Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Line-up of Tomatoes

I thought I would share with you the newest harvest of grape and cherry tomatoes. For the most part, they are pretty healthy...

Instead of letting them ripe on the vine (out of fear that the birds would poke holes into them), I started to harvest them when they are an orange color. As you can see below, some of the tomatoes have ripened to a delicious red. The others are still catching up. I don't know what happened to the tiny one, but it started to change color before its size got any better.

Sadly, on about three of the tomatoes, there is a little bit of blossom end rot. It's not horrible, and the tomatoes are still edible. It's more annoying than anything else. Luckily, the larger varieties of tomatoes don't have any signs of this fatal disease... not yet anyway. I'm keeping an eye on it.

Below: The victims

Cam and I have enjoyed several of the cherry and grape tomatoes. They do taste so much better, so much sweeter than the tomatoes you can buy at the grocery store. Yum! Every time I taste one, it's like a piece of candy in my mouth. Mm-hmm!

As an attempt to protect our tomatoes from the evil birds, Cam and I bought this funny looking owl to ward off predators! We put him next to the larger tomato varieties. We don't want to lose any of these tomatoes to the birds. Grr!!! So hopefully this plastic owl will do the trick!

Below: The owl...

We do move his position every few days, so maybe the birds will think he's actually real. My kitten, Luka, is scared to death of him. If we place the owl near her, she starts walking sideways, with her claws all out and her hair on its end. It's really cute. She hasn't pouched at him yet, but we try to keep the two separated!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Told You I’d Do It! The Making of Homemade Plum Jam

Above: The most recent harvest of plums from the garden

When I saw the abundance of plums we’ve had this year, I promised myself this was the year I’d learn how to make jam. With last year’s bizarre weather (and random cold fronts in the summer), all the flowers on the fruit trees died prematurely. So when this summer came around and the trees began to fruit… (and man did they fruit!), I decided I wanted to do something productive and useful with the fruit.

In the past, I’ve only made apple pies and pear pies. I never did anything else, and I never did anything to the plums except eat them. This year, I needed a change. And as promised earlier this month, making plum jam is one of my newest adventures!

Below: My pretty face with the final product!

First, I had to gather the ingredients: Plums, Sugar, and Fruit Pectin!

I had the hardest time finding the fruit pectin in the store. I looked up and down the baking aisle, the aisle with all the canned fruit and vegetables, the cooking utensil aisle… Nothing! Finally I asked a store manager who pointed me in the right direction. Can you believe that the fruit pectin was sold near the Zip Lock bags. Craziness, I tell ya!

Anyway, the instructions on the fruit pectin weren’t exactly clear on how I needed to sterilize the Mason Jars. They recommended a pressure cooker, which I don’t have. So I decided to ‘wing it’ as they say. I unscrewed the Mason Jars and placed them in a pot of water. I boiled the jars and lids about 10 minutes.

Below: The mason jars and lids in almost boiling water... It looks like the lids are fastened on the jars, but they weren't

After the water boiled for several minutes, I turned off the heat but didn’t take the pot off the burner. I figured I’d let them cool down while I continued to prepare the jam.

Making the jam itself wasn’t very difficult. According to the directions, I needed 3 pounds of plums. I didn’t know if this meant cut or whole plums, but I decided it must mean chopped plum pieces. (My sister and Cam were with me to help during this process). I cut and chopped the plums, keeping the skin on and discarding the pit. Turns out that 3 lbs ended up being 6 cups full of cut plums.

Below: Two views of the chopped plums... Does it look red and delicious?

The recipe also called for 7 ½ cups of sugar. (That’s A LOT of sugar). We were worried that we didn’t have enough in the cupboard, but fate was on our side! We were at my American grandmother’s house (not my biological grandmother who is in Vietnam, but one that I consider my surrogate/adopted grandma) for her 94th birthday. We only found 7 cups of sugar in the sugar tin, but my American grandmother had stored small amounts of sugar in two other places in the house. So we used up ALL the sugar and we were able to get the required 7 ½ cups!

Above: The plum mixture at the beginning of the process

Next, I took out a large pot and combined ½ cup of water with the 6 cups of plums. I heated it, and right before it came to a boil, I stirred in all of the sugar. From this point, Cam took over the cooking.

Below: A view of the plum mixture as it is starting to boil after the addition of the sugar.

Cam, the Jam Maker. Doesn't he look cute in pink?

After the mixture came to a rolling boil, we added the fruit pectin and continued stirring for one minute. We turned off the heat and moved the pot away from the burner. There was foam at the top of the mixture. I read that adding the margarine will help prevent the foam from forming. Unfortunately, we did not do that.

We gingerly ladled off all the foam, trying not to take too many chunks of plum out of the mixture. The pink color was very pretty. Pink was the color of the night. Three people in the dinner party wore pink!

Below: Another view of the foam.

I sterilized my kitchen tongs. (I held them in boiling water for a few minutes). Using the tongs, I grabbed the mason jars, one at a time, and placed them on a towel next to the stove. I ladled the jam into each mason jar, and Cam screwed on the lid.

Below: The final jam mixture before it was placed in the mason jars

I just recently read an article recommending that you “process” the jars after you add the jam to it. (You have to boil the jar in water for 5 minutes or so). Unfortunately, I read that article 3 hours too late. I figured, I probably made a few mistakes in this jam canning process, but I’m sure the jam is still edible and will good for a while. I don’t expect we’ll keep it around for a year. It’ll be all gone and in our bellies by then!

Below: Several views of our final product! Sadly, it has to be settle for 24 hours before we can open a jar and try it out!

Could it be... a baby eggplant indeed!

I've read that eggplants are fairly easy to grow. They crave warmth, hot weather and good soil. They grow well in raised beds, which is where they are planted. I have two eggplants, a Black Beauty and an Ichabod. We planted them in the same raised bed as the Roma tomatoes, cabbage and bell pepper. I believe they share the same growth pattern as tomatoes, so I hope this actually works.

Below: One of the eggplants

I'm a little concerned about flea beetles. They are usually the biggest problem that eggplants have. You can see a few holes in our eggplant (above). So I may need to spray them with something.

They are growing rather slow, staying close to the ground. But I'm happy to report that one of the eggplants has begun to produce an baby eggplant... I think. Let's hope I'm right.

Below: A baby eggplant will (hopefully) come out of that little purple bud...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tomato Problem, Blooms, and Redness

Let me start with some bad news. One of my large tomato varieties has fruited, and one of the tomatoes is completely fine. It's growing perfectly, and its skin is smooth as a baby's bottom. But it's sibling tomato (which grows on a higher vine) has a few spots on it.

Below: The trouble tomato. Can anyone identify what the problem is?

Is it a bug problem? Or a disease? I recently sprayed all of my plants with organic insecticidal soap (made from natural ingredients), so far, I have not seen any aphids or bugs on my plants. Perhaps, I should spray again to ensure that the bug problem is controlled. The damage is minimal, so I'm sure the tomato will be perfectly edible when it's ripe.

Below: The Oregano

In the front vegetable bed, the oregano grew and I never got a chance to pick any of it for spaghetti or other Italian dishes. I would love to dry the leaves, but I've been so busy, I haven't had the time. But alas, it has flowered and a few sprigs have started to die.

In better news, the red bell pepper plant in the front has started to turn red! At first, the color was rust-like, and I thought the plant had been infected with something. But as the plant has matured, the red color has darkened. Isn't she a beaut?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Corn and Green Beans

The corn and green beans at my parents' house are growing strong. Maybe it's the good soil, the one my father has kept in impeccable shape. Or it's the sunlight .. Whatever it is, I'm just in awe of the healthy growth. Since we only planted the seeds for these a month ago, they aren't large enough to actually harvest any vegetables. (I am so jealous of you gardeners who have abundant vegetables waiting to be picked out of your garden!)

Below: The tall corn... Behind it are the green beans

I think I waited rather late to start my garden this year. Next year, I will start to do a little bit more research about the exact type of plants I'll need. And I will start planting seeds and seedlings in late March or early April. Of course, the tomato plants will need to wait until after all threat of frost. But I might try other cool, spring vegetables.

I wonder if it is too late to plant more seeds? What are some vegetables that perfect to plant now? Any ideas?

Back to the green beans. At Cam's house, I pulled out all the dead pea plants and replaced them with green bean seeds. Hopefully, I will have better luck.

The green beans in the shaded portion of my parents' raised beds are growing at a remarkable rate. Some of the leaves aren't so pretty, but for the most part, they are green and growing.

Below: Green beans... We should thin it out, but I don't want to minimize my chance of getting a good harvest.

I wonder if this is the beginning of a tiny bean... Could it be or is it just my wishful thinking? :-)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Good eats-Tomatoes

Today has been one of the busiest days I've had this summer. And this is going to be one of those really long and tiring weeks, full of business meetings and catching up on work. *sighs*

I apologize for the very short post, but you'll finally hear good news from the garden. I took the advice of Frances of Faire Garden and I've been harvesting a few yellow and orange cherry and grape tomatoes. Instead of letting them ripen on the vine (I guess the birds love to poke holes in the colorful and delicious ripe fruit), I've picked them early and let them ripen in my kitchen.

Below: The newly ripen cherry and grape tomatoes

These little tomatoes were so delicious! Mmm!!!! I don't have to worry about the tomato scare. They were very sweet and left me craving more! Only a few more days until more ripe tomatoes...

Cam thinks the cherry and grape tomato taste the same, but regardless, they were quite a yummy treat!

In other news, I added Black Kow composted cow manure to our SFG beds. My dad uses this brand, and it's worked great for him. You were all right--my soil needed the manure. It's only a few days later, but so far my vegetables are reacting quite well.

Below: One of my large tomato varieties have started to turn color. It's more of a green-yellow color now, but I'll be harvesting it when it turns orange. I don't want to risk the chance of a bird poking a hole in this!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My poor Concord Grapes

Oh! Sadness. My concord grapes are not doing so well. One looks shriveled and dead, and the other has blemishes on it.

Oy me! Time to do a soil test, I know. And to add Black Krow manure. Yep! I had such high hopes of having beautiful grapes. They were doing so well for 2 months, but now the plants aren't producing any more fruit.