Tomatoes and Beans

Yup. Tomatoes and beans. That’s about all that’s going on this garden right now. While that might not sound very exciting, it truly is! Because (1) we have lots of tomatoes, and (2) we have lots of beans. And we mean LOTS.

Well, okay…so “lots” is relative. This harvest of tomatoes — which includes all the cherry tomato varieties we’ve been growing, plus a number of Plums and Marmanades (the round, fluted ones) —  isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of gardening for many, but it’s quite a large harvest when gardening for two (plus a cat, who, oddly enough, doesn’t like tomatoes). And when you end up with a harvest like this every couple days or week over the course of a summer/fall, well, a lot of tomatoes can turn into too many tomatoes. In the past we tried canning with great success, but this year, as we’ve written about before, we opted to try making and freezing basic spaghetti sauces. The results have been excellent so far. In fact, this past weekend, we made our third batch of sauce.

Two pans o’ tomatoes, ready for roasting.

This last batch will be the first that features a good mix of the larger tomatoes, such as Roma (plum tomatoes) and Rutgers, along with a couple Marmandes, and the cherry tomatoes. We’ve found that the difference in the sauces tends to lie in acidity. The two batches of sauces that we had previously made are a little more acidic in flavor and require rather heavy seasoning. This last batch, with the addition of the larger, sweeter tomatoes, had a much more rounded flavor. We didn’t have to use quite as much sugar and salt, especially, to appease any bitterness.  The resulting sauce is just a tad bit more appealing when used plain over fresh pasta. The more acidic sauces are really good when used with either cheese or meat, like on pizza or a meatball sandwich. But that’s probably just personal preference.

Meanwhile, as we’ve been saying, when we’re not dealing with tomatoes, we’re dealing with beans. So many BEANS!

This past week and weekend, we made several trips out to the patch of pole beans to collect as many dried and drying pods as we could. The results have been more than fantastic! Most surprising are the black beans. We had a moderate harvest of them last year, but this year, the two black bean plants that produced have been wildly prolific. The same is true of the Dixie Speckled Butter Peas, a mini Lima bean of sorts (also, not a pole bean). We only got a few pods of them last year, but this year, the little row of plants is just crazy with them! As in the past, the Red Ripper and Blue Goose cowpeas remain strong. And it looks like we’ll be in for a major harvest of the Christmas Lima Beans before too long (lots of pods, not many beans visible in them yet). In the picture above, you might also spot a few plain, round green-gray beans – those are the Fort Portal Jades, a new variety for us this year. They did alright – we got at least enough to try in a soup or stew. As for the red and white striped beans, those are Rattlesnake beans that we let dry. Those you can harvest the full pods early and eat them like string beans, or you can dry the pods and just re-hydrate the beans.

With another push of warm-ish weather promised this week, along with plenty of sun, we hope to see the last our our larger tomatoes ripen. In addition to lots of Romas, Rutgers, and Marmandes, we also have a plant with some very green Jersey Giants on the vine! Those special tomatoes are particularly delicious, and we really hope that they’ll come to fruition before it gets too chilly. *fingers crossed*

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The year’s third update in pictures

Despite the rough-ish start with the garden this year, things have turned out to be quite nice! Sure, there were some setbacks (ugh, squash bugs), but each problem brought with it a new learning experience.  Can’t complain about that! When we started things, we thought that we might make a real attempt at some fall gardening this year, but other projects have been calling us indoors. Even so, there’s still plenty going on outside (even if that’s mostly flowers), so let’s take another trip around the yard in pictures. (Pictures are in no particular order.)


It’s amazing how much the strawberries have spread. Just a couple years ago, they were just a couple plants in the patch to the far right in the picture. Now, they take up several feet of space. And each year, the berries get better and better!

After the squash bug outbreak, the only plant left in the second stone bed is this volunteer tomato, which turned out to be a Sun Sugar Hybrid cherry tomato plant. And yes, it’s just one plant. No joke!

In the first stone bed, the tomato plants have been doing alright. From it we got several nice red Rutgers tomatoes and lots of Chocolate Sprinkles cherry tomatoes. Now, there’s a Roma tomato plant that’s producing well. A few of the plants grew nicely, but then never produced anything. Behind the tomatoes are our fluffy, puffy asparagus plants.

Over on the side of the house, the tomatoes we put there have been a little sparse, but from them we’ve gotten some late harvests of Roma tomatoes and Chocolate Sprinkles cherry tomatoes.

In this raised bed, we had originally planted a bunch of different lettuces. Now, it’s home to marigolds, strawflowers, and snapdragons.

This raised bed was first home to peas, but the rabbits made short work of them back in May/June. Not long ago, it had a lovely Yellow Pear cherry tomato plant in it, but it withered. Now, it’s all about marigolds, yes, peppers!

Another raised bed taken over by marigolds, and in the top corner, Sweet Alyssum.

Even the cucumbers couldn’t escape the marigolds! If you look close enough, you might see the cherry tomato plant hiding on the left side of the bed.

The pole beans have gone gangbusters! As the always do, the plants have become a beautifully intertwined mass. And the beans, they are plentiful!

We haven’t said much about our volunteer ground cherries this year. While the plants came in, they haven’t been as prolific as in past years. If there have been any fruits, the squirrels have gotten to them. (Which is okay, because it keeps them away from the tomatoes!)

Believe it or now, there are beans hiding behind these marigolds! While the string beans are pretty much done, there’s a row of mini lima beans (Dixie Speckled Butterpeas) that have been doing nicely.

The tomato plants in the back are doing well to varying degrees. The plant on the right produced a few lovely purple Gypsy tomatoes. Beyond that, we have a couple cherry tomato plants, what we think is a Marmande plant, a Jersey Giant plants, a dud, and a Yellow Gooseberry plant.

Good on you if you scrolled all the way down here! 🙂 So here we are with a good month or so of gardening time left. Even though fall hit officially late last week, it’s been more like July around here than September. Hot and humid! But this trend has definitely pushed many tomatoes into ripening, and we hope there’ll be more to come before it’s all said and done.

AAAA-CHOO!!

Fall allergies are the best, aren’t they?

And by “best,” we meant the worst…the absolute worst.

The weekend, pretty much.

Unfortunately, the bout with allergies started up before the weekend, and it seemed to come on rather suddenly. Before we knew it, the weekend was over and we were knee-deep in wadded-up kleenex. Thankfully, between upping vitamins and some OTC allergy meds, the general symptoms seemed to have quelled significantly, possibly thanks to some recent rain we had (with more on the way). Either way, we didn’t have the most productive week, garden-wise.

That said, things are looking pretty good for September. Though we went though a cool spell, we’re back up into warm and humid territory. It’s nowhere near as bad a summer, but it is a little warmer than usual. While that may be bad for us, it is good for the tomatoes! In fact, we found ourselves with a whole new basket-full of new tomatoes come the weekend. So this year we decided to try making and freezing spaghetti sauce. Sure, it’s not the most unique thing to do with tomatoes, but it occurred to us that though we had successfully frozen tomato puree before, we hadn’t actually tried freezing fully-made sauce before. So we got to roasting and cooking. By the time it was all said and done, we ended up with one half-full freezer bag of sauce. Less than we would have liked, but enough to start out with. Considering how nice it smelled while cooking, we certainly hope that it provides the same when we try it later on in the winter.

Besides keeping our fingers crossed that more tomatoes ripen before the sunshine really gives way to fall temps, next on our to-do list is the pole beans. They have been quietly doing their thing for awhile now. We’ve been picking them intermittently, but judging by how many pods populate the vines now, it looks like it’s high time we did a major harvest. As long as allergies stay suppressed and the outlook for the weekend remains positive weather-wise, we should be in for a shelling party soon!

September Means Marigolds

Marigolds are one of those flowers. It seems that they’ll grow just about anywhere. And as long as they get a little sun and an occasional watering, they always seem to be quite happy that they exist.

We’ve been planting various types of marigolds in our garden for a few years now. They are good companion plants to have, not only because they are pretty, but also because they bring in lots of pollinators and tend to keep away pests. (Unless those pests are chickens. Oh, if only we could have chickens!) Some years our marigolds took off like wildfire; other years were more slim. This year is something like a wildfire year. Though some of the marigolds got far too large for their own good — all they do now is keel over in a pile of green – others are beautiful involving the fall colors of maroon and gold.

Perfectly fall-like!

We planted several different varieties, but only two of them really took off. First are the Nema-Gone marigolds.

Nema-Gone marigolds. Delicate and pretty flowers.

This variety came from Burpee, and it caught our attention because it’s supposed to help quell nematodes – something like roundworms – in soil. Though we don’t think we have this particular problem, we were curious to see how the plants did next to lettuces and green, many of which like to get attacked by various bugs. Seeing as how the rabbits got into the lettuces before we could see the results, it didn’t really matter in the end. But we ended up with large, lovely plants with small orange-yellow flowers…which we really should have thinned, as it turned out. In both beds where we put the Nema-Gones, they absolutely took over. Not in terms of spreading, but the foliage grew at an overwhelming rate, overshadowing anything under it. We had something similar happen with a variety called Harlequin that we planted a couple years ago, but those plants were not nearly as voluminous with green.

This mass is actually two Nema-Gone plants that grew tall and branched out so much that they fell over.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Petite Mix marigolds. More along the lines of what one might think of when hearing “marigold,” these bushy little plants with an abundance of red/gold flowers have really brightened up our garden! We scattered these seeds just about everyone, but they really came up in the raised beds and along the border of the bush beans. We know that their blooms with last for quite some time still. Even when the nighttime temps dip rather low for this time of year (fall came early, at least for the moment), there still seem perfectly happy. We had one of these plants die early, and we’re not sure why, because it seems take an awful lot of work to make one meet its demise. But the rest of the plants are quite content. And how much to we enjoy looking out and seeing fall in our backyard. (Quite a lot, thank you!)

Here’s a bunch growing in one of the raised beds.
These are the ones growing along the bush beans.
One of these particular plants produced all-gold flowers. Nice!
More Petite Mix marigolds in another raised bed.
And another! Along with a Nema-Gone plant, here.

Speaking of flowers, our success with some of our new varieties – snapdragons and strawflowers, in particular – has already prompted some debate about next year’s gardening layout. Here’s hoping that our talk will pan out into action, as we hope to expand our flower-y horizons even more next year and in the years to come. 🙂

Here’s a pile of Sweet Alyssum. It’s a great ground cover plant – it spreads easily and produces clusters of  small, white blooms.
One of the remaining Black Prince snapdragons, along with a Nema-Gone marigold trying to steal the show!
Can’t get enough good shots of the Strawflowers. They are amazing!

A Lovely Labor Day Weekend

Depending on where you are in the world, you might have celebrated a long weekend that culminated yesterday in Labor Day. In our neck of the woods, that’s precisely what we did, and what a nice weekend it was. A perfect time to share a final summer celebration with friends and family.

Well…okay, so it rained. A lot, actually. Enough to keep the garden satiated until the next storm that’s promised here in a day or two. But it was a perfect rain. The type of rain expected in the fall — cool, steady, and only slightly breezy. In fact, the whole weekend was fall-like, which was simply wonderful after going through such a warm/hot/super hot summer. All in all, there was little to complain about, even if the rain affected some outdoor plans.

In the garden, well, it’s pretty much the status quo, except…

…we have have carrots!

A few years ago (2014?) was the first time we had any luck with carrots, and it was thanks to finding a smaller, stouter variety that wouldn’t mind our dense soil.  We ended up with a nice harvest. Each year since we tried again and again with carrots without much success. Well, this year, we ended up with quite a surprise – smaller carrots AND regular sized carrots! In the picture above, the small carrots are called Parisienne, while the larger one is a Purple Dragon.

So the Parisienne seeds are the same ones we bought a few years back. The Dragon seeds were a free pack we received from Jung’s Seeds this year.  Since this year was all about experimenting with planting in the new concrete blocks that we used to replaced our rotting wooden raised beds, we decided that planting carrots in a few of the extra spaces would be worth a shot. We planted carrot seeds in three spots and two of them sprouted. (The third one was too close to the a marigold that took over things readily.) Once the initial spouting happened, we then weeded out the carrots seedlings quite…well…harshly it seemed. We ended up getting rid of most of the Dragon seedlings save for three (the total number of carrots we ended up with as of today), and we saved about 12-15 of the Parisienne seedlings. In hindsight, we probably should have weeded them further as a number of them turned out quite small.

In the end, we’re really pleased with the harvest. The Parisienne carrots are very sweet and crisp, while the Dragon carrots have a nice “carrot-y” flavor with slightly bitter aftertaste. And it all just goes to show that with gardening, it never hurts to try something new, and keep trying no matter how poorly things might turn out. Because, in the end, the results might not be so bad after all!

The Amazing Technicolor Harvest

It’s amazing!

This was a good week in the garden.

After surviving another heat spell (okay, okay, it was only one day…haha), the weather turned almost fall-like. Not only has it been a joy to be outside lately, but the tomatoes in the garden seem to be okay with the temperature change as well. At least, our most recent harvests said so, as evidenced by the picture above! It looks a little like fall, right? This represents about half a week’s-worth of tomatoes. Let’s see…here we have the yellow-orange Sunpeach Hybrids (some of which might be Yellow Gooseberries, but we’re not sure), red and green streaked Chocolate Sprinkles, little red Baby Boomers, a number of Yellow Pears , at least one almost-ready Rutgers Hybrid, and a few medium-sized purplish Gypsy tomatoes. And no, you’re not imagining things if you think you see peppers – there are a almost-ripe mini orange bell peppers, as well as a handful of green (and one red) chilies. It’s a veritable rainbow of goodness!

As you can see, we’ve had the best success this year with small tomatoes. We’re sure that if we had gotten the plants on the ground sooner that we’d have had a good harvest of larger tomatoes by now. As it stands, most of the larger tomatoes that are growing are still quite green. But we certainly don’t mind the smaller ones, as they are incredibly versatile.

This past weekend, we roasted the larger tomatoes (which included a few others that had split and were being stored in the fridge), and made a delicious sauce. We then split a ton of the smaller ones and dehydrated them.

This grouping of dried tomatoes represents five trays-worth of split cherry tomatoes! It’s rather incredible that that many tomatoes are little more than a small pile right now, but they sure are. If all these tomatoes weren’t already varying degrees of sweet, now they are super intense! Sweet and super tomato-y. They’re wonderful in salads or thrown on top of hot pasta drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. And as long as we keep them cool and dry, they should last for several weeks. Well…if we don’t eat them all first!

Judging on how things look outside, we should be in for some pole bean harvesting soon. And hopefully we’ll have more tomatoes to come!

 

 

Squash woes and tomato throes

Despite our best efforts, it’s looking like we’re going to have to say goodbye to this year’s squash crop. Yes, we tried everything we could to save the plants from an outbreak of squash bugs, but almost all the plants, save for one and a few small regrowths, are gone. As of today, we’re giving the plants till this weekend until we make the final call.

This side isn’t great, but it’s not as bad as…

 

…this side. 😦 RIP squash.

On the good side of things, the castile soap has worked a bit of magic…either than or it’s simply the end of the squash bugs’ cycle…but no matter, the fact is that there are far fewer squash bugs than there once were. Like we said, maybe they all simply grew up and flew away, but we do think that the soap made a difference, especially on the surviving plant. On it we did find several bugs, but they skedaddled (to other plants?) not too long after we did our first castile soap spray. The real key now is trying to prevent them next year, which means getting rid of any and all squash detritus. That’s the plan for the coming weekend. Anything that looks promising will stay, but the rest has to be cleaned out. The best thing we can do at this point is make sure that we clean up any rotting plants now so that no squash bugs can overwinter in any refuse.

Beyond the squash, we’ve still got beans and cucumbers coming and…and tomatoes! LOTS of tomatoes! At least, quite a lot more than we thought would make it.

A basket full of goodness!

After getting such a late start with things this year, we were a little worried that the tomatoes simply wouldn’t produce until it was too late. But we had one volunteer tomato show up that’s changed everything. A couple weeks ago, we picked the first of those tomatoes — we’re pretty sure they are Sun Sugar Hybrid cherry tomatoes.  And shortly thereafter, we start harvesting a few more from the plant more every day. Even though we were using at least in salads each week, before too long, we ended up with a basket-full! In an among the golden orange Sun Sugar tomatoes, we also have a plant producing small reddish-orange ones — these may be Sun Peach Hybrids or some variation.  In addition, we also have a number of Chocolate Sprinkles tomato plants that are really coming along, even though few of the fruits have ripened. They produce pretty green- and red-mottled, oblong cherry tomatoes. We also picked a couple Green Vernissage to try (but we don’t think they are quite ripe enough yet.) All in all, it’s a veritable cornucopia of deliciousness!

Over the weekend, we turned about three-quarters of our haul into a wonderfully sweet/tart creamy tomato sauce (delectable with cheese ravioli). We discovered that although the Sun Sugar tomatoes are generally sweet, the Sun Peach ones are sweetly acidic. Together, they made the sauce a little more bitter than we expected, hence the addition of cream.

This is definitely turning out to be a year of accepting the bad along with the good in the garden. The situation with the squash is unfortunate, but it certainly taught us some new stuff about garden maintenance and garden pests. We’re already planned on plant squash in a different formation next year. (Knowledge is power!) Now, we looking forward to enjoying a late summer and early fall with our tomatoes. That’s just how it should be.