How to Make Dill Pickles

We plant several cucumber varieties each year, at least half of which are pickling cucumbers. (An aside: a common source of confusion is what makes a pickling cucumber a pickling cucumber. The simple answer is that they have thinner, bumpier skin — the better to absorb all of that lovely brine!)

Dill pickles are actually really easy to make. Here’s how to do it!

I used this recipe because, as written, it’s good for making a small batch of pickles (three to four pints) but, even better — you can halve everything, and make just a jar or two if you don’t have that many cucumbers on hand.

First, you need to assemble your equipment:

 

pick1You need a boiling water canner (if you don’t have one, a stainless steel stockpot will do. A cotton dishtowel folded and laid inside the pot will help stabilize the jars), pint jars, rings, and new lids. **If you want to forego the boiling water processing all together, you can also make refrigerator pickles with this recipe. If you do that, you can use any clean jar you want, and you don’t have to worry about having a pot to process your jars in. I’ll explain more later.

Not necessary, but it’s also helpful to have jar tongs, a magnetic lid lifter, and a jar funnel.

Fill the big pot so that the surface of the water is two inches higher than the tops of your jars. Place jars and lids in the pot (you can do lids in a separate pot, or the same one as your jars — doesn’t matter) and bring the water to a boil to sterilize everything.

While your jars are sterilizing, it’s time to assemble your ingredients.

 

You’ll need:pick2

  • 2 cups of white vinegar
  • 2 cups of water (tap water is fine)
  • 2 tablespoons of salt (pickling or kosher — not iodized table salt)
  • 4 heads of fresh dill, or 4 tsp of dill seeds
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 8 to 10 cucumbers

In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, and salt, and heat over high. You want to bring this mixture to a boil. Meanwhile, start preparing your cukes. Cut a bit off of each end, if necessary, to ensure that the pickles will be about an inch shorter than your jar.

 

You can also cut them into halves or quarters if you want.

 

pick4Once your cucumbers are ready and your brine is boiling, it’s time to get ready to add everything to the jars. Remove the jars (carefully!) from the boiling water canner. Add a head of dill and a clove of garlic to each jar.

 

Then, start packing your cukes in. You want to jam them in pretty tightly. This keeps them from floating in the brine.pick6

 

As you can see, my nine cucumbers was only enough for three pints of pickles. That’s fine, it just means I’ll have some brine left over. Once you have them packed in, it’s time to pour the hot brine into the jars. Do this slowly, and use a jar funnel if that makes it easier for you. You want to fill the jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top.

 

pick7Canning:

  1. Use a flat spatula, butter knife, or bamboo skewer, and press the cukes together to try to release any air bubbles trapped in your jar. If you find that the level of the brine has fallen after doing this, top it up to keep your 1/2 inch of headspace.
  2. Wipe the rims of your jars with a clean, damp cloth, set the lids on, and tighten the rings. You don’t have to go crazy tightening it — just finger-tight is good enough. The seal doesn’t come from the rings at all, but from the lid itself being vacuum sealed on as the contents of the jars cool after processing.
  3. Place your jars into your boiling water canner, and process for ten minutes. Lift them out, carefully, and set them on a counter to cool. They’ll be quite warm for a few hours yet.

You’ll start to hear the lids make popping sounds. This means they’re sealing properly. After about an hour, all of your lids should have sealed. If you press on them and they’re solid, they’ve sealed right. If the lid still pops up and down, you don’t have a good seal. You can either re-process the jar in boiling water, or just put them in the fridge and eat them within a month. Properly sealed jars will keep for a year.

 

If you want to do away with the boiling water processing all together, simply add the cukes, dill, and garlic to any jar, pour boiling brine over it, cover, and let it cool down to room temperature. Then put your pickles in the fridge and eat within a month.

pick8As you can see, it’s not difficult. And believe me, the flavor is definitely worth the effort!

 

Pickling Resources:

While this is a basic recipe I found online a few years ago (and it’s great!) my favorite book about pickling and canning right now is Homemade Living: Canning & Preserving with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More. It’s a beautiful book full of well-written recipes that definitely inspired me to try different things in my kitchen. Definitely worth a look.

As you can see from the post, I’m still using traditional canning lids. You may have heard that these types of lids are lined with BPA — this is a concern for many of us, myself included. I do have some reusable, BPA free lids on order, but they haven’t arrived yet. If you’re interested, here is a source that Julia from Snarky Vegan shared with me.

For more pickle-y goodness, please check out this post I wrote for Planet Green: 20 Pickle Recipes to Help You Preserve Summer’s Bounty.

More About Preserving the Harvest:

How To Make Quick and Easy Refrigerator Dilly Beans

How to Make Pickled Green Tomatoes

How to Make Easy Watermelon Rind Refrigerator Pickles

How to Make Chive Blossom Vinegar

Michigan Gardening To-Do List: September

Northern Sea Oats

Northern Sea Oats

Here’s a quick list of what needs to get done in your garden in September:

Herb/Vegetable Garden

  • Keep watering and weeding.
  • Harvest regularly to keep plants producing well.
  • Deadhead herbs such as basil regularly to keep them productive.
  • Check plants regularly for signs of pest or diseases.
  • Remove any summer veggie plants that are looking ragged or becoming less productive.
  • At least once this month, feed your vegetable plants with a foliar feed of fish emulsion.
  • Sow more fall crops directly into your garden, including mesclun, spinach, mache, radishes, and carrots.

Annuals

  • Keep deadheading to keep plants looking their best.
  • Water regularly.
  • Fertilize once a week with a diluted (1/4 strength) solution of fish emulsion.
  • Remove summer annuals that may be looking ragged and replace with fall flowers, such as mums, asters, ornamental kale, or pansies.

Perennials

  • September is a great time to dig and divide any perennials that look overgrown to you.
  • You can usually get good deals on many plants this month, when garden centers and nurseries start running their “fall planting” sales.

Bulbs

  • You can start planting spring-blooming bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, muscari, and snowdrops.
  • If squirrels or other wildlife dig up your bulbs, place a section of chicken wire or metal hardware cloth over the area. Pin it down and cover it with mulch. This should protect it from those pesky critters.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Trees and shrubs will need an inch of water per week to stay healthy, either from rain or from the hose.

Michigan Gardening To-Do List: August

Here’s a quick list of what needs to get done in your garden in August:

Herb/Vegetable Garden

  • Keep watering and weeding.
  • Harvest regularly to keep plants producing well.
  • Deadhead herbs such as basil regularly to keep them productive.
  • Check plants regularly for signs of pest or diseases.
  • At least once this month, feed your vegetable plants with a foliar feed of fish emulsion.
  • Plant transplants for fall crops, such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale.
  • Direct-sow quick-growing fall crops, such as mesclun, spinach, turnips, small carrots, radishes, and kale.

Annuals

  • Keep deadheading to keep plants looking their best.
  • Water regularly.
  • Fertilize once a week with a diluted (1/4 strength) solution of fish emulsion.
  • If summer annuals are looking tired, consider replacing them.

Perennials

  • Regular maintenance, such as staking and deadheading, will keep your perennials looking their best.
  • If perennials are overgrown, you can start digging and dividing them this month, and into autumn.

Bulbs

  • If you’re growing tall plants, such as dahlias, stake them as needed.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Prune any summer-blooming shrubs this month.
  • Trees and shrubs will need an inch of water per week to stay healthy, either from rain or from the hose.

How to Fertilize Tomato Plants, Organically

littletomatoesTomato plants grow with such speed and vigor that it’s easy to be tempted to keep feeding them, thinking that we need to add nutrients for all of that new growth our plant has put on. But the truth is that over-fertilizing tomato plants is just as bad as under-fertilizing them.

Over-fertilized tomatoes develop lots of green growth at the expense of fruit production. And as if that isn’t annoying enough, all of that tender green growth is like a dinner bell for nearby pests and a magnet for disease problems. Under-fertilization results in slow plant growth and poor fruit set, as well as blossom drop and fruit drop.

So, how do you strike the right balance between under- and over-fertilizing your tomatoes? It’s actually pretty simple, and something you only really have to worry about twice during the growing season. (Less work!)

Fertilize at Planting

At planting time, I like to add a bit of compost the the planting hole, as well as several crushed eggshells or bonemeal to fend off blossom end rot. If I have it on hand, I also like to add a bit of granulated organic fertilizer to the soil at this time.

Fertilize at Fruit Set

When you see your first tiny fruits start to form on your plants, it’s time to do the second fertilizer application of the season. This is when I break out the fish emulsion, and give each plant a good, thorough foliar feed, as well as the soil around each plant. This will provide valuable nutrients just when your plants need it most.

Supplemental Feeding

If you find that production seems to be dropping off, or your plants just look “tired,” there’s no harm in giving them another foliar feed with the fish emulsion, or with compost tea or manure tea. This can be done once per month during the growing season to keep the plants growing and producing well.

Good Soil = Good Tomatoes

As with any kind of gardening, success with growing tomatoes starts with the soil. You will want to grow your tomatoes in rich, fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Incorporating compost and composted manure at planting time, as well as mulching with organic mulches such as grass clippings or fall leaves will make a huge difference — and every year, the soil will just keep getting better.

It seems like it’s not enough; that it should be more complicated than that, doesn’t it? But that really is all there is to fertilizing your tomato plants. Most years, we don’t bother doing a supplemental feeding, and, to be honest, we’ve even forgotten to fertilize at fruit set a time or two and everything has turned out fine. One less thing to have to fuss over — always a good thing!

Michigan Gardening To-Do List: July

Here’s a quick list of what needs to get done in your garden in July:

Herb/Vegetable Garden

  • Keep watering and weeding.
  • Harvest regularly to keep plants producing well.
  • Deadhead herbs such as basil regularly to keep them productive.
  • Check plants regularly for signs of pest or diseases.
  • At least once this month, feed your vegetable plants with a foliar feed of fish emulsion.
  • Start figuring out what you want to grow for your fall garden. Either start plants (such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, etc.) from seed now, or track down a good source of transplants.

Annuals

  • Keep deadheading to keep plants looking their best.
  • Water regularly.
  • Fertilize once a week with a diluted (1/4 strength) solution of fish emulsion.
  • You can still sow seeds for many annuals, such as zinnias and marigolds, all through July for fall color as well.

Perennials

  • Regular maintenance, such as staking and deadheading, will keep your perennials looking their best.
  • If you haven’t mulched your perennial beds already, this is a good time to do so. It will keep weeds down and reduce how much watering you’ll need to do.

Bulbs

  • If you’re growing tall plants, such as dahlias, stake them as needed.
  • If you still have foliage from spring bulbs (tulips, daffodils, etc.) in your garden, you can remove it once it turns brown.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Prune any spring-flowering shrubs this month.
  • Feed your shrubs with a granulated organic fertilizer, or topdress with some good compost.
  • Trees and shrubs will need an inch of water per week to stay healthy, either from rain or from the hose.
Chive Blossoms in Strainer

How to Make Chive Blossom Vinegar

 

The chives in our garden are blooming now, so it is time to make chive blossom vinegar. We love this vinegar in homemade vinaigrette — it gives it a nice, mild onion flavor and plenty of pretty color. And the chive blossom vinegar is REALLY easy to make.

Ingredients:

  • Chive blossoms — as many as you can harvest. They should be at the just-opened phase for maximum flavor.
  • Vinegar — You can experiment here. White wine vinegar and rice wine vinegar are both good choices. White vinegar also works fine if you don’t have the others on hand.
  • Jars/bottles

 

How to Make Chive Blossom Vinegar

Harvest your blossoms, cutting off the stem just below the flower. Wash them well in some cold water to get rid of any dust or insects. Then dry the blossoms really well. You can either lay them out on a towel and blot them well, or put them in a salad spinner and give them a spin. While you’re drying your blossoms, heat your vinegar on medium heat. You don’t want to boil your vinegar; you just want to warm it up so it draws out more of  the chive blossom flavor.

Once the blossoms are dry and the oil is warm, it’s time to put them together. Pack a jar (a mason jar or other glass jar is perfect) with your blossoms, then pour in enough of the warm vinegar to cover the blossoms.

Add your lid, mark the date down somewhere, and set your jar in a cool, dark place for two weeks.

 

When the two weeks are up, pour your vinegar through a mesh strainer to remove the blossoms. Press the blossoms to get all of the vinegary, chive-y goodness out of them. Then pour the finished vinegar into a jar or bottle. Use the vinegar within six months. You’ll want to store your finished vinegar in a dark place – – leaving it out in the light will result in the vinegar losing its pretty pink/purple color. It will still taste fine, but part of the charm of chive blossom vinegar is that lovely color.

I can’t wait to make some vinaigrette with this!

All About Lilacs

 

I’ll admit up front that the lilac is my favorite shrub. It has been since I was a kid, and my grandma had a huge lilac hedge along her alley fence.

The lilac can grow up to twenty feet tall, and blooms in lilac, dark purple, pink, or white. It has dark green heart-shaped foliage, and grows from shoots that come up from the base of the plant. Lilacs prefer full sun, and they do best when planted in an area where they will get decent air circulation. Without good air circulation, lilacs are prone to powdery mildew. They bloom in late spring and early summer.

Lilacs are best planted along a pathway, or next to a porch where you can enjoy their scent the most. They do well as an informal hedge, or as single specimen plantings in a shrub border. I have both a common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and a dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’) in my yard, with plans to add a few more lilacs as time goes by.

As far as day-to-day care goes, give the lilac about an inch of water per week in its first season, and after it is established it will need little, if any, supplemental water. In early spring, sprinkle about a cup of granular organic fertilizer around the base, and foliar feed with diluted fish emulsion when the buds just start to leaf out. Do whatever pruning is necessary, and you will have a happy, healthy lilac.

Throughout May and June, prune off the spent blooms of your lilacs. This will increase flower production for the following year. You can prune your lilacs after they bloom. It is also a good idea to remove any suckers that come up around the base of the plant. If you have an old, overgrown lilac, you can rejuvenate it in about three years by removing about 1/3 of the thickest, oldest branches each year for three years. By the end of three years, you will have a lilac with young, healthy shoots. Also be sure to remove all of the dead branches from your lilac when you prune.

You can propagate new lilac bushes through layering. It is best to attempt layering in early spring, when the plant is growing its strongest. The best stems to use are those that are flexible, and are the result of the previous year’s growth. About 9 inches or so from the tip of the branch, shave a 1/4-inch slice of bark off of the bottom of the branch. Dip the wound into rooting hormone if you’ve got it. If not, it will still work just fine. Make a 6-inch deep trench in the soil nearby to bend the wounded branch into. Secure the wounded part to the earth, being sure the wound is in good contact with the earth below; this is where the roots for your new lilac will form. You can hold the stem in place with a rock or a stake-whatever you have on hand will work. To keep the foliage tip of the branch growing upright, stake it straight. Fill the trench with soil, and water well. It will take anywhere from 12 to 24 months for the branch to develop roots. Once you see that the tip of the layered branch has a flush of new growth, it means you have roots, and the branch can be severed from the mother plant. Just cut the branch before the buried section, dig it up, and plant your new lilac into its place in the garden. This should be done in either spring or fall.

You can also propagate through taking softwood cuttings. To take softwood cuttings, trim off about 2 to 6 inches of healthy growth. The stem you choose should not just bend (it is too young) and it shouldn’t be super stiff (it’s too old.) It should snap crisply. You should take your cuttings in spring, after the plant has fully leafed out. Dip your cuttings into rooting hormone, and place it into sterile rooting medium, such as sand, perlite, or vermiculite. Water well, and place your cuttings into a clear plastic bag to keep everything moist. Keep the cuttings in a warm place out of direct sunlight. Once your roots are an inch long, you can remove the plastic bag, and keep everything moist. After a week out of the bag, you can plant your lilacs in potting soil. They can be put outside once the weather is mild, and then be kept in a cold frame or greenhouse until the following spring, when you can plant your tiny lilac in the garden.

Personally, I prefer layering, since it doesn’t require quite so much time and attention on the part of the gardener. The advantage of propagating from cuttings, though, is that you can get more plants at a time. But, since I don’t plan on a lilac forest, layering will work just fine.

There is nothing in this world like the perfume of a lilac on a warm spring day. I hope you’ll consider the lilac if you’re looking for a flowering shrub for your yard.