Like I mentioned in an earlier post, we are having the most amazing Indian summer here in the Pacific Northwest, and it has done wonders for my garden (and our moods!) I have been picking oodles and oodles of ripe tomatoes, and I continue to harvest zucchini and peppers. I’ve recently planted lettuce, leeks, chard, spinach, and brussels sprouts that are all thriving. Woo hoo! Does it get any more exciting than this?!
Probably. But last year I didn’t get a single red full-sized tomato. And since it was my first year with a vegetable garden, I was unsure what to do with all those giant green tomatoes. Fry them?
Last year we had to take down a small but unwieldy cedar tree to build a higher fence. With the tree gone, we now had a big empty sunny space, perfect for a vegetable garden. I asked the guys who cut down the tree to save the logs and keep them long. Then I took a day off of work to build my garden. With the help of Miles’s skateboard, I dragged those logs around and made a big raised bed. Then I filled it with soil mixed with the compost we’d been brewing for years. Now I was ready to plant.
Nadine and I sprinkled seeds, and planted tomato plants. I built potato towers (directions from Sunset magazine), threw in some starter potatoes, and covered them with hay and compost. Miles transplanted his little sunflower plants he grew in preschool. Then we watered, and waited. In no time we had lettuce and radishes sprouting, and the thrill was on.
That year we had a pretty good harvest of green beans, potatoes, lettuce, carrots, beets and cherry tomatoes. We pretty much had a tomato jungle because the vines took over and grew everywhere. And I learned a lot. But most importantly, my passion for gardening was ignited. And the kids got into it too.
This year I changed things up a bit, and expanded a bit. We also grew zucchini, peppers, snap peas, purple string beans, and purple heirloom tomatoes (which are currently selling for $7.98/lb at the market!) I harvested more potatoes, and way more tomatoes. Again, I learned a ton, and kicked off a new hobby – pickling, canning, and preserving.
I grew so many pepperoncini peppers and jalapeños that I pickled them. I thought it would be hard, but it was a piece of cake, and totally fun.
And as I’ve been overwhelmed with tomatoes, I decided to try and make salsa so I could use both my tomatoes and peppers. I haven’t tried any yet, but it looks beautiful. Here’s the recipe I used, from the book Preserving Nature’s Bounty by Frances Bissell that I got at the library.
I also discovered roasted tomatoes. Holy moly, these are so amazing. Being home all day, I can slow roast tomatoes for 10 hours in a 200 degree oven, and they make the house smell so good. I froze some of the roasted tomatoes, but they are almost too delicious to not eat up right away.
The other night we made home made pasta (so easy and so much fun for the kids) and I took some roasted tomatoes out of the oven, threw them into the Cuisinart, and voila, the best tomato sauce I’ve ever had. I also roasted a bunch of cherry tomatoes to use on home made pizza. I just put a bunch in a cast iron pan, tossed with olive oil, chopped garlic, salt and pepper, and roasted on high heat (400) for about 25 minutes. I usually use pesto as my base for pizza, but using the roasted tomatoes instead made the best pizza by far. Unbelievably delicious.
I also learned that you can freeze cherry tomatoes. First you spread them on a cookie sheet and freeze them for a few hours that way. Then you can slip them into a zip lock bag (they sound like glass marbles when you do), and they won’t stick to each other in the freezer. I’m super excited to be able to use them this winter, when crock pot season starts.
Yesterday I spent some time weeding and cleaning up the vegetable bed, and even though the tomato plants are turning brown and losing their leaves, there are still a surprising number of tomatoes left. I wonder how long this will last.
But there is a chill in the morning air, the leaves on the trees are now the most amazing colors and dropping fast, so the end must be near. Pretty soon I’ll have to plant a cover crop and put everything to bed for the winter. But I’ll have my jars of peppers and salsa, and a freezer full of tomatoes, to remind me of my bountiful summer. And I’m already planning next year’s garden in my head.
Oh, and I just wanted to add a comment that Miles made the other night when he was eating his salad. He said, “Mom did you buy this lettuce? Because I only like to eat the lettuce you grow.” I made him eat his salad, but inside, I have to say, I was kind of proud.