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Erin SheehanAnyone who tends a garden knows well Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” As gardeners we arrange our lives around the seasons and each season has a different purpose. In the spring we get everything started.



In the summer and fall, we reap the harvest. From March through August we have “firsts.” First seeds planted, first seedling popping up, first plants in the ground, first lettuce, first peas, first zucchini, first tomato ... A time to plant, a time to be born.



Now that November is nearly on us we’re having a series of “lasts.” We had our last tomato on Friday. Yesterday, our last zucchini. This weekend we’ll have our last lettuce. In a few weeks we’ll pull up what remains in the garden: broccoli, kale, Swiss chard. The ground will be barren all winter. A time to uproot, a time to die.

Two weeks ago, we attended the wedding of our nephew and his beautiful bride. A time to embrace, a time to laugh.


On Tuesday we will attend the funeral of a friend who, at 29, died too young. A time to weep, a time to heal.

I struggled to write a blog entry this week, mourning our dear friend. But I found myself remembering hearing Roger McGuinn from The Byrds sing “Turn Turn Turn” at Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday concert. The lyrics mirror Ecclesiastes 3:1 almost verbatim. It was a hopeful celebration as tens of thousands of us sang together, “To everything – turn, turn, turn; there is a season – turn, turn, turn; and a time to every purpose under heaven.” A time to be silent and a time to speak. And a time to write.


Erin SheehanEven with only two tomatillo plants this year we harvested buckets of them. I made two batches of tomatillo salsa and still gave away three bags full.

Tomatillo salsa is easy to make and doesn’t take as long as most recipes for canning regular tomatoes do. I tweaked the Ball recipe a little bit and came up with the recipe below. It’s great on eggs, with tortilla chips, and in most any Mexican recipe.



Tomatillo Salsa

5  1/2 cups chopped cored husked tomatillos
1 cup chopped onion
1 chopped green bell pepper
2 chopped hot peppers
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons minced cilantro
2 teaspoons white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon non-iodized salt
1/2 cup white vinegar
4 tablespoons lime juice

Prepare your water bath canner. Make sure your jars and lids are clean and put your lids in a small bowl of warm (not boiling) water. Your jars should be in simmering water to keep them hot.

Chop tomatillos, onion, peppers, garlic and cilantro in your food processor. Put all in a large stock pot on the stove. Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Don’t worry too much about how runny it may seem, it will thicken after cooling.


Remove your hot canning jars from the water bath and ladle the salsa into the jars. Leave about 1/2-inch headspace for pints and 1/4 inch for half pints. Place lids and rings on jars and place jars in your boiling water bath. Boil in the canner for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover and let canner sit for five minutes. Remove jars and place on a towel. Let sit for about 24 hours. My yield was the equivalent of four pints. Enjoy!


Erin SheehanA family friend owns a blueberry patch with a couple hundred large bushes. The patch has early, mid and late ripening berries, so the picking is good from August right through early September. It’s a bit of a long drive for us to go there so we try to make every visit worthwhile. We went a few weeks back and picked nearly 19 pounds of delicious, plump berries. About half went straight into two batches of rhubarb-blueberry wine, but we set a few berries aside to make goodies like blueberry muffins, waffles, and pancakes.


One thing I’ve noticed about older cookbooks is the lack of muffin recipes. My grandmother’s cookbook/recipe stash has exactly two muffin recipes: bran and corn. Yuk! I guess people just didn’t make a lot of muffins back then. If anyone knows why or has their hands on pre-1940 fruit muffin recipes, I would love to hear from you about this.

blueberry muffin

I adore muffins, in part because they freeze well and with 30 seconds in the microwave I can have a tasty treat at the ready. Here’s a simple blueberry muffin recipe for you to try:

Easy Blueberry Muffins

1/2 cup margarine
1  1/4 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup soy or almond milk with 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice added*
2 cups white flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons white sugar

*Add 1/2 tablespoon vinegar to a 1/2-cup measure. Fill to top with soy or almond milk and allow to sit for five minutes. Buttermilk can also be substituted.

Preheat oven to 357 F. Grease and flour muffin pan.

In large bowl, cream together margarine and sugar. Add eggs and mix well. Mix in milk/vinegar mixture. Add 1  1/4 cups of the flour, baking powder and salt, and stir just until incorporated.

In separate bowl, mix remaining remaining flour with your blueberries to coat. Add them into your batter. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Sprinkle tops with sugar.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool 5 minutes in pan before trying to remove. Remove carefully to cool on rack.


Erin SheehanLast year we picked about 25 pounds of apples from two abandoned fruit trees in our city. Both trees were in busy areas, but the free fruit they had was overlooked by everyone who passed by but me, I guess. We didn’t waste any of those apples, eating as many we could stand and canning the rest into apple pie filling. Last month I checked last year’s trees to see how “my” apples were doing. To my surprise both of the trees have no apples this year! Apparently abandoned trees don’t bear as reliably as those in a maintained orchard. Since this discovery I’ve been carefully studying all the trees I pass as I walk and ride around the city, seeking a new apple tree or two.

Last week I finally found an apple tree with apples on it. It’s about three blocks from my office and sits between the sidewalk and a busy downtown street, in front of a group of so-so row houses. An unlikely location for a fruit tree! Jim and I took our apple picker and a small stepladder last Friday morning to visit the tree. Picking tools are necessary because low-hanging fruit is generally gone on any accessible urban fruit tree. To bring in a meaningful haul you need the tools of the trade.



As it turned out, we could only pick about half the apples on the tree. There were two cars parked on the street directly below the choicest apples. Jostling the branches over the cars made apples rain down, and we got worried about setting off a car alarm. In the 25 minutes we spent picking, several people emerged from the apartments around the tree. Each person acknowledged us but didn’t act as if we were doing anything strange or noteworthy. Jim was just happy no one called the police!


We picked 14 pounds of apples from that tree. The fruit is nice sized, and there are only a few blemishes here and there. One great thing about urban fruit is that pests aren’t usually an issue. Monocultures attract pests. One tree here and there won’t support a big worm infestation. Urban apples are generally organic as well. After all, the trees have been abandoned, they aren’t being cared for and they certainly aren’t being sprayed with pesticides.

I’d like to match our 25-pound take from last year. That means I either have to figure out how to get the rest of the apples hanging over the cars or find a second tree. I only have a few more weeks before the season ends, I hope I make it!


Erin SheehanOne of the first things we did when we moved into our urban homestead was put up a clothesline. We have a semi-shaded backyard, but it does get enough sun to dry our clothes, especially in the summer.



We’ve learned that clotheslines are considered a thing of the past. Although it is in our backyard, our clothesline is slightly visible from the street. One afternoon we overheard two passersby commenting on how old-fashioned and unusual they thought our clothesline is. Only one of our neighbors line-dries her clothes. Our other neighbors probably think we are crazy or at least unseemly, having our unmentionables out on the line for all to see!


We aren’t trying to evoke an earlier era or be quaint by drying out clothes this way. We’re trying to save money and use less fossil fuels. Why use electricity to do what the sun can do so well? I suppose one could argue that it’s more work to line-dry, but I appreciate the rhythm of hanging up and taking down clothes. I don’t find it a chore. On warm, windy days, I treat it like a challenge: Can I get two loads dry in a single day?


Line-dried clothes have a different quality than dryer-dried. Yes, the towels and jeans are stiffer. But only for a minute until you use them or put them on. You also have to watch out for insects. The other day Jim found a bee inside one of his socks just before he put it on! And being mindful of the weather helps, unless you want your wash load getting soaked by rain.

I encourage everyone to put up a clothesline. If you live where clotheslines aren’t permitted, try to fight it. You could have a lower electricity bill in your future!


Erin SheehanCanning condiments is a hobby, not a money-saving enterprise, to be sure. That said, there’s nothing quite like the sound of your jars sealing up as you pull a batch out of the waterbath. It’s music to the ears for canners! This photographs shows the zucchini and cucumber relishes I canned last week.


Most of us who have any kind of vegetable garden grow zucchini. And even if you only have one or two plants you probably have too much zucchini to eat. We make zucchini casserole, muffins, bread, milk (yes, zucchini milk!), and we eat it fried up with olive oil and fresh garlic. But there’s inevitably still extra zucchini lying around come August.


Although most commercial relish is made with cucumbers, zucchini relish is just as good. It has a similar flavor to cucumber relish and you may even find that you prefer it. My co-worker likes it so much she claims to eat it right from the jar! We made this relish using the freshest onions, peppers and zucchini picked from our garden and immediately chopped up. Delicious!

If you have even a couple extra zucchinis and are anxious to have a new canning adventure, this recipe is for you. I got it from my mom who has been making it for years.

ZukeZucchini Relish

2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 tablespoons canning salt
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1  3/4 cups white sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoon celery seed

Place grated zucchini and chopped onion in large bowl. Add salt. Let sit 2 to 3 hours in refrigerator.

Rinse zucchini and onion mixture thoroughly in a large strainer and drain well. Put mixture in a large stainless steel pot.

Chop peppers in your food processor. Add peppers to zucchini and onions along with all remaining ingredients. Mix well and boil for 30 minutes, or until you feel it is thickened up enough.

Prepare your water bath canner. Make sure your jars and lids are clean and put your lids in a small bowl of warm (not boiling) water. Your jars should be in simmering water to keep them hot.

Remove your hot canning jars from the waterbath and ladle the relish into the jars. Leave about 1/2-inch headspace. Place lids and rings on jars and place jars in your boiling water bath.

Boil in the canner for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover and let canner sit for 5 minutes.

Remove jars and place on a towel. Let sit for about 24 hours. Our yield was about 5 pints. Enjoy!


Erin SheehanWhen the nights start to feel chilly and the calendar rolls around to September it means one thing at our house: time to harvest winter squash. Last year we grew over 150 pounds of pumpkin and winter squash. This year we aimed for 200 pounds, but we fell far short.



Pumpkin is a staple at our house, providing a base for many delicious and nutritious fall meals. We make pumpkin soup, bread, casseroles, and even pizza and pickles from pumpkin. Last year although we were plagued by powdery mildew we still managed a decent harvest. This year, not so much, thanks to squash bugs.

July 4th weekend I noticed that our pumpkins and squash were suffering. Instead of growing they were dying back. I wrongly assumed that the problem was powdery mildew and treated for it. Instead of rebounding the plants continued to look worse. When I looked closer at the plants I discovered that the leaves were covered with squash bug eggs. Squash bugs lay groups of small brownish eggs on the underside of the plant leaves. When they hatch, the baby squash bugs (called nymphs) suck out the lifeblood of the plants. The leaves turn yellow and eventually the plant dies.


By the time I figured out what I had going on it was way too late. Although Jim and I spent hours turning up leaves, removing eggs, and killing nymphs, I had let the infestation go way too far. Instead of carrying a carload of squash back home from our community garden plot, we harvested a mere 45 pounds or so of gourds last weekend. I suppose I feel happy just to have something.

We’re reevaluating how and where we grow winter squash and pumpkins. At $3 a pound for organic winter squash locally, our expected harvest is valuable and we rely on it. Because winter squash and pumpkins take up so much space to grow and we have such pest issues, I’m not sure where to turn. Ideally for next year’s crop we would like land that has never been gardened before or at least where no squash has been grown nearby. Not sure how we’ll find that!

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