Monthly Archives: July 2015

Yellow Tomato Sauce

I’ve never made tomato sauce but the over abundance of yellow pear cherry tomatoes was leaving me desperate. Sauces always seem very complex to me and thats left me avoiding working on them. But, here I sit with more cherry tomatoes then sense and they will soon start going bad. Canning is popular but canned tomatoes seem to be a horrible idea to me. I like my tomatoes fresh or in a sauce so it looked like it was time to make a sauce.

Tomato sauce for me has always come from a bottle or restaurant. It comes on a pizza. It is a mystical thing, but I decided to have at it so sat down and read a few websites about making tomato sauce.

I used several sites for reference. I did this to learn what the basic techniques are and what are particular quirks of individual authors. One site was very informative but he was very caught up in making sure that a fresh tomato sauce accents the fresh fruity flavors. I’m a very simple tomato sauce person and all of that effort wasn’t what I was looking for.

In the end I got settled. I was going to drop the tomatoes in boiling water for a few minutes to loosen the skin. I’d then heat olive oil, saute onions and garlic, add some Basel leaves, pepper, salt, garlic, and Italian seasonings.

Because I had so many yellow tomatoes I was going to make a yellow sauce. I felt spiffy for that.

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This is a big old sauce pot of yellow pear tomatoes. It fills half the pot and it made about three cups of sauce in the end. These are a cherry type tomato and a yellow so they are very sweet and not tart. That turns out to be important.

I dumped them in a strainer and boiled water and dumped them in the water. I left them for less then five minutes. They are very small so the heat hit them fast and as soon as I saw skins start to split I poured them out. The reason is I didn’t want to lose tomato goodness.

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Once hot most of the skins were not split but they had separated. I did my garlic and onions and oil and kept the fire hot as I squeezed tomatoes. I would nip the tip off where the stem connects with my finger and then squeeze the tomato out of it. I deliberately kept the seeds and seed area which is often called ‘jelly’. They have a lot of flavor that you are losing if you just keep flesh.

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Skins! They come off very easily. It took a while because there were so many. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze.

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I had no idea how the flesh would do but it really broke down as it cooked over the low fire. I cooked it for about an hour at a simmer.
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We still had some chunks so into the ninja blender it went.

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Blend blend blend.
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Back into the pot for another hour of cooking. Everything is broken down now and the last hour finished it off.

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Add pasta shells cuz they are cool and scoop up the sauce. This sauce was very, very sweet and I added no sugar to it. I accompanied it with chicken. I did not think red meat would do well with something that was sugary and almost fruity. I’m very happy with the texture I got. I’ll probably cook it longer next time.

But, I now have something to do with all of these tomatoes!

 

Purple Carrots – Pusa Asita Black Carrot

As part of my continual adventures in planting random things and seeing what happens is the saga of the purple carrots. The purple carrots I mentioned earlier in the year. I stumbled across them, my mother desired them, and we kind of set them up in a partially sunny area and hoped for the best.

They are Pusa Asita Black Carrot’s from Rareseeds.com

With the replanting for the fall and the death of some of my stuff due to the stinkbug infestation draining the life from them, the carrots have gained a bit more space and better sun. Before, the tomatoes were shading a lot of their sun but now they are out on their own.

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I’ve learned a lot about plants surviving vs thriving. The carrots are doing very well. We planted twelve sets with three seeds per set. The germination rate that the rareseeds.com order gave us was about 32%. Our germination rate was about 60% and they have been growing away in their ceder trough all summer. Well, a week or so ago I realized that we had carrot tops. The shoulders of the carrot where it connects to its leafy parts. My mother walked past me this weekend and ripped one of the carrots out of the ground. She was curious about how they were looking.

007While not large they are quite a dark black-purple color. I cut it.

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The color was so dark that I had to go outside.

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While they still have a bit to grow they are not doing poorly. They are not sweet at all. Some of this is them and some of this is me giving them crappy lighting. Sunlight is how plants produce their sugars. Less light = a less sweet plant. Hopefully with a bit better light the carrots will gain a bit of sweetness. Not that my mother cares.

They taste of carrot strongly but without any sweet tones to it. The after taste is a bit rough and again, heavily of carrot with no sugar. The texture was very crunching and fibrous.

The juice is also very purple. My fingertips were stained from handling them and I am glad my counter is polished stone. Adding a bit of this to a soup or stew will give you purple for days to come.

 

Potatoes Happened!

It seems that a simple question like when to harvest would be easily answered. However, I can assure you that it is not over and over again. Such as been the experience of the potatoes.

I excitedly dove into the potato project this year. Once they sprouted they turned into huge, tall plants that eventually flopped over from their own three or four feet of height. They have flowered for weeks and died back. I’ve been watering them and feeding them and leaving them be.

Over the past few days they started to yellow and die and look terrible. This, I believed was the mystical “die back” when the potatoes are ready. It had been about a hundred days since I planted them. I decided that I’d try to dig them up. If I was really smooth I’d be able to plant a second crop. But for now, I’m going to focus on my first try.

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Looks bad doesn’t it? They just laid down and started to die. The tips are still green but the pale color washed up and they just seemed greatly unhappy despite all of my efforts. Understanding that they may just be done with their life cycle gave me the confidence to give it a try. After all, they had already flowered and the flowering phase is the reproductive phase. The potatoes are not the fruit of the plant but a storage device.

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Cut back to just the container with the leaves all put aside into a trash bag. I swept aside a handful of dirt.

048Oh my. Is that… are those… potatoes?

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Yes! I had made potatoes!

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I weighted them. Almost four pounds of potatoes. For some reason they are mostly kind of long and weird shaped. I suspect we have some water/heat issues considering the uniformity of the shape. That is the plight of the container gardener. My produce may not be as beautiful as some but I don’t actually care. My mother immediately grabbed one and baked it for her lunch. I decided to add a few into dinner for that night.

062This came out quite nice with some onions and seasonings added in after my own potatoes. :) The rest will be eaten over the next few weeks. I’ll try to do a second planting if I can find any tubers.

 

Clean Up

I’m mostly caught up when it comes to prewritten posts about the Garden. I still have a lot to say and a bunch of pictures and I’m going to start doing some tomato reviews.

I have two problems in the garden right now. One is stink bugs and the second is blight after days and days of rain and humidity. I’ve been looking into organic type pesticides and fungal sprays and have come up with a few winners. The stink bugs have moved into my butternut squash since I removed the zucchini and yellow squash.  The cucumbers are also looking about half dead so it is time to look at my fall garden.

Remember, it takes about six to eight weeks for them to start fruiting. In Northern VA I am normally due warm weather until the end of October. I expect to get a second harvest of zucchini, squash, peas, and lettuces before the end of the growing season. I’ve already started some of it but I’m going to finish the rest of my plans this weekend.

What I’ve done is pulled the old squash plants. Between the powdery mildew and stinkbug infestation it was not going well for them. I also pulled the watermelon and cantaloupe vines today and dug up the potatoes. I’ll do write ups on each of them. What this has done is free up room on the deck to spread out the tomatoes. I spent a lot of time picking dead and dying branches from blight. The fruit seems okay and the tomatoes are still very productive. I’m going to think about pruning more in the future and not letting the growth grow so thick when I am trying to let them trellis.

Also spiral tomato stakes are useless if you don’t force the plant to stick to one stalk.

Anyway, a large amount of vegetation has been cleared out and more is coming down and more will go up. I need to sit down and study the physical aspects of the plants more for when I plan my next session. I need less vining plants next year and fewer tomatoes. I was able to give away a huge wave of tomatoes to my cleaning ladies and I was thankful for it. I have to many.

At the same time I want to branch out to a few more types of pepper for next year. For now, I’m looking at the fall. It seems like garlic is the thing to plant in the fall. I doubt I have that much need for garlic. I can do a new crop of potatoes so I’m going to see if I can find some in the store.

I feel odd for taking down what I did but also sucessful and releaved some too. Hopefully, I can manage the stink bugs and blight and keep the food flowing.

My Megabloom Results

Back a bit I discussed my enormous blossoms that are called mega blooms. They are several blossoms fused together and they create giant ugly tomatoes. Many people advocate the removal of mega blooms because the large tomatoes can take excessive amounts of time to ripen. They ripen unevenly and often weirdly on the inside. Still, I wanted to give it a go.

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It was the first blossom to open and I was very, very excited when I saw it start to blush. I decided to pull it at this point.

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It is an ugly tomato. I admit after seeing it and watching it develop that the uneven ripening was a pain in the butt and the secondary tomato portion never got fully ripe before the primary had to be eaten. For a more normal result:

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This one is actually bigger then the one above. I’ve started to snip the megablooms off after the first one. I really love this tomato’s taste and the mega blooms are not worth the plants energy.

Battling Blossom End Rot

I’m in a battle with blossom end rot and my tomatoes. Right now I’m seeing in in some types more so than every tomato.

The lemon boy’s have it. Or at least the first tomatoes have. The ‘beefsteak’ tomatoes have it. The Black Prince has it as does the Mr Stripey.

I’ve gone through and weeded out those tomatoes. My fertilizer does have calcium in it and some say that seeing it in early tomatoes is not uncommon. The root systems are not developed enough to draw it out. Still, I wonder if it is just the types.

Mr Stripey for instance has a lot of negative reviews. So far, i can see why. I have very few blossom clusters and few fruit on it compared to every other plant. I was excited to try a red and yellow. Next year I will be ordering Hillbilly seeds instead. I should get the same thing with a healthier plant.

Blossom end rot doesn’t make a tomato inedible, especially when it strikes late in the game. However, early blossom end rot can lead to further fungal infections and rotting. I’ve decided to go and just cut the heavily affected ones off of the vine and not waste time on them.

On fruit not heavily affected it is just ugly. Still, I am keeping track of where it is cropping up. Sometimes it is the plant and sometimes it is the gardener. Out of the tomatoes I have picked so far they have all been affected in one way or another although the lemon boys that set later in the year have been fine. The ‘beefsteak’ ones have not and if the plants don’t shape up or taste amazing I may just pull them. I have so many plants that I can get rid of any that are not worth my time.

 

Again, the Giant Vegitables

So, my bug problem caused me to take out the squash and zucchini plants that were not thriving because of the hidden infestation. I’m working on that side of the problem but along with the acorn squash came the giant pickling cucumbers that were in hiding.

After the Giant Zucchini of earlier, I was trying to avoid this type of situation. I’ve gotten some very large cucumbers but normally I catch them before they reach store size. I like them a little smaller and they do a great job as my fresh fridge pickles. But then, there are days like today when I pull the acorn squash free of where it has merged with the cantaloupe and discover it is a threesome for the pickling cucumber has also sneaked in there and developed in secrecy.

The volume of food I am producing is staggering. I know not everyone is going to enjoy gardening but supplementing the diet isn’t bad. Our vegetable aspect of our grocery bill has been very low since May. Next year I’m going to try for a bit more stuff. I’ll try to get a better crop of onions for instance.

Fall will lead to a lot of choices as well. If the potatoes have grown as well as we hope I should be set for the fall into the winter with other things. I’m not good at balancing them yet. I’m going to try to make a late season showing of sugar snap peas and see how that goes.

Little Watermelon

One of my great goals was to grow watermelon on my deck. It is a somewhat stupid goal. I should have selected a Sugar Baby plant or something made for a pot. Instead, I just got a big old regular watermelon and went at it.

Let me first tell you that I’m learning a lot about vine plants. I will try to reduce the number of them that I have next year. They are a pain in the butt. They grow and grow and grow and get everywhere. They crawl off the deck, crawl into each other and in general annoy me. Some of the vine are more bush vine and some are more creeping vine and some are somewhere in between.

Because I use containers I have very limited space for roots. I went outside today and noticed that my watermelon are looking a bit trashy. I think their very small containers, very large vines, their fruit, and the heat is getting to them. They stopped producing flowers a few weeks ago so I think they are done for the season.

All told I have four tiny watermelon tucked in the vines.

I went out to check on them and decided to check for when I should pull them. Another thing I have learned through trial and error is that exact information is hard to get. Lots of harvest times discuss after they have had their final transplant but its not exact. I figured that it’d been about 90 some days since they were put out and perhaps a bit longer so I’d give it a go.

The advice says that their bottoms should turn dark yellow and they may sound hollow. Watermelon thumping is a mystic art it seems. I’m a thumper. There is a particular deep, booming hollow sound that tells me that melon is ripe. One of my tiny babies sounded that way. It had a dark, almost orange bottom. I decided to see if it had produced a watermelon.

I don’t really know what I am doing but this is the time to be bold. I took it inside and thumped it again. For such a tiny plant it had a huge, deep hollow sound to it. With a deep breath I started to cut it.

For some reason I started to have little fears. I’d cut it and bugs would come pouring out like some screwed up horror movie. Or, I’d cut it and it’d be sold white inside which is a pollination issue and a common complaint I’ve read about. I started to cut it and for some reason I had decided that the insect outcome was going to happen. As I worked the knife into it I was slow so that I could avoid the cascade of bugs that would follow. I got about halfway through and the damn thing went, “pop!” and split the rest of the way open. I jumped back and snapped my eyes closed so that I’d not drown under the deluge of insects.

Not bad. It is ripe and pretty rich colored. I took a scoop. It is full flavored but not super sweet. I don’t think I get enough sunlight for it to be as sweet as I like them. Still, it tasted like a good watermelon.

I’d done it.

It is about 7 inches high and weighs about five pounds. The parent stock is supposed to be 25 pounders but I just don’t have the root space or the sunlight for that. I’m not going to try these again. Growing one was an accomplishment and I have three more outside. Two are from a different type of watermelon.

Vining plants are just a pain in the butt but I can say that I’ve grown my own watermelon, on my deck, in suburbia.

Ugh. Bugs

I decided to take down my yellow squash and zucchini plants. They are doing poorly.  I decided to take down the acorn squash as well because they have slowed down a lot too and my mother has been breaking the leaves when she waters the plants. I’ve allowed a lot of plants to wander around the floor of the deck. This has come with the side effect of their getting destroyed by non cautious use of the hose. The house is heavy and not that mobile and it just rolls across the deck crushing the leaves and stems and dragging across them. I watched today and just decied to pull the plants and start doing some planting with the intent to have a good fall crop.

But, insects. Ugh. I’m not a fear of insects scream and have a fit type but they do give me the creepy crawlies. The stink bugs on my deck have unfortunately invaded the squash and zucchini. I’ve been trying to pull eggs as I found them but they of course plant faster then I could find. The jungle that I created for myself made it even harder to find them where I needed to. Then the straw gives them a great area to hide.

Damn.

When I pulled the first yellow squash it was a wave of these nasty things under it. Total, ugh. I just stuffed the plants into the bags as fast as I could hoping to trap as many insects as I could inside the garbage bag. Yuck.I may just bag the entire container the plants were in and let the heat and lack of food kill them off from inside of it.  I can’t remove all food and shelter from them. That’s the entire damn garden on the deck.

I refuse to throw up my hands and scream in horror at the bugs but its unpleasant. This hot, humid summer has been wonderful for them and my overly dense foliage a heaven. These are some of the stories that I am learning. I will not plant so densely next year.

I dislike killing things for the sake of killing them, even garden pests. What must be done must be done. If I could live with them, I’d be fine. But, I cannot. They are destroying things as they grow and reproduce and that is what I am fighting against. There is also the situation in which I do not wish to harbor a non-native parasitic insect which stink bugs are.

One aspect of my battle that will make it a continued battle is that I am not the only garden around here. Several neighbors have gardens in various states of care. This leaves me with dealing with their problems as well as mine. It is unfortunate but again, something to learn.

Bullshit in Advertising

My Costco seed pack has been a major disappointment. The latest is the Beefsteak tomatoes. I wish I had known more when I got it. I would have looked at the picture and realized something was up.

Beefsteak tomatoes are normally huge, multi lobed somewhat ugly tomatoes.

My Black Krim is producing beefsteak type tomatoes. Big, ugly, awkward tomatoes that can easily weigh over a pound.

The smoother round tomatoes are called slicer tomatoes. But when I think beefsteak I think huge tomato. So, imagine my surprise when my first beefsteak tomatoes started turning red as tiny globes.

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What?

I went and checked the package. It said beefsteak but the tomato pictured is a small, red slicing tomato. I went to the website. It says beefsteak. it describes beefsteak. The tomato pictured is a small red slicing tomato.

I got the picture. Truth in advertisement.

I could spit. I was hoping for huge red tomatoes this year and it won’t be happening. The closest I will get is my Black Krim and it is struggling to set more tomatoes from its first three. Damn it.

Tomato types and such are not some holy USDA protected thing. So it lets people do what they want to do. If they want to call this tiny ass round red tomato a beefsteak tomato they can. Grrr. In fact I believe this may be a dwarf breed the plants are so damn small.

I’ve learned. I’m already deciding what I want for next year and I’ll be more careful.

This is the same company that had the rogue yellow pear tomato plant that is really a yellow cherry plant.

Sigh.