Garden Green

I visited the garden this morning to check that everything was OK before the heat wave hits. Not looking forward to that. It’s going to be “a real stinkroo” as my friend Martha puts it. In any case, I found lots of green.

Photo Jul 20, 7 53 04 AM

The next round of broccoli is coming along nestled in blue green leaves.

Photo Jul 20, 7 54 52 AM

Plenty of little green lanterns on the tomatillo plant. I see enchilada sauce and jars of salsa in our future.

Photo Jul 20, 7 53 33 AM

Many bell peppers. Big, green and solid!

Photo Jul 20, 7 59 13 AM

And look at all the Poblanos! I grew two this year because last year’s made such a poor showing. Now both are laden with their dark green fruit.

Photo Jul 20, 7 51 32 AM

And tomatoes! Green tomatoes! These are Amish Paste, I think.

Photo Jul 20, 7 51 02 AM

Lots of little, green cherry tomatoes, too.

Photo Jul 20, 7 53 41 AM

Even green striped tomatoes. Green on green…

Photo Jul 20, 7 53 54 AM

And this big green dude. Yup. Green. More green…

Photo Jul 20, 7 45 51 AM

Uh, huh. Yeah, we saw green Amish Paste already…

Photo Jul 20, 7 51 44 AM

Enough, already! I want a ripe tomato! Last year I was at least getting a hint of color weeks earlier. What gives? In 2014 I was picking cherry tomatoes on July 10.

Photo Jul 20, 7 59 51 AM

Ah! Finally. The lone tomato showing any color. It’s an Opalka, a paste variety and it has many, many green compatriots hanging on the vines. They’d better ripen soon. I’m getting a little tired of green. Open-mouthed smile

Taste Testing Times Two

It seems like ages ago that the first of my Indigo Rose tomatoes started showing some color. In time they all grew larger and developed the dark purple color on their stem ends. And then they just sat there for weeks being otherwise green and hard. Finally, a few of them started to redden and today I decided it was time to taste.

Ripe Indigo Rose Tomato

The purple pretty much stayed the same on the ripe tomato. It ripened to a typical red tomato color.

Sliced Indigo Rose Tomato

Inside it was red throughout. I’ve gotten used to the “black” tomatoes I grow having at least some darker flesh mixed in but there seems to be only a little bit just inside the dark areas of skin on this one. The taste was OK. Nothing spectacular. It as a fun novelty to grow but I don’t see it being a major source of of anthocyanins in my diet, but at least a little more color in salads.

Habanada Pepper

The second subject of today’s taste testing was the Habanada pepper. This variety of what would normally be a rather hot pepper, the Habanero, has been bred to have no heat and given a clever name. I don’t mind hot peppers, but I was intrigued so I ordered a couple of plants.

Sliced Habanada Pepper

Inside it didn’t have many seeds. As I brought it up to take a bite I could detect that distinctive tropical hot pepper fragrance. Biting down and chewing I waited but the burn never came. It was strange. I liked it, sweet but not like a bell pepper. It’s going to take a few of them to add much flavor to whatever I may put them in, but fortunately it looks like the plants are going to be heavy bearers despite their diminutive size.

Have you tasted any new-to-you produce this year?

A New Way to Stake Tomatoes?

I made the title a question because I don’t actually know if this is the original, brilliant, ingenious method I’d like to think it is. In any case, I was thinking about the different ways gardeners keep their tomatoes up off the ground. I found out early on that the little cages are just worthless. I quickly moved on to using individual stakes for each plant, pruning to one or two vines (at least at first) and tying them to the stake. It’s a bit laborious. I was considering moving to training vines up twine to save on the number of stakes I’d have to install but I’d still have to have a support structure that was even sturdier for the twine. Then I had something of a brainstorm. What if I gave each plant it’s own stake and twine? The whole step of knotting and cutting the support ties could be eliminated!

Top of Post

I started with one of the wider stakes I have that was ripped from an old piece of cedar decking. I drilled a hole at the top…

Bottom of Post

…and one at the bottom. I looped a length of heavy, non-stretching cord—clothesline, I think in this case—through the holes and tied snugly to lay flat against each side of the stake.

Starting to Train

When my test subjects were tall enough to start training I just pruned as usual and started to loop them around the cord. At first it was a bit random looking because the plants had leaned away from the stakes and I didn’t want to snap them by forcing them too far. With a cord on each side of the stake I can train two vines from one plant separately.

Totally Twisted

Now that they’re taller and I’ve made a few more turns making sure to hook the leaves around the cord. It looks like it’s actually going to work! I wish I’d done more than a few stakes, now. Not all my wooden stakes are wide enough to drill like this and still maintain their strength, but I think I could rig up something similar on them as well as the steel stakes I have. If this method continues to work, I might well be growing all my plants this way next year. It takes considerably less time to train up the plants.

Tomato Color!

Two of my tomatoes are showing some color! I got a little arty with the images to make them stand out, but the color you see is the color they were.

Mexico Midget

This is ‘Mexico Midget.’ It should be red when it’s fully ripe, I believe. We got this one because we liked it so much at a Seed Savers Exchange tomato tasting we attended.

Indigo Apple 2

The other front-runner in the color department is ‘Indigo Apple.’ I was surprised it was developing so much of its purple hue this early on. This cultivar is a tank. The stem is sturdy and thick so while I’ve started tying up all the other ones, these are standing on their own. Very different from what I’m used to.

It’s been a few days since I took these pictures so, despite the fact it’s rained almost every day since, I wouldn’t be surprised if one or the other was ready to pick should I make it up there today.

Enlightenment of a Sort

As I write this the wind is howling and freezing rain is pelting the windowsills. Still, there has been enough decent weather recently that I’ve officially emerged from the “do nothing” months of winter and started tackling the larger projects I’ve been contemplating for months. So far this year I’ve managed to arrange a contractor to fix the front sidewalk, get married, make a dent in some of the junk purging, and start picking out the materials for a kitchen update. I’m anxious to get gardening now that I’ve got some forward momentum.

With a few dozen pots of plants to observe growing away under one of my new fluorescent fixtures something has occurred to me.

Under the Lights

I noticed the plants at the edges of the tray were leaning in toward the bulbs more than I’ve seen in past years. You can kind of see it in that pot of tomatoes to the right of the orangeish label. (Ignore the horribly leggy cilantro in the back, there. I started it on the windowsill and didn’t get it under lights soon enough.) It occurred to me that my previous light fixtures were quite a bit wider and the bulbs were spaced farther apart than in these new ones.

Light from Above

From above I can see they don’t even provide full coverage for the width of one flat when they’re low over it. I have another hanging parallel to this one and I was planning on placing flats perpendicular to them to get four under each pair of fixtures. Not sure what to do at this point. I wish I’d thought of that when I bought them. For now I’m just going to rotate the rows of pots within the tray. This is going to be a pain when the plants get larger and go into larger pots.

Indigo Apple and Amish Paste

In better news, the tomato plants are growing well enough that they may be getting potted up by next weekend. Here’s a fun comparison. On the left is ‘Indigo Apple’ and on the right is good old ‘Amish Paste.’ Indigo Apple has been bred to have high levels of anthocyanins and even the leaves are dark with a purplish tinge. The reviews of their performance and flavor are mixed but I thought they’d be something interesting to try this year.

Spinach

The official opening day of the community gardens was yesterday but I was up there a little over a week ago to check on things. Under the leaf mulch the overwintered spinach was looking excellent if a little muddy. I covered it up again because I knew this temporary return to wintry weather was coming.

Artsly Garlic

This week I visited again and found garlic poking up through the mulch. My favorite spring bulb! I couldn’t see what I was doing and the photo turned out blurry so I ran an artsy Photoshop filter on it. Edgy, huh? OK, I’m not an artist or a photographer but, hey, I was excited.

Blowing Hot Air

I used my most recent birthday as an excuse to purchase a food dehydrator. I’d been trolling the thrift stores and resale shops on the advice of one of my fellow community gardeners but just wasn’t finding any there. So I decided to just go ahead and get a new one. I actually only had a vague idea of what I would use one for, but figured I would find more over time.

Dehydrator

In the past I’ve enjoyed oven-drying San Marzano tomatoes with a little olive oil and herbs which I then freeze and enjoy on pizzas through the winter. Tomatoes seemed an obvious choice for trying out my new toy so I sliced up all different kinds and put them on the trays. The cherry tomatoes I dried to just a leathery stage and they’re like tomato candy. I dried the paste tomatoes longer to try something I’d read about on the good old Internet.

Tomato Powder

Tomato powder! This stuff makes perfect sense. Imagine being able to add concentrated tomato flavor to different dishes and you’ll understand my excitement. I’ve already used it in chili and tomato soup for a flavor boost and a fellow gardener has told me she uses it in salad dressings. I just dried seeded tomatoes until they were crispy then ground them up in the coffee mill we use for spices.

I did another dehydrating session with random vegetables I thought might be good in soup like turnips, carrots and celery. I also dehydrated a couple pounds of tomatillos thinking I’d eventually use them to make a sauce or chili. Once dried they only weighed two ounces and took up considerably less space. Also, for fun I dried a sliced apple. We gobbled that up immediately. I should probably make more of those for us to snack on at work.

So far I’m happy with my little dehydrator and I’m looking forward to finding more things to dry that we’d actually find useful. I’d like to hear your suggestions if you’re an experienced food dryer.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

A few days ago I picked all of my Bush Delicata squash. They seemed ripe enough and the vine was starting to look a little ragged. It actually did vine more than I expected so I’m wondering if it was true to type. The two I grew last year stayed in compact mounds. Those two plants produced seven squash between them, this year’s single, viney plant made ten. I’m looking forward to having them in soups and curries, stuffing ravioli with them, making enchiladas (no kidding!) and mashing them up to go alongside roasted beasts and fowls. Delicata isn’t my favorite squash. Red Kuri probably holds that honor, or perhaps Buttercup. I grow the Bush Delicata because of my space limitations. Some day I’ll have plenty of room to try all sorts of squashes in my garden. For now I’ll just be picking up different varieties at the Farmers Market to sample.

2014 Squash

Something about harvesting the squash brought home the feeling that the garden season is really coming to an end. I know that I may have another good month of growing time, but my fall planting of peas, broccoli and a variety of lettuces have all failed already and I doubt there’s enough time to start over. Some spinach is coming up slowly. I may winter some of that  over as a spring crop. The arugula is the only thing I planted this fall that is actually doing well. It’ll be delicious tossed on pizza hot out of the oven.

Salsas and Chutney

What I think of as the “high summer crops” are as good as done. The paste and globe tomatoes were ushered out a little early by some wet weather that gave Septoria an edge. The two cherry varieties don’t seem to be as susceptible. I may throw some more of those in the dehydrator. More on that some other time.  The rest were all picked regardless of ripeness and I put up batches of green tomato chutney and salsa, one last red tomato salsa and a second batch of tomatillo salsa—this time without the cloying artificial lime juice. The peppers, which hadn’t produced much to speak of anyway, I gave up on long ago. I really knew things were coming to a close when the tomatillo finally stated to slow down. Man, those things are productive at their peak! All but a few straggling beans that are taking their dear sweet time drying have been picked and shelled—more on that will be coming, too.

So what’s left? There are a few roots in the ground—carrots, beets and turnips. Also, I hope, plugging along out of view are the peanuts, oca and sweet potatoes. It’s at that time of the growing season where the date of the first real frost will make or break their success. As we’re at the equinox, the oca will only just be beginning to form its tubers so I’m set to cover it at a moment’s notice if the forecast is cold. The Brussels sprouts are starting to fill out their mini-cabbagey heads and I’ve picked enough for a little side-dish for two. We’ve got more leeks than we know what to do with. The Malabar spinach is positively rampant, covering its rustic tee-pee. and displaying funky, pink-tipped flower buds. I’ve only eaten it a few time in summer rolls and in a rough approximation of Bachali Kura Pappu with black-eyed peas. I plan to make that again with the proper ingredients now that I’ve finally located an Indian grocery that has curry leaves and the right dal.

Malabar Spinach Buds

The list of tasks yet to complete this year is fairly short. Dead tomatoes, peppers and so on have to be hauled to the community compost heap and all the supports stacked. The above-mentioned underground crops will be pulled or dug . There are a couple buckets of good, composted horse manure I’ll bestow on a lucky bed or two. If my tricky arm feels up to it I’d like to dig some more leaf compost into the rest of the beds. At the very least everything but the garlic bed will be covered with a thick mulch of leaves. Around Halloween I’ll plant the garlic and mulch that with straw so the shoots can poke through easily next spring. Then all that’s left is the planning for next year. That and eating all the produce I’ve squirreled away for the winter.

Salsa!

Yesterday I decided to make a couple batches of salsa for canning. Never mind the fact that it was hot and humid and that I had just spent the last few hours at a baby shower. The red velvet cupcake was delicious, by the way. No, I had so many ripe tomatoes on the counter and one shelf of the refrigerator devoted to a huge bag of tomatillos so something had to be done.

The Co-Conspirator had put in a request for a tomato salsa after my last round of tomato canning. I guess it was feared I’d put up all the tomatoes plain and there wouldn’t be any left for salsa. It’s a legitimate concern since I tend to get going one direction and just keep going. Inertia works both ways with me, just as with the rest of the universe. But I digress.

I selected a recipe, Fresh Vegetable Salsa, from Ball’s “Complete Book of Home Preserving,” a more comprehensive canning bible than the classic “Blue Book Guide to Preserving.” After a couple big (for me) sessions of canning tomatoes I’ve gotten pretty good at peeling and cutting up tomatoes so the veg prep went quickly enough. I simmered the salsa per the instructions while I brought the water in the canner up to a boil. I decided while the simmering was happening that I might as well do a batch of tomatillo, too. Getting a canner full of water boiling is an undertaking it seemed sensible to take advantage of an already hot pot. Maybe some day with a little help I can do a real marathon session of different products.

For the tomatillo salsa I wanted to use the same recipe I used last year. It was good and we are just finishing up our last jar. Did I make a note of it? Of course not! My best guess is that it was the Tomatillo Green Salsa from the Wisconsin Safe Food Preservation Series, which I have the printed booklet versions of in its entirety, thankyouverymuch. I did make two changes to the recipe, something that should be done rarely and carefully with canning recipes. Since our jalapenos are so hot I I used green bell pepper instead of the additional long green chilies and I substituted lime juice for lemon juice. I looked around online and it looks like the bottled stuff is pH adjusted the same as lemon is. Unfortunately, the section of frozen lemon and lime juice that I like has gone entirely missing from our grocery store. I was in a hurry so I grabbed a bottle of ReaLime. That may have been a mistake. When I poured it in the salsa I took a whiff. It smelled more like lime candy than actual limes. I was suckered by the label. It says “100% Lime Juice.” What I missed was the “from concentrate with other added ingredients” under that. I think the lime peel oil they jack it up with may be a bit much. We’ll find out when it’s mellowed in the jar for a while and we taste it.

Anyway, the timing worked well enough. While the tomato salsa was processing in the canner I got the tomatillo version simmering. The tomato batch was out of the canner and on the counter with lids popping as I was loading the tomatillo version into the hot water. From beginning to end it took about three hours, including washing all the pots, pans and utensils while the last jars processed.

August Salsa

This has been a good summer for canning. So far I’ve got a batch of our favorite Bread-and-Butter pickles put up, about half the whole tomatoes I’d like to have before winter, and now a couple kinds of salsa. In addition to the additional tomatoes, I want to make the tomatillo salsa again, this time using either just lemon juice or a mix of the good lemon and lime juice if I can find it. We eat a lot of salsa so I may try a different recipe, perhaps one using some of the home-smoked chipotle peppers we’ve get lying around. Now if only the weather would moderate a little from less sauna-like conditions!

Truth in Labeling

You pay your money and you take your chances.

Not Amish Paste

I was so excited to pick my first reddening-up “big” tomato yesterday. I’ve gotten a few little cherry types so far and most of the plants are setting fruit but this is the first of the non-cherries to show color. It stood out among the  others in the bed like a beacon. Stood out a little too much, in fact. It was in the Amish Paste bed. Well, I thought, maybe I mixed some other tomatoes in for variety. Nope. I checked my plan and it’s supposed to be Amish Paste but there’s no way it is.

Amish Paste

These are real Amish Paste from a few years ago, back when I was growing them from seed. That’s the key, I guess. This year all my seed-started tomatoes and peppers were a failure so I had to resort to buying plants. I can’t recall where I got this mislabeled one. It could have been mixed up by the grower or a careless shopper could have accidentally swapped the label. In any case, it’s renewed my determination to start my own plants next year from reliable seed sources. Now I just hope my Mystery ‘Mater tastes good because it looks like it’s going to be productive.

Tommy Bound

Tommy the San Marzano tomato is growing by leaps and bounds. All of our tomato plants are thanks to the organic compost I planted them with and regular watering during this annoying drought. I’ve had to pay close attention to keep them from growing into an unrestrained tangle. Last year I tried pruning and staking my tomato plants. It’s not just my inner Bondage Master at work, either. Tomato plants are vines. Except for varieties that have been bred to stop growing at a certain height, they continue to grow through the season and can become a big, sprawling mess. I prefer to keep my plants up off the ground. I do this by pruning them to one or two main vines and tying them to upright stakes.

Pruning tomatoes is pretty simple once you get the hang of it. On a tomato vine the leaves grow out each side as the vine grows longer. Left to its own devices, another branch of the vine called a sucker would sprout from the vine right above each leaf. Here’s a pencil-sized sucker that I’ll remove to keep the vine restrained. The vine is on the right, the leaf is on the left and the sucker is sticking up between them.

To remove suckers I just snap them off with my fingers if they’re small, or snip them with shears if they’ve gotten big and woody. Then the plant looks like this. The spot where the sucker was removed right in the middle.

The second part of this equation is keeping the pruned vines up off the ground. Those wire tomato cages you see everywhere? They’re pretty much worthless for any but the smallest plants. I use wooden or plastic-coated steel stakes eight feet in length buried about eighteen inches in the ground. The vines are tied to the stakes using old t-shirts ripped into strips. The fabric is soft and doesn’t cut into the vines if they blow around in the wind. I first tie the strip tightly around the stake, then bring the vine next to the knot and tie a loose loop around it so it has some room to move and grow.

Why go to all this effort? It’s more than just keeping the garden neater. The spores of diseases that can damage the leaves and fruit of tomatoes are harbored in the ground. Splashing rain—assuming we ever get any again—would move the spores up onto the plants more easily if they’re laying on the ground. Also, by keeping the plants slender and up in the air, they dry off quicker. It’s also been claimed that by limiting their growth this way that they produce less fruit but that it’s larger. That may be true because last year I had some pretty big tomatoes. I don’t particularly want larger fruit, but I do want the other benefits of pruning and staking. Training the plants this way also makes it easier to monitor and pick the fruit. Less stooping is always welcome.

Thanks to this tough love Tommy and his friends are coming along well in spite of the uncooperative weather. Before long these green tomatoes will be ripe and ready for eating and preserving.

How do you grow your tomatoes? Do you prune and stake them? I’m interested to hear about others’ experiences and what they’ve learned.