Friday, September 22, 2017

Ripening Green Tomatoes Indoors

As mornings get chillier and the days get shorter, the demise of the summer garden is inevitable. As you harvest and prepare root crops, fruits, and winter squash for winter storage don't give up on the tomato.  The first frost does not need to end your tomato season!  Mature green tomatoes can be ripened indoors.

Some basic knowledge of you planting zone is helpful.  Do you know your average first frost day? The average first frost date is the average date at which a light freeze may occur.  There is a 50% chance it will occur before the date or after the date.  

Light Freeze:  29-32 degrees, tender plants killed

Moderate Freeze:  24-28,  widely destructive to most plants

Hard Freeze:  24 and colder with heavy damage

Look up your average spring and fall frost dates here:

 In New Harmony the average first frost is October 9th.  So when October comes you need to watch the weather to be prepared to bring in mature green tomatoes before a freeze.  As daytime temperatures fall below 60 degrees, tomatoes are less likely to ripen on the vine. You can pick green tomatoes at this point and bring them indoors to ripen and remove your tomato plants from the garden or late until a frost is predicted.

Picking Green Tomatoes

The best tomatoes for ripening indoors come from young plants still in their prime not older worn out plants that have been bearing all season.

Most gardeners have volunteer tomato plants that spring up in random places in the garden which are perfect for produce green tomatoes late in the season.  

Before a frost gather your mature green tomatoes.  Do not bother with the small whitish colored tomatoes, they will not ripen.  Pick only the mature green or riper tomatoes.  A mature green tomato is well developed, shiny, and medium or deep green.  Pick without stems. (Root Cellaring)

Most importantly pick before frost because frost damage can prevent proper ripening.  Interestingly, tomatoes that have some color are less sensitive to low temperatures.

Bring the tomatoes inside and sort them. Separate riper ones from green tomatoes.  

Keep some out to ripen right away.  Green tomatoes ripen quickly at room temperatures.  Spread them out single layer out of direct light in a room with temperature between 60-70 degrees.  A mature green tomato will ripen at room temperature in about 2 weeks.  If the tomatoes are already starting turning then they will ripen faster.

You can wrap them individually in paper, place them in a box in the pantry,  or keep them in a drawer to protect them from direct light.

To keep the rest to ripen later, store at temperatures of  55- 60 degrees to keep them on hold.  Bring a few fruits at a time into warmer room temperatures to gradually ripen and enjoy throughout the fall. (Root Cellaring)

As tomatoes ripen they produce a gas called ethylene.  Bananas and apples also produce this gas. This gas actually promotes ripening.  

To quicken the ripening process you can place a few tomatoes in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana with green still on the tips.  

Another way to save some of those tomatoes for later in the season is to pull up the whole vine and hang it in a garage or shed.  The remaining leaves and stem will continue to nourish the fruit.  Be sure to hang where there is good air circulation and do not pull them up wet or they may just rot.

A great resource for preserving your harvest into winter is found in the book Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel. 

Hopefully you will be able to continue enjoying garden fresh tomatoes an extra 4-6 weeks after a frost.

Friday, September 15, 2017

September Garden & Yard Chores

Kale, Cauliflower, Celery, and Broccoli

In most zones September is the grand finale for the garden.  Whether you are seeking to extend the season or accelerate the final days of your garden, there are some important garden chores for early fall that will help ensure a better season next year.

Garden Chores & Harvesting:
  • Cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and squash are going strong.  Continue to harvest.
  • Watermelon, muskmelons, pumpkins, and winter squash  will continue maturing don't neglect the watering.
  • Harvests of corn and green beans are coming to a close

  • Beans grown for dried beans are still maturing
  • Dig potatoes
  • When onion tops fall over, harvest the bulb.  Let it cure in a dry, warm, well ventilated place in the shade.  Under a porch on a table works well
  • Continue harvesting root crops of beets and carrots
  • Order garlic bulbs to plant in mid October 

The Year Round Garden:
  • Prepare low tunnels or cold frames
  • Plant spinach, kale, and lettuce in the cold frame.  I prefer to start lettuce indoors and transplant out side
  • Put out transplants of broccoli
Keep landscape beds and garden beds free of weeds.

Clean Up:
  • After harvesting is complete, clean out bed and spread a layer of compost over the bed or row.
  • Or plant a cover crop or green manure.  A green manure is a crop grown early spring or late summer which is incorporated into the soil to add organic matter and fertility.  Good fall cover crops are buckwheat, which matures fast and will winter kill before it goes to seed, or Austrian peas which is a winter legume for warm climates.  Both crops would be incorporated into the soil 4 weeks before you plan on planting in early spring.
  • Clean up all plant debris especially diseased plants 
  • If any areas of your garden or landscape continually struggle and do poorly gather a soil sample and have it tested.  Contact the extension office to do this.
Continue to enjoy the beauty of the season.

Wage War on Weeds!

While your garden beds and flowers may be looking a bit tired, weeds seem to come on strong this time of year.  Like flowers, weeds can be annuals, biennials, or perennials.  Annual weeds are the easiest to control.  They have a one year life cycle.  Summer annuals sprout in the spring and go to seed in the fall.  Crabgrass, foxtail, pigweed,spurge, and lambsquarter are summer annuals that plague the vegatable gardener the most.  Hand pulling weeds in garden beds before they go to seed is extremely important. 

"One years seeds equals seven years of weeds"

If you struggle with a specific weed problem here is a link to look up cultural practices that may with help control the weed.  Nothing beats hand pulling and hoeing.

Dill seed

Saving Seeds:
  • Pick the seedpods and heads of any open pollinated flowers
  • Learn to save tomato seeds
  • Seeds from lettuce, beans, and peas that are open pollinated can be saved with little cross pollination
Seed pods from a collard that I overwintered.

In the flower garden:

  • Set out pansies, mums, and ornamental kale for fall color
  • Plant spring blooming bulbs in flower beds
  • Sow seed of next year's biennial flowers that need a cold winter to break dormancy such as forget-me-nots, sweet William, and foxglove.
  •  You still can plant perennials in early fall.  

Fall Orchard Care:
  • Keep all fallen fruit picked up.  Pigs or chickens enjoy this fruit
  • Maintain spray for codling moth until harvest
  • Mow understory
  • Apply compost
  • When 50-60% of leaves have fallen spray with fish with and neem.  Target the ground, trunk, and branches.  This is important for leaf decomposition. 
  • Remove any limb spreaders
  • Install tree guards on young trees
  • White wash trunk to prevent winter sun scald injury.  Use interior cheap latex paint mixed with water you can a  little neem.  Paint trunks and bottom of lower scaffolds 
  • Pick apples and pears as they are ripe
Gala apples.  The white film is kaolin clay which is an insect deterrent.

Sungold apples

Enjoy the early fall season and the harvests you have been blessed with. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Pear Preserves & Pear Butter

I've been canning pears this week.  I always prepare ahead by looking through my canning books, which I love to collect, and write down favorites and look for something new to try.  I thought I would share some of the new and old favorites recipes for pears.

Ginger Pear Preserves

This is a gorgeous looking preserve!  The pears, ginger root, and touch of lime make it a delicate, delicious preserve.  This is one of my favorites.  

If you are not familiar with preserves they are similar to jams but with chucks of fruit suspended in a soft jelly.  No pectin is used and they are cooked until a gel stage is reached.  Preserves are delicious on breads and muffins but also make ice cream and cake so much better!  Try them with crepes, on pancakes or mixed in your breakfast oatmeal.

5 1/2 cups  finely chopped cored peeled pears
Grated zest and juice of 3 limes
2 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp of peeled and grated ginger root

1.  Prepare your canner, jars, and lids.
2.  In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine pears, lime zest and juice, sugar, and ginger root.
3.  Bring to a boil over medium heat stirring to dissolve sugar
4.  Boil gently stirring until mixture thickens about 15 minutes.
5.  Remove from heat and test.
6.  If gel stage has been reached skim off foam.  If not continue cooking for 5 more minutes and repeat gel test.
7.  Remove from heat and stir for 5 minutes to help fruit stay suspended
8.  Ladle hot preserves into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace, adjust lids and rings
9.  Place jars in canner and process for 10 minutes.  Adjust for altitude.  I have to process for 20 minutes.
10.  Remove canner lid and wait 5-10 minutes then remove jars to cool.

Gel Test

Dip a cool metal spoon, I keep it in the refrigerator, into the boiling soft spread. Lift the spoon and hold it horizontally with edge down so the syrup runs off the edge.  As the mixture cooks the drops will become heavier and will drop off the spoon separately but two at a time.  When the drops join together and "sheet" off the spoon the gel stage has been reached.

Refrigerator Gel Test

Chill a small saucer in the freezer.  Place a teaspoonful of soft spread on the saucer and in the freezer for 1 minute.  Be sure to turn off stove and remove the spread from heat so it does not burn while you do this test.  Remove the saucer from the freezer and push the edge of the spread with your finger.  If it has reached gel stage the surface will wrinkle when the edge is pushed inward.

Pear Butter

Butters are smooth creamy spreads.  They are made by slowly cooking pulp and sugar.  Spices are added.  You must have patience.  The long cooking time evaporates the moisture thickening the spread.

To Test for Doneness
Butters are cooked until they hold their shape on a spoon.  To test for doneness chill a saucer and place a spoonful of spread on the plate. When liquid does not separate and forms a rim around the spread it is done.

7 lbs of pears peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
Grated zest and juice 1 lemon
1/2 cup of water.

Combine above ingredients.  Bring to a boil and gently boil for 15 minutes.
Working in batches press mixture through a food mill.  

Measure 8 cups of pear puree.
4 cups sugar
Grated zest and juice of one orange
 1 tsp cinnamon

Stir in sugar, orange juice and zest and cinnamon..
Bring to boil reduce heat and simmer until it thickens and holds its shape on spoon.

Ladle into hot jars with 1/4 inch headspace.  Process 10 minutes adjust for altitude.  I process 20 minutes.

Remove canner lid and let it set 5- 10 minutes.  Remove jars to cool.

Butters make an excellent filler for layer cakes.  For another delicious dessert slice a pound cake spread with butter, top with fresh fruit, vanilla pudding and whip cream.  My favorite way to use butters is to spread them on grilled cheese or ham and cheese sandwiches. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Tomato Mozzarella Tart

Garden fresh tomatoes are reason alone to plant a garden.  Heirloom tomatoes are old fashioned varieties that are open pollinated and have a heritage unique to the variety.  They also have a rich unique flavor.  So if you can try to mix a few heirloom varieties on the rustic tart for an irresistible meal or appetizer.

Ripe red, yellow, and green tomatoes sliced thin

Couple cloves of garlic minced

1 Tbs of butter melted

Can of cressant roll dough

Shredded mozzarella cheese

4-5 Tbs of shredded Parmesan cheese

Chopped fresh or dried basil

Chopped fresh or dried oregano

Olive or avocado oil 

Preheat oven to 400.  Combine the garlic and butter.  Place the pastry squares on a baking sheet lined with parchment or sprayed with oil.  Brush with the garlic butter.  Sprinkle the pastry evenly with the mozzarella.  Arrange the tomato slices on the pastry.  Sprinkle with basil and oregano.  Top with Parmesan cheese.  Drizzle oil on the top.  Salt and pepper.  Bake until golden. 

Other ways to use your abundance of garden tomatoes:

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Best Tomato Sauce!

I've been on a quest to find the best canned tomato sauce that you can use straight from the jar without adding anything. Something for a quick easy meal. I think I found a keeper.  This recipe comes form Better Homes and Garden Special Interest Publication: Canning.

Last night I breaded some chicken and just dumped the sauce on top and baked it.  The last 10 minutes I added a slice of Mozzarella cheese on top.  I cooked pasta to go with it.  It was an easy and delicious chicken Parmesan.  This sauce would be great on any pasta or on zucchini or eggplant.

Tomato Basil Simmer Sauce

  • 12 lbs peeled tomatoes
  • 3 Tbs packed brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs salt
  • 1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup lightly packed assorted fresh herbs such as oregano, thyme, Italian flat leafed parsley
  • 1 Tbs crushed red pepper
  • 6 Tbs lemon juice

  • Cut peeled tomatoes into small chunks and add to a stock pot
Any tomato can be used.  Paste tomatoes require less cooking time to reduce the sauce but a mixture of tomatoes offers a great combination of taste.

  • Add brown sugar, salt, vinegar, and pepper to tomatoes bring to boil
  • Transfer to a hot crock pot and let simmer until reduced to about 11 cups stirring occasionally
  • When reduced stir in remaining herbs and crushed red pepper

Basil, oregano, and parsley from the herb garden.

  • Add 1 Tbs of lemon juice to sterile hot pint jars.
  • Ladle hot sauce into jars leaving 1/2 inch head space

  • Wipe the rims and adjust lids

  • Process in a boiling water canner for 35 minutes adjust time  for altitude.

  • Remove lid of canner when time is up and leave jars for 10 minutes in canner before removing them to cool

  • Remove jars to cooll and check for a seal.

I changed the process a little. I like using a crock pot to reduce sauces.  I feel like I can leave the sauce and get something else done.  On a stove top you cannot do that. Just remember to stir occasionally.

 You can add one cup of snipped sun dried tomatoes that you dried yourself to add to the tomato flavor.  Do not use sun dried tomatoes in oil.  

I love that this recipe uses so many herbs from the garden.  I like that the seasoning out of the jar does not require any additional adjustment.  My family agrees this is a great canning choice for tomatoes.

The Italian seasoned tomatoes below is another favorite.  I do add additional seasonings to this depending on the recipe I am using.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Favorite Heirloom Tomato- Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson is my pick for best tasting heirloom tomato.  Not only is it incredible delicious it is absolutely beautiful!

It is a Russian heirloom named after the renowned opera singer, law school graduate, athlete, actor, and champion of civil rights- Paul Robeson. 

This tomato is 3"- 5" in size and a rich brick red to deep burgundy color with green shoulders.
It provides you with a symphony of flavor.  It is intensely sweet with a hint of tangy traditional tomato taste.  The texture is perfect with lots of juice. 

Possibly the best tomato ever with the perfect acid to sweet balance!  This productive heirloom has a following of dedicated tomato connoisseurs!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Keep the Harvests Coming! Garden Chores for September.

It's tempting this time of year to neglect the garden.  There should still be summer crops ripening and fall crops starting to make their appearance.  Thought I would share what's still in my garden and what chores I'm still doing this time of year.

  1. First of all keep weeding.  As you go into winter you don't want to leave a bunch of dead weed debris.  This is a great place to overwinter pests.  Also weeds are still trying to produce seed and make next years weeding a nightmare.

 2.  Keep up with picking your crops.  Berries, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, squash, beans need to be picked regularly to keep producing.  If you are saving seeds from any of these you need to leave them on the vine past the normal ripe stage.

 3.  Pull out any plants that you are no longer harvesting from.  Also remove any diseased plants. Do not put diseased plants in the compost pile.  If you are unsure then don'y put it in the pile instead throw it in the trash.

A squash blossom

 4.  Even moisture is the key to good tasting and large crops.  With the cooler weather that may mean less watering because your soil does not dry out as fast.  Poke your finger down a couple inches in the soil. It should feel cool and moist.

5.  Still watch for squash bugs on melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash.  You probably just need a RTU pyrethrin spray to spot spray any lingering squash bugs or simply remove them.

6.  Have a lightweight frost blanket on hand.  Also be sure you know your first frost date.  In New Harmony it is October 9th.  Here is a link to help you find your first frost date.

7.  Be sure you have some garlic ordered to plant this month.  Or you can use the cloves that you harvested this year.  You need to plant them this month or early October in order for them to develop multiple cloves.  They need to go through the winter.  Plant pointed side up and 2-3 inches deep.  Use only your largest cloves.  During winter months you will have heaving of the soil from freezes and thaws and if they are planted too shallow they end up exposed.

8.  If you started fall and winter seedlings you should get them outside this month.  Put them in the bed where you plan on installing your low tunnels.  They may like a little shade as they get established so you can put a row cover just across the top of the frame.
Row Covers    

An Armenian Cucumber.  To get straight cucumbers grow them on a trellis and be sure they don't go thirsty.


Moon and Stars Watermelon

Most important chore of the month is to enjoy your yard, garden, homestead, or farm with those you love.  Nothing inspires your children to follow in your footsteps more than when they see you finding fulfillment and joy in your labors.  I'm always so grateful to God for the abundant and diverse beauty of nature.