Friday, August 30, 2013

The Dog Moon

Last week was the full moon of August. It seems like we've had an unusually wet August. We've had about three rainstorms where we got about two inches of rain. It has been over 100 or at least in the high 90's most days, but I don't remember getting rain much in August before.

It looks like most of my tomatoes are still alive, and might grow back in fall. Usually most of them die during the summer. This is a mixed blessing, since I was planning on planting fall crops where the tomatoes used to be, but they're still there.

The watermelon still isn't looking that great, and hasn't put out any more fruits since that one that shriveled up. Meanwhile, one of the okra plants grew a couple of pods that were really tough, so I threw them away. Okra gets tough really fast in hot, dry weather, so I hope that once things cool off they will start to make nice ones.

I'm getting mixed results with the sweet potatoes. White Triumph is the worst one, going from how it looks above ground. Other the other varieties are getting pretty big. I didn't expect that, because when I grew White Yam before, it was one of the most vigorous varieties I grew that year. Maybe they aren't the same variety after all.

After I put wire around the Waltham Butternut squash to protect it from the deer, it's been trying to grow back. Right now it's got one male and one female blossom on it. I wonder if I might actually be able to get a fruit before it freezes.

Same thing with the peppers. The deer have been eating them so much, they didn't have a chance to grow enough to get any fruit on them, but now some of them have a lot.

The eggplants have been loving the rain too. I've got another batch of small ones growing. The problem is the chickens forgot that they don't like eggplant and started pecking holes in them again. I should put wire around them too.

Before my tomatillos completely died, I took some cuttings from them and rooted them. Now they are in the garden, and doing pretty well. It would be nice to get a second crop of tomatillos this fall before it freezes.

I managed to get two ripe Tatume squashes before the vines mostly died (a combination of neglect when we were out of town for a while and squash vine borers), and I went ahead and opened them up to save the seeds. I bought some more Tatume seeds from Baker Creek (the only company I could find that carries them), so I'll probably mix the two together next time I grow them. Tatume did much better than any other C. pepo I've grown so far. I just need to plant them earlier next time.

Looking forward to fall, I've got the trays of fall crops started. This year I planted broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, mustard greens, broccoli rabe, arugula, chard, lettuce, cilantro, dill, fennel, celery, and parsley. Phew!

Some time between Labor Day and the Autumn Equinox is usually when we start getting our first cold fronts and the temperature drops to... the low 90's! That's when I'll start doing the heavy work outside like tilling the beds to get them ready for fall vegetables. I also ordered some more garlic which should be coming soon.

Friday, August 16, 2013

2013 Tomato Reviews (and Paste Tomato Trial Results)

This year's tomato reviews are going to be a bit less detailed than usual, mainly because those darn deer and chickens caused so much damage to the tomatoes that I don't feel I can judge them adequately. Still, I feel that I managed to gather at least a little data that may be useful.

I attempted to do a paste tomato trial with these five varieties:
  • Amish Paste - obtained from an online seed swap in 2012
  • Big Month - seed saved myself in 2012, originally from Baker Creek
  • Hawkins Plum - seed saved myself in 2010, originally from an online seed swap
  • Opalka - obtained from the same swap as Amish Paste
  • Rio Grande - seed saved myself in 2011, originally from an online seed swap
I planted four plants of each variety in the front garden, which was my big mistake. What the deer didn't eat the chickens pecked. All I can do is give you my general impressions.

Amish Paste

This turned out to be the only indeterminate variety of the bunch. The plants grew much larger and more vigorously than the rest, and were ready to harvest the earliest.

The thing is, the tomatoes I got didn't match the descriptions from most of the catalogs. I got this variety from a GardenWeb seed swap, and I wonder if there was a mix-up or the seeds were crossed. All the catalogs say that Amish Paste is supposed to be large for a paste tomato, and this turned out to be my smallest variety, about the size of a small chicken egg. I also had one plant that produced these weird deeply ribbed fruits, that I wish I remembered to get a picture of.

The only thing that did match the descriptions was how this was the juiciest paste tomato. A lot of the catalogs say this isn't really much of a paste tomato, since it has more of the consistency of a tomato for fresh eating.

Still, I have a strong suspicion I got some atypical seeds. I'm reserving judgment on this variety until I get some from a more reputable source for comparison. It's possible Amish Paste just makes smaller tomatoes in my climate, but I want to make sure.


I got these from the same source as Amish Paste, but they seemed to match the catalog descriptions. They were the latest of all the varieties, but they did make large, pepper-shaped fruits. This variety made the largest fruits of the bunch, some of them the same size and shape as a Poblano pepper. As you can see from the picture, they were much less juicy than Amish Paste.

I was pretty happy with this variety and think it deserves another chance. I liked having great big fruits, which are much easier to harvest than lots of little fruits. The plants seemed vigorous and healthy. Some of them had green shoulders and some cracking on top, but that's not a big deal. Little to no blossom end rot.

The other three tomatoes were ones I grew before, and I didn't get pictures of them this time.

Hawkins Plum was disappointing again. Last time I grew it, it had a lot of blossom end rot and didn't yield well, but I had nothing to compare it to. Now that I had it next to other paste tomatoes, I'm sure this one isn't good for me. The foliage was noticeably wispier than the other varieties too, which was something I hadn't noticed before I did a side-by-side comparison. It's disappointing since I got it from someone on GardenWeb who said it was a beloved old family heirloom. Oh well, he can keep it. I'm going to discontinue this variety.

Big Month and Rio Grande were very similar and hard to tell apart. Both had short, stocky plants that yielded large, blocky fruits. Both seemed to have yielded well, with little to no blossom end rot or other cosmetic defects. The plants seemed healthy. One of the Rio Grande plants got completely dug up by the chickens and died, so I only had three plants of that one, making it hard to do a fair comparison.

Both of these deserve another chance in another trial where I can better compare the two varieties.

To summarize Paste Tomato Trial 2013: Big Month, Rio Grande, and Opalka are all worth growing again. Hawkins Plum and Amish Paste probably won't be grown again. Some day maybe I'll get Amish Paste from another source and give it another chance, but from what I've read even the "real" variety isn't much of a paste variety, and there are so many other varieties of tomatoes out there to try I might never get around to it.

I also grew a couple of other varieties of non-paste tomatoes just to I'd have them to eat.

Dr. Carolyn

The only other yellow tomato I'd grown before was Yellow Pear, and it wasn't any good. I wasn't surprised, because everything I've read about that tomato agrees that it isn't good and is only grown for the cute shape. I wanted to try a yellow cherry tomato that did get good reviews, so this was the one I chose. The first batch of tomatoes I harvested were bland just like Yellow Pear, which made me start thinking maybe yellow tomatoes are all this way.

They got considerably better later in the year as things heated up. Hot, dry weather seems to concentrate the flavors of all sorts of garden fruits, and this tomato got considerably sweeter, though it never has developed the deep flavor of something like Black Cherry. Tomato color seems to be correlated with flavor, with the darkest tomatoes having the most intense flavors. It's probably unfair to expect a light yellow tomato to be anything more than sweet.

Still, this tomato has some other things going for it. I only planted two plants, and I'm still getting more tomatoes than I can keep up with. It's still yielding here in mid-August after all the other tomatoes have quit, though cherry tomatoes are usually more heat-tolerant than other types. It is fun to have a variety of colors of cherry tomatoes. I can see this working well mixed with some Black Cherry and a red variety in a salad or pasta dish.

I'm keeping this one.

I also planted some Red Brandywine to use for sandwiches. I grew this once before, and again it did great just like last time, so nothing new to report. Because of deer damage I didn't get the yields I expected, but I still got plenty for sandwiches until the heat got it.

Now I know not to plant tomatoes (or peppers, squash, or beans) in the front garden without some kind of protection. I still got a lot of tomatoes, especially once we put chicken wire around them to keep the critters out. I stuck most of them in freezer bags, and plan to make a big batch of pasta sauce with them once the weather cools down so I feel like slaving over a hot stove again. I just would have gotten a lot more without the deer and chickens.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Roasted Tomatillo Sauce

I ended up getting about 3 lbs. of tomatillos from my 3 surviving plants. That's actually not much. Tomatillos are supposed to be very prolific. I blame the deer and chickens for damaging the plants so they didn't yield as well.

Tomatillos keep well in their husks in the vegetable drawer in the fridge. I was able to stash them in there until I had enough saved up for a batch of roasted tomatillo sauce. I got the recipe off the internet, but soon found out this isn't really something that needs a recipe. Everything can be done to taste.

Peel the husks off like 2 or 3 lbs. of tomatillos and rinse them. Lay them out on a baking sheet with some serranos and/or jalapenos (cut the stems off) and peel whole garlic cloves. As you can see, the peppers I used had already turned red, which was not intentional, but I didn't get to them while they were still green.

Put under the broiler until the veggies are getting brown in spots and soften. The tomatillos will sort of get squishy and collapse and the juice will run out. Yum.

Let it cool, and then scrape everything in the blender, making sure to get all the juice in. Add cilantro, salt, and lime juice to taste. Blend until smooth.

I put mine in plastic containers and froze it. You can also water-bath can this, but in that case you'd need to be much more careful with the ratios and use an exact recipe. It's especially important to put enough lime juice in to make it acidic enough to be safe.

I didn't put much lime juice in so I can slather it over enchiladas, but more lime would probably be better if you wanted it as a dip. When I tasted it, it also turned out hotter than I intended. I made the mistake of not de-seeding the peppers, and peppers you grow yourself tend to get hotter when the weather is hotter and the plants are under stress. But otherwise it was really tasty.

Speaking of chickens, one day the neighbor's chickens jumped the back fence (they usually stay in the front), and dug through my herb garden. Then two of them forgot how to get back out and just kept pacing back and forth by the fence like they wanted to go home but forgot they can jump over. Stupid chickens! We had to open the gate and herd them out.