red glut

The garden looks pretty naked now; just a giant zucchini plant that I really don’t need and some peppers that taunt me with impossibly immature fruits.

But what’s different for me this year is having tomato plants that are still kicking out in mid-September. Something about having a decent tomato crop makes all of the year’s other gardening mistakes recede into irrelevancy.

I really don’t want any more tomatoes. They’re coming out our rears and ears. But it’s so much fun just looking at them in September and hoping that they’re here because of something that I did.

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If I were to wish for a glut of anything it would be, in this order: 1. Tomatoes, 2. Sweet corn, and 3. Raspberries.

Two out of three, high fives all around.

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winding down

The end of summer isn’t a time, it’s a process. Plants die off slowly, leaving harvest to stretch out over a period of weeks.

Although I’ve pulled two tomato plants and have a couple more on their last legs, there are still three or four producing. We’ve canned two batches of salsa, some whole tomatoes, and made tomato sauce. Now the shelf space is all used up, and the freezer is getting difficult to navigate.

yet another weirdly big Amish Paste tomato to be used for next year's seed

Another weirdly big Amish Paste tomato to be used for next year’s seed

But I have trouble not putting produce to good use, so yesterday I made a final (?) batch of salsa for freezing, just for me, with plenty of hot peppers. Since the pantry wasn’t an option, I decided to freeze the salsa, first in ice cube trays, then putting the hot salsa cubes into freezer bags. Makes it simple to take out just the amount I need at supper time.

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I just hope there’s still room in there for ice cream.

With gardening winding down, it seemed like a good time to take care of another project that’s been on the to-do list; a couple of drying rods in my grow closet.

In the past, our drying produce has hung in the barn, which isn’t ideal. It’s damp in there, and I always feel like I’m luring rodents to a feast.

With a couple of lengths of PVC left over from the chicken tractor build and a couple of pieces of scrap wood, it was done.

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It’ll be easy to remove the rods if they get in the way, and there’s plenty of rack space for my needs. The only possible hitch might be the lack of air movement, but we’ll see.

underwhelming potatoes and more

It’s not complaining, I swear to you. Just trying to present reality.

Yesterday was potato harvest day. The spuds were meh. Yukon gold stock bought at the local nursery. They were ok, not rotting or anything like that…just small.

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I can tell you that I honestly don’t have a clue why. And I’m not going to over-analyze. Time to move on to next year.

I also tried a new variety of sweet corn purported to be the rage in Japan, and rated the best-tasting sweet corn by some long-forgotten internet comparison. Mini Mirai.

It was indeed really good. Sweet, tender, crunchy, with tightly-spaced, even kernels. Unfortunately the ears were small. Mini. Disappointed again. My standby sweet corn, Avalon, is still (in my book) as good as it gets, with a lot more to show for each ear. But I believe there’s a non-mini variety of Mirai, and I’ll give that a shot in next year’s garden. (…it looks bigger in the photo than in real life)

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So you take the bad with the good, that little nag in the back of your mind telling you that nature could crush you if she wanted, or make you a king if she’s in a good mood. And sometimes things work out.

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late summer garden

My Dad always said ‘Self-brag stinks’. It’s ingrained in my brain. But when it comes to kids, grandkids and gardens, sorry Dad.

My tomatoes make me happy. Well actually they make me happy this year, and not a whole lot of others. Weather is half of the equation or more. But I like to think that dweeby attention to caring for them is part of it. Smile for the camera…

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They went in late this year, and maybe that’s part of it too. Who knows? I’ll take it.

If you’ve ever doubted that compost works, don’t. My single zucchini was planted where last year’s compost piles sat.

That’s this year’s 3′ by 3′ compost bins sitting next to it.

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And finally, before I threw in the towel on my downy mildew-ravaged pickling cucumber vines, they surprised me with enough cukes to make one more batch of pickles.

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seed saving for the forgetful

I’m pretty new at seed-saving, with just a couple of years’ experience. The tomatoes I grew from last year’s seeds have worked out great. But I can see where a catch might develop.

It’s my memory. I’m pretty sure that the tomato seeds I chose to save from last year were from bigger tomatoes than most that I’ve harvested this year (so far). The crop as a whole wasn’t exceptional last season, but there were some beautiful individual specimens.

Is my memory of those specimens reality or wishful imagination?

There’s a sure way to take guesswork out of the equation; facts.

I didn’t grow Amish Paste tomatoes last year, so I’ll definitely be saving seeds from that variety. My thought is that I want an accurate accounting of my parent stock, so why not take a picture? And one picture might not show the true size and shape, so I’m going with tomato mugshots…

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I printed them out on regular paper at 5% of actual size, just right for the little homemade seed pack.

Those, along with the tomato’s weight and harvest date on the seed packet should take my memory out of the equation. I usually save my tomato seeds for a few years, and I’m hoping that this will make it easier to judge when to replenish the seed stock.

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the rewards

I’m pretty happy. Somehow the sad, downy mildew-ed pickling cucumber vines stayed alive long enough to produce another batch of cucumbers.

So yesterday morning I grabbed the cukes, dill, garlic, grapevine leaves and jalapeños form the garden and knocked out a few jars of hot dill spears. I cherish these pickles in the dead of winter. Hot and crunchy and full of vavoom on a cold, snowy night.

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Next, on to a good way to make use of the glut of fresh eggs coming our way from the happy hens. I’ve never eaten, let alone made, pickled eggs. But they sound interesting. The recipe calls for adding canned beets to the boiled eggs, vinegar and spices. I don’t think I like beets, so this is a leap of faith. Who knows? Maybe there’ll be beets in the garden next year.

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I think the very best way to put off processing tomatoes is to core them and put them in a ziplock bag in the freezer. That way there’s no pressure to act before they rot. After they thaw they’re easy to peel, and still plenty fresh. And you don’t have to cook every time a new flush of ripe tomatoes comes in.

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The first buckwheat cover crop that I planted is blossoming, so that means it’s time to turn it into green manure. Thought I’d try it the easy way this time. Out came the chicken tiller.

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They did a fair job, but they need to work on technique. You don’t just eat the good parts, girls. It probably defeats the purpose of green manure to swap it for real manure. Maybe not. I’ll need to think about that one.

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now the good news

After yesterday’s waaahh-fest about pitiful me and the downy mildew slaughter of cucumbers, it seems like a brighter story is in order.

Most gardens turn out to be mixtures of failure, partial successes, and whoopee.

For me the whoopee this year comes from the tomatoes. It’s been work, but so far so good.

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The two shorter plants in the center of the picture aren’t actually that short. They’re my favorites: the Cherokee Purples. Before I had noticed what was happening, the plants had sagged a little more each day in their cages due to the weight of the tomatoes and the fact that I’d trimmed away most of their lower vine support.

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Cherokee Purple dead weight

I could try to pull them back up, but I’ve done that in the past, and only ended up injuring the vines. They’re doing fine as is.

It’s never wise to assert absolutes in gardening, so I’ll just say that this year, in this garden, I believe that religiously trimming off branches with leaves that show discoloration has worked fabulously to keep diseases in check.

Knock wood.

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German Johnsons almost there

And the second planting of sweet corn is in…

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Which means time for the freezer…

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And visions of happy people around the Thanksgiving table.