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A Record Year

On the garden yield. The 2017 tomato crop has blown away all my previous yields.

This was probably my heaviest harvest in August. Over 20 pounds. So far this year my grand total has exceeded 171 pounds, and the cherry tomatoes are still producing.

My previous personal best was 139 pounds the first year I moved to a community garden plot. I thought that was an immense amount and now I am dealing with another 30 some pounds. The freezer is full. I have been gifting a half dozen friends regularly. The food bank and the Wine in the Garden auction basket winner have benefitted from my harvest.

I keep extensive records. By variety. Number of tomatoes. Number of ounces. Every time I pick. I sort. I weigh. I process.

Doing this allows me to decide what to plant again. What to give up. This year? The last of the pineapple tomatoes. They disappointed me for the last time. I love how they look, and how they taste, but they are fickle and fragile.

My replacement for them. Striped German. In the top picture, they are the very large yellow tomatoes with the green stripes. Those were picked a bit early, just before a predicted rain. If I left them on too long, they would split.

In this picture, you can see what happens when the rains come and split the tomatoes. My other favorite from this year, the small cherries with the darkest color, are prone to splitting too. These, the black cherry heirlooms, and those Striped Germans were bought from Love Dove Farms. I bought a market pack of four Striped Germans, and two plants of the black cherries. They will most certainly be grown again next year. They were superior in taste and both produced well.

San Marzano and large cherry tomatoes also did well.

I had two San Marzano plants that produced more than 20 pounds of tomatoes. The red cherry and tomato berry plants also went crazy in late July.

My freezer has dozens of containers of oven roasted cherry tomatoes. All winter long, I will be enjoying them over pasta or mixed with couscous or rice. I freeze them in single dinner size. Enough for the two of us to share.

The plants this year were spectacular.

Ringed by rebar and string to keep them upright. Many reached over six feet high eventually. I put in 32 plants this year in two long double rows in the garden. I lost two of them early in the season. Thirty plants. Averaging almost six pounds per plant. Since eight of the plants were cherry varieties, that’s a healthy return on “investment”.

One other surprise. The purple bumblebee hybrid, which isn’t purple at all.

Do they look purple? Not to me. They do have a great taste. Next year, they will return with the black cherry, striped German, and the San Marzanos. I will probably also repeat the Brandywine and the Rutgers.

It may be the end of the season, but the planning never stops. And, let’s see if I can get to 175 pounds before the first frost.

Designer Kale

Kalettes. Ever heard of them. Neither did I until they showed up in my Community Supported Agriculture share last Tuesday.

They even have their own website.

They remind me of red Russian kale. They are a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale. Easier to digest. Nutty in flavor.

After seven years in our CSA, Lancaster Farm Fresh, I thought they couldn’t come up with much I hadn’t seen before. And, yep, they did.

I finally got around to using them yesterday. Some of them in soup. The rest. Today will become sautéed side dish for my shrimp and grits.

As for the soup, I am currently cooking from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. For the cookbook club. Refining my techniques. I made a variation of the Tuscan bean and kale soup for dinner.

Definitely a variation. What did I use for this soup? A quart of my homemade chicken stock. Scallions. Purple carrots. A small, cubed Beuregard sweet potato. A can of low sodium cannellini beans. A smoked ham hock. Some of my cherry tomatoes from the garden.

The only seasoning added was a bay leaf, pepper, and oregano. I like the kalettes. They are milder and easily wilt into the soup.

Now, to find them locally. That should be interesting. I wonder if Whole Foods has them?

 

 

 

Rain or Shine

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No matter the weather. Harvest goes on. That includes those of us who volunteer weekly to harvest vegetables at our community garden. Perishables destined for the Howard County Food Bank.

We line up the wheelbarrows and get to work. 26-28 weeks total of harvests beginning in May and ending in late November. I am so thankful that we have a dedicated core of volunteers. It makes no difference if we get wet, or if we have to start really early to beat the heat.

I have learned much in this endeavor. What works. What doesn’t. What is best to grow. What won’t be used. It isn’t easy to cook healthy meals with limited resources but we try to grow items that lend themselves to simple preparations. No need for ovens, big pans, spices, etc. We know some of the recipients are living with a hot plate and maybe a microwave.

Greens are always welcome. Simple to prepare. Tomatoes are a treat for all of us. Nothing like juicy, ripe, sweet heirlooms, bursting with flavor. This week was one of our best for tomatoes, as we had three other gardeners away on vacation, and their tomato plants were overloaded with ripe fruit.

For the past month or so, we have had harvests of over 100 pounds weekly. We have these overproducing eggplants, which is a first for us. We have peppers that are full of blossoms and then are weighed down by the load of peppers, particularly our jalapenos. We also were very lucky with leeks, garlic, and of course, the tromboncino.

We have taken to calling them Italian squash, in order to get them accepted. They are the absolute best “zucchini-like” vegetable we grow. They get huge, but those long thin necks don’t contain seeds, which can be bitter. They slice and cook easily, and they also (for those of us with the utensils to do it) make wonderful fritters, breads, cakes, muffins, and more, when shredded. We have been getting dozens of these weekly, and they really do taste so much better than zucchini that have been left on the vine too long.

I get out a frying pan. Put in onion, pepper, tromboncini, cherry tomatoes. All in a splash of oil. Add salt. Pepper. Oregano. Cook until your house smells like spaghetti sauce. Serve over rice. Pasta. A “nuked” potato. It’s so good.

Now, where was I? I got off the subject, which is the garden. We are in the midst of planting for fall. The collards, kale, cabbage, carrots, beets, broccoli, and chard, all going in this month. We have 2000 square feet at the moment. 1000 square feet of the original food bank plot, plus 500 square feet being used where current gardeners had to take a year off for health reasons, plus 500 square feet where gardeners moved away during the season.

It means we may hit 2000 pounds this year. Which would be a record for us. Our highest total two years ago was 1700+ pounds.

Oh, and I forgot. Two of us put in a couple of butternut squash seedlings a while back. They went nuts and are advancing beyond the plots into the bench area. They are in an area of my plot that I didn’t use. There must be 20 of them ripening now.

They are another squash that goes a long way and is really easy to cook, once you manage to peel it. Can’t wait to have them ready to harvest.

Here’s to our volunteers, and here’s hoping the weather cooperates and gives us a good fall season, since summer has certainly been a good one for us.

 

 

 

Almost August

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Summer is just rushing by. Really high heat. Really heavy rain. Humidity. All those endearing aspects of living here in the MidAtlantic.

August is here. Summer is halfway over. Thankfully. But, we have favorite activities staring us down. Like the county fair. I am working on my submissions for herbs, vegetable display, heirloom tomatoes and more. Daily visits to the garden to plead with the heirlooms to ripen in time.

My calendar has more days with activities than blank days.

CSA. Food bank harvest. Fair. CSA picnic. Howard County Conservancy activities, like the BioBlitz and the “Bugs, Bees and Daiquiris”.

Processing the garden. There are days when I harvest three pounds of cherry tomatoes and a couple more pounds of larger ones. Time to fire up the canning pots and get busy.

Add a few family commitments and we may be in event overload.

Will we see you at the fair? Or, maybe the happy hour with Mike Raupp and Paula Shrewsbury?

It’s the height of summer. Enjoy it!

Watermelon Gazpacho

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Really. Excellent. Gazpacho.

All because we had it at The Turn House last week, so I had to try my own.

My first visit there, and review.

It’s a locally owned, farm to table menu. They graciously told us what was in the gazpacho, so I came home and tried my version of it.

Recipe: 4 cups watermelon, two large tomatoes, peeled and seeded. Equal amounts of red wine vinegar and olive oil. I used a couple of ounces of them. Half a cucumber, peeled and seeded. Your choice of how much hot pepper and sweet pepper. Two garlic cloves, minced. Salt. Pepper.

Make it to your taste. Your liking. I just throw things in a blender, and adjust.

Perfect for Buy Local Week. What’s not to love around here? It’s watermelon, cantaloupe, tomato and corn season in Maryland. They star in most of our meals. After all, the tomatoes are winning.

Five pounds today. They are making me work hard to preserve them.

Like these. Tomatoes, onion, garlic, pepper, olive oil, salt, pepper, a splash of sugar. Roasted. To put in the freezer to make winter that much more tolerable.

Dinner tonight.

The gazpacho. Cornish hens with local basil and butter. A potato from my CSA. A very good Virginia Viognier.

Buy Local Challenge nailed.

It’s Tomato Time!

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Yes, it is.

The floodgates have opened. They are coming in by the dozen now. Including a new one in my medley.

Purple Bumble Bee. A hybrid. A large cherry tomato. The first ones were ripe this afternoon. They are incredibly sweet. Larger than others.

I have only gotten a couple large tomatoes so far. Many, many green ones on the vines. Waiting for that tsunami to begin.

In other items out there, the okra are ripening.

Purple okra. Should do well when paired with purple tomatoes, shouldn’t it?

Zucchini still producing strong.

There were two today. I came home and put it all together. Zucchini. Okra. Tomatoes. The lonely two asparagus spears I found. An onion.

Sautéed to serve with heritage pork chops, from Evermore Farm. You don’t get much fresher than two hours out of the garden.

The Garden 2017 Edition

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Been a while since I posted. Things get in the way of sitting down to write.

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I finally did get my garden planted. My full plot in the community garden. Where I am now a co-manager, which has taken up quite a bit of my personal time. I did post once about the asparagus. The 24 foot by 3 foot section that produces copious amounts of asparagus. Last year 360, yes, 30 dozen spears of asparagus. This year, I am already at 200 spears and June isn’t here yet. Let’s just say we eat more than our fair share of asparagus in many ways. Salads. Frittatas. Pasta. Grilled. Baked. Steamed. Whatever. It is interesting to me to watch an invasive, more or less, take over larger areas along that row of the garden. It propagates underground and there is no rhyme or reason as to where it will emerge.

I have been selectively ripping grass out of that area and trying to tame the rest of the stuff surrounding the largest, most prolific plants.

This has been a strange spring. We tilled later than usual. And, planted much later than I normally do.

I moved my tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and onions. Rotation in the soil is one very important aspect in gardening. This year, my latest addition, okra. Why? I have no idea, but we like to grill it, and I put in four plants. There are also tromboncino. Let’s see how they do this year.

I mean, they have done well in the past. I like them for baking and for fritters. They do not have many seeds in the neck, and they are definitely less moisture laden. They are a challenge to keep in line in the garden, but I have them in cages.

So, here it is, the 28th of May and I finally have all three rows finished. A small bed of arugula. Onions. Three kinds of cucumbers. Zucchini. A dozen different varieties of tomatoes. The okra. Whoops, no peppers. I suppose I should put in at least one type of pepper. One more trip to the farmer’s market to pick up a plant, or two.

Crossing my fingers for a good season this year. Please make the rain stop for a while. The weeds are starting to win again.