First Week of March Seeds

Seeds are starting to sprout! So far we have cosmos, marigolds, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes. I am still waiting for the peppers, more calendula, and the larger tomatoes. After these sprout indoors I move them to the greenhouse. A month ago our nights were in the tens, but now that March is here we are in the 40’s at night and 50’s during the day. We are also having inordinate amounts of rain- the basement is currently flooding (measured in gallons, not inches thankfully) and there is a large pond formed just beyond our yard in the greenbelt. Our three- year-old was absolutely overjoyed to find out much of the backyard is under three inches of water and had fun leaping and jumping into puddles all afternoon while his dad filled sandbags to keep the water from flowing in under the doors.

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May Garden Update

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A new experiment for me this year: water tepees for my tomatoes! The channels hold water- they absorb heat during the day and keep the plants warm at night, warm the soil, protect the plants from wind and rain, and… I think the red light is supposed to do something good for the plants. One that was on uneven ground collapsed today- thankfully my daughter was out watering plants and came and got me. Poor little tomato- I staked it up and will try the tepee again this afternoon, with some supports.

Strawberries are blooming and so is last year’s kale. The kale needs to come out, but I wanted to leave the flowers for the bees.

We found a broken robin egg in the garden- we have two or three nests in our yard. I’m not sure how many are occupied, but I think the crows succeeded in stealing an egg. The robins have been ferociously defending their territory the past week, and are always out digging up worms and finding bits of fluff for their nests.

We have some bits of ajuga popping up in the yard- I love the purple leaves and flowers, so I normally leave it. Even when it pops out of my cinder block wall.

The oregano is getting huge- I need to trim it back and dry the leaves. I like to let it flower in the summer too, because bees LOVE it.

My husband and I happened to walk by a p-patch in Seattle a month or so ago. So, so, so cute. I want a cute garden!! Seriously. Anyway, there was a flower in full bloom that I’d never seen before. Plus, when do you see orange blooms in April? Nearly everything is blues and yellows. I saw a bucket of it at Freddy’s and it came home with me that day- kumquat nemesia. Full sun, drought tolerant, annual, blooms in the spring, not fussy… I am smitten.

Greenhouse Update

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Things are growing nicely- the tomatoes grew fast in Mom’s greenhouse- I brought home about 175 tomatoes, kale, and tomatillos to sell this weekend. It’s time, they’re getting too big for our pots! They’re all snuggled into my cooler greenhouse now, alongside my fresher seedlings for the warm months.

After this heat spell we’re in, I’m going to take my sunflowers, squash, borage, calendula, and marigolds up to the bigger greenhouse to grow for a few weeks. I needed to make some room for them first! There are still about 200 plants up at the other greenhouse- 150 spoken for that will go out in two weeks, and about 50 others that need to come down.

Half of those sold today, I know we won’t have trouble finding a home for the rest!

First Tomatoes

Got our first tomatoes of the season! The reds are stupice, the little orange is a gold nugget. Delicious as a chopped salad for the husband and I with cubed zucchini and sliced oregano from the garden, and a bit of feta, oil, and vinegar.

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Tomato Seedlings

Tomatoes, tomatillos, and basil are on their way! I planted these seed flats back in February, and they’re getting to the transplant stage now- I wait for them to either be about an inch high, or have at least buds of their first true leaves. When a seed sprouts, the leaves that emerge look nothing like the leaves of a mature plant! In past years, I’ve waited too long to transplant them to cups, waiting for fully formed true leaves. I wasted so much growing time…live and learn though!

My takeaway lesson this year will be to sprout the seeds indoors, where it’s warm, and then move them outside to grow. I think it will get me to this transplant stage a few weeks earlier. Tomatoes won’t go in the ground until probably late June- night time temperatures need to be above 55. Sometime in September or October rain and cooler days will come- it’s a balancing act trying to leave fruit to ripen, but to pull it before the plant starts to rot and shut down. So, these plants will have about 12 weeks in the sun.

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Tomatoes at my House, From Seed to Kitchen

Every February or March, either my mom or I plant up a squillion or so tomato seeds in dirt trays in our greenhouses, and wait for them to sprout.  Once they’ve come up, we use a very careful method involving a teaspoon and a sharp pencil to pick up each little sprout and transplant it into a beer cup full of miracle-gro dirt.  (What do YOU call those red, 20 oz., Solo brand plastic cups?)

(These are actually basil starts, but you get the idea)
basil starts in the greenhouse

tomato starts in the greenhouse

We leave our army of tomato-seedling-filled beer cups in our green houses until they’re nice and big, and the weather has warmed up.  Once that’s happened, they’re transplanted outside.  This is normally in June or July.  This year, I took my biggest transplants and moved them to gallon pots in May and June, to give them bigger root systems before putting them in the ground.  Tomatoes can send out roots wherever their stems touch dirt, so I de-leaf the bottom half of the vine and bury it.

In years past, I’ve put my tomatoes in pots.  While lots of people have huge success with this (including my mom) I never do.  That’s probably because I’m not the most conscientious waterer, and plants in the ground are more forgiving about water since they can find their own.  Now, I put them in the ground, again burying the bottom part of the stalk so I can get a stronger root system.

I discovered my favorite staking method this year, and it surprised me: I found plastic “bamboo” stakes in the shed, left behind by a previous owner.  They’re about a 1/4 inch thick, and four feet tall.  I stuck them in the ground behind the transplants, and used a rubberized wire to twist-tie the tomato vines to the stakes as they grew taller.  Next year I’ll remember to snip off the top of the vine once they reach the top of the stakes, but even without this they did great this year and nothing fell over.

We had such a cold, late, summer this year that none of my large tomatoes (roma and Early Girl) ever turned red.  Not even close.  I got a handful of yellow pear cherry tomatoes, but nothing to write home about.

tomatillos and green tomatoes

When the Fall rains started, I harvested every tomato I could find.  I put all the big tomatoes into a cardboard box, in two layers with some newspaper in between.  I intended to just store them in there until I used them in curries or salsas, or found recipes to use them in.  As of right now, three weeks after that harvest, fully 3/4 of my big tomatoes have ripened and are delicious!  Totally surprised me- next year, I’m going to harvest tomatoes as soon as they’re full-sized and let them ripen inside.  I’ll get ripe tomatoes all summer, and the plants will focus on the next crop of tomatoes when I remove the most mature fruit.

early girl tomato

What I’ve not eaten, I’ve been throwing into gallon ziploc bags and putting them in the freezer for later.  From what I’ve read, I’ll be able to just thaw them and the skins will slide off.  Then, I can cook them into quick sauces, soups, salsa, etc.

sweet 100 tomatoes

green tomatoes in the sink

The cherry tomatoes have not done well ripening on the counter, for some reason.  The ripe and almost ripe were picked too late after the rains started, and they’d already split open and were mealy.  Luckily, I’ve been on a pickle kick lately and have a new favorite brine.  In the end, I had two gallons of green cherry tomatoes and they are all taking a bath in a sextuple batch of that brine.  I’m pretty stoked.  (They’ve been fermenting three days now, they have four more to go before they go into the refrigerator.)

Harvest Season

Now that Fall is here, and it’s time to bring in the last of the garden, things are getting busy!

We had the 2 cases of peaches that were canned, and the one that was frozen.
huge red globe peace

 

 

Beets from the garden

beets, greens, and carrots from the garden

Oven-dried figs, from Mom’s tree.  I didn’t get a picture, but I’ve dried a few sheets of roma tomato halves as well- they’re stashed away in the freezer for this winter.  Drying is easy- cut the fruit in  half the long ways, lay them skin-side-down on a cookie sheet (I use a silicone mat, too) and leave them in a warm oven with the door cracked.  My tomatoes took about a day, but the figs were faster.  I literally have a “keep warm” setting on my oven- about 170 degrees.

oven dried figs

Orange tomato , basil, pesto sandwich- tomato from Mom’s greenhouse, basil from mine, and pesto…from Costco.  Heh.  These things just find their way home with me when I visit my parents!  Oh, and pickled beets.  Every sandwich needs a pickle.

basil and tomato sandwich on wheat oat bread, pickled beets

Here are the 25 quarts of canned peaches, plus a few pints of fig preserves.  Again, the figs are from Mom’s tree.25 quarts of peaches

Pickled beets.  So. Very Good.

pickled beets

 

6 quarts of apple sauce and 6 quarts of apple juice, courtesy of two crates of apples I took off my friend’s hands.  She was short on time and long on apples!  I have another case of apples in the garage, plus a few more trees that need harvesting in Mom’s garden when they ripen.

making applesauce and apple juice

Before the next week is over, I’m going to pull all the basil out of my garden and make a mondo batch of pesto for the freezer.  Now that fall rains have started, and the weather is cooling down, I’m going to harvest all my tomatoes and do what I can with them.  (Tomatoes and basil in the greenhouse, I’ll leave them there, and move in any pots I have- hopefully I can get a few more weeks of on-the-vine time, and I’m hoping the basil will last.)

We ate our first red tomato tonight with dinner, it was AMAZING, but I just know we won’t get many more.  There are a few that are pinking up, and I’ll let them ripen in newspaper.  I’ve been collecting green tomato recipes- I’ll load some gallon bags up for the freezer, to use them in curries this winter.  I’ll pickle a few quarts too, but that seems like such a leap of faith- the best recipe I could find on allrecipes.com says it takes 3 months for them to pickle in the refrigerator.  What if I don’t like the brine?  I had an AMAZING pickled green tomato from a friend a few months ago- she bought it at a store, so I can’t get the recipe.  But it had the funk of a good green olive, plus a little heat.  Oh my wow, it was good.  If anyone has a favorite pickle brine, please share!