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Homemade Saturday with candles and ketchup

Candles and Ketchup

Candles and Ketchup

We love burning candles, especially during the cold dark of the year, and Jim’s discovered a trick for extending the life of pillar candles once they get hallowed out from use.

Jim’s innovation came into action on Saturday when trying to light a favorite beeswax candle of ours. The wick had burned about halfway down into the candle, so the candle was not casting much light and lighting it was also challenging.

Here’s what Jim did:

First he cut the candle in half. The bottom half would now be an easily lit and enjoyed pillar.

On the left, the hollow "tube" of the candle becomes a container for a voltive and melted wax

On the left, the hollow “tube” of the candle becomes a container for a voltive and melted wax

Next he took a voltive candle and used that as a guide for the height of the remaining piece. He cut the candle base to the appropriate height with a large serrated knife. From previous candle extending experiments, he’s found that placing the wax shell on a small plate and covering the edge with putty (the orange rim in the photo) creates a tight seal. He then settled and centered the voltive into the open middle of the candle and poured in the remainder of the wax which had been melted in the microwave. Instant candle! — Although we exercised restraint and allowed the candle to solidify fully before lighting it the next day.

Here’s what Janice did:
Meanwhile, I made homemade ketchup somewhat accidentally. Earlier in the day, I cleaned out the refrigerator and freezer in celebration of the next year. I pulled out a couple of bags of frozen tomatoes and set them on the stove to cook down with a plan of making tomato soup. I let them simmer longer than needed, and so my finished product option appeared to be more tomato paste than tomato soup. I put the tomatoes through the food mill to make them smooth, and my new idea was ketchup!

Using my Ball Blue Book recipe as a guide, I mixed up a quick ketchup with a bit more pizazz than Heinz’s. I skipped the whole spice bag approach and used powdered ingredients for a smooth texture. I gently simmered the tomatoes while I added the additional ingredients. I ended up with a pint jar of ketchup in total, to which I had added 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 teaspoon cayenne, 1/4 cup of cider vinegar. The resulting ketchup has a delightful flavor, taste and thickness and worked well with this morning’s scrambled eggs.

Candles and ketchup made for a good weekend!

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A New Year for Goals in the Garden


Winter has finally arrived here in the Midwest. We had a lovely autumn and an unusually temperate weather until now. Some people had expressed worry about the delay in the changing of the seasons, but we do seem to be past strange interim that now. The cold snap has settled upon us, and we are regularly wearing sweaters in the house. Today on the first day of the new year, we woke to an impressive dusting of snow that didn’t melt away. It’s winter indeed!

Although I miss the garden, I appreciate the off-season too. The downtime allows us to think about and plan for the garden-to-come. In the spirit of New Year’s Day, I revisited garden resolutions from 2009 and 2013 and compared those goals with our present goals. There are some repeats of resolutions just because good gardening habits make for good gardens– and even experienced gardeners need reminders!

Here are my gardening resolutions for 2016:

1. Plant more fruit trees.
We are off to a strong start on this goal because four new fruit trees have been ordered from Trees of Antiquity. We are branching out by adding another apple tree as well as a cherry tree, a peach tree, and a pear tree. We have a lot to learn about growing these new-to-us fruit plants.

2. Stake everything.
I like to think we have gotten much better at following through on this practice in the garden, but it’s still on the list! Staking plants when they are small helps keep the plants upright and the leaves and fruit off the ground. Mature plants will thank you for taking the time to stake them while they are small and easy to train.

3. Take more pictures of the garden.
This goal is a redo as well. It’s easy to take pictures, and they bring so much pleasure over the season. Just do it!

4. Thin (or remove) the Jerusalem Artichokes.
The goal is to keep the garden in balance with no one plant taking over. The Jerusalem Artichokes seem unaware of this idea. I hope to tame them in the spring, but we shall see. We thought we’d removed them once…

5. Be sure to plant the things you love!
We like to have a lot of different varieties of vegetables and herbs in the garden. Sometimes we forget to put in old favorites or add something we haven’t grown in a while. This summer, I want ancho peppers and camomile, and I’ll add more to the “remember these” list all winter long.

6. Harvest and use herbs.
Last year’s mint and parsley were harvested and used regularly, and we have both drying in the house. Not all of our herbs were treated so well. We need to up the herb game.

7. Start some seeds indoors/ manage the seed stash.
Seeds are such fun to buy that it’s not hard at all to accumulate seeds but fail to plant them. As seeds age, their germinate rate decreases. This year, I’m planning to sort through the seeds, start some, and thin out the rest.

8. Post regularly about the garden.
This goal will be a challenge because I have gotten out of the habit of writing regularly. It’s time for a change, however, so look for more regular posts in 2016!
Happy New Year!

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Do Good while Doing It Yourself with this Humble Bundle

Cold has returned to the Midwest which has prompted me to blow the dust off my work bench and get busy indoors. If you are searching for do it yourself projects to fill these dark chilly hours, check out this Humble Bundle of books from Make. We at 20MinuteGarden are great fans of both Humble Bundle and Make.

How does Humble Bundle work?
You can pay what you want for digital books. Sure, they got famous for games but we’ve bought mostly their book bundles. You get to decide how much to pay and you also get to decide how much goes to the creators of the content and how much goes to a designated charity. If you pay more than $15, you unlock two more titles and if you pay more than the average, you unlock even more titles. All this content is completely DRM-free, which appeals to my open source soul.

This bundle focuses on titles from Make, one of the great exponents of the Maker movement. Sure, you might already subscribe to Make: magazine or you might already have some of these books. But the joy of these bundles is to get copies of works that I probably didn’t know I wanted. I’ve got my eye on the “Vintage Tomorrows” and the “Lost Knowledge” but I’m also curious about the “Home Forensic Science” and “Bicycle Projects.” Knowing Make, there has got to be at least some tidbit of wonder in each of the books too.

The kicker for me is that this Make-focused Humble Bundle meets my “cheapskate” price for digital books. I really can’t convince myself to pay more that $1 for ebooks… which means I really don’t buy many. With this Bundle, $15 will get you 16 titles with more on the way.

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An Argument for a Home Orchard

Polly White Peach from

Polly White Peach from

We’ve been dreaming and planning about expanding our home orchard for some time. Our three apples trees have done really well, and we are ready to add a few more trees in the 20 Minute Garden. Our goal is to raise more fruit and more kinds of fruit too.

I’ve been researching different varieties of fruit trees and reflecting on what types of fruits would work best for our garden, our growing zone, and our palates. Here are my current choices and the logical and reasoning that went into making these selections. Note that our plants will come from Tree of Antiquity, a nursery specializing in heirloom varieties whose products we’ve been very happy with. Almost all of their trees are certified organic. In addition to great products, their website offers a wonderful resource of history and habits of each of the plants they sell. It is indeed hard to make choices when there are so many good ones!

Pear — I’m leaning toward the Kieffer pear, which originated in Pennsylvania in 1876. This pear is a rare American heirloom variety. It’s good for fresh eating, pear honey (with which I am not yet familiar, but will be as soon as possible!) and preserves. The fruit stores excellently, and the tree is self-fertile, which is a definite plus since we will likely have only one pear tree. In 2 – 4 years, we’ll be harvesting pears.

PeachPolly White (Iowa, 1920) is one of the most winter hardy heirloom peach varieties, which was a major attraction given our weather. While the Michigan winter in our area is milder than further north, we do get some very cold temperatures and we want our peach tree to survive! Moreover, Polly White peaches are described as “sweet, tender and juicy” — a perfect peach!– and also as being freestone peaches, another plus. This tree is also self-fertile, and it will be bearing fruit in 1 – 3 years

CherryMontmorency from France 1600’s. A classic cooking cherry! Good for pies and tarts! The fruit does not get mushy when cooked. This tree is disease resistant and self-fertile. We will get cherries in 1 – 3 years.

AppleWhite Pearmain — England 1200. Okay, I’m completely smitten with an apple variety known for being 800 years old! This apple is good for fresh eating, dessert, pies, cider, and baking — all the things we do with apples! It’s vigorious and self-fertile, but also a great pollinizer of other apple trees. Our tree will bear apples in 2 – 4 years.

As we have noted in our other orchard and fruit tree posts, planting fruit trees is an investment in the future. We are reminded of the need for patience and the hope of looking forward. The descriptions have my mouth watering already, so after I place the order, I’m off to enjoy a big juicy apple!

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First Fruits

Our Hauer Pippin Apples

Our Hauer Pippin Apples

Janice had pointed to a fat one, as large as my fist, its skin blushed red. “That’s the one I want to eat with you.” So this morning, my feet wet with the heavy dew, I watched as Janice plucked from the branch this very apple, the first fruit we’ve officially harvested from this particular tree. Sure, we’ve gathered windfalls, plus a couple salvageable fruits gnawed and discarded by squirrels, ones we’ve collected for sauce and miscellaneous uses. This, however, was the first whole apple we intentionally harvested from this tree, a Hauer Pippin. Janice took a bite and nearly giggled in surprise at the loud crunch. Then she handed it to me, and I took an equally loud bite.

“I like a good hard apple,” Janice said, as she chewed. Firm fruits certainly hold their texture better for baking, and there’s something satisfying about a resounding crunch. The taste was refreshingly tart and the flesh juicy with a hint of sweet.

Back and forth, we traded bites and also our reflections on the tree.

We planted it along with another Pippin, a Newtown Pippin, four years ago. We chose these varieties partially to keep company with our first tree, a Roxbury Russet. Apples produce better when similar trees are in bloom concurrently because they benefit from cross-pollination, and that knowledge also influenced our choices.

This poor little tree has been through special trials, so we are especially pleased to have it reach maturity. When it was still barely a whip sticking out of the ground, I ran into our Hauer Pippin with the car and nearly bent it flat to the ground. The little stalk was resilient enough to straighten out — with a little help from three stakes and some baling twine. This year, all of our apple trees bore fruit.

Last winter, we had our trees pruned by professionals from Nature and Nurture, a local organic landscaping business. These people know the special techniques and tricks required to encourage fruits trees to thrive. For the apples, they chose the strongest, straightest branches at different levels to create tiers of growth and pruned the trees to maximize air circulation. I was rather horrified by the amount of wood they removed, which was roughly a third of each tree, and the sizable mound that created in the yard. I had pruned our trees in years past, but less enthusiastically, I have to admit. We wanted these new folks to get off to a good start, and from this summer’s results, they definitely have.

The apple was larger than either of us expected with only a couple blemishes, so we traded bites for a while. Part of the hesitation in planting fruit trees might be the worry of caring for the trees. Again, professionals are standing by to help when needed and frankly skills can be acquired over time too. Another reason for hesitating in planting fruit trees is the time needed for trees to mature and bare fruit. We thank our past selves for planting when we did and encourage our present selves to order another generation of fruit trees. Time doesn’t stand still. One day we’re planting something very similar to a good-sized stick in the ground and a few quick years later, we are sharing the best part of its first fruits with the ones we love and tossing the core into the “Back Forty” for the squirrels.

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