Ruth, a recently retired English teacher, has lived most her adult life in San Jose, California, but relocated to Taylors, SC in May, 2011, to share her mother's golden years and to be near three sisters. Now she's excited to have a house with a yard 10 times the size of her property in California, and can't wait to get digging! Follow her blog to see how a recent transplant experiences gardening, both ornamental and vegetable, in the hot clay of South Carolina.

Recent Blog Posts

May 22
Blooms and Beds and Garden Buddies   (2 comments)

Apr 08
Cardinals, Crows and Thunder Snow.   (4 comments)

Jan 02
Minding the Future Garden as the Old Year Wanes   (3 comments)

Dec 30
Brimming Well of Winter and Goblets of Ice   (4 comments)

Dec 16
The Garden Green, Deep in December   (3 comments)

Nov 26
A Taste of Cold November   (3 comments)

Oct 28
In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the (Garden)..I’ll Be There   (4 comments)

Oct 11
Summer Garden Residents: The Original Earthlings   (4 comments)




Minding the Future Garden as the Old Year Wanes
by Ruth Mason McElvain - posted 01/02/13

The first night of the year rained a good inch

and the dogs were out to explore in the damp dawn of the winter backyard without me.

Though I did glance from the screen porch steps at my garden beds, biding my time to put in the new ones.  That blank space in front of the windmill is begging for the two new beds to complete my original plan.  One will be a perennial asparagus bed while the other rotates it's annual tenants: this summer: melons?  The lumber is stowed away for those beds just waiting for a warm dry afternoon coming soon.

Inside I've been preoccupied.  This morning a few shots of my tree before I pack away the ornaments, saying goodbye to the cute little acorns my sister glittered up for my favorite ornament gift this year.  Several colors, like this aqua..

and this green.  They make inspired ornaments on small trees.  But mostly I have kept the old year company as it waned by doing odd gardening jobs inside.

Several were inspired by this squat jar of spicy pear jam.  A friend, who got pears in a Harry and David gift, mentioned how delicious they were but sadly  getting too ripe before he could eat them.  Thoughts are things.  The light bulb in my head produced four little jars of jam: I saw jars at Target and bought them, googled a recipe, simmered the fragrant mix to this consistency, and jarred them.  My friend thanked me with a box of half-pint jars as well as a jar of jam each for my sister and me.  Mmmm.  Tasty, but it opened a craze in me from the past when I was a young pregnant mom learning to can from the orchard plenty and my mother-in-law's talent during the San Jose seventies: pears, apricots, the most delicious plums, boysenberries, apple butter and sauce, tomatoes, chowchow, sweet pickles.  I fed four sons on those great quarts.

So the pear jam awakened a sleeping dragon.  I next had to try orange marmalade from the Barefoot Contessa: four thinly sliced oranges as well as two lemons, peel and all, of course, sugar and water cooked to the jelly stage on the candy thermometer and jarred for gifts.  And the rage to preserve is BA-AAACk.

I have a canner with rack and jar lifter and funnel from those younger canning years, which I dusted off and used to jar four quarts of tomatoes last summer.   I decided I could get ready ahead of time, as this year closes, for my gardening plenty next summer.  My mother had some jars and lids she contributed from her basement, and I found some at Good Will with smooth, unnicked rims for a few bucks.  My thrifty heart loves  a good find and salvage.

The jars meant reorganizing my laundry room storage.  Over the folding counter, I made the middle shelf for larger jars; over the washer I'm stashing smaller jars.  It will be very convenient off my kitchen to store the canned food where these jars are.

The short squat half-pints are adorable, new to me, but I'd bought the last package at my nearest Target, so I ordered three packs online.  They arrived in smithereens, the UPS man suggesting I refuse delivery as he handed me the rattling chinking package of obviously broken jars.  I heeded his advice.  Luckily a store a little further away still had three packs for a fraction of what Amazon and TrueValue is charging for these exact jars.  And I remembered how handy 24 oz. jars were from my back in the day experience.  Found online, they shipped free to a nearby TrueValue.

I truly love good tools and these little babies will be so handy next July and August, in their various sizes and shapes.  Can't you see cherries and peaches, blackberries and tomatoes.  Mmm.  Cobblers and soups ahead!

More online research brought another package, this one intact.  Visualizing better tomato crops this year from lessons I learned last summer, I got a handy tool:

this sturdy $10 rack at the perfect diameter will convert an ordinary stockpot into a second canner,enabling me to double the processing when I can my summer tomatoes.  It's reversible: one side for quarts, flips to the other side for pints and smaller jars.  Et voila: another canner for 1/8th the cost.

Of course, I'm a Craigslist browser also.  Love these old canners, galvanized and huge, so not too practical.  But a small upright freezer like this one would fit perfectly into my utility room off the carport.  The side by side in my kitchen is way too small for next summer's produce already hatched in my imagination.  This lil freezer would hold white acre peas and okra, green beans, corn, pesto and asparagus galore.  (Well..when I get asparagus in a couple years).  Some veggie keeping I like for the freezer, some to can.  I prefer to preserve tomatoes in beautiful vermillion jarsful, or pickles and chutney, and some green beans.  The freezer will hold the rest of my surplus.  You can guess what I'll spend some of my tax return on!

I do need to be frugal on my retirement pay.  So when I see something that looks like a great deal for my garden use, I have to resist the impulse to grab it.  For instance, last summer, researching how to pick beans (don't laugh: picking tales from friends who had a cherry farm in Turlock, California made me wonder if beans had an important technique for picking, like cherries do).  This graceful farmer on YouTube intrigued me with her elegant gestures and picking apron.  (When I pick, I button a plastic strawberry basket into the front of my jeans, but I admired the idea of her apron).  Since she didn't give it a name, I started googling likely terms..

..and found it on Etsy, under "harvesting apron", but, at a cost of nearly $70 delivered, I couldn't indulge.  Thankfully, I'm resourceful when I want to mind my budget..

So I studied the apron design, then did a V8 when I spied my garden-green Bi-Lo bag.  Grabbed some supplies: green grosgrain ribbon from my Christmas wrapping, snips, and plastic storage containers.

I folded the bag, half inside-out, cut some regularly-spaced-out buttonhole-sized slits vertically near the fold, then threaded the ribbon through the slits.  For fun, I pulled out enough ribbon in front to make a bow.

I fitted a perfect sized storage container into my bag and tugged the edges up around it.  An extra, smaller container inside the larger one leaves room for separating different veggies as I pick, or to keep tools apart from the tender beans or squash, or for some other need.

Here's the way it wears.  It will free my hands to part vines and pick beans or okra or peas, squash or tomatoes--hands freed to pick without worry of where I left the container last in my distraction.  I'm happy, and I saved money.

So, during the lull between the old year and the new, between winter and spring, while there's wet weather and ice, I can prepare in many ways for the luscious summer to come.  I'll save money by devising my own smart tools and extending the resources I have already so I can get that used freezer, one that's tidy and rust free. I'll store away canning supplies as above, dig out my yellowed pickling recipes that survived a divorce and my dear ex-mother-in-law long since gone to her reward.  There will be sun come soon to put in the new beds.  I'll keep dreaming day and deep in my sleep about my garden to be.  My daddy was a farmer not for nothing after all, teaching me how better the food is when you grow it yourself and what a miracle is a garden.  All I can say is thank goodness for Daddys and Mamas of all kinds, for good ideas, for online shopping, for a new year before us, and any time at all for gardening in the backyard dirt.



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Janet, The Queen of Seaford - 03/01/2013

Love your resourcefulness!! I did a bit of canning and pickle making and jelly making in years past. I used to get so frustrated by how long it took for the water to come to a boil in the canning bath. One of my favorite jams was/is spiced peach it is similar to the spiced pear jam.
Would you believe I gave my dentist about 3 dozen canning jars before we left Virginia? Didn't want to move them...he and his wife would use
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beandsemom - 01/12/2014

During these dreary days of early January 2014 I was browsing @carolinagardener for last year's posts and happened upon this. We recently moved to my childhood home and I am so ready to get out in what used to be the garden, severely overgrown now and then use my mom's canning tools she left in the basement.
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Ruth Mason McElvain - 01/12/2014

sounds just like me here in my place. Returned home in May 2011, bought my house in July, planted my first garden the next spring. Hope you have fun canning. I love it. This year, though as you can see I haven't been blogging, I pickled okra, peaches, green tomatoes, and cukes, canned tomatoes, and made pepper, weeping cherry, and pear jams. Also made orange marmalade. I also froze peppers, peas, green beans, okra, and corn. It was fun. And in the winter months now, I can use my summer garden proceeds to cheer up the cold. Nobody in my family likes okra but me, but all my fours sisters and their kids LOVE okra pickles. ENJOY your new hobby.
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