Tomatoes I Have Grown and Loved

If it is not already obvious, I really love growing tomatoes. To the point of obsession.  I wander the greenhouse rows tending to my plants, lovingly pruning them, winding them up their trellis, pinching off new growth to encourage ripening.  And this year my babying has paid off, as we’ve enjoyed a lovely harvest of large, sweet, beautiful tomatoes.

Like many, I keep a garden journal with notes about seeds ordered, dates I transplant, etc.  But while I’m a very detail oriented kind of gal (I love Excel spreadsheets and making lists and all that fun stuff), for some odd reason, I have never been able to keep a harvest record. So each year I scratch my head and think, “hmmm…which tomato did I really love last year?”

No longer, my friends!  I am here to share my tomato harvest notes, for my sanity and your enjoyment!

Cherokee Purple (seed from Territorial Seed Company) – I really enjoy this maroon-tinged tomato for its rich, wine-y flavor, but it is prone to cracking and molding on the vine. Pick just short of ripe and bring indoors to finish ripening.

Pineapple (Territorial Seed Co.) – Large, beautiful red-yellow striped fruits.  Delicious, low acid, sweet taste.  This was my number one slicer this year.  With home-cured bacon, these tomatoes made the best BLTS ever.

Oldenhorf Red (Adaptive Seeds) – A new one for me this year.  These were the first ripe tomatoes in my greenhouse.  The fruits are early, perfectly red, round, and blemish-free. But the flavor is somewhat unimpressive.  I call it a “work horse” tomato.

Kellogg’s Breakfast (Territorial Seed Co.) – Perfect, huge, bright yellow-orange fruits with a sweet/slightly tart flavor.  Nice addition to salsa.

Rose de Berne (High Mowing Seeds) – Beautiful pink fruits of uniform size and shape. Intensely sweet & delicious flavor (my mother-in-law gives it a 10).  But, the fruits crack consistently at the first hint of ripeness.  Pick early!

Pruden’s Purple (High Mowing Seeds) – These are really not purple at all, but big, pink, meaty fruits.  Some cracking on larger fruits, but the flavor and texture are nice.

Baylor Paste (Adaptive Seeds) – If I had to tell the world about a tomato that I grow and love, this would be the tomato.  It has everything going for it – looks, texture, flavor, abundance.  And best of all, each and every tomato is PERFECT.  No end rot, no cracking.  Just dozens of perfect, ripe, tomatoes on every plant.  Grow this tomato and you won’t regret it!

Gilbertie Paste (High Mowing Seeds) – This is a nice paste tomato.  Large, nice meaty flesh with few seeds, no blossom end rot problems.  But I don’t find it to be especially prolific.

Principe Borghese (Territorial Seed Co.)  – Abundant, perfect, small oval shaped fruits.  Great in salsa, or roasted, or cut into pasta, or dried.  You get the idea!

San Marzano Paste (High Mowing Seeds) -Some gorgeous and large fruits, others (even on the same plant) are small with blossom end rot.  Very disappointing –  I won’t plant these again.

 

I’d love to hear…which tomatoes did you grow and love?

 

 

September Snapshots

More than any other September in memory, this month is lasting an eternity.  Each day has been long and full, stretching beyond my usual perception of a day.  And this has been a very good thing because we are moving in two weeks. Moving across country, to a new life on a new piece of land.  And while this move holds excitement and potential, particularly because the new piece of land is ours, I also feel deep grief at leaving this rented piece of land that we’ve called home for 13 years.  The home where I learned to garden, raised animals, got married, got a Master’s degree, had two babies born in this house.

And so I feel the urge to hold on tightly to every single one of these long moments. To burn them in my memory as a record of our last summer in this magical creek-side house.

Our garden, luscious and unruly.

Huge, prolific squash, and a wool-bottomed baby.

Making roasted tomatillo salsa, with a recipe from Coyote Cafe.

Searching for tadpoles in the lake.

Frightening forest creatures at my doorstep!

Seeking the warmth of the greenhouse in the crisp mornings.

Enjoying our sweet goats.

Digging for sandy treasure.

Sharing an equinox campfire and some s’mores with good friends was the perfect way to say goodbye to summer and hello to an autumn of new adventures.

 

Finger knitting with children

Monday was an adventure day, as the kids and I joined a good friend and her children on a trip to the coast.  The whole day was so much fun – mamas chatting in the front seat, kids piled into the back of her minivan, picnic lunch on the sand, hunting for treasure, climbing sand dunes, and eating ice cream. It was such a necessary recharge for me; a chance to spend hours connecting with another women, another mother, who faces many of the same joys and challenges as I do.

Her 5 year old daughter, C spent much of the car ride finger knitting.  I had been taught a version of finger knitting by one of Ella’s Waldorf school teachers, but it was way too complicated for Ella – wrapping around 4 fingers, going over and under – too much.  But the method that C was using was so simple – just a single chain created on one finger.  Ella and I both wanted to learn!

So I found this Waldorf-inspired video on YouTube, that teaches finger knitting through a story about a fence, sheep jumping over the fence, and slipping a collar on the sheep.  With that story, and this verse:

Finger ring, finger ring
How many stitches can I bring?
Wrap around once, then jump over
Roll around in sweet green clover!

we began.  And within minutes she was finger knitting!  Every few moments she’d say, with amazement in her voice, “Mama, look at how long my finger knitting is now!”  And then she proceeded to finger knit for over two hours.  Parked on the sofa with blankets on our laps, and a few balls of wool, we sat together and finger knit.  And I cannot even tell you how happy this made me, to sit peacefully next to my almost 5-year old daughter, and knit.

Thank you so much to S, C, and C for inspiring us!

 

Homestead Honey Harvest

It’s homestead honey time!  Our bees have been hard at work this year, helping to create one of the most abundant fruiting seasons that I can recall. (After two years where we could literally count the number of apples on the old tree, it’s amazing to look up and see hundreds of ripe fruits!)  And now we are even more grateful for their work as we enjoy the sweet reward of their efforts – honey.

It has been a few years since I’ve donned a bee suit, and I was very excited to help with the harvest.  I have to admit that I’m a tiny little bit squeamish about the whole process.  Putting on a suit that is way too big for me and standing in the hot sun with smoke in my face, while hundred of angry bees dive bomb my head is not usually my idea of fun. But I breathed deeply and channeled my inner Waldorf teacher as I sang sweet, soft songs to the bees to keep them (okay, to keep me) calm.  It mostly worked, until Everett woke from his nap and cried for me. Then my mommy adrenaline kicked into gear, and I swear, they bees knew it.  They immediate went for me.  I dropped my tools and ran for the house, and my gracious father-in-law, Ron, kindly stepped in (many of these great photos are courtesy of Ron).

That’s me brushing off bees from the frame and Brian holding.

See the white caps on the frame? That’s capped honey.  Many of the top boxes were not full – probably because we had a huge swarm leave the hive in June.  The frames went into an empty box, and then into our house for the extraction process.

Removing the wax caps from the frame.  This year we used a cappings scratcher instead of a decapping knife.  It was a bit slower going, but quite simple.  I highly recommend it for hobby beekeepers.

Close up of the process.  The caps fell into a plastic tub, which we later rinsed with fresh water and created a delicious honey lemonade. The beeswax was then separated out from the rinse water for future projects (candles?).

Both sides need to be de-capped, and then the frames go into the extractor.

This extractor fits four frames at a time.

Ella got the spinning started, and then Brian gave it a strong finish. Centrifugal force causes the honey to eject from the frames, and it collects at the bottom of the stainless steel basket.

Then it’s time to filter the honey.  We keep our honey 100% raw.  No heat is ever used in the extraction process.

The judges sample the honey.  They both approved.

The whole process took about 5 hours, and in the end, we had collected about 8 gallons of honey from two hives.

The best part of this entire process – the bees do the cleaning up for you!  We leave the frames in a safe location, and let the bees come and collect any leftover honey bits.

Yesterday we finished the last of our honey from 2010!  So today we opened up the first jar of 2012’s honey harvest.  And I must say, it is darn good.

 

 

 

Goatpacking

We spent a lovely Labor Day weekend in the wilderness with good friends and goats, complete with great weather, a pristine alpine lake all to ourselves, and lovely views.  We were in the Diamond Peak Wilderness, in Oregon, and only a few miles away from the spot where we backpacked with goats for the very first time.

It was 2006, just a few weeks after our wedding, and we decided it was time to take our goats into the backcountry.  Inspired by the book The Pack Goat, by John Mionczynski, we had been training our goats to follow us on hikes around the property.  Being herd animals, our dairy goats followed us quite readily, and we found it was quite fun and easy to go on walks with them in line behind us.

So, on a warm late summer day, we loaded up three goats – our Alpine goat Rose, her kid Lupine, and a Nubian named Hazelnut – in the back of our friend’s VW van and drove into the wilderness.  With makeshift packs on the goats backs, it was an exciting first outing.  Did the goats try to eat our dinner? Sure!  Did they engage in mischief on the trail? You bet!!  But the udder (pun intended) bliss of spending time with goats in the backcountry was an experience that was completely unforgettable. We were hooked.

Rose and Hazelnut on the Divide Lake trail, September 2006.

Lupine and Hazelnut join us for a mid-day sun break.  Near Divide Lake, 2006.

Fast forward six years and over a dozen goat packing trips later, and we still love it.  While our first trips were primarily for the fun of bringing our goats camping, and the enjoyment of fresh milk, bringing goats on later trips became something of a necessity.  As our family grew, we relied more heavily on our goats to carry the bulk of our gear, as we carried small children on our backs.  On this trip, I carried Everett and a small day pack, Brian carried Ella in a kid carrier with gear strapped on to the outside of the pack, and the goats carried the remainder of our gear, approximately 20-30 lbs each.

Our packing gear has become more sophisticated over the years, as has our herd management.  While we allow them to walk freely on the trail, we keep them tethered in the campsite, to keep them out of our food and away from small children.  We allow them to forage for fresh browse, but also carry grain as a supplement.  And each morning, we milk fresh, sweet milk for our morning tea.  It doesn’t get much better than this.

Ella, with a fully loaded up Calyso behind.  Diamond Peak Wilderness, 2012.

Gilly takes the steep section slow and steady.

Me and Calypso at Marie Lake.

I always appreciate our farm animals, but I am especially grateful to our goats for making it possible for us to still enjoy the backcountry as a family.

Have a wonderful day!

Teri