September 12, 2012
This has been one of our worst vegetable gardening years ever. How’s that saying go? “If you’re not killing plants, you’re not growing as a gardener.” Something like that anyway, and my apologies for not knowing who to credit. I think I read this first on a magnet on a fellow gardener’s fridge years ago.
There are a number of reasons for our crap year:
I’ve been traveling a lot this growing season, so my timing’s been off and my ability to monitor crops daily hasn’t been possible.
For a number of personal reasons, last fall we didn’t give our soil the careful attendance we have in years past.
Despite our efforts at crop rotation, pests and disease still found their way to many of our crops. It happens.
So we’re rolling with the punches, savoring what we’re actually harvesting, disposing of disease as we see it, and planning to do better next year. We’ve sown some cover crops already and will be pulling soil soon for testing and amending properly over the dormant months.
Here’s a brief photo rundown of the pests, damage and disease we’ve had in over-abundance this edible gardening year. (more…)
August 22, 2012
Confession: I’m a lazy food preserver. Sure, I can a few jars of spicy, pickled beans. And, I usually put up several jars of jam each year. But, when it comes to everything else perishable, I either dehydrate them or put them by in our deep freeze.
Freezing garden-fresh tomatoes isn?t new to me. I can remember the bags and bags of tomatoes my mom sunk into our deep freeze on the farm. And, as I?ve grown older, I?ve come ?round to doing the same in our household. Yes, I know, there are off-gassing issues with plastics in the freezer. And, yes, I know that plastic itself is evil. And, yes, I know I could can the tomatoes. But, for now, I?m a self-confessed, well-fed, freezer of locally grown, seasonally picked, organic tomatoes.
We grow a number of tomatoes in our smallish, mixed ?ornamedible? Seattle garden ? usually several cool season variety slicers, one or two paste varieties and a handful of cherries. Many of the cherries are devoured fresh. For the most part, those slicers go into salads and sandwiches. And the paste tomatoes go into making, well, paste of course — though many get sent through the dehydrator. If we have a heavy yield from the garden, those extras ? along with many pounds from local, organic growers at the farmer?s market — get processed into the freezer for later in winter.
Growing up, I?d help mom wash, core and inspect the tomatoes for blemishes before we?d fill up twist-tie plastic bags and cram them into the deep freeze. We rarely peeled them — let alone chop them – before they made their way into the giant freezer on the back porch. We didn?t have a lot of money, and if zipper plastic bags existed, we really couldn?t afford them. So, we made due with bags that may not have really been ideal for freezing. Still, we made it work. True, the method of bagging up whole tomatoes into big bags with lots of air space really wasn?t very efficient ? either for storage or long-term preservation. And, when I was a kid, I hated eating winter soup with lots of curled up, make-me-gag tomato skins. So, as an adult, I took a different approach to freezing my tomatoes.
A few years ago when we bought our deep freeze, I took a note from Mom?s lessons in our country kitchen and did try cutting up tomatoes with the skin on, filling zipper bags, laying them flat in the freezer and storing them that way. It really does work fairly well. But, the tomatoes all freeze together in one big juicy lump, so you gotta use the whole batch when you pull a bag from the freezer.
Then, I decided to try my hand at getting rid of the peels. I?d set my heart on putting up large batches of marinara ? sans peel. So, I?d fill the stove with several large pots of boiling water. I?d cut an ?x? at the bottom of each cleaned fruit. I?d process them briefly in the water until the peel began to pull away. Then, I?d dunk them into bowls of icy water to stop the cooking. I?d peel, chop and again, fill up those zipper bags to freeze flat. And, with some, I?d make batches of marinara and pizza sauce to freeze separately in bags. It is a messy, time-consuming process.
Then, not long ago, my friend Theresa Loe of Growing a Greener World & Living Homegrown® made a comment on a tomato preserving post. Essentially, she said, ?Leave on the peels; they?ll melt with you cook with them later. Cut the tomatoes into wedges. Lay them flat on a baking sheet & freeze them on the sheet. Then, bag them up.? Her promise: if you only need a couple of wedges, you can pull them from the bag and reseal it.
And, yes, she?s right. Now that I?m older, I find the skins fall right off a defrosted and then cooked tomato. Perhaps the newer varieties have thinner skins than those we grew and froze whole so many years ago on the farm. Regardless, I gave her method a try, and it was so much easier than all of my past endeavors. Once the wedges were frozen solid, I was able to load them into vacuum seal bags without having them crush or mush together. By making up small, medium and large bags of frozen wedges, I set myself up for selective winter shopping from the freezer — a big bag for a large pot of marinara, a small one to supplement a winter vegetable soup or a medium size one for a hearty lamb stew.
Another great way to freeze tomatoes: just pop whole, ripe, washed and de-stemmed cherry tomatoes into a zipper bag. Use a big one and continue adding to it throughout the growing season. It’s simple to grab a handful to drop into winter soups and stews!
And just one more idea that works: After making paste, line a baking sheet with wax paper or parchment. Deposit 1 Tablespoon size globs on the sheet. Freeze the globs on the sheet. Then, vacuum seal globs into packages appropriate to your recipes. (You can do this with leftover canned paste too instead of tossing out the remaining can after making a recipe that calls for all of a tablespoon of paste!)
Thanks Tloe! You?ve made my life easier. Except that now I?ve got to get rolling on our 2012 tomato freezing foray!
August 16, 2012
Here in the PacNW getting peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and other nightshades to produce can be tricky. These crops thrive in hot climates, which we really don’t have. Instead, we enjoy relatively mild weather year-round, and summer doesn’t seem to really arrive until the middle of July (if it decides to really show up at all). So, with a shortened period of heat, getting these crops to cooperate isn’t always possible.
Over the years, I’ve managed to fine-tune our tomato growing techniques to produce even in the coolest summers. Details on tomato tricks here. Potatoes seem to perform pretty darn well so long as they aren’t planted and left to rot in really wet, cold soil. We aren’t a big pepper eating household, so not having those isn’t a big bother to me. That being said, I have found a jalapeno that produces fairly well for us — but that’s a post for another day. Today, it’s about the eggplants!
In years past, we’ve gotten some okay Globe eggplant harvests. We purchased plant starts and kept those plants going for most of the summer in pots, in the greenhouse. We got a few dwarfed “globes” that year, and until this year, we pretty much chose not to grow them. Instead, we looked forward to a few in our CSA box.
This year, however, I gave it another shot, and I think I’ve found the perfect variety for our cool seasons and small garden spaces. A local nursery was offering starts of ‘Fairy Tale’. This diminutive plant is perfect for container growing. It grows copious flowers and appears to pollinate readily. The cream and purple-striped, elongated fruits only get to about 3″-4″ long. They look like colorful earrings dangling from the plant, and there are a lot of them, which makes up for how small they are.
We have two plants growing and have harvested about six or so fruits already this summer. (Remember: our summer heat didn’t arrive until much later than when others got theirs). And, the plants are laden with several more yet to mature. And, yes, the pretty little purple flowers keep right on blooming.
No. The plants aren’t in the greenhouse. They’re outside and have been since about mid-June. One plant is growing in a simple 1-gallon size nursery container. The other is planted in a slightly larger ceramic pot. Both work great!
So, if you’re short on room or short on summer, consider pretty little ‘Fairy Tale’ eggplants and odds are you’ll enjoy a bountiful harvest no matter what Mother Nature may bring.
April 09, 2012
One of the worst pests on our property has struck again. No, it’s not the cabbage worms or the root weevils or leaf miners. They’ll show up later. For now, it’s all happening indoors & my spray bottle is at the ready.
Okay, so I know you’re freaking out because I’m saying “spray”.
How unlike me, right? I’m never an advocate for spraying much of anything other than some compost tea or fish fertilizer now & again. So, why am I pulling out a spray bottle now?
Well, when the damn house cat starts downing my seedlings, that’s when the water sprayer comes out!
Twinky-the-cat is at it again.
We’ve been starting any number of warm season crops indoors. Tomatoes, Hibiscus tea, peppers, Okra and more. In the beginning, when the seeds are first inserted into the sterile soil mix, they’re placed on a rack, under lights with a clear, plastic protective cover over the top. The plastic top helps hold heat and moisture in, and it helps intensify the light that shines down on the emerging seeds.
But, once those young seedlings emerge from the soil, if the lids aren’t lifted to allow for airflow — aka ventilate the trays — then damping off can begin. That’s essentially a fungal issue that will kill an entire tray of new seedlings within a day or so.
So, once the young plants pop through the soil, I begin opening the lids. I leave them over the young plants with a few inches of airflow space between lid and tray. (Find a timeline of seeding events illustrated here.) I keep the lids on in hopes of keeping the cat from chewing on the young plants. It also deters him from climbing on top to take a nap under the sunny lights.
Unfortunately, I left the rack just a bit too close to the window sill where Twink naps. So, one afternoon, he leaned his adorable fuzzy head over into my tomatoes and Hibiscus and began chewing. Apparently, the Hibiscus tasted good because he left nothing of this behind. But he’s never found tomatoes tasty. So, he took a bit of a few and spit them out — soil and all — onto the floor below.
Yeah, very cat-like right? He knows how to really piss me off.
How do I know it was Twink? Take a look at the photos. Notice the clean bite mark. Notice the long, white cat hair strewn among the defoliated stems he left behind.
So, how to manage this pest? Well, spray of course!
No, don’t spray the crops (unless you’re watering them that way.)
Instead, keep a water-filled spray bottle nearby. And, if you can catch puss in action, and spray him with a jet of water to scare him off.
Also — note to self — move the racks another few inches away from his nap window, so he isn’t tempted to snack while he sleeps.
And, of course, plant more seeds if you’ve got’m. Fortunately, I’ve got more tomato seedlings to pot up than I’ll ever have room to grow on. And, I’ve got two more rounds of Renee’s Garden Seed Hibiscus Tea seeds germinating!
And, let’s be clear, spraying anything other than water at a bad cat is never my first line of defense against any kind of pest. Spray bottles are a rarity around here. If you’re ever going to pull one out, be sure you’ve tried everything else first, you know what you’re using, why you’re using it, how to safely use it, and that it is actually something appropriate to use on the pest you’ve fully identified.
April 04, 2012
Got questions about growing your tomatoes? Here’s a timeline we put together to help you grow your way to a bumper-crop of these delicious nightshades. Time to get growing now!
(The following was originally posted 9/21/2010)
This afternoon I enjoyed lunch on my patio in the sun. I watched the honeybees visiting late bloomers as I gobbled up a sandwich and soaked up some much needed daylight. Then, of course, I had to take a stroll through my garden to see what’s what.
At this point most of my summer veggie crops are pretty much kaput. I am letting my runner beans fatten up for drying. A few chard continue to produce as do a couple of cucumbers, beets, yellow wax beans, zucchini and some sad corn. Really, it’s all about the tomato crop this year. And, honestly that’s kind of surprising given how cool and wet it’s been. Then again, with just a little extra care, several of the right kinds of plants and some luck against blight, its pretty apparent Seattlites really can enjoy a decent tomato harvest.
Here’s the rundown:
- March: Seeded tomatoes into sterile mix. Grew them on without supplemental light or heat in unheated greenhouse.
- April & May: Potted tomato seedlings into 4″ and 1 gallon containers, keeping them in the greenhouse and cold frame. Fertilize with slow release, natural organic.
- June: Transplanted tomatoes into parking strip / Hellstrip. Buried stems deeply in shallow trenches. Installed square cages. Covered cages with plastic to continue greenhouse effect, leaving a few inches at bottom of cages exposed to allow for airflow. Fertilize with slow release, natural organic.
- July: Removed plastic wrapping from tomatoes. Trimmed tomatoes multiple times. Encouraged volunteer borage to go crazy among tomatoes. Bees love it. Bees visit borage and then tomatoes — honeybees as well as bumblebees!
- August: Continue trimming out tomatoes. Water as needed. Fertilize for final time.
- September: Tip out plants. Thin out any late suckers. Cut out all new flowers, which have zero chance of forming viable fruit this year. With hold fertilizer. Replace plastic, using hoop houses now that plants are large. Don’t cover completely as airflow is critical to keep out blight and to allow water to reach roots with minimal splashing on plants. Check regularly for any fungal infections. Remove and dispose of any immediately. Harvest every few days & preserve & EAT!
Next year this strip won’t be used for tomatoes. Gotta think crop rotation, right? Last year it was corn, squash and beans. Next year I’m thinking a field of edamame may be in order!
Need help planning ahead for next year? Get in touch with Garden Mentors to set up your edible garden consultation now. Believe it or not, its never too soon to get started!
Tonight I look forward to another large harvest of mixed Peron, Saucy Paste, Oregon Springs, Sweetie and Late Keeper Tomatoes. Likely, after harvest, I’ll be preserving yet another large batch like this one. The question is: do I make soup, marinara or just chunk them up for any number of fantastic winter meals. Or maybe, we’ll just eat a huge salad of them instead!
If you had this mountain of tomatoes to ponder, what recipe would be first on your list? Although I have any number of ideas, I welcome your input and look forward to new recipes! Remember: we have a mix of slicers and paste tomatoes going this year, so be creative and inspire us!