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?

canning and preserving: freezing swiss chard

Our garden’s swiss chard has thrived so much this year that it actually got away from us. We eat a lot of vegetables, but two people can only eat so much in a given week. We hadn’t picked any chard in probably three weeks, and in that time the plants got huge, to the point where they were starting to be attacked by pests. 

I decided to harvest it all, in the hopes that we’ll get another round later. But this is what I picked from the 5 or 6 plants we have. (OK, plus the peppers, few tomatoes and bag of green beans.) Knowing that you can obviously buy frozen spinach, I decided to try something new and freeze greens at home.

After I took out some chard to make tacos, this is what was left. I separated the leaves and the stems for ease of chopping. Those are decent sized bowls, too.

And then I chopped and I chopped and I chopped.

While I was chopping, I was bringing a large pot of water to boil. Once it was up to temp, I would take batches of leaves and stems and blanch them for about 3 minutes.

Blanching is a quick dunk in boiling water – you can do it with beans and tomatoes, too. It kills the enzymes that make vegetables decay, so they will stop “going bad” in the freezer and retain their color and flavor. I hear you can buy blanchers that are strainer type things that go inside the pots for ease of removal. That would probably be helpful if you’re blanching greens like I was, because man those stems and leaves were hard to fish out.

Once they were out, they were dunked straight into a bowl of ice cold water, to bring down the temperature and abruptly stop the blanching process.

Then it was time to squeeze. The soggy chard hung out in a colander until I added another batch and then another, and so on.

After all of the chard was blanched, rinsed and cooled, I picked up handfuls at a time and squeezed as much moisture out as possible. Each ball was placed on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, for the freezer. 

After about 4 hours, the balls were solid and frosty.

Just like the peppers, the swiss chard balls went in a Ziploc bag, with the date as well as a reminder that each ball is about a serving.

Now they’ll be ready to defrost and saute when we need them. I’m not sure how well other greens freeze, like collards or kale. But I know that for the recipes and side dishes where we need chard, the frozen balls will be sufficient. 

Theoretically you could remove the stems and only freeze the leaves. I’ve seen recipes for pickled chard stems, but since I’m not interested in pickling every single vegetable on the planet, and because I love the stems of chard just as much as the leaves, I included them. I just chopped off the most fibrous portions from the bottom and threw them in the compost.

What’s going gangbusters in your garden right now? Any preservation plans?

canning and preserving: freezing peppers

This weekend, our backyard harvest was so big that I had to face facts – the peppers were not going to fit in the fridge. So it was time to get to chopping.

I had sweet bell, poblano, hot wax and jalapeno peppers, so I started with the sweet and worked my way up to hot. I cut them into wide pieces – 4 for the larger peppers, and 2 for the small hot peppers.

After pulling out the seeds and pith, I laid them out, skin side up on a cookie sheet with foil.

After a few minutes under the broiler, the skins start to blister and blacken.

I didn’t do a great job of capturing the next step on video because my hands were covered in skins, but once the peppers come out of the oven, you can peel off the blistered skin to reveal the roasted pepper flesh underneath. 

I will note that I did use gloves while cutting the hot wax and jalapeno peppers, though they must have had Scoville units off the charts, because I have major hot pepper fingers today. I’ve had pepper in my eyes before, or on a finger or two, but nothing like this. I am not sure if the peppers being really hot made some of the gloves’ protection break down, but all 10 of my fingers – not just the tips – are suffering. Remember that hot peppers can vary in their strength – it’s not just habaneros that will burn you. 

*Edit* I did some research and apparently capsaicin can burn through latex gloves, which is why I got hot pepper hands. The safer kinds of gloves are nitrile or rubber dish gloves, though thinking of peeling the skins off of pepper pieces wearing rubber dish gloves is just not at all appealing. 

I laid them on another cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper on it, making sure that they didn’t touch each other, if possible.

Next, the tray goes in the freezer until the pieces are individually frozen. It’s the same technique that you use when you want to freeze berries or tomatoes individually, instead of having them be frozen in one massive block. This allows you to pick out individual peppers when you need them, instead of having to defrost the entire batch at once.

After they were completely frozen, I put them in Ziploc freezer bags, marked with the type of pepper.

Now when I need them, I can take a piece out and basically rinse it under hot water to “wake it back up.”

This is a great way to preserve peppers, since they are now roasted and ready for sandwiches or other recipes that call for roasted peppers. You can do as many or as few as you have, too, so it doesn’t require you to have the right quantity as many canning recipes do.