Tuesday, June 23, 2009

You Too Can CAN!

The best part of gardening is harvesting, eating and putting away the extra goodies. Nothing beats pulling out a jar of tomatoes during the dead of winter! It rushes me right back to the middle of my garden, when the vines are full with maters waiting to be picked. My first year of canning I bought the Ball Blue Book. It's considered to be the canner's Bible and still after years of canning I refer to it frequently. It not only covers the subject of canning, but also freezing and dehydration too.

A few of my personal tips:

1) It isn't necessary to buy brand new equipment. You'll need new lids each time, but can re-use rings, jars and most of the other equipment too. I usually buy new lids AND rings, but this is a personal preference. Many of your larger items you can find at garage sales or second hand stores so keep your eye out! Boiler, jars, jar lifters....etc.

2) Lay out all of your equipment BEFORE starting. I usually work on two counter surfaces. Preparing the food on one and then canning on the other. This is not the type of recipe/do it yourself that you can read a step, complete it, then gather tools for your next step. You'll want the process to flow smoothly and some steps are time/heat sensitive.

3) Make sure your work area is cooled. Sometimes AC is not enough. Use your ceiling fan or additional fans to circulate the area. Heat is your friend when canning but unfortunately doesn't stay confined to your pots!

4) When you hear that first lid "POP" think of me. I love that pop and can recognize it across the house. I can't help but do a little canning jig each time I hear it!

Monday, June 8, 2009

I Say Tomato, You Say Tomaaaaahto

What's the best way to handle those fast growing tomato plants? Ask any group of gardeners and you are bound to receive a handful of different answers...the tomato tower, topless table, stake and weave, simple ole' cages. One thing we can all agree on is tomato plants need to be supported in order to ensure a long and healthy growing & harvesting season.

Here is my process:

1) Tomatoes LOVE metal. According to Jerry Baker (a wacky but talented gardener) it is possible that tomatoes are able to gather electrical ions out of the air, energizing the plants and roots. I use 6 ft. fence posts, driven into the ground at each tomato base. I use fence posts that are made for rural fencing because they usually have notches that are perfect for anchoring when tying up the tomatoes.

2) Use something flexible to tie the tomato branches to the stake. I buy knee-hi pantyhose (usually around a buck per package of 10 at most discount stores). I like to cut mine in half lengthwise, just because you can tie better and waste less. Using pantyhose as ties allows the plant to continue growing, yet the material is strong enough to keep the plants tied in place.

3) Stake early, tie often. This is the most important rule to remember. Stake your tomatoes before they start to spread. Check your tomatoes once a week (or more during peak summer days) and add additional ties as your plants grow.

With this method I have had seasons with monster tomato plants that have reached beyond the top of my stakes and tomatoes that have produced until mid October. It works well for me, but might not fit everyone's gardening criteria. What works for you?