Monday Recap: Two Sisters, Somewhat Close

One of the many things I love about gardening is that every year brings a brand new adventure. Like the stock market, what happened in last year’s garden is no predictor of how things will go this year. Take winter squash, for instance. Last year I planted several vining types around the edge of the garden, where they wound up using the fence for support. They did quite well, though I lost a few that wound up growing in the fence itself, or got eaten by deer when they grew outside the fence.

Waltham Butternut and North Georgia Candy Roaster squash

Waltham Butternut and North Georgia Candy Roaster squash

So this year I grew most of the vining plants in a large bed on one end of the garden. However, I think I planted too many for the amount of space available, and it turned into a Darwinian experiment where only the most vigorous vines survived! Fortunately it looks like there will still be plenty of winter squash, even though a couple of them got crowded out entirely. That’s a North Georgia Candy Roaster in the above photo, with a Waltham Butternut beside it for comparison. This Candy Roaster is shaped like a giant green-tipped pink banana and weighs right at three pounds. It will be interesting to see what it tastes like. I really didn’t intend on a two sisters planting, but the squash has grown into the bush beans which are in the next bed over. At least the beans have set all their pods and are in the process of drying down.

Musica and Gold Marie beans

Musica and Gold Marie beans

Thankfully I put the pole beans on the other end of the garden, far away from the meandering squash plants. These sisters are as far apart as I could get them! The pole beans have done a great job of vining themselves, but they stayed on the trellis which has held up quite well. These beans just keep on producing this year. Fortex, Musica and Gold Marie have given us all the beans we can eat for the last couple of months, plus plenty to freeze and a few to give away. The Trail of Tears, Good Mother Stallard and Rattlesnake beans are all setting lots of pods and it looks like it should be a good year for the dry pole beans too. That’s a mix of Musica and Gold Marie in the above photo, and Fortex in the below photo.

Fortex beans

Fortex beans

My wife roasted some of the beans for dinner one night, tossed with a little olive oil and some balsamic vinegar. They were yummy, and a different twist on this versatile vegetable. The below photo really does not do them justice. The taste sort of reminded me of dry-fried beans. That’s some of our spring carrots on the plate along with a turkey breast cutlet.

roasted snap beans

roasted snap beans

Another ‘sister’ coming in from the garden last week was some zucchini. One of the Striata d’Italia was hiding from me and got a little bigger than I prefer. It dwarfs the more normal sized Spineless Beauty in the below photo.

zucchini

zucchini

Other than squash and beans, I got enough tomatoes together to make another batch of tomato paste, plus cook down some more tomato sauce for the freezer. That’s Juliet and Golden Rave in the below photo, which went into the sauce. I used only red tomatoes for the paste, since I wanted it to be as red as possible. The yellow Golden Raves are great mixed with red tomatoes for sauces, and I can’t tell they change the color much. I haven’t made an all-yellow sauce though I don’t know why you couldn’t do so.

Juliet and Golden Rave tomatoes

Juliet and Golden Rave tomatoes

A couple of Vinson Watts were great on sandwiches last week. This big beefsteak tomato is my current favorite heirloom slicer, since Cherokee Purple has not done well here again this year. I am growing the CP from saved seed, so next year I am going back to my original seed source. It is possible the genetics of the ones I saved weren’t quite true to form, so I will see if that helps things. The Vinson Watts is also from seed I saved and there’s nothing wrong with them that I can find.

Vinson Watts tomatoes

Vinson Watts tomatoes

A trio of Vinson Watts tomatoes came in with the first two Italian eggplants last week. One of these eggplants is on the menu for lunch today, as is one of the Vinson Watts. It has not been a great year for eggplant, but they seem to be finally coming on.

Italian eggplants with Vinson Watts tomatoes

Italian eggplants with Vinson Watts tomatoes

I found enough ripe Aji Angelo peppers to make a batch of fermented hot sauce. I’ve made several sauces recently, and I plan on doing an update on them later this week.  That’s Aji Angelo in the below photo. It’s probably a good candidate for a Saturday Spotlight too, since I don’t think there’s a lot of readily available information on this variety. I can hardly wait to taste the hot sauce, which should be ready to bottle up in a couple of days.

Aji Angelo peppers

Aji Angelo peppers

Yesterday I baked a loaf of Cracked Wheat Bread, another recipe from Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand by Beatrice A. Ojakangas. This one was proofed in a round brotform then slashed in a scallop pattern before baking on a hot pizza stone. These recipes are relatively easy to put together using the bread machine for the mixing and kneading, and so far they have all been tasty. This bread should be good for sandwiches in the coming week. I like using the scallop slash because it lets the bread expand a bit lengthwise in the oven and makes slicing easier, at least it does for me. It’s called that because the finished bread sort of resembles the shell of a scallop.

Cracked Wheat Bread

Cracked Wheat Bread

In other news, many of the sedums around here are starting to bloom. The one in the below photo is a compact variety called Picolette. It has pinkish flowers and bronze-red foliage. That’s lemon balm behind it, which needs to be cut back before it starts dropping seeds everywhere. They are both planted in the Wild Garden.

sedum 'Picolette'

sedum ‘Picolette’

The Wild Garden is where we have put plants that attract the birds and the bees, along with butterflies, pollinators and other beneficial insects. Last year I grew some amaranth for the birds, and of course it self-seeded. The volunteer plants have grown better than the ones I set out last year, which always seems to be the case, doesn’t it? The one in the below photo is called Elephant Head, though I think ‘elephant trunk’ would be more fitting. The five foot tall plants make a stunning display, if nothing else. Hopefully this won’t turn into a weedy problem in future years.

Elephant Head amaranth

Elephant Head amaranth

Also notable is the buckwheat I planted as a cover crop. Less than 20 days after sowing, it is already showing flower buds. I will let it bloom and then hopefully cut it down and work it in the bed before it sets seed. I have some oilseed radish seed I may plant to overwinter in this bed. It’s a daikon type radish with a long taproot that helps to open up the subsoil. It can take some freezing weather, down to 20°F according to Johnny’s, then the radishes and roots will freeze out and leave holes in the soil. It’s also a good cover crop to let flower and attract beneficial insects, and to control nematodes.

buckwheat blossoms

buckwheat blossoms

That’s a look at what is happening here in late August. To see what other gardeners are harvesting and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays.

 

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Homemade: Tomato Paste

Tomato paste has been a pantry staple for me as long as I can remember. It’s a great thing to have on hand for adding extra tomato flavor and color to sauces, stews and soups. Up until recently, I had never tried making it myself. But last year we were blessed with an abundance of tomatoes, and after filling the pantry and freezer with tomato sauce and ketchup, I decided to give tomato paste a try. I cooked down pureed homegrown tomatoes on the stove until they were as thick as I could get them. That produced a super concentrated product that was thicker than tomato sauce, but still not as thick as tomato paste. At that point, I wasn’t really sure how to get it any thicker.

Homemade Tomato Paste

Homemade Tomato Paste

The answer, as it turns out, was sitting on the counter top in the form of our Excalibur dehydrator. A few weeks ago gardener and blogger Michelle (From Seed To Table) commented on her method for making tomato paste using the dehydrator. That seemed like a great way to get that final bit of moisture out of the tomato sauce and turn it into concentrated tomato paste. And since this year we again have lots of homegrown tomatoes, I couldn’t wait to give it a try!

tomatoes for making tomato paste

tomatoes for making tomato paste

It all starts with only one ingredient: red ripe paste tomatoes, though any ripe tomatoes will do. Paste tomatoes (like Roma) are meatier and less juicy than other tomatoes to begin with, so they tend to cook down into sauce quicker. I grow specific varieties because they are good for processing, and some of my favorites include hybrids like Viva Italia, Health Kick, Rio Grande, Big Mama, Juliet and Super Marzano plus open pollinated varieties like Ludmilla’s Red Plum and Quadro. But you certainly don’t have to grow your own tomatoes. This time of year, farmer’s markets are loaded with fresh tomatoes, and great deals can often be found by buying in quantity.

using Vitamix to puree tomatoes

using Vitamix to puree tomatoes

In the past I made tomato sauce by chopping up the tomatoes, cooking them down until they soften up, then running them through a food mill. That removes the skin and most of the seeds, but takes a fair amount of time and effort. The last couple of years I have used the Vitamix blender to cut the preparation time considerably.

processing tomatoes into juice

processing tomatoes into juice

First I wash and drain the tomatoes, and then remove the core of the tomato. I use only firm, ripe tomatoes, and cut out any blemishes or bad spots. Next they go to the Vitamix for blending. I usually cut the larger tomatoes in half first, but smaller plum tomatoes (like Juliet) go in whole. I process the tomatoes on high speed until they are very well blended and any signs of the skins disappear. The juice is so pretty at this point, and already quite thick. I pour the juice into a big kettle, and blend up more tomatoes until I have them all pureed. I like to use an eight quart stainless steel pan that is wider than it is tall. I can get about ten pounds of pureed tomatoes in there without it boiling over.

tomato juice cooking down into sauce

tomato juice cooking down into sauce

Now it’s time to start cooking the tomatoes down. This will take around two to three hours, depending on the size of your kettle and how juicy the tomatoes were to begin with. I start out on a fairly high heat, then as the sauce cooks down I keep lowering the heat, stirring often to keep the sauce from sticking to the sides and bottom of the pan. You want the tomato sauce to be thick enough that it will stay on the dehydrator sheet without running off. For me, that meant reducing the sauce to about one fourth of the original volume. At that point, it’s time to put the dehydrator to use.

testing the tomato sauce

testing the tomato sauce

We bought non-stick drying sheets for our Excalibur dehydrator that are designed for making fruit leathers. They fit on top of the trays and keep pureed foods in place while drying. Those worked great for making the tomato paste. I spooned the tomato sauce onto the sheets, then spread it out as evenly as I could. The sauce was about a half inch thick or less, and it took three sheets/trays to hold all the sauce. After loading up the dehydrator with the trays of sauce, I set the thermostat on the fruit setting (125°F to 135°F).

tomato sauce ready to be dehydrated

tomato sauce ready to be dehydrated

It took about three hours to dry the sauce down to the right consistency for tomato paste. That time will depend on how thick your sauce is to begin with, and how much you put in your dehydrator, since larger loads typically take longer to dry than smaller ones. The edges also tend to dry faster, so every hour or so I stirred the paste on the sheet then spread it out evenly again.

tomato paste after dehydrating

tomato paste after dehydrating

When the paste is thick enough for your tastes, and doesn’t weep water any more, it is done. I scooped the paste off the dehydrator sheets and into a bowl to let it cool a bit. I had managed to reduce ten pounds of tomatoes to 32 ounces (by weight) of thick, concentrated tomato paste. For short term storage, you can spoon the paste into jars, pour in a bit of olive oil to cover the surface, and store in the refrigerator. For longer storage, I freeze the paste in jars.

finished tomato paste cooling

finished tomato paste cooling

I also spoon some of it into ice cube trays and make tomato paste cubes, which are perfect for dropping into soups or sauces that just need a little bit of added tomato flavor. After they are frozen I pop the cubes into a freezer bag.

freezing tomato paste in ice cube trays

freezing tomato paste in ice cube trays

The USDA does not have any specific recommendations for canning tomato paste, at least none that I could find, so I will not offer any suggestions for canning. I think freezing is a better option anyway, and by freezing in small jars or the ice cube tray you can make reasonable sized portions to suit your own needs.

Homemade Tomato Paste

Homemade Tomato Paste

All in all, it took around six hours from start to finish to make the tomato paste. About half that time involved prepping the tomatoes and cooking them down on the stove, and the rest of the time went to dehydrating the tomato sauce. While it is a time consuming process it’s really not that difficult, and once you get the sauce in the dehydrator, the hardest part is behind you. For me, it was well worth the effort to make homemade tomato paste from our very own homegrown tomatoes, without anything extra added. And I especially want to thank Michelle for giving me the idea of using the dehydrator. If you are looking to make your own tomato paste, this is a great way to do it!

I hope you have enjoyed this article on how to make homemade tomato paste, and I’ll be back soon with more gardening and cooking adventures from Happy Acres.

You might also be interested in:

  1. Dehydrating Tomatoes
  2. Vitamix Freezer Tomato Sauce
  3. Homemade Tomato Ketchup
  4. Freezer Tomato Sauce
  5. Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

This post was shared at Green Thumb Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday and Old-Fashioned Friday

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Monday Recap: Melon Madness

A couple of weeks ago, if I wanted a melon I had to go buy one. Then all of a sudden, last week we had lots of them – 23 pounds of them to be exact. So, we got busy and started eating melons! That wasn’t exactly a tough thing to do, since my wife and I both love them. The first one ready was Sensation. This is a white fleshed melon with a very sweet taste.

Sensation melon

Sensation melon

That was followed by several Ambrosia melons. Some of them were starting to split around the stem end, no doubt due to wet conditions as they were ripening. I was able to cut out any bad spots on those and eat the rest of the melon. That’s the Ambrosia melons in the below photo along with another Sensation in the back.

melons

melons

We have been  eating the melons pretty much every day now, and enjoying them while they last. The Sensation and Ambrosia are great together.

bowl of Sensation and Ambrosia melons

bowl of Sensation and Ambrosia melons

I also harvested the Gold Nugget winter squashes and about half of the Bush Delicata last week. Both are old favorites here, and I can’t wait until they have cured a bit and we can get a taste of them. The Delicata is on the menu this week.

Gold Nugget and Bush Delicata squash

Gold Nugget and Bush Delicata squash

Peppers are also ripening now. The big yellow one in the below photo is Flavorburst, while the orange ones are Orange Blaze and Gourmet.

Flavorburst, Orange Blaze and Gourmet bell peppers

Flavorburst, Orange Blaze and Gourmet bell peppers

One of the smallest harvests came while I was thinning the radishes. The China Rose sprouts were just too pretty to throw away, so I brought them in and cleaned them up. This variety is often used for sprouting because of the pretty red stems. They were great on a salad, and we even put some on a pizza we made last week, where the spicy flavor worked much like arugula does. I think they would be tasty in a stir fry too.

thinnings from China Rose radishes

thinnings from China Rose radishes

And speaking of small, how about the Piccante Calabrese pepper in the below photo? This is my first time growing this Italian red cherry pepper, and I am looking forward to pickling them when more ripen.

Piccante Calabrese cherry pepper

Piccante Calabrese cherry pepper

A larger harvest was the paste type tomatoes in the below photo. I used them to make a batch of Vitamix Tomato Sauce. It’s a mix of Viva Italia, Health Kick, Rio Grande, Big Mama, Quadro, Golden Rave and Juliet. The mild-tasting yellow Golden Rave got mixed in with the red tomatoes, though it’s also a good tomato for soups, salsas and sauces by itself.

harvest of paste type tomatoes

harvest of paste type tomatoes

For this sauce the raw tomatoes go in the blender, skins and all, before they are cooked down to the desired consistency. A little over ten pounds of tomatoes reduced down to make three quarts of sauce. I like to use this unseasoned sauce for chili and other soups, and it makes a great base for a marinara sauce.

Vitamix Tomato Sauce

Vitamix Tomato Sauce

The pole beans have gotten their second wind, or perhaps it is a third or fourth flush of growth. We have had a study supply ever since they started producing about six weeks ago. There is a new round of blooms opening up now, so there will be more beans for awhile. In the below photo they are hanging out with some Fairy Tale and Dancer eggplant, which is just now coming in. The long red peppers are Jimmy Nardello, which dwarf the little Piccante Calabrese at the bottom.

mixed August harvest

mixed August harvest

I did find time to bake some bread last week. That’s a loaf of Bohemian Rye in the below photo, which was proofed in a brotform before baking in the oven on a hot pizza stone. The recipe came from Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand by Beatrice A. Ojakangas. I am slowly baking my way through this book which features 200 whole grain bread recipes. If the rest of them are as tasty as the Bohemian Rye, then we are in for a real treat. And I will need to bump up my exercise regimen!

Bohemian Rye Bread

Bohemian Rye Bread

It’s been a while since I shared any news about our cats, so I’ll close with a gratuitous cat photo. Puddin has found a new place to sleep in my wife’s studio, lying on a soft bed of fabric pieces. She can while away the hours in relative peace and quiet. She looks a little grumpy in the below photo because the paparazzi woke her up. And our other cat Ace likes to sit behind me when I’m working at the computer, so he has been helping me with this post.

Puddin in her comfy sleeping spot

Puddin in her comfy sleeping spot

To see what madness other gardeners are sharing, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays.

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Cleanup and More Fall Planting

This week I managed to do some much needed cleanup in the cold frame beds, and get a few more things planted for fall.  The beds had been mostly neglected the last few weeks while I dealt with other things, and I was anxious to take care of them. The basil growing in one bed was blooming, flopping all over the place, and needed cutting back. I took the opportunity to harvest some for drying at the same time. I didn’t cut it back as far as I sometimes do because I wanted to leave some for a batch of pesto later on. But I got rid of the blooms and cut it back enough it should respond with new growth.

basil bed before trimming

basil bed before trimming

I picked the choicest leaves and branches for drying, and the rest wound up on the compost pile. I had a nice Tubtrug full when I was finished, and that is now drying in the dehydrator. I also found room in the bed for a few Slobolt lettuce plants. Hopefully they will size up before the basil regrows and starts taking over the bed again. Below is a side view after the cleanup. That’s radishes growing in the bed next to the basil (top of photo).

basil bed after cleanup

basil bed after cleanup

After I finished that, it was off to the next bed which had celery and weeds growing in it. I had decided the Giant Red celery was a little too strong tasting for me, plus it made fairly thin and stringy stalks. So I decided to pull it (and the weeds) up and make room for some kohlrabi plants. I’d rather have nice tender kohlrabi than a tough stringy celery anyway. I left the green Tango celery which makes thick green stalks and usually does well here.

celery bed before cleanup

celery bed before cleanup

I had room enough to set out some kohlrabi on one side of the celery, and the rest of the Slobolt lettuce on the other side. Then I mulched the plants with shredded paper. It’s hard to tell from the below photo but I got a dozen kohlrabi plants and six lettuce plants in the bed along with the four celery plants. That’s not a whole lot of celery but it will be nice to have once it sizes up a bit more. I’ve already cut a few of the outer stalks when we needed some.

celery bed after cleanup

celery bed after cleanup

I also managed to start thinning the radishes and carrots, before my back and knees told me it was time to quit for the day. I’ll finish that task later. Below is a shot of the beds where I have the carrots, radishes, basil, celery, kohlrabi, lettuce and kale growing. They are all lined up down one side of the greenhouse, where they get morning sun and afternoon shade. Each bed is about four feet square, though the one with carrots in it is a tad bigger. Most of these beds have something growing in them year round.

view of cold frame beds

view of cold frame beds

I planted the bed with kale last week, and it is already taking off and growing nicely. That’s Red Ursa in the below photo, and I also have Beedy’s Camden growing there too. I hope to be able to overwinter this kale and collect seeds from the Beedy’s Camden.

Red Ursa kale

Red Ursa kale

The last task I got done was sowing some turnips. They are in the bed where potatoes grew earlier this year. Most of that bed is sowed with a buckwheat cover crop, plus I have some lemongrass and lemon verbena in the ground at the far end. They aren’t hardy here but they will make lots of leaves for tea until the frost gets them. I may dig up one of the lemongrass plants and stick it in a container for winter use. The turnips are white salad types like Hakurei and Oasis, plus the red-skinned Tsugaru Scarlet I grew last year. I’m trying one new Italian heirloom variety called Mezza Lunga Bianca Colletto Viola. That is way too much name to remember! According to Seeds From Italy it translates to ‘half length, white with purple neck’.

bed with turnips and buckwheat cover crop

bed with turnips and buckwheat cover crop

Next on my gardening to-do list is some cleanup in the main garden area. I hope to get that done tomorrow, before some forecast rain moves in.

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Monday Recap: Tomato Magic & Other Tricks

Though I love to watch a good magic show, I’ve never really tried my hand at any magic tricks myself. But last week I felt like both my wife and I were truly magicians when the main crop of tomatoes began rolling in, and we started making them disappear as fast as we could! The kitchen was a busy place as we made two batches of Homemade Tomato Ketchup, and I made an experimental batch of tomato paste that turned out so well I hope to post the recipe later this week. That got rid of about about thirty pounds of tomatoes. Plus I made a big batch of Vitamix Tomato Sauce, which made another 10+ pounds disappear.

paste tomatoes waiting to be processed

paste tomatoes waiting to be processed

The tomatoes coming in include paste types like Viva Italia, Health Kick, Rio Grande, Ludmilla’s Red Plum, and Super Marzano, plus my favorite all-purpose tomato Juliet. We also got some lovely heirloom Vinson Watt tomatoes. One of those went on a BLT. They are hanging out with a Striata d’Italia zucchini in the below photo. This squash continues to be one of our better performers again this year.

Vinson Watts tomatoes

Vinson Watts tomatoes

With sandwiches on the menu, that called for some good homemade bread. I was anxious to try the King Arthur’s Classic 100% Whole Wheat Bread recipe that showed up in one of their recent catalogs. Though it’s an old recipe, it was new to me, and it made an excellent base for our BLT’s. Made with white whole wheat flour, it’s hard to believe this one is 100% whole grain. I’ll be baking this one again for sure.

Classic 100% Whole Wheat Bread

Classic 100% Whole Wheat Bread

I harvested the last of the summer lettuces last week. I made a salad from the lettuce, grated zucchini and carrots, plus some Black Cherry and Green Tiger tomatoes. It all made for a colorful and tasty lunch salad one day, and everything in the bowl came from our garden, at least until we put dressing on it.

lettuce salad with homegrown veggies

lettuce salad with homegrown veggies

Black Cherry and Green Tiger are two open-pollinated tomatoes that are fairly recent introductions. This is my first year growing Green Tiger, which is green with yellow stripes and a red blush when ripe. Black Cherry has been around for about 10 years now, and is my favorite o/p cherry tomato. Together the two make a striking combination I think, and I have enjoyed eating them for sure.

Green Tiger and Black Cherry tomatoes

Green Tiger and Black Cherry tomatoes

Summer squashes are still coming in, but a little more slowly than tomatoes. I used some of both to make a Zucchini Tomato Bake last week. And I cooked up some of the yellow squash for a side dish. That’s Enterprise in the below photo, which is still cranking out a regular supply of the straightneck squash.

Enterprise squash

Enterprise squash

Making its first appearance of the year is the Kumi Kumi squash. I like to try and harvest them while still young, when they can be used like a summer squash. My favorite way to prepare them is grilled, seasoned only with a little salt. That really lets the flavor come through, and that’s exactly what I did with the one in the below photo, which weighed in at almost two pounds.

young Kumi Kumi squash

young Kumi Kumi squash

Peppers are finally starting to ripen. I rounded up enough of the hot ones to make a batch of No-Rooster Chili Garlic Sauce. I used a mix of Cayennetta, Maule’s Red Hot, Ej Jefe jalapeno, and one Aji Angelo, which you can see in the below photo.

assortment of hot peppers

assortment of hot peppers

I love this fresh tasting chili sauce on so many things, like egg dishes, burritos and tacos. It also makes a great topper for baked potatoes, like the Yukon Gold in the below photo.

baked potato topped with chili garlic sauce

baked potato topped with chili garlic sauce

The Aji Angelo pepper was harvested from a container grown plant. Aji Angelo is a Capsicum baccatum pepper that has medium heat and sweet, fruity taste when ripe. I have two more of this variety planted in the ground and I hope to be able to make a hot sauce with some of these when enough of them ripen. Last year I dried a lot of them and then ground them up for a lovely chile powder.

Aji Angelo growing in container

Aji Angelo growing in container

In other news, the fall carrot planting is coming up nicely, which mean I need to do some thinning soon. The seed for Bolero was pelleted, and is coming up a little more slowly than the other varieties. But then I was able to space it out a bit better, so it should require less thinning. I do like the pelleted seed, but I am not really willing to pay more for it. With the Bolero, it was the only option this year.

fall carrots sprouting

fall carrots sprouting

And to close, my wife made me a new apron yesterday. And I love it! When we visited Hawaii earlier this year we picked out some fabric for an apron, and other things like napkins, place mats, etc. She has been sewing up a storm lately, so who knows what else will show up around here.

me in my new apron

me in my new apron

I hope you have enjoyed this recap of what’s happening here in early August. To see what magical things other gardeners are doing, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays.

 

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Planting the Fall Garden

It’s early August and that means it’s time to get planting for a fall garden here in Southern Indiana. I managed to get all of the fall brassicas in the ground this week. Most of them went in the fenced main garden area, in a spot where garlic was growing earlier. I like to set out transplants with a fairly big root system on them, so I generally pot them up into 3.5″ plastic pots, 18 of which fit nicely into standard potting flats.

cabbage seedling

cabbage seedling

Before planting I amended the soil with compost and fertilizer. Our soil is a silty loam that benefits from liberal doses of compost and other organic materials. Of course, compost is really great for any soil type. I do my best to produce as much of this “brown gold” (as Jim Crockett called it) as I can.

hauling compost in the garden cart

hauling compost in the garden cart

I planted the broccoli, cabbage, kale and kohlrabi in a double-wide staggered row, setting the plants about 16-18″ apart from each other. I’ve been using this method for a couple of years now, and it seems to work well. I ran out of time the day I was planting but I will come back in a few days and mulch the plants with straw before the weeds start sprouting. This bed is in between the caged indeterminate tomatoes and the bush squashes, where it will receive about a half day shade. These plants should tolerate the partial shade well, especially early on when it is hot like it is right about now.

double wide row of fall brassicas

double wide row of fall brassicas

I got the fall carrots and radishes planted last week. The radishes are mainly storage types like China Rose, Round Black Spanish, and the daikon Minowase Summer Cross. I’ll plant some of the quicker maturing types like Shunkyo later this month. I’m also trying the Italian heirloom Lungo di Napoli for the first time. Radishes make a great fall crop here, and the storage types keep well in the ground as well as after harvest. I covered the carrots with row cover material after seeding, and I’ve been keeping them well watered. They started coming up in six days, and I’ll keep the material on them until they all are coming up. The radishes were quicker and were sprouting up in three days time.

China Rose radishes sprouting

China Rose radishes sprouting

One more task I accomplished was replanting some kale in one of the cold frame beds. I planted Beedy’s Camden and Red Ursa there this spring, and while the plants are still alive and well, they are growing tall and hard to keep covered up with the bird netting I use to keep the critters away. I decided it made sense to replant with new seedlings in a different bed. I think the kale leaves get rather tough and strong tasting this time of year, so the new plants will start bearing once the weather has cooled a bit. I also tucked a few kohlrabi plants in the bed where celery is growing. I’m using shredded paper for mulch in these beds.

Beedy's Camden kale seedling

Beedy’s Camden kale seedling

By spending a little time now, I am hoping to extend our harvests as long as possible. At the moment we are in the middle of the prime harvesting and preserving season, but I am surely looking forward to the slower pace that fall gardening brings!

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Monday Recap: Getting Our Yayas Out

As I was down on my knees last week digging up the last of the spring carrots, I realized I was literally “getting my Yayas out” of the ground. I was also getting the Nelson carrots out, but it was the Yaya carrots that had Rolling Stones songs playing in my head. It is also possible that I had spent too much time working in the hot sun that day!

harvest of Yaya carrots

harvest of Yaya carrots

This spring I planted six different carrot varieties in short rows in a four foot square raised bed. Four of them (Yaya, Nelson, Baby Babette and Cordoba) had their own row, while the two purple varieties (Purple Haze and Purple Dragon) shared a row.

harvest of Nelson carrots

harvest of Nelson carrots

The Yaya and Cordoba varieties each yielded right at four pounds each. Purple Haze and Purple Dragon each yielded about two pounds, which means all these varieties produced at the rate of about one pound per lineal foot of row. This is in line with expected yields of 7 to 10 pounds per 10 foot row, as outlined in the document from the Virginia Cooperative Extension titled Root Crops. Since I dug the carrots at different times, and many have already been eaten, I don’t have any photos to compare them all at once.  Below is an image of the purple carrots that I dug a couple of weeks ago.

Purple Dragon and Purple Haze carrots

Purple Dragon and Purple Haze carrots

The Baby Babette is a French finger carrot that is meant to make small, uniform ‘baby’ carrots, so it isn’t fair to compare its yield with that of the other full sized varieties. It yielded right at two pounds, or half as much as the above varieties. The smaller carrots were nicely shaped and tasted good, but I doubt that I will plant this variety again because it just doesn’t make very good use of our limited space to grow carrots.

Baby Babette carrot compared to larger Nelson

Baby Babette carrot compared to larger Nelson

Nelson was the standout of the spring carrots, yielding a whopping 88 ounces/5.5 lb. The below photo shows the Yaya and Nelson carrots that I dug last week, and you can see the difference in the size of the pile of Nelsons on the left. While size isn’t everything, it is something, and Nelson has been a great performer here the last couple of years.

Nelson(L) and Yaya(R) carrots

Nelson(L) and Yaya(R) carrots

It’s hard for me to describe any taste differences in the varieties I grew this spring. They all tasted pretty good to me, but the spring carrots are generally not as tasty as ones that mature in the cooler weather of fall. My wife and I have been enjoying them all, and some of the Purple Haze went into a lentil salad my wife made last week. It is my turn to cook for the next two weeks and I am sure carrots will be on the menu several times.

lentil salad with Purple Haze carrots

lentil salad with Purple Haze carrots

In other carrot news, I got the fall crop planted last week. It’s in the bed where onions grew earlier, which is a tad bigger than the bed the spring carrots occupied, but not by much. I sowed five short rows of Bolero, Cordoba, Nelson, Purple Haze and Yaya, and I spaced these rows about 8″ apart. I could probably get another row or two in there if I spaced the rows a bit closer but for now I am happy with this arrangement. Bolero is a Nantes type storage type carrot that is supposed to improve in taste in storage. I got the seeds from Johnny’s. After sowing I covered the bed with doubled up Agribon row cover material, which I will keep in place until the carrot seeds have sprouted.

row cover material over bed of carrot seed

row cover material over bed of carrot seed

Carrots aren’t the only game in town around here. The summer lettuce is holding on, no doubt helped by the cooler than normal summer weather we are having lately. That’s Sierra in the below photo, a Batavian/crisphead type. It’s been nice for salads and sandwiches. Which reminds me I need to get some more lettuce planted and sown for fall.

Sierra lettuce

Sierra lettuce

The paste tomatoes are coming in now. A mix of Big Mama, Viva Italia and Juliet went into a batch of Homemade Tomato Ketchup my wife cooked up last week. It’s a good way to make about 10 pounds of tomatoes disappear, but it does take a lot of stirring and time to cook it down to the right consistency. We use a lot of this ketchup so we will try and make at least three batches of it this year. It’s tasty on a burger or fries, and it also makes a great base for BBQ sauce and other things like cocktail sauce for shrimp or my wife’s Cherry Chicken recipe.

homemade ketchup simmering

homemade ketchup simmering

A new paste tomato I’m growing this year is called Quadro. It’s an open-pollinated indeterminate type with medium sized blocky fruit, and so far it looks like a good performer here. If so it will join Ludmilla’s Red Plum as another o/p paste tomato that can stand our hot and humid growing conditions. Most don’t seem to cut it, but this one looks promising. I’ll continue to plant a lot of hybrid paste types too, since I have found a reliable group to grow here (Viva Italia, Health Kick, Rio Grande, Big Mama, and Super Marzano).

Quadro paste tomatoes

Quadro paste tomatoes

I made a Green Bean and Bulgur Salad with Walnuts yesterday with Fortex and Musica beans, plus some Sun Gold and Super Sweet 100 tomatoes. The pole beans are starting to slow down, but there are new blooms coming on and I think they are getting their second wind. It has been a great year for beans so far.

Green Bean and Bulgur Salad with Walnuts

Green Bean and Bulgur Salad with Walnuts

The greenhouse shelves are full of seedlings for fall veggies. I hope to begin getting some of those planted this week. I have the ground prepared here, and I hope to get the area at the Impact Community Garden tilled up tomorrow. These seedlings are all potted up in 3.5″ pots so they should really take off once they are in the ground. I also find that the birds are less likely to peck at the larger seedlings.

fall veggies fill the greenhouse shelves

fall veggies fill the greenhouse shelves

I also planted another round of cucumbers in the greenhouse bed, to replace the spring planted ones that got infested with spider mites. I will be using some insecticidal soap on these to hopefully keep the mites in check. I also hung some new yellow sticky traps up which should help. You can see them hanging down below the shelves in the above photo. The cucumber seedlings look tiny compared to the remesh cages, but they will take off and quickly reach the top of the cages. At that point I pinch out the growing point to force them to branch out, and to concentrate on growing nice big cucumbers.

Tasty Jade cucumber seedling in greenhouse

Tasty Jade cucumber seedling in greenhouse

I hope you have enjoyed this recap of what’s happening here in early August. To see what other gardeners are digging, drying, harvesting and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays.

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