Is it really the “end” of the season?

Because looking outside, you’d hardly know it. Granted, there are leaves on the ground, but, frankly, everything still looks pretty darn green! Okay, maybe not everything. Some plants, even the flowers, are starting to look a tad less green than they were even a month ago. And even though we’re still getting tomatoes, especially the bright orange Sun Sugar hybrid cherry tomatoes, they aren’t nearly as sweet as the ones from the height of the summer, which is to be expected.

You’ll see in the picture above the additional of some rather remarkable peppers! We’re pretty sure that the larger ones top right are Sweet Chocolate peppers, which are supposed to turn a rich, dark brown. However, seeing as the outside temperatures are due to drop later on in the week, and sunshine will likely be in short supply, we decided to pick them before it was too late. The other peppers are Rellenos. All of them will be quite tasty in a few cozy meals of fajitas and quesadillas!

Inasmuch as the Sun Sugars won’t quit, this latest harvest was the smallest one since they first started ripening. But the hardy plant has plenty more fruit on it. We’re pretty sure that even in the event of cool rain and cool temps, the plant will keep going for awhile. And even if the tomatoes aren’t super sweet, they’ll still be great to have around…for sauce!

Okay, okay. So cherry tomatoes aren’t sauce tomatoes. But, roast enough of them, and they work just fine! In fact, these tomatoes probably make up the bulk of the four bags of sauce we’ve made so far this year.

With our latest batch of tomatoes, we got to sauce making again. From roasting (with spices) and cooling…

…to pureeing…

…to straining…

…to the final product, ready to be bagged!

The resulting sauce, which is mild and sweet, is such a wonderful thing, as it’s great on it’s own, or it can be easily used as a base for soup or a more complex sauce (with the addition of vegetables, meat, cream, and such). We’re really looking forward to utilizing it over the winter months.

Rounding out this post, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention the pole beans, which show no signs of quitting either. 🙂

Looks like it’s time for another shelling party!

 

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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*

Gray Skies Are Gonna Clear Up?

So after having a truly successful time in the garden last weekend, this past weekend was…well…a little less so. It wasn’t a complete letdown — we did enjoy some Memorial Day festivities, and we got out in the garden to finish transplanting our tomato and pepper seedlings, but it was cool and gray overall. And rainy. Pretty darn rainy, in fact, late Sunday into Monday (Memorial Day), which we didn’t expect. And unfortunately all this took its toll on the new seedlings, especially the peppers. Despite the fact that we did everything we could to harden them off properly, the pepper remained especially fragile. Not all of them succumbed to the rain, but many of them did. The same went for a handful of the tomato seedlings, but most of them seemed to survive okay. If anything, they remain susceptible to being dug up by birds and squirrels, but that’s our fault. We haven’t been as diligent with using netting as we have been in the past. It’s actually proven to be more of a headache than anything.

Anyway, we still have a few seedlings left in their trays, so we’ll likely be putting them out this coming weekend to take the places of anything that died. Additionally, we still have to seed out flower beds in the front yard and generally plant flowers wherever there are free spots. (Flowers are this year’s critter-keep-away experiment!) On watch right now are the strawberries, which are now starting to ripen…and they’re getting noticed by the squirrels. And slugs. Yuck. Yeah, the wet weather really hasn’t helped with the slugs. It looks like things are going to clear up and warm up over the week, so fingers crossed that we’re able to start strawberry picking soon!

Besides waiting to see if all our new plantings take, we’ve been enjoying what’s becoming a very decent crop of green and lettuces!

Two of our raised beds hold a luscious variety of leafy things, including what we most recently harvested: a mix of mesclun greens, baby arugula, a few leaves of a red spinach (can recall the variety at the moment…), and baby leaves from two of our new leaf lettuces: Green Ice and Red Vulcan. The mesclun mixes are really potent. Not sure of the exact varieties they contain, but mustard green are certainly one of them. Together with the peppery arugula, they’ll set your soaring into spiciness! Thankfully, the leaf lettuces are buttery and mild, and the spinach is nice and earthy. All together, the spinach and mild lettuces and spicy greens, tossed with just a hint of a sweet balsamic vinaigrette, form a beautiful and very tasty salad. This most recent harvest only formed enough for a couple side salads, but soon we should have enough to start making main-dish salads. Really looking forward to that!

Harvests and Harvesting

As August is now in full swing, it’s nigh about time that we start making some significant harvests, yes? Yes! We’ve been gathering things here and there for awhile now, but this past weekend, we got outside with our baskets, ready to pick, cut, and pull. With the way this season has gone, the haul we ended up with was what we expected, but it was nothing compared to previous years. (Like last year when we were swimming in tomatoes!) Still, it’s more than enough to keep our plates full for awhile. 🙂 So, here’s a small gallery presentation of everything that recent came out of the yard.


First up, we have arugula and mixed greens, though the picture below shows only arugula. Though we don’t have many plots of greens left, the ones that have survived have been very prolific. This particular arugula, Wild Rocket, has survived well beyond the normal arugula that came up early and quickly went to seed. It has the most amazing flavor! Well, amazing if you like strong, peppery greens, which we do. It’s really fantastic when combined with some of our more mild, bitter greens.

026wildrocketarugula


Then, how’s about some basil? We’ve been picking this for a couple weeks now. On the right is the smaller Greek Dwarf basil — it’s super aromatic and licorice-y. On the left is the traditional Genovese basil — just so delicious. We dried both batches (along with some we had previously picked), and the kitchen smelled wonderful during the process!

026basil


Then, we have beans…lots of beans! Here we have some regular green beans (bottom), then two varieties of purple beans (the larger Teepee variety in the left and the smaller Velour variety in the middle), and then some plump Rattlesnake pole beans. All of these we’ve tried steamed and roasted, and they are all delicious!

026beans


We haven’t got as many shelling bush beans as we had hoped. On the left below are Zuni Golds, and on the right is a small pile of Pinto beans and an even smaller pile of Jacob’s Cattle beans.

026shelledbeans


Then, holy moly, how about the zucchini! As we’ve said before, all these zucchini are volunteers. We’re happy to have them but, unfortunately, none of the varieties we actually planted (like the Pattypan, Long Pie Pumpkin, and Lakota squashes that we were really hoping for) have produced. We’ll have to consider this when planting next year.

026zuchinni


Here we have a small assortment of some of the other things we gotten: cucumbers, cayenne and hot peppers, bush beans (prior to shelling), ground cherries, and peppers. Those peppers, by the way, came from our over-wintered plants. Good thing too considering none of our pepper seedlings survived.

026moreassortment


And finally, a further assortment of goodies. Here you’ll see that we got our first handful of Garden Huckleberries. We’ll see if we get enough to make a single jar of jam! Then we picked our first few tomatoes. That’s a bit sad as, while many of the plants are doing well, very few have any tomatoes on them. There still hope that well get some next month, and maybe even into October. We’ll just have to wait and see.

026assorted


So that’s going to do it for the harvests. Not to shabby, all things considered! Next week, well be back with some demonstrations of what we’re doing with some of these wonderful veggies.

The Year’s First Harvests!

Despite everything that’s happened, or not happened in the garden this year, we’ve managed to get a few successful harvests over the past weekend. And now that the weather has evened out some, things are looking better and better, even just since our last post. Only a week out, and we already have beans, squash, and cucumbers coming in. We’ve also finally put out some tomato seedlings, though we have a bunch of “reserves” just in case. And, as we said, we’ve been harvesting!

So first up, June means strawberries, right? Well, in our neck of the woods it does, and boy, do we have strawberries!

018strawberries

It may not look like much, and we’ve picked many more since taking this picture, but it’s taken us a good three years to get a decent strawberry harvest! Now, we even have a small surplus!  (That’s dwindling, y’know, because strawberries are darn tasty!) On the downside, we’ve noticed an uptick in slugs this year, which stinks for the strawberries. Between them and the critters, we’ve already lost a good handful, and a few more tend to go each day. But we’re doing what we can to remain vigilant, even if it means having to pick the strawberries a little early and then have them ripen indoors.

Moving on, not long ago we mentioned that it looked like our radishes were doing pretty good. Indeed, in order to make room for the ground cherries and huckleberries that we planted in the same planters, we had to harvest all the radishes. While many were just stalks (we really have to better abut thinning out our plants! Or, maybe, not planting a many seeds.), many were not!

018radishes

We came away with a good several dozen mixed Saxa II (red-pink), Hailstone (white), and Malaga (purple). We didn’t get a single Round Black Spanish radish, and we’ll keep that in mind next year. Our radishes never get very large or long, so we’ll probably stick with round, small varieties in the future. Anyway, we’re we’re looking into pickling this bunch in order to help them keep awhile longer. We like radishes well enough, but it’s not like we go through them like candy! Though generally mild going in, all these radishes leave a hefty aftertaste. You definitely  know you’ve had a radish after eating one!

And finally, we picked a lovely mix of greens and lettuces.

018greens

We mentioned awhile back that rabbits had somehow gotten into our peas. We’ll, we soon discovered that they had also made their ways into the lettuce and greens raised beds. Ugh. (This year the rabbits got smart and chewed through our net cages. Stupid smart rabbits.) After investing in some Liquid Fence, we’ve had a better time keeping the greens and such going. So in this harvest was arugula, New Fire Red Lettuce, Garnet Rose lettuce, Buttercrunch lettuce, and Rocky Top mixed lettuce. It made for an utterly delicious salad! From the looks of things outside, we’ll certainly have more greens to come — as long as the rabbits stay far, far away, that is!


So we’ll round things out here with a quick update on our grass “trenches.”

017stonebed2

If you recall from our last post, our intention with this experiment was to try to keep the areas around our squash and melon (and pole bean) hills relatively moist and free from weeds. Well, we can happily report that, after surviving through a particularly strong storm this past weekend, the trenches are holding! They are keeping the soil right around the hills from getting too dry, and they’ve really helped kept down the weeds in the bed generally. And as the seedlings have come up, they’re also free from pests and mold. Whether or not this is a result of the grass circles remains to be seen, but we’re very pleased with the results so far.

 

Harvesting, Making, Preserving

It’s weird every year reaching August, because usually around the beginning of the month, the garden hits a point of no return. The plants themselves slowly begin to fade while the fruit and vegetables speedily ripen in the hot sun. We’re now watering every other day and harvesting at the same rate, and the bowlfuls of produce simply don’t stop! This is also the time of year when we turn our sights towards canning. We can only eat so much stuff in one sitting, after all! So with way too many tomatoes and cucumbers coming in last week…

And this is just ONE tray!
And this is just ONE tray!
Three beauties out of more than a dozen.
Three beauties out of more than a dozen.

…we set about doing this…

Tomatoes ready for the winter.
Fresh tomatoes ready for the winter.

…and this…

Mmmm...pickles! Going to be hard waiting a month to try them!
Mmmm…loads of bread and butter pickles! Going to be hard waiting a month to try them.

…and this.

We put our dehydrator into overtime.
We put our dehydrator into overtime for these dried tomatoes.

Plus, we made and froze a bunch of tomato sauce, ate everything zucchini that we possibly could (there are still more to harvest!), and have started saving pepper recipes. We may try freezing peppers this year if we get enough. So far, though, we’ve been using our many peppers regularly (those are green Jimmy Nardello peppers off to the left in the first picture above) so there many not be any leftover! We also had a fair number of tomatillos on hand.

024tomatillos
For some reason, we thought we got a purple variety. but these are definitely green.

We aren’t at all versed in tomatillos, so to us, these tasted very unusual – almost like apples — sweet, bright, and a little savory. So we turned them into salsa with some peppers, onions, and tomatoes. It was really delicious, though it had a very “green” flavor that was a little off-putting. We figured that was just the tomatillos. Those left on the stem too long turned yellow and were a bit more bitter. Still, it’s great that we got any this year to try!

In addition to harvesting, making fresh food, and preserving stuff, we’ve also started the annual ritual of seed saving. This has been easiest with the beans and peas, but we’ve also got some tomato and cucumber seeds stashed away, as well as plenty of pepper seeds.

024beans
Here we have a sampling of what we’re aiming to save. Ignoring the peach pits (maybe we’ll start a fruit tree?), at top left and going counterclockwise: garden peas, Jacob’s Cattle beans, a few ground cherries, Purple Teepee beans to be shelled, soybeans, Christmas Lima beans, and a few wax beans.

The more seeds we save, the better off the garden will be in the years to come. Plus, it’s way cheaper than buying new seeds every year! (Though, of course, there will always be new varieties to try.) Well that’s all for now. Once again, it’s really hard to believe we’re headlong into August already. This year has certainly blown by.

Notes from the Tomato Jungle

Well, we knew that we would be in for a lot of tomatoes this year, and boy oh boy, we were not wrong!

This photo had to be taken from an elevated position just to get everything in the shot!
This photo had to be taken from an elevated position just to get everything in the shot!

In a matter of just a couple weeks, we went from getting a few tomatoes a week to a healthy bowlful every day! We collected the haul picture above in less than a week. It’s bananas! Err…tomatoes. But still, bananas!

Not all of the tomatoes you see there came out of the “tomato jungle,” (i.e. one garden bed that was seeded and taken over by tomatoes from last year) but the vast majority have, and every day we harvest more and more. Concerning the mystery tomatoes, well, we have our best guesses as to possible hybrids, but we can say exactly what crossed with what to make what we’re eating today. Oh, and by the way, these tomatoes are utterly delicious! Every one that we’ve eaten, from raw to roasted, have been winners. It’s going to be terrible going back to “store” tomatoes over the winter. (Though we might no have to do that if we preserve right. We’ve got some upcoming and early canning plans, so fingers crossed!)

After going through the selection that we have, we identified the several listed below.

First off, we have some lovely Marmandes. We got these a little early, and they’ve been ripening very nicely. They should go further into a deep, rich red soon. (Though we may not be able to wait that long!) They taste very tomato-y, tart and a little acidic.

022marmande

Next, we snagged some Yellow Gooseberry tomatoes (and lots more are on their way to ripening). We should have put something in this picture to help with scale, but these are much bigger than the tomatoes of the same variety we got last year. They are supposed to be cherry tomatoes, but they’re probably double in size of what you’d think of as an average-sized cherry tomato. These are not as sweet as the smaller tomatoes we got last year, but they are still very delicious, especially when roasted.

022yellowgooseberry

But speaking of sweet, the Sun Sugar Hybrid cherry tomatoes have got that covered! Though it’s a little hard to tell in the picture, these turn an amazing shade of gold when fully ripe (unlike the Yellow Gooseberries that turn bright, bright yellow). They are small, sweet, and are absolutely perfect on a salad of bitter greens.

022sunsugarhybrid

We also hastily picked a few unripe Indigo Blue Berries, only to find a little something unique in the way they were ripening. Seems that the tomatoes don’t  or can’t ripen all the way when the leaves at the base of the stems are in the way of the sunshine! These we haven;t tasted yet as we’re waiting and hoping that they’ll ripen further.

022indigoblueberries

So from the known tomatoes, we move onto the mysteries, the first of which are the Romas. Though we’ve planted Romas from seed the past few years, we’ve no idea what variety these tomatoes are. What we do know is that they are excellent in sauces. Unfortunately, we’ve found that our Romas are prone to internal…rotting? Not too sure what else to call it, but more often than not, we’ll cut open these particular tomatoes only to find black, moldy interiors. 😦

022randomromatomatoes

Then, we have some mystery cherry or miniature tomatoes of one sort or another. We’ve said before that some of these, particularly the larger of the small varieties, could be hybrids of larger tomatoes and either Super Sweet 100s or Rite Bites. The smallest of the small are definitely regular ol’ Super Sweet 100s, which is fine by us. Some of them are bright red, while other have pinkish hues. (No idea where that trait came from as we’ve never planted any pink varieties, at least not yet.) Some of them even show signs of developed ridges or lobes. What ever they are, they are simply good — sweet enough to eat like candy!

022randomcherrytomatoes

Then there are the cherry or miniature tomatoes that we definitely think have been influenced by Black Krims, a favorite, dark purplish tomato that we first planted a couple years ago. We planted them (from seed) again last year but they didn’t take very well. This year it seems that they hybridized with smaller varieties to produce some beautiful, dark mini-tomatoes! No complaints — some of these spruced up some pizza we had the other day. Sweet and tasty!

022darkmysteries

So that rounds out the tomato situation as it stands today. Over the coming weeks, we’ll no doubt be up to our elbows in tomatoes. It’s a little overwhelming, and it’s definitely putting our culinary skills to task. We’ll certainly be getting enough Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Potassium, and Lycopene (all present in tomatoes) this summer!

We’ll leave with a shot of some of this year’s ground cherries. Maybe we’ll get enough to cook with, but right now were getting enough to snack on. So wonderful!

022groundcherries