Just Peachy!

peaches

We have a peach tree.  It produces a billion or more fruit (ok … that’s an exaggeration but it seems that way because most of them ripen all within 14 days or so), and with only two of us it’s challenging to eat that many before we get sick of them or they go bad.  So … what to do?  Leave them for the Japanese beetles, bats and birds?  Heck no!

There are literally thousands of things you can do with peaches.  Our typical plan of attack is to freeze them, make them into jam/preserves, spice and can them, or make dehydrated leather.  (If you need to know more about canning we recommend pickyourown.org.)

A few of our favorite recipes are also included here:  Peach Pie, Peach Cobbler, Peach Drop Cookies, Peach/Raspberry Salmon, and Peach Lemonade.  Enjoy!


Frozen (*humming Let It Go*) Peaches
The basis for just about everything … freeze them.  If you don’t have time to do anything else, take off the skins (boiling water, then ice water), ½ the peaches and pit them, then freeze them.  You can use them after that for jam/preserves, spiced peaches, in recipes or to dehydrate/leather.  Here’s a basic how to:

  1. Slit skin in an X on the bottom (stem side).
  2. Blanch the peaches by putting them in a large bowl of boiling water for about 60 seconds; then
  3. Put the peaches in a bowl of ice water for about the same time.
  4. Peel the skin from the peaches when they are cool enough to handle.
  5. Cut the peach in ½ and remove the pit. You can cut them into quarters or eighths at this point if you wish.
  6. Prep them for freezing: There are three ways to freeze peaches (we use the water pack method):

    Water Pack: Pack peaches into a pint- or quart-size freezer container or bag, leaving 1/2-inch headspace for pints and 1-inch headspace for quarts. Pour water over the peaches, maintaining the specified headspace.
    Sugar Pack: Pack a small layer of peaches into a pint- or quart-size freezer container. Sprinkle lightly with sugar; repeat layering, leaving 1/2-inch headspace for pints and 1-inch headspace for quarts. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes or until juicy before freezing.
    Syrup Pack: Prepare desired syrup (see below). Pack peaches into a pint- or quart-size freezer container or bag, leaving 1/2-inch headspace for pints and 1-inch headspace for quarts. Pour syrup over the peaches, maintaining the specified headspace. 

    To prepare syrup:  Place the recommended amounts of sugar and water (see below) in a large saucepan. Heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and skim off foam, if necessary.  Allow1/2 to 2/3 cup syrup for each 2 cups peaches.
    Very Light Syrup: Use 1 cup sugar and 4 cups water to yield about 4 cups syrup.
    Light Syrup: Use 1-2/3 cups sugar and 4 cups water to yield about 4-1/4 cups syrup.
    Medium Syrup: Use 2-2/3 cups sugar and 4 cups water to yield about 4-2/3 cups syrup.
    Heavy Syrup: Use 4 cups sugar and 4 cups water to yield about 5-3/4 cups syrup.

  7. Freeze. Seal containers or bags according to manufacturer’s directions, pressing out as much air as possible.  If necessary, use freezer tape around lid for a tight seal.  Label each container or bag with its contents, amount, and date. Lay bags flat; add bags or containers to freezer in batches to make sure they freeze quickly. Leave space between containers or bags so air can circulate around them. When frozen solid, the containers or bags can be placed closer together.

Use frozen peaches within 8 to 10 months.
I suggest you NOT use glass jars to freeze.  They will crack.  Not good.


Spiced Peaches
Yield: about 6 pints
Ingredients:
6 lbs Peaches (about 2 dozen medium sized peaches)
8 cups sugar
2 ¾ c cider vinegar (5% strength)
4 Cinnamon sticks
4 teaspoons whole cloves
1-1/3 cups water

  • Blanch, pit and ¼ the peaches. (NOTE:  The “traditional” Southern style is to leave the peaches whole and stick the cloves into them).
  • Mix the sugar, vinegar, and water in a 6 qt. or larger pot. Heat over medium-high stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Put cinnamon sticks and cloves in a double thickness of cheesecloth and tie with twine at the top. Add them to the pot.  (NOTE:  You may add additional cinnamon or cloves if you want spicier peaches.)
  • Bring the pot to boil, cover and boil for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and boil for an additional 5 minutes.
  • Add the peaches to the hot syrup. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until tender.
  • Fill the jars to within ¼ inch of the top, wipe rims, place a lid in top and finger tighten a ring.
  • Water bath the jars as follows:
    Pints/Half-pints:  5 minutes.  From 1001 to 6000 ft, process for 10 minutes.  Above 6001 ft, process for 15 minutes
    Quarts:  10 minutes.  From 1001 to 6000 ft., process to 15 minutes.  Above 6001 ft., process for 20 minutes.
  • Remove jars from water and set aside for 24 hours to cool.

Peach Jam / Preserves
(I assume you have the canning items necessary for this or have canned fruit previously.  If not, see pickyourown.org for further info).
I use Sure-Jell by Kraft powdered pectin and follow their directions for hot water bath canning.
Ingredients:
4 cups prepared fruit (about 3 lb. fully ripe peaches)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. EVER-FRESH Fruit Protector (optional)
1 box SURE-JELL Fruit Pectin
1/2 tsp. butter or margarine (optional)
5-1/2 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl

  • Bring boiling-water canner, half-full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling.
  • Peel and pit peaches. Finely chop fruit. Measure exactly 4 cups prepared fruit into 6- or 8-quart saucepot. Add lemon juice and fruit protector; stir until well blended. Stir in pectin. Add butter to reduce foaming, if desired. Bring to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.
  • Stir in sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.
  • Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with 2-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.)  Cover; bring water to gentle boil.  Process 10 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on towel to cool completely.  After jars cool, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger. (If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)

Dehydrated Peaches / Leather
One of the best investments we made was buying a dehydrator.  Here’s how to dehydrate peaches or make fruit leather:

Dehydrate:

  • After you blanch and peel the peaches, drop them in acidulated water (1 ½ tblsp. per quart of water) or use FruitFresh or another type of fruit preservative.  This will stop them from turning brown.  Slice the peaches 1/8 to ¼” and drop them back into the acidulated water.
  • Drain the peaches and arrange them on dehydrator trays.  You can use parchment paper if you wish.
  • Dehydrate at 135F for 20 to 36 hours.  Store completely dried fruit in airtight containers or in vacuum bags.

Leather:

Leathers From Fresh Fruit

  • Select ripe or slightly overripe fruit.
  • Wash fresh fruit or berries in cool water. Remove peel, seeds and stem.
  • Cut fruit into chunks. Use 2 cups of fruit for each 13″ x 15″ inch fruit leather. Pureé fruit until smooth.
  • Add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or 1/8 teaspoon ascorbic acid (375 mg) for each 2 cups light colored fruit to prevent darkening.
  • Optional: To sweeten, add corn syrup, honey or sugar. Corn syrup or honey is best for longer storage because it prevents crystals. Sugar is fine for immediate use or short storage. Use ¼ to ½ cup sugar, corn syrup or honey for each 2 cups of fruit. Saccharin-based sweeteners could also be used to reduce tartness without adding calories. Aspartame sweeteners may lose sweetness during drying.
  • Applesauce can be dried alone or added to any fresh fruit pureé as an extender. It decreases tartness and makes the leather smoother and more pliable.

Leathers From Canned or Frozen Fruit

  • Home preserved or store-bought canned or frozen fruit can be used.
  • Drain fruit, save liquid.
  • Use 1 pint of fruit for each 13″ X 15″ leather.
  • Purée fruit until smooth. If thick, add liquid.
  • Add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or 1/8 teaspoon ascorbic acid (375 mg) for each 2 cups of light colored fruit to prevent darkening.

Preparing the Trays

  • For drying in the oven a 13″ X 15″ cookie pan with edges works well. Line pan with plastic wrap being careful to smooth out wrinkles. Do not use waxed paper or aluminum foil.
  • To dry in a dehydrator, specially designed plastic sheets can be purchased or plastic trays can be lined with plastic wrap.

Pouring the Leather

  • Fruit leathers can be poured into a single large sheet (13″ X 15″) or into several smaller sizes. Spread pureé evenly, about 1/8-inch thick, onto drying tray. Avoid pouring pureé too close to the edge of the cookie sheet. The larger fruit leathers take longer to dry. Approximate drying times are 6 to 8 hours in a dehydrator, up to 18 hours in an oven and 1 to 2 days in the sun.

Drying the Leather

  • Dry fruit leathers at 140ºF. Leather dries from the outside edge toward the center. Test for dryness by touching center of leather; no indentation should be evident. While warm, peel from plastic and roll, allow to cool and rewrap the roll in plastic. Cookie cutters can be used to cut out shapes that children will enjoy. Roll, and wrap in plastic.

Chances are the fruit leather will not last long enough for storage. If it does, it will keep up to 1 month at room temperature. For storage up to 1 year, place tightly wrapped rolls in the freezer


Recipes:

Most of these recipes are from Taste of Home with a few changes of my own.

Peach Pie
TOTAL TIME: Prep: 35 min. + standing Bake: 50 min. + cooling
MAKES: 6-8 servings
Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4-1/2 cups sliced peeled peaches
Pastry for double-crust pie (9 inches)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter

  • In a large bowl, combine sugars; add peaches and toss gently. Cover and let stand for 1 hour. Line a 9-in. pie plate with bottom pastry; trim even with edge. Set aside. Drain peaches, reserving juice.
  • In a small saucepan, combine the cornstarch, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt; gradually stir in reserved juice. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat; stir in lemon juice and butter. Gently fold in peaches. Pour into crust.
  • Roll out remaining pastry; make a lattice crust. Trim, seal and flute edges. Cover edges loosely with foil. Bake at 400° for 50-60 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Remove foil. Cool on a wire rack. Yield: 6-8 servings.

NOTE:  Cool at least 6 to 8 hours before serving to allow filling to thicken.


Peach Cobbler
Ingredients

4 cups peeled, sliced peaches
2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/2 cups milk
Ground cinnamon, optional

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Combine the peaches, 1 cup sugar, and water in a saucepan and mix well. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  • Put the butter in a 3-quart baking dish and place in oven to melt.
  • Mix remaining 1 cup sugar, flour, and milk slowly to prevent clumping. Pour mixture over melted butter. Do not stir. Spoon fruit on top, gently pouring in syrup. Sprinkle top with ground cinnamon, if using. Batter will rise to top during baking. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes.
  • To serve, scoop onto a plate and serve with your choice of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Peach Drop Cookies
Yield: about 40 cookies
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 13 minutes per pan
Ingredients
2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/3 cup peach preserves (or mix it up and use apricot)
3 tablespoons sanding sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • Preheat oven to 375°F. Line baking sheets with silicone liners or parchment paper.
  • Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
  • Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix well.
  • Reduce mixer speed to low. Add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined.
  • Add the peaches and preserves, mixing just until combined.
  • Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared pans, leaving about 2 inches between cookies.
  • Combine the sanding sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle each cookie with about 1/8 teaspoon of the innamon-sugar.
  • Bake the cookies 11 to 13 minutes, or until golden brown and just set. Cool on the pans for 5 minutes. Then, carefully transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Be sure to refrigerate the dough between baking batches.

Store cookies in an airtight container in single layers with waxed paper between layers. They are best the day they’re baked, but will keep for 2 to 3 days. They will soften more over time.


 Peach/Raspberry Salmon
Ingredients
2 to 3 fresh peaches, skinned and pitted
1 shallot, chopped
¼ cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ pint raspberry jam
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup honey
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 (4-ounce) salmon fillets, defrosted or fresh
Canola oil

  • Put peaches, raspberry jam, shallots, and mustard into a food processor or blender. Purée until smooth. Slowly add the olive oil and process about 30 seconds until mixed.  Then blend for an additional 30 seconds. Add vinegar and process until well combined. Taste and adjust with more mustard, vinegar, or honey as necessary.  Season with salt and pepper.
  • Lightly coat salmon with salt and pepper.  Place in oiled baking dish.  Pour the peach/raspberry mixture over the fish and cook in oven for about 20 to 40 minutes until flaky.  The warmed vinaigrette may be spooned over the top; sliced peaches and/or raspberries may be used as garnish.
  • Serving suggestion: white rice.

Peach Lemonade
MAKES: 5 servings
Ingredients
4 cups water, divided
2 medium peaches, skinned, pitted, chopped
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup lemon juice
1 medium lemon, sliced
Mint sprigs, optional

  • In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups water, peaches and sugar to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 5-7 minutes or until peaches are tender. Remove from the heat. Cool. Strain.
  • In a large pitcher, combine the peach mixture, lemon juice and remaining water. Add lemon slices and mint if desired. Serve over ice.
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When Life Gives You Lemons

lemonrecipe
The recent request for lemons from a trading group I belong to brings up a question .. what do you do with yours? We’ve done the following in the past:
1) grate the zest and dry it then put it in brown paper bags. The zest will last about 6 months or more in a cool, dry, dark environment (the peels can be candied or used to make extract)
2) candy the peel. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/56693/candied-lemon-peel/ (picture here from allrecipes)
3) juice as much as possible and freeze it. If you don’t use it for cooking you can use it for cleaning specifically your windows.
4) lemon protein bars (lots of recipes out there)
5) make your own lemon extract (again … lots of recipes)
6) make lemon cookies with lemon cream centers and freeze them (they will last about a year)
7) make lemon marmalade (sweet and sour and good for recipes like Mandarin Lemon Chicken or Greek Lemon Chicken)
8) Lemoncello
9) make lemon curd (which freezes well then lasts for about 7 days in the refrigerator after thawing)

Any other ideas?

I’m Glad I Didn’t Wet Myself

There are many reasons and finger pointing with respect to why California’s drought started and hasn’t ended … global warming, some moron’s decision to drain the reservoirs here in 2009 in anticipation of rains that would never come, legal protection of the Delta Smelt (a nasty non-native fish that is now officially extinct which begs the question as to why we are still trying to “save” it) which requires we route water to the ocean instead of to farmland, failed El Nino/La Nina cycles, failure to put in desalinization plants, etc.  One fact is undisputed:  California is hurting for water.

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Our little neck of the woods was asked in early 2014 to reduce our water use (based on 2013 numbers) by 10%; four months later, that was raised to 20%.  In 2015, the “voluntary” reductions were replaced with MANDATORY budgets of 30%, 50% and now 70% of 2013 use … specifically with respect to outdoor watering.

This doesn’t really sound like a big deal but in a state that gets an “average” of about 12 inches of rain per year, not washing our cars, turning off the beach showers, not watering our lawns, or not filling our swimming pools is like telling people to cover themselves in honey and lie down on a red ant hill.  We can go to the gym and soak away the dirt and grime in the pool or sauna or hot tub, or use their showers, but there aren’t many ways around the lack of outdoor water fun.  And … California’s economy is based on three things:  tourists and computers and farming.  Telling people on vacation to not come here if they expect to bathe is the death of all that is holy in the amusement world.

Farmers and home gardeners face even more issues … no water = no crops; no crops = no food or money.  California is the “breadbasket” for 80% of the nation (100% on some crops).  We can put up with stinky people and only showering once a year whether we need it or not, but starving to death isn’t really something most people agree is a good thing.

So … what to do?  Tell the world to “eff off” and pay the “excessive water use” fines?  Not many people I know can afford a $100, $200, $300, $400, or $500 hit on a $50 water bill. Besides, sooner or later even those people who do pay the fines will find the taps empty.  Nope … best way was to bite the bullet and make changes:

  • Like most people, we opted to kill off the lawn and put at much as we could on drip and timed irrigation … and we found we still had enough allocated to our budget to grow some vegetables and herbs!  Yeah, dead grass looks like crap, but oh well.
  • In a way we were lucky … although we have 1/2 acre (a 110 x 180 ft. lot), we never put in a pool.  That problem solved.
  • Next, we had already put in 16 irrigation timer stations.  Only 5 of those are allocated to the lawn, and 13 water the planters, 3 were unused or capped off long ago… and all of the planters were already on drip heads.  Third issue checked off.
  • BUT … of the 13 timers on drip irrigation, 12 of them had holes in the lines or the ends had popped off.  We spent about 4 weeks checking every single head, replacing lines, and adjusting timing.  Fourth issue out of the way.

Did we meet the voluntary and mandatory goals?  Yes most of the time, and no a couple of months.  We are allowed about 7,480 gallons of indoor water per month for 4 people (about 62 gallons per person per day to shower, do the dishes and laundry, personal hygiene).  Our outdoor budget changes from month to month depending on the season and weather.  The problem we face now is the possibility that our mandatory 70% outdoor use cut will be a 100% cut by October.  That will prove to be difficult.

Here are the outdoor numbers and math (I promise to make it easy and not do equations and word problems.  You’re welcome for that).  Blue is the base year; red means we missed our goal; green means we made it …

January
2013 used 40 BU
2014 used 38 BU (allocated 36 BU)
2015 used 16 BU (allocated 25.2 BU)
2016 used 0 BU (allocated 12 BU) (I doubt this but I’ll take it)

February
2013 used 40 BU
2014 used 9 BU (allocated 36 BU)
2015 used 12 BU (allocated 25.2 BU)
2016 … (allocated 12 BU)

March
2013 used 39 BU
2014 used 30 BU (allocated 35.1 BU)
2015 used 32 BU (allocated 24.6 BU)
2016 … (allocated 11.7 BU)

April
2013 used 57 BU
2014 used 30 BU (allocated 45.6 BU)
2015 used 30 BU (allocated 31.9 BU)
2016 … (allocated 17.1 BU)

May
2013 used 57 BU
2014 used 44 BU (allocated 45.6 BU)
2015 used 14 BU (allocated 31.9 BU)
2016 … (allocated 17.1 BU)

June
2013 used 74 BU
2014 used 59 BU (allocated 59.2 BU)
2015 used 20 BU (allocated 41.4 BU)
2016 … (allocated 22.2 BU)

July
2013 used 70 BU
2014 used 62 BU (allocated 56 BU)
2015 used 9 BU (allocated 39.2 BU)
2016 … (allocated 21 BU)

August
2013 used 72 BU
2014 used 68 BU (allocated 57.6 BU)
2015 used 16 BU (allocated 40.3 BU)
2016 … (allocated 21.6 BU)

September
2013 used 52 BU
2014 used 55 BU (allocated 41.6 BU)
2015 used 19 BU (allocated 26 BU)
2016 … (allocated 15.6 BU)

October
2013 used 42 BU
2014 used 31 BU (allocated 33.6 BU)
2015 used 13 BU (allocated 21 BU)
2016 … (allocated 12.6 BU)

November
2013 used 26 BU
2014 used 24 BU (allocated 20.8 BU)
2015 used 7 BU (allocated 13 BU)
2016 … (allocated 7.8 BU)

December
2013 used 45 BU
2014 used 8 BU (allocated 36 BU)
2015 used 9 BU (allocated 22.5 BU)
2016 … (allocated 13.5 BU)

How many dollars does this equate to? (these numbers include indoor, outdoor, sewer, and infrastructure fees) …
2013 … $2,826.42
2014 … $2,192.52
2015 … $1,387.97

So … about a $1,500 annual savings which just about paid for building the vegetable garden boxes.  Win/win … I grow my own food AND feel good that I helped save water.

 

Build a Box

A question came up recently in a gardening group I’m a member of as to which wood is best for raised planters. When we first laid out our garden plan, we had to choose a type of material for the planters and had that same question.

We wanted to save on cost, be able to replace any broken bits and parts easily, and have quick access to buried irrigation lines. The choices were wood, plastic or molded boxes, brick or stone, metal or a combination of each.

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gardenboxbrick  gardenboxblock

gardenboxplastic  gardenboxmetalwood

The biggest issue with plastic or molded boxes or metal is the cost. A 4’x3’ box costs about $55 to $125 depending on depth. With over 30 sections in our plan that would be over $1,750 for just the planters. Yikes! Add $1,000 in planter mix, gravel, weed cloth, plants and it would take a full year to recoup costs via lower food and water expenses.

Brick and block work well cost-wise but you need to have some masonry skills to pull this off and have it look good. Plus, the stones or bricks are heavy. If you need to replace any one of them or get to the irrigation system, removal can be difficult.

Wood is a good choice but there are issues with respect to the type of wood. Here’s a good table explaining the pros and cons of each type:

Species Pros Cons How to source sustainably
Ce​dar – Beautiful, smooth, elegant appearance

– Easily takes stains or paint

– Fairly long lifespan – 20+ years for Western Red Cedar

– Chemical-free

– Possible to buy sustainably-grown

– Often untraceable sourcing

– Much cedar is imported

– Source products that are harvested and milled in the United States

– Choose Select Tight Knot instead of Clear grade to minimize waste and reduce demand for Old Growth

Juniper – Very long lifespan – 50+ years

– Great for gardens where a wabi sabi, modern look is preferred

– Chemical-free

– Inexpensive

– Rustic look doesn’t appeal to everyone

– Juniper is more prone to movement than other species, which can be a challenge for vertical installations
– Not easily acquired in all areas

– Juniper is sourced from grassland restoration projects in Oregon

– Its harvest helps improve an ecosystem, not damage one

Pressure-Treated  – Easy to find

– Fairly long lifespan – 20+ years

– Inexpensive

– Contains chemical preservatives that are designed to impede biological activity, which may damage garden soil

– Chemicals may migrate from soil into food

– Buy wood that is treated with an alternative to CCA (chromated copper arsenate, which contains arsenic), such as borate, ACQ, or CA (copper azole) (California requires CA use for all treated lumber)
Reclaimed Wood – Keeps material out of the waste stream

– Can be rustic and charming

– Usually inexpensive

– May be challenging to find the right sizes

– Wood may contain unknown chemical additives

– Lead paint may chip off into soil

– Unknown species may not offer much durability

– Try to find cedar, redwood, or another naturally durable species

– Try to find wood that is untreated and unpainted

Redwood – Beautiful color

– Elegant

– Fairly long lifespan – 20+ years

– Chemical-free

– Can be very expensive

So … after we figured out that we wanted to use pressure treated 4×4” posts and cedar or redwood fence boards, it was just a matter of putting them together, right? Ha! There are hundreds of “styles” and ways to do this. What we opted to do was cut a groove in the 4×4 posts and drop the cedar fence boards in, then cap the top of the post with something that would look “nice” (we opted for recycled wood scrap toppers painted white). Here are the pictures of the steps to build the boxes:

  • Take an 8 ft. 4×4 post of treated lumber and cut it into quarters (24” each).
  • Router the middle of one side with a 1” router bit down the length of two fence boards (about 10 to 11 inches depending on board width)
  • Turn the posts upside down so the tops are facing the concrete.
  • Cut the fence boards to size. Slide two boards into the routed slots and nail or staple in place. Do this to all 4 sides.
  • Turn the box right-side-up and place in pre-dug holes (the holes we dug were 14 inches deep which allows for 10 to 11 inches above ground and enough space under the posts to raise or lower as necessary to level the box).
  • Level the box as you fill in the post holes. You may need to cut back a “groove” from post hole to post hole to do this.
  • Fill in the post holes completely, water and tamp down, then let it sit for a couple of days to settle. Fill in any sunken areas as needed.

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Cut wood, boards, and routed the posts.

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Built upside down then placed into the holes.

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There are definitely easier ways to do this, but we liked how this looks and the slots allow us to replace boards easily.

The cost of wood per 4×3 ft. box? … About $31.75
1 4×4-8 treated posts = about $11
6 6 ft. 5” dog ear cedar fencing = about $15
4 top caps = about $5.75 ($8.50 for a pack of 6)

Total cost for 30 boxes and a trellis … about $1000 (we spent the remaining $750 on planting mix, pea gravel, and weed mat, plus seeds and plants) J The garden is about 1450 sq. ft. so the cost is just about $1.50 per after all is said and done (not including any new irrigation items).

More later on how much water we saved by taking out most of the back lawn.

Channeling Grandma Eva

When I was a kid, our family (my dad’s side) would go to my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve.  Grandma not only decorated every single square inch of her property and won county contests for doing so, but she was one of the few (if not the only person) who I knew that grew her own food.  I never realized what that entailed until later when I was researching our family history.

Eva Irene (Robertson) Langner Avant White Nielsen (yeah … she was married 4 times … 5 if you include her marriage to Avant twice) was a powerhouse as was her mother Louisa (Knoles) Robertson.  Grandma Eva owned a chicken farm at the corner of Philadelphia and Vineyard in current day Ontario in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.  She and her family came from deep south farming stock via Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky.  Great-grandma Louisa’s family were sharecroppers and homesteaders on the most part, and they grew what they needed to be self-reliant.

When we built our house in 2001 to 2003, we decided to plant fruit and other trees.  That led to my dabbling in canning and preserving.  From 2009 to 2014, California was faced with extreme drought, and we decided that using drip irrigation and killing off the grass in favor of growing our own crops would be not only a good cost saving idea but it would also help take us back to our farming family’s roots.

Flash

Ta da!   A plan was born in February 2014, but nothing would come of it until a year later not because of lack of want but because we were blessed with the birth of our grand daughter and were a bit busy that year in that respect.  In February 2015, we started with a vengeance moving irrigation and sprinkler lines and heads, building raised box beds, and researching what grows in our area.  I set aside 1 to 2 hours per day in the morning to cut sod and dig holes, and the first thing we did was the center “herb” planters.

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Yea us!  We put in basil, oregano, chives, thyme and sage … and we learned that the basil is an invasive SOB but it is great for attracting bees.

Next up was starting the southeast quadrant.  The bricks below are where the posts for the raised boxes would be located.

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The corners of the boxes are 4×4 by 24″ treated lumber placed at 14″ below ground level.  The sides are 5″ cedar fencing and the post caps are painted white 4×4 pine scrap.  We started by building the boxes “upside down” on the concrete but later found it was easier to do them in ground.  The sides of the 4×4 posts are routed and the fence boards are then slotted and stapled in place.

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The hardest part of all this was re-doing the irrigation lines and figuring out what type of irrigation heads to use (drip, small line, large line) and how many gallons per minute for how many minutes per type of crop.  As of January 2016, we’ve completed 1/2 of the plan, have placed weed mat and pea gravel between the boxes, and are working on the northwest quadrant.  When we finish the planting boxes, we will then complete the planting table “V” as shown in the plan above.  That will hopefully be about June or earlier.

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More later on how well this has worked … our successes and failures, reduction in water use, and just overall enjoyment knowing that I’m following in Grandma Eva’s footsteps.