We’re Cookin’ Here!

Things are cooking here at Happy Acres, both literally and figuratively. We are in the grips of another heat wave, with temps hitting 100F yesterday and heading for 102 today. And even though it’s been a hot, dry summer, the garden here is still producing great for us, with over 620 pounds harvested so far in 2010. Our freezer is getting full, which is not a bad thing! And the church garden has been supplying several local agencies with lots of fresh veggies.

These days I’m doing well just to keep up with the garden(s), with little time left to blog about them. We’ve gotten over 100 pounds of tomatoes alone, and those that weren’t eaten outright have been dried, sauced, oven roasted and grilled. I’ve got a pan of them slow-roasting in the oven at this very moment. Some of those will go on pita pizzas for lunch.

tomatoes roasting in oven

The small-fruited varieties like Juliet, Golden Rave, Sapho, Jenny, Flamme, and Black Cherry are great dried but recently we’ve been enjoying them when they’re roasted in a slow (225F) oven for 2-3 hours, until they are shriveled up and the flavor is concentrated. I drizzle a little olive oil over them first and they are yummy!

just-layered compost pile

Another thing we’ve got cooking is the compost pile. Last week I turned/forked over bin #1 into bin #2, sifting out 6 bushels (48 gallons) of finished compost in the process. That will be put to good use around the gardens. I also shredded some brown material that had been accumulating in a pile, plus the 30 or so broccoli stalks from the spring planting, and several wheel barrow loads of trimmings from the giant Rose of Sharon bushes. Bin #2 is now layered in a nice mix of green and brown materials and is merrily cooking away.

I’m too frugal (aka cheap) to buy a compost thermometer, so I stuck an old meat thermometer down in the pile as far as it would go. It’s hitting almost 150F a few days after finishing the pile, so it’s off to a great start. The chipper/shredder has been a great investment for us, and we are now able to use 99% of our yard waste. We still bag a few nasty things like poison ivy and bermuda grass, but everything else gets turned into either compost or mulch.

Butterfly Garden in August

The Butterfly Garden (aka Wild Garden) is also really cooking now, in a good way. It’s about at its peak, with Tithonia, Zinnia, Salvia, Cosmos, Joe Pye Weed, and Sunflowers coming on just as the coneflowers and daisies are fading. This area is visited by a large number of butterflies and pollinators every day. The Lemon Queen sunflowers are towering over the rest of the plants. They are every bit of 10 feet tall, with many lemon yellow sunflowers now open.

Lemon Queen sunflowers

I’m growing the Lemon Queen sunflower variety in order to participate in the Great Sunflower Project. I recently finished the first counting of bees, and I’m happy to report we had a lot of visitors in a 15 minute period. The data collected will help researchers learn about the state of bees all over the US and Canada. I figure our bees need all the help they can get, since we’d be lost without them!

That’s a little taste of what’s cookin’ at Happy Acres in early August.

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5 Responses to We’re Cookin’ Here!

  1. Kelly says:

    I have something similar going on with Juliets in the oven. Mmmmm.

  2. meemsnyc says:

    Wow. 100 pounds of tomatoes. That is fantastic. The flowers look amazing.

  3. Linda says:

    Amazing quantity of tomatoes, I’m still waiting for mine to turn red. I do love slow roasting the tomatoes and its one of my favorite ways to eat tomatoes as it really brings out the flavor. Your garden is looking great, despite the heat.

  4. I’m not sure how many tomatoes we have gotten so far, but I have some sitting on the counter as we speak awaiting their time in the oven. I see you do yours quite differently from us. You might want to try this with your big beef steaks: Smear a couple or three tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a jelly roll pan or a roasting pan. Sprinkle it with some italian seasoning mix, a couple of teaspoons or so. Cut the tomatoes in half from stem to bud end. Do not core or remove blemishes. Place the tomatoes cut side down in the olive oil. Roast at 200 degrees F for 10 to 12 hours. (We put them in overnight). Pull the pan from the oven and let cool. The tomatoes will be all wrinkled and caramelized around the edges. Pull the skins off, you will find all blemishes will pull off along with the skins. I lift the tomatoes up from the pan by the stem end and all meat will fall back into the pan, it is easy to strip the good stuff off any hard white core that was in the tomato. When all the skins are off, mush the tomatoes all around together, then pour the whole mess off into a bowl. Scrape the caramelized tomato off the pan too, lots of flavor in those brown/black spots. Pack in zip lock freezer bags (I put one pint in a quart bag), lay flat on a cookie sheet and freeze. These packages of tomato store very nicely in the freezer because they are flat, and they thaw very quick when you want to use them because they are thin. This makes an outstanding tomato sauce base for spaghetti or pasta meals, and you can use it straight out of the container for pizzas.

    Your wild garden looks beautiful.

  5. Daphne says:

    Right now I’m dehydrating tomatoes, but last year I roasted a few ziplocks full of them. I want to do it this year too. I love roasted tomatoes.

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