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plums, so close

How ripe do I let this one get before picking? Pick too soon, ripens on the kitchen counter without reaching the full beauty of its sweetness. Pick too late, and the birds gorge. Dilemma.



deer raspberry

Look closely. I swear this deer is blowing a raspberry at me…


ready for bottling

chard_sb_5_casesLast year I got on a fermentation kick. One of the successful fermentation experiments was making my own wine. I started with a wine kit so I could get the feel of the process.

You can search for kits online – so far I’ve tried the kits made by Vintner’s Reserve and have been happy with their Chardonnay, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. The all-in cost ends up being $2-$2.50 per bottle after you invest in the initial supplies. The wine is drinkable in 2-4 months, and about the same quality you’d expect in a $10-$15 per bottle wine from your local supermarket. The initial investment ran me a little under $200 purchasing everything new. You can likely find used equipment if you’re on a tighter budget.

After making a few kits, I feel comfortable enough to make wine from scratch. Next time I’ll do so. Before I do, I had five cases of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc ready for bottling.

Making wine is not hard as long as you take care to sanitize everything property (I use One Step sanitizer), follow the directions, and remain patient. Like with bread, the yeast knows what to do, so mostly you just let it do its thing.


The most labor-intensive part is bottling the wine. I learned it’s best to rack the wine from the carboy into a clean fermentation bucket before bottling. That ensures I don’t pick up any of the cloudy dregs from the bottom of the carboy as I’m bottling the wine.

Racking the wine is siphoning it from one container to another. I tried using a hand pump initially. That worked, but was not nearly as efficient as putting one end of a tube in the wine, and the other in my mouth and creating suction to get the siphon going. The container you’re siphoning from — in this case the carboy — needs to be higher than the container you’re siphoning it to. Then you let gravity do its work. As long as you just use enough suction to get the siphon going and don’t get spit in the wine, it should be perfectly sanitary.

Once the wine is racked into the clean fermentation bucket, repeat the siphon process to get the wine into the bottles. Again, I first tried a fancy bottling gadget to fill the bottles, but discovered it works much better to siphon manually and simply crimp the tube to stop the flow between bottles. It can be a messy process until you get the hang of it, so recommend starting out somewhere you can mop up any mess easily.

Once the wine is bottled, wait at least a month for whites and two months for reds before trying. They get better with time, but are drinkable even at this early stage.


If you like wine and want to try your hand at making your own, I recommend it. It’s easier than I expected and makes for an impressive made-by-hand gift for friends and family.

Follow-up: I made a fresh wine batch in the last week, and it is the first time my primary fermenter was invaded by fruit flies. The bucket was sealed, so I have no idea how they got in. From what I’ve read, fruit flies carry a bacteria that makes wine undrinkable. Some say you can take your chances and fish out the flies to see what happens with the resulting wine. I’d rather cut my losses and start fresh, as much as it breaks my heart to waste anything.


easy crunchy crust bread

Homemade chewy, moist bread with a crunchy crust is something I attempted for years. I’ve tried a variety of bread bibles, baking stones, clay cloches, brotforms, multiple gadgets and techniques to make the kind of bread I was aiming for. Turns out, the very easiest technique I tried ended up creating exactly the kind of bread I wanted.

Here’s the skinny:

Step 1 – Mix the dough

The dough has only four ingredients: 3 cups bread flour, 1.5 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. yeast (I use Saf Instant), and 1.5 cups water.

Put the ingredients, in order, in a 2- or 4-quart mixing bowl. Mix ’em together.


The dough will look shaggy when completely mixed.


Step 2 – Let the dough do its thing, overnight recommended

Put a cover on the bowl, or plastic wrap if the bowl doesn’t come with a cover.

Let the dough rest in the bowl at room temperature 8-24 hours. I usually make the dough the night before and bake the next day. Sometimes the next morning, sometimes the next night. Either way works fine.

Step 3 – Preheat a dutch oven with cover 30 minutes at 475F

I have a 5-quart dutch oven that works perfectly.


Step 4 – Form your loaf

Your dough should look very sticky and shiny at this point – not shaggy at all.

bread shiny stage

Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of bread flour over the dough. I tap the bowl lightly while turning it, slightly tipped, to distribute the flour to the edges. Once the flour is at the edges, I take a rubber spatula and start to ease it down the sides of the dough. Then I tip and turn the bowl to loosen the dough while the flour slides down its sides.

bread start forming loaf

After most of the outside of the dough is covered in flour, I swirl the bowl lightly to form a flour-covered ball. It’s easier than it sounds. The main idea here is to form the dough into a ball WITHOUT KNEADING. There is NO KNEADING required. Easy peasy.


Step 5 – Put your loaf into the preheated Dutch oven, put the lid on, lower temperature to 450F, and bake 30 minutes


Step 6 – Take off the Dutch oven lid, bake 10-15 additional minutes

After 30 minutes, your bread should look lightly cooked – see below.


Step 7 – Check the crust, take your bread out to cool

After 10-15 minutes, the crust should look like the pic below.


Take your bread out to cool and voila! Crusty bread ready to serve or save for later.



wild turkey crossing

Looks like mama turkeys have been busy this summer. I counted 14 poults — there could have been more. Cool thing about wild turkeys is they roost high in the trees at night. They look way too big and ungainly to fly up there and perch successfully while they’re on the ground. When they take off, though, they’re majestic.



plums, maybe

Two scraggly, neglected plum trees came with the property. I was skeptical they’d produce fruit this year since the young plums looked so runty. Today I see a few starting to ripen, though. Maybe we’ll have plums this year after all!



seasonal mashup

Our lone maple is already wearing its fall colors, while temps remain in the 80s. Feels like a seasonal mashup.



what’s up at planet b?

Plant B Gardens is just getting started. We moved here at the end of June 2014 with the goal of building a sustainable homestead in beautiful, rural Montana. The vision is to grow productive flower, herb, and vegetable gardens, install a greenhouse and small apiary, plant fruit and nut trees, and create meandering paths through the pines bordered by an occasional sprinkling of wildflowers and berry patches. Bookmark the blog page to keep up to date on progress, challenges, what we’re learning, recipes, and sustainable living topics.flower_sunset

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