herbs

how a garden grows: planting the plants

So last we left the garden, the beds were ready but empty.

Not anymore.

Last year we started from seed, and had a spectacular fail where we lost everything because we brought them outside too soon. So in 2014 we ended up buying seedlings through Penn’s Corner, which they get from several area farms and Grow Pittsburgh. They did so well that we decided to do the same this year, and not go right back to trying to start from seed. Perhaps in a year where spring doesn’t include influenza and job changes, we’ll give that a whirl again.

Anyhow, here’s the breakdown of the plants we planted.

herbs

Herbs (containers):

Rosemary – $3.82
Chives (zombie chives from last year) – $0
Thyme – $4.17
Oregano – $4.17
Spearmint – $3.82
Cilantro – $3.82
Rosemary – $3.82
Dill (from seeds we had) – $0

Total Herbs: $23.62

rhubarb plant

strawberry hanging basket

Miscellaneous Plants

Rhubarb* – $13.90
Strawberry (hanging basket) – $13.90

Total Miscellaneous Plants: $27.80
* The rhubarb won’t produce until next year, but we just love it so much we wanted to give it a shot. Need to do some more research on taking care of rhubarb, since this is a new thing for us.

peppers and basil

broccoli

Peppers, Basil & Broccoli (raised beds)

Basil (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Broccoli* (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Hot banana peppers (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Jalapeno pepper (one 4-pack) – $3.47
King of the North sweet pepper – $3.82

Total Peppers, Basil & Broccoli: $17.70
*Trying broccoli again even though we haven’t had success in the past. Because we just love broccoli. Also, the cages are in the pepper and basil bed because we have been too lazy to remove them after the evening we had to cover all the plants because of the threat of frost. Thanks, southwest PA weather.

tomato patch

Tomatoes* (Mounds/Patch)

Earliana (2 @ $3.82) – $7.64
San Marzano (2 @ $3.82) – $7.64
Italian Sweet Beefsteak (2 @ $3.82) – $7.64
Roma (2 @ $3.82) – $7.64
Sun Gold Cherry – $3.82
White Cherry – $3.82
Cosmonaut Volkov – $3.82

Total tomatoes: $42.02

*All of the ridiculous logs in the main photo are there because they held down covers for the plants during the great frost threat. And again, too lazy to remove until we are definitely out of frost territory. I’ll choose to look at it as rustic instead of a hot mess. All of the plants are staked and caged.

Let’s just take a short time out for a little bit of a geek freak-out. Yeah, there’s a tomato in our patch this year called Cosmonaut Volkov. I can’t really explain the depth of my excitement about the name of this plant. Check him out. Grow little Cosmonaut, grow!

cosmonaut

The final two beds are empty looking right now, so I didn’t include photos. But one has corn planted, and the other one will soon have green beans.

Corn and Green Beans

Corn – $0 (seeds we had at home)
Green Beans – Cost TBD (*haven’t purchased the seeds yet, will add the cost to a later post)

Total: $0*

flowers 2015

Flowers

Pansy (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Antigua yellow marigolds (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Antigua orange marigolds (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Crackerjack marigold – $3.82
Dwarf sunflower – $3.82

Total flowers: $18.05

So that’s what the garden is shaping up to have this year. Everything looks to have survived the “frost,” with the exception of the pansies, though they might rebound.

Total cost of plants: $129.19

OK. So you are probably looking at that total and thinking, what the crap, Joanna. Lowe’s has plants for like 69 cents a piece. How can you have a small urban backyard that has a few raised beds and containers and spend $130 on plants?

A few reasons. We don’t just buy random plants at Lowe’s that will produce food for us to eat. Yes, plants at Lowe’s are better than no garden at all, but I like knowing that my plants are either organic or have been grown with natural methods, limiting the amount of pesticides that our plants have been exposed to. I don’t want vegetables that have been exposed to RoundUp or any number of other nasty sprays. We don’t use them in our gardens and we don’t want them in our plants.

Buying our seedlings locally gives us a higher measure of trust in the quality of the plant and where it’s coming from. It also means we’re supporting the same farms that grow food for us, our CSA organization and a local non-profit that gets more people gardening and gets more fresh food into the diets of Pittsburghers. And that’s something we get behind. Lowe’s doesn’t need our money.

Technically seeds are cheaper than seedlings, but we also spent money powering our grow lights last year and buying the starter soils and building the contraption that held them. So that differential seems like a wash. We also know that last year’s seedlings from these farms produced a redonk amount of vegetables, which is why I’m keeping track this year of expenses versus the value of the food we receive. I am confident we will get a return on our investment.

And in the meantime, I get to do what I’m doing right now – sitting on my back deck in front of my pots of herbs and flowers, relaxing in a funky green Adirondack chair, watching the sun set over Carnegie, watching the garden grow.

Total garden cost to date: $265.93

How a garden grows series
Raised bed and container prep

 

how a garden grows: raised bed and container prep

We spent the better part of the day Saturday getting our raised beds and containers prepped for the growing season, which for us starts this week with the arrival of our seedlings.

So here’s what the gardens and yard looked like before we started. You can see we were cultivating quite the variety of weeds.

weed garden

And these containers? So sad that the watering can just gave up and dropped. The zombie chives were somehow undead, and flowered.

sad containers

So the first order of business was to weed the beds. Which took several hours. Because these weeds were fierce and big with strong roots. And you can’t just pull the tops off, you have to dig in deep and get the whole thing.

Which is probably why people do this a lot earlier in the season. Lesson learned. Remind me in 2016 that I need to get out and weed those beds early.

Side note – apocalypse films and novels never really do justice to just how much weeds will take over the planet when society collapses. I am now convinced.

After the beds were weeded and Mark had mowed the lawn, we were ready for the delivery of our soil and mulch. We’ve been going to Federouch Landscape Supply for the last few years and we have always been really happy with them. This year, our delivery guy was especially nice.

topsoil

We get one cubic yard of black mulch and another cubic yard of a 50/50 mix of topsoil and mushroom compost. So here’s where we start to keep track of costs. And where you realize how much it costs to NOT have a truck.

2015 Garden Costs
1 cubic yard 50/50 mix: $34.34
1 cubic yard black mulch: $35.35
Delivery fee: $60

Soil and mulch total: $136.74

We could rent a truck from Home Depot or try to borrow a vehicle from someone, but with Federouch having the product we want (not a lot of places carry the compost we want), we just consider it part of the costs of the garden.

And then while I finished weeding, Mark hauled the loads of mulch and soil mix in our one wheelbarrow from our back alley where it was dumped (since we have no driveway) into the yard. We spread it in the beds – soil mix in the pots and raised beds and mulch in the flower beds lining the garage.

Once it was all spread, we put up the fencing around the raised beds to keep the chickens out. And we had this.

prepped beds 3

 

prepped beds 2

prepped beds 1

I also am happy to have the mulched areas cleaned up, notwithstanding the pollen that fell from the trees all over it to make it not look as perfectly black from the mulch.

walkway

Plus, I have learned not to worry about the edges of the mulching. As soon as I care about straight lines, the chickens go dust bathe in it and do this.

egg in mulch

We do have a lovely flowering bush behind the compost. No idea what this is. Can you tell what an expert green thumb I am?

pink flowering bush

We also have a wild strawberry plant behind the compost area, but the chickens get to any and all berries there are before we even know they grew. But it’s fun anyway.

wild straberries

And then there’s this gooseberry bush, which managed to hang on last year and is going like gangbusters. Gotta figure out if we need to stake this guy.

gooseberry bush

So that’s the backyard, prepped and ready for seedlings.

 

dirty fingers

last week at next gen house

Lots going on last week – the first full week in May, and in Pittsburgh, the first week of summer. It got hot and sticky this week, which really just made me really happy that it was only in the 70s for the Pittsburgh Half. We could have had 80 degrees at the start line and that would have been even more brutal.

Last week in running

I took a week off from running, in part to recover sore muscles from the Half but also to figure out what my exercise schedule is going to look like going forward for the summer. I walked 4 miles on the trail with a friend, spent a long day gardening and using every muscle in my body, and also rode almost 11.5 miles on the Panhandle Trail.

collage_20150510183418179_20150510183456658I am someone who won’t do any physical activity at all if I don’t have a plan, so I’m working on mapping out how much running I’m going to do in the summer, and incorporating strength training, krav maga, biking, and other outside activities. Considering using a gym by my building where I get an employee discount for its lockers and showers, so I can run outside in the mornings before it gets to be so hot. They also have super early morning classes, so that might work too. We’ll see.

Last week in eating

Most of the meals this week were routine, with possibly the exception of a great baked pasta with lemon, cream and artichokes and some carne asada tortas that Mark made, which were one of those sloppy sandwiches that make a huge mess but are delicious. I also decided to use the first bunch of ramps from our CSA in a new way – making this chimichurri ramp bread. I really screwed up the whole braiding part by not rolling the bread out thin enough and putting too much chimichurri in so that it scooged out everywhere. I’ve got a post coming up about it this week since the chimichurri was so good in and of itself, but I decided just to bake the loaves rolled up, without the twist, and it worked just fine.

chimichurri bread

Last week in homesteading

Finally, FINALLY, we have some movement here. My SCOBY got big enough to spawn off a baby, so now I have two jars going of homebrew kombucha. I have visions of having a cookout this summer where I have enough homebrew available to make it a potential party beverage, so I am going to keep up with the double batches for awhile. Might need more bottles!

It was Garden Weekend, so we spent a lot of time prepping beds and cleaning the yard and getting ready for the season. Lots more about that this week, but I am pretty sure I needed six showers after we were done and I still have dirt under my fingernails today.

 

 

 

dirty fingers

 

Last week in reading

I am almost done with Stone Mattress  by Margaret Atwood on audio, and though I’ve got a ton of books queued up in my Scribd library, I don’t know what’s next. I devoured Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which was a really quick read, but so fun. It takes place in a future America where almost all of the population participates in a virtual reality simulation called OASIS. The creator of the simulation leaves a complex quest as his will, where his fortune will be inherited by the person who wins the quest. The book is the story of his journey to solve the puzzle, and it’s chock full of great 80s pop culture references and video game geekery. I loved how easy it was to read and how it didn’t really have the pretense of being a deep, serious story.

Next up is The Wrenchies, a dystopian graphic novel that a friend gave me for my birthday. My next three books will be ones given to me as a gift in the last few months. Then I’ll switch back to the Kindle for awhile and tackle some books I’ve stacked up there.

The TBR struggle is real. But I hope that by next weekend, I’ll have my whole backyard oasis put together so I can start spending some time in an Adirondack chair with a sangria and a book.

It’s going to be a great summer.

 

2014 resolutions – how did I do?

We’re finally to the last day of 2014.

Before I can finalize my goals for 2015, I need to check back in on 2014 and see how it went. You can see the other goal posts for 2014 here: January, AprilJuly and October.

Here’s how I did!

Mind

Read 75 books.

Knocked this one out of the park. As of right now, I’ve completed 99 books. There is a high likelihood that if I get to take a lunch break today, I’ll hit 100. I didn’t anticipate blowing this goal so far out of the water, but I shouldn’t be surprised. Reading is like plugging myself into the Joanna charger. I only feel like me when I have a chance to read every day, even if it’s only 5 pages. I read some truly great books this year, which is a post unto itself. I didn’t finish the two sub-goals of finishing Atwood’s canon and reading a Russian doorstop, so I am considering whether or not those are still goals for 2015.

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I wrote one in April on the DARK Act, and I wrote again in the fall regarding funding for food assistance. But I didn’t hit the third letter. Fall was a very busy time for us – the craziest of the year – so my ability to read up on the current food issues was somewhat limited.

medal resize 1Body

Run a marathon.

Done. Boom.

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
This has been pretty close, so I’m calling it a win. I am trying to turn to water when I want coffee in the afternoon at my desk and I’ve done that more often than I’ve given in, so that’s a win too.
 

 

Home
Start my home brew kombucha.
Finished this one earlier in the year, though I need to get a better restart going. I tried to do one after the marathon was over, but the room wasn’t warm enough to inhibit mold growth. So I think I’ve found a warmer spot and will try again soon. This will be ongoing.

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
Did this. And also sewed this Star Trek Quiet Bookt-shirt blanket resize

Can one new thing.
We made one new variant of jam this year, but mostly we canned the usual.
Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
I didn’t do as well with this one as I would have liked, but most of my flowers stayed alive all season, so that’s huge progress for me.
Make the chickens some treats.
Done. With two days to spare!

Organize the basement.
I did this. And then it creeped back to cluttered, and now it’s a mess again. I think when we put away the Christmas decorations, I’ll take that opportunity to work on it again. We’ve given over the larger room to Mark’s work space, so I need to make the best use possible of the remaining space. Definitely an ongoing challenge.

the great green tomato experiment: wins and losses

Well, I wasn’t expecting to be able to write a follow-up on the great green tomato experiment already. But in my most recent spot-check of the progress, I realized it was not going as expected. As stupid as it sounds, I think I was envisioning an orderly process where the green tomatoes slowly ripened one by one and I had a daily tomato out of it all the way through March.

Yeah, I have no idea why I thought it would go that way, when gardens and plants never seem to follow rule books. But here’s the first thing I found when I opened one of the containers.

tomato experiment 1

 

Here we have perfectly green tomatoes next to some half-ripe and some fully ripe tomatoes. Okay, this is along the lines of what I expected.

So I grabbed the fully ripe ones and set them aside. But then we get to the next “layer” and I find this.

tomato experiment 2

Hmmm. Rotting. That’s not good. And it’s green. Weird.

And just below that one, we have this.

tomato experiment 3

It looks like a sick penicillin experiment, right next to a totally green tomato! And this was one of the mild looking layers. I had perfectly good layers with some great ripe tomatoes, and some that were mold city and caused me to have to chuck the whole layer. I spared you from the grossest specimens.

So it turns out that it does matter what stage your tomatoes are in when you do this. Because some of the rock hard green globes hadn’t moved even a shade closer to ripe, as the tomatoes next to it released ethylene and mold like it was their job. Which I guess, as tomatoes, it is.

So those were the losses. A whole lot of wasted, rotten tomatoes. But there were some wins.

I managed to get a box full of good, ripe tomatoes that weren’t exposed to mold city. Because I couldn’t handle all of them, I took them to work to share. I was most impressed with the heirloom ones. They ripened perfectly and I caught almost all of them before they went past the point of no return.

tomato experiment 6

But the biggest success is that the problems that plagued the containers of full size tomatoes, were completely absent from the cherry tomatoes. Here’s the top layer of the cherry ones.

tomato experiment 4

Each layer was like this – with ripe Beam’s Yellow Pear tomatoes, plus a handful of ripe “regular ones” (I can’t remember the varietal at the moment). So I harvested out the ripe ones, leaving some that were halfway ripe to continue to help the others. And I came out with two bursting quarts, but enough left behind to keep eating them into the winter.

tomato experiment 5

I shared these too, but I’m looking forward to the rest of them slowly ripening in the makeshift root cellar. I’m not sure how well they will continue to ripen as the weather gets colder and the basement continues its temperature drop. And I don’t know if all the ones that are going to ripen are actually done. But it’s worth keeping an eye on – especially because there was no hint of mold city!

I don’t know if it was the containers that were an issue with the full size ones, or if I used tomatoes that were in too many varied states of ripeness. Either way though, even with all I lost to mold and rot, I saved a big box of tomatoes that I wouldn’t otherwise have had, and I am eating my garden’s tomatoes in November – something I never thought would be possible!

 

 

 

the great green tomato experiment

2014 has been the year of the tomato at Next Gen House. We’ve had so many that we were able to freeze 25 pounds, can them whole and make salsa, donate at least 40 pounds to our local food bank, and give away about a million to anyone who would take them.

In my last garden update, I mentioned that it was coming time to finish up with the garden, since the temperatures have been low at night and the first frost feels imminent. The remaining tomatoes are all green and they aren’t changing color outside anymore. Plus, it’s mid-October and I’m over the tomatoes.

So rather than just attack the gardens and take out all the plants or just let them die as-is, I went out this weekend and harvested all the rest of the tomatoes. We still had, well, rather a lot.

Two Target bags and a box worth of regular tomatoes, of different varieties.

green tomatoes

On top of that, a mountain of cherry tomatoes.

cherry tomatoes resized

And these are just the fully green ones. I also had another large Target bag of ripe and semi-ripe ones, plus almost two quarts of ripe cherry tomatoes. I really wish I had kept track this year of how much our garden produced, because I’d imagine we made our money back 100 times over in the monetary value of what we grew.

Anyway. I brought the green tomatoes inside and decided to make use of the containers I had on hand for root cellaring and try an experiment that Mark’s aunt once mentioned to us. She told us that his grandfather used to pick green tomatoes at the end of the season, layer them between newspaper, and store them in the cool basement where they’d ripen slowly and he could enjoy fresh tomatoes beyond the warm days of summer. That’s about all the instruction she could give on it, so I went to the internet.

Which, as is often the case, was a mistake. I found a ton of conflicting advice – wrap large tomatoes individually or layer them? Let them touch others or no? Remove green tops or no? Ideal temperatures and humidity? Light or lack of light? There was much debate on how shiny was too shiny and how green was too green. I don’t even remotely have enough time in my life to be sitting and determining the shine on individual tomatoes for storage.

So instead of following a tutorial, I just decided to wing it and do my own thing. After all, that’s pretty much how we garden at Next Gen House anyway. Doesn’t work? I won’t repeat the mistakes next year.

I took one of those large cardboard produce trays that we brought home from Costco once and lined it with newspaper.

empty costco tray

I then removed the little stems from the cherry tomatoes and started layering them in the box.

costco tomatoes tray

Then I repeated the process for a few more layers.

For the larger tomatoes, I used those styrofoam coolers you can get at the grocery store. I did two small ones for all of the green tomatoes.

full green tomatoes

Layer after layer, I filled up the two styrofoam containers and added them in my makeshift root cellar: our basement shower.

tomatoes in root cellar resized

This is the first thing I’ve been able to store down there, and it’s all that will fit now, unless we put up shelves. But that’s probably good for a first time root cellar/green tomato experiment.

I did put some half ripe tomatoes in an extra large styrofoam container, to watch them more closely and see how they do, since they should ripen first. I’ll probably check those ones every other day or so, and check the root cellar ones each week until I start to see some changes.

Have you ever tried to store green tomatoes? Heard of anyone doing it?

garden update: october

October is the time when the garden of the summer fades. And if your garden looked like a mess in the spring or summer, it doesn’t get any better once things start to wilt. Because then it doesn’t look so much like a garden, but a bunch of overgrown hobo weeds.

So instead of our garden looking like this right now:

Photo from backroads.org

Photo from backroads.org

We have this!

tomato 2 resize

This is our large tomato patch jungle, complete with collapsing fence posts and a chicken to the right, who just wants the fallen tomato that’s hanging out in the front. Not that she couldn’t pick off the ones hanging over the sides of the fence, too.

And here’s the cherry tomatoes.

Tomato 1 resize

We’ve reached our maximum saturation with the garden, picking the last of the tomatoes (both a blessing and a sadness). Even though the tomato plants are still hanging in (at least some of them), they aren’t ripening anymore on the vine with the change in weather. I’m thinking it’s time to go collect the green ones and try out Mark’s grandfather’s way of ripening tomatoes over winter. Rumor has it he took a box and layered green tomatoes in it with newspaper like lasagna, and then let it hang out in their cold basement. The release of ethylene over time helps them to ripen slowly. Might be a fun experiment at the least.

Some beds we have already ripped out, like this empty bed we used for green beans this year. They did really well, but eventually we pulled them when they stopped producing, so we can make way for some fall greens if we choose to plant some. (Though stay tuned on that one, because we’re a little behind on the fall planting.) As you can see by the big weed that sprouted in the empty bed.

beans resize

The corn was prolific this year, but we made a rookie corn mistake and left it on the plant too long. It basically became starch nuggets, and we had to just share it with the chickens because it did NOT taste good. But the dried stalks are going to make good porch decoration for me, at least!

corn resize

And last but not least, we have the peppers and chard. The peppers are still there, but like the tomatoes, have stagnated in their growth. I think we’ll let some of them go, though, since we already have an abundance of preserved hot peppers. The chard is still coming, but I’m letting it hang out while we eat up some CSA items.

peppers resize

Again, note that there’s nothing picturesque about these gardens. They are overgrown and wild at the moment. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t get a ton of amazing food from them this year. Which perhaps illustrates one of the coolest things about gardening – you don’t have to be perfect at it to do it. You just do the best you can with what you have and nature surprises you with its resilience and abundance.

Have you finished off your garden for the year or are you still going strong?

 

 

food-2Bbank-2Btomatoes

Donating produce to the food bank

After feeling pretty overwhelmed this weekend (and really the last few weeks) with our plentiful tomato harvest, I decided to quit moping about what I couldn’t do, and do something I’ve always wanted to do. Share our garden with people who need fresh produce.

Last year, we intended to give the contents of one entire raised bed to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank through its Community Harvest Program. Well, nature got the best of us and we basically had nothing to donate because nothing did well enough.

Not this year!


These two boxes are full of ripe and almost ripe tomatoes, complete with notes about the types included, ready to go to our local food pantry yesterday. 

It was simple. I visited the GPCFB’s Community Harvest page, and looked at the donation options. Because of other commitments, I couldn’t get to a Saturday drop-off, and I can’t make it to the actual food bank during their open hours because I’m at work the entire time and it’s too far to go during lunch.

So I looked up my neighborhood’s local pantry through their online tool and made a simple phone call. Within 15 minutes, I got a call back that they’d love to take them! I also contacted a friend who does a lot of work with a local women’s shelter, and they are willing to take the next batch.

I don’t tell you this because I’m an awesome person for donating tomatoes to a food pantry. But because if you’ve already preserved all you can and the alternative is for the produce to go bad, consider making a donation through Community Harvest. All it took for me was 5 minutes on the phone and a two second trip, basically across the street, to drop off the boxes. If you’re not in the greater Pittsburgh area, call your local food bank. You never know what resources they’d have to help you get the produce to people who need it.

I hope next year to plan a little better when it comes to the produce donation so we can make this happen more regularly, instead of waiting until I’m about ready to rip my hair out with frustration. Maybe that dream of the Community Harvest bed will be a reality!

IMG_6728

canning and preserving: tomatoes and salsa

As you might have read, we’re sort of inundated with tomatoes right now. A friend called it an infestation, and she’s not far off.

We planted several different varieties from seedlings we got through Penn’s Corner’s Online Farm Stand. San Marzanos and Romas, plus a few heirlooms like Black Cherry, Garden Peach and Cherokee Purple. 

We’ve never had a really good tomato harvest since we started gardening. Last year late blight got pretty much all of them, so when we wanted to can tomatoes or salsa, we had to buy a case of ripe ones from our CSA. 

This year, the infestation.

The photo above represents a small fraction of what was LEFT after our fourth picking, and a day of canning whole, quartered tomatoes and salsa. So far, we have frozen close to 20 pounds, and made quarts of fresh sauce to freeze. We’e also given away at least 15 pounds, when we had ripe ones that needed a home before they ended up in the compost. And now I write this at a large table full of more tomatoes.

This is what we picked yesterday.

I’ll talk about the giant bag of corn and the big bag of green beans hiding behind it later this week. But ALL those tomatoes came inside and now live on my dining room table.

I didn’t take a ton of photos of the canning process, because I’ve already done larger, more in-depth posts on whole tomato canning and salsa canning. Plus, it was a long day in a hot kitchen on tired legs (after a bad half marathon on Saturday – don’t even get me started, ugh).

And, I was feeling frustrated.

I always like to talk here about how there’s room in your life for some DIY and homesteading activities if you have a full-time job and a city commute, like both of us do. We manage to keep a garden and do some canning and freezing, and it might seem like we’re able to do a lot. But we absolutely can’t do everything we want to do. Not even a fraction. There are just not enough hours in the week. 

And tomatoes don’t stop ripening just to accommodate your marathon training, your 7 hours a week of commuting, or your 45 hours a week of being an office drone. They just keep coming. The relentless, delicious buggers.

Yes, I do envy people who have some arrangement that lets them do major gardening and food harvesting and preserving, whatever that may be. Not because I begrudge them the time, but because it’s one of my passions. I really do love it. The long, hot day in the kitchen on my calloused feet wouldn’t be so hard if I knew I could keep going in the morning instead of getting in my car at 6 a.m. and not returning until at least 5.

It’s not even easy to donate to food pantries when you work full time. I missed the one weekend donation window because of my race, and the daytime drop-offs are during my work day. I have one potential place left that might be able to take some. Fingers crossed. 

It’s such a great satisfaction, filling up that canning cabinet in our basement, with food that grew in our backyard, that we picked out in the sun. I love being able to get “our” tomatoes and salsa through the winter. And I know that in the dead of the winter, I’ll be wistfully remembering the days of the tomato infestation and wanting a good, fresh heirloom tomato. (Maybe.) 

But for now, who wants some tomatoes? 

IMG_6704

garden update: early september

Really, this post should be subtitled “The Tomato Jungle” because that’s pretty much what we have going on right now. It’s kind of a hot mess in our backyard right now.

But let’s start with a few things that aren’t tomatoes. After the great chard harvest of 2014, the plants are rebounding and we’re getting another batch. I hope this lasts into the fall.


It seems like our bell pepper plant is slowing down, but this poblano one? It has exploded with tiny peppers, just recently. Where the heck were all these guys in August?


Storms have collapsed some of our corn stalks, but we were able to salvage the ears of corn from them so really this just looks worse than it is.


Now if I can just get the broken stalks out of there so it stops looking so much like a scene from the Wizard of Oz.

Beans need a final pick, but I haven’t been able to get to them because of this situation.


Those pictures are from two different pickings, within 4 days of each other. Our tomato plants have been heavy with green tomatoes for more than a month, and recently they finally decided to start to ripen. Like gangbusters.

I pick some of them slightly early, as soon as they turn a little bit red, because of this situation.

The plants are so big they are collapsing over their too-small cages (that was our big fail with these things this year) and falling out to where the chickens can reach them. So I try to grab them as soon as they go slightly red, to bring them inside to ripen, outside of the reach of the tomato hungry ladies in the backyard.

Some of the stalks are breaking and dying off, which is probably due to their weight. Not pretty or garden blog worthy, surely, but I can’t complain about how much these plants have produced.

Though seriously, we have to do better with caging and trellising next year. This one is just begging to be set free.

So far, we’ve been freezing tomatoes to keep up with them. I’ll do a post on that at some point, too, but from just a fraction of the tomatoes in that first photo of the on our island, I got 15 pounds of frozen tomatoes, ready for sauce and chili.


I hope to can at least a batch of them this year, if not two, and possibly do some salsa as well, depending on how the peppers look. We’ve done more freezing than canning this year, which is weird, but at the same time, we’ve had less available weekend time due to triathlon and marathon training.

We’ve been able to preserve most of the tomatoes from the garden thus far. I just hope I can keep up as we get the final deluge!

How’s your garden doing? Are you still harvesting or ready for fall?