One. Last. Time…

Old Timers around my part of the country refer to what is called “Good Friday Gardens”  because they never put out warm season crops such as tomatoes before Good Friday- the Friday before Easter Sunday.  Here is why- 9 times out of 10 we will get a freeze or at least very close to freezing the week or so before Easter.

As I write this the temperature is falling and we are looking at the mid-thirties overnight.  So long as we stay above freezing the vast majortiy of our plants will be just fine.  Quite a few won’t even care if we dip below freezing.  However; tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, Basil and other such warm season crops do mind very much if we get into the thirties at all.  So, we have been covering what is already planted and wrapping up those items that have already blossomed and are putting on fruit.

sierra in the garden covering squash

The squash plants were covered in plastic pots with plastic staked over the top so this confounded wind doesn’t blow them to kingdom come.

jonathan in the garden covering peach trees

Jonathan is working to stabilize the frame he and Tony built to protect the peach trees.

family covering peach trees

A farm requires a family to pull together.  Covering our crops and praying that the temps hold above freezing.  The white rectangle is covering the tomato patch.

sierra covering tomatoes

Sierra helped me put pots over all the 50 tomato plants and 20 Basil plants.  There are three times as many tomato plants to go out, but those are still safe inside the greenhouse.

tony and J covering peaches

My two favorite men.

peach tree covered

Here is our harvester peach tree all tucked in for the night.  The cold weather won’t kill the tree but we are concerned about damage to the young fruit growing on the little limbs.  We are just to close to the end of all this cold weather to leave it to chance.  We are determined to get a peach this year!

Once this was done, we all trooped inside for hot chocolate and a wonderful meal of sauteed Swiss Chard, mushrooms, bacon and eggs.

swiss chard, mushrooms and eggs

swiss chard from the garden

Swiss Chard is a beautiful crop and one we did not have to cover as it doesn’t mind the cold.

So, here we go just one last time.  Easter comes this Sunday and this winter will just be a memory.

Selling On Saturday

This Saturday began with an unusual event- I woke up before the alarm went off @ 4:50 am.  Usually, the alarm sounds and I feel bad for Tony being the one to get up and go to work.  Then the realization sets in that in fact it is I who must get up and get going.  I always enjoy my time at the market, I just don’t enjoy getting up at 5 am.  I know, for some of my fellow farmers and homesteaders, this is a daily time to rise.  But around here, our animals are trained not to even look for feeding until about 9 am.  I am usually up and about by 6:30 am but the feeding is done by the farm kids and they don’t rise nearly so early.

It was a good market at the White Rock Local Market, our weekly Saturday venue.  So many good folks come out to find real food and support local farmers.  Plant sales, as to be expected, are slow at this time.  Thankfully, the gardens are giving us lots of fresh cut herbs and extra produce to sell.  Any cut herbs that don’t sell are hung on the racks to dry and then to be sold as teas or seasoning.

I intended to take more photos of the market, but alas, I was busy or I was talking to my neighbors that I really like.  Maybe I will do better next week…

market july 20 2013Bell Peppers, Illini Gold Tomatoes, Tender Grey Zucchini, Yellow Crookneck Squash, Muncher Cucumbers, Sweet Banana Peppers, Matt’s Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, Lemon Verbena, Tulsi, Sage, Thyme, Garden Sorrel,  Lemon Basil, Salad Burnett were the produce taken and sold.

 

For the love of Salsa!

This is a post from the archives, but Cheyenne made a batch of salsa yesterday and she just nailed it.  That Salsa is so good, it needed to be shared again!

 

Me & Cheyenne (drinking bubbly apple juice)
Cheyenne and I share a lot of things.  For instance, neither one of us can hide our feelings very well, what we think is telegraphed on our faces, we love taking care of our animals, we are strong willed, and we love babies.  Also, we share a love of really good Salsa.  Mexican food makes us happy and we like a little heat.  She is her mother’s daughter, with just enough of her daddy mixed in to mellow her out in a nice way.
She has been making some noise about needing to make salsa with our bountiful harvest of tomatoes.  Apparently, Cheyenne has not thought that using the tomatoes to make tomato sauce was a very wise use of those beautiful ‘maters.  A love of spaghetti is not something we share.  So, I surfed the internet for a recipe and found one that was simple and looked promising. And yesterday we got busy over some tomatoes, hot peppers, and cilantro.
The recipe was simple and we followed it up until we tasted the salsa, then we went to tinkering.  Cheyenne is really good about making notes as she improvises so we were able to recreate the same flavor this morning, as we already needed more.
Below is the recipe- our rendition, not the one from the internet.  Before putting everything in the food processor, we cored the tomatoes and scored the other ends and dropped them into boiling water for about a minute.  The tomatoes are in the boiling water just long enough for the skin to start to curl.  Then the peeling just slips off, chop the tomatoes roughly and toss in the processor.  The longer you run the food processor the finer the salsa, so if you like chunky then just pulse a few times.  Also, for thicker salsa use paste tomatoes such as roma or Illini Gold.
Cheyenne’s Fresh Salsa
2-3 medium tomatoes, stems and peelings removed (see above)
½  onion coarsely chopped
2- fish peppers seeds removed- unless you want to up the heat then leave the seeds in. (if you don’t have fish peppers, jalapeno or any other hot pepper will work.
Juice of one lime
1 cup cilantro
1 tsp salt (adjust to taste)
½ tsp of cumin
Put tomatoes, peppers & onions in food processor and pulse for about 2 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse till you are happy with the consistency.  Taste- if too hot add more tomatoes, if not hot enough, add more peppers.
Let set in the refrigerator for one hour to let the flavors blend- if you can wait that long, we just eat right out of the blender bowl.
ENJOY!

Snakes & Smoke & All Of That…

The morning dawned cold (for Texas) and I thought it would be so nice to start a fire in the wood burning stove so the kids could wake to a cozy family room and have a warm spot to cuddle by.  I am not sure what happened, but instead of being woke up gently with warmth from the stove the kids woke to the sound of the smoke alarm with the house filled with eye-stinging haze.  Then to clear the smoke we had to open the windows and turn on the ceiling fans.  For whatever reason the log in the stove refused to flame up but just kept smoking incesently.  The moment came when I looked at my kids and said,”Don’t ever do this” and then forced the very well lit and hot log out of the stove into a box which was then delivered to the burn pile where it smoked for hours.

So, began our day.  It was a good day, especially for Jonathan as we found three snakes during our gardening.  I personally hate snakes and have a crazy fear of them.  If you would like some laughs at my expense, you can read all about my fear of snakes on that link above.  The first two were baby snakes and nothing more than harmless garden snakes which are so good to have around that I leave them be.  You don’t have to worry about me killing a snake before I know what kind it is- I don’t stick around long enough to know.  I high-tail it out of wherever I am & the snake happens to be and yell for one of the kids.  Yes, you read that right I have my children do the snake killing.  I am the kind of mom that will lay down my own life for my children- until we meet a snake and then you are on your own.  Unless the child is still small enough for me to carry and then I run away with the child.

The third snake, however, was not so small.  Last week the young man who works for me dug holes for the Camellias I am planting along the fence.  Being such a full week I hadn’t had time to put those in the ground so I just dropped pot and all into the hole.  By dropping the pot and all into the hole it kept the wonderful rain from filling the hole back in before I could get the plant planted.  As it turns out, this also gave a good spot for a snake to take up residence.  I pulled the Camellia out, dropped it in my lap, pulled it our of its pot and tore up some of the roots.  I then leaned over the hole knocked some soil in and went to stick my hand in too.  Then I spotted him, coiled up in the hole hissing at me.  Glory Hallelujah I just about had a heart attack.

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I then called for Jonathan, my resident dragon slayer.  He got his 4-10 and blew the snake’s head off, J is a dynamite good shot.  I would have left the snake alive except that it was colored like a water moccasin and acting aggressive.  I understand the fear the snake was feeling- I was feeling the same way.  But, we couldn’t take a chance and J shot him dead.  Literally, he blew his head off and nothing more so then the snake became a homeschooling science project.  With the trusted field guide to North American reptiles, we determined that it was a yellow-bellied water snake- harmless except for the heart attack and self inflicted injury you incur while trying to get away.  As the kids dissected the snake they found a frog in its stomach.  The snake was then skinned and that skin pinned to a board to dry in the sun.  Jonathan could not understand why Sierra would not even think about letting him bring that into the room that they share.  It seems that smells do not bother 11 year old boys.  So, J will decorate his fort with the skin. Effie the Pig got the rest of the snake, as it turns out water snakes must not taste too good- she didn’t really like it.

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If you look close, you can see the frog on the ground at the end of J’ s knife.

As the boys and girl took the snake apart I got back to my work which was planting the Camellia and raking all the leaves and sweet gum balls up to use as mulch on my tomatoes.  There are about 30 tomato plants in the garden now and all of  them have a layer of cardboard mulch covered by a thick layer of leaves and compost.  Every time I raked and hit a stick which made leaves move I jumped.  Needless to say, I was a bit nervous for the rest of the day.  For all I knew, there could be another snake lurking about.

C, the young man who works for me, did great work putting in the brick edging for the knew path ways.  Now, the gardens in the front of the house are starting to take shape.  These beds are located under large shade trees so we have been planting a lot of azaleas, camellias, hostas, and vinca.  There is enough sunshine for Iris and day lilies to bloom so those will be added.  Sometimes, I fuss at myself for spending time on the “unproductive” gardens when there is still much to do in the veggie gardens and herb beds.  But with the rain, which is wonderful, those area were too wet to work and the great majority of the herbs are planted.  I still have Basil to plant but the weather keeps dipping down to very cool and I am gun-shy about planting it just yet. I just love my work!

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Now for today- errands to run in Tyler and more planting to be done.  I will have more seed trays of Basil done along with cuttings from oregano & mint.  We have been very busy and it is time for new crops of herbs to get going.  Hopefully today will be a snake free day.

So what gets your heart racing?  Snakes, spiders, mice?

Cherokee Purple- One Good Tomato

Tomatoes and other goodies from the garden

As I have said in a previous blog, this has been my first year to have really good success with growing tomatoes in  my garden.  Well, while I do enjoy all the tomatoes, there is one that really stands out as DELICIOUS!  That is the Cherokee Purple, an heirloom tomato that is said to have origins with the Cherokee Indians from Tennessee grown pre-1890.

A few summers back I got one really great tomato from a plant called “Black Krim”.  It was the best tomato I had eaten up to that point.  I wanted to grow those again but the seed catalog I was ordering from did not offer those, so I went with another purple tomato, the Cherokee.  I am so glad that I did, these have been our favorite.  And of course, being an heirloom we can save the seeds and the exact same wonderful tomato next season.

As spring went along and blossoms turned into baby fruit, I was really getting excited.  The green tomatoes just kept getting bigger- many of them getting to the size of softballs.  It was hard to wait, it seemed that all the varieties took forever to ripen!  I am sure that the length of time seemed longer than it really was, I checked them daily and you know what they say about a watched pot…

I guess due to the pitiful results of the previous season, I did not understand what kind of rambling these vines were going to do.  My staking was terribly inadequate.  The weight of the fruit caused the vines to dip down and touch the ground.  The only problem- other than being a bit difficult to get to the fruit- is that any tomatoes resting on the ground were a target for pill bugs or rolly pollies as we have always called them.  I was shocked at the amount of tomato that these little bugs can consume.

The Cherokee Puple

The first really large one that came in, was such a prize.  I sliced and all my waiting was rewarded.  Cheyenne, who is a tomato kinda gal- but only fresh ones from the garden, came in and had a slice.  Her eyes lit up and she said, “Now that is good!”  Last week, I went out to visit my grandmother and noticed quite a few tomatoes finishing up on her window sill.  I asked her if she had any Cherokee Purples and before I could finish the name she interrupted me exclaiming, “Oh My, that was such a good tomato.  Those are my favorite.”  That says a lot, grandmother is in her 80’s and gardening has always been a part of her life, so she should know what she is talking about.

I am really happy to have grown these tomatoes as seedlings for our nursery.  I am confident that anyone who bought seedlings from us was very pleased.  These will definitely be in our inventory next spring and in our gardens.  Give the Cherokee Purple a try, you will be glad you did.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Lovely Tomatoes, my best harvest ever!!!

For several years I have been trying to grow tomatoes.  It would seem that this would be easy in the south.  After all, according to Shirley McLain in “Steel Magnolias” growing tomatoes is what southern women do.  For me, however, this has not been the case.

The first year I planted tomatoes I planted Brandy-wine.  These are heralded as the best tasting tomato ever.  And they may be, but once the temps get into the 90’s they don’t set fruit very well ( you will find this in the small print in a good seed catalog).  Well, in Texas we can be in the 90’s before April says good-bye.  So, that summer the temps went high quickly and I got no tomatoes, large beautiful vines, but no tomatoes.  To this day, I can not tell you if Brandy-wine lives up to its billing or not.

The next summer, I don’t even remember what I planted, but all I got was a few little fruits.  This was quite frustrating to me since it was a desire of mine to can my own tomato sauce from tomatoes grown in my own garden.  At the rate I was going, I would be doing good to make a salad much less can many quarts of sauce.  However, I did get one Black Krim Tomato and it was the best I ever tasted.  It will be in my garden this next year.

But, hope springs eternal in a gardeners heart and the next summer I went at it hard.  I scoured the catalogs looking for varieties that would be good in high heat, mild drought conditions and so forth.  Then I planted like crazy.  Well the season I am talking about was last summer.  Hell turned on its blow dryers and a hideous western wind blew for months, no rain fell for months and the temperatures hit one hundred before May had come and gone and did not come down until the end of August.  So, the little tomato plants just didn’t stand a chance.  I did get a few tomatoes from volunteers that had come from tomatoes that we had fed to the pigs the summer before.  Think about it for a minute and you will figure it out.  I must say I felt a bit insulted at the fact that the garden snubbed all my hard work and research in favor of pig poo, but oh well at least I got a few tomatoes.

June Pink sliced up and ready for breakfast.

Now, each season may have looked like a failure in regards to my tomato aspirations, but each season I learned something to apply to the next try.  After all, I could not give up.  Because of the land on which I garden, I have to be shrewd.  My property is a very steep hill that slopes towards the North.  I have essentially a walled garden because of the 80′ trees surrounding my 2 acres.  What this means is, not all my property gets enough sun to grow heat loving veggies like eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers.  Of these, the most choosy is the tomatoes. Not only is sun exposure a problem, but the soil temperature is tricky.  The soil takes its time warming to the temps that tomatoes need to thrive do to the micro-climate I have on my place.

The soil temps is what was really getting me into trouble.  I was so excited and ready to get gardening, that I would plant seedlings as soon as possible.  However, by the time the soil temps warmed up sufficiently the seedlings would be getting stressed and then be a target for bugs.  So, I learned from the volunteers that my garden needed tomatoes planted in mid-April, this is when they came up on their own.  Left alone, plants do know when they need to come up and greet the new season.

Rambling Tomato Vines

Well, this year I choose the hottest spot on my acreage to till the tomato patch.  Due to the business of the nursery, it was easy to wait until mid-April to plant.  I mulched the seedlings immediately- I believe this is a key to successful gardening, MULCH, MULCH, MULCH!  Well, the tomatoes took their sweet time getting ripe, but I had green tomatoes on the vines very quickly.  I have been harvesting everyday now for about 2 weeks.  I am so happy.  I did not plant enough to have me canning many quarts of sauce, but I have canned 3 quarts and made many tasty dishes.

I chose 4 varieties this year.  June Pink- an early tomato, Cherokee Purple, Arkansas Traveler, and Illini Gold.  I have been very pleased with each of them.  Being Heirloom varieties, I could save seeds to grow next year and the plants are indeterminate.  This means the plants ramble much like a cucumber or pea vine, but they do not climb on their own.  Now, good supports will keep these beauties off the ground but I obviously need to work on the support things in my garden.  I have tomato plants rambling all over, but I am so happy!  The pig is happy too, I toss any tomatoes that have gone bad or been eaten too badly by bugs over the fence to her- who knows what gifts she will leave me for next year….

Homemade Tomato Sauce & Some Ripe Illini Gold & Cherokee Purple