Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Slowly winding things down, and some nature pics

Well that's a gentle way of putting that I'm ripping out some plants, I guess.   Both eggplants are out, victims of insects and unknown diseases, which usually follow insects.  The okra's foliage is thinning out and it won't be long before it's gone.  The lone summer squash has a stressed look in its leaves, the last squash rotted, and I don't see anymore forming.  And the tomatoes finally got what looks like blight, but it could be a number of things.  Whatever it is, it's moving fast. 

The Mountain Magic tomatoes, supposed to be blight resistant, have got something, which looks exactly like what has been killing my tomatoes for years, but only recently appeared this year, instead of in June:

What's getting the Black Plum tomato looks a little different.  Instead of starting from the bottom, it appears anywhere on the plant, with little yellowing.  The leaves and stems quickly turn brown.  It looked beyond saving, and, since it's in the center, I thought removing it might spare the other plants.  Looking at its Better Boy neighbor, I realized it was time for both of them to go.  So now there's a big space in the line of indeterminate tomatoes.

The PInk Girl in the right of the photo is the healthiest, least infected of the indeterminate tomatoes, and in my opinion is an excellent slicing tomato.  Removing the infected plants opens up some space for the ancho peppers and allows some evening sunlight to hit them.  They are loaded with peppers, those little dark triangles you see all over them, and need all the help they can get to give me some ripe anchos before frost.  I've lost 4 ancho peppers so far that rotted before ripening.  I hope this ancho rotting sorts itself out, as I'm more than ready to make a batch of harissa from grilled anchos.

I also removed infected and excess foliage from the determinate sauce tomatoes. It was a big mistake planting 2 per cage, resulting in a dense tangle of leaves that suppress ripening.  While I was trying to trim the Roma plant I managed to collapse the whole thing.  Apparently there wasn't much holding the plants up.  There was no point trying to prop up Humpty Dumpty and besides I wasn't really impressed with the plant's performance, so out it came.  I removed the cage from the hooks on the posts, cut off the stems at the base, and lifted the whole kaboodle out.   Gone, and it won't be missed.

Time for a brief nature walk.  The garden is not far from the pond, and the shoreline is left to go wild, although I do monitor and remove volunteer trees that I don't want.  Here's a look at the far  reaches of the garden empire.  There's some milkweed, and behind it some Joe Pye weed.  The milkweed hasn't shown any Monarchs, but the Joe Pye weed is a Tiger Swallowtail draw.

Behind the Joe Pye weed is another weed that I can't identify.  It's a nice looking plant, and also very attractive to the Tigers.  Anyone know what it is?

And speaking of swallowtails, what's parsley without a Black Swallowtail caterpillar.  I rarely see the adult, but the larva is striking.

Back to the garden.  The squash got off to a rocky start, lots of them died early, from wilt I think, and I replanted several times.  Finally, after a very late start, some Butternut squash have survived and are making squash.

I used up all of the Teksukabotu seeds and none of them made it.  The Buttercup squash have done the best.  Although they are not borer resistant, the ones that made it were planted late enough that they were no longer in danger from this pest, at least that's my theory.  It was touch and go for awhile, but it looks like I'll get some squash.

In most years, any squash that set before the last week of August have a good chance of ripening before frost.  While I'm speaking hopefully, I'm hoping that the sauce tomatoes give me one more picking, enough to can some more marinara.  And I'm hoping that the anchos ripen up, cause I really want to put some hot spicy harissa in the freezer.  Is that asking too much? 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Monday August 28

Another very productive week in the bean patch.  Speaking of beans, they have been producing strongly for a couple of weeks now, after the Japanese beetles tore through them and virtually stopped the beans in their tracks.  I can't imagine how many beans could have been picked if it wasn't for these pests.  So far I've gotten nearly 30 pounds of beans, most of them pole beans from a 9 foot long trellis.  So here goes, in what I believe is chronological order.  First a picking of Fortex, Musica, and Provider beans:

Yes, I froze a lot of beans this week.  Next some sweet peppers, Carmen, the beautiful yellow Mama Mia Giallo, and a paprika, along with some Millionaire okra and mystery squash, both of which continue to trickle in (actually, I prefer squash at a trickle, it doesn't overwhelm).

More beans, more Carmen peppers, and more okra.

Every day I was picking tomatoes, many of which I gave away.  These are some Better Boys.  A heavy rain last week caused many of the Better Boys to split.

Sunday was salsa canning day.  I picked a batch of Plum Regal sauce tomatoes, along with a few Romas.  The quality of all the tomatoes is definitely going downhill.  Many of the sauce tomatoes were blemished badly enough that they were good only for the compost bin.  Some of the tomatoes below were put in the windowsill to ripen further.  There were enough sauce tomatoes and Better Boys to make a batch of salsa.

There were just enough hot peppers available to free me from buying any at the store.  The smaller red peppers are Fish. The Jalapeno plants have started producing again.  They managed to send up some stems above the anchos that have been crowding them out.  These have been really excellent jalapenos, very hot for the variety.

Here is the weekly 'peppers on the grill' picture.  Yum.

Now that the adjacent eggplant has been removed, the Fish pepper plant has more space.  The picture doesn't do it justice, it's a gorgeous plant and would look great in a pot.  The stripes in the peppers slowly fade as they redden, but never disappear completely.

Lastly, another picking of beans.  For the week, 7.4 pounds of beans, 16 pounds of tomatoes, and various other goodies. To see what other growers are getting from their gardens, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Monday August 21

It's been a really productive week here in the bean patch, in fact, the best so far this year.  I brought down the garlic that was drying in the attic in the pole barn and cleaned it up.  There are 4 different kinds but only 2 are known since the labels were lost for the others.  Only about 2 pounds but that will last me until next year.

The Musica and Fortex pole beans have started producing again, and two rows of Provider bush beans that were planted a couple months ago are also producing beans.  I picked 5.8 pounds of beans for the week, and froze a large bag.

Early last week I made another batch of salsa.  The sweet peppers, Carmen on the left and 2 peppers of unknown variety, plus 7 Magyar paprika peppers, were roasted on the grill and deskinned.  There were only a handful of Jalapeno peppers, which have been overrun by the ancho peppers, so I had to buy some more  at the farmers market.  The smaller Fish peppers gave a heat boost to the salsa.

The tomato base of the salsa was made from 2 small varieties.  These are the Mountain Magic tomatoes.

And the Black Plum tomatoes. Combined they weighed a little over 8 pounds, enough for 7 pints.

I picked a number of Better Boy and Pink Girl slicers. Rather than show the individual tomatoes, here's a photo of the Pink Girl plant, laden with ripe fruit.

Later in the week, more beans, okra, summer squash and a Bride eggplant.  The eggplant is nearly finished, overtaken by disease.  The Lavendar Touch eggplant was removed a few days ago.

More Millionaire okra.  Another picking today and I can make some pickled okra and peppers.

More beans.

Sunday was marinara canning day.  Most of the tomatoes came from the 2 cages of Plum Regal tomatoes.  This is an easy tomato to de-skin and process, and best of all the plants show no sign of blight or other disease.

A few Roma tomatoes and I had just over 12 pounds to make the sauce.  There's only 1 cage of Roma tomatoes but less than half as many as the Plum Regals, which are vastly more productive.

Deskinned and green cores removed.  It looks like a lot of tomatoes, but after cooking them down there was just barely enough to can 7 pints.  I draw the line at removing seeds, and anyway these tomatoes don't have that many seeds.

For the week I got 15 pounds of slicer and salad tomatoes, 12.8 pounds of sauce tomatoes, 5.8 pounds of snap beans, and lesser amounts of other good things, 40 pounds total.  To see what other gardeners are harvesting, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Ghost birds

Wood ducks are like phantoms.  They are here and suddenly they are gone.  They land in the water with hardly a sound, and as soon as they see me they take off.   I scared up these two and they landed again at the far end of the pond. 

Yesterday I spied a group of 8 when I was in the sunroom.  Like the blue herons, they can see my movement in the sunroom and will bolt if they do, so I have to move slowly.  These are all juveniles.  The males have not yet developed their mature plumage, that will be next spring.  There has never been a nesting pair on the pond, but for the last few years the juveniles have been hanging around here in late summer after they leave the mother.  It's not a very good picture, at the limits of the camera's zoom and through the window.

This morning they were back, but this time only 7.  They seem to have a good time dipping in the aquatic vegetation and feeding.  I finally had to go into the garden and off they went.  This winter I plan to put up a nest box at the upper end of the pond.  I love to watch them and it would be great to have a nesting pair in the pond.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Canning tomato sauces, observations and rants

Last Sunday I canned marinara sauce for the first time, using the boiling-water canning method.  Tuesday I canned a batch of salsa, a sauce that I've made numerous times.  As a former research chemist, I see a number of inconsistencies or just plain poor guidance in many of the established recipes.

First, just to touch on several points about boiling water canning:
  • Boiling water temperatures will kill all fungi, molds, and bacteria.  It will not kill bacterial spores, specifically botulin spores.
  • A high acid liquid will prevent those spores from germinating and multiplying.  For these purposes, high acid is a liquid with a pH of 4.6 or less (the lower the pH, the more acidic).  That's why you don't need to use a pressure cooker when canning high acid foods.
  • When it comes to acidity, tomatoes are on the cusp.  Most tomatoes have a pH less than 4.6, but a few do not.  The University of Illinois tested 55 varieties of tomatoes and found that 15 of them had a pH higher than 4.6.  The tomato pH depends on variety, ripeness, and many other factors.  Bottom line, you really shouldn't take a chance when canning tomatoes, the odds will eventually work against you.
The accepted guidelines for acidifying tomatoes is:  One TB of lemon juice per pint (Real Lemon, etc), or two TB of vinegar per pint.  The lemon juice is diluted to 4.5% citric acid, and the vinegar is standardized to 5% acetic acid.  Citric acid is a stronger acid than acetic acid, that's you don't need as much.  The salsa recipes that I have found usually call for more acidifier, often two TB per pint, and will caution you to never add any additional peppers, onions or spices.

I've come to the conclusion that so much lemon or lime juice is simply not necessary, and small changes in the recipe are not problematic.   Peppers and onions have some acidity, although not as much as tomatoes, so they really aren't going to change things that much. But the real reason not to worry is because the lemon juice that you add actually contains more acidity than the tomatoes, so small changes in the composition of the salsa will not affect it's pH much at all.  From the research that I've read, a recipe that calls for two TB per pint has so much margin of safety built in that you could use as much pepper and onion as you do tomato, and the salsa would still have a safe pH.

Then there's the question of whether you must use a standardized lemon juice like Real Lemon or if you can use, well, real lemons (or limes, which are the same acid-wise).  I used fresh lemons in the marinara and fresh limes in the salsa.  This blogger tested a number of lemons from the supermarket and found they all had an acid content of 4.5% or higher, most quite a bit higher.  It makes sense, because a company will dilute the product to a consistent acid percentage, all they have to do is add water.

So how much acidifier did I add?  For the marinara, a little bit more than one TB of lemon juice per pint.  For the salsa, 4 limes gave me 5 ounces of juice, or 10 TB for 7 pints, which works out to about 1.4 TB per pint.  My salsa gets a lot of peppers.  Over a pound of roasted sweet pepper was blended into the tomato base, and a pound of jalapenos were cut up and added, as well as a large onion, so a little extra acidifier can't hurt.  I put the lemon or lime juice straight into the simmering pot.  Citric acid is a crystalline solid and isn't going to boil off.  Vinegar is another matter, the smell will tell you that the acetic acid is boiling off, so it should be added directly into the jars.

If you are interested in taking a deeper dive into the acidity question, I wrote a post several years ago that does that.

Finally, a general gripe about the canning recipes available.  Most of the salsa recipes call for a processing time of 15 minutes for pints.  The recipes for tomato sauce or marinara sauce that I've found in the Ball Blue Book and other places call for a processing time of 35 minutes for pints.  Is there something I'm missing here?  Because both are basically pureed tomatoes, without skins, that are hot-packed into the jars.  One gets basil, the other gets peppers.  Has anyone even thought about why a marinara needs to be boiled twice as long, or have the guidelines just become accepted doctrine?  I processed both of them for 18 minutes.

8/20/17 - Right now I'm making some marinara sauce.  It started with 12 1/2 pounds of tomatoes.  After removing the skins and green cores that probably leaves about 11 pounds.  The tomatoes will be reduced by boiling by about 1/3, enough to make 7 pints, which is 7 pounds of sauce.  Boiling down the tomatoes concentrates the acids.  The predominant acids in tomatoes are citric and malonic, both of which are solids.  They won't boil away.  In short, boiling down the tomatoes concentrates the acidity.  This is another factor that hasn't been investigated to my knowledge, at least there is no mention of this in the canning guidelines that I have seen.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday August 14

The word of the week is tomatoes, lots of 'em, and then there's doing something with all those tomatoes.  Early last week I picked some nice Better Boy and Pink Girl slicers.  Since there were more on the windowsill,  I gave these away.

Then it was time to pick the sauce tomatoes.  Actually they weren't as ripe as I like, but an animal of some sort was damaging the fruits in low-hanging clusters, so I picked them and set them in the sunroom for a few days.  It left it's teeth marks in this one.  Maybe an opossum or raccoon?

Most of the sauce tomatoes are Plum Regal, with a few Roma VF on top of the pile.  I grew the Plum Regal because it is supposed to be blight resistant.  It's also very productive.   I read some taste tests on the internet that weren't very positive, but I think it's a decent flavored tomato, with a good bite that tells me it's high in acid, a good thing for a canning tomato.  There's about 12 pounds here:

Sunday I canned marinara sauce for the first time.  I used about 10 pounds of tomatoes, thinking that was plenty for 7 pints of sauce, which is what will fit in the boiling water canner.  Well it only filled 6 pints.  To get the sauce to the right consistency, a lot of water has to be boiled away. 

A few beans were picked, about a pound and a half in small pickings over last week.  The good news is that the beans are on the rebound from the Japanese beetles.  This morning I picked a nice batch of Providers and Musica, which will go on next week's total.

And yes I'm getting zucchini again after a month's absence. This is the second one from this plant.  All this went into a stir fry.

To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Status report - August

It's getting late into summer, and I'm seeing the usual assortment of things doing well and other things in decline.   I think this is the time when a lot of people, seeing a vegetable garden that looks more ragged than green, throw up their hands and walk away, maybe collecting the remaining tomatoes.  However with some maintenance the garden can continue producing for several months.  Today I walked around the beds and snapped some photos to show what's going on.

The strawberry pallet planter.  For a while the deer were sneaking in from a side where they never had ventured in the past, walking between the deck and the pond to get to the strawberries.  Thank goodness that has stopped and the plants are looking better, although not robust.  Now I have to think about how to protect them over the winter.

The second zucchini plant.  The squash bugs have found it and today I removed spent foliage that was thick with the nasty little critters.  I'm not a huge fan of summer squash, but I like to have some.  The first plant produced a few squash and died.  I planted this one on June 17 and it has given me one squash so far.   Next year I will definitely plant a heirloom squash like Cocozelle.

The Victoria rhubarb, planted this spring.  It got huge, 4 foot across, but after the hailstorm it was never the same, and the leaves are dying soon after they are set.  I'm hoping it shrugs this off.

Parsnip seems to be doing well.  This is either Javelin or Lancer, can't remember.

After the last of the sweet corn was picked, I cut it off at the base to clear the way for the winter squash.  I've had a lot of problems with winter squash this year and it's off to a late start, but finally it seems to be growing and setting squash.  It takes about 2 months for a squash to mature after it is set, so there should be time to make some squash.  It looks like they have shaken off the bacterial wilt.  It's great to walk by the squash in the morning and hear the sound of bumblebees.

Raspberries.  We'll what can I say.  They contracted fungal diseases last year so I cut them down to the ground last autumn.  The Autumn Bliss on the right appears to be recovering but the Caroline plants are not doing so well.  There will be a few berries to snack on while I'm out in the garden, but no desserts.

Pole beans.  They were hit hard by Japanese beetles this year, especially at the top of the trellis.  The worst of the onslaught appears to be over.  The Musica beans on the right appear to be recovering better than the Fortex.   I'm hoping to be 'back in beans' again very soon.

The pickling cucumbers look to be finished, but the lone slicing cucumber I planted late is still trying, bless its little cucumber heart.  Burpee's Burpless, I believe.  It has set one cuke which looks a little misshapen and a bit under the weather.  On end of the bed are 2 rows of bush beans that have just come up.

Finally, the tomatoes and peppers.  This morning I removed about a wheelbarrow load of foliage from the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and zucchini.  Mostly from the tomatoes, just to remove spent foliage and suckers and allow more air to circulate.  I can't tell that I've done anything - it's still a jungle in there. It's getting so thick on the pepper side of the bed that I have to crawl on my hands and knees to find peppers.  I really shouldn't complain.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Monday August 17

It's been a very good week in the bean patch.  With the exception of the pole beans, which have experienced a slow down, most everything is doing very well.  After a number of very bad years for tomatoes, this year is proving exceptional.  I harvested these Pink Girl slicers before they were fully ripe.  An animal, most likely a rabbit, had gnawed at the lowest tomato on the vine, so I picked the 'low hanging fruit' and put them in the windowsill.  The tomato on the right is a small Better Boy.

The burlap bag with Kennebec potatoes was emptied.  Not a great yield but the quality is good.  Best of all, no vole damage!

After drying in the sun for nearly 2 weeks, the Pontiac onions were ready to take inside.  Next year I'll have to seed more since the seedlings did not transplant well into the beds.  And I'll definitely have to grow the Red Tropea onions again.

It's also a great year for eggplant and I've been looking for ways to use the bonanza.  I've been making eggplant omelettes (eggplant with eggs) and found they are very tasty in the morning.  The Bride eggplants, being long and thin, work perfectly.  I peel the skin, slice them in half lengthwise and cook them in a covered pan until soft.  The sliced eggplant is placed on the omelette after the eggs set up, then the whole thing is folded and flipped.  A garnish of chive, okra or sweet pepper and the day starts off nicely.  

The Silver Queen sweet corn ripened last week, and Friday I picked a batch for freezing.  The ears are not as nice as Bodacious, and it's not a sugar enhanced corn but it's still very good.  This is my first year growing sweet corn, and it seems to me that the Silver Queen has a bizarre growth habit of sending up secondary stalks from the base of the plant.  These stalks try to form an ear but don't succeed in making a fully formed ear of corn.  The small ears on the right were deemed not suitable for freezing and targeted for immediate consumption.

The 'backup' summer squash that was seeded in mid-June produced it's first squash.  The first plant was lost after a few squash were picked, and it's nice to be 'back in the squash' again.  Next to the squash are a Bride eggplant, Millionaire okra and a sprig of Genovese basil.  The squash is a mystery squash, supposed to be an Italian squash like Cocozelle but looks more like a modern F1 hybrid.

All of the above went into an Italian vegetable stir-fry in the Breville wok.  The cubed squash and Andouille sausage get about a 5 minute head start, then the eggplant, sliced onion, okra, basil, oregano and thyme are added and sauteed at medium-high heat until softened.  A sliced paste tomato is added and stirred for another minute or 2, the heat is turned off and the whole affair is sprinkled with grated Parmesan.

Sunday was salsa-making day.  First I rounded up the peppers from the garden.  On the left are the mystery peppers, which were supposed to be hot Bulgarian Carrot peppers but are actually sweet peppers.  At the top of the picture are 2 Carmen peppers, and just below them are 3 Magyar paprika peppers.  At the bottom are Jalapeno and ripe Fish peppers.  (I really need to refinish the grill stand this winter).

Since it was looking like a shortage of hot peppers I went to the Bloomington farmers market on Saturday and picked up some jalapeno peppers and a few habanero peppers, in case they were needed.  The jalapenos that I bought are jumbo-sized, something I'm a bit leary of in the vegetable world.   I found their heat a bit lacking, so I grilled them along with the sweet peppers, in the hopes that the steam generated inside the peppers would extract the heat from the seeds into the surrounding meat.  The hot peppers from the garden were cut up fresh and put in the salsa. 

I usually grill the sweet peppers and, after deskinning and deseeding, add the pepper flesh to the tomatoes and blend.  I've found it makes a richer tasting salsa.

The tomatoes were gathered up.  These are the Mountain Magic and Black Plum tomatoes, almost 6 pounds.

Also some Roma VF tomatoes, just over 2 pounds. 

After several hours of grilling, boiling, deskinning, deseeding, chopping, slicing and dicing I was rewarded with 7 pints of canned salsa plus 1 pint of refrigerator salsa (the canner can fit only 7 pints).  That seems like a lot of work.  And yes, I added a habanero to the sauce.  The heat seems about right but it's too early to know for sure.

Total for week 37.5 pounds:
Potatoes 2.7 pounds
Onions 10 pounds
Eggplant 1.3 pounds
Okra  0.3 pounds
Beans 0.7 pounds
Corn  7.1 pounds
Summer squash 1.1 pounds
Sweet peppers 1.5 pounds
Hot peppers 0.4 pounds
Slicer and salad tomatoes 9.9 pounds
Paste tomatoes 2.6 pounds

To see what other gardeners are getting, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.