Tomatoes rocking it in March...

31 March, 2015

Well, there aren't many. I have picked precisely three tomatoes in the last week. They were so disappointing I couldn't even bring myself to photograph them.

This time last year I had lots of green fruit still to ripen in March. This year the plants are pretty much done for now.

This is the main tomato patch in the front yard.

As you can see there are still a few tomatoes to ripen, but its few and far between.

There are still a few green tomatoes, and occasionally an optimistic flower. 

I'm not sure that these are mature enough to properly ripen. Over the long Easter weekend I'm thinking of pulling these out and seeing if they will ripen indoors. I may even try fried green tomatoes.

The raised bed veg patch tomatoes are no better.

There are very few tomatoes going on here now. These will also get pulled out this weekend to make way for winter crops.

So with the tomato plants on the way out, it feels apt to wrap up the trial of to pinch out or not to pinch out. My assessment is that pinching out tomatoes is not worthwhile in my garden. The pinched out tomatoes were much less protected from the sun and dried out much earlier, despite being in a more shaded position. This may partly be due to the raised beds they were planted in, but not entirely.

That said, I think there is a place for judicious pinching out of lower leaves. The not pinched out tomatoes grew much more strongly, but they were also more diseased, and I think they were crowded which limited fruit set a bit.

Plan for 2015/16 tomatoes:
  • Plant out wider apart - at least 60cms between plants
  • Don't pinch out lower leaves UNTIL the plants start to set fruit
Now I just have to wait until spring to do it all again.

How to preserve when you run out of jars...

28 March, 2015

With over 80kg of apples staring me down every time I walk into the kitchen, there is a lot of pressure to preserve some of these for future eating.

Thankfully most of these apples are destined for future drinking (yay, cider!) so I can ignore it most of the time. But I did want to preserve a few kilos for eating as well.

Sadly I'm out of preserving jars. What to do?

Dehydrate, of course.

When dealing with kilos and kilos of excess fruit (or veg) it's mainly the preparation that kills you. The time spent in the dehydrator (or Fowlers Vacola, or pressure canner, when there are jars to be had) doesn't require much energy on the part of the preserver.

But the peeling and chopping! It's hell. So anything to make the job easier is a god send.

Enter the apple peeler, corer and slicer. Also known as the apple slinky.

Apple Peeler Corer Slicer

I first saw one of these in action at the Apple Museum in Huon, Tasmania. (If you haven't been, go! It's fabulous!) I had heard of them prior to that occasion, but seeing it in action was something else. And so much fun for the kiddies. Who doesn't want to eat an apple slinky? No one.

But it wasn't until I saw someone, somewhere on the interwebs (sorry, but I can't remember who, or when) using these for preserving. The trick is in a judicious cut.

So knowing I had me some serious preserving to do, I finally purchased an apple slinky machine of my own.

Next, the apples.

I sorted through the 80kg and found around 6kg of the very biggest, finest fruit.

Then I set up my apple slinky station.

Note cup of coffee. Essential to preserving of any kind.

Then I got to work with the slinky.

Choose apple and stab onto apple slinky spikes.

Crank handle until the slicing begins.

Keep cranking.

And you're done.

Slide apple off core.

Now here is the genius part. Slice the apple along one side.

Now you have apple rings.

Drop into lemon juice spiked water to stop discolouration.

Remove the core.


It took me about 30 seconds per apple. That is heaps faster than doing the coring and slicing by hand!

All in all it takes about 10 minutes to fill the dehydrator.

I leave it on overnight on low (around 40 degrees C).

This is what I have when I wake up the next morning, along with a delicious apple-y scent.

Note gap from the one that I ate. Quality control is important!

They are a touch on the crispy side, but soften after a bit.

I have already filled a jar (as well as some pears that were on the squishy side and too many for me to eat at once) and have about half the apples still to go.

Doing it like this is so easy. A few minutes work before bed and there you have it. Dried apples.

What preserving tricks or shortcuts do you have?

What I learnt this summer...

26 March, 2015

This post is inspired by E at Dig In, who recently posted about her summer learning experiences.

These are mine:

Sow tomato seeds later.
I sowed tomato seed in August. It wasn't worth it. Seeds re-sown in September grew just as well.

Don't plant tomato seedlings too close together.
Yes they are tiny now, but they will grow. Give them at least 60cms between plants. At least.

Do plant those extra bits of tomatoes, but do it early and plant them where they will get lots of late autumn sun.
The pinched out tomato stems that I planted did produce, but not much. But they were planted in a shady area and could have done better with more sun.

Plant out melons earlier. 
Melon seeds sown in September were ok, but these didn't get planted out in the garden until November and should have been planted out earlier.

Do overwinter eggplant and capsicums.
The eggplants I overwintered are the only ones producing anything. The one's grown from seed are tiny. But I might keep them for next year. The capsicums were well ahead of the seed grown ones. I'm going to see if these can go for a third year.

Do let some parsnips, carrots and beetroot go to seed.
Saves you needing to sow those at all.

Plant corn successionally.
Enough said.

Regularly water recently moved plants.
I transplanted some gooseberry plants in spring. They did just fine, until I got distracted in the business of summer and because it wasn't so hot, and I was distracted, I didn't keep an eye on them. They died.

Sow beans when you sow early brassicas.
The January sown beans (sown in the brassica patch) are just starting to produce now, just as the November sown plants are sucumbing to disease. I only sowed these as a cover crop while the brassicas grow. Worth repeating.

Protect apple blossoms from marauding earwigs.
I have all of about 12 apples on my 60+ apple trees. There were many blossoms, but these were eaten in spring time, I suspect by earwigs. Given I had 50+ apples on one tree alone last year, this crop is disappointing to say the least. Blossoms must be protected next year at all costs.

That's my list. What's on yours?

Yet more preserving...

24 March, 2015

This is the preserving time of year. It is keeping me busy, putting up all sorts of delicious concoctions for eating until next summer comes.

But it is an enjoyable business. I like preparing my own food, knowing exactly what has gone into the things I eat and many of it coming from my own garden. I enjoy seeing fully stocked larder shelves. Jackie French calls it the "siege mentality" and I totally have it too.

My latest preserving adventures have been both sweet and savoury delights. I had, on revision of the remaining preserves late last year, decided that more pressure canned salsa was a necessity.

So this weekend I picked the last of the tomatoes (ignore the blue spots from the liberal copper sprays, these came off with a good wash) and a good many capsicums and chillies.

These were chopped with some store bought onions, pre-picked tomatoes, homegrown garlic, simmered down with some salt and then pressure canned as per my previous method.

Not wanting to waste space in the pressure canner, I had come across some extra cheap bags of a bit too ripe pears when I was at the shops buying the onions. Not wanting to waste a bargain, I snapped these up. Until my pear trees are a bit more prolific in their pear production I won't be home bottling pears. And I love bottled pears. But home bottled store bought pears are the next best thing.

So I peeled and chopped the pears and then raw packed them into jars. A very light sugar syrup (1 cup sugar to 2 liters water) spiked with the juice of a lemon went over. These were pressure canned with the salsa.

Et voila.

As the salsa needed a bit longer than the pears really needed in the pressure canner (25 mins at 11 pounds pressure) there is a lot of space in the jars, but I'm not too fussed.

The Weck jars make perfect little 1-2 person serves, while the big quart Ball Mason jars are perfect for a dish of crumble.

The salsa meanwhile was preserved in the pint and half pint Mason Jars, which officially used up all the Mason Jars I have.

So there will be no more pressure canning until I use up some of these. Or buy more jars.

Hmmm, which option here do you think I'm going to go with?...

A year's worth of pasta sauce...

17 March, 2015

Now is the time for preserving the best of the summer harvest. For me this means tomatoes.

The best way for me to preserve tomatoes for future meals is a passata - the Italian pasta sauce of dreams.

I learned the sacred art of passata making from an Italian friend's parents. I went and spent the day with them many years ago and ever since I've been making my own according to their time honoured recipe.

Over the years I have discovered the correct amount to make to roughly last me for enough passata for pasta sauce, pizza bases and the like for a year, until it is time to make passata again.

1.5 cases (around 15 kilos) of tomatoes
6 onions
6 large carrots
3/4 bunch celery (remove the tough outer stalks and discard, or munch on as a passata making snack)
2 bunches basil
1L olive oil
2 handfuls salt (yes, handfuls - roughly 1 handful = 3/4 cup) 

Now the best tomatoes for passata are the roma style sauce tomatoes, which are more 'meaty' and have less liquid for the volume of tomato. But the second best tomatoes are a mix of any tomatoes you grew yourself.

I have been stashing excess tomatoes in the freezer over the last few weeks, in preparation of today's passata making extravaganza.

This was enough tomatoes for my current batch.

When mixed with onions (bought), celery (bought), carrots (bought), basil (homegrown), olive oil  and salt they filled three pans, totally covering my awesome 70's style stovetop.

I just love how it is called a "Grillmaster".

All the ingredients were given a good mix, then put on a moderate heat to slowly cook down to sauce.

After about 5 hours it looked like this:

Now it needed to be strained. I have a vegetable strainer attachment for my KitchenAid mixer, which is well worthwhile for this volume of sauce. There is no way I could be bothered hand pressing it through a sieve. I would rather go without pasta and pizza than do that.

But thanks to modern technology, I don't have to.

While the passata was cooking I set up my sauce straining section, and got out the passata bottles.

I still bottle in the same stubbie size VB bottles I originally preserved in back at my first passata making session. Some of them still have the string around the neck, which denoted which bottles were mine (as the whole family's passata was made over a weekend, everyone had some sort of identifying feature on their bottles).

But by bit the passata is ladled into the top part, with the strained passata going into the red bowl and the skins, stalks and generally fiberous bits going into the metal bowl.

As you can see this is a messy process. Not surprisingly my friend's parents did all this outside. But I have not that option.

As the sauce was strained it went into the bottles. In addition to the VB bottles, I also had some glass bottles from bought bottled tomatoes which were donated by family, as I knew I wasn't going to have enough and I'm out of Ball Mason jars.

Some of these were just delightful, with tomato motifs in the glass.

When all the bottles were full and I had no more passata the bottles went into the Fowler's Vacola for 45 minutes.

Luckily there was still a little passata left.

And this is the end result.

The VB bottles are enough for 2-3 meals, and I think the large bottles will be enough for 4-5.

I can't wait to do a pizza night to get stuck into one of these.

Morning meander...

14 March, 2015

I do love a good meander around the garden of a morning, checking on how the plants are faring and planning what gardening needs to be done. Usually done with a cup of coffee in hand.

The Black Jack zucchini is totally overtaken by sooty mould. I have been spraying it with soap/milk spray, but it is not surviving. I will need to pull it out. No matter, because...

... the Trombonico zucchinis are taking over the world and fruiting like mad. This one is climbing up the apple tree and buddleia plant.

The rockmelons/cantaulopes are also getting a bit of mould, but it is under control. The melons are starting to fill out though. This is Delice de la Table.

This one is Prescott Fond Blanc.

I have taken the precaution of netting the pear tree. Just in case.

The sunflowers are setting seeds. Some I will keep for resowing, but I'm planning on eating most of these.

In more melon news, there are a few watermelons doing great things.

The tomatoes have responded well to spraying with copper spray, and are setting heaps more fruit. Don't know if it will properly ripen though.

Autumn fruiting raspberries are giving a handful or so every few days. It's lovely to see these again on my breakfast yoghurt.

The solo pumpkin I have grown.

Recent sowings of radish and carrot seed coming up in the raised beds.

Brassica seeds sprouting well. Will need to thin these soon.

This is a self sown brassica which came up in January. It is officially now huge! I think it will be a cabbage of some sort as the center leaves are starting to curl in.

Lots of eggplants coming along now.

And on the eggplant, another nice sight. Go ladybird. Eat those aphids!