With mountains of ripe tomatoes lining our kitchen along with the fridge full of cucumbers Liz and I prepared to do more canning on Labor Day after our friends departed. Developing our canning skills and repertoire we decided that another round of pickles should be canned as well as pizza sauce and more tomato sauce to alleviate us of a majority of our ripe tomatoes. Pickles were the first on the list, these went smoothly and since we last canned we bought a proper canning pot with the removable rack to easily place jars into the water bath. Positioning this over two burners on the stove got things rolling quickly. Jars were sterilized and cooled then packed with garlic and fresh dill as before but this time we added a Pickling Spice we purchased to three of the six quarts we canned and dry dill to all six quarts in addition to the fresh dill. The other change with the pickles this go around was the idea of removing a quarter inch from the flower end of each cucumber. This has something to do with the crispness of the end product and we are hoping to notice a difference between these and the pickles we canned two weeks ago.
Pickles are pretty easy and we were quickly onto blanching ~10lbs of tomatoes, removing the skins and using the food processor to turn them into a puree. We then added a packet of Mrs. Wages pizza sauce mix and the recommended amount of sugar. This concoction was then brought to a boil and simmered for twenty-five minutes after which it was placed into sterilized pint jars, sealed and put in the water bath for a whopping forty minutes. While all that was going down we were already moving on the tomato sauce. Our BRB recipe tomato sauce is pretty simple, some traditional italian seasonings, a ton of onion (chopped finely), minced garlic, and close to 15lbs of garden fresh tomatoes. We started the onion and garlic in first cooking the onion until almost translucent at which point the rest of the ingredients were added and then stirred together and brought to a boil. We did add the recommended amount of citric acid based on the number of quarts we planned to can. After this was brought to a boil we allowed it to simmer for ~20minutes before filling the quart jars. Once full we were careful to remove any air pockets and top off to the recommended amount of head space. These were sealed and placed in the water bath for 35minutes. Twenty-four hours later we checked and again all of our jars sealed properly. So to review, six quarts of Pickles, four pints of Pizza Sauce and five quarts of BRB Tomato Sauce. Not a bad haul.
There is something to be said about this process and this day, I can only imagine what housewives years ago went through dealing with this all on their own. Liz and I were working in tandem checking each others progress and maintaining all the things going on at once. This took us a couple hours and was exhausting, if you know a serious canner and you benefit from their hard work, thank them the next time you crack one of those seals open. I wish grandma was around to teach me a few things, I bet we would have had a blast in the kitchen these days.
We’ve been regularly tending the garden, each day some amount of time is spent walking through picking weeds or fruit, spying the plants in their various stages of growth and watching as everything changes. As we explained earlier this is our first real garden installed a bit later than desired and planted even later than that. We are now starting to regularly pick our summer squash and zucchini. Soon the peas and beans will be keeping us busy along with the barrage of tomatoes. Last night Liz and I harvested a handful of our first tomatoes and labeled each of the plants in our large tomato bed, next year the garden will be organized much differently. We are learning first hand what spacing is necessary for the plants we want and how the arrangement can be changed to maximize the space used. I like the idea of planting lettuce around bed edges. Part of the lettuce will over hang and be less likely to sit in soil and rot. The rot brings bugs and we have been diligent to remove any slimy or rotting lettuce from the under layers to prevent slugs and other pests. We are also getting a taste for the idea of late summer planting, next year we will be designing the garden with this in mind.
Observations so far: Corn is the coolest thing, I think I’ve always wanted to grow corn but never had the space to do it. Liz and I head straight for the corn when we get in the garden. Pole beans… we need to build something much, much, much taller than the 4ft high cages we are currently using. We should have planted three times the number of Sugar Snap peas we did and put them on their own trellis separate from the cucumbers. I’m wondering if the cucumbers wouldn’t do better being planted between two trellises so the vines could bounce back and forth, they appear to want to move out a bit as well as up. I know this would complicate harvesting fruit because it would be trapped between the trellises but if your motivated anything can be accomplished. We are well motivated. Soil moisture has been good despite a couple of days with minimal to no rain, thick layers of grass clippings (especially around the onions) have kept the top couple inches of soil moist allowing for growth. If your onions don’t stay moist they won’t grow, they just sit stagnant and same with carrots so we have been diligently keeping an eye on the soil moisture around the very vulnerable. No cracking has been noted in any of the tomatoes which comes as a result of drastic changes in soil moisture.
Goals for the next few weeks include getting a soil chemical and PH testing kit along with designing a rough layout for the expansion of the garden plot and next years design so we can make informed decisions regarding fall soil prep and bed layout. We did basic staples that we know we will eat this year, next year I plan to embark on new territory including but not limited to: Leeks, Garlic (Plant in the Fall), Asparagus, Radish, and Potatoes. We need to keep an eye on the multitude of tomato plants we have, they are so close together and huge that it will be easy to lose fruit to rot or bugs if we don’t stay on top of them. We also want to prevent bugs by keeping the rotting fruit to a minimum. For now we are enjoying the new sights that come daily this time of year.