Canning Tomatoes

Maters Ready for Inspection, Sir!

Time for the yearly canning update. Get busy! Life is short and Tomatoes are sweet, so can ye tomatoes while ye may.

First note–last year’s crop of canning lids were mediocre, so we switched from the usual hot water bath canning method, to pressure canning. Zero failures since then. If you don’t have a pressure canner, just double the time the jars of maters swim in the hot water.

If you’re lucky, somebody gave you something like this, or you know someone you can borrow one from. Ours only comes out of hibernation a few times a year.

Old School

The Mirro-matic was designed to process enough food for an entire family, and this one did–just not for our family. A former co-worker of mine had all of his children grow up, and off to college, and he just wanted to get rid of this beast. As the only farm boy he knew, I was the obvious heir apparent.

We will probably can only quart jars tomorrow, to speed up things and conserve on the number of lids we have. US made lids are just now coming back on the market, and none are available locally. There is a good deal on Amazon for some, and an order is forthcoming. It should be just enough money to get space cadet Bezos an extra 1/4 inch into outer space.

Amish Made Berry Basket

Blueberry Muffins for Breakfast this Week

It’s always a pleasure to know where a product or ingredient comes from–I think it’s called accountability. Not only did this come from the Amish region of Ohio, but its maker was proud enough to sign his name to the basket–a Mr. Jonas Miller. We liked this so much we bought a matching piece to use on the center of our dining room table.

The uprights of the basket are nailed to a solid wood bottom with brass nails. Then the splints are used to shape the piece.The top is a piece of woven Raffia sandwiched between to splints. The belt loops are made of some very nice leather.

We purchased these from the best of the old school hardware stores, Lehman’s in Ohio, which was originally founded to serve the Amish community. If it isn’t top quality, Lehman’s will not sell it.

This basket is in for a long hot summer, as this was only the first picking from our eight Blueberry bushes. We leave some berries for our winged friends, and throw some to the chickens. There is no better way to start a chicken riot than to throw ripe blueberries into the chicken run.

First New Tomatoes of the Season

We were hoping to have fresh tomatoes by Memorial Day, but tomatoes live on a schedule of their own. However, we now have three good sized tomatoes–that cutting board is 12″ by 12″. The variety is Champion, one I have never grown before.

Champion is a slicing tomato meant for sandwiches, but we eat tomato slices with just salt on them, as a dinner side dish. A sandwich without the bread, if you will.

One tomato trial found this to be the second highest yielding variety on the market, producing up to eight pounds of maters per plant. With as much rain as we have had, my hopes are raised. Essentially, 4.5″ in six days. Naturally, more is on the way for tomorrow.

As Mark Twain said, “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.” How true.

Outdoor Kitchen, Part Two–Magnolias and Moonlight

An outdoor kitchen dedicated to the natural world and natural materials needs a specimen plant. My philosophy of the whole enterprise is go big or go home. That’s why I chose Big Leaf Magnolia for the role, the Latin name being Magnolia macrophylla.

With leaves up to 36 inches long, and flowers up to 14 inches wide, this is about as impressive a deciduous tree as there is. It will occasionally get as tall as 70 feet. The range is from DC to Texas, though there is a subspecies found in NE Mexico. The densest population of these trees is in Alabama and Mississippi.

This angle gives a better idea of the magnitude of the leaves. This is still a young tree that has not bloomed yet, and when it will is a known unknown. I can never resist a reference to Rummy Rumsfeld.

Bellflower, Leatherflower–Two Native Vines

Relocated Texan

A hort cliche is that there are “much neglected” plants, to which I say–good. The native clematis species fit this category perfectly. More than a few are not even available commercially.

This red guy, Clematis texensis, is one pricey unit, if you can even find one available. I swapped for this plant with a nursery owner in Texas, and now have a whole jar of seeds. It’s hardy and a beauty. In return, I sent her–

A Garden City Native

Clematis reticulata isn’t particularly rare, but is rarely sold. We have a few hundred of them, all growing wild. In fact the phenotype, or original sample that the species was described from, came from where we live in Garden City. We have so many I have even stopped collecting seed for these.

In short, if these plants can grow in the sandpile we live on, they will grow in most places. The hardest part is just finding them.

May Day Breakfast with New Taters, Homegrown Eggs, and Leftovers

Let’s Eat!

We started off International Worker’s Day the right way, with our once every weekend Farmer’s Omelette. We had to celebrate the needs of workers to conserve every penny, so we made this partly with leftovers, although they were no ordinary leftovers. Having grown up on what we call a “dirt farm,” I know how to use a leftover.

The Base

Heaviest Skillet available

1 slice good Bacon (preferably organic)

New Taters, Precious

Just Enough Time to Wash off the Dirt

First, cook the slice of bacon. The real purpose of this is to render out the fat needed to fry the taters. I like to add some olive oil for extra flavor, if needed. These little gems didn’t need any. The Yukon Golds were so tender I didn’t even peel them. Naturally, I had planted them in composted chicken manure to begin with.

Fry the taters until practically done, and chop the bacon. Turn the oven on to 400 F. Time for the magic leftovers.

Leftovers

Grilled organic Onions

Grilled organic cherry Tomatoes

Chicken kabobs on Friday night, grilled over hardwood charcoal. It was all too good, and had those two left over. The Florida Maters were halved, and the onions diced. They just needed to be warmed, so I threw them in with the chopped bacon. Then came the money shot.

Eggs

Homegrown Eggs

Our chickens are getting fat and happy, and we had nine eggs on two days each last month–and we only have eight hens. Currently we are feeding about five families with our eggs. The birds will without doubt be demanding overtime feed soon.

Cook the eggs over-easy style in the oven, but without turning them over. Watch this like a chicken on lookout for a hawk, and take out while the yolk is still runny. This is more than enough to feed the two of us, plus a snack for our two dogs. They especially like the taters.

Going Fruity While Rusticated

Not Just Another Evergreen Azalea

Being rusticated has its perquisites. In my case, its twenty less hours travel time a week, to do what I will. I have been buying fruit trees, and turning a good part of our garden into a mini-orchard.

New Plants–

Apple “Honey Crisp.” I love these apples, so I bought two. They are about to break dormancy now, as they came from the frozen northland of Michigan.

Cherry “Dwarf Lapin.” We had a great cherry tree when I was a child, and there is nothing better than a fresh cherry–except for good cherry preserves. I bought two, and wish I had bought more. Bring out the biscuits!

Fig “Olympia.” Either a fig from Washington state, or a plant named after one of my favorite opera characters, Olympia, from Les Contes d’Hoffman, or The Tales of Hoffman. Olympia is an automata, or really a life sized wind up doll, but Hoffman falls in love with her anyway, as he is wearing rose colored glasses. The youtube video of the soprano Natalie Dessay singing this role is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. I bought one, fig, that is, not a Natalie.

Fig “Violette de Bordeaux.” One of these also. Alleged to be the best tasting fig. It will have to fight it out with the cherries, as to which one makes the best preserves. Bring out more biscuits! Melanie Jane made me stop calling this violette de bordello.

Olive “Arbequina.” Crossing the border into Spain now, this cold hardy olive has become a hot item in this part of the South. A local nursery has a grove of them, and gives classes about their cultivation. These will stay in containers for at least a year. We have three.

The random evergreen azalea in the picture is not a hybrid, but a species plant from Taiwan. All our other azaleas are native species.

We also have three Hass avocado seedlings, and three Meyer lemon cuttings. Those will have to remain in containers for the rest of their natural lives.

Being fruity has its own benefits.

Fröhliche Fruhling Zeit! Happy Spring! Joyeux Printemps!

Taters, Precious

The Ruby Throated Hummingbirds are back, from their winter vacation. Though we will probably have one of our notorious late frosts, I’m prepared for it. Floating row covers are arriving today.

Our dilapidated, abandoned, old garden is suddenly back to life. It still looks like a landfill, with my cardboard box mulch, but we have had two things–enough rain, and endless amounts of chicken manure. Add those two together, and you end up with taters like those in the above picture. They are now on a diet of fish emulsion fertilizer.

Pasta Time

Forty something garlic plants should do us for a while. And then there is their cousin.

Elephant Garlic

This is not really a garlic, but the bulb just tastes like one. It is a sub-species of the garden leek, and grows like mad. Many of these were volunteer plants. Now for something completely different.

Asparagus Galore

Fifty something shoots of asparagus from about as many crowns. I know there are more coming. If they freeze to the ground, they will just re-sprout. It has happened before.

Almost eighty degrees today, and freezing temps forecast for Thursday night. Over eleven inches of rain so far this month, with more coming tomorrow. Just another typical Appalachian Spring.

One Weird Trick for Growing More Taters, Precious

A Weird Trick Tater

I really could not resist that clickbait headline, but, as usual, I have to de-bunk the gardening experts on the interwebs, who say that you absolutely have to buy certified seed taters, instead of supermarket ones. The trick is knowing what supermarket taters to buy.

It’s really only simple science. Standard commercially grown potatoes are sprayed with a growth retardant to prolong shelf life, namely isopropyl N-(3-chlorophenyl) carbamate (CIPC also referred as chlorpropham). It’s actually a herbicide that was introduced in 1951. Pass me the herbicide coated spuds, mom.

No thanks. Certified organic taters sprout like crazy, as in the one pictured above. I took that photo this morning. The only tricks are good soil, compost, and plenty of water–try 9.8″ of rain in the past ten days. In other words, good growing techniques.

You can also Save a Few of those Taters as Seed

This strapping young plant grew from a foot long sprout from a supermarket potato I planted last year. Eight plants came up from a single sprout. Nothing beats free organic taters.

Spargelzeit (Asparagus Time)

Maybe free Asparagus does. This one year plant came from some nice crowns I just bought. All it has to do is get fat and happy over the next couple of years.

I really should get rid of all those bi-colored wild violets in the patch, but they’re blooming now. I guess I’m just a sucker for a pretty flower, and possibly for a pretty face.

Great Garden Poems, Part Three–The Mower against Gardens, by Andrew Marvell

This poem by Marvell is not as famous as the one about the “vegetable love” he had for his coy mistress, but it puts formal gardens in their place. That would be last in line.

The Mower against Gardens

BY ANDREW MARVELL

Luxurious man, to bring his vice in use,
Did after him the world seduce,
And from the fields the flowers and plants allure,
Where nature was most plain and pure.
He first enclosed within the gardens square
A dead and standing pool of air,
And a more luscious earth for them did knead,
Which stupified them while it fed.
The pink grew then as double as his mind;
The nutriment did change the kind.
With strange perfumes he did the roses taint,
And flowers themselves were taught to paint.
The tulip, white, did for complexion seek,
And learned to interline its cheek:
Its onion root they then so high did hold,
That one was for a meadow sold.
Another world was searched, through oceans new,
To find the Marvel of Peru.
And yet these rarities might be allowed
To man, that sovereign thing and proud,
Had he not dealt between the bark and tree,
Forbidden mixtures there to see.
No plant now knew the stock from which it came;
He grafts upon the wild the tame:
That th’ uncertain and adulterate fruit
Might put the palate in dispute.
His green seraglio has its eunuchs too,
Lest any tyrant him outdo.
And in the cherry he does nature vex,
To procreate without a sex.
’Tis all enforced, the fountain and the grot,
While the sweet fields do lie forgot:
Where willing nature does to all dispense
A wild and fragrant innocence:
And fauns and fairies do the meadows till,
More by their presence than their skill.
Their statues, polished by some ancient hand,
May to adorn the gardens stand:
But howsoe’er the figures do excel,
The gods themselves with us do dwell.

Now that is how you end a poem.