The Hoax of the Frozen Tomatoes

Last year I had a conundrum when it came to putting up tomatoes. I grew my own, but as luck would have it, they didn’t all ripen at the same time. I just couldn’t get enough to put up a full canner load at the same time. So I thought about solutions and scoured the internet and came up with freezing tomatoes. Everything on the internet said you could just pop them into freezer bags whole – no prep at all. No blanching and skinning, no coring. No dicing or quartering. Literally pop them in the bag, and presto chango – preserved tomatoes, all ready to go. And even my sister had done it, and sworn by it.

But friends – do not be seduced. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is. And so it is with freezing completely unprepared tomatoes. Naturally. These things were far more trouble than they were worth. Defrosting was a nightmare – it took forever. And when I didn’t have forever to wait, using the defrost function on the microwave (yes, I cheated a few times dang it) turned them into cardboard-textured mush. Moreover, I ended up pitching half of them into the trash, because have you ever tried to peel a skin and pull a core out a half-defrosted, cardboard-textured tomato? If you haven’t, take my word for it that it is not something you want to spend your time on. Completely the definition of “fruitless (such as it were, that is) endeavor”.

Sigh. This year I planted a variety that is supposed to ripen at once, more or less. Unless nature is wanting to play a cruel joke on me two years running, which frankly, I won’t quite rule out!

They’re Gone. All Gone.

The squirrels. The tomatoes. I’ll let you guess what happened.


Red, Ripe Tomatoes!

It’s been kind of touch and go with the tomatoes lately. They were gorgeous – bushy, bright green plants with an abundance of green tomatoes on them. But we’ve been having some strange weather over the last few weeks. It’s been excessively hot with extremely high humidity (often around 80%!) and a lot of thunderstorms. We’ve gotten a lot of rain at weird times, so the soil just wasn’t drying out in between storms. The fact that the tomatoes are in pots only compounded the problem – the poor things easily became water logged. We didn’t even want to photograph them, they looked that sad. All wilty and half dead looking, and then the heat started to scorch the leaves…

But, we moved them under cover for a few days to keep the excess rain off them, and husband checked them twice a day to pour off excess water. And we even drilled extra drainage holes around the perimeter of each pot to further along the drying out process. They’re looking pretty rough for wear still, but I think they’ll survive. We only lost a few of the green tomatoes to blossom end rot. We think we’ll actually need to water them purposefully tomorrow actually, since the soil is about normal again.

I told husband that in the worst case scenario, we could harvest the green tomatoes and make up a batch of fried green tomatoes for lunch one day. No great loss without some small gain. But lo and behold, despite all the stress, these tough little plants managed to do a little something for us –

Two perfectly red, ripe tomatoes! Now, we did have to cheat a bit to get them- at the first blush of pink, husband picked them and brought them in to ripen on the counter. Amazing how tomatoes can do that, huh? Sure, they won’t be quite as luscious as the vine ripened variety, but we had to be on the offensive. After that marauding squirrel stole our only two ripe strawberries this year, we weren’t about to take chances on the tomatoes. On a related note, the little bugger pilfered one of our sweet peppers, took a bite out of it, and promptly abandoned the rest of it on top of the gate on his way to back to his tree. I really hate that squirrel, but I’ll save my squirrel rage for another day. After all, we beat him to the tomatoes! I’m thinking we’ll have them as they deserve to be eaten in the summer – sliced and lightly salted. A perfect afternoon snack.

A Profusion of Peppers!

This heat wave we’ve been having lately is having a mixed effect on the garden. The peppers and tomatoes are loving the heat, the herbs are tolerating it, and the chard is just suffering. The cabbages seem to be more or less indifferent. At the end of Week One of Bedrest (yes – the verdict is not the worst case scenario on my ankle, but not the best – I’ll be in a cast for the next six weeks, which is basically the rest of my pregnancy) I sent husband out back with the camera for a progress report.

As you can see from the photos above, we really do have a profusion of peppers! The green ones are the hot peppers, and the yellow ones are the sweet peppers. And most of them are still setting flowers, so there will certainly be more to come.

You’ll also notice that the chard is looking a little rough for wear. We think we’ve got the spider mite attack under control as we haven’t seen much further evidence of them on the plants, but they’re slow to rebound. This killer heat just isn’t helping either – with intermittent thunderstorms all the time, it’s hard to know when to water and to stay on top of it.

We also let the oregano go to flower. It’s slightly more bitter now that it’s flowering, but not so much that I think it’s inedible. Oregano is a favorite of bees, so I wanted it to flower to be sure to attract enough pollinators for the peppers and tomatoes. Seems the plan is working!

 Check out that hops plant! It’s well over six feet tall now, and husband has really had to scramble to keep up with it with the makeshift trellis. And it’s grown to that height in the shade! They really prefer to be in full sun, so I can hardly imagine how tall it would be if we had it down on the patio. It doesn’t seem to producing any hops cones yet, so we’ll see if it does. We don’t really know at what stage of it’s growth cycle it’s supposed to, so we need to read up on that a bit.

The bay tree is robust and still outgrowing it’s pot. I hope Gethsemane has another sale on their pots this fall, because we’re going to need a much bigger one to move it into this year. It’s a proper tree now.

And we had to give the rosemary a haircut. With all this wet, humid weather it was starting to get affected by powdery mildew. Husband tries to move it down to the patio every few days so that it gets full sunlight and better air circulation, but that’s a heavy pot and we have a lot of plants to keep on the move in the quest for better sunlight. We are definitely investing in wheeled plant coasters for next season. The powdery mildew was really at the tips of the branches, so we just lopped them off with the garden shears. Hopefully that will eradicate the problem once and for all. And honestly, I kind of like the more manicured look it has now. It’s got a topiary feel to it.

And last but not least, the cabbages and tomatoes. The cabbages are just fine and are continuing to head up. We’ve had no problems with bugs or disease with them thus far, so hopefully they continue on in good health through the summer.

And check out those lovely green tomatoes! There are some big ones hiding in there too. We had a few that succumbed to blossom end rot (I blame this ridiculous weather for that) but for the most part they’re all healthy and robust. None of them are starting to pink up yet, but hopefully any day now. We’ve got to be on squirrel patrol big time – one of the neighbors said she had some tomatoes just starting to turn red, and the little bugger took a bite out of them! So she’s watching hers carefully and snatching them off the plant at the first sign of red and letting them ripen on the counter. So we may not get vine-ripened tomatoes around here, but we WILL get them!

The Fruits of Our Labor

We got back from our suburban family wedding travel close to noon today, so we’ve had a little weekend left to spare. We set up my sewing table that the in-laws refinished (complete with patterned paper drawer inserts and new drawer pulls!) and installed some fabric blinds that my mother in law sewed to replace the crappy broken plastic ones in our bedroom (picture updates of those to come; I’m all camera’d out for today). Then we threw some Milwaukee Iron burgers on the grill and had those for lunch on the deck with potato salad and baked beans. So a low-key 4th of July thus far. We also scored a deal on charcoal on our way back to the city – Home Depot has a 2 for $9 special this week on Kingsford charcoal, so we got four bags since husband’s mom drove us back to the city. That’ll last us maybe a month, we’re hoping.

What I really wanted to share with you all though is the fact that our veggie plants are finally fruiting! Check out some of these tomatoes –

And both the sweet and hot peppers have started to develop as well –

And our swiss chard is putting out new growth after our first harvest. I’m looking forward to harvesting another batch at the end of this week.

Everything is looking really good. We’ve got to keep close watch now since that squirrel is still lurking about, but I’m ready to spring into action with impromptu cages if that’s what it takes.

As for the rest of our holiday weekend – we’ll probably do something low-key for dinner, like pasta salad or white bean and broccoli pasta since we did our big grilling for lunch today. I’m going to get a pie crust mixed up shortly to chill in the fridge and use the last little bit of the frozen berries in the freezer to make a pie for dessert – high time to make way for this year’s bounty. And later, just relaxing on the back deck with our books and good conversation likely. Maybe a card or board game too.

I hope everyone has enjoyed the 4th of July weekend like we have (and maybe snuck in a couple of projects too). Happy 4th!

Seed Starting, Part Two

Okay, the tomato and strawberry seeds have been replanted. My new set up isn’t as pretty as it was previously, but more functional for this year. I planted six of each, and since the temperatures around here have been so dreary lately, I’m giving them a head start in the warmth department but letting them live on the furnace in the utility closet over the weekend –

Like I said, not pretty… but pretty is as pretty does and the goal at this point is to get these babies to sprout. The ugly plastic bag will ensure the soil doesn’t dry out. I’m going to check them before I go to bed tonight and again tomorrow morning to make sure it’s not so hot in there that the soil won’t stay moist.

And while I’m waiting for the seeds to sprout, there isn’t a total absence of green here –

I had a couple of heads of supermarket garlic start to sprout, so I decided to plant them. Waste not want not! Once the greens get big enough, they’ll be quite tasty in pasta salad, green salad or steamed with fish. I’ve got a few more sprouted cloves too, so I’ll dig out a milk glass bowl or compote later and plant the rest. You can never have too many garlic greens.

And here is the sewing table set up, with the aforementioned water bottle close by –

Once the tomato and strawberry seeds sprout, they will join the garlic here, on a tray. So, all hope is not lost. It’s certainly better late than never!

Seedlings Don’t Thrive on Neglect…

Well. Here I am on April 16th with exactly ZERO seedlings ready for planting. Why’s that? Well apparently, you need to water them daily and make sure their sunlight needs are being met. Now clearly, I know this. I’ve been starting seeds successfully for years, but this year’s pregnancy brain has really gotten the best of me. It’s a miracle I can get out of the house each day with my keys, wallet and transit card. Remembering to stop in the kitchen and open the curtain and water the seedlings… evidently that was asking too much of myself.

But, being the middle of April yet with another potential week of hard frosts outside still, all hope is not lost. I’m just back at square one. Wouldn’t be the first time. 🙂 I clearly need to modify my seed starting routine to ensure success. I’m going to direct seed my scallions, cucumbers, zucchini and such outside. So the only ones I’m going to start at this late date are tomatoes and strawberries. Yes, I’m stubbornly going to try to grow alpine strawberries from seeds still.

The seedling tray can’t live in the kitchen. Space-wise, it’s the pefect spot, but I just don’t go in there in the mornings more than grabbing my packed lunch and breakfast from the fridge. I’m going to set them up on my sewing table in the living room, with a spray bottle of water sitting right next to it – I just won’t be able to overlook them sitting there.

I WILL have seed-started tomatoes this year! Stay tuned… again.