Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pickled Green Tomato Relish

Even though the first frost is a couple of months away, near the end of October, and summer gardens are still producing pretty well, plenty of gardeners are looking ahead, toward the end of the summer growing season.

One of my gardening friends has begun to pass around his favorite recipe for Pickled Green Tomato Relish. It's a recipe that makes full use of all the small green tomatoes that make gardeners hesitate to pull out those old tomato plants. We all hate to waste any of our good, fresh food!

This is his favorite relish recipe, and he says it's good "on everything!" The instructions assume that the gardener is already pretty familiar with canning.

10 pounds small, hard, green tomatoes
4 red peppers
4 green peppers (can use all green, if red aren't available)
2 pounds onions
1/2 cup canning salt
1 qt. water
4 cups sugar
1 qt. vinegar (5%)
1/3 cup prepared mustard
2 Tablespoons cornstarch

Sterilize canning jars. Wash and coarsely grate or finely chop the tomatoes, peppers, and onions. Dissolve salt in water and pour over the veggies in a large saucepot.

Heat to boiling and simmer 5 minutes. Drain veggies and return to saucepot. Add sugar, vinegar, mustard, and cornstarch. Stir to mix. Heat to boiling and simmer 5 minutes.

Fill hot pint jars with hot relish, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.

The book this recipe came from was probably printed before the newer canning books came out (I only saw a copy of the page, not the actual book); I don't think I've ever processed any canned foods for as few as 5 minutes! For safety, I expect to process the jars for at least 10 minutes. Other gardeners, those more prudent than myself, may want to put the jars into a pressure-canner rather than just the boiling water bath.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Like the Energizer Bunny

The summer garden keeps going ...

In general, the harvests have become more manageable (the tomato avalanche has subsided), but we have been processing peppers pretty steadily. Right now, there is an assortment of red peppers, both sweet and hot, in the dehydrator that I plan to grind up for "paprika," and I am contemplating another round of pickled pepper rings from the Golden Greek peppers (that are not at all golden) below:

These Feherezon peppers have been producing well all summer:

This year, I remembered to fertilize the peppers again after the first flush of fruits had reached full size, and that may have helped the pepper harvest. If they are treated well and manage to avoid diseases, peppers will produce until frost.

Another summer veggie that will come to the kitchen soon is the Pigott Family Heirloom Cowpeas. This little crop had been planted in the spot from which we harvested potatoes earlier in the summer, and it seems to like that spot just fine. One of the great things about all the summer peas is that they are so easy to harvest - it's almost as though the plants are holding the peas out for you to pick!

The variety of foods coming into the kitchen isn't tremendous, but the flavor is, and we have earlier crops in the freezer (zucchini, collard greens, green beans) if we get tired of tomatoes, peppers, okra, and eggplants.

There is still chard in the garden, but it is struggling a bit in the heat, and I am thinking about cutting the tops off for compost and letting the tops regrow in what will hopefully be cooler weather in the coming weeks. There is also Malabar spinach, which I like well enough to snack on when I'm out in the yard (like purslane) but not well enough for a big serving as part of a meal.

The first melons are in the fridge (photo to come in a day or two), and the Heritage red raspberries have been ripening their late-summer crop that appears on the first-year canes.

Overall, I've had a surprisingly successful summer garden this year.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fall Garden Time

Last Wednesday evening, I gave a talk at the Mountainview Library (in Marietta) on starting the fall garden. I handed out a planting schedule, and I am pretty sure that many attendees were not all that happy to see that the time to start the fall garden is . . . now.

It doesn't help that this has been an unusually hot summer, but I when I see those "Christmas in July" fliers from the local crafts shops, I know it's time to get busy with the planning and soil preparation. To be honest, I am running a little behind.

Last weekend I started some seeds in the ground (Detroit Dark Red and Detroit Golden beets; winter radishes -- an assortment), and I also started a flat of seedlings to transplant to the garden when more spaces open up and the temperature outside has moderated a bit. I took the flat to the talk with me as a "visual aid."

I planted the seeds on Sunday afternoon, and then I set the flat on a shelf in the dining room. In summer, when it is SO VERY HOT outside, I get better germination if the flat starts out indoors. However, I left it inside one day too long. On Tuesday evening when I got home from work, I could see that some seedlings had emerged and were already taller than they should be!

I hustled the flat right out of the house and into the garden, where it now resides under some tulle - to protect it from insects. The above photo is from Wednesday, and the too-tall seedlings are pretty obvious. Since then, those have fleshed out enough that they don't look so strange, and a lot of other seedlings have come up.

This is what I put in the flat: Bloomsdale spinach, Detroit Dark Red beets (as back-ups for the ones started outside), Marvel of Four Seasons lettuce, Capitan lettuce, Bronze Arrow lettuce, Georgia collards, Red Russian kale, China Choy bok choy, Pan du Zucchero chicory, and Perpetual Spinach chard.

Today, I prepared the bed that the carrots will go in. I was going to plant them, but it looks like we will be getting some serious rain in the next 24 hours, and I don't want the little seeds to wash away.

I'll start more lettuces and spinach in a couple of weeks, when I plant the first "regular" radishes (probably French Breakfast).

Meanwhile, the summer veggies are still coming in. I pulled out the cucumber plants today, because they looked absolutely terrible, so this is the last of the cucumbers. They've been coming to the table for a month now, though, so I can't complain. They've been great!

Most of those tomatoes and a couple of the peppers went into a pizza sauce. The rest went into the dehydrator. The okra were promptly fried and eaten. I only planted six okra plants this year, and they are producing just enough to be a real treat. Of course, they will produce through most of October, so there is a chance that we will get tired of them at some point - but that's hard to imagine right now.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Unwelcome Guest

Plenty of people have mentioned to me this year that their gardens had been host to one or more tomato hornworms, but my garden had managed to miss those quite large pests until, apparently, the last day or two. I didn't notice it until today, but here one is:

What's really funny is that I didn't even see the four-inch caterpillar at first. You'd think a critter this large would be totally obvious, but the way it's lined up with the stem, and exactly the same color as the stem, helps keep it hidden.

Instead, what I noticed first was the big black balls of frass on some leaves. Then, knowing there had to be a caterpillar around somewhere, I looked more closely at the plant and figured out that a whole lot of leaves had gone missing. It took another minute or two of searching to spot the big, squishy culprit.

So far, I think there's only this one tomato hornworm, so I am going to leave it alone for the rest of the day and wait to see what happens. If all goes well, a brachonid wasp will find it and lay eggs on it, and I won't have to do anything. When the baby wasps hatch out, they'll eat the caterpillar and that will be the end of that. If no wasp shows up soon, though, I'll remove the caterpillar to prevent the total demolition of my pepper-patch.

Elsewhere in the garden, things are chugging along just fine. The husks on some of the ears of popcorn have dried, which means those ears are pretty much done, so I've picked those. Other ears of corn are still very green, but in a couple of weeks they'll be ready to bring in, too. Last year, I waited to harvest the popcorn until almost all the ears were covered in brown husks (dry), but a few ears had begun to mold. I don't want that to happen - it's a very small crop - which is why I'm bringing the ears in as they seem ready.

This year's popcorn is supposed to be red, but not all of the ears are. Some are dark red, some are kind of orange, and one that I brought in is sunflower-yellow. It's a beautiful mix!

I'm beginning to work on the fall garden today, but I realized that it actually was begun a couple of months ago, when I planted the parsnips. It's hard to find room for these when all the summer crops are going into the garden, but in January, when I want to add variety to the roasted root veggies, I'll be glad that I did.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Beginning Before the Ending

Even though the summer crops are still coming in (in a big way!), it's time to get moving on the fall crops. I'm hoping to get a flat of seedlings started on Friday; meanwhile, we are still in the "avalanche time" as far as tomatoes are concerned.

And when the first five plants quit pelting us with fruit, the next set of plants should begin. Little green tomatoes are beginning to form on the plants that I set out in early July.

In the side yard, the Great Melon Experiment is coming along pretty well. These plants were grown from seeds saved from fruits that grew last year on hybrid plants. The plan is to save seeds from the best resulting melons this year, and next year, and so on, until I have a great little canary melon for my yard that breeds true.

In all that vegetation, it's hard to see the melons, but they are in there. Interestingly, not all the vines produced fruit. A thorough poking-about has turned up only about eight melons. Some of these look exactly like their parent-melons, but some seem to be ripening a little differently. Flavor is the real test, though, so I won't know which seeds to save for next year until I crack open the ripe fruits. These got a late start, but the first melon should be ready within a couple of weeks.

This little patch of my favorite crowder peas was put in after the potatoes came out. These will be making peas for us into the early fall, so this part of the garden won't get any fall veggies for a while.

I have left a few bare spots in the garden, for example, when the first cucumbers came out. These will be directly seeded with fall veggies (probably beets and carrots).

The other cucumbers will be done soon, and the melons have only another two or three weeks. The early tomatoes may give out in that time-frame, and the husks on the popcorn are beginning to dry, so those spaces may be cleared soon, too. All those areas are fair game for fall crops. Having seeds started in trays or those little jiffy pellets (if I have any left from spring) to transplant into those spaces will help me get the most out of the garden. That's the plan, anyway.
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