The joy of grapes and homemade juice

We were blessed with established grape vines on the property we bought nine years ago. The place had been abandoned for two years yet the plants still bore fruit. They were struggling, but that was because the surrounding trees had blocked their sunlight. We did extensive pruning and were rewarded with four varieties of grapes as a result. But enough backstory. Here’s a quickie lesson on how easy it is to raise grape vines and get some dandy (sugar-free) juice for drinking or making jelly.
Selecting Grape Varieties: Luckily, there are plenty of varieties suited for nearly every growing region. Early, mid, and late-season grapes extend the harvest. Consider seedless varieties like Himrod (green/yellow), Canadice (red)*, Lakemont (blue-black)*, Venus (pale green), Reliance (red), and Suffolk*. The * means they’re cold weather hardy. Check with your local agricultural extension service to find out which types grow best in your area. Remember: whichever type(s) you select, be sure to choose disease-resistant cultivars. This helps avoid common grape diseases like powdery mildew. Don’t be in a hurry either. Most vines take 2-3 years to mature and produce fruit.
Planting and Caring for Grape Vines: Grapes thrive best in sunny locations with well-draining soil. Space vines 6-8 feet apart in rows, with the rows 8-10 feet apart. Dig holes and amend the soil with compost to improve drainage. Soak bare root plants in water before planting. Water young vines regularly for the first two years until they establish an extensive root system. Installing a trellis system is also critical. As vines grow, train the stems along the wires. Trim away suckers and excess growth.
Ongoing Care and Maintenance: Prune grape vines before spring growth emerges. Remove up to 90% of the previous season’s growth, leaving just a few healthy canes with 6-10 buds each. Fertilize vines in early spring using compost or organic grape fertilizer. Put down mulch to retain moisture and reduce weeds. Install bird netting as fruit ripens to protect from hungry birds. Scout for pests like Japanese beetles and apply organic neem oil if needed. With proper care, homegrown grapes will flourish!
Harvesting Your Grape Crop: Depending on variety, grapes will be ready for picking from mid-summer into early fall. Snip bunches off vines when grapes are plump and sweet. Wear gloves to protect your hands from sticky juice. Select bunches that are fully ripe but not mushy. Use sharp pruners or scissors when harvesting to avoid damaging vines. Pick grapes in the morning when cool and transfer immediately to flats (don’t pile them high) out of the sun.
Extracting Fresh Grape Juice with a Steam Juicer: Once harvested, it’s time to turn those grapes into delicious homemade juice! A steam juicer allows you to easily extract pure, concentrated juice. You can leave them on the bunch, but I prefer to pluck them, making sure there aren’t any moldy ones hiding.
Fill the bottom pot of the three-part juicer with a few inches of water and bring to a boil on the stove or hot plate (I process mine outside). Place the top colander section loosely packed with grapes over the boiling water. The steam rises and heats the grapes, releasing their juice which drips down into the center section. Stir, then add more grapes as the level lowers in the colander. My unit has a vinyl hose with a clamp on it. I decant right into sterilized canning jars. I add the lid and band, then set them aside on a flat surface to sit for 24 hours, undisturbed. If the lid hasn’t ‘sucked down’ and stayed that way after 24 hours, put that jar in the refrigerator and use right away. A boiling water bath is optional. Check online to find out more.

I made V-3 juice with the steamer, too. My orange tomatoes, Vidalia onions, and Poblano chiles produced a beautiful orange drink (top picture, with the pink and purple grape juices) that has just the right amount of kick.

Did you know that archaeological evidence suggests grape cultivation began 6,000-8,000 years ago in the South Caucasus region between the Black and Caspian Seas? It’s big the world over now. I wonder if some of my time travelers ever went back that far to sample the vintages of Ancient Greece?
I’m pretty sure Big Mac didn’t. He only makes short ‘hops’ and always for doing good deeds. Check out his story while it’s only #99cents. Or read for #free anytime with #KindleUnlimited.

Too many tomatoes?

Craving a Flavorful Homemade Salsa? Try This Simple Pineapple and Bell Pepper Recipe

Too many tomatoes? Salsas are a great way to use them. No canning is required for this recipe. Plus, this sweet version will add fresh flavor to dishes any time of year. While many traditional salsa recipes call for onions and hot peppers, you can make a tasty salsa without them. The secret is using a combination of sweet and tart ingredients.

This easy pineapple and red bell pepper salsa comes together quickly with just a few ingredients. It highlights the natural sweetness of ripe tomatoes balanced by the tropical tang of pineapple and the brightness of red bell peppers. A bit of sugar and vinegar round out the flavors.

The end result is a chunky salsa with just the right mix of sweet, sour, and savory. Bright orange tomato pieces contrast with the red bell pepper and yellow pineapple tidbits. It looks as good as it tastes!

Best of all, this versatile salsa can be served with tacos, grilled fish or chicken, as a salad topper, quick dinner, or even as an appetizer with tortilla chips. The flavors complement anything from Tex-Mex dishes to Hawaiian cuisine.

Fresh Tomato Pineapple Salsa
Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients:

– 2 – 2 1/2 cups colorful tomatoes, cored and diced
– 1/2 cup fresh pineapple tidbits (from fresh or store-prepared pineapple spears)
– @1⁄4 red bell pepper, diced
– 3 tablespoon white sugar
– 3 tablespoons your favorite vinegar or mix of vinegars (I use ½ rice, ½ balsamic vinegars)

Instructions:

1. Mix sugar and vinegars in a glass container (I use four-cup Pyrex measuring cup) and microwave for ½ to 1 minute. This makes the sugar go into solution. Stir to combine.
2. Chop pineapple and bell pepper into ½ inch pieces. Add to vinegar/sugar mix.
3. I usually peel the tomatoes before chopping into ½ inch pieces.. This step is optional.
4. For best flavor, let the salsa rest for 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld.
5. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to use. The fresh salsa keeps several days chilled.

Tips for Serving Pineapple Tomato Salsa:
– I use different colored tomatoes.
– I prefer red bell peppers but you can use any color. Yellow and orange are sweet, too.
– Mix with cottage cheese for a quick snack or meal
– Pair it with grilled mahi mahi, chicken, or flank steak
– Spoon over tacos for a sweet contrast to savory fillings
– Brighten up a salad by topping it with a heaping spoonful
– Use as a burger topping in place of ketchup
– Dip tortilla chips or vegetables like jicama and cucumber
– Transform basic rice into something special by mixing in a few tablespoons
– Brush onto salmon or halibut before broiling for a flavorful glaze

This salsa really shines when made with juicy in-season tomatoes. Look for tomatoes that are fully ripe but still firm. The pineapple adds moisture, so drain any excess liquid from the tomatoes before dicing. When I get fresh pineapple from the store, pre-cut, I’ll freeze what we don’t eat. It’s easier to cut into tidbits when it’s partially frozen.

For best results, avoid using out-of-season hothouse tomatoes, which tend to be drier and less flavorful. Though if those are your only option, just boost the sugar slightly to compensate.

The possibilities are endless with this easy pineapple and bell pepper salsa. It’s sure to be a hit any time of year. The sweet and tangy flavors make it truly hard to resist!

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Cultivating Crunchy Cukes in Cages

Raised bed gardening offers numerous benefits for green thumbs and novice gardeners alike. Growing ‘off’ the ground and in tall containers, though, works best for this little old lady (the white container in the background). No bending, squatting, or kneeling for me!
The advantages of planting in large wooden boxes or plastic fish totes (yup!) range from enhanced soil drainage and temperature control to easier access for planting and harvesting. When it comes to cucumbers, utilizing a trellis system can dramatically improve your yield, quality, and the overall health of your plants.


My husband had seen ads for fancy containers with ‘hooped’ trellises and decided to build his own. He used leftover lumber, metal siding, and a piece of fence panel. He sketched it out, calculated some measurements based on what he had on hand, then put the hardware and tools to the wood and metal. He’s very clever that way. We already had plenty of Four-in-One soil mix (sand, loam, compost, and manure mixed and aged) on hand, so with our tractor and its bucket to fill his new creation, the vining container was soon complete. All that was needed were young plants. I bought one and started the rest of my crop from seeds.
Make sure you choose the right plants for trellising. I planted Tendersweet, Armenian, Pioneer cucumbers, and a few Yellow Mini Watermelons. That’s kind of cheating according to the experts (you’re not supposed to plant melons and cukes next to each other), but since I already had the seedlings started, they went in, too. I planted a few bush varieties of cucumbers in the middle of my oversized tunnel of trellis (bent-over field fence). We put in some drip irrigation emitters, shaved wood bedding to retain moisture, and waited for the growth spurt.
We had a sunny east-west exposure for it. We have long days at this time of year in Oregon, so everything took off. Because I overplanted, I am constantly trimming oversized cucumber leaves that are blocking air circulation. I do the same thing for all my plants in containers. That’s a secret no one seems to share. Mold and crud love warm, moist environments. You’ll be surprised at how plants love being thinned out.
Watering is crucial when growing cucumbers. They require a consistent, plentiful supply of water – at least one inch per week. I use drip watering to cut down on usage and mulch to keep it in. This also keeps the foliage dry and prevents mildew.
As your cucumber plants start growing, guide them onto the trellis. The tendrils will naturally grab onto the trellis, but you may need to gently train them in the right direction.
Finally, don’t forget about the power of companion planting. Marigolds, nasturtiums, or radishes planted around your cucumber bed can deter harmful pests.
Container with trellis gardening is an excellent way to maximize the yield of your cucumber plants and promote healthier growth. It’s not only a practical method for urban gardeners or those with limited space but also an enjoyable activity for anyone interested in getting the most out of their gardening endeavors. Enjoy the process and look forward to a bountiful harvest of crisp, delicious cucumbers!

Is it too hot to garden? Set your alarm and get out early in the day. When the heat gets to be too much, come back in, take a cool shower, and grab an Unforgettable Romance about Christmas. Check this one out: Unforgettable Christmas Miracles has ELEVEN romances, just ripe for you. #Free to read with #KindleUnlimited.

Are you obsessed, passionate, or both?

Are you obsessed, passionate, or both? I’m both. Not with a person, game, or money but with colorful plants. The house we bought in Oregon’s Mid-Willamette Valley in 2014 was built in 1900. It came with ¾ of an acre of deep topsoil, plenty of upgrades needed but loads of well-established perennials. Yup, with a handyman husband and lots of digging tools, I was in heaven.
I brought some of my own roses from Alaska and promptly purchased more from my favorite rose supplier, Burling Leong of Burlington Nurseries. I also planted a few rose seedlings I had started, happy to have a temperate site to evaluate my babies’ size and hardiness.

Less than 10% of the rose varieties I have grown in my Oregon yard in the last four years.

Why would I start seedlings when there are so many colors, shapes, and sizes of rose varieties available? Well, because I like to create. I used to sew, still crochet and cook, and have been known to write a book or forty, all without patterns, recipes, or outlines. I think it was Nike who said, ‘Just do it.’ I was all over that before they put out the slogan (although I’m not a runner).


Here are two of the rose babies I created. Both are rugosas. The blooms are three to four inches across. Both smell great, too.


What’s your passion? Did you know that working with it and finding a way to make it your own gives immense satisfaction? I remember my mother looking at photos of us kids and saying she was ‘Just admiring her greatest creations.’ Aww… Being a loving and caring parent or grandparent IS special, too.

Do you love birds? Check out the first book in THAT TWIN THING series, THE MIDWIFE’S SON. Two birdwatchers find each other fifteen years after meeting as children. Will they recognize each other or will Mom, the midwife, help them out? Twists and turns of emotions end in a Happy Ever After. Read separately or as part of THAT TWIN THING COLLECTION, all available to read for free with #KindleUnlimited.
If you would, please follow me on Amazon, Goodreads, and Book Bub to hear about my latest releases. I’d appreciate it.