Archive for September, 2009

Freeeeze Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

It might not be a hard freeze upon us in a couple nights but make sure you get in the last of your fragile fruits and veggies. 26F for at least 4 hours is considered a hard/killing freeze. But the 28F that is listed for Thursday a.m. hours means you should be doing your final gathering Wednesday (TODAY). If tomatoes aren’t quite ripe, bring them in, stack them in a box and line each layer with newsprint. Newsprint gives off ethylene and common ripening chemical. Store guords, squash and pumpkins in an area that stays consistently dark and cool until ready to eat or for seasonal display. Carrots must be brushed of their dirt then tucked in plastic and into the fridge crisper.

Brr sets in Saturday, September 26th, 2009

I’m ready for autumn – for SURE. The mosquitoes have kept me at bay from my garden for nearly the last month. It doesn’t seem like the weekly sprayings are making a dent. But, they probably are – the skeets are just THAT bad. Ick. I’m hoping there is enough sun/warmth left to turn my last few pumpkins from milky yellow and green to bright Halloween-welcoming orange. The Hub took a friend’s bounty of hot peppers and made both a green and red variety of hot sauce. The bulk of ingredients was a combo of habanero/red chili/green chili, garlic, all our leftover vinegar (balsamic/red wine/and some white). He blended the concoction to his liking then strained it through cheese cloth. It was great on some mild chili we made for the fam. We adults added a few splashes and it had perfect heat. YUM!

Blight Bites Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Tomatoes have succumb to late blight in large numbers. The culprit: cold and wet. Leaves and stems are covered with blackish spots. Leaves shrivel and fruit either molds on the vine or gets riddled with grey, inedible, corky spots. Early blight – a common tomato ailment usually affect the bottom most leaves initially which can be removed and many times the fruit goes unharmed. Early blight is due to using the same spot for growing tomatoes too many years in a row and because of poor cleanup in between seasons. This late blight will also stay in the ground so it’s best to find a new spot next year. Both blights come from a fungus in the dirt – the dirt gets splashed up the plant during rain or overhead sprinkling. Mulching can also hasten splash-up. Fungus has really loved this cooler, consistently-wet summer. I’m just glad The Hub decided to yank all but 1 tomato plant because of slugs – another lover of cool and wet. Now our unharmed tomatoes wait patiently in the sun to warm their skins to rosy, red, orange and yellow.

Freezing the bounty Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Carrots, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, peas, corn, beans, okra: all keep well if frozen because of their low moisture content, here’s the steps:

  • Carrots will need to be chopped to desired size.
  • In a pot with a steamer basket. Bring about 1-2 inches of water to a boil. Carrots, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, peas, corn, beans, okra in the steamer basket. Steam for 3 min for peas and beans and 5 min for carrots and brussel sprouts (denser veggies need just a touch longer). You really just want the color to brighten, not to get them soft.
  • Let cool just a bit and place in freezer bags. Add to soups, steam later to desired doneness, add to roasts, pastas, etc.
  • Corn: Using an angelfood cake pan. Take a husked cob and stick one end on the center tube of the pan. Use a serrated knife to slice off the kernels. Then transfer to a freezer bag. There is no reason to precook corn for freezing.
  • Okra: Slice into rings and put in freezer bags, or freeze whole. No need to precook.
Preserving the bounty Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Today The Hub will start the preservation ritual. Mostly tomatoes but we do a bit with other stuff too.

Tomatoes: Cook down or stew tomatoes til desired consistency

  • Chunky sauce: Cut chunks, cook off some water – any extra tomatoes are good for this
  • Smooth sauce: Do as above, strain through colander to get rid of seeds or peels – any extra tomatoes are good for this
  • Paste: Follow step for smooth sauce, then put back over low heat, stirring frequently until thick – this can take several hours. Use Roma or plum tomatoes to speed up process (they have less water than others.
  • For sweeter, low acid tomatoes like yellow, pink, orange, etc. Or, just to be safe, add 1 T. per pint or 2 T. per quart of lemon juice. Vinegar may be used but it could change taste. This brings the acid level up to safe levels so botulism does not set in.
  • After your tomatoes are cooked down to desired consistency, take clean mason jars, rings and seals. Put all in a large clean colander and pour boiling water over all. Canning tongs and silicon tongues makes handling these much easier. Pour water out of jars and set on a towel on your counter close to your pot of tomatoes.
  • Using a  funnel and ladle, spoon the mixture to within an inch or so to the top of the jar. Take a clean dish towel and wipe the rim of the jar. Place on a sterile lid and then ring. Screw on only til you feel tension – do NOT tighten.
  • In a stockpot of boiling water with an elevator (a small cooling rack can work for this, just to keep the bottom of the jars off the base of the stockpot – they will burst otherwise). Place in jars – the water should just cover the top of them and the jars should not touch – do not crowd them. If you need more water you should have a backup of boiling water in a teapot just in case. Or if there is too much, ladle it off. Let the jars sit in the stockpot for 15 min. Then, using a canning tongs (it fits around the rim of the jar to pull them out) carefully place them back on the towel – do not bump them again.
  • Within the hour you should hear popping noises of the jars sealing themselves. If any don’t seal, place them in the fridge after cool and use them within a week.
  • Reasons a jar doesn’t seal: the ring was too tight, the rim of the jar was dirty, they didn’t sit in the stockpot long enough, there was too much or too little sauce put in them.
  • Extra: Tomatoes do not need any extra accompaniments to be canned – there acid content is high enough to inhibit any bacterial growth. Once sealed the jars can sit for more than a year. During the initial stewing process, you may add any spices or other veggies you like (do this after the straining process if you want the tomato parts smooth though). Hot peppers, onions, salt, lime and garlic for salsa or basil, salt, pepper, garlic and onions for pasta sauce. Whatever you like. Except for making salsa, I like to keep my tomatoes plain so I can add whatever I like when I want to use them. Many times it’s just a dollop of homemade pesto to make a wonderful pasta accompaniment.
Tomato Tomato Friday, September 11th, 2009
Juicy heirloom tomato

Juicy heirloom tomato

Tomatoes have been one of the most consistent crops for us, minus slugs. Any problems we have are usually caused by us: waiting to long to stake, watering incorrectly, not clearing out debris. There are pretty simple fixes, but trying to stake an overgrown tomato is like trying to wrangle a brittle octopus into 8-legged footie pajamas. Tomatoes have typical ailments: blossom end rot (inconsistent watering), blight (not rotating crops after several years or not cleaning up leftover garden debris), bloom drop (too high temps), lack of blooms (soil nutrients unbalanced). We always plant more than we need but there are too many awesome varieties to have only planted a couple plants.

Cherries and grape tomatoes are sweet and fun for little kids – their overabundance leads to lots of harvest. They are great simply off-plant, shish-kebabbed, split in salads or roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Roma or paste are solid, palm-sized, and less watery. They are great cooking tomatoes for canning sauces or salsas, they also make a quick mild base to fresh pico de gallo.

Slicers are the round, typical tomato that comes to mind. They are generally mild-flavored. The are also good for sauce though the higher moisture content means a longer cook time. They are the quintessential burger topper and many overly-bland varieties make it to the grocer shelves. We usually have one or two plants to make canned sauces.

Beefsteak, heirloom, etc. are generally the ultimate sandwich tomatoes. In a caprese salad they can be dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper and layered between fresh mozzarella and basil, just this side of heaven. Heavy, meaty, sweet and tangy. These are the stars of flavor in the tomato world. Because of their heft and water content they are less apt to show up in stores and are a delicacy to find at farmers’ markets. They come in myriad of colors and shapes. Some lumpy and pushing a couple pounds, others are pearly-rose, black, yellow or even green when ripe. These need heavy staking.

Quick-sauteed tomatoes, garlic, onion, olive oil, basil, salt and pepper over shell pasta with parmesan

Quick-sauteed tomatoes, garlic, onion, olive oil, basil, salt and pepper over shell pasta with parmesan

The start of the end Friday, September 11th, 2009

The Hub has started ‘wringing out’ the garden. A lot of our stuff has succumbed to slugs. Anything grazing the ground from pumpkin to tomato has been feast for the slimy buggers. Usually noted on a couple squash or hostas the sucking buggers can really do some damage. Their prevalence only made stronger by the wet, cool summer we’ve had. The Hub ripped out a few tomato plants leaving the good fruit to sit and ripen on a table in the sun. A couple pumpkins are ready to grace the front steps to welcome fall. A couple pie pumpkins, I can almost taste. Peppers have been picked. Strawberries have started to rest. Though it’s been 80 in the afternoons, the cooler evenings and mornings whisper of what will come soon enough. Carrots, cabbage-family and apples may stay as they sweeten with a light, gulp, frost. It’s a good idea to roll your gourd-family produce just to check you don’t have a hollow pumpkin from the slugs. I really like this time of year to jot down what hasn’t worked. It actually gives me hope more than anything. Lets just hope my memory stays strong enough to recall my mistakes when planning next year’s gardens. I’m hoping for: more raised beds, more weed barriers, new soaker hoses, and again more space.

Hummer spotting Tuesday, September 8th, 2009
Hummingbird September 2009, Rufous?

Hummingbird September 2009, Rufous?

This Labor Day was a treat indeed. I stepped in to finish the mowing The Hub had started, just to get some fresh air and exercise. While walking through one of the side gates I noticed a blur of buzzing fleeing from my obedient plant (physostegia). I just assumed it was a hummingbird moth and didn’t really think twice. But, later The Hub ventured out and pulled me around the corner back to the south side of our house. It was a hummingbird! This was a first for our yard (if I remember right). And to the very common and sometimes invasive obedient plant.

The sage he is, The Hub declared later that if you want to attract native wildlife you need native plants. Point taken. No need for brightly-painted plastic bottles of sugar water.

I believe this is a female Rufous hummingbird. She looks a bit skinny so I hope she got a good meal. The obedient plant is flush with blooms so I’m happy this feast was available to her.

Potato Tomatoes Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Potatoes fruit. Yep, they do – above ground. The potatoes you eat are just swollen roots. Or, tubers if you like. But – if you’ve ever seen the purply flowers of a potato plant, well, where there are flowers there will be fruit.
I recently heard of a tomato-fruiting potato plant. Initially this was assumed to be a volunteer crossbreed of a tomato/potato. Actually it’s just the ‘fruit’ of the potato. It resembles green, perfectly-round tomatoes, containing lots of seeds. The resemblance is due to the close relation tomatoes and potatoes have. They are both members of the nightshade family (family includes deadly nightshade which also grows around here). My guess is that this year being so evenly wet and cool during the growing season that the fruit of potatoes was more prolific. Most years it dries out so much by the end of July that there isn’t enough energy for a potato to produce actual fruit so the tops end up drying and withering before it can. But – take heed – this fruit is not edible, it contains the poison solanine.