Garden Update July 30, 2022

This is the time in our growing season we start to notice what worked and what didn’t. Dry spells and very hot days really stresses the lawn, but Bert has been able to keep the garden plants watered. The first planting of green and yellow beans have been preserved as part of a 4-Bean Salad mixture (see

Radishes have flourished in our raised planter on the patio, so they are part of my daily salad mix. I’ve been able to keep up with planting new seeds after I remove the ones that are ready to eat. I will deem the raised planter with radishes a rousing success this year!

The cherry tomato plant in a large pot on the patio seemed like a good idea in the spring, but I don’t think we’ll do tomatoes in a pot next year! Even with just one plant (the tag said good for a pot) it was just too big and top heavy. It has fallen over multiple times. That was tolerable, the tomatoes themselves, while they tasted good the skins were so tough I felt like I had to discard a piece of plastic when I was done chewing. I have been collecting them and will include them when I make pizza sauce in a few days. Hopefully after they are cooked the skins will easily chop in the food processor. I’ll probably not grow cherry tomatoes again.

The strawberry plants were down low and vulnerable to the wandering bunnies and chipmunks. I’ve eaten 3-4 strawberries as soon as they ripened but hardly worth the trouble.

The Black Seeded Simpson lettuce did very well. It has now bolted and is waiting for Bert to dump out the pot. He is using the leaves now for bait in groundhog traps!

On to the shell beans. If you recall, I’m growing five different beans that we will leave in the garden until fall. The labels for them are hiding under the plants right now so I’m not sure which is which. First, here are what the plants look like now:

Can you see what’s left of this plant at the top of the picture…chomped right off! We have a group of deer that visit the bird feeder every night and this poor plant was tall and tasty. It didn’t have a chance!

I was able to pick a few bean pods to see what was happening inside:

The Calypso Beans are finally turning black and white!
The Painted Pony beans have noticeable color.

The most fun are the Garbanzo beans (Chickpeas) up in the garden:

Chickpea pod.
They are tiny, but they look like familiar chickpeas!

Up in the garden, we put a few tomato plants in a pot rather than throwing them away in the spring. They were tucked next to the fence and we kind of ignored them. The visiting deer seemed to find the tops that were close to the fence pretty tasty!

The single row of green beans and carrots are finally perking up:

The row where the green and yellow beans were, got a second planting of carrots. Not sure if they’ll have time to make carrots, but we’ll see.

Can you see the tiny carrot sprouts up the middle of the row?

The Super Sauce tomatoes are ripening fast so we’re picking every day.

This batch of tomatoes will be pizza sauce in a few days!
Of course, the Echinacea plants always make me smile!

So, that’s the tour! Looking at the shell beans and chickpea plants, it feels like fall is on its way. Of course, today is 95 degrees with little rain in the forecast. Fall weather sounds delightful! Enjoy!

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Canning Sweet Pickle Relish

Canning sweet pickle relish is my next big project this week! I know…why not buy it? Well…I use pickle relish mixed with my vegan mayo to make my own salad dressing, which I also use as tartar sauce for fish and dips for raw vegetables. I seldom use plain vegan mayo by itself. And yes…I can buy it easily, but I have yet to find a brand that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup in it, or have bits of tough cucumber skins. When I make my own, I can regulate the amount of sugar and make sure to process the cucumber chunks into smaller pieces. I also enjoy the satisfaction of having a year’s worth on the shelf.

Last week I picked up a box of small to medium size cucumbers at the Amish Farmer’s Market for $18.

As I washed them, I counted 75 in total. I use a packet of relish seasoning that makes the process easier.

For each packet, I needed about 25 cucumbers, which will make 5 pints. I had three packets for my 75 cucumbers.

First I started cutting the cucumbers into chunks…the chunks filled my largest bowl…13 quarts!

Next, in small batches, I put them in the food processor to grind them up.

By the time I was done, I had about 10 quarts of ground cucumbers.

Next, I stirred in pickling salt and let the kettle sit on the counter for several hours.

Pickling salt does not have the additives that keep it from caking. Apparently, regular salt with those additives will discolor the finished product.

When the 2 hours were up, Bert helped me strain the cucumber pulp through cheesecloth to get rid of much of the extra salty water. That reduced the volume almost in half.

Then, I added white vinegar, sugar and the seasoning packets to my 12 qt. pot.

Then the cucumber pulp was added and brought to a boil.

I was able to fill 16 pint jars. They processed for 15 minutes in a water bath. Of course, I didn’t get any pictures while I filled the jars! Sorry. However, those jars will look great on my shelf all winter!

My final canning project for this summer will be tomatoes into pizza sauce (here’s the link to canning pizza sauce from last year: Small batches of just cooked tomatoes to freeze will be my end of year project. Enjoy!

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Making a Catnip Pillow for Your Cat

To give my hands a rest from peeling apples, making pizza sauce and canning relish this week, I worked on a simple sewing project for a friend’s cat. I don’t have a cat and can barely pet them because of allergies, but I can sew for them!

One thing my friend discovered was that her cat was endlessly entertained with a little catnip in a toy. A few years ago I made a small pillow with a removeable cover so a little catnip could be tucked between the pillow and the cover. More can be added as needed and the cover can be washed separately. It was time to make a new one!

Here is Purrs with her favorite pillow.

I never had a pattern when I made the original one, so this time I actually measured and took pictures in case you’d like to make one yourself!

Making a Catnip Pillow


1. Two small pieces of cotton fabric, one made of flannel to make the cover; each 7″ x 8″.
2. Two pieces of cotton fabric (any color) to make the inner pillow; 7″ x 8″.
3. One strip of hook/loop fastener, about 1/2″ x 6″. (My picture shows two 3″ pieces…it’s what I had!)
4. Stack of 3-4 quilt batting pieces, each 6″ square, or poly stuffing to fill the small pillow.
5. Small amount of powdered catnip. (Catnip can be purchased at

Making the Pillow

Step 1: Sew the pillow pieces, right sides together, leaving one end open. Turn the pillow right side out.

Step 2: Insert the stack of batting pieces or poly stuffing to make a soft pillow. Turn the raw edges and sew the pillow shut.

Step 3: Set the small pillow aside.

Making the Case

Step 4: On the short ends of the case fabric, fold 1/2″ and stitch.

Step 5: Sew the Velcro strips on the wrong side of each piece…on top of the finished edges.

Step 6: With the case pieces, right side together, sew around the three sides, leaving the Velcro edges open.

Step 7: Turn the case right side out. Insert the pillow.

Step 8: Insert a small amount of powdered catnip between the case and the pillow, press the Velcro together and share with your cat!

Give it a try! Enjoy!

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A Fond Memory While Canning Applesauce

The middle of July may seem like an odd time to be canning applesauce, but actually, it’s the perfect time! This is the time of year when all my canning equipment is unpacked and ready for the tomatoes and cucumbers to ripen. While I’m waiting for other vegetables, it’s also the perfect time to work with apples. They usually have been stored commercially in climate-controlled areas since last fall and by July they are much easier to peel and are usually less expensive.

On Monday I made a drive out to the local fruit farm and picked up about 3/4 of a bushel of apples. I first picked out 1/2 bushel of the nicest Fuji apples I could find. Then I collected a peck of Ida Reds. Fuji apples are “sweet & mildly sweet” and the Ida Reds are “crisp, tangy & sharp.” As I cut them up, I chose some of each to get the benefits of both flavors.

How Much Exactly is a Bushel?

I looked up the definitions of bushel and peck, because it’s been a long time since I bought that many apples by that measure. A “bushel” is first a measure of volume. In the U.S. a bushel is equal to 8 gallons, 12 quarts, 64 pints or 4 pecks. (The Imperial Bushel, used in the U.K. is similar, but it can be used to measure dry or liquid products.)

A bushel can also be used as a measure of weight…and the government has established standard weights for each type of fruit, vegetable, nut and grain. A bushel of tomatoes, for example is supposed to weigh 56 pounds, as is a bushel of shelled corn. But if the corn is still in ears, a bushel is supposed to weigh 70 pounds. Leaves and greens take up more space with less weight.

A better way to clarify for the ordinary person like me, is to describe what you can do with a bushel of apples. For example, a bushel of apples typically holds about 125 medium apples. That’s enough to make about 15 quarts of applesauce or around 15 apple pies. That information is so much more helpful for me.

So, this week, I bought 1/2 bushel of Fuji apples and a peck of Ida Reds (shown above). For future reference, that many apples made 28 half-pints of applesauce (equal to 7 quarts) and two apple crisps with about 12 apples left over. Not sure what I’ll make now, but my hands are pooped out and I’ll have to make a decision soon. Once the apples come out of storage they don’t keep well.

A Fond Memory While Cutting Apples

I cut apples up for 3 1/2 hours on Tuesday and filled my 12 qt. pot to the brim with cut apples.

Cutting up apples is a pretty solitary job and I found myself thinking about all the times I watched and helped my mother cut apples for pies (my dad’s favorite). When I was very young, I fondly remember her singing a silly song called, “A Bushel and a Peck.” I finally took a minute to look up the lyrics and sure enough, I found them! It is really silly, but what a fond memory!

Continuing With the Canning Process

By the time the apples had cooked down, the full 12 qt. pot was filled only halfway.

Then I scooped the soft apples into the food processor and gave them a quick zap. I don’t mind the sauce being a little lumpy.

Then I put the sauce back into my smaller 6 qt. pot to simmer. I had to add a sauce pan for the overflow. At this point we tasted it and decided it needed a little sugar, so I added about 1 1/2 cups.

When divided up, the sauce filled 24 half-pint jars, plus 4 plastic containers that went into the freezer. The 24 jars went into the canner and were water-bath processed for 20 minutes. Now these lovely jars are ready for winter!

You might ask…do we really eat that much applesauce! While it’s great as a side dish for pork, I do use applesauce as an ingredient in some vegan baking, as a substitute for eggs.

Do you have any treasured memories that come up when you’re doing something your parents taught you to do? Enjoy!

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Canning Four-Bean Salad

Remember that six pounds of green and yellow beans I picked a few days ago? ( Over the weekend we managed to turn them into 18 pints of beautiful Four-Bean Salad!

I wanted to show you how we did it! I will tell you, canning in the Kisner household is definitely a team activity. I could not do it without Bert’s strong muscles to handle the canner. He was always willing to help, but years ago we invested in a canner that is hard for me to lift even empty…and it couldn’t be put on our glass-top stove burners. We now have a pretty slick set up…as long as Bert is willing to manage the actual canning process.

Since we can’t use the stove burners, he uses his propane burner that he set up to melt lead for reloading. It gets almost too hot so he’s had to put extra shields on top of the burner to help regulate the temperature.

Of course, that also means we do the actual canning in the garage. I’m grateful he knows how to do all this stuff!

My job is in the kitchen getting the jars sterilized and the food prepped. Since this recipe is basically making “pickled” vegetables, which includes mostly vinegar and sugar, the canning can be done with a water bath process. However, we use the same canner, he just doesn’t seal the lid and fills it with water.

When I can, I try to make a batch that will fill the canner…no point in going to all that work for 5 pints. So, I doubled the recipe…using 6 pounds of green and yellow beans, 4 cups of chopped celery, etc. Here is the recipe I’m using:

While Bert was getting the garage set up, I ran the dishwasher with the jars to sterilize them.

First, I mixed up the pickling solution and set it on a back burner to simmer.

Next, I prepped the vegetables. I had the beans all snapped and ready to go.

Then I had to chop the celery, onion and red pepper.

I measured out the kidney beans and chickpeas and rinsed them well.

I was using my largest pot that was full to the brim, before I added the beans! There was no room to add water to boil AND I didn’t have a long enough spoon to stir the pile.

Plan B kicked in! Bert went to the attic and found his HUGE stockpot that he uses to store cookie dough at Christmas. We dumped everything into the big pot (which of course, would not fit on the stove), moved it to the propane burner in the garage, and then added enough water to blanch the vegetables. I found Bert’s GIANT wooden spoon that he used to use to mix up cookie dough and we were able to finish blanching the vegetables out there.

The next dilemma was to drain the vegetables and move them back to the kitchen so I could pack the jars. I pulled out my HUGE colander strainer to scoop the vegetables into the original pot that did fit on my stove. By then, the vegetables had softened and fit back into the pot. Whew!

While I filled the jars, Bert emptied the hot water out of the big pot, set it aside, and put the canner on the burner to begin warming the water for canning.

When all divvied up, the vegetables filled 18 jars! The canner holds 19 jars. Perfect! So, the recipe, when doubled makes many more than 10 jars!

I used the pickling solution to fill the jars and had to add about 2 cups of vinegar to top them off. Once I got them filled, Bert took over, capped them and got them out to the canner. He handled the timing and watched the burner while I cleaned up the kitchen.

I now have 18 beautiful jars of pickled vegetables that will look and taste great all year! Of course, the recipe says to wait a month before opening, so along about Labor Day, I’ll check them out.

If you want to try this recipe, check your instructions that came with your canner to get the time correct for your altitude. Be mindful when you double a recipe…it might make more than you expect!

Four-Bean Salad

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Garden Update July 15, 2022

Things are ripening fast. Time to share what we’re able to enjoy from the garden. The echinacea plants are going crazy and the bees love them. So pretty…they make me smile!

I’ve picked all the green and yellow beans. I ended up with 6 pounds of beans so I have enough that I can make a big batch of 4-bean salad. I will can them in pints, adding canned kidney beans, canned chickpeas, red sweet pepper, onion and a pickling brine. I’ll be doing that tomorrow so I’ll post that recipe and pictures in a few days.

The single row of beans that are next to the carrots will be ready in a few weeks and we’ll just eat them.

Here are some other things that we can eat right now…or soon!

The Black Seeded Simpson lettuce is looking good.
We’ve been eating radishes. The ones on the right are just beginning. I’ll replant the spaces on the left as soon as I pull the remaining ones.
The one pot of strawberries is trying so hard…I doubt if we’ll have more than a few to eat unless the chipmunks get them first!
The yellow cherry tomatoes are great to toss in salads.
The Super Sauce tomatoes are ripening fast. We’re ready to add them to meals.
The Delicata squash is finally getting those green stripes. I’m not exactly sure when they are ripe…so we’ll have to experiment.
The cucumbers are producing and I’ve been able to have at least one cucumber every day for a week or two. Love them!
These are the Calypso shell beans. They will stay in the garden until fall but I couldn’t resist seeing what’s happening inside. they are supposed to be black and white when they are ready.

Certainly not ready yet!
I think part of the plant thinks it’s fall! The Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) are hanging in there. I just had to see what was happening inside the pod.

Looks like each pod has two beans (peas).

So that’s what’s happening in our backyard. We’ve not had a significant rainfall for several weeks so the grass looks pretty brown, but we’ve been able to keep the garden watered thanks to the rain barrels. If it doesn’t rain soon, we’ll have to drag the hose up the hill to the garden to keep things green. Oh, the life of a gardener! I feel for the farmers who can’t solve the rain deficit with just a hose.

Off to prep the green and yellow beans for canning tomorrow! Enjoy!

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Making Chicken Cakes for Your Backyard Chickens

Let me be clear…I do not have chickens in my backyard. I wish I did, but now that I can’t eat eggs I don’t see the point and Bert would prefer to not deal with chickens as pets. However, a friend who does have chickens in her backyard wondered if I would test a recipe for a baked seed cake recipe. I guess similar cakes can be purchased but she wanted a cake that would have wholesome ingredients with no extra chemicals or additives. Why not!

Here is the recipe:

My friend provided all the ingredients, which helped a lot. Many of the ingredients were unfamiliar since I don’t work with chicken feed, so I had to figure out which bag had “scratch grain” and which was “layer feed.”

For example, the “scratch grains” were called a “poultry treat,” but basically it was an assortment of grains.
The “layer feed” was high in protein and had pre- and probiotics.
I certainly didn’t have “chick grit” in my kitchen!

The rest of the ingredients at least sounded like things I was familiar with, like sunflower seeds, whole wheat flour and cinnamon!

I measured out all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. In a smaller bowl I mixed the eggs, molasses and coconut oil. Then I poured the wet ingredients into the pile of dry ingredients.

I was able to mix it up with a big spoon. The recipe said I could do it with my hands, but the spoon worked fine.

My plan was to use my small loaf-shaped pans so I sprayed them with oil and filled them about halfway. I needed to press firmly in the corners and along the sides to pack it tightly.

I had a small cookie cutter and cut a hole to put the string through.

Once I removed the bit of packed seed, I inserted a small piece of dowel rod and packed the seeds around the stick. I left the dowel rod in while baking.

The last cake of seed dough I divided into two baking cups, making two smaller cakes. I wanted to see how those cups worked.

I forgot to spray oil on the paper cups…big mistake! I had to practically rip the paper off the cakes.

After baking for 30 minutes at 325 degrees, I let them cool for a few minutes. While they were still warm, I was able to twist and remove the dowel rods and run a table knife around the edges of the pans. The larger cakes popped right out of the pans. The smaller paper cups should have been sprayed but the cakes were fine.

I let the cakes cool on the racks overnight so they could harden and were not sticky. I was able to string a piece of twine through the holes and they are ready to hang in the chicken house or barn. Hope the chickens like them!

In the past I’ve also been asked to try to make a chicken coat. That was a learning experience too! Check it out at

Give this cake recipe a try or share with a friend who has backyard chickens! You may be rewarded with some eggs! Please comment or email me directly at

Can I Protect the Garbanzo Beans with Essential Oils?

There is nothing more frustrating than finding a deer decided to use the garden for their salad bar! We have invested time, energy (mostly Bert’s) hopes and dreams (mostly mine!) in the garden this year. The Garbanzo beans have been especially fun to watch.

Can you see the tiny marble-size garbanzo bean pods?

I am so looking forward to seeing how they were going to turn out and yesterday morning Bert said ne noticed a few places where the plants had been chomped right off! Oh no!

They were not chomped off at ground level and there was no evidence of an animal coming from underground like a ground hog or vole. Rabbits cannot get through the fence but a deer could probably jump over the fence. We do have a walkway between the fence and the garden which keeps deer from just leaning over the fence for a snack. We’ve never had a problem before but who knows! Nothing else in the garden was bothered so far.

We do have lots of deer wandering through the yard at night and we often see them at the bird feeder, cleaning up what has spilled underneath. If a deer decided to jump over the fence for a snack, I would have thought other plants would have been damaged.

So…we have no idea what we’re dealing with. Last night, I just wanted to deter any animal from causing more damage, so I grabbed some extra cheesecloth I had and spread it on top of the plants. At least if it happened again, we’d see some damage to the cheesecloth. If this continues, Bert will set up his trail camera to check it out at night.

If the damage is being caused by something at ground level or from underground, there might be more damage without bothering the cheesecloth. This morning, I lifted off the cheese cloth and set it aside to see how the plants are this morning.

So far, no new damage.

I really hate the idea of putting poison around the garden when I don’t know exactly who the culprit is, so I did a search online to see if any of my essential oils could help.

I found one very helpful article about using essential oils to deter deer. After describing the many ways to protect garden produce from deer, like having a 7-foot-high fence to having a dog wander around the garden fence and mark (pee) on the posts, the article clearly identified scents that deer don’t like…peppermint (actually any of the mints), lavender, thyme and oregano. At the opposite end of the garden is my whole row of lavender in bloom…maybe that kept animals away from the plants at that end.

Since I don’t have a dog and don’t want to count on my neighbor’s dog to be available, today I’m going to mix up a spray with water, lavender hydrosol, lavender oil and peppermint oil and spray it around the garden fence and garbanzo beans. At least it isn’t poison and maybe it will help keep animals away.

I’ll continue to cover the plants at night…at least until it rains and I’ll spray around the fence and plants. Here’s hoping my dreams of garbanzo beans will continue!

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Summer Door Quilt on Wood

Now that we’re into summer, I can put away my first door quilt on wood. See how I made it at

The next one I chose has several names. In one book it’s called Blazing Star, and in another it has had 5 other names!

I guess I’ll go with Blazing Star or Flaming Star. It appealed to me in its simplicity and made me think of all the stars on a summer night!

Since I don’t have an actual pattern, it helped to have it identified as being on a template of a 4-patch quilt block.

Making the Small Sample Block

I have learned to always make a miniature block first so I can figure out the dimensions of the sections. Painting the block also helps me visualize the colors better before I actually start on the 12″ x 12″ block of wood.

This is a 3″ square miniature canvas. I marked it into smaller squares each 1/4″. On the larger block of wood, each 1/4″ will be equal to 1″.

This took me a little while to figure out the angle for the star points in the background…as shown by all my pencil lines and erasures! That’s why I do this in pencil on a small one first!

And then I tested my color choices:

I started with the darkest color (that really is purple!), then yellow, and finally the gray background. Not very exciting but it reminded me of a night sky with all the stars out.

Making the Larger Block

With my shapes determined I shouldn’t have any pencil lines showing through the yellow paint.
First two colors.
Finished block…waiting for Bert to put the magnets on the back!
And of course, the yellow looks totally different in daylight! I like it!

It’s been fun to try this new kind of quilt block. Now I have a month or two to figure out what pattern to do next. I’m probably good until Labor Day now!

My miniatures are also reminding me what I’ve already done…my own little art gallery! Enjoy!

I may still do the two on the left on larger wood. So many patterns to choose from!

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Garden Update July 2, 2022

This is the point in the growing season that we start anticipating signs of actual produce coming from the garden. We’ve eaten lettuce and radishes, picked lavender and echinacea flowers but we’re ready to peek under the leaves to see what might actually be growing there. Thought I’d share what we found!

Echinacea is just starting but the potential for much more is visible.
Lavender flowers are now opening so the bees are very busy.
Here’s a view of the whole garden on the hill this 4th of July weekend.
Here’s the view of the backyard planters from the hill.

At the close up level, under the leaves, we found what’s coming!

So far, strawberries have blossoms. Down at ground level, not sure if any actual strawberries will survive the wandering chipmunks!
Most of the cucumbers are about 1″ long…except this one! There is hope!
Delicata squash is finally on its way!
Painted Pony beans are starting to be big enough to see.
Green beans will be ready in a week or two.
Yellow beans will turn yellow when they are ready to pick.
Tomatoes are getting bigger!
Garbanzo beans are just flowers so far.

So that’s the overview! Sort of in a holding pattern, making sure the rain is timed right and the bugs stay away. It’s called gardening season in Pennsylvania! Enjoy!

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