September or so, and because I'll be gone most of August, that cuts into our prep time severely. Things will start to speed up too once the solstice passes us by. Apparently the bees know when the days are getting longer, and the queen will start laying eggs. I don't think we have enough time to manage this for this year.
As disappointing as that is, I think I've got Z interested in going to the meetings. The next one is July 16, so we've marked our calenders, I've put my name down to get some info on those who may be selling gear, bees or both, and I hope that maybe we can go on some of the field days with the more expert beekeepers. I've also sent Z on a mission: she's going to ask her Dad about his beekeeping days, and what he knows may help us even more, though she suspects he's sold off all his own equipment years ago. Still, any help is good help.

It gives us time to save up as well, especially if we end up paying for Langstroth type hives. Or any hives really I guess. We'd still have to get the plans and build from scratch the top bar hives, and I personally would like to try out the Warre hives too (somewhere down the line; I think different hives for caparison would be good). Especially as it seems like everybody here pretty much sticks to a form of the Langstroth hive, which as you may already know, I don't necessarily like the idea of (it's more work!)

I'm going to go start a money jar now. :P

Friday, June 15, 2012

Home Preserving with Fowlers-Vacola

I've been living here for almost two years now, and have had two excellent go-'rounds with the garden. The best thing that ever happened to me was those allotments, I think. 

Well, as I did last year, I had managed to grow and obscene amount of tomatoes. Unfortunately, our summer was a little strange, and a many of the last ones did get to ripen, so I had a ton of green tomatoes. Well, I still had green tomato chutney from LAST year, so I wasn't too crazy to make more of it. I had enough red fruit left, however, to make spaghetti sauce (mm, sauce). 

So I just threw all the tomatoes (red, green, the whole lot) into the stock pot, and cooked them down. They were sieved, and the pulpy juice was strained again for extra smoothness, and I cooked up some onions, garlic, and home grown herbs, and added the sauce back in. It bubbled away, infusing happily, and when I finally got around to bottling it, I used those stainless steel lids the MIL had gifted me with at Christmas.

Delicious red sauce. Mm, so fragrant.
There's the pot! And I raise thee six jars, lids, rings and clips to store it all in:

The stainless stock pot, six rubber rings, six preserving clips, six stainless steel lids, and six washed No. 14 Fowlers jars, being kept hot with boiling water.
Last year I only had enough sauce to fill four of the small jars, so I washed sure how many I'd fill this time. I had extras ready just in case. Turns out, I'd guessed perfectly. I almost thought I wouldn't have the room, but I squeaked by with the bare minimum of head space for each jar, as you'll observe in the next picture:

Filled jars with seals in place
Now, I grew up knowing the Ball canning method, but instead of a flat metal lid with sealant and a metal ring, you have a rubber seal ring, a metal lid, and a clip the hold the lot together when you go to process them.

After you understand the process is pretty much the same as far as sealing goes, it's a breeze, as you can see in the following photos:

Stainless steel lids, because you need them for very acidic things like tomato sauce.

Lids have been firmly secured with the clips.

Close up of the lid and clip. It just snaps right onto the lip of the jar, no hassles.

To process the jars you just place them in a pan (I use a metal roasting pan, and place a folded paper towel in the bottom), place the jars in the tray, fill with hot water, and place in an oven about 170C. Let it run for an hour, shut the lot down and let it cool. Then remove and label. 

Jars placed in the pan, waiting for hot water and the oven.
Ready for processing!
Now, this processing method is okay when you have no other choice. The jars seal, I've experienced no incidents with failure or breakage (yet), and my own real cautionary statement is beware: the stainless steel lids I have are quite sharp around the edges, and I managed to slice my finger on it. Other than that, they're fine. However, the Fowlers-Vacola system has an expensive start up cost, unless you can find a lot of cast off jars, lids and other supplies in the city missions, as I have managed (for some, at least). I also cannot vouch for them when it comes to pressure canning, when you are wanting to bottle low acid foods. Other than that, it seems to work well enough for the time being. And I now have sauce!