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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.

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.

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.

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.

The Morning After

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The flag was still flying high on the crane when I got to the fairgrounds at 10 am this morning. Most of the rides were dismantled. A steady stream of cars arriving to pick up exhibits, entries, ribbons and premium checks.

I like watching the crews take down the fair. It’s interesting to see. I have been volunteering within the farm and garden building. Stacking up entries for easy retrieval. Helping people find their ribbons, and decide what to do with their vegetables and fruit, now that it’s been sitting around a week.

I started helping a couple of years ago. My favorite part of being there is watching the 4Hers come in to get their entries and their ribbons. It’s also watching children come in to our tables to find their entries, and in many cases their ribbons.

One little boy today was picking up a third, fourth and fifth place ribbon for biggest zucchini. One for him and each of his siblings.

I also enjoy visiting with my friends at the beekeepers’ tables, and just getting to talk vegetables with other gardeners. Commiserating about how our tomatoes suffered this summer.

I just wish we could find someone to take all the less than perfect food (and some that was still usable). There previously were people who took things home to feed pigs or chickens. Now, not so much.

The food banks can’t take them. They have been sitting out in the heat for a week. Most of the tomatoes were going south. The berries, really gone.

Still, it’s fun to help a little and see behind the scenes in tear down.

People were taking their animals home. The stalls were all cleaned up, and new mulch was in a humongous pile out by the show pavilion.

Another year. Another check. This one my biggest. Just about enough to cover what I spent to buy seedlings and plugs at Sharp’s Farm last spring.

Yes You CAN

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If I can can, you can can.

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My first entries into the canning arena at the fair. Cherries and dill pickles. I got a fourth place for the cherries. Nothing for the pickles but I am still learning. I saw the better jars did spears. I did slices.

I knew I wanted to learn how to can more fruits and vegetables and I finally got the courage to enter the fair. So glad I did. You never know until you try.

These luscious cherries. From Larriland. Picked in June.

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I separated them before making the preserved batches.

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This was a very simple cherries, sugar and water mix. No pectin. No hard work other than pitting all those cherries. Water bath processed. I got 5 pint jars of them.

As for the rest of the fair. Two blue ribbons, plus one third and one fourth place

Herbs. This may be the third blue ribbon for herbs. I have to look at the records, as I have never gotten a blue ribbon in anything other than herbs before this year.

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And, onions. They got me my other blue ribbon.

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Those onions. Lots of work to dry. But, oh so worth it.

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The five selected hung out in a closet in the laundry room, on hangers and string, until I was ready to enter them.

I didn’t take pictures of my third place basket. I need to go back and document that for my records. My final ribbon, for yellow slicing tomatoes. Somehow I missed taking that picture too.

As usual, I struck out with my heirlooms. They just lacked the intense flavor they need in order to win a ribbon. But, there is always next year.

If you have never had the courage to enter items in the fair, you really should just throw caution to the wind, and get in there. Easy to do. Really. Every year I learn more, and the people I meet are all very helpful.

Next year, I may even overcome my inexperience in baking and enter my zucchini bread. Or, take the time to enter some of my photography. There are so many ways you can participate.

Energy Savings (Or Not)

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We have these periods of time here where we live. Called “Energy Savings Days” by our local gas and electric provider. They happen to fall during my food processing times, at least twice this summer they have.

I then have a dilemma. Don’t use the stove, oven, crock pot or dishwasher to process these mountains.

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Yes, both those pictures were taken the same day. Yes, I have to draw down some of these tomatoes. I just change the A/C setting in the house, and then do what I need to do to process foods. I can’t give up six hours of productive time when I get anywhere from 10-20 pounds of tomatoes a week.

I am crossing my fingers and hoping I get good tomatoes next week, as the Howard County Fair opens on August 8th. On the night of the 7th I will be delivering herbs, onions, tomatoes, peppers, an ornamental basket, and this year, some of my canned foods.

Like my pickles.

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And some fruit preserves. And, hopefully a pepper jelly if I get it done this week.

If we get another energy savings day, I probably will be working through it. As the harvest doesn’t stop just because it’s hot out there.

Oh well, at least we aren’t using our cars much when I’m processing foods. Heck, I even improvised on this tabouleh.

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I used Israeli couscous instead of bulgur because I ran out of it. This was a quick simple lunch dish. A cup of couscous simmered in chicken stock. Parsley. Mint. Tomatoes from the garden. Lemon juice. Olive oil. Salt and pepper.

Gotta use those tomatoes everywhere I can.

Committing to a Garden

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While up at my community garden today, and dealing with the almost daily weeding task, I thought about those who have attempted to garden only to be discouraged by the amount of work it takes.

Yes, gardening is fun for some of us. But, we have to have patience, to wait for those plants to mature. We also have to have dedication. To go out there in the heat or the rain or the cold, to weed and water.

We had a few changes at our community gardens already this year. It is a daunting task when you begin. Before you figure out the rhythm necessary to keep it going. To keep it weed free. To keep it pest free.

To harvest during the peak season. To protect it from the elements.

Still it is rewarding when you get that bumper crop. When the tomatoes start to go nuts.

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When the zucchini are out of control.

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I find it therapeutic to weed. To spend the time nurturing those plants.

And right now it’s fun to watch those baby killdeer running everywhere.

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You too can have a garden. Start small. Maybe some herbs to add to dinner. Maybe a small salad table. Maybe just a tomato plant in a pot.

Nothing like fresh, home grown treats that you made yourself.

#grow100

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The 100 square foot garden challenge. Over on the University of Maryland Grow It Eat It page.

I was asked last year if I would participate this year. With my big garden, I had to think about how to carve out 100 square feet and show what I am growing in that contained area.

I think I have it all configured, and I will be blogging about what you can do in only 100 square feet.

Like grow potatoes.

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In six sq ft in a container in my backyard.

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You start with this. Put them about one foot deep in a bucket or trash can (with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage). Keep adding soil as they grow. Dump them out when you are ready to harvest (once the foliage starts to die back). I put in about half a dozen potato pieces. Some are fingerlings. A couple are Yukon gold. I use CSA potatoes because they aren’t treated and they will sprout.

Then there’s the lettuce.

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I bought a six plant market pack of butterhead lettuce. Put it inside a bunny fence. I have harvested six heads of lettuce, and they keep regenerating if you cut them just above the soil. Don’t pull them out. I should get at least another half dozen heads of lettuce. This circle is another six square feet.

Only twelve feet used.

I then marked off a 5×6 section of my community garden. Put in tromboncini, Thelma Sanders pumpkin and a handful of tomato plants. A couple of San Marzano. Supersweet 100s. Cherry. A nice mix.

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It doesn’t look like much yet, but it should give me lots of salad tomatoes and some canning tomatoes. The tromboncini are a heirloom squash. Just wait til you see what they produce.

I marked off a 3×15 foot section with cucumbers, zucchini, leeks, onions and arugula.

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This is part of it, and then I went perpendicular for 3 feet by 3 feet to bring in the shallots and my lone pepper plant.

All together I am up to 96 square feet. I have a two by two option left, so I added the herbs.

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Some sage, thyme, chives and dill are bunched up there. I already made chive blossom vinegar using a cup of chive blossoms and 12 ounces of white wine vinegar.

I will keep track of what this 100 square feet produces.

So far, the lettuce, onions and herbs are being harvested. I did find my first zucchini blossom today.

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Here’s to fresh vegetables in a small amount of real estate.

The Winter That Won’t Quit

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It may be April 25th, but winter hasn’t given up yet.

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If you look closely, you will see the sleet coming down. It later turned to big fat snowflakes but I was driving when it did that. Not the best time to celebrate Earth Day with outdoor activities, but we made it work up at the Conservancy. I went up to buy some heirlooms from the Master Gardeners and to put my shallots and rainbow chard into my newly tilled garden. I got a couple of my favorite tomatoes.

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Those two teeny plants on the bottom left are Purple Calabash. I bought my first seeds of this heirloom at the shop at Monticello.

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I won my first ribbon at the Howard County Fair with this variety. Haven’t won an heirloom ribbon since. Maybe they will make me lucky again this August.

As for the tomatoes, they are overtaking my kitchen, along with all the other seedlings I have.

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We need it to warm up. To get these plants in the ground. We still have two weeks before we can safely plant tomatoes. They need soil temperatures greater than 50 degrees, and we aren’t there yet.

I will be planting on Mother’s Day weekend, when I am one of the volunteers for our Mother’s Day garden party. Saturday, May 9th at 10 am. Tea, scones, gardens in bloom. Come visit us. There are numerous garden clubs who maintain areas out at Mt. Pleasant. You can talk with garden club members, and learn a few “tricks of the trade” while enjoying freshly baked scones.

Check out the web page for details. In the meantime, cross your fingers that we will get warmer weather.