Last week I pressure canned six pints of mixed yellow wax and Blue Lake green beans with the pressure canner I purchased last August.  It was my first experience with a pressure canner, and I admit to being intimidated, approaching the process as one might poke an old wasp nest on the ground with a long stick to ensure it has been abandoned.  Fearing an explosion, I toyed with the idea of keeping a strong garbage can lid at the ready to act as a defensive shield. But there I was with a good gallon or so of fresh garden beans and more coming on, not to mention an investment in the equipment.  So I re-read the directions several times, bolstered my resolve and just got started.

I am pleased to say that it was an easier process than my usual method of hot-water bath canning!  The jars only had to be washed well and filled with hot water, then emptied, packed with the clean vegetables, salt and boiling water to finish and only 3 quarts of hot water in the canner.  I honestly feel it is a safer process than having a huge vat of boiling water on the stovetop.  One simply has to follow the directions carefully for the initial venting process (v-e-r-y safe and simple) and keep an eye on the pressure gage to ensure it stays at the right pressure. The process is exacting, but the new canners are equipped with good safety features, even letting you know when the steam has dissipated enough to safely open the lid. The process is actually very simple once you begin to work into it.  An additional bonus is that once the desired pressure is attained, one can turn the heat way down to maintain it, so less heat escapes into the kitchen.  It even worked well with my electric stove.  The entire thing went like clock-work. 

Of course, not everything can be canned with this method.  Some sugary fruits will bubble up and create problems, and plain tomato recipes, most fruits, jellies and such should still be water-bath canned.  But for any low-acid vegetable, potatoes, beans, carrots, beets, even my tomato/pepper/onion and garlic mixture, it is a safe and relatively hassle-free way of preserving food.  Just get a recent copy of a good canning book (I mentioned the Ball Bluebook last season, and it’s still my favorite resource for either method.  I also noticed that the Minnehaha county extension offered it as a door prize at their canning seminar several years back) and of course, carefully read and re-read the instruction book that comes with the pressure canner.  Follow the directions exactly, and be happy with the results.   I would also like to thank my neighbor and veteran canner, Carol Kelpin, who walked down the block on a very hot evening to hang out with me after learning I’d taken the plunge.  Your moral support was so appreciated!

And just an update of my experiment of growing tomatoes in pots.  Since my last posting, I’ve kept them evenly bottom-watered, and have picked off every small fruit I see with the beginning of blossom end rot.  It is my hope that the newly developing fruit will be free of this affliction.  So far, all looks good and the pots are soaked daily without exception. 

I’m already getting a good amount of peppers, both Anaheim and bananas, but the bells are yet to come in.  I’ll have enough beets to can just a few pints, and the new asparagus patch is thick with ferns.  All in all, the raised beds are working out well.  It’s been easier to keep them weeded, and harvesting is definitely less back-breaking!  For fun, I planted some pumpkin seeds purchased last February at the Charles Schultz museum in Santa Rosa, California.  Appropriately labeled Great Pumpkin Seeds, they are sending vines all around the rear bed, keeping the weeds down as they go. 

Gardening magazines all agree that now is the time to consider planting a second cool-weather crop for fall, providing we don’t get an early freeze as some are predicting.  The KELO website mentioned last week that the lack of moisture in the air due to the drought situation may prompt this, and of course, there is that whole cicada song prediction, but I think I’ll run the risk.  I’m planting a Blue Lake variety of pole bean where the massacred pea vines used to be (not exactly a cool-weather crop, but hey, if it doesn’t freeze, I may just get a second season of beans to pressure can) and think I’ll throw some radish and spinach seed around the bottom of the vines so they are protected from the hot southern sun.  I may even start a second season of beets in between the existing ones.  Although I’ve never attempted this second planting before, gardening is an experiment, and I’ve already got the seeds.

Don’t forget to get your tickets for the Farm to Table event coming up in a few short weeks on August 7th.   It should be a fun evening of great tasting from local chef creations and live entertainment, of course.  Tickets are available at the market.

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