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My Sea of Green has Arrived

May 25, 2012 Leave a comment
Fierce Competition for Sunlight

Fierce Competition for Sunlight

Things have been pretty busy on the farm, but there is one truth that is self evident: The shelves in the greenhouse are covered in a healthy green mass of plants yearning for the sun. All of the hard work invested in constructing this gem of a building, starting with diging the foundation by hand all the way through attaching the clear panels with help from Nate, is paying off once again. The planning is detailed, the outcome is not always assured, but with a little faith, lots of help, and some good dirt, it’s all working out ….. [ Continue Reading at I.T. Farmers new home: http://itfarmersblog.com?p=2620 ]

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Timing is Everything

Cauliflower, Lettuce,  Pak Choi

Cauliflower, Lettuce, Pak Choi

With the help of my new planting cells, I’ve managed to plant more cool weather crops and in greater quantities than last year… and it really shows ! My plants this year are nearly three weeks ahead. The difference is pretty clear when … [ Continue Reading at http://itfarmersblog.com/?p=2580 ]

 

A Year of Growth: 2011

December 31, 2011 1 comment
New Equipment on the Farm

New Equipment on the Farm

Another year has passed on the farm, and as the old year passes by, it leaves changes much like a glacier grinding and pushing its way to the sea. 2011 brought lots of new equipment and experiences to the farm, including a new John Deere tractor, and a much older yet still very effective 8n Ford tractor. The two tractors work great in tandam, making the hard work of yester-years into play time on full sized toys. The two tractors share lots of interchangable attachments including a back blade, brush hog, finish mower and more.  Once we got up to speed on how the tractors worked and what we could do with them, everything changed. Tasks that were difficult became easy, and what was once impossible is now do-able.

Improvements to the Land

Improvements to the Land

With the power of many horses under our feet, we began to transform the land directly in front of my home from a thicket of brush into a smooth flowing lawn, complete with a meandering stream which runs through the center. This will be the land where I continue planting cherries, berries and fruit trees, as I’ve nearly run out of space close to the house. I’ve also found time to build a herb garden with lot’s of old field stones.

New Shed and Workshop

New Shed and Workshop

The year has also been shaped a great deal by the construction of a new shed. The idea began as a chicken coop, but as soon as I began construction of the shed in my minds eye I envisioned a work shop and extra storage for many of my tools. The shed demanded a good deal of my time, and I’ve had lots of help with the design and general construction. That project is now complete for the year, and the workshop is quickly being stocked and organized. I’ve built a study building that should last for decades, and its large enough that I have extra room for future use.

First Book

First Book

While the sun was hidden from view I put together my first book, which expands upon my first few years in the garden. After returning from work, and putting away my shed construction tools, I would edit, layout and revise my story,  producing a 70 + page tale of trials and some errors on my path to master gardening. You can read more about the book by clicking here.

Battling Late Blight

Battling Late Blight

In 2009 and 2010 I had well over 100 tomato plants die due to late blight, and I lost the majority of the tomato harvest to this pest. It’s a difficult thing to loose so much hard work to something which is hard to see, but in 2011 I fought back with the conviction of a four star general. I drew up “battle plans” and stuck to the program, using Epson Salt and “Dragoon Dust” to protect the plants and destroy the enemy.

The blight managed to kill a plant or two, but I treated the outbreak much like the CDC would treat a case of SARS. I carefully covered the infected plants with a garbage bag, then ripped the roots from the soil, being carefull to isolate the infected plant. After torching the exposed plant matter, I redoubled my efforts in blight prevention. I took a doctor’s approach towards treatment, and gave the plants a heavy dose of Miracle Grow to keep them strong, while dusting the area exposed with an extra serving of anti-fungal agents.

At the end of the season it was clear that the blight had not succeded in robbing my harvest yet again. The tomatoes flowed from the garden like water spraying from a badly leaking hose.

Canned Tomatoes

Canned Tomatoes

With the endless bounty that streamed in from the garden, we all learned the fine points of food preservation, including canning, freezing and even vacuum sealing veggies. 2011 has been a great year for the garden, with two exceptions: Cucumbers and Zucchini.

I only managed to grow a few cucumbers, unlike past years when I would require a back pack in order to pick a row of cucks. The zucchini wasn’t nearly as bad, but it also suffered due to a thousand bites from pesky ground hogs. Overall, I’m very happy to see so much progress in hind sight. I’ve grown a great deal this year, perhaps more then the last five years combined. I’ve extended my garden season into the winter with Broccolli, Cualiflower and Brussels Sprouts, and I’ve demonstrated stubborn commitment towards shed construction.

Everyone on the farm has been learning and working together very well, and I think the outcome of this years labor is a testement to that effort. I hope to redouble my planning in 2012, and deliver even better results in the new year.

Happy New Year !

– I.T. Farmer

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Storage and Seeds

November 7, 2011 Leave a comment
Canned Tomatoes

Canned Tomatoes

While the warm season harvest may be over, there is lots of work pertaining to the warm season left to do. One of the biggest challenges is organizing all of the food that was packed away. The canned items should be stored in a way that allows the cans to be inspected from time to time.  A few cans will not properly seal, and if left to sit unsealed they are capable of making a real mess. You can tell the cans are no longer sealed when the center portion of the lid pops to the up position, as opposed to the downward position created by an internal vacuum. When the lids pop up, the contents should be discarded either in a compost pile or in the garbage. Out of over 100 jars of canned tomatoes only three have become unsealed.

Giant Speckled Lima Beans After Drying

Giant Speckled Lima Beans After Drying

The harvest may be over but it’s now time to collect seeds for future planting. I’ve found that the hot greenhouse makes harvesting and storing dry beans pretty easy. I start by collecting the bean pods and spreading them out on my tables in the greenhouse. The sun will then dry out the outer husk making the process of removing beans fairly easy, simply apply pressure to the outer husk and watch the pod crack along the seems. The dry beans inside can then be stored in a glass jar for planting next spring.

Lettuce Seed Pods

Lettuce Seed Pods

Lettuce seeds are also pretty easy to collect if they are allowed to dry in the sun. The plants will grow to about three feet in height, and will grow tiny seed pods after setting small flowers. I’ve been experimenting with the quickest way to harvest the seeds, but for now the best advice I can give is to collect each pod individually, and press the pods between your fingers to release the seeds within. You will then need to separate the seeds from the pods, or simply plant the pods with the seeds in the spring.

Pak Choi Seeds Not Ready

Pak Choi Seeds Not Ready

It’s nearly time to collect Pak Choi seeds as well. I didn’t get a large enough harvest to cook with this Asian vegetable, but I did try it raw, and it wasn’t bad, so I plan to save lots of seeds for next year. The plants seemed to put all of their effort into seed pods, so I may have planted them late in the season, but there will be plenty of seeds for next year.

Pak Choi Seeds Ready

Pak Choi Seeds Ready

Before collecting the seeds, wait till the pods turn a brownish color, and crack open easily.  A few of the pods have already turned brown, but the majority are not yet mature.

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Tis the Season for Picking

September 26, 2011 2 comments
More Tomatoes to be Picked

More Tomatoes to be Picked

I’ve been trying to keep up with the ripening tomatoes since the first red alert cherries appeared, but somewhere along that timeline I fell pretty far behind, and my garden that used to be a sea of green has been blanketed with reddish orange romas and brandywines.  Davy, Sandy and I spent about 30 minutes to an hour collecting the tomatoes that we hope to give away. You see we are all pretty sick of processing tomatoes, and now that we have 120 jars full, we see no need to continue stocking up.

A Good Harvest

A Good Harvest

Now that I’ve grown more tomatoes then I ever thought I’d see in a lifetime, I’m wondering just how many of these plants I should start in next years garden. While we got far more tomatoes  then we need, none of them will go to waste. I may trim the plant count a bit, but I don’t think 100 plants would be too many.  I can then use the space that would have gone to tomato plants for starting fruit trees in the greenhouse this spring.

Peppers

Peppers

After cleaning up the tomato patch, Jessica and I moved onto the pepper patch, and quickly filled a crate with Chablis, Flexnum and California Wonder peppers. Somehow a Purple Kohlrabi wound up in the mix.

Concord Grapes

Concord Grapes

After a cup of coffee or two, it was time to move onto picking grapes. We picked Concord grapes from three native vines, then sorted them out removing all of the rotten and dried out grapes.

Straining out the Pulp and Seeds

Straining out the Pulp and Seeds

Instead of making wine we decided to try out grape juice production just to see how hard it would be, and how much work was involved. As the photo shows, many hands make quick work. I haven”t yet tried the taste of the juice once it’s been chilled, and if it’s worthwhile, I’ll share the recipe.

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Life Beyond Tomatoes

September 16, 2011 Leave a comment
Cart Full of Tomatoes - Photo by Sandra Macpherson

Cart Full of Tomatoes - Photo by Sandra Macpherson

The valley is awash in a sea of ripening tomatoes. At one time it was acceptable to pick tomatoes every week or every 4 days, but that time has come and past. It’s become one of those occasions when all hands are required on deck, to pick, and pack this win-fall of healthy food. I try to help as much as possible, but the work continues even when I’m at work. My Mother, Sisters and Davie have been picking and washing off the tomatoes the last few days, and the cart above is full of tomatoes thanks to their effort.

I was told that if I would have stopped by while everyone else was helping, they were planning to pelt me with mushy red projectiles as I headed towards the front door. I’m reasonably sure the statement was in jest, but I’m glad I didn’t get to find out first-hand.

Jessica Looking at a Lot of Tomatoes

Jessica Looking at a Lot of Tomatoes

I was showing my niece, Jessica, and my nephew, the little gardener, just how much food we had produced in our garden. I’m sure both of them were just as amazed as I was to see sooooo many tomatoes.

Some of these tomatoes still need to ripen, while others have already been packed away in jars. The boxes on the floor to the right contain mostly canned tomatoes, some spaghetti, and a few boxes of other things.

The blue box labeled “Light” contains Pennsylvania home grown plums. They were a gift from a neighbor, and I hope to start a bunch of little trees from the pits.

Peppers

Peppers

There is life beyond tomatoes however, and it starts with my other big crop for the season: Peppers. The ones shown are still a bit young, but I picked them anyway. There was a tiny chance that a frost was coming our way, and I didn’t want to loose out.  While picking, I may have found a pepper plant that rivals Chablis Hybrid peppers in production. I don’t know what the name of these peppers are, but I planted them at least two weeks after the rest, and they are producing comparable amounts of peppers. I’ll be saving the seeds from these long green peppers and replanting them next year.

Saving Seeds

Saving Seeds

I’ve also been busing saving even more seeds. The peas that died a month or so ago left lots of seeds behind in dry, blackened pods. The trick to saving them for next year is simple. Take them out of the pod and keep them dry. I’ve been doing the same thing with my Ying-Yang Beans and Brown Crowder Beans. The Ying-Yang beans have been more of a pain to shell and so, I haven’t yet freed them from their pods.

"Dwarf" Bananas

"Dwarf" Bananas

My “Dwarf” Bananas are still growing very well, but with no sign of edible bananas. One of the plants is about four feet tall, and the other is at least five feet. They collect more light in my kitchens bay window they they let past, and I’m wondering what I’ll do in a few years when they have grown to the ceiling ? I guess I’ll have to add on a new tall sun room.

Opportunity Salad September Edition

Opportunity Salad September Edition

The best part of a garden is the hope it gives you in the spring, and the reward it provides you in the fall. I wanted to eat something good the other day, but I’m about sick of lettuce, so I decided to make a salad without lettuce. Instead, I added some Swiss Chard, colorful tomatoes, cucumber, celery and onions. Add to that a touch of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and you’ve got yourself a snack that would make any gardener smile. I was quite proud to notice that only the olive oil was from the store; I planted the seeds that grew the rest.

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Next Year’s Garden ’12

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment
Saving Tomato Seeds

Saving Tomato Seeds

It’s that time of year when storing away garden goodies isn’t the only priority. This is a ripe time to save seeds for next years garden, and if you’ve looked through a seed catalog, or lived anywhere other then below a large rock, you too may have noticed just how much seeds are selling for these days. If I had to buy seeds to replace the four varieties shown in the picture, I’m sure I would spend at least $10 on seeds, and I would probably get about 120 seeds for my money. Saving these seeds took very little time, and I’ve probably got about 500 seeds on the four trays.

Saving Tomato Seeds:

Cut open a tomato, and allow the seeds to drain onto a layer of newsprint, then simply let the seeds dry. When there is no more moisture, carefully peel the seeds from the paper, and store them for the spring.

Next Year's Seeds

Next Year's Seeds

I’ve also purchased quite a few seeds packets. I ordered the seeds on the right as our government was foolishly debating raising the debt ceiling. I was going to order them later in the season anyway, but I decided I would sleep easier if I ordered them before the debt deadline. I tend to sleep easy when I’m prepared for an outcome that is far worse then what I expect.

New Garden ?

New Garden ?

I’ve also been kicking around the idea of making a new garden area. It’s more or less a rough idea at this point, but the dirt is nice, the slope is less steep then the current plot, and there is lots of water nearby. It could be an additional garden, or maybe a replacement. I guess I’ll see where the world is headed during the winter months, and figure things out from there.