Sunday, August 15, 2010

Garden Report 08.15.10

Turns out, the butterfly caterpillars really like the parsnip greens. So much so that there are 15 of the little guys in the parsnip patch, and that's just what I could see without moving the tops around.

I have four butternut squash set on.

The Quadrato D'Asti Rosso plants are loaded with peppers. The only variety that didn't get blossom end rot this year. 
Some mysterious insect eggs on the cucumber plant. I did some research and these are squash bug eggs. I don't want these!

Lastly, we finally got enough rain to fill up the rain barrel. I completely emptied it on Friday evening. It's a good sign to see water overflowing the top of the rain barrel!

Canning tomatoes

Many people, when I tell them I can tomatoes (and other veggies) freak out about botulism, and about how long it takes to can. I decided to photograph each step of canning tomatoes to show just how easy it is.
Here's the canning guide I use:

The recipe I did today was on page 6, "Tomatoes- Crushed". I made tomatoes the same way last year, and also canned "Tomato Juice" found on page 7 last year. This year, I don't have quite as many tomatoes, but still had too many to eat myself (The Hubs is not a tomato fan). Last year, I made a note in the margin that 8 pounds of tomatoes, precoring, produced 8 pints. This year I had about 5 pounds, and ended up with 5 pints. So it's a good rule of thumb to assume you need a pound per pint.

First things first, start with fresh, ripe, homegrown tomatoes. If you wouldn't eat the blemish that's on the tomato now, you won't want to eat it in 6 months when it's made the whole jar taste funny. Below is a mixture of Thessaloniki, Amish Paste and Cour di Bue tomatoes, all grown from Baker Creek seed. Whatever you do, DO NOT use tomatoes from the store. They are never ripened on the vine and are white in the middle. If you don't have enough tomatoes to can from your garden, go to a farmer's market to get extras.

Next, start water to boiling in your water bath canner pot. It will take forever to start boiling because of the amount of water, so start it first. I use the water bath to sterilize the empty jars too. Since there's just two of us, I use pint jars. Wide mouth pint jars are easier to clean, so if you can find those, use them! Make sure the rims of the jars don't have cracks or chips or they won't seal.


Some handy tools to have include "jar tongs" and a funnel made specifically for canning. 


Start water to boiling in a smaller pan. When it boils, add tomatoes a few at a time. This makes it easier to peel the tomatoes. Also, LEAVE THE CORES IN, otherwise you will end up with tomato juice in this pan, and that's not what you want. I think this step stops the tomatoes from ripening any further, a kind of blanching.


When the skins have split, use a ladle to put the tomatoes in a bowl of ice and cold water. This cools them down so they are easier to handle. The skins will fall off the tomatoes now. Discard the skins into your compost bucket, and cut the core out, also into the compost bucket. Quarter the tomatoes and put them in a separate bowl.


After you have boiled, cooled, peeled and cored all the tomatoes, put about 1 pound into a stock pot and bring to a boil. You want to mash up this first pound pretty well so it makes a juice. I use a potato masher. Be careful that you don't splatter the tomatoes on yourself, as they are HOT! After the first pound has come to a boil, add the remainder of the quartered tomatoes. Bring to a boil, and boil for five minutes. 


While you're waiting for the tomatoes to come to a boil, get your lids ready. Put them in a small sauce pan with enough water to cover, and bring to a boil. 


By now, if you're lucky, your water bath canner is boiling. Keep the lid on and it will come to a boil faster. 


The actual canning step I wasn't able to photograph because I was working so fast. You'll take a sterilized jar out of the water bath canner and use a ladle to fill it to the bottom of the threads with tomatoes. Then add 1 Tbsp of lemon juice and 1/2 tsp of salt. Wipe the rim with a dishcloth. Then put a sterilized lid on, and tighten down a ring. THE JAR AND THE LID ARE HOT. USE A (DRY) DISHTOWEL OR POTHOLDER to hold the jar while you're tightening the ring down. Put the full jar back in the water bath canner. Get a new sterilized jar out, and repeat the process until you've used all the tomatoes. 

Process in the boiling water canner for 35 minutes for pints. When done, put the jars on a dishtowel on the counter to cool. It's not unusual to have a white powdery substance on the outside of the jars; this is due to chemicals in city water and it will wipe off easily with a dry towel. 

Now, you have to wait for the lids to "pop" or seal. All of mine, except one, sealed while in the water bath. The last one sealed within five minutes of being out of the canner. If you can't tell by looking if the lid is sealed, push down gently on the center of the lid. If it moves, it hasn't sealed yet. If you have a jar that doesn't seal, put it in the fridge and use in within a couple days. Once they are cool, write the year and the contents on the lid. For these tomatoes, I'll write "stewed tomatoes 2010".


The number of tomatoes you have will dictate how long the canning process takes. This took a little over an hour. That may seem like a long time, but think of the delicious, homegrown, pesticide free, hormone free (because I used heirloom seeds) tomato juice I'll have for chili and stew this winter. You know you're jealous!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Garden Photos 08.04.10

Butternut Squash
Acorn Squash
Butterfly Caterpillar. I'm glad he took part in the photo shoot this morning at 7:30 because when I went to look for him again this evening he was gone. Hopefully he was hiding under a leaf, and hopefully he didn't get eaten by a bird... According to this website, it's a black swallowtail caterpillar:

Mom: I'm looking for your help in identifying this plant. It's a volunteer plant that I thought was squash when it first came up, but it grew vertical instead of viney, and is not at all like squash. 
The beautiful sunflowers, which are doing their job of attracting birds and bees and butterflies to the garden.
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