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Home Grown

Tomatoes. The reason I garden.

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This year I concentrated on heirlooms. Which didn’t do very well, but I did make it to the century mark. 100 pounds of tomatoes by last Tuesday. With a few pounds of green tomatoes still hanging out there. Third year in a row to pass the century mark.

I dedicated about 100 square feet to tomatoes. ROI, a pound a square foot.

This year I did eliminate roma/paste tomatoes from my plantings. Deciding to rely on Larriland Farms, pick your own, to supply me with tomatoes for freezing. Last Saturday, me and hundreds of other people descended on the farm. Most of them looking for apples and pumpkins. Me, looking for tomatoes.

If you could make it through the parking lot to the area for picking tomatoes, you didn’t encounter any crowds. Down beyond the beets and the broccoli, the last tomato fields are open. Just a few weeks left to pick. Prices are amazing. $1.49 a pound for less than 20 pounds picked. Price drops to 75 cents a pound for more than 20 pounds. I picked 26 pounds.

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Almost 24 pounds of paste tomatoes and almost 3 pounds of Campari. It was sauce making and oven roasting time, for three days total, at my house this week. The freezer is getting full. Winter will have tomatoes on the menu.

The Campari.

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They suffered a bit from the strange weather. Lots of cracked tomatoes. Just like what I encountered in my heirlooms in my garden.

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Many of the Campari were destined for the roasting tray. This batch was tomatoes, a red pepper, scallions, olive oil, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper. Slow roast at 250 degrees. I ended up with a total of four trays of roasted tomatoes. One with the Campari and three with the paste tomatoes. When I use the paste tomatoes, I slice them in half or in thirds, depending on their size.

As for the bulk of the paste tomatoes. Three different batches of sauce. Each yielded 2 quarts.

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I blanch them first. Remove skins and seeds after they have cooled. In the meantime, I prepare the base.

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Onions and carrots first. Sometimes I add green pepper. Always I add minced garlic right before I start putting tomatoes in the pot.

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A tray from the oven, and a finished sauce. My sauce is simple. Just add a pinch of sugar, some salt and pepper and oregano. I like it chunky. Like this.

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The pasta. From Boarman’s. Called Al Dente. It’s an egg enriched pappardelle. It’s hanging by the butcher case. The sausages. One was hot Italian, the other sweet Italian. I ask the guys at Boarman’s to give me one of each and use them for my Italian meals. Mixing them.

As for that days work.

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Ready to transfer to the basement freezer. Yep, it took three days total to process the $20 worth of tomatoes I picked. Yield. Four jars of roasted tomatoes. Six quarts of sauce. One was eaten. Five in the freezer. Not a bad value.

Rainy Days

Finally, we get a good soaking rain. Good enough to give the sod a fighting chance to survive.

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Although it also kept the carpenters from working on the deck.

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I will be happy when they get done with the work and we can finish seeding the sodding the yard. The mud runs are getting a wee bit eroded.

The good news also, the tomatoes in my garden got much needed relief from the heat and drought conditions.

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I am running low on ripe tomatoes, and there are many green ones on the plants up at my garden.

Today though was cooler, dreary, just the type of weather that screams “SOUP!” and has me reaching for the pans and the crock pot.

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I dug into the freezer and took out a package of my Maple Lawn turkey drumsticks. The last ones from my visit at Thanksgiving. I freeze them with two to a pack. Just the right amount to make turkey stock, and crock pot soup.

Don’t make the mistake that I made and put frozen turkey into the crockpot. It could crack your ceramic from the thermal shock. I started my stock this morning on the stove.

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The turkey will defrost, and you should take it out and let it cool down enough to shred. What you see above is the bones, skin and tough pieces, used to make a hearty stock. Those shredded pieces?

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Went here. In the crock pot. This is a two step process, but yields at least four meals.

In that stove top pot, I placed the legs with carrots, onions and celery. Tarragon, parsley, salt and pepper. I forgot that I didn’t have carrots in the freezer, so Jenny’s came to the rescue here. I will miss the market when it closes in five weeks.

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When she opened this morning, I bought enough carrots to use today and to cut, blanch and freeze some for when I need them in the winter. The freezer is getting back to being ready for the end of the markets.

In the crock pot, I put water, the better parts of the carrots, celery and onion (I use the ugly stuff in the stock, and then discard them). After I got the turkey ready, I shredded it to remove all those pesky little bones that turkey drumsticks have. Seasoned and left to slow cook all day. I just added the egg noodles at 4 pm, so they will be perfect when we are ready for dinner at 6.

A nice bowl of soup. Some of our awesome CSA bread.

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Last Tuesday we got a loaf of miche.

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One of my favorites from She Wolf Bakery. I definitely will be getting bread in my fall CSA share, as I love the vegan breads we get. They stay fresh all week. No mold. Don’t get hard and stale. Bread and butter, with soup. A perfect meal to herald the change of seasons.

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The flowers? Just a bit of sunshine on a rainy day.

Processing

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This is the time of year where I spend days reaping the benefits of the garden harvest. It’s quite a bit of work, sometimes more than I expect. But, it is worth it in the dead of winter when I am pulling pints of tomato sauce out of the freezer.

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Real tomato sauce. That spends hours simmering on the stove. I have been perfecting my technique these days. Learning how to best extract the “meat” of the tomato from the seeds and skin.

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I blanch my tomatoes after cutting the tops off of them. Let them cool down before peeling and seeding. The batch I made yesterday used 24 tomatoes. Yielded two quarts of sauce.

I did get lucky with some “gleaned” tomatoes.

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Split and damaged tomatoes. We were harvesting from one of the community gardens while the plot owner was away. These tomatoes weren’t in the best of shape. Not good to use for food bank harvest. For an avid gardener though, these tomatoes could make some awesome sauce. I cut away quite a bit of them. You need to get the infested areas out of the tomatoes, or risk a ruined sauce.

My sauce is easy to make, in terms of work. It just takes patience.

I start with onions, celery, carrots, sweet peppers, garlic. Sweated down in olive oil. Add the meat of the tomatoes to the pan. Add salt, pepper, Italian seasoning. A pinch of sugar.

I like my tomato sauce to be chunky. So I don’t blend it at all. Right now I have a dozen containers in the freezer from three sessions of sauce making.

If you have never made your own sauce, you do need to try it. At least once. To see just how much time our ancestors spent putting up food for the winter. It does make you appreciate what we can buy instead of make. Even though I have found that making my own food yields greater flavor.

Here’s to harvest, and the fruits of our labor.

This Weekend

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Two very different interesting programs out at Mt. Pleasant. Howard County Conservancy.

Heard of the Perseids? These meteors will streak across the dark sky for the next few nights. Peak viewing should be Friday night. Dr. Joel Goodman (star doc) and Dr. Alex Storrs from TSU will be at the Conservancy talking about the meteors and along with the dozens of attendees (this is a well attended event) will be hanging out in their lawn chairs searching the night skies and counting meteors.

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The sky above the Conservancy is one of the nearest non light polluted places here in the county to watch the meteors. Event is 10pm until 1:30am. Details here.

Then on Saturday morning I will be leading an event with another program volunteer, Wendy Ng. The two of us have been following the progress in the community gardens. Watching the diversity in plantings. Seeing how what was just a traditional European influenced mix of plants has now evolved into many different cultures.

Come wander around with us. 10am on the 13th. See some interesting plants. Learn how they are used. Take home a few recipes.

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This program combines nature, gardening, history and more.

You’ll even get to see some of the more interesting fermentation ideas, the best way to preserve the fruits of your garden.

Sum-sum-summertime

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We are only a week away from the official start of summer. Tell that to my garden, that is still giving me lettuce and asparagus.

At least we are transitioning into summer with our CSA delivery this week.

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This is our second week with garlic scapes. Which I love. Last week I made pesto which has been melted on pasta, and used with shrimp to make a meal. It may get slathered on cod tomorrow night. I will make another batch from this week’s haul, and freeze it in ice cube trays. To brighten up next winter.

As for the peas. I absolutely love getting fresh peas and shelling them.

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They have to be eaten or frozen almost immediately.

The greens are being replaced with summertime vegetables. But, no, there won’t be tomatoes for a few more weeks. Be patient. The ripe, fresh, flavorful tomatoes are coming. Just not there yet. If we get a few more weeks of warm weather, we should be there.

I saw my first blossoms on the zucchini today, and there are blossoms on my tomato plants. Summer is just around the corner, here in Howard County.

Strawberry Social

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Yesterday I attended the annual volunteer appreciation party up at the historic farmhouse on the Howard County Conservancy grounds. I have been volunteering since 2010 and have made it to most of the annual Sunday afternoon appreciation parties.

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The farmhouse is only open for viewing a few times a year. If you wander around outside though, you can find the viewing portal that will show you under the siding original logs.

The volunteers get together to celebrate the end of another busy season. All of the field trips are done. There are the monthly programs still, and of course, summer camp. Still, the crazy field trip schedule has wrapped up. Some weeks, there were field trips every day. Some days, more than one. Without the dedicated volunteers this would not be possible.

The social is simple and fun. Strawberries from Baugher’s Orchards and Farms in Westminster. Vanilla ice cream from Hoffman’s. Lemonade and iced water. Time to mingle and relax. Followed by a short series of presentations including the big reveal of the volunteer of the year.

Some highlights this year. Gwen Morrison, honored for volunteering at 50, yes, FIFTY field trips. Sometimes twice a day. Our requested commitment is a minimum of three in fall and three in spring. The naturalists usually can do more than that, but think about the commitment in hours (2-3 hours for every trip) to be there for dozens of trips. Way to go, Gwen. We worked together this year on BioBlitz at Belmont, one of my favorite activities.

This year’s winner of the Carol Filipczak Volunteer of the Year award was Bob Grossman. Bob is one of those faces seen over and over at all sorts of programs and field trips. He definitely deserved being recognized for everything he does.

There were other fun awards too. Like Rookie of the Year. Guys With Trucks (you have to go ask about that one, I love it). Parking Kings. Jump In. And more I can’t recall right now.

The dedicated drop in gardeners were recognized. For their willingness to wait out rain, over and over and over again, in May. Just when you need to get the gardens in shape, Mother Nature kept sending showers and storms on them.

One other special award to staff this year. Tabby Fique, the land manager, who was the education manager when I started volunteering was honored with one of Alice Webb’s paintings, of the farmhouse, for her 10+ years on staff. To most of the visitors, Tabby is the owl whisperer.

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She was Ranger’s original handler when he came to the Conservancy in 2010. Many people who come to Wine in the Garden were greeted by Tabby and Ranger.

Congrats to all the volunteers who were recognized this year and in years past. I can’t emphasize enough how much rewarding and fun this non profit is, for the volunteers and staff. A great place to work, to help, to visit and to support.

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Thanks for another fun year. Now, we’ve got to get in gear for the arrival of the Fiddlers next week, and hopefully there will be fireflies.

Oh, I almost forgot. We all got little packs of milkweed seeds to sow, wherever we can find a spot that may be a good habitat for the monarch butterflies. And, anyone new got their magnet for their car, to show our volunteer pride.

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Le Jardin

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I finally got my garden in. The community garden plot, all 500 sq ft of it.

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This picture doesn’t do it justice. It’s hard to get a good shot beyond the row covered section. Which is about to be removed since the arugula under it didn’t do very well. I will probably add a row of green beans there.

There are four rows. The first one.

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Tomatoes and rhubarb. Two young rhubarb plants at the end. Twenty four tomato plants. This year it is about 50% heirlooms. German Johnson, Abe Lincoln, Brandywine, Rainbow, Black Krim, Purple Cherokee and Black Cherry. The rest. Old standbys like Big Boy, Early Girl, Supersweet 100, Carolina Gold, and Beefsteak.

The second row.

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Under the row cover, is some Bibb lettuce. It was also supposed to have arugula, but it never germinated. There are shallots along the edge, and four rows of onions. White, yellow and red. Tucked between the cover and the onions is some dill and my favorite African blue basil.

The third row.

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These three are zucchini. Above them is a grouping of three kinds of cucumbers. Pickling, slicing and bush crop. Today I put in two pepper plants at the very tip of that row. They are yellow sweet peppers.

The fourth row. Asparagus, mostly. It is currently slowing down just a bit, and I am letting about 20% of it go to seed.

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I still am getting beaucoup asparagus, though.

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As of today, 208 spears harvested.

I didn’t plant any canning tomatoes. I expect to get them from our CSA. They offer bulk buys of Amish paste tomatoes. 25 pound boxes. Last year they were $30 a box. I could also get them from Breezy Willow Farm. They offer bulk as well.

This was the latest date I have ever finished the garden. I don’t know if I will have tomatoes in time for the Howard County Fair. That would be a first. I have always done OK in the tomato category.

As for my freezer here from last year. I am down to one bag of blanched tomatoes. Plus, three jars of sauce and two bags of oven roasted tomatoes. I got about the right amount processed last year. Time to start replenishing the freezer.

… Plus You Get Strawberries*

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Strawberry season is upon us.

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Gorman Farms opened this past week. Details on their web site. TLV Tree Farm is bringing strawberries to the Howard County Farmers Markets in Oakland Mills, Miller Library, Maple Lawn and HoCo General Hospital.

Larriland has a notice up on the web site. Look for picking to start sometime next week. I will probably be there, as usual.

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It doesn’t take long to fill a basket.

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One basket is roughly ten pounds of berries. Two baskets make twenty pounds, where you get the price break. I come home and start processing. This is the easy part.

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Just hull them. Clean them up a little. Flash freeze them and put them in small bags or containers in the freezer. Perfect to drop into lemonade or wine or a cocktail.

A little harder. Make puree and freeze it in ice cube trays.

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Put one of these in a glass of wine. Chills it perfectly and makes your own wine cooler.

When we are ambitious, we make crisps and crumbles and pies and shortcake, but mostly we just enjoy the fresh berries.

*The quote from Ron Finley’s Guerrilla Gardener TED talk, a favorite of mine. “gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city, plus you get strawberries”

Hot House Tomatoes

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Not something I expected from our CSA.

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We have gone regional. I assume it is to keep customers who want vegetables all year round, and not just in season. If you watch, the Community Supported Agriculture model keeps changing, to compete with the regional food source companies. Who get more customers than the traditional models do.

I can’t say I blame them. There doesn’t seem to be an exponentially growing market out there for real food, grown locally and provided fresh in season.

Lancaster Farm Fresh has thousands of clients. Besides the CSA members, there are restaurants, schools, hospitals, grocery stores and small farms buying their produce, herbs and fruit. Some weeks our email tells us we are getting the regional LFFC labeled food, instead of the local farm food.

Toigo Farms. In Carlisle PA. Home to what they say is the largest greenhouse in the USA. Video here.

Toigo Orchards is familiar to us. We bought their fruit at the Dupont Circle market. They seem to have constructed a massive greenhouse to grow tomatoes.

Don’t get me wrong. They were OK. But not as good as vine ripened tomatoes in season. And, not as good as what we get from Hummingbird Farms in MD. Maybe I need to let them hang out in a sunny window for a few days. Yeah right. Like we actually get sun around here.

All in all, today’s basket from our CSA wasn’t bad.

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It was springtime in a basket if you looked at the green garlic, the romaine, the radishes and the rhubarb. I did a few swaps this week. I really wanted good salad material, and those greens will make a killer pesto.

Still, I will wait for this type of tomato.

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Those heirloom tomatoes.

I did make a nice Caprese salad tonight. Tomaotoes, mozzarella and fresh basil. Balsamic and olive oil. Salt and pepper. IT just didn’t have that in season taste.

Spring Cleaning

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In the herb and spice world. Do you clean out your spice jars? Buy new herbs to plant in your garden? Or put out a few pots on the balcony?

For me, spring is when I do my clean out of my spice jars. Creating mixes to use up the old stuff. Planting some standbys, and trying a few new items.

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You can get many potted herbs at our farmer’s markets and at the local spots, like River Hill. Which is where I usually get my African blue basil.

This year I found the basil at Sharp’s Farm.

Still, I use enough of the dried stuff in the winter to keep most of my supply fresh and the older spices and herbs, I have a perfect use for them. Sprinkle them on the grill, or dump a tiny amount of them onto your mosquito chasing candles. Either way, the scent makes any outdoor gathering so much better.

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Try something new and different. Grow a new herb. I am really liking the bay leaf plant that I keep outdoors all summer and baby all winter in a sunny window.

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If only the weather around here would cooperate so I can get my kitchen stools back under the counter.