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3 Things I’ve Learned My First Year of Container Gardening

Hello. Remember me?

It’s been a loooong time since I last posted anything. I moved from North Dakota to North Carolina and fell out of sync with everything. Even my kids have been asking “What happened to Pickle Me Too?!”

Well, I finally feel like we are settled into a new home. We traded land for house space, going from a 15 acre homestead with a 1400 sq. ft. house to a neighborhood with a big house and a nice sized yard. The yard feels small to me compared to what I was used to but it’s actually pretty large, about 1 acre. It is plain weird having people surround us.

Gardening makes me happy so once the house was unpacked enough to live it, I got started on my garden. Since we are renting, I decided to simply do a container garden this year and maybe ask if we could put in a few raised bed gardens next year.

I wanted to share with you all the things I’ve learned so far about container gardening. It’s not as straight forward as I thought it would be and there has been a lot of trial and error. Here are 3 mistakes I’ve made and learned from this year. I still have so much to learn and am learning more every week that goes by.

#1 Get a Good Potting Soil.

Miracle Grow potting soil sucks. Sucks big time. I had heard this before starting but it was all I could find when I was desperate to get started. I thought if they are still selling it, it can’t be that bad. No, it is. It sucks. The problem with it is the soil pieces are too small and they compact pretty fast. With container gardening, you want very loose soil or you end up with rotten roots. And that is exactly what began to happen to my little garden within weeks of transplanting. My tomato leaves began to curl and stop growing. My peppers all but died. And the same went for the flowers and herbs. The cucumbers and watermelon are the only plants that didn’t seem to mind the potting soil. I almost lost everything before figuring out what was going on.

I found a local nursery with good potting soil and moved my plants to the good soil. I wasn’t able to save all of the plants. Some of them stank when I pulled them out of their pots. The roots were too rotten to save. With the bad soil I had left over, I added coconut coir (fiber from the husks of coconuts) to it and that did the trick. I even used straight coconut coir for some pots (if you do that, you will need to fertilize it regularly).

So, my advice, find a good nursery (not Walmart or Lowes or Home Depot) with real gardeners who know what they are doing. Ask them what they use and get that stuff. Maybe one day I’ll get to the point where I’ll mix my own soil but I’m not there yet.

#2 Get Good Pots

For some reason I had it in my head that 5 gallon buckets with holes drilled in the bottom would be an awesome and cheap way to go. I quickly changed my mind. I might have saved a little money but not much but they are ugly. They worked ok, especially with deeper rooted plants like tomatoes, but not so much with more shallow rooted plants like watermelon and cucumbers.

The plastic pots I got on clearance at Target and Walmart worked great, looked prettier, and were about the same price as my 5 gallon buckets. I loved them until I found these…

Container Gardening

*Cue ethereal music*  Smart Pots. Oh my. Smart Pots. I love these pots. I love them so much that next season I plan on getting rid of most of my plastic containers and using only Smart Pots.

What makes them so wonderful?

  • Perfect drainage so no more rotting roots. They are nearly impossible to over water which can be a problem in the very wet climate I moved to.
  • The roots self-prune. Part of the problem with container gardening is the plants get root bound. They spread, hit the plastic (or ceramic) wall and then begin to wind around the pot in search of open space to spread to. With the fabric, they hit the wall feel the air and stop. You end up with a much healthier root system.
  • They come in all sorts of sizes from 1 gallon to 7 gallon pots. They also have a raised bed garden that provides 13.5 square feet of growing space.
  • The raised bed is much cheaper and easier to install than a wooden framed raised bed.

#3 Read the Instructions on the Fertilizer

I know, this should be a no brainer. I skimmed the instructions but didn’t read them carefully. I ended up “burning” a bunch of plants. I lost a few pepper plants, killed my strawberries off and had a few pole bean casualties. I wounded some flowers and but they made a slow recovery; I’m starting to see fresh growth under the burned leaves. Please take a minute to make sure you are doing it right.

And the rest of my garden…

Container Gardening

I call this the jungle. It has all my plastic pots to keep the wood from getting yucky. I lined the wood railing with a plastic netting for the cucumbers and watermelon to climb. Next year the watermelon will go in the raised bed garden. The cucumbers did great here and are so pretty. I also have a blueberry bush, pomegranate tree, olive tree, banana tree, ginger, mango tree (grown from a pit), peppers, eggplant, more tomatoes, herbs, and flowers.

Container Gardening

 

Here are more Smart Pots and another fabric raised bed called and EZ-Gro Garden. They are a little more expensive than the smart pots but come in square and rectangular shapes. Here I have okra, tomatoes, peppers, Okinawa spinach, and cucumbers growing.

Container Gardening

 

And this is my on my screen-in porch. Clockwise from top left, our cat Snirt tasting the Okinawa spinach, succulents, Moujean Tea, and a Pitcher plant which might be the coolest plant I have ever seen (it’s carnivorous and eats wasps).

Flash your garden! I’d love to see what you are growing. Post a pic on my Facebook page Pickle Me Too and follow me on Instagram pickle_me_too Instagram


**This post may contain affiliate links. Purchasing from these links helps support Pickle Me Too, allowing me to post and store all of my free recipes. Thank you!**

How to Have a Constant Supply of Buttermilk

How to Have a Constant Supply of Buttermilk

I’ve generally stayed away from writing up how-to’s for simple things like buttermilk. You can find 100s of article on how to make it by googling “how to make buttermilk”. But, I want to make Pickle Me Too a one stop ferment shop. I want people to come here and find whatever they need about fermentation. That’s a tall order for me because there is so much to learn about fermentation. I’ve only scratched the surface myself.

I’m going to throw in a beginner ferment every so often. Please, if there is something you would like to see on Pickle Me Too, let me know in the comments.

Buttermilk is great to drink (to some) and wonderful to cook with. My favorite use of it is in making buttermilk pancakes. We used some this morning to make these pancakes. http://minimalistbaker.com/gluten-free-pancake-mix/

It’s easy to have a constant supply of buttermilk. When my jar gets down to about only 1/4 to 1/2 cup of buttermilk, I just pour in more milk, give it a shake and leave on the counter for a day. Kind of like a continuous brew buttermilk.

If you plan on making buttermilk this way, I do recommend using heated or pasteurized milk. The bacteria and enzymes in raw milk will begin to make the buttermilk taste funky after a while. You can use raw milk for the first batch but you’ll want to use fresh buttermilk made with pasteurized milk for further batches.

How to Make Buttermilk

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (commercial buttermilk that says "live culture")
  • About 1 quart milk (raw or pasteurized)

Instructions

  1. If you want to be able to continue to use your buttermilk to make more buttermilk, heat raw milk up to 165F and leave for about 30 secs. Let cool to room temperature. If using pasteurized milk, you can skip heating it.
  2. Place 1/4 cup buttermilk in a quart sized jar and fill with milk to 1/2" from the top.
  3. Cover tightly and gently shake to distribute the buttermilk.
  4. Keep cover on and let set at room temp for at least 12 hours, up to 24. It's done when the milk has thickened. The longer you let it ferment, the more sour it will be (and less lactose in the milk).
  5. Place in fridge. Will keep for about a month.
  6. To make more, just reserve 1/4 cup buttermilk and repeat the process.
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**This post may contain affiliate links. Purchasing from these links helps support Pickle Me Too, allowing me to post and store all of my free recipes. Thank you!**

Curtido Brussels Sprouts

Curtido Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are basically teeny tiny heads of cabbage. Anything that tastes good with cabbage, tastes good with Brussels sprouts. One of my favorite ways to make sauerkraut is as Curtido, a South American (El Salvado if you want to get uber specific) sauerkraut. Why not try it with my little mini cabbages?

I’ve read that curtido is traditionally made with pineapple vinegar, though some will use apple cider vinegar. I actually do have pineapple vinegar (recipe here: Pineapple Vinegar) but vinegar inhibits lactic acid bacteria, the bacteria we are trying to encourage. So rather than add pineapple vinegar, I added some canned pineapple. Fresh pineapple would probably be better but I didn’t have any. Normally I advise against using canned food in a ferment but there is enough lactic acid bacteria on the cabbage and carrots to get the ferment going.

That being said, curtido is not traditionally fermented. In El Salvador, they make it with vinegar and eat it right away. But that doesn’t mean we can’t ferment it. We can put all the wonderful flavors of curtido together and make an amazing ferment.

This teeny little morsels of yumminess do take more time that other ferments, especially if you leave the brussels sprouts whole. Cutting them in half will speed things up, so feel free to do that if you are impatient.

I normally let my cabbage ferments go for a full 12 weeks. Ferments naturally produce a lot of histamines and cabbage in particular is bad. If you are sensitive to histamines (google histamine sensitivity if you have no idea what I’m talking about), make sure you let it go the full 12 weeks. If histamines don’t bother you, feel free to start enjoying them right away. The sooner you eat them, the more fresh they taste. The longer you wait, the more sour they get. I would suggest waiting at least 3 weeks (one week on the counter, 2 weeks in the fridge) or longer. You can test when they are done by cutting a brussels sprout in half. If it looks fresh in the middle, it’s not done.

And for the record, it is curtido with a u, not cortido with an o. I have a good friend from El Salvador who I asked about this. C-u-rtido [coor-tee-do].

Curtido Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

  • 3 cups brussels sprouts
  • 1 cup carrot coins
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1/2 pineapple pieces (fresh or canned)
  • crushed red pepper to taste (fresh jalapeño peppers are great too)
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • pinch of oregano
  • 2% brine

Instructions

  1. Peel off any leaves from brussels sprouts that don't look good. Leave whole or cut in half.
  2. In a 1.5 liter jar, add brussels sprouts, carrots, onion, red pepper, cumin and oregano.
  3. Pour 2% brine over everything. Use a glass or clay weight to keep everything under the brine.
  4. Seal jar and don't forget to add water to your airlock if using one.
  5. Set in a warm place and let ferment for about a week or until bubble activity slows down.
  6. Move to cold storage.
  7. If you are sensitive to histamines, let ferment in the fridge for at least 11 more weeks. They are ready when it tastes like sauerkraut instead of cabbage.
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**This post may contain affiliate links. Purchasing from these links helps support Pickle Me Too, allowing me to post and store all of my free recipes. Thank you!**

Fermented Elderberry Honey

Fermented Elderberry Honey

I’ve been experimenting with a new (to me) method of fermenting using honey. I’ve made mead before and used honey in ferments but I’ve never used honey and the main ingredient. My first few honey ferments have been wonderful so I plan on sharing a few of the recipe ideas with you.

Raw honey is a great fermentation medium because it naturally contains good yeast and bacteria and will inhibit the growth of mold and bad bacteria. But since it is a very high sugar ferment, it will produce quite a bit of alcohol. So keep that in mind. A large serving might make you a little loopy and it still contains a lot of sugar.

Honey ferments can also be very active. Be careful not to fill your jar to full or you might have overflow. 75% full seems to leave enough room bubbles. The first honey ferment, I used an airlock but I’ve found a Fido jar (as pictured) works better. You’ll need to give the jar a turn every day to re-coat the fruit that has floated to the top. I burp my jar once or twice a day, depending on how active it is. Be sure to burp your jar before you give it a turn or you might spray yourself with honey. Been there, done that.

These ferments just keep getting better with time. I’ve had mine for a couple months now and so far, it’s true.

You can use fresh or dried elderberries. I used dried for mine, rehydrated with warm water. Raw honey is rich in yeast and bacteria that will get the ferment going. If using dried fruit, you do need to rehydrate it first because the honey needs water to start fermenting, otherwise you’ll just have flavored honey.

How to Use Fermented Elderberry Honey

There are many different ways you can use the honey.

  • Flavor water kefir and kombucha by adding a small amount to taste.
  • Add a teaspoon or more to sweeten and flavor yogurt or milk kefir.
  • Add a teaspoon to a glass of wine to sweeten it up and flavor it. To get just the honey without the fruit, remove honey from the bottom by using a straw.
  • Make spiced wine by warming up a mug of wine and adding fermented honey to taste.
  • Add to oatmeal.
  • Spread fruit on toast.
  • Glaze a ham, pork chops, or lamb chops.

Fermented Elderberry Honey

Fermented Elderberry Honey

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dried elderberries (or 3 cups fresh)
  • boiling water (enough to cover dried elderberries, omit if using fresh)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • Raw honey

Instructions

  1. If using dried berries, place in a 1L Fido jar with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Pour boiling water over berries until just covered. Cover and let set until cooled to room temperature. If using fresh berries, just place berries in jar with the spices.
  2. Once berries are cooled, pour honey over everything and fill until jar is about 75% full.
  3. Seal jar and place in a warm and dark location.
  4. Burp jar once a day. After burping, give the jar a turn to re-coat the berries (be sure to do this AFTER burping the jar to avoid getting sprayed).
  5. Fruit is ready to start eating in about a week but it does get better with time. I try to wait a month at least.
  6. Store at room temperature in a dark location. Will keep for a long time, at least a year, probably much more.
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**This post may contain affiliate links. Purchasing from these links helps support Pickle Me Too, allowing me to post and store all of my free recipes. Thank you!**

Pickle Me Tuesday: Indian Spiced Brine Cured Eggs

Brine Cured Eggs with Indian Spices

Pickle Me Tuesday! My new favorite day of the week. This week isn’t exactly a ferment but rather a cure. The amount of salt in this means virtually no microbial action is going on. So the end product of this is not probiotic just super tasty.

I ran across this idea for brine curing eggs here at Christine’s Recipes. Very intriguing! These eggs are cured raw in their shells unlike my Purple Pickled Eggs which are hardboiled and peeled.

I started a batch following her recipe, leaving out the wine because I didn’t have any. I’ll have to try adding wine next time because apparently it’s supposed to cause the yolk to turn a vibrant red/orange. I also just cured mine in the fridge. Raw eggs at room temp for a month freaks me out a little. They cure just fine in the refrigerator.

I was curious if the flavor of the spices would actually get into the egg. Anise has a pretty strong flavor so it would be easy to detect if it did. After waiting a month (waiting is the hardest part), I boiled up an egg and lo and behold, yes! The flavors do permeate the shell into the egg. Not overpowering at all but perfect.

Pickle Me Tuesday: Brine Cured Eggs with Indian Spices

So now of course I have to play with the spices. The first thing that came to mind is Indian spices. If you have white shelled eggs, the turmeric will stain them an awesome orange. I only had brown eggs so they just ended up a little darker. Again, after waiting my month, I boiled up an egg and again, the flavors made their way into the shell and it was amazing.

I was hoping the month long soak would make the eggs easy to peel but it didn’t. Sadly they were awful to peel. The next batch I boiled, I did in my Magic Awesome Pot (I still think they should change the name of the Instant Pot to the Magic Awesome Pot). Better but still annoying.

**Warning** The texture of the eggs is weird. The taste is good but the texture is strange. I would suggest making a small batch at first to see if you like them.

If you can locate all these spices (fenugreek and curry leaves aren’t the most widely available spice here in Middle-of-Nowhere, ND) feel free to leave some out.

 Brine Cured Eggs with Indian Spices

 

Indian Spiced Brine Cured Eggs

Ingredients

  • 1/2 tsp turmeric (1 tbsp grated turmeric if using fresh)
  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seed
  • 1/2 tsp peppercorns, whole
  • 1/2 ginger (1" knob of grated ginger if using fresh)
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 4 curry leaves (optional)
  • 1/2 cup salt (Himalayan salt is preferable)
  • 2 cups filtered water, plus a little extra to top
  • About 12 eggs (as many as will fit into a 1.5L Fido jar)

Instructions

  1. If using farm fresh unwashed eggs, gently wash them. Check each egg for any cracks.
  2. In a small saucepan, add salt, spices and water. Bring to a boil.
  3. Remove from heat and let steep until brine is back to room temperature.
  4. Gently place eggs in jar to just below the shoulder.
  5. Pour brine over eggs. Use a weight to keep eggs below the brine.
  6. Place in the fridge and leave for about 30-40 days. After 30 days, boil one egg. If it is the right amount of salty taste begin using eggs. If not salty, leave for another 4 days and test again.
  7. To hard boil the eggs in a pressure cooker, bring cooker up to pressure and cook for 5-8 mins, depending on how hard you like your eggs. 7 mins is my magic number.
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**This post may contain affiliate links. Purchasing from these links helps support Pickle Me Too, allowing me to post and store all of my free recipes. Thank you!**