Saturday, September 7, 2013

Seeing Red

It has been a bountiful summer harvest in our garden, so much so that our kitchen table looked like this earlier in the week.  The tomato plants have gone into overdrive.

We ate, shared, and ate some more but it was clear that some food preservation efforts were going to need to happen.  I've always wanted to make Tomato Paste (link to original recipe), so today I did.

I started with 5 pounds of plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped.  I used Principe Borghesi Sun-Drying Tomatoes.

I added 1/4 cup of olive oil to a non-reactive saucepan and heated and then added the tomatoes, about 1/2 tsp of salt, and cooked until soft, about 8 minutes.

Then I pressed these through the finest screen on my food mill.  I employed the household muscle, of course.

This produced about 7 cups of tomato puree

I spread 2 TBSP of olive oil onto a sheet pan, and carefully poured the puree into the pan and then placed into the oven.  
I regularly stirred the puree with a spatula and after 2 hours and 15 minutes I had tomato paste.
Bam!  1 cup of tomato paste.
I'll store this in the freezer and use as needed.  PS the taste test was as good as the costly Italian stuff in the tube.

We processed another 10 lbs of tomatoes into a seasoned tomato sauce which we canned and put up for storage.  
All in all, a very satisfying day.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

May Gardening

This weekend Carson and I are home alone.  The weather here is stellar and we've taken advantage of getting a lot done in the garden.

May 4th Garden view
As you can see, this garden is hard at work already with the aid of some season extension.

In the foreground is a bed that we overwintered.  This weekend we will work on harvesting the bulk of the carrots and will probably remove the Parsley looking to bolt soon.  We'll leave the lettuce in the middle row and mulch around in order to prep this bed for tomatoes.  The funky flowering plant on right is Mache.  I'm going to try and leave one in place to see if it will set seed.

Here is a closer look at the far bed, the greens are coming along nicely.

As I was saying, Carson and I are home alone so he is working with me in the garden today, sort of doing his own thing though.

I can't believe how big he is and how careful he really tries to be in the garden, walking a little slower, asking before he eats something that he doesn't recognize.  It got me wondering how this happens and I came across this photo.

This is Carson at 8 months old, almost exactly 3 years ago.  Pretty much from the time he could sit up, he has spent time in the garden absorbing sights, smells, and sounds.  I'm sure I've been yammering on to him about what I'm doing the whole time.

So, getting back to the May garden, this is what I'm harvesting.

Swiss Chard, Red leaf lettuce, Oak Leaf lettuce, Frisee.

Sweet and crunchy overwintered carrots.

Perhaps the carrot swiping child is the other harvest.  I suppose the seeds we sow often surprise us.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Hardening off Seedlings

It time to harden off seedlings here in the Mountain West.  I don't know about you, but I find this to be the most stressful part of the seed to seedling to garden process.  I use 2 different techniques to acomplish this.  For tomatoes I am a big fan of walls of water and find that I can transplant into my garden beds at least 2 weeks sooner with the WOW.  This translates to tomatoes in July, which for my family marks a big milestone in the garden.  For my other seedlings I follow the process below:
1.  Watch the weather and when day temps are >60F I start to gradually introduce my plants to the garden.  I set them out in progressively longer inrervals over the course of 1-2 weeks until the can spend the whole day (and hopefully overnight) outside.
2.  During this time, I cut back on water just a little.  This usually translates to every other day watering but I break that rule if the seedling leaves look wilted.
3.  Once nighttime temps are >50F and the above steps have been acomplished, I plant a "test" plant for each variety and watch for 1-2 days.  If still alive and looking good I go ahead and transplant my remaining seedlings.
The cheat to this, at least if you live in Salt Lake City like I do, is that if you harden off in time for Mother's Day you can usually get away with your seedlings being planted on that ot the following weekend.  
Can't wait to get these beautiful seedlings into the ground!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Crop Rotation

I know it sounds industrial but crop rotation is one of the best ways to prevent depletion of minerals and buildup of pests and disease.  Crop rotation simply put means that you try to space planting the same family of plants in the same spot by at least 3 years.  If you are like me and companion plant I do think that you get a little more wiggle room.

Here's a rotation in real time:

Swiss Chard
This was last fall.  We overwintered with row cover, so the large plants are long gone, but the smaller ones are really nice now.

Same bed, frame removed and amended with 1" loosely incorporated compost
Now here come the tomatoes, OK you can't see them, but they are inside the walls of water.

There you have it, simple crop rotation.  I'll leave the Chard in for another month or 2.  It will bolt when it gets hot and we will pull it out.  This is about the time the tomatoes will start to really take up space.

This is not to say that I've never had pests or disease, but its pretty minimal in our garden so far and we've grown in these beds intensively for the last 6 years.

For a really good reference on Crop Rotation, I recommend The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Spring Peas

Like this blog, my garden was neglected this winter due to cold and snow and distractions.  I can't think of a better way to get into my spring garden than with a discussion of peas.

I planted 2 types today, a shell pea and a snap pea.  I plant them side by side and have been doing so for a few years.

The first step is to determine a location and either establish a support structure or make a plan for one because once peas get growing, they need support to climb on.

This spring, I'm planting my peas here with stakes about 6 feet across and a bamboo pole on top.  I'll build additional support as the peas grow with twine as they come up or might use some left over wire fence pieces, I haven't decided yet.  In the background is an A-Frame structure that I've also used for climbing peas in the past, and it works on the same principle.

Next prepare the soil with some compost or and create furrows about 1" deep for planting.  These are about 6" apart.

Of course, you're going to need peas, these are the ones I'm using today.  I also use legume inoculant with all of the beans and peas that I plant.  There is some debate as to whether this is really necessary if you have planted beans or peas in this location before because theoretically the beneficial bacteria should still be in the soil.  An envelope of inoculant costs $3-5 and a little goes a long way so I figure that it can't hurt.  I sprinkle it in the furrow right before my seeds.  Some people say that you need to soak seeds and inoculant in water or milk together first to get good germination, but I honestly have not noticed much difference when adding these steps.

Then plant those seeds, water, hill up a little, label, and you're done.

Germination usually takes 1-2 weeks but can take longer if you get a cold snap.

One additional note that I have on peas is a recommendation for bird netting once they sprout.  I'll drape some over the top of the support structure and anchor to the soil with landscaping stakes.  At least in my yard, if you don't net your peas you will go out 1 morning to what looks like a weed whacker destruction site.  Birds ... love them, but keep them off your peas.

Now fast forward to pea success ...
Once they get going they really grow quickly.

And then you get to eat meals like this, fresh pasta with peas and herbs.  Delicious.

I hope this inspires you to get out and plant some peas if you haven't already.  

Happy (almost) Spring!

Winter, finally (and seriously)

I planned to start this blog last spring as my garden flew into action, but then got into the actual work of gardening and abandoned the task. However, today its winter, really winter. I'm wearing long underwear and sitting under a blanket and I'm still cold.
Today is the shortest day of the year so from here on in it gets better. I look forward to longer days, that's for sure. But I'll also tuck in and enjoy winter's freeze and snow, it does mean skiing after all. Maybe more importantly is the snow pack - without snow there isn't water for the West.
The end of the year and the solstice are a good time to think back on the last 365. I have no reason to complain and feel really lucky about the last year and really hopeful about the year to come.