Cherry Picking In British Columbia

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The beautiful Okanagan Valley in British Columbia

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Cherry Season is one of my favorite times of year to go home to The Okanagan Valley where I grew up in Oliver B.C. My dad has an orchard with Cherry Tree’s and Italian Plumbs. Cherries are ready around the last two weeks of June and first week of July. Ken and I arrived on the 22nd and they were just starting to turn pink. By the time Kellie and Kyle came that following weekend, they were getting redder every day.

I’ve gone home with Kellie to her hometown of Albermarle, North Carolina, twice. Met all her Aunts and friends she calls family. All wonderful people. I was so excited that Kellie and Kyle were able to take some time off on their Birthday week (Kyle June 26th and Kellie June 28th) and come to my neck of the woods. Ken and I were happy to have a little break from our Huck & Lilly tour. We all had a great time with my mom and dad and they met the great peeps who work at my dad’s autobody shop along with my friends Nikki & Rex and their four kids. The most relaxing part of the trip for me was picking, canning  and juicing cherries. Oh, and watching Kellie do puzzles as we all sat around and enjoyed the cool Canadian air.

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In Kellie’s hometown of Albermarle, NC
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In my homeland, The Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

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My dad used to have more cherry trees, Bing, Van & Lambert, but he had to cut alot of them down since they were getting quite old, and it was more profitable to lease his land out to tomato farmers… (now tomato season is a whole other blog!).

The trees that Kellie, Kyle & Ken and I picked from, that are left, were Van and Lambert.

The Lambert Cherry variety have been one of the main types of cherries grown in the Okanagan, historically. The fruit is a beautiful deep ruby red color, and has a semi sweet flavor. Lambert cherries are usually available around the middle of July, but this year they were ready by the end of June. Lamberts are excellent for out-of-hand eating as well as cooking and baking.

The Van Cherry is another popular cherry fruit that has been grown in the Okanagan for a very long time. Van cherries are a medium size fruit, slightly smaller than a Bing, but are very firm black color, and they are a sweeter cherry. Van cherries are usually available in the Okanagan at the end of June or early July. They’re great for cherry cobbler! Maybe Ken will come up with the perfect Hillbilly Supper Club recipe using the cherries we canned!

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Jackson The Dog giving a wink beneath a Lambert Tree…my dad in the garden cutting some fresh Swiss Chard for dinner.

We spent the day picking cherries to can and we also juiced a bunch. Drinking cherry juice may help fight belly fat, reduce muscle inflammation, alleviate osteoarthritis pain, minimize the risks of developing gout, decrease stroke risks and improve sleep quality. Cherry juice contains significant levels of anthocyanins, which give this fruit its strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Plus it’s soooooooo yummy. Pure cherry juice is actually quite sweet, not tart like most people think.

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Watch Jackson The Dog help can Tomatoes HERE

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Ken Johnson & Kyle Jacobs…serious about cherry picking…

After picking a bunch of buckets, Kellie sorts the good from the bad and I get going on pitting them. If you want to can cherries whole, you must pit them first using a cherry pitting tool.

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Kellie sorting the freshly picked cherries with Ken still picking in the background. Nice outfit Ken.

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After pitting the cherries, we put them into the jars, filling them with pure cherry juice.

 

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The cherry juice is made by putting raw cherries in this big steamer pot. The cherries go in the top part, while a middle section catches the juice, and the boiling water is on the bottom layer, steaming the cherries on top. This takes all of the juice out of them.

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After canning the cherries and juice, we flip them over to cool. This helps the lids seal tight. Making them last for years!

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Jackson The Dog patiently waiting for the cherries to cool.

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The finished product!
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I made Kellie wear cherry earrings, what I used to do when I was little : )
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My dad and Jackson The Dog helping pick too.
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My sweet parents…I think Jackson The Dog had one too many cherries…

 

 

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After a long day’s work, we all head out to Hester Creek Vineyard’s restaurant, Terrafina for a wonderful farm to table dinner…SUPERB!

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Kellie and Kyle being good sports, my mom broke out the cowboy hats for us all to wear : )

 

And later we have a nite-cap and help Kellie do puzzles with the bears and coyote’s looking down from the mountain.

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Ken Johnson
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Sweet Potato Harvest

Kellie and I were so busy this past Summer…with the show “I Love Kellie Pickler”, Kellie touring and working on her Christmas Collection for her home goods line Selma Drye, her and Kyle‘s USO work, Ken and I with our Summer Concert Series in Seaside  FLA with Huck & Lilly. With everything going on, we hardly had time for the garden! The good thing about a garden is…you just have to do the basics, plant your seeds, make sure your water timer is working properly and watch it grow. Of course we would all like to weed, mulch and care for our gardens daily, but if life get’s in the way, it will always keep on growing weather you’re around or not!

It was getting close to the year’s end, so I went out in November and pulled all the dead plants and got it all cleaned up for the winter. My neighbor Richard came over when I was just about to pull out the sweet potato vines. Kellie and I never grew sweet potatoes before, Kellie was a sweet potato in the Veggie Tales movie Beauty And The Beet as Mirabelle The Yam in, but she never grew one herself : )

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So last spring when we were were strolling around Home Depot, we grabbed some sweet potato plants to try. Well, we of course forgot about them until the rest of the garden was spent. I asked Richard if he had ever grew sweet potatoes. He hadn’t but immediately grabbed a shovel and started digging. Duh! I just thought the sweep potatoes didn’t work, thinking they were like beets which stuck out above the dirt when they were ready. To my shock, there were dozens of sweet potatoes right under our feet.

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I guess it’s been a while since I helped my mom dig up regular potatoes. I should have known I would have to dig! I joined Richard and we found every last one of them. The one sweet potato that got the blue ribbon was this one.

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At first, it looked like a pretty big one, then we kept digging and digging and this mammoth sweet potato emerged. It was so fun to find! That night we brought it over to Kellie & Kyle‘s house and had it for Hillbilly Supper Club : ) And to think if Richard didn’t come along, I may not even known they were under there.

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So next time you’re in the aisle of Home Depot and see some sweet potato vines, grabs some, plant them, forget about them and start digging in the fall & enjoy!

My Mama’s Canadian Garden

Ken and I worked hard all Summer, playing our Huck & Lilly music for all the kids in Seaside Florida. We now have some much needed time off and especially much needed time to spend with my parents here in beautiful British Columbia, oh and their sweet dog Jackson : )

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I grew up in Oliver, British Columbia on a fruit farm. Dad had peaches, apples, cherrys, apricots and Italian plums. Now, the apples are gone and there are mostly tomato plants. My Mom has a garden next to the orchard in the back yard where she grows heirloom tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, kale, carrots and all kinds of herbs. Besides the wonderful fruit, the most beautiful aspect of her garden and the grounds at my parents home are the zinnias. Zinnias are not only brilliant in color, but they attract monarch butterflies more than any other flower. In the height of Summer, the back yard is filled with dozens of butterflies at one time. It’s just beautiful! Unfortunately, Ken and I missed the butterflies, but we love this fall weather here in the Okanagan Valley. The wine here is spectacular and not quite known to the world yet, which I don’t mind…

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This morning I went out with Jackson The Dog and picked a bowl full of goodies. Ken‘s excited to cook tonight and I can’t wait to see what he makes with what was just growing moments ago.

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Check out Ken‘s Hillbilly Supper Club featured on CMT’s “I Love Kellie Pickler” in the coming weeks to see what he came up with! Cheers!

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Canning Heirloom Tomatoes

Tomato season is in full swing!!! I brought back some heirloom tomato seeds from my friend Stephanie, an heirloom tomato variety expert in British Columbia, Canada. She has over 400 varieties of organic heirloom tomatoes…check out her website here to read all about them and order your own seeds : ) www.sunvalleyfarms.com … Kellie and I grew them in our red solo cups in the windows of our homes in late February, early March…they are now beautiful and ready for canning! The red tomatoes are called German Strawberry Heirloom tomatoes…

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The yellow ones are Yellow Pear Cherry Heirlooms…

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And the green ones are called Mint Julep Heirlooms…

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All of these heirlooms are filled with amazing flavor and I must say that I am in love with every single one of them!

Canning is a joy because we can’t possibly keep up with eating all of these precious gems. Preserving them for the months even years to come is truely a gift.

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We put the tomatoes in boiling water for a couple minutes and then directly into the icy cold water in the sink, a process called blanching. The skins are then quite easy to peel off. Next, we put them then in clean mason jars with a little salt and a splash of lemon juice. After sterilizing the lids by boiling them in hot water, we wipe the tops of the jars with a paper towel and put on the lids. All the while, we have our big canning pot boiling (it takes a while to get the big pot of water boiling), and we lower the jars into the water. After 40-45 minutes of boiling, the jars come out and we place them upside down and wait for them to cool. This helps them seal. As they cool, the lid suction inverts the lid slightly. Whalla! A perfect canned jar of heirloom tomatoes!

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Happy canning!

Mulching

Spring started out right with a little garden clean up! Kellie and I tore out all the dead tomato plants, raked up some weeds and burnt them all in the middle of the garden with a bunch of fallen branches from the yard. Wood ashes are great for the garden. They contain potassium, some phosphorus and magnesium and can neutralize the acid in the soil. We started our seedlings in late February and watched them grow in red solo cups in our windowsills all the way through April. Once it got warm enough, we put them outside to get some direct sunlight.

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With a couple of glasses of champagne, we laid down some old sheets to cover the ground, cutting holes for the already planted okra to peek out of. We find that sheets keep the tough weeds out better than standard black landscaping fabric.

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Once we got the sheets down we wheel-barreled the mulch and Kellie and I took turns raking. I got called to the studio to sing a background vocal for Ken so Kellie said to go on and that she’d keep working in the garden. I came back an hour later and she had already mulched the rest of the okra, all of the sitting area and the paths! She’s a workhorse!

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We then started mulching the tomato rows. After the sun went down, we sat back with some champs and admired our work. The boys came home and we went to Virago, one of our favorite restaurants to go to in Nashville. Hard work always pays off. Once the garden was completely mulched, all we had to do was maintain the pesky little weeds that snuck their way in, and most importantly, enjoy watching our beautiful garden grow!

 

 

 

 

Harvesting Seeds

It’s a new year! Happy 2016! It’s time to start thinking about what to grow this spring : )

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Kellie and I both love Morning Glory flowers. We grow them all around the perimeter of our garden at my house and Kellie has them all over her back yard. They grow really fast and the colors of the flowers are so brilliant. The vines of the plant can cover a whole fence in just a few weeks like it’s been there forever. Unfortunately Morning Glory doesn’t last forever since it’s a perennial, but when the plant dies, the seed pods are very easy to find.

This dead vine may look like an eyesore, but among these dried up leaves are round pea size berry looking things that each hold four seeds. It looks completely lifeless, but it’s actually a goldmine of seeds that turn into amazingly beautiful flowers that you will enjoy from Spring to late Summer.

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If you wait too long to harvest the seedpods, you may find that the seeds have fallen out of the pods themselves. The best time to harvest is late fall or the beginning of the new year.

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Wait until the seedpod has turned dry and brown before you gently squeeze the pod to open it. The seeds should just pop out. Hold the pods over a white table or bowl. The seeds are black so they’re easy to see against a light colored surface.

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Store your seeds in an envelope, and label it with the type of seed you have inside, if you remember, the color of the flowers and the date you harvested them. Seeds generally keep for three to five years if stored in a cool, dry place.

I love giving seeds as gifts to all my garden loving friends. It’s amazing how life starts all over again, producing countless flowers from just one seed.

 

Happy harvesting!!!

 

As I’m harvesting, I let the chickens out of their pen to enjoy eating the seeds I didn’t find and worms so they get their protein. Here they are taking a bath in the dry dirt they found up next to the house : )

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Andi Zack-Johnson ©2016

Garden Fresh Juice

kaleThis morning I went out in my raincoat and boots like I do almost every morning we’re at home, and I grabbed some kale, parsley and nasturtium leaves for our morning juice. The kale is overflowing this year. Kellie and I started with seeds in March and they grew to their full potential in July. When the kale was almost all gone, we planted more seeds and they were ready a month later, this time, flat leaf kale instead of curly.

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The curly and flat leaf parley are doing really great in this cool fall weather, so I grab a good bunch of each along with probably my most favorite plant in the garden, my nasturtims. Nasturtiums are beautiful edible colored flowers with beautiful round green leaves which are also edible. Eating 3 big round leaves a day is equal to the right dose of vitamin C  a person needs to keep an immune system strong. When ever I hear my husband getting the sniffles, I run out to the garden, grab 3 leaves and shove them in his mouth : )  IMG_7096

The next things I need for the juice are 3 quartered organic granny smith apples, half of a lemon and a small ginger root. Throw them all in the juicer and whalla! There you have the boost that will make your whole day go better!

Growing our own vegetables in the garden assures us that they are chemical & pesticide free and completely organic!

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How It All Began

I’ve been a gardener all my life, growing up in rural British Columbia, Canada, my dad farmed a fruit orchard which consisted of apple, peach, cherry, apricot and plum trees while my mom had a vegetable garden the length of our mobile home. I spent all my free time helping my parents pick fruit and harvest tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes and nearly every kind of vegetable imaginable that grew well in the region. Naturally, when I moved to Nashville, I had Earth boxes filled with veggies on the balcony of my tiny apartment.
IMG_0889When Ken and I moved to our house, the big back yard was my canvas to finally grow the garden I’ve always wanted.

I spent the first two years figuring out what vegetables grew well in Tennessee and in my third year and discovering that my friend Kellie Pickler shared my love of gardening, we combined our green thumbs and made the garden twice as big. In my kitchen in March of 2015, we planted seeds in red solo cups filled with dirt.

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In April Ken helped us Rototill the garden and soon after, Kellie’s husband Kyle Jacob’s installed our chicken coop where five chickens happily reside.tillingThe first thing Kellie and I did was create a sitting area which we call “The Champs Area” equipped with a rusted antique metal table and iron chairs…

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When there was no possibility of another frost, around April, we then mapped out where we wanted our vegetables and flowers to go and got to planting. It was so fun putting our sprouted seedlings into the Tennessee dirt. Once they set root, they took off. Within a week, our garden had a life of it’s own. All we had to do was sit back and watch it grow…oh and do a lot of weeding which we call “therapy”.

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