Constantly Playing Catch-Up, While Actually Making Salsa

It’s been a busy quarter around here. The end of the season turned out to be very prolific with our final harvest of tomatoes being taken in due to a frost warning. It was time though. On three other occasions, we averted a light frost by covering up the garden with tarps on the nights we knew there was a threat. This took some doing since the plants were large and growing around bean cages, we prefer those since they are sturdier and tall enough to support a healthy growing tomato plant. The tomatoes were taking their own sweet time to ripen, cool nights and not a tremendously hot summer seemed to make the growth in the garden slow in comparison to our days growing down in Connecticut (zone 6) and in the end we ended up picking over three grocery bags worth of green tomatoes, plus two large bowls and one colanders worth of ripe tomatoes of all sizes.

Last year I canned 10 gallons of tomato sauce which we still have some left over which is odd since we used to go through it so fast. We always had to try to extend it into the next season when at least some fresh tomatoes were in season. But I don’t think we ever put up that much sauce before. Plus I don’t think we ate as much pasta last year overall.

This year I opted to make salsa. I have tried one other time and remembered it being simpler than making sauce. You don’t cook it as long as you do a sauce cutting the time down thus making it feel easier. I love making salsa and have finally discovered another way to use Mark’s ridiculously hot peppers in a way we can enjoy without just tasting the heat. I actually enjoy using a variety of peppers with a varying amount of heat, some jalapeños, serranos, habaneros…Mark likes to get a variety of hot peppers including the super hot ones like the Carolina Reaper!

A variety of Mark’s hot peppers

Although hot peppers can be a bit finicky when it comes to growing up in zone 5, 1500ft up on the side of a mountain. I’ve discovered that the deck and on the stairs in our containers has been as successful, if not a bit more so, than in our raised garden beds.

Next year I will plant more bell peppers as well as hot peppers and onions. Although truth be told I was disappointed with my bell pepper outcome – again they seemed to take forever to finally flower and ripen. I did plant more onions this year but I think even more can be added to the garden. Garlic, we have covered pretty well since we were able use plenty of our own bulbs for next season, although as I type this I am second guessing myself and feel compelled to run out and perhaps add a few more. You can never have enough garlic in my opinion. Fresh compost was added to the garden beds and still have one more bag from our Food Cycler compost that needs to be carried over to the garden and dumped in a bed or two. I seeded a few overwintering carrots (Merida) and peas and some Winter Density lettuce under the cold frames as well. I started to cover the raised garden beds with a generous layer of sterile hay/straw blend (around 3″ thick) everywhere except under the cold frames – although I may throw a thinner layer in there as well. We get wicked cold winters up here, 139″ of snow last season and although that soil will be protected under the cold frame – a thin layer could be helpful.

Recipe for the Best Homemade Salsa for Canning

I used that recipe as a guide and added here and there.
Here’s what I did:
9 cups chopped tomatoes – they recommend peeling first, but I don’t bother since a lot of nutrients are in the skin
3 cups, chopped green peppers
3 cups chopped white onions – I used yellow and purple because that’s what I grew primarily
3-4 jalapenos, chopped
1 Albino hot pepper or Hot Portugal pepper
8 cloves garlic, chopped
6 teaspoons canning salt
1 cup white vinegar
12 oz can of tomato paste
a dash of Peri Peri Mozambique blend from the Spice House

As the first days of November, I still have some fresh potatoes that I can enjoy. Last night we ate some simply made with some olive oil and Greektown, another spice from the Spice House. [FYI – I get nothing from them for recommending them, I just really love their spices and blends]. I have already make and frozen some soup, unfortunately not as much as I would have liked – I forgot to order some seed potatoes early and I didn’t have a chance to get as many as I would have liked. I have to remember to set a calendar reminder for February, maybe even the last week of January. The best stuff always goes first – that’s just the way life works. That’s why I try to plan ahead and get my orders in early.

This month I will be cooking. I will be trying to use up all my fresh homegrown tomatoes in more salsa and possibly some sauce. From there I will turn my attention to the delicious dishes that center around my birthday and Thanksgiving. My day before Thanksgiving birthday will probably be filled with me preparing the side dishes and doing whatever other prep work will need to be done for the day. Thankfully its a small gathering, so I can focus on what’s important that day which is the family.

August/September – Where did the summer go?

It’s difficult to imagine that Labor Day weekend has already come and gone.  I have been negligent in writing a monthly blog entry this summer.  Once again the busy season whirled by us – selling gardens; installing gardens; going to events; talking to people about their gardens; helping people maintain their gardens.  The company’s second growing season has kept us on our toes from March all the way through until the last days of August. September’s arrival has us preparing for our next event at Live Green CT coming up September 13-14th. and we are working on a presentation about the health benefits of having a small vegetable garden which we will present at the season opening meeting of the National Charity League.

Most of August I spent time in our clients’ and our own garden pruning back the tomato plants – particularly the wildly big cherry tomatoes we planted this year. There are many gardeners oIMG_1129ut there who don’t prune their tomato plants at all. There is an old gardener’s adage: if you do prune you will have less but larger fruit, than if you don’t prune your plants. Towards the end of the summer, I like to prune our indeterminate plants because I believe that by pruning the unnecessary leaves the plants energy is diverted into the fruit and flowers instead of the foliage.  I also like to make sure the plant has plenty of airflow circulation to prevent disease from building up by clipping back the branches filled with leaves, which tend to catch the wind.  I have some plants in containers which if I don’t trim them the leaves get so clustered together that it catches the wind and on a gusty day I have found my container on it’s side!  A clear sign I needed to prune back the foliage so the air could cut through the branches giving plant healthy airflow.

Many times, early in the morning, as I am watching the dogs trot through the backyard I have considered that I should go over to my computer and write an entry about all the things we have been doing. But instead, I would head out to our garden with my camera and coffee in hand and try to capture beauty of the garden in the morning.  The cooler temperatures this season more often than not have forced me to put a robe on which did nothing for my bare feet on the cold grass from the wet morning dew.  I think we only had 3 or 4 days where the mercury rose to 90 degrees of above this summer. We have had to be patient waiting for the peppers to fully ripen to the various shades of red, orange and purple; I believe it takes a little more heat in order for them to fully flourish.  This Labor Day weekend was hot and steamy and it has continued to remain humid.  Hopefully the peppers will appreciate this little spell of hot weather.

Last week I felt the urgency to get my fall/winter garden seeded. With the way time flies the frosts of winter could be here before we know what hit us.  Particularly if the threat of the polar vortex making a possible early appearance in September topped with El Nino winter not too far behind.  About a month ago we put in another new raised bed, a beautiful cedar 4′ x 8′ raised bed from our friends down in North Carolina.  I had to drag out the dog fence so the pack wouldn’t run around and mess it up like they had after the fresh compost was added days earlier.  I seeded a bunch of cole crops: arugula, kale, broccoli, cauliflower along with some carrots and onions. The carrots I selected for this garden were Autumn King, Giants of Colmar, Paris Market and Meridia. In our Maine Kitchen Garden bed between the tomato and pepper plants there was a bunch of space so I seeded Harris Model Parsnips, a few varieties of lettuce: Winter Density, Winter Brown and Marvel of 4 Seasons; as well as a couple of varieties of spinach: Palco and Winter Giant.  I look forward to the promise of what this autumn/winter garden could possibly provide my family. Just think of the salads, soups, sauces and sides we could enjoy!

IMG_1627So far we have managed to can 9 quarts of tomato sauce for the winter and with the looks of things in the garden we will be able to do a lot more canning before the season is through.  We filmed a video about canning which I need to edit first but once it’s ready to go I will do a whole blog entry dedicated to canning. Smells trigger memories and standing over a simmering pot of tomato sauce can transport me back in to the garden with all its colors and fragrance even on the bleakest of winter days.  Every time we crack open a jar of our homegrown homemade sauce that we canned, we recapture tiny moments of summer which flew by all too fast at the time.