When to cut your losses and throw in the towel.

It’s officially been the worst tomato growing season we have ever had. I’m pretty sure I speak for most people when I say that. The combination of the unusually cool summer days, even cooler summer nights and the early rain last week have wreaked havoc on our tomato plants and other warm weather lovers. So when do you throw in the towel?

cutting our lossesIn previous years the tomato plants were producing so abundantly that by this time of year we didn’t feel bad about just tearing out the plants and putting in some nice cool weather crops. But we didn’t even get our first ripe tomato until the first week of September this year and it breaks my heart to let any of the fruit left on the vine go to waste.

There are a few things you can do to save your existing fruit and prolong your tomato harvest just a little bit longer.

1) Remove any excess foliage from the plant especially damaged leaves, leaves with mildew or yellow spotting and any broken stems. This gives the remaining fruit some new fresh air and sunlight.
2)Forget it, the blossoms that are appearing now are not going to go anywhere.  Blossoms or stems with blossoms should be removed.  They are just sucking energy from the plant that could be better used on the fruit that will ripen before the last bit of warm weather passes us.
3) Remove any cracked or splittiremoving split fruit from tomato plantsng fruit.  The heavy rains last week gave your tomato plants way more water than it is used to or needs.  All that water gets absorbed quickly into the fruits and splits those babies right open.  Those open cracks or splits are just waiting for nasty bacteria and mold to come on in and set up shop.  Get rid of them to give your other fruit a chance to ripen. This goes for things like pumpkins or squash too.
4) If you know a rain is coming, pick any fruit that is even close to ripe.  Put that fruit in a paper bag with an apple and seal it up for a few days.  Those tomatoes will be just as good and ripe as if you left them on the plant cinderella pumpkin after too much rainand you have prevented them from getting waterlogged.

But maybe you are just ready to throw in the towel? Maybe the plants you have are just too far gone. Go ahead, cut your losses and just tear them out.  You probably only have limited growing space that could be better used for some delicious broccoli, spinach or kale.

And think about what a rough growing season you had this summer when you are at the farmer’s market this week.  Imagine if you were trying to make your living with these kind of un-forseen challenges.  Help those farmers out by buying up their softer more blemished tomatoes and make yourself some home made cavalo nero in the gardenpasta sauce.  It will be just as good as if the fruits are nice and pretty.

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Everybody needs a little flick somtimes.

So the extra cool weather and wet conditions this summer in the Bay Area have left many gardeners vegetable plants in a less than productive state. Hot weather lovers like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and melons don’t necessarily want to come out an join the party when its cool outside. We only just recently got our first ripe tomatoes which is not normal for our hot mountain climate. A recent newsletter from a local farm made me realize why this is happening and reminded me of a little trick to give your tomatoes the extra edge in fruit production.  Give em’ a little flick. Yep you read that right.  Flick your tomato blossoms just as they open and you will be doing a lot of the hard work for them.  fruiting tomato plant

Did you know that Tomatoes are self pollinating? Most people don’t realize that.  When a tomato blossom opens it doesn’t rely on the birds and the bee’s, it takes care of business itself.  If you give the blossom a gentle nudge, the pollen will release itself and start the flower on its way to becoming a fruit. If your tomato plants just have blossoms and no fruit, try this little trick and see what happens.

Tomatoes need a lot of extra attention to get to their full potential.  In addition to a good flick every once in a while, try giving your tomato a haircut.  The tomato blossoms and fruit on the inside of the plant may never see the light of day or the cool breeze they need to grow big and juicy. Trim the some leaves here and there to let some sunlight and air into the center of the plant. Remove all of the leaves from the bottom 6-12 inches of the plant to let the base of the stems get some air and put more energy towards the blossoms and fruits. Tomatoes need something to lean on too. Most of us use tomato cages to keep our plants up off the ground.  When they get heavy with fruit they can fall over in just the lightest of breezes. Use a stake or a piece of re-bar attached to every other cage and tie them together with some twine to keep them from blowing over.

Basically, it takes a lot of work to make a tomato plant happy.  But just think of all the delicious treats you will have once you have that bounty of fruit to pick.

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Dill Pickles

Dill pickles are one of my favorite things in the whole world of food. Last year I found an awesome, simple pickling recipe that came out great.  We did not have any pickling cucumbers this year because of the limited garden space, but I picked up about 12 of these beauties at the farmers market for only $6. Well worth it i think. The pickle recipe is below, I added some additional spices, mustard seed and a little chili flake to my taste.

Ingredients

* 8 pounds 3 to 4 inch long pickling cucumbers
* 4 cups white vinegar
* 12 cups water
* 2/3 cup pickling salt
* 16 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
* 8 sprigs fresh dill weed
* 8 heads fresh dill weed

Directions

1. Wash cucumbers, and place in a glass or metal bowl with cold water and lots of ice cubes.  If you are going to do your pickles sliced or in spears, cut them first before soaking. Place the bowl in your refrigerator. Soak in ice water for at least 2 hours but no more than 8 hours. Refresh ice as required. Sterilize 8 (1 quart) canning jars and lids in boiling water for at least 10 minutes.
2. In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine the vinegar, water, and pickling salt. Bring the brine to a rapid boil.
3. In each jar, place 2 half-cloves of garlic, one head of dill, then enough cucumbers to fill the jar (about 1 pound). Then add 2 more garlic halves, and 1 sprig of dill. Fill jars with hot brine. Seal jars, making sure you have cleaned the jar’s rims of any residue.
4. Process sealed jars in a boiling water bath. Process quart jars for 15 minutes.
5. Store pickles for a minimum of 8 weeks before eating. Refrigerate after opening. Pickles will keep for up to 2 years if stored in a cool dry place.

I had a blowout with one of my jars so the entire water bath was filled with floating spices and failed pickles – I still ate those bad boys though and they were good.

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Schiacciata con l’uva

One of our favorite and most surprising recipes we made at Organic Tuscany, a cooking school we attended in Italy was a cake made with grapes and rosemary. Trying to recreate this at home was a bit of a challenge, primarily because the tasty grapes with edible seeds were tough to find.  Finally the revelation that any wine grape would do the trick made it possible for us to make the cake – only during harvest though when wine grapes are available to buy in the store or at the farmers market.  It will be savored and then we wait until next year.
Tuscan grape harvest cake
This recipe has been modified from the recipe we learned at Organic Tuscany to acomodate our taste and for American measurment standards.

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup white flour
1/4 light brown sugar – reserve a small amount for the top
1 tsp. baking powder
1 large egg
2 large sprigs rosemary
Half a cup extra virgin olive oil
2 lbs small red wine grapes – preferably with lots of seeds (washed)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat your oven to 350°F

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and the egg.
Heat the olive oil in a small sauce pan on medium high heat.
Remove the rosemary from the stems and add to the olive oil in a saucepan.
Put this on a slow flame and allow to bubble gently for a 45-60 seconds.
Let the oil/rosemary mixture cool for 10 minutes
Add the oil and rosemary to the flour mixture.
Mix this well to amalgamate the ingredients – this is best done in a mixer to get the mixture smooth.
Work in the grapes by hand, breaking up the grapes a little but not too much.
Line a 12 X 9 inch baking dish with parchment paper and spread out the mixture.
Sprinkle with your reserved brown sugar.
Bake for approximately 45 minutes.

Excellent served with vanilla ice cream 😉

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Hmmm, I wonder if the baby will like tomatoes?

Ashley (mayor wagar) and my sis threw a sweet baby shower for me that was just my style.  Not too many people, limited games, crafts and delicious food.  Bruschetta, Caprese salad, mini panini sandwiches with Zucchini and mushroom, gnocchi, lots of champagne and the most amazing organic grapes that have been popping up at New Leaf lately.  This baby better like tomatoes, because apparently his is in for it if he doesn’t…

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Bring on the bruschetta

We FINALLY have enough ripe tomatoes to make one of my favorite tomato dishes – bruschetta. After a horribly cold summer and a lack of good soil in our temporary garden, things are not panning out too well in the fresh from the garden produce area for us. I can’t remember a time before now that we waited until September to get a decent tomato.  But, I digress. This dinner is courtesy of our super prolific Romanesco zucchini (flowers and veg included) some beautiful fresh made pasta, pecorino cheese and purple basil flowers. Bruchetta featuring “Early” Girl tomatoes and Chili Verde – green goddesses.  Sounds like a fashion show huh?

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Never so impressed in my life

Jon made this amazing pasta sauce with cherry tomatoes and squash blossoms from the garden and I contributed my usual, bruschetta. Our chili verde tomatoes are one of my favorites to make bruchetta with because their lime green color looks unripe to most people but their flavor is amazing. This particular one is with yellow Taxi – and of course italian basil from the garden. This was one good dinner, however, Jon was so impressed with himself that he kept repeating over and over how good the pasta was.  So much so that this definitely goes down in the books as one of the most annoying dinners to date.

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