Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Crazy About Juicing

My success with making apple juice and grape juice with my new juicer left me wanting to make more. The flavours were really wonderful, and it is comforting to know that it is all organic fruit, and sugar, with no other colours or preservatives.

So last night, I rounded up my remaining apples (this time, from the espalier tree), along with the Pink Lady and other apples I had neglected in the bin at the bottom of the fridge (I usually end up making an apple crumble dessert to use them up), a number of my asian pears (reserving 2 ice cream buckets full in the fridge for fresh eating), and tossed them all into the juicer.

The process is almost magical. Fill the bottom part of the steamer with water, add fruit in the top strainer part (removing only cores or stems or anything which could make the juice bitter), close the lid and walk away:
Apples and Pears in the Nutristeamer Juicer
About an hour and a half later (only 1 hour for the grapes), the apples have visibly sunken down in the strainer:
Steam-juicing apples and pears
In the middle part of the steamer, there is a wonderful juice. You know it's there, since by that time, the whole house has a wonderful fruity aroma:
Juice in the steam juicer
I use my mom's method, which is to remove the juice (I don't bother to use the nice hose, I just pour it out of the container) into a separate pot, where I add sugar to taste, and turn up the heat so that it comes to a boil or near boil. Meanwhile, start sterilizing a jar or two in boiling water:
Preparing the juice and jars
The full juicer makes approximately 3 litres (3 quarts) of apple or pear juice (about 4 litres of grape juice):
Jars of apple/pear juice
After it's done, I push some of the mushy apples through a sieve, and make myself a bowl of warm applesauce before I toss the remainder out. For the grapes, all that is left is the skins - they are dry and can be dumped directly into the garbage.

The jars cool, and are put in the fridge the next day for enjoying.

I am really happy with my steam juicer, and would highly recommend the Back to Basics Nutri-Steamer Juicer/Cooker set. Not only is it a steam juicer, but you can remove the middle part, and use the top & bottom as a steamer set. Or just use the bottom pot with the lid. So it is a really good buy considering it is not only a very easy-to-use juicer but also a nice stainless steel steamer/cooker set, too. I was happy to find it at (CSN Stores), which not only had the best price I could find, but also was the only seller which shipped to Canada.

I only wish I had more fruits now to make into juices. I can't wait until next year.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Grape Harvest and Juicing and Thoughts of Pruning

For their first year bearing fruit, my grape vines really performed well this year. Yesterday I decided to harvest the fruit, and make grape juice. There were a few indications that this was a good time to harvest...

#1 - The grapes tasted sweet - as sweet as they would get, I suppose. I actually have 3 varieties of grape, all unknown, but the most abundant one reminds me of the concord grape in taste and texture, except that it is green.

#2 - The past few days have been sunny and warm, and the nights cool, which I understand is good for harvesting.

#3 - The colour of some of the bunches had brightened from the green to a yellowish green.

#4 - The weight of the grapes had already pulled the vines off my trellis, so it was a good time to relieve that stress. This photo shows how some of the vines, which used to be tied to the upper horizontal slat, have sagged under the weight of the grapes:
Grape vines
#5 - It was a weekend, so I'd have some more time to make the juice.

#6 - My steam juicer had just arrived last week, so I was happy to try it out. Actually, I had already tried it out a few nights earlier on a batch of apples from my "mystery" apple tree, which were a bit too tart for my enjoyment, and the family was not helping me out enough with eating them.

#7 - The 2 clumps of dark grapes had already gone bad on the vine. When I went to pick them, they were already full of fruit flies, so they went straight to the compost.

I knew it was a good first crop this year, but I was surprised at how many grapes I was able to gather. Just shy of 20 pounds! Here I am, with my harvest:
Grape harvest
The juice turned out really nicely. I got about 8 litres (8 quarts), pictured here on the left, with the 3 bottles of apple juice on the right:
Homemade grape and apple juices
Encouraged by my harvest, my thoughts are already on next year, and learning to prune the vines to maximize grape production. I have read many confusing descriptions of the spur pruning and cane pruning methods, and then finally encountered this one from Oregon State University, which is quite good, especially since it provides clear pictures of what to prune:

Good article on grape pruning

I am reading that effective pruning removes about 90% of the vegetation. That sounds severe, but armed with the information in that article, I'm already looking forward to trying this out, in the Spring. In the meantime, I am enjoying the few bunches of grapes which I kept fresh, and the delicious juice.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bald-Faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata)

It's neat when you stumble across an ID of a creature which you were not specifically looking for, but had buzzing (in this case) around in the back of your mind. Like this so-called "bald-faced hornet" or "white-faced hornet" (Dolichovespula maculata) which is not a true hornet but a wasp in the yellowjacket family:

(Photo borrowed from this Animal Photo Album page, without explicit permission, since the author is unknown.)

This is the unknown "large black wasp" which seemed to be the main pollinator for my late crop of golden raspberries. Sure enough, I now read that the Dolichovespula maculata is a "minor pollinator", especially in late summer, when it drinks nectar to provide quick energy for hunting, and where it finds potential victims who were also attracted to the flowers.

Thanks to WiseAcre Gardens for ID'ing this interesting wasp for me in this post.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Back in the Garden Again

I am very happy to be gardening again. Or at least I was yesterday, after about 6 frustrating weeks of being unable to enjoy the therapy of digging and yanking and chopping in my garden. During this down time, I have come to appreciate a number of great gardening and nature blogs which I am now eagerly "following". These have been a comfort and entertainment to me while I've been pretty "hands off" lately.

It's a long story, but I'll tell it anyhow, hoping that it may one day provide direction to someone else who needs this procedure... About 6 weeks ago, I injured my foot, which led me to hurt my neck (pulling myself around the house while hobbling on the one good foot). Since I spend waaay to much time on the computer and also am a fairly focussed sort of person (I've been told I don't blink enough when I'm on the computer, and the house could burn down around me and I may not even notice), I have found that I need regular (about every 6 week) massages to keep my neck and shoulders pain-free. So naturally that was my first idea, but the massage instead led to more pain, a very intense pain from the right side of my neck into my right shoulder, and all the way down my arm. When I sat up straight (eating, driving, etc), I also had tingling in my right hand.

I tried the obvious medications : anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxant. Nope, no help at all. Pretty much 24 x 7 pain, day and night. Good thing my good friend Andrea recommended to me her upper cervical chiropractor, Dr. John Davis of Burnaby, BC, or I don't know what I would have tried next. For more info on this fascinating specialization, and the MANY ailments and conditions it can alleviate, see this site or this one.

After 4 weeks of non-stop and fairly intense pain, I saw Dr. Davis. The x-rays showed some "degenerative" (i.e. I'm falling apart!) condition between the C5 & C6 verterbrae (which is likely the source of the arm pain), and the C1 (where the skull is attached to the spine) was misaligned. So he gently (this is really weird, but it was so gentle I didn't feel it, so I'm not really sure when it happened) re-aligned the C1. On the first try, he brought it back so it is now 1 unit (not sure what, degrees?) out, instead of 4. The hips which were previously measurably out of alignment corrected immediately, and the shoulders also corrected to only 1 unit (instead of 3). But I still felt the same pain in the arm. Disappointed, I went home, and tried resting, as I was advised.

I was stiff and sore in the neck and back for a number of days afterward, but after 2 days, I suddenly realized I was having moments when I didn't feel the pain in my arm. Within the week, I was totally pain-free. All I had left was the tingling in my hand when I sat forward. I am hoping this will be corrected by another alignment attempt, but I've been told to let my spinal and nervous system heal a bit more before we try that.

Encouraged by my positive check up with Dr. Davis yesterday, I went into the garden, telling myself that I would start gently. Which I did. But a couple of hours and three clear bags of cuttings and weeds later, I realized that I might have overdone it. So I felt a bit of burning in the right side of my neck occasionally today. So tonight after work, I just walked about the yard, and made sure I carried only the camera, not clippers or gloves. Good thing, I needed my hands free to carry back a small load of italian plums which are ripe and amazingly sweet and delicious!

Here are some photos from my walk today.

More signs of fall, this one in the leaves of an epimedium:
Epimedium leaves turning red in Fall
The Japanese anemone's (Anemone hupehensis) cheery blooms seem to float above the garden this time of year, and the bright spots of colour are much appreciated.
Japanese anemone
Unlike my plum and apple trees which thrived this year, my poor Bartlett pear has dropped all but one of his fruit:
Single Bartlett pear
The pear tree has suffered every year from some sort of disease or infestation, which results in these grisly patches on its leaves (Does anyone recognize this? Any suggestions? I think next year I should find a treatment for it. I am not much for chemicals, bu it can't possibly be good for the tree to be covered in this awful stuff year after year):
Pear disease or infestation
I will call this one "Shall we dance?"
Spider dance
I found these spiders just under the eaves of our shed. The (smaller) male spider repeatedly tried to approach from a strand (which he presumably spun) leading into the female's web. He seemed to be plucking it rhythmically (perhaps musically!) which attracted the female's interest. She would approach the edge of her web, he would slowly advance toward it also, and a little closer, and yet closer again, until finally they touched (so it seemed), and he would suddenly fall, she would retreat to the center of the web, and then he would climb back up, and start plucking the strand again, starting the cycle again.

I watched about 5 rounds of this, hoping for an even better photo of the encounter, but didn't have the patience to continue. By then, my son was calling me from the raspberry patch, and the ripe plums were calling out to be picked. Besides, maybe I'll have more opportunity another time, now that I'm back in the garden again.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Family Giraffe Night

As a result of our family's giraffe-drawing night, the One Million Giraffes project is 4 giraffes closer to one million (actually 5, since I wasn't sure about one of the uploads so tried again, and it looks like I ended up uploading that giraffe twice).

One million giraffes
Here are our entries:


Confirmation Code: GNMVCBV14378608

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Noteworthy Giraffes

After encouraging readers to add to the One Million Giraffes project in my previous post, the kids and I each drew our own giraffes on yellow paper, and submitted them. (I'll post again once they're up on the site.) Then after sending them to bed, I've been spending waaay too much time flipping through the pages of giraffes at

My husband, who is also my boss, shakes his head, since he knows how much work (and work around the house!) I could or should be doing instead. But I am fascinated by the giraffes... how international the "project" is, with submissions from many many countries, and how different each and every giraffe is.

The following are some of the giraffes which caught my attention, and are worth a peek.

Some are whimsical, like those from:

Lana in the Ukraine
Sarah in the UK
Zaneta from Lithuania
Amyfaerie from the USA
Pajeczno in Poland

Some are creative, like those from:

Kitiamara in Germany
Raffizaek in Germany (who is a bit too modest about his age)
Inezinha from Portugal
Sheila in the US
Lillian in the US
Sandra from Hong Kong
Peter from Australia
Josse from the UK
Arnaud from France (love this one!)

Some are artistic (I wish I could draw like this!), like those from:

Martin from the UK
Pam from the UK
Kristine from Norway
Ehouse in the USA

Okay, that's enough giraffes for tonight, for me.

"One Million Giraffes" Project

After my mom saw my driftwood giraffe (by the way, she says it looks better in real life than in the photos, which I consider a nice compliment), she noticed an article in the newspaper about a young man (I assume) who is trying to collect images of 1 million hand drawn or hand made giraffes (not computer generated), and forwarded me the link:

one million giraffes project
So last night, I submitted my giraffe photo, and the email confirmation says it was added as giraffe #244,748. So only 755,252 more giraffes to go, and mine will be "one in a million". See my giraffe HERE.

I am encouraging my kids to draw and submit giraffes, and encourage each of my blog visitors to do so, also (and if you dare, please leave a link to your giraffe in my comments section). The process is very quick and painless (except that it asks for your age, and then displays it on your giraffe page!) - just click the green "Please send in your own giraffe" box. There is no limit on how many giraffes you can submit, in case you get carried away drawing or creating.

You can also follow the blog about the one million giraffes project, and even guess the successful date of reaching 1 million, to win a stuffed giraffe.

Lots of fun for the whole family, on a rainy day (like today!). Go ahead, be part of history!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Signs of Fall and Fruit Harvest Sampler

Our family took a short trip to Las Vegas, and during those 4 days, the burning bush (Euonymus alata) started to turn red, a sure sign that Fall is approaching:
Euonymus alata (burning bush)
Although the crazy apple tree doesn't think so (see full story):
Apple in blossom and fruit
I still don't know what variety of apple my "mystery apple" tree is, but it is crisp, with quite a bit of tartness.
Some of the apples (the ones which got the most sun, I guess) are quite red:
My golden raspberries are back in fruit again:

This is poor photo, but it is curious to me that the late raspberry crop pollinator seems to be this large black wasp, which have been buzzing about the raspberries for the past few weeks:
Black wasp
My grape vines bore grapes for the first time this year, so I can finally find out what type they are. When I was given the cuttings a few years back, I happily took them, but didn't find out at the time. Well, I see now that my 3 vines are 3 different varieties of grapes.

I have a dark one, which only bore 2 bunches of fruit, and looks like it may be a wine/juice variety:
Dark grape
The most prevalent is a green one which also looks like it may be a wine/juice variety, with firm skin:
Green grape on vine
The third variety is also green, but the fruits look more delicate, like a table/eating grape, and when I sampled some today, they were already quite sweet:
Green eating grape on vine
I have room for a 4th vine, and hope to just buy a nice eating variety (or ask my neighbour who has a very sweet green one).

The espalier apple tree has borne 2 types of apples, neither of which is ready yet. If I look back, I'll see what the varieties are, but I'm too lazy at the moment. This is the "top row" apple:
Espalier apple
...and the "bottom row" apple (the "middle row" one didn't bear this year) - I love the bright red of this one!:
Espalier apples
The espalier asian pear bore a lot of fruit this year, and happily the fruit is very sweet even when small, so I have been doing some late "pruning" (sampling) of the fruit recently. Again, I am too lazy to look up the varieties, but this is the "top row" asian pear:
Espalier asian pear
...and "middle row" asian pear:
Espalier asian pear
...and "bottom row" asian pear:
Espalier asian pear
I also picked another sample of the italian plum, which is not yet ripe, but also very sweet already. And some late strawberries. And a poor Bartlett pear (one of the two this year) which fell too early. The handfuls of blackberries didn't last long enough for the photo of my little harvest from my garden walk today:
Samples of fruit
It made for a tasty treat for the kids to sample with me:
Fruits from the garden
Fall may be fast approaching, but this is a very delicious time of year in the garden, indeed.
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