Category Archives: Garden

My father recently started making his own jelly. His most recent batch, (hand-picked) strawberry jelly was the best yet. However, I did wonder how I would be able to recreate his jelly without the need to buy liquid apple pectin. Of course, Grandfather Internet gave me the answer:



Making Your Own Apple Pectin
By Sam Thayer
From The Forager. Volume 1, Issue 3. August-September 2001

When making homemade jams and jellies, commercial powdered pectin is usually the most expensive ingredient. A few generations ago, powdered pectin wasn’t readily available, and the skill of making pectin at home was common knowledge for the family cook – yet today it is a rare individual who knows how to do this. I learned how to extract pectin from apples a few years ago when I made jams and jellies for a living (as many as 600 jars per day). Not only does this save money, but more importantly, it provides the satisfaction that only comes with doing things from scratch – one of the reasons that I love using wild foods.

To prepare liquid apple pectin, it is best to use under-ripe apples that are still a bit green, hard, and sour. Ripe apples contain less pectin, but the level varies greatly from one tree to the next; some varieties are suitable when ripe, while some have virtually no pectin by that time. Over-ripe apples are the worst. You can use your damaged or misshapen apples for making pectin. Chop them in halves or quarters, fill a large pot, and then add just enough water to almost cover the apple chunks. Cover the pot and place it on low heat for a long time, until the apples are fully cooked and you have something that looks like runny applesauce with skins and seeds in it. Stir the apples every twenty minutes or so while they are cooking.

I arrange a strainer for this “sauce” by placing a cheese cloth (actually a white T-shirt) over the top of a five-gallon pail, secured by a cord tied around the rim. (A piece of cheese cloth in a colander works fine for smaller amounts.) The hot applesauce is then poured into the strainer; what drips out the bottom should be a clear, thick liquid that’s a little bit slimy to the touch. That’s your liquid apple pectin. I usually let mine strain overnight, because it drips slowly. You can get more pectin by pressing it, but then it comes out a little cloudy and carries more of the under-ripe apple flavor. I like to make a few gallons of this pectin at a time and then save it by canning or freezing – it’s not hard to get a year’s supply with one batch.

To test the strength of the pectin, pour a little bit of rubbing alcohol into a glass and then drop in a spoonful of pectin. The pectin will coagulate into a jelly-like mass. If this mass can be pulled out with a fork and it forms a heaping gob on the tines, it is concentrated enough to jell perfectly. If it can be picked up by the fork, but mostly hangs from it, then it will jell loosely. If it cannot be picked up by the fork in mostly one mass, then the concentration is too weak for it to jell. In this latter case, you just have to boil it down to increase the concentration of the pectin. (Note: the alcohol test doesn’t work right if the pectin is hot.)

You can mix liquid apple pectin with fruit or juice and boil it down until the mixture has enough pectin to jell. This can be a little tricky. If you mix it with a fruit juice such as chokecherry that has little or no natural pectin in it, you will want to boil this mixture down to approximately the same volume as that of the pectin that you put in. If you mix it with high-pectin fruit such as wild grapes, you might only have to boil it down a little. Boiling the fruit-pectin mixture will not harm the flavor unless it cooks to the bottom of the pan, which will not happen if you keep stirring it as it boils. (An overcooked or burnt flavor is generally the result of cooking the jam for too long only after the sugar has been added.) I like to use liquid pectin instead of water to cover fruits such as currants or wild cherries when I boil them to extract the juice. After boiling down a little bit, such juice often has enough pectin to jell. If it is cooled down, the pectin concentration of the juice can be determined using the alcohol test described above. One great thing about apple pectin is that it can be used to dilute or balance the flavors of certain fruits that are not tart enough to make superb jam by themselves, such as elderberry and chokecherry.

When using homemade pectin, you can’t just follow the proportions found on the chart in a Sure-Jell packet; you have to understand something about what makes jelly jell. Basically, there are two factors involved in this: the concentration of sugar and the concentration of pectin. Too little of either one, and you end up with syrup. It is possible to compensate for a little less sugar with more pectin, or vice-versa – but you can only stray from the recommended ratios a little bit. The most common reason that people have batches that do not jell is because they want to add less sugar than the recipe calls for. If you are going to make jam or jelly, you may as well accept right now that these confections are mostly sugar; that way, hopefully, you will avoid this temptation.

When you reckon that your fruit-pectin mixture is about right, mix in sugar at a ratio of about 5 cups of fruit-pectin (or juice) to 7 cups of sugar. Stir constantly – especially with jam – to keep it from burning to the bottom of the pan. After the jelly comes to a full, rolling boil, let it do so for about a minute. Then, if everything has been done right, it should be ready to pour into jars. If you are not confident, however, this is the stage for the final jelly test. Turn the heat down low when the boiling begins. Dip a large spoon into the mixture and then hold it over the pot sideways. If the last jelly falls off the spoon in a sheet rather than a drop, or if you get a drop that hangs down bulging at the bottom and doesn’t fall (this happens especially with wooden spoons), then you’re in business. If the jelly passes this test in either way, bring it briefly to a vigorous boil on high heat. Here you will find yet another indicator of whether it will jell or not. It will not just boil; it will boil up, get foamy, and probably make you scared that it will boil over. (If you don’t turn the heat off soon enough, it will boil over.) This is when you pour the jam into clean mason jars and cover with clean lids. Turn the jars upside-down for a minute or two to sterilize the lids, right the jars, and try to ignore them for a few hours while they set. (Note that home canning of jam and jelly is not dangerous, and you do not need to sterilize the jars in a boiling-water bath or use a pressure canner!)

Hopefully this doesn’t make the whole process seem harder than it is. Like many skills, once you learn how, it’s a piece of cake. It may be encouraging to know that I never use the alcohol test anymore, and rarely even rely on the last jelly test. After making a number of batches, you can tell just by looking at the jelly if it’s going to jell.

Is it worth all this trouble just to make your jam from scratch? Trouble? There’s no trouble when I do it – just a lot of fun. And that’s what it’s all about.

Summer Hours

Summer Permaculture Days are upon us.

Friday 11-3

Stop by to see the kiwi vine climbing up the deck, the lilac in full fragrance, the Poppy emerging, the purple  asparagus towering up, the bluberries setting fruit,  the apple trees in flower, and the humans rolling a manual lawn mower, or thinning the kale and spinach.

Bring work gloves and a water bottle if you want to get your hands in the dirt–so many worms, mushrooms–the soil life is exploding!

Worms Can Help Too!

Looking for a cheap, easy, and fast way to compost your everyday kitchen scraps? If so, vermicomposting is exactly what you’re looking for. Vermicomposting is composting your scraps with a little help from redworms (Eisenia foetida). Approximately one pound of red worms can easily take care of a half-pound of garbage a day. Because they can get rid of garbage so fast, many people are looking into vermicomposting as a way to decrease global warming. What an easy way to keep organic materials out of landfills!

Redworms are also known under various common names, including brandling worms, tiger worms and red wiggler worms. These worms are a species of earthworm adapted to decaying organic material, that is why they are favored for vermicomposting over all other worms.

Vermicomposting is extremely inexpensive. A pound of redworms is around 14 dollars and with scrap material around the yard, that is all you will have to invest in. Redworms prefer temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, with this said it is hard to keep them outside through the winter. An easy way to store these worms is in a plastic bin like that of which you store clothing in because it is light enough to transport. Below are 5 easy steps in making your own worm ranch.

1. Choose a bin that is large enough to store worms, bedding, and food.

2. Add water-soaked bedding. (Shredded newspaper, peat moss or leaf mold)

3. Add Redworms. (Redworms are the most satisfactory and efficient type.

4. Bury Garbage. (Steer clear of meats, bones, and fats. Cover food with bedding)

5. Harvest Compost. (An easy way to do this would be to place new food on opposite end of bin and wait a couple weeks, all the worms will migrate to the new food allowing you to harvest where they had just been)

*During the composting process it is advised to collect the drainage (compost tea) which is great to fertilize plants. If possible fix a spout onto the bottom of your bin and a mesh screen so liquid fertilizer can be easily drained from the bin.

*Keep in mind that the worms will be reproducing so you could even use this process to profit by selling the worms.

Edible Forest Gardening in Orono, ME

One of the primary goals of the Stillwater Permaculture Guild is to develop an edible forest research garden. Through landscape and community design that prioritizes local and beneficial plants working in concert with one another and the landscape (a system called guilding), we have been researching what a highly productive permaculture system is capable of in a medium/high density residential area. All parts of the project are designed to be repeatable in various scales and priorities, as diverse as college campuses, Maine’s cities and agricultural lands.

Three years ago a multidisciplinary team started with close observation and  interaction with the land, a year later a basic landscape design, and eventually systemic actions that stimulate a ecological integrity, and capacity for food production without taking resources away from the land. The past 6 months has seen the largest changes to the landscape since the project began including, extensive soil building, planting, cover cropping, and pruning. Additionally a system that passively filters rainwater and groundwater through the land is under development.

The project is the result of the community’s strong affinity for permaculture design and its ability to help communities redirect food, fuel, and fiber responsibility and production to the immediate local community. We believe that when such a system is in effect there is a direct and sustained benefit to the local economy as well as in the ecology. The project, although long-term in scope, will soon be releasing it’s first major reports.

Southwest Section of Stillwater Permaculture Guild Edible Forest Research Gardens

66 Edibles to Grow in Containers!

Citrus Trees Indoors!As Mainers, we have a short outdoor growing season. Therefore, we need to expand the number of alternative growing methods. I found this article on edibles that can be grown indoors in containers, which enables us to feed ourselves hyper-locally through the winter! See below for tree fruits, citrus fruits, melons, herbs, leafy greens and more!

(To find edible seedlings, try your local farmers’ market, or ) Continue reading

Pigs and Dirt

Saturday, I enjoyed the lovely Maine foliage in my own yard while I prepared to turn my compost pile for the first time since its installment in March as a birthday gift. It is simple, three tires, stacked, sidewalls cut out with a saws all.(to make this kind of compost heap yourself, visit:

My company is a potbelly piglet, Hamlet, Continue reading

Sheet Mulching

The primary methods for making garden beds at SWPG demonstration site is sheet mulch. This method layers a number of different ingredients that tap the great resources of the waste stream and the work of various farms and farm animals.

Sheet Mulching for no-til gardens

Fruit Tree Polyculture

Apples and gourds onsite at the Stillwater Permaculture Gardens

This years polyculture experiment included an unplanned partnership between the apple and the dipper gourds.

The gourds were started from seed in April and tranplanted outside in the summer. This particular gourd bee-lined it straight to the apple tree Continue reading