It's finally the time of the year when the dehydrator is working full time, and there's currently a bunch of herbs drying in the dehydrator.
First up is coriander, which is currently on it's second harvest for the season.
Next we have dill, which has also been harvested for the second time this season.
I've also just harvested celery for cutting for the first time this season, and I'm hoping to turn it into celery salt.
And also, there's finally enough basil to start dehydrating. I've just did the first harvest, and there was enough for both making a small amount of pesto, and also for some to dry.
And finally, I've just harvested lemon balm for the first time ever. It's used a lot in the teas I often drink, so I'm hoping to make some for myself.
Have you got harvests coming on? I love early summer in the garden, it's full of so much potential.
Have a wonderful day.
During last year's growing season I had a Serrano chilli plant growing in our glasshouse, and over summer it gave me an abundant harvest of both green and red chillies. I picked so many chillies that I had no idea what to do with them all. I gave away as many as I could, and then with the rest I decided to dry them. We mainly use chillies as dried chilli powder in the kitchen throughout the year, so this method to prepare them was the best way to use all the left over chillies.
I waited until I had a big chlli harvest (some had already started drying out whole), and I cut off all the tops off before splitting them down the middle and removing the seeds (while wearing gloves). I then dried them in our dehydrator on trays at a temperature of 50˚C.
The smell was quite pungent, so initially the dehydrator was sitting outside under our veranda for the day, and then in the garage after that.
Once the chillies were dry, they were stored whole in a plastic container until it was time to grind them.
Last week, I finally got around to actually grinding them in our coffee and spice grinder. So as not to stink out the house with powdered chilli, I placed the grinder under the rangehood with it turned on.
It didn't take very long to turn the chilli into powder. It didn't make as much as I thought it would, so I think that this year I won't give as much away, so we'll have more chilli powder for ourselves.
And we've already used our new chilli powder in a meal, we made chilli con carne that very night. It wasn't too spicy, but it had a really great flavor that we liked. I'm definitely happy to make even more chilli powder this coming growing season.
Have a wonderful day
In an earlier blog post I shared with you how I grew wheat from seed last summer. In this blog post I share with you how I processed the wheat seeds, and turned it into flour.
The first step in processing the dried wheat is threshing, whereby you loosen the wheat seeds from the attached straw and wheat head. After looking at a lot of videos on YouTube, we found two methods that would be relatively easy for a home grower to try.
The first method was pretty simple, basically it involved taking bunches of wheat and slapping it between the two sides of a bucket back and forth in a fast and furious manner. It sure made for a good arm workout.
The second method involved bashing the wheat head with a big stick, while not losing any of the wheat seeds in the process. We decided the easiest way for us to do this was to put the bunches of wheat into a fine pillow case, and bashing it with a flat piece of wood.
After experimenting to see how much the wheat seeds would loosen after using each threshing method, we decided that the best way forward would be to use both methods. I did the bucket method, and then passed what was left over to hubby for him to bash with a piece of wood.
What you end up with is a mix of wheat seeds and chaff. WIth threshing done, it was onto the winnowing process to remove the wheat seeds from the chaff. After watching even more videos on YouTube, I decided that the easiest way to winnow the wheat was to wait for a super windy day, and then get the wind to blow the chaff away from the wheat as I dropped the mixture into a wheel barrow. I used a wheel barrow for this process because it gave me a big area to winnow in, and the high sides of the wheel barrow meant that seeds were less likely to blow away.
The trick I soon learnt was that there is a specific height you hand has to be at to remove the chaff without losing the wheat seeds over the edge in the process, and this was mainly dependent on how hard the wind is blowing. If the wind is very strong, it's best to keep your hand close to the wheel barrow, and if the wind was light you could raise your hand higher. Also another thing to note, is that the wheat chaff is very dry and sharp and pointy, and it hurts your fingers, so wearing gloves is a must. The winnowing step was the most time intensive step, and I had to repeat the winnowing multiple times to get rid of most of the chaff from the wheat seeds.
WIth the main winnowing step complete, we then by hand had to pick out any stray bits of chaff from the wheat, along with any other random bits of stuff that had made it through the previous steps, and this also took a while, but it was made easier by watching TV while we did so.
Finally after all those steps, all we had left was wheat seeds, and in particular 857 grams of homegrown wheat seeds. Getting to this stage was quite a feat in itself, but we hadn't even gotten to the milling stage yet. So it was back to the internet and in particular YouTube to see how we could mill the wheat into a fine enough grade for making bread...
The following methods suggested to mill the grain into flour did not work for us:
1 - Using a mortar and pestle - Didn't do anything at all, a complete waste of time.
2 - Using our coffee and spice grinder - It did chop the grains into a couple of pieces each, but did not mill it at all
3 - Using our food processor - Didn't do much better than the coffee and spice grinder.
This was all pretty frustrating, but the good thing about wheat seeds is that they can store for over a year as is in a sealed container at room temperature (much longer than flour can), so we left it while we pondered what we could do. Hubby and I finally came to the conclusion that the only way forward would be to buy a mill of our own. There are a lot of options in New Zealand to buy stand alone home mills, but most were super expensive, and were much bigger and stronger than what we needed.
But then, while perusing the Flour Power Mills website, we found a small stone mill that would attach to our KitchenAId stand mixer. The Mockmill Stone Mill attachment was at least half the price of the smallest stand alone mills available, and as a bonus it would also mill a wide range of other grains and legumes (including amanath, chia seeds, oats, millet, chickpeas, maize, barley, dried rice, quinoa, rye, and dried soya beans), as well as milling a whole bunch of herb and spice seeds...
It wasn't too long before the Mockmill Stone Mill had arrived by courier, and hubby attached it to our KitchenAid stand mixer.
The set up was pretty easy, and all we had to do was set the mill to a fine setting, and then put the wheat seeds in the hopper. We turned the stand mixer on, and fine flour began pouring out of the flour chute.
The process was loud, but very easy, and within 5 minutes we had our own flour! We hadn't lost any wheat in the process, and the flour the mill had produced on the finest setting was just as good as flour we used normally for making our own bread.
The wheat in this state is a mixture of fine white flour and wheat bran flakes. For a rustic bread it's fine to use as is, or you can sieve the flour to remove the wheat bran if needed. The only step left in this journey is to make bread with the flour, in a future blog post I'll share with you hubby's family famous bread recipe that never fails, using our own homegrown flour!
We are very excited about this, but not only that, hubby has already started mumbling about growing our own maize, so that we can make our own corn chips...
Have a wonderful day
As you may know by now I like growing new varieties of fruits and vegetables, and the more unusual the better. Over the past couple of years I've grown Sugar Beet, with the hope to try and process my own sugar. Here in New Zealand we get all our commercial sugar from sugar cane grown in Queensland, Australia, but elsewhere in the world (including the USA) sugar is made from sugar beet.
Up until this year it was possible to buy sugar beet seeds from Kings Seeds, but they no longer sell any at this time. Sugar beet are very closely related to beetroot, and are grown in the same manner. It's best to sow them in later winter/early spring directly into the ground. Each "seed" in the packet is actually made up of 8 seeds, which grow very close to each other. After the seeds have germinated and come up from the soil, it's a good idea to pull out any that are too close together, and replant them further apart to maximise your sugar beet crop.
After that, the sugar beet plants are very easy to take care of. I watered them infrequently over the hot summer months, and come autumn, after the first frost, they're ready to harvest. As with parsnips and carrots, sugar beet are sweeter after a frost. With a garden fork it's pretty easy to pull them out of the ground. The top of the plants look like beetroot plants, and the roots of the plants look similar to parsnips.
Once in the kitchen, the first step is get all the dirt off the roots by washing and scrubbing, and after that it's time to peel the sugar beet roots themselves. We just used a regular vegetable peeler, and then cut the tops off the sugar beet roots with a sharp knife.
The next step is to prepare the sugar beets for grating using a food processor. We cut them into smaller chunks that would be easy to feed down the shute of the food processor. With a food processor grating the sugar beet on a rough setting took only minutes, but doing it the old fashioned way by hand took an hour (I did this in previous years). At this stage of the process we had 2 kg of sugar beet roots.
With this done, it was time to cook the sugar beet. The first year we made sugar from sugar beet we used this blog post as a guide. But this method is very labour intensive, and we burnt the sugar from the sugar beet while drying it down.
However, this year, we had a secret weapon, our brand new, handy dandy, steam juicer. Before the harvest, I had spent weeks coming up with this idea of extracting the sugar from the sugar beet using the steam juicer. Steam juicers are great for extracting juice from fruit and veges using the power of steam. You put your fruit or vegetable of interest in the top compartment of the steam juicer, add water to the bottom compartment of the steam juicer, and turn on the stove. The water heats up in the bottom compartment, and the steam rises up to the top compartment through a whole in the middle compartment. The steam cooks and softens the fruit or vegetable in the top compartment, and the cooled juice drops into the middle compartment to collect. From there, there is a spout to siphon off the collected juice at the end of the steam juicing. It's an ingenious system of juicing a big range of fruit and vegetables, and I use it a lot for making blackcurrant juice in summer, and apple juice in autumn. If you're interested in buying one in New Zealand, Netropolitan sells them infrequently when they bring them into the country. I had to wait over a year to get our one.
The steam juicer guide suggested that 1 hour of heating was good for extracting juice from beetroot, so I used that as a guide for steam juicing our grated sugar beet. The sugar beet went into the steam juicer, and an hour later the sugar beet juice had collected in the middle compartment of the steam juicer. After checking the sugar beet in the top compartment, is was soft and cooked.
After siphoning off the sugar beet juice in the steam juicer, we filtered it through some cheese cloth to remove any solid bits of sugar beet. The left over sugar beet in the top of the steam juicer was still quite wet, so we also put that through the cheesecloth and squeezed as much juice out of it as we could get. Hubby mumbled something about getting a cider press at this point to make the job easier, but that seemed a little extreme to me...
The thing about sugar beet juice is that it isn't the nice pristine white colour you would be expecting from sugar. Normal sugar is highly processed to remove all the impurities in order to get pretty white sugar that looks the most appealing. Sugar beet juice is a brownish colour, similar to molasses, and without a centrifuge and other commercial processes, it's just not possible to get sugar that is pure white. Since we use our sugar beet sugar in baking and cooking, the brown colour doesn't bother us at all.
The next step in processing the sugar beet to get sugar, is to decrease the volume of liquid in the juice. All the sugar beet juice was transferred into a pot, and it was brought up to a simmer. The more water that comes out of the juice, the more syrupy the juice gets. You need to pay attention to it, otherwise you could remove all of the water, and burn the sugar beet molasses (I know this from experience last year).
When you get the sugar syrup to a stage you are comfortable at, it's time to take it off the heat. There are two methods at this stage to remove the last of the water, either pour it into shallow trays to dry slowly over time, or bring out the dehydrator, and get it to do all the work for you in a much shorter period of time. I decided to bring out the dehydrator. The aim in the drying is to try and get sugar crystals to form, and the best way to do this is to actually seed the cooled sugar syrup with a sprinkling of sugar crystals. I haven't figured out this step totally yet, so I just got a small amount of sugar and sprinkled it on top the sugar beet syrup.
The dehydrator doesn't have an exact setting for dehydrating sugar syrup, so I chose the fruit leather setting which is set to 70˚C. The sugar syrup was poured onto dehydrator silicone sheets with a lip around the entire edge, and put into the dehydrator. After a total of 5 hours, the sugar beet sugar in the trays had dried enough to lift the sugar from the flexible silicone sheets.
The sugar was still sticky in the middle and bottom layers at this stage, so I broke the sugar up into smaller pieces and spread them out evenly over the silicone trays to dry further. After a further 5 hours, the sugar was completely dry. When broken, the sugar cracked.
The last step in making sugar from sugar beets is to break the shards of sugar into smaller pieces. At this stage I brought out my Breville Coffee and Spice Grinder and filled it up with the sugar shards, and broke them down into smaller pieces. I use the grinder all the time to process all of our dried herbs and spices, and it has a handy removable stainless steel bowl for cleaning. It is quite often on sale, so no need to buy it at full price if you're after one for yourself.
I repeated grinding all the sugar into smaller pieces until all the sugar shards had been turned sugar.
The final weight of the sugar extracted from our sugar beets was 162 grams from 2 kg of roots, which equates to a sugar content extraction of 8.1%. Sugar content extraction in sugar beets can vary anywhere from 12 - 21% according to Wikipedia using commercial processes, so I think that 8% is good for us as home growers. I think we could have gotten the number higher if we had a fruit press like hubby had mentioned, but that is a bit extreme I feel for the average home grower. The other thing to consider is when to harvest the sugar beet. Due to health issues this year, we harvested it later in the season compared to other years. It's possible that some of the sugar beet had been used up already by the plants prior to harvest.
And what does sugar beet sugar taste like? Well, it tastes like sugar, it's nice and sweet, but it has a taste reminiscent of barley sugar. Our plan is to use the sugar in baking our Christmas Cake this year. We did this last year, and no one who ate the cake noticed anything different from previous years.
As for the coming growing season, what is our plan sugar beet wise? Well thanks to some lovely people in some Facebook NZ seed swapping groups, I've been given some sugar beet seeds from their Kings Seeds packets that they still had spare in their stashes. Our plan is to grow these seeds on to develop our own big stash of sugar beet seeds for growing on in years to come. I'll also pass on some of these seeds to other people want to do the same. As sugar beet plants are biennial, it will take two seasons to happen, from there we can grow sugar beet every year and collect more seed.
I hope that you have enjoyed this in explanation of growing, harvesting, and processing of sugar beets to turn into sugar. Feel free to ask any questions on my social media about this, and I'll try to give you answers. I'm also interested if anyone has any suggestions to streamline this process any further.
Have a wonderful day
I'm a curious person at heart, I love growing new things in the garden, and especially when they're niche plants or crops. Every year I'm always trying a new variety of tomato or basil to see if I can get a crop that works well in our local conditions, and I've also grown linen plants so I can get flax fibre for spinning (but that's a whole other story)...
Back during the great bread flour shortage of 2020 during New Zealand's first Covid 19 lock down, I joked to hubby that we might have to start growing our own wheat and then processing it into flour if we wanted to continue baking our own bread at home. I was only joking of course at the time, but ever since then the idea has been at the back of my mind. Could I possibly successfully grow my own wheat, process it, and then make it into bread?
During the winter months of last year (2022), I finally decided that now was the time to try growing wheat in my vege garden. There's an unspoken rule about wheat locally—you can't grow it successfully in Otago, and especially down in Dunedin. You grow wheat in Canterbury, and oats in Otago (now that gives me another idea...). I chatted with my friends online, and they were doubtful it would work, it's too cold and not sunny enough, but that didn't deter me. Hubby and I live in Mosgiel, which is an inland suburb of Dunedin, and we get long, hot summers compared to suburbs much closer to the sea. I successfully grow limes, lemons, and mandarins outside during the summer, and wheat isn't as fussy as to grow as them.
My first task was researching where I could find wheat seed. I found two small seed merchants in New Zealand who sell it, Kings Seeds and Kōanga Institute. The Kings Seeds wheat was sold in packets for growing wheatgrass, and came in a handy 1 kg packet, so I went with that since I was already buying other seeds from them in my spring seed order.
My next task was figuring out when to sow the seed, and I found this wonderful blog post by Epic Gardening detailing everything I needed to know about growing wheat. My plan was to sow a 1 m x 2 m section of vege garden bed in early October, at 25 plants per square foot, as our last frost is usually in late September. That would give the wheat plenty of time to form ripe wheat berries over summer before autumn arrived, as it takes 120 days from seed sowing to harvest. But unfortunately that plan was delayed by two weeks after we got an 8 cm snowfall in early October, followed by a week of frosts.
So the week before Labour Weekend I prepared the soil to a nice and fine tilth, and then sowed my seeds. I diligently placed bird netting on a frame, watered the seeds in, and waited impatiently for them to sprout. What I didn't count on though, was Luna, our neighbor's cat. She had decided that the netting and fame made a nice hammock, and it would be great to sleep on.
While climbing onto, and sleeping on the bird netting she created gaps, and that's how the birds got in. Without me knowing, within half a day, sparrows had eaten most of the wheat seeds I sowed. After much grumping, and completely redesigning the frame and bird netting, I completely bird and cat proofed the second sowing of wheat seed. And this time it worked.
After about a week, the wheat seeds germinated. It was easy to tell the wheat from any weeds, as wheat is a grass plant. The plants grew fast and strong with sunshine and spring rain, and by the time it got to Christmas, the plants themselves were already 80 cm tall, and they'd already set seed heads.
Our past summer was the hottest and driest in years, and I think that helped the wheat ripen quite quickly. The bird netting went back on as the wheat began to turn golden,after I noticed that the sparrows had begun to hang around the wheat again. The tricky part was knowing when to harvest, and I used the Epic Gardening guide to figure out when I was time to cut the stems.
I used a combination of looking at the angle of the heavy seed heads, the hardness of the individual wheat berries when pressed between two fingernails, and also the golden colour of the seed heads to know when it was time to harvest. The wheat wasn't uniformly ready all at the same time, so I selectively cut them on hot summer days in late January, and bundled them up for drying.
The wheat bundles had to dry in the sun for a week before threshing, but I also needed to keep the sparrows away from the drying grain. After much pondering on how to do this step, I decided on laying out the wheat bundles on the gravel floor of the glasshouse during the day. Every morning I would lay the out the wheat bundles on the glasshouse floor, and then place a mesh screen over the glasshouse door, so there would be good airflow.
After a week of drying the bundles were bone dry, and some wheat berries had already began popping out of the seed heads. The next step is threshing, followed by winnowing, and I'll share these processes with you in a future blog post.
But what I can conclude from this whole process, is that wheat is indeed an easy to grow crop. It doesn't require any specialised tools, and is well within the abilities of a home gardener. I've also shown that is possible to grow wheat in Otago, and Dunedin, if you live in a warm, sunny suburb away from the sea. I will happily grow wheat again in my garden in the future.
Have a wonderful day