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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

It’s that time of year—the weather forecasters begin to hint at the white stuff coming soon, frost appears regularly in the early morning hours, and the harvesting season comes to an end. Autumn is the time of year that we celebrate our garden victories and enjoy the fruits of our labor. But autumn is also a time when we need to get ready for the next season, winter.

Make a list and check it twice

Last year I made some silly mistakes when conducting my annual fall clean-up tasks. For example, I forgot to empty the water out of my watering can before temperatures dipped below freezing and remained there. The following spring I had a cracked can that I had to replace because it leaked water. I also forgot to drain the water out of my hose before it was too late…fortunately I did not need to replace that. But this year I wasn’t taking any chances. I decided early on to get organized and create a comprehensive end-of-season checklist for myself. And I’m happy to report that I just finally checked the last item off the list this past weekend (winter comes early here!). Today I thought I’d share that checklist with you so you can rest assured that your yard and gardens are prepared for winter.

  • Mow the lawn one last time. One good thing about the onset of winter is that lawn-mowing can come to end until next spring. Decide when you’ll mow for the last time and then safely store your lawn mower for the season. If you have a mulching lawn mower, consider the benefits of mowing your leaves right into the grass instead of raking them.
  • Deal with leaf matter. No mulching lawn mower? Or perhaps you actually like raking leaves? Watch the trees carefully and track when they’ve lost all or almost all of their leaves for the season. Instead of simply bagging your piles and sending them to the dump, consider adding them to your compost pile or using them as mulch for your gardens.
  • Monitor your gutters. If you have a lot of trees that send leaves right into your gutters, be sure to watch and see that they don’t get too full to the point that water cannot flow properly. We have a tool to reach our high gutters that removes leaf clumps that gather in certain places.
  • Harvest the last of your vegetables and fruits. Pick the rest of your sensitive veggies before the first hard freeze and decide how to prepare and store them for the winter. For hardy veggies like carrots, consider leaving them in the garden over winter, but be sure to adequately mulch them so they’ll survive.
  • Dig up your annual vegetable garden. After the final harvests, dig up all the annual plants and add them to your compost pile if you have one (be careful not to add diseased plants to your compost pile). Or consider working some of the plant matter right back into the soil for added nutrients next year. Then turn the soil to prepare for the spring planting season. Be sure to mulch any perennials that will remain in the garden over the winter.
  • Leave most perennial plants standing. Autumn is a time for increased bird populations and many perennial flowers provide seeds for these passing migrants (e.g. cone flowers or black-eyed susans). Leaving disease-free perennial plants standing can also add beauty to the winter landscape.
  • Prune certain perennial plants for insect and disease control. While some plants can be left alone, you should consider the benefits of lightly pruning certain perennials to help prevent and control pests. Plants that would benefit from a little pruning include irises, daylilies, or columbines.
  • Collect seeds for next year. If you are a seed collector, now is the time of year to collect, inventory, organize, and store them for next year’s planting.
  • Bring in sensitive plants. Perhaps you put houseplants outside for the summer. Maybe you planted sensitive bulbs or other perennials and annuals in your gardens that cannot survive the winter. Or possibly you had nice collection hanging pots all around your yard. Regardless, you need to be sure to bring everything in before damaging frost if you are planning on keeping them alive.
  • Plant bulbs. While you might be busy digging up other plants, autumn is actually the time of year to plant your spring bulbs. Plan when and where you will bury the bulbs and adequately mulch the soil for added protection over the cold winter.
  • Start new plants. Due to cooler and wetter conditions, autumn is actually an ideal time to plant certain perennials, trees, and garden crops like garlic.
  • Remove and store garden accessories. Take out your tomato cages, plant stakes, cloches, or sensitive decorations and store them safely for the winter. Give them a good once-over and decide if they need repairs or replacement. Also try to clean them off so they’re ready when you need them next season.
  • Clean and store garden tools. Properly maintaining your garden tools will help them last much longer. Be sure to clean, dry, and safely store all your expensive equipment so you can use it again next year.
  • Clean and store pots. Pots can quickly become a nuisance if they are not cleaned and stored properly. Give them all a good wash and stack them in an organized fashion.
  • Drain and store your hose. As I said above, I made the mistake of forgetting to drain my hose last year before it totally froze. Fortunately it did not crack, but it certainly could have. After its last use, drain all the water out and find a safe place to store it for the winter.
  • Empty your watering cans. Many gardeners like to keep their watering cans full of water so when they want to give their plants a drink, they’ve got water ready and available. Don’t make the mistake I did last year and forget to dump the water out before it freezes. My watering can was plastic and it cracked so I had to buy a new one the following season.
  • Bring in liquid fertilizers or pesticides. Similar to the point above, be sure to bring all your garden liquids inside where they can’t freeze. Store potentially harmful chemicals in a safe place where children will not have access to them.
  • Straighten up the garage. Your garage (or shed) is where you will undoubtedly be storing all your yard and garden supplies for the winter. Be sure you’ve organized everything in advance and stored each item in a logical place. Believe me when I say that you will not want to be moving things around too much to try to find what you need when it’s the cold of winter.
  • Tidy up the yard. After you’ve done everything else, it’s time to just tidy up the yard a bit and tie up any loose ends before closing shop for the season.
  • Take advantage of end-of-season sales. This last tip doesn’t really belong on the clean-up checklist, per se, but it goes without saying that this is the time of year when pots, tools, or even plants might be on sale. Take advantage of this money-saving opportunity and buy now.

Reader Reflection

This is certainly not an exhaustive checklist, especially since everyone’s autumn clean-up needs will vary depending on many factors. Do you have anything you’d add to the list?

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Last week I talked at length about organizing your tomato harvest and finding creative ways to save time and money. It has come to my attention this week that various readers are curious about what they can do with their green tomatoes beyond attempting to ripen them indoors. So today I thought I’d share two recipes that I use for my green tomatoes, plus several links to recipes around the web that I thought looked interesting. Enjoy!

Green Tomato Soup

This recipe I adapted last year by checking out the wide assortment of green tomato soup recipes out there and fine-tuning it to meet my tastes. While it isn’t a soup I make regularly, it is a fun autumn dish to use those leftover tomatoes in a unique way.

Ingredients

1 TBS olive oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 large onion, diced
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 14.5 oz cans chicken broth
2 large potatoes, diced
4 large green tomatoes, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 TBS honey
1 14.5 oz can coconut milk
½ cup-1 cup fresh cilantro
Fresh mint (optional)

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot, heat garlic in olive oil. Add onions and sauté until translucent, stirring almost constantly.
  2. Add curry, ginger, cumin, and crushed red pepper. Stir for a few more minutes to cook in flavors.
  3. Add 2 cans of chicken broth. Boil.
  4. Add potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and honey. Turn down heat and simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
  5. Puree in a blender or food processor OR use a potato masher to mash up solids.
  6. Add coconut milk. Simmer for 10 more minutes.
  7. Add generous amounts of cilantro (and mint if available) just before serving.

Fried Green Tomatoes

When I first made fried green tomatoes, I prepared them southern style (cornmeal, eggs, etc.), but I found that I personally prefer them prepared Italian style.

Ingredients

1 TBS olive oil
4-6 TBS butter
½ cup flour
½ cup bread crumbs
½ cup parmesan cheese
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
3-4 green tomatoes, sliced

Directions

  1. Melt butter in a small bowl.
  2. Combine flour and half of Italian seasoning in a second small bowl.
  3. Combine bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, the other half of the Italian seasoning, garlic, and salt & pepper in a third bowl.
  4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare green tomato slices by first dipping the tomato slices into the seasoned flour, then the butter, and finally the bread crumb mixture.
  6. Fry each slice until golden brown on both sides. Serve warm.

When in doubt ask Google

In a quick Google search this morning, I came up a good list of links to other unique green tomato recipes on the web. Here are just ten to get you started:

Reader Reflection

Do you have or know of any green tomato recipes you’d like to share?

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If you garden like me, this is the time of the year that you can start looking back at your harvest and really begin to appreciate the fruits of your labor, literally. And no one can deny the popularity of the tomato…they are tasty and versatile! I’ve been busy with my tomato crop for the past month and today I’d like to offer some tips on how to organize your own harvest. With a little creativity, you can get the most out of all your hard work and hopefully save some time and money in the future.

The possibilities are endless

There’s nothing better than slicing up a tasty vine-ripened tomato at the end of summer. Toss it in your salad, include it in your sandwich, make spaghetti, or just eat it plain. But if you’re like me and go crazy with planting (I grew 16 plants this year), you probably have more than a few fruits to figure out what to do with beyond just the occasional addition to a lettuce salad. And of course that’s exactly why I grow so many tomato plants in the first place: I love the endless possibilities with respect to how you can cook with them right away and store them for later. Below I’d like to outline several of the ways you can creatively manage your tomato surplus so you can get maximum enjoyment out of these delectable fruits.

I want to eat them now

You’ve got a lot of tomatoes and they’re fresh out of the garden. How can you use them right away? I’ve already mentioned the obvious: eat them plain, put them in a salad or in a sandwich, make spaghetti sauce, etc. What else is there?

  • Make soup (or chili). Set aside the Campbell’s for a second and consider the flavor explosion of a homemade soup. It’s a lot more work, yes, but it pays off! You get to enjoy a tasty soup now, plus you have the option of freezing the leftovers for later. My family loves eating homemade soup in the middle of winter and it doesn’t get much more convenient than simply grabbing a tub out the freezer and thawing it. It’s also a special treat for someone who has a cold or the flu. I have two recipes in particular that I make each fall with my tomato surplus—Spicy Tomato Dill Soup and Tomato Basil Soup.
  • Make salsa. Here’s an opportunity to use even more of your garden vegetables in addition to your tomatoes and prepare a salsa you love that you can eat right away or save for later. In addition to being a staple at potlucks or parties, salsa also makes a great gift!
  • Get creative. Step out of the comfort zone of your regular recipes and try some new ones. Prepare slow-roasted tomatoes, tomato dumplings, tomato preserves, or bruschetta. This last one is one of my personal favorites and allows me to use some of my fresh basil too.

I want to save them for later

I love stocking my pantry and freezer with vegetables and fruits I harvest from my garden all summer. That way you can enjoy your garden in one way or another all year round. That’s not to mention the convenience and money savings involved with growing and storing your own tomatoes. Here are a few ways you can prepare your tomatoes now in order to enjoy them later:

  • Can them. My family canned tomatoes every summer when I was growing up and I can still remember watching my dad pulling extremely hot glass jars out of a large pot on the stove. I don’t personally can my tomatoes due to how involved the process is, but if you have the time or desire, canning is one of the best ways to preserve your tomatoes without having to rely on a power source to sustain them…you simply store them on a shelf!
  • Freeze them whole. This is what I do because it is so simple and we have a large freezer. After I get a load of ripe tomatoes, I wash them, dry them, and cut off the tops. I then spread them out evenly on a cookie sheet (so they aren’t touching) and set the sheet in the freezer. After the individual tomatoes freeze solid, I just drop the “rocks” into labeled bags of any size. Whenever I need tomatoes in the future, I just grab as many as I want and seal the bag back up again. Thawing is easy and after a few chops with your knife, they are ready to be added to your favorite sauce or soup. It’s important to note that frozen tomatoes do not slice well…they are best used as stated above because the consistency is fairly mushy under the peeling after some time in the freezer.
  • Dehydrate them. Dehydrating is a unique storage option and if you have the equipment, it can be a real space saver. Simply slice up your fresh ripe tomatoes and stick them in a food dehydrator. After they are fully dehydrated, bag them up. Keep them at room temperature in a cool, dark place or freeze them for longer storage. The benefit of dehydrating is that dried tomatoes are concentrated and take up much less space. As far as cooking with them, they make great additions to sauces, soups, breads, casseroles, pizza, and much more. Finally, if dried enough, the tomatoes can be crushed into flakes or a powder for seasoning.

Green tomatoes and the perils of frost

Last year our first killing frost came on September 14. That’s early…too early. This year I hoped for more time for my garden to progress, so you can imagine my frustration when our weather forecaster called for a frost advisory on August 24! Fortunately, we didn’t get frost that night (it got down to 33 degrees). After several close calls throughout September, our first killing frost finally came on October 3. The point I’m trying to make here with all this temperature data is that sometimes gardeners are forced to harvest tomatoes while they are still green due to the fact that a hard freeze will likely kill any fruits hanging on the vine, covered or not. So to prevent waste, you need to pick them before they are ripe. But what in the world can you do with green tomatoes?

  • Eat them! Everyone’s heard of fried green tomatoes, but there are also other ways to cook with green tomatoes: traditionally these unripe tart fruits can be used in soups, salsas, and even desserts.
  • Ripen them indoors. Not a fan of eating green tomatoes? No problem. With the right conditions, unripe tomatoes can be ripened indoors. Here’s what I do: I grab a cardboard box or a paper bag and set the green tomatoes inside. I then close the box or bag so just a little air and light can enter. I store the box in a room with low humidity (to prevent rotting) and comfortable temperatures (tomatoes need warmth to ripen!). If ripening isn’t evident after several days, I add a few red tomatoes to the bunch because ripe tomatoes give off a gas that encourages other tomatoes to ripen. You can also use a banana or an apple. While the tomatoes start to turn red, I move them to the window sill in the kitchen and let them finish the ripening process there. That way I can keep track of their progress a little better and use them before it’s too late. Keep in mind that tomatoes ripened indoors aren’t quite as flavorful as vine-ripened, but when you have no alternative, you’ll take what you can get!

Reader Reflection

I’m no ‘top expert’ when it comes to tomatoes and I certainly haven’t created an exhaustive list of tomato uses here in these few paragraphs. I’d love to hear what each of you do with your tomato surplus, from storage methods to your favorite recipe!

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