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Posts Tagged ‘tomatoes’

I am not detailing the harvest from the acreage, this year.  We were gone when we should have been planting (due to the birth of Baby M), and gone when we should have been harvesting (due to my sister’s wedding), so our garden did not amount to all that much.  We have half a small rubbermaid container of carrots, about as many beets, and perhaps twice as many potatoes.  We managed to put away some peas, and a fair bit of fruit, but I have not done any canning at all.  I bought my pumpkins from the farmer’s market, and was given a bunch of squash by neighbours.  Mom is bringing us a few things from her own garden surplus, and Hubby’s mom did the same earlier in the year, so it’s not like we’ll starve (fat chance) or be reduced to *gasp* buying carrots or anything.   Our onions did really well, though, and we got a decent harvest of tomatoes.  Sort of.

 

We harvested the tomatoes on Sept 8th, by pulling the plants by the roots, then storing them on the basement floor to ripen while we were gone to my sister’s wedding in Alaska. We did not do anything more with them until approximately 3 weeks later.

 

Not sure of the exact harvest weight, but a significant percentage (maybe close to half) had gone bad in the 3 weeks they were on the floor. They probably should have been hung up, as the side of each plant not touching the floor had significantly fewer rotten ones. Also, Hubby did not realize that the Black Krim toms were supposed to look like that, and he disposed of several which were probably fine. Similarly, he did not realize about the Green Zebras staying green, so we failed to pick numerous ripe tomatoes on time before they rotted. Note to self: let Hubby know when you’re planting unusual varieties that may perform differently from usual expectations.

 

Hubby is eating the cherry tomatoes as they come ripe, and quite enjoying them.

 

I cut up a roasting pan full (and I mean overflowing full) of ripe tomatoes, and roasted them at 250-275 for about 15 hours over two days. I was scared to leave them unsupervised overnight, but actually I could have done so without worries, early in the process – they don’t seem to need a lot of stirring until after they have reduced by about 30-40%. Next time, I’d chop them in the afternoon, and throw them in the oven in the evening to cook overnight and all the next day. Then I’d process them the next afternoon / evening.

 

I processed the roasted tomatoes after they had reduced to less than 50% of their original volume, and started to get a bit browned . Processing involved throwing the pulpy mess into the food sieve and mashing through until all the pulp was separated from the skins and seeds. That took maybe 15 minutes. This year, I then packaged it in ziplocs and threw it in the freezer; it could also easily be canned. I just did not have enough to bother with running the canner. I got 5 cups of tomato sauce that was about halfway between the consistency of commercial tomato sauce and commercial tomato paste – quite thick. I packaged it in 1-cup containers, as I think I will likely thin it down with water for most recipes. The flavor is very intense.

 

This was SOOOO much easier than peeling, seeding, chopping, and boiling (especially with trying not to burn) like we did back in 2009; I could actually see trying to process multiple bushels this way, especially if you had enough deep pans, like roasters and cake pans. It would be most efficient to fill the oven with as many pans as would fit, I think, and you still wouldn’t be left with an overwhelming amount to process in the end. In fact, you would need several deep roasters going just to get a canner load worth of finished sauce.

 

This used up about 40% of our tomatoes (and all of the ripe ones, except cherry toms for Hubby). If the rest ripen in large enough batches, they will receive the same treatment.

 

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Our first frost this year was September 13th, so on September 12th, we picked most of the tomatoes from the garden, except for a few plants up by the house that were easy to cover and uncover at night for the frosts.  Those ones lasted until September 22nd before we got sick of the extra effort and picked all the tomatoes off those ones, too.

In all, we got about ten tons of tomatoes, mostly green.  I tried a variety of ways to stretch out the ripening, which I had seen in various books, on the internet, and been told about by friends and family.  I hung one plant in the basement by it’s roots.  I wrapped some in newspaper and put them in the basement.  I put tomatoes in boxes in warm-ish dark places (the upstairs pantry) and in cool-ish dark places (the downstairs cold room), just to check.  I ripened a bunch on the kitchen table.

All in all, there were a couple of ‘waves’ of ripening, with the toms on the kitchen table in the sunshine ripening quite quickly, while the ones in the upstairs pantry and on the counter in the kitchen, out of the sun, took somewhat longer.  Today, October 27th, I found the first rotten ones in the cold room downstairs, but there are still some kitchen-counter tomatoes that are good to eat.  Most of the tomatoes, including the ones hanging on the plant, and the ones wrapped in newspaper, are now turning red, though they could still be left to ripen for a little while.  We will still have tomatoes in November, but I am certain that they will have rotted by December.  I think the articles that touted Christmas tomatoes were from places that don’t get their first frost until well into October.

No one method of ‘preserving’ the tomatoes (or delaying ripening) seems to work any better than another.  Wrapping each tomato individually in newspaper was a pain in the butt, and I won’t bother again.  Hanging the plant by its roots was easy, but takes up a fair bit of space, and you have to watch for tomatoes falling off and getting bruised.  The simplest method seems to be piling them in shallow boxes and sticking them downstairs, and that is what I will likely do in the future.

I have already dried a bunch of the tomatoes with a sprinkle of sea salt, and made a couple of batches of salsa.  I am not quite sure what I will do with this other eight tons coming ripe, but they may just go directly into the freezer, depending on how much energy I happen to have this weekend.

At any rate, I will make a definitive statement here – you can certainly still have tomatoes coming ripe and nice to eat six or maybe even eight weeks after you pick them, however you decide to keep them, as long as they are out of the sun, and preferably a bit cool.  After that, I think it is a little sketchier.   So, for all you other Saskies out there, enjoy your November tomatoes, but don’t count on serving them at Christmas…

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We started planting back before the May Long Weekend (May 23rd), and had started seeds much earlier than that, but our garden did not get off to an auspicious start.  While the May Long boasted gorgeous weather, the following week, and two weeks after, brought killing frosts, and temperatures several degrees below freezing.  Some areas got quite a bit of snow in mid-June, be we had no moisture at all, and only the onion sets and potatoes came up for the longest time.

 

Then it started to rain.  And rain.  And rain.  We began to wonder if we should build an Ark.  The barn sprang a leak right over the Chicken Mahal, and we could not keep up with emptying the buckets.  It rained some more.  The barn cats would not come out of the barn.  It became a challenge to get to work, as sloughs started filling up and threatening to spill over the roads.  The frogs loved it, at least.

 

There have been a couple of sunny days, but not enough to actually dry anything out – just enough to encourage the mosquito population to dramatic new highs.  The sunny days have been hot and muggy, punctuated by thunderstorms that roll in and knock the power out for an hour or two, terrify the dogs, and move on after dumping a couple more inches of rain.   I thought Saskatchewan was supposed to be an arid province, but I digress.

 

Today, after a couple of back-to-back days of sun, we finally got out into the garden to take a look around.  I’m sure it’s been almost two weeks since we were last able to even walk in there.

 

The potatoes are knee high, and the onions are up and looking great.  There are slightly-crooked rows of beans, beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips, all with their baby leaves pushed up through the dirt.  The peas have several leaves each, though the plants are a little smaller than I somehow think they ought to be.  The squash, melon, pepper, and tomato transplants look unhappy with all the mud, but seem to be hanging in there.  No asparagus, though, not one single plant out of fifty, and one of the rhubarb plants is definitely dead.  The corn is not up yet, and I wonder if the seed has rotted.   Hubby may have to re-plant, and hope we still have enough time for it to set any ears.   The sunflowers are…completely overgrown with thistles, lamb’s quarters, and canola.

 

In fact, the most impressive growth of anything in the garden at all, is the weeds.   We have a very lush field of them, 85 by 95 feet, plus another 15 or 20 feet around the edges of the garden where our very kind farmer neighbours were especially careful to not spray the garden with Roundup, or whatever herbicide they are using on the canola they have planted all around our acreage.  We’re going to have to take a lawnmower through there, just to find the garden!

 

Hubby has his work cut out for him, and there’s more rain forecast for tomorrow…

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So we had our TV – less home invaded by two adults and three kids (aged 4 to 10) for the weekend – Hubby’s brother and his family.  I say invaded, but really, we were absolutely delighted to have them.  They drove all day to come and help us dig holes and plant things and cut down trees and bushes.  They said they wanted to do some ‘real work’ for awhile.   And take pictures of their kids doing ‘country’ things like building forts and planting trees.   The kids were pretty disappointed that we did not have chickens or goats yet, but made do with the house pets.   One of our dogs outweighs any two of the kids put together, but by the end of the weekend, even the littlest one could boss her around – the pooches soaked up all the attention.  The cats were less impressed, and mostly hid out, but that just gave the kids a new thing to stave off boredom – cat stalking.

The weather co-operated, sort of.  It was clear and sunny, and sweltering – almost thirty degrees Celsius on Sunday.  Not ideal for yard work, but certainly better than cold and rainy.

On Saturday, I grabbed my hand pruners to cut a couple of eyeball – poking – height dead branches from the crab apple tree.  Five minutes later, I was searching for pruning shears for two kids to help.  Twenty minutes after that, their mom came out with the bow saw, and by the end of the morning, we had cleared a big, gorgeous area under a maple tree that had been completely obscured by caraganas and lilacs.   It took hours and hours, and our sister-in-law spent even more time cleaning up the ground and raking everything out.  It was not a job we had planned to tackle, but it is much appreciated – now we’ll have a shady spot to kick back with beverages on those thirty-degree days.  Sis says it is her housewarming gift to us, and I can’t think of anything I would have liked better!

Meanwhile, the boys (all three of them) dug post holes.  The little guy was really enthusiastic about digging, and motivated the adults to keep at it, which was an accomplishment all in itself.  While Hubby was digging by himself, one of the ground squirrels came by to tell him off, and was so busy watching Hubby while it ran that it fell in one of the post holes.   That one was good for a laugh!

The kids were fascinated by the hummingbirds at the feeder, and the littlest one would holler every time one came to have a drink.   “Hummingbird!  Hummingbird!  Hey. guys, come see the…oh, it’s gone now…”  It was pretty cute.

Somewhere along the way, I wanted to identify a couple of plants that I was wondering about.  I had my wild plant book and a ten year old shadow, and we wandered off into the woods beside the house.  it turned out that yes, in fact, we do have stinging nettles, and also tons of  chokecherries and possibly wild gooseberries or currants, though I will have to see them bloom to be sure.   We also disturbed a frog.  Instead of shrieking and being grossed out, my niece tried to catch it.  When she couldn’t, she asked me to help.  We dragged the poor little guy in and set him in a jar on the windowsill until suppertime, when we let him go again.

Having kids around really brought back memories of my own summers on my Auntie’s acreage when I was a kid.  I hope they had as much fun as I always did.

I was also very impressed at how little water an extra five people used.  Now, this family has been on missions to third world countries where water is precious, and know all about conservation, but really, the five of them used less water than the two of us usually do.  They did, however, eat more than we had accounted for.  After going through a loaf and a half of bread and a whole box of cereal by the end of the first day, we made a quick run into town for groceries.  It would have been less of a deal if the weather had been cool, and we could cook on the stove without heating the house too much, but in this weather, we were kind of down to sandwiches and cut veggies.

We accomplished a lot over the weekend.  The boys finished digging all of the post holes for the goat yard, and started putting the posts in, as well.   They also dug a bunch of holes for our latest delivery of trees and bushes, and my sister-in-law and I planted blueberries, currants, blackberries, hazelnuts, cherries, apricots, apples, pears, and a plum.   I now have four big circular flower beds in the front lawn, though they mostly won’t hold flowers this year – we never got around to building the raised beds for the strawberries, so they are living in the flower beds with the roses.  It will actually probably be quite pretty.   Brother-in-law figured out how to get one of the painted-shut windows open, and we took down storm windows and hung screens for the summer.  Hubby and I also put in fifty asparagus plants and a couple of rhubarb roots.  Those ones looked kind of dead, so we will see if they actually grow or not.   Sister-in-law and the kids moved most of the brush pile for the kids to build a fort with – ‘coincidentally’ in the spot where we had wanted to move the brush pile to.   Then there was a lot of pruning, and clearing the sitting area.  All in all, I am not sure if they will want to come back, with all the work we made them do, but it moved us forward by weeks on the digging, planting, and building, and we are very grateful for that.

Of course, now the forecast is for frost tonight, so it appears that planting out the peppers and tomatoes was, in fact, premature.  Oh, well – we’ll find some old sheets and towels, I guess…

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We have been making little discoveries all over the acreage, now that the snow is gone and things are starting to leaf out.  We’ve found wild strawberries, wild roses, peonies in a random patch of tall grass by the (crab?) apple tree, raspberries, and what looks like an elderberry bush.  Hubby stumbled across an old rhubarb patch, right in the middle of a truck track behind one of the sheds.  There are a few other odd plants that I will have to identify – one of them might even be horseradish.  Of course, there are also a ton of what look like little stinging nettles – they are too little to tell if they are nettles or wild mint, just yet, and I have no interest in finding out the hard way.

There have also been swarms of bumblebees and hordes of little wood frogs.  Today, we saw hummingbirds for the first time, and also caught a glimpse of the woodpecker that we have been hearing for ages, but had not seen.   There were magpies squawking and swallows swooping.  We heard a bird song that sounded like all the world like a ringing phone, though it went on long past when the machine would have picked up, and was in the wrong direction, anyhow.  There are these little rodents, that look like squirrels but act like gophers, which we have been watching for a couple of weeks.  We also saw one of the bunnies on the lane while we were eating dinner.   This place is suddenly crawling (and sprouting and hopping and flapping) with life.   Unfortunately, the mosquitoes are out in swarms, also, but it’s a small price to pay to have the rest of it.

Hubby is determined to take pictures of all of the birds here in our area, so we hung up a hummingbird feeder, as we doubted we would ever get one to stay still for the camera, otherwise.  So far, there have been two ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting, and hopefully we will see lots of them, as we hung the feeder just outside the kitchen window, where we can watch it while we eat.  Of course, as soon as Hubby set the camera down, one flew right up to the window and tapped on it with his little beak.  I laughed!

In other news, the garden is coming along, albeit more slowly than we would like, with me being so creaky and all.  We’ve gotten the potatoes in, now, and also some radishes, parsnips, kale, chard, spinach, golden beets, lettuce, and broccoli.  We are going to try adding another quarter – row every week or two, to have a fresh supply through the summer.  That’s the theory, anyhow – we’ll see how fast we run out of room and / or patience.  We’ll make a big planting of the storage crops (beets, turnips, carrots, and such) later in the summer, so that they mature right around first frost.

Hubby found an old compost pile from some former residents, and hauled a few wheelbarrow loads over to my front flowerbed, which I decided to plant in tomatoes and peppers, instead.  It seemed like a great place for them, as it is sunny, protected, and close enough to the bathroom to lug buckets of used bathwater (“greywater”) out to water them with – the bed is right out the front door.   It is still a little early, but Hubby has been hauling the plants in and out every day to harden them off, and the weather has been fine, with a forecast for more of the same, so hopefully they won’t get too chilled at night.  We put in eight tomatoes, four hot peppers, and four sweet peppers – we started more, but they would not all fit.  While I was at it, I planted some little potentilla bushes that I bought on a whim, and some tulips and daffodils that were given to us by a friend who neglected to plant them last fall.  I tucked some herbs in between the bigger plants – parsley, basil, oregano, chives, and some garlic cloves that I just tucked in here and there.  That should be an entertaining “flower” bed, for sure!

We likely will have to put the rest of the garden on hold, now, as we have family coming in for a visit over the weekend.  If the kids get too bored with our lack of a television, we’ll set them to work planting beans and corn, but otherwise it’ll just have to wait until Monday…

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There is a song by a band called Spacehog.  It is called “Standing Outside A Broken Telephone Booth With Money In My Hand”.  I always thought that was an extremely evocative title.  You could really “get” the sense of defeat, just from that title.  It just so happens I like the song, too.

I had that sense, today.  In honor of Spacehog’s song title mastery, I am hereby calling today “Driving 25 Miles Home On Three Cylinders In A Saskatchewan Blizzard“.  It doesn’t cover the exceptionally long and crappy day at work, the car-swallowing potholes, the knee-deep snow, the broken windshield wiper, the homicidal snowplow driver, or the annoying squeaky rattle that developed around 2500 RPM, but you get a sense of how my afternoon went, anyhow.

If you ever do have to drive home on three cylinders, I recommend turning the radio up, putting your head down, revving it high, and just going for it.

So, as you may have guessed, my trusty Corolla did not pass the inter-provincial safety inspection.   The mechanic got up to about $4,000 worth of work (on a $2500 car) without even getting it in to the shop.  At least he was kind enough to stop and call me before getting into the part of the inspection that would have cost money.  He did not even charge me for the bit of investigation he did do, which was kind, and will win him more business from us.  It is really unfortunate, as the engine is in excellent condition, having been rebuilt just before I bought the car, but apparently, almost every other part of the car is on its last legs.  Oh, well.  We needed another lawn ornament.

Also, we killed the tomato seedlings by leaving them in a window that was apparently a bit too hot and sunny.   About half the broccoli has succumbed to what I presume to be damping-off – it just fell over and shriveled up.  Conversely, we apparently bought our squash seeds from the The Little Shop of Horrors (for anyone who remembers that movie), as they have sprouted these monstrous root systems that are flopping out of their pots and into pots of the nearby celery, which has hardly sprouted, and will be completely crowded out if we don’t tame the squash somehow.  Pretty soon they’ll be attacking the cats.   I’m guessing that 7 weeks to last frost was too early to start squash.  Oh, well, live and learn…

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Yesterday was just one of those days.

We went into town to drop the Corolla off for the out-of-province safety inspection, but could not get in until Tuesday. The insurance is only good until the end of the month, and we need to figure out if it is worth fixing up and re-insuring, or if we need to go looking for a different vehicle for me. It was a long, annoying ride to town on three cylinders, and I was a little frustrated that they could not get me in, though I really had no right to be, as I hadn’t thought to book ahead.

We went to the Co-op Agro Centre and Peavy Mart to price out how much it is going to cost us for heat lamps and feeders for the chickens. They don’t come until the last week of May, but I want to be ready for them long before that. It sure would suck to get 50 chicks and find everyone sold out of heat lamps. We did not purchase any equipment yesterday, but we are satisfied that it will not be overly expensive – heat lamps are around $25, and feeders and waterers are about $10. We plan to keep the chicks confined using 2×6 boards, or maybe a couple of plastic kiddie pools…we’ll see.

What we couldn’t find was bedding and/or a selection of feed. The one pallet of feed we did find, at Peavy Mart, Nutrena Starter / Grower Feed, does not have an ingredient list on the bag. This is a real problem for me, as I cannot eat commercially produced eggs. I am not allergic to eggs, but I AM allergic to something they feed commercial chickens, if you can believe that. Therefore, the contents of my chicken feed is going to be critical. The bag had a note that the ingredient list was available from the manufacturer. I checked the website when I got home, and still could not find any indication of what, exactly, was in the bag. I figure if you can’t find something on a website in 10 minutes of searching, it probably isn’t there. I emailed the company (and boy, do they want a lot of personal info before they’ll answer a simple question), and we’ll see if they get back to me. I kind of think they won’t – there must be something to hide.

Though we didn’t buy chicken stuff, we did buy a bunch more garden seed. Not that we probably needed it, but what the heck – we’ve got an acre or so we could plant if we wanted. As the snow has melted, it has become apparent that there is a strip of land along our laneway, which used to be farmer’s field, and is now part of our acreage. It looks to me to be about 60 x 400 feet, based on our survey map and google maps. Hubby and I went and walked the length and width of it (we finally found some survey stakes), and it’s HUGE! I don’t know if we’ll actually plant it all, but we have no reason to exercise restraint, and the seed buying spree is now officially on…

I also started a bunch more herbs in terra cotta pots, to keep in our south window through the winter, so we can still have the odd bit of fresh basil or parsley in January. I was going to set out some of the other stuff in seed starting flats, but got sidetracked with recording. Hubby and I created a database, like a spreadsheet almost, to record information about different plant varieties and seed suppliers and such, so we could compare in the fall and decide what worked well enough to plant again next year. It took a couple of hours to set up, and I had already entered a bunch of information on the varieties we had started in flats last weekend. I went to add some information about the new seeds I was going to plant, and somehow deleted several hours’ worth of work. By two hours past my bedtime last night, I still had not recovered any of the lost information, so I am resigned to having a couple of afternoons’ worth of typing to re-do. Bleh.

At least the started seeds are doing well. In the last few days, the squash, melons, tomatoes, and some of the herbs have come up. Yay! Nothing from any of the peppers, yet, but we planted a couple of terra cotta pots’ worth of hot pepper plants (jalapeno and cayenne), just for fun.

Today I am going to start some of the new stuff – some of it is completely frivolous, like Turk’s Turban, bushel, and birdhouse gourds, as well as a bunch of flowers, and I’m kind of looking forward to growing some ‘fun’ stuff, as well as the veggies…

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