The end of the tomatoes

Starting, finally, to get some afternoon thunderstorms. No where near enough to impact the lake level but at least I’m getting a break watering the garden.

Pulled out all the tomato plants except one that has maybe another 2 weeks in it plus all the summer squash so the garden is looking fairly empty at this point. This coming week will mark the end of the cucumbers and I’ll probably yank out the beans as well. My plan is to let it rest for a month except for those items planted in the last month or so – that would be the sweet potatoes, eggplant, okra, and cherry tomatoes – then start planting new stuff. I’m reasonably confident that the heat and humidity in July and August will doom anything started new, but it just doesn’t cost much to try and maybe something will defy the odds and survive.

After pulling these plants out by the roots, I’m confident I can tell exactly what the nematode situation is in any one place. Out of a dozen tomatoes planted, two crashed with a couple of months and the roots were severely damaged. No surprise. Among the remaining plants 6 grew extremely well and produced an exceptional load of fruit; the other four grew well and produced a good crop but were definitely not as robust as some of the brethren. Sure enough, the roots on those exceptional plants were ultra clean, full, and lengthy whereas the lesser plants exhibited roots with some signs of nematode damage deep down. This is all good news because I know exactly what I did to the soil, pre-planting, at each location and it will be quite easy to duplicate the successes.

This is going to be one of those bad, bad days – two days actually. I have a colonoscopy tomorrow, just a routine checkup, but it really screws up my daily routine. I scheduled the event itself for a 6:30AM arrival so that I can get in and out of there with the least chance of delay due to a backup at the medical center. But then I got to thinking, that means I have to be up before 5AM to complete all the pre – event stuff. The good news is that breakfast is my favorite meal and the medical facility is close to my favorite breakfast place – that would be the best biscuits in town.

Back on line

Had a brief lack of internet when our signal unexpectedly dropped to near zero. I called the provider several days in a row and was told they were working on it. Our system is wireless and I thought it involved satellites but can’t imagine sending somebody up to fix the satellite. So it must be cell tower based. Anyway, back on line so my bride is a happy camper.

This Casey Anthony trial sure has my daily routine screwed up. I normally get all my outside work done in the morning, between 9AM and noon, before it just gets too hot. With the trial starting at 9, I’ve had to shift my yard work to fit when the trial breaks for lunch – when the temperature and humidity have soared to peak levels.

Got one more, the last one for sure, batch of tomatoes and sauce. By my tally, that would get us to 88 quarts for the season. Freezers full. I have some seedlings ready to hit the garden about mid July – maybe they’ll survive, maybe not. Way fewer than the original batch and intended for regular sliced tomato eating and salad – no more sauce.

Finished off the corn. I wouldn’t label it a total success but we did get a fair amount relative to previous years and identified an area of the garden needing a bit more attention. It was successful enough to encourage another crop try.

Have a few okra plants poking through the soil. I’m trying two different varieties in hopes of finding one that produces pods that remain tender at a larger size. The types I’ve tried to date have gone woody when they get much more than 2” long and I’d really like them at least double that. Also spotted my first Louisiana Long eggplant. It’s a heritage variety. I bought the seeds last season and have had zero success getting them from seed stage to garden vegetables – very poor germination rate and then difficulty moving seedlings to the main garden. I managed to get one plant growing nicely and putting out plenty of blossoms but no fruit; that is until I spotted two yesterday. The fruit is long, thin and green so it looks nothing like a conventional eggplant and hard to spot on the plant. The Lavender Touch variety, in the pic last post, is the variety that overwhelmed us last season and looking good again this year.

Father’s day at the beach

We had a great father’s day. Tom suggested we all do a day at the beach. They have the beach gear including a large canopy, portable gas grill, and boom box. The water was perfect and it cooled off nicely mid afternoon. I had guessed that we’d make it half a day but it turned out we were all having such a great time that we didn’t pack up until late afternoon. Even caught a small pompano. We topped it all off with dinner at a little country chicken restaurant in Bunnell. Missed Chris and little Tommy.

Just spotted something that surprised me. A large, green grasshopper flew out of a grapefruit tree about 20′ from me with a Cardinal in hot pursuit. The Cardinal caught him in mid air with some really fancy flying. Here’s what surprised me. I thought Cardinals were seed eaters, exclusively. Looks like an occasional grasshopper fills the protein requirements or maybe this guy was a rogue, rebelling against the vegan bit.

And another wildlife event. I’ve mentioned a couple of times that our trash can and the neighbor’s has been dumped. We’ve bounced between thinking it was a bear or a raccoon with the raccoon being the most likely suspect. More evidence today that it’s a bear. George’s can was dumped last night but this time it looks like the culprit decided to bed down in the vicinity of the trash. A circular area about 5′ in diameter in the jungle right behind the can was flattened – a clear sign of a sleeping spot for something larger than a raccoon. Our guess now is a small bear.
Another 20 pound basket of San Marzano’s, another 16 quarts of spaghetti sauce – just in time for some eggplant parmesan. (That’s Olivia holding a couple freshly picked Lavender Touch eggplants.) By my count we are now up to 72 quarts. Looking at the withering plants remaining, I suspect we can do this one more time next week before it’s all over. I’m starting seeds for another 4 plants to hit the garden mid July. Instinctively I suspect it will be too hot but the cherry tomato plants I put in a few weeks ago are showing no problems at all with the heat so why not try a few regular varieties. I’ll do the same in mid-August and hopefully we’ll have a continuous supply on through Thanksgiving this year.

Got some reinforcement on the San Marzanos. I was watching an episode of Man vs Food taped at a Brooklyn pizza place called Spumoni’s. Supposedly they have the best Sicilian pizza in the galaxy. They asked the chef what the secret was to his sauce and he said they used only San Marzano tomatoes. Nothing else met their standards. Everyone around here who’s tasted it agrees it’s awesome sauce.

Bonding with Olivia

This year I had a joint birthday party with Olivia. Should have done this years ago – the level of attention is way higher!! Joey and Mark had been sidetracked in Italy so they missed out on tons of leftovers but ……………… One good thing is the large quantity of veggies and spaghetti sauce that was used in the meal – baked ziti. The antipasto salad incorporated the usual provolone and salami and veggies including three varieties of summer squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans and onions – all fresh from the garden. We pondered early on about how much pasta to use for 14 adults and vacillated between two pounds and three. We opted for two because of the large salad, 8 pounds of sausage, and three loaves of Italian bread that would accompany the ziti. After we got the pasta boiling we read the box and it suggested 8 oz of pasta would work for 14 people. That sounded ridiculous but it turned out that the two pounds turned into about 10 pounds of finished product. It’s lots of work to make a meal like this and since it would take about as much effort to make half as much, go for leftovers. As it turned out, about 3/4 of the ziti was consumed so the two pounds was probably a good number for us.
Olivia came up to the lake the day before the party and will be staying with us all week. I took her surf fishing and she repaid my kindness by catching more than me. What’s that all about? She did Nancy things for a couple days and then she and I went crabbing. Had a good time but didn’t catch enough large crabs to make a decent meal. In between all those activities, she’s studying her AP Chemistry for next year. What dedication. I can’t ever remember being in the same room with a school book during my summer vacations. Nancy’s going to miss having her nails done on a nightly basis so that her nails were a color match for the next day’s clothes. Olivia brought up a small portion of her overall polish collection – a dozen or so bottles- and added to that on several shopping excursions. So Nancy had some very exotic combinations to show off to the bridge and quilting ladies.

About the Trial

I’m basically hanging on every word in the trial of Casey waiting for one key piece of information. Did she win the Hot Body contest? If she did, I think that gives her an automatic pass or at least some relief based on extenuated circumstances. Wouldn’t you have thought the prosecution would have showed a video of the event? I kept waiting. Other points of interest: entomologists can make decent bucks – the expert said he was making $30K for his work on this trial; cadaver dogs and the handlers are really rigorously trained, tested, and certified. I’m very suspicious about the duct tape since I’ve never seen any with markings on the tape. The kind I’ve always seen is just plain, silver tape. I’m also wondering if the cadaver dog “Bones” was named after the TV show or visa versa. I wish they would have clarified that for me.

All along I’ve had the opinion that the baby was accidentally killed rather than on a premeditated basis. The logic behind that opinion was that if it was planned, the killer would also have thought about and planned what to do with the body and for certain, not left it in the trunk of the car and dumped it close to the house. That, to me, is a sign of a panic rather than premeditation. Something like – she chloroformed the kid, maybe a regular thing she did, came home to find her dead and panicked. But there is another explanation that also explains a factor I’ve never come to terms with – Roy Kronk, the meter reader that found the body. That always smelled fishy to me. My new theory allows that the last piece to fit with premeditated murder. Caylee is killed and the body disposed of at a location far from the home. Roy Kronk happens on the body, maybe the way he said, and tries to figure a way to capitalize on the finding and get the reward. So he moves the body close to the Anthony home and calls 911. He gets his 15 minutes and maybe some money. The interesting thing is that if the defense is able to prove that Kronk was more involved with the body than just a single event, to me that would solidify premeditation on the part of Casey rather than absolve her.

In the end I suspect she’ll be convicted on something less than first degree murder. Maybe being a bad dancer or something.

More veggie pics

The pole beans are going gangbusters and have been for a couple of weeks. The picture shows the two varieties growing, Smeraldo and Gold Marie; that’s a 9” ruler. The plants are growing quite a bit taller than advertised – at least 12′ vs an expected 8′ – making it a bit difficult to get to the highest growing beans which means back to the drawing board for some mod’s to the next bean trellis.
The garden is playing out, pretty much on schedule. The Cougar squash, cucumbers, and several of the tomato plants have about given their all to filling our fridge. Pulling the corn out stalk by stalk and gaining access to the underlying butternuts, many of those ready for harvest. Olivia is spending a week at the lake so she’s helping pick the garden and is holding the last few cucumbers and the first of the butternuts. She played bean catcher when I climbed a ladder to get at the higher pole beans. I’m still adding new peppers, okra, and eggplants but by the end of this month, it should be down to about 50% of total capacity. My plan is to leave most of the area unplanted for a couple of months and to start a few new ones from seed indoors. Right now I’m thinking tomatoes starting mid July, cucumbers and squash, mid August. It’s problematic putting in new starts in the summer heat but worth the effort if they will yield veggies towards the end of October. I’m also cogitating a new run at a corn patch. I have low expectations but do have old seed and plenty of space. butternutscucumbers

Pickin’ and Cookin’

Want to see what 30 pounds of tomatoes fresh off the vine looks like? Want to see what 30 pounds of tomato looks like after a trip through the food processor? So far this week – Monday and Thursday – we’ve picked a total of 60 pounds and prepared 32 quarts of spaghetti sauce. With this batch, we’re beginning to see the end – of the tomatoes and of freezer space. I’ll probably pick this much more before it totally plays out.
Right after getting the spaghetti sauce cooking, we start the zucchini bread. We were on a roll and the kitchen was a mess, so why not truck on. The pictures show the sequence from selecting the squash to slicing the squash to shredding it, mixing it with other ingredients and finally to baking it. The particular squash was the same giant 14” one shown in a previous post. We ended up using about 3/4 of that one squash to make all the bread loaves shown.

The end product this year is, to my taste, the best we’ve ever made and since Nancy always uses the same recipe, I have to attribute it to the variety of squash we’re using. This is the first time I’ve grown the Cavili squash so this is the first Cavili bread – maybe the first on record anywhere. This year we’ve made some with a mix of the light green Cavili and the light yellow Cougar which turned out just as good. What’s different this year is that the bread is really moist whereas in the past, I think it’s been drier. It may be that the water content in Cavili is higher than other varieties and it may be that it’s seedless. I also think the skin is softer even with these large ones and I don’t peel them. Whatever the reason, it’s a winner.

Nematode wars escalation

I mentioned that oversized zucchini is the source of our zucchini bread. The picture shows a normal, picking/eating size Cavili and one that overstayed on the bush. The oversized squash would have been the same size as the other one two days earlier. To calibrate you, the larger squash is 14” x 4 1/2” in diameter at the wide end.
Tomorrow will be another cooking day with a pot or two of spaghetti sauce and several loaves of zucchini bread. Today blueberry lady and shrimp lady each got a quart jar of spaghetti sauce. The system we have going with blueberry lady is that she returns the quart jar that held the sauce filled with blueberries. Certain symmetry in that transaction, don’t you think?

As much progress as I’ve made against the nematodes, they are still part of the garden. I can tell because sometimes when I pull out a plant that’s past it’s prime, the roots show the tell tale white knots where the nematodes have attached themselves or whatever it is that they do. I think the reason they have not caused any serious problems is because the deeper the soil gets with compost, the longer the roots get before they run into the borers and so have enough root mass to survive. But I’ve come up with what, I think, may be the ultimate weapon. I mentioned some time back a technique called solarization. After the spring crops have played out, you cover the ground with clear plastic sheeting to actually cook the soil. The July/August sun, so the theory goes, can raise the temperature under the plastic to 140 degrees F, killing the nematodes. I think it probably does some good but can’t imagine that it gets too deep into the soil with killing temperatures, especially with our summer rains cooling it off frequently. But I like the heat idea. I water the garden by hose daily, late in the afternoon, using a 100′ black 3/4” hose. When I first turn the water on, I have to aim it away from the garden and wear gloves because the water coming out of the hose is scalding hot. So it seems to me that if I treat the area I’m going to plant with this hot water, it will maybe cook the nematodes. When I’m going to put in a plant, I normally dig a hole about a foot deep and a foot around, fill it with well rotted compost, and then set in the new plant. That seems to give the plant a good start with no natural soil and why (I think) the nematode problem has been reduced. My new plan is to soak the hole with the scalding water before depositing the compost to kill off another layer of nematodes. As these things go, it will take some time before I know whether or not the technique is successful but it’s worth a try for sure.

Had to resort to the highest level to beat the armadillo’s – a wire fence around the patch. Very low tech, but very effective. I can tell it’s working because there’s plenty of digging on the outside periphery of the fence and none in the protected area.

Another batch of sauce

The two buckets of tomatoes displayed in the last post were converted into 16 quarts of spaghetti sauce by mid day. I took a few pictures of the process including the key step of squeezing in a few whole tomatoes. Most of the tomatoes are run through the food processor but, according to my grandmother, you have to take the ripest, juiciest ones and crush them over the pot by hand. She used to let me do that once in a while if I behaved. Also shown is cutting up the basil and oregano directly into the pot. I underestimated the amount of basil we would need since historically we always had way more basil than needed for making the sauce. The basil is growing fine, I just didn’t grow enough whereas I have enough oregano to take care of the Olive Garden’s requirements. Tomorrow’s project is converting zucchinis into zucchini bread and trying to fit the sauce into the freezer.
You probably have to grow zucchini to appreciate the role of zucchini bread. Most folks grill, saute,fry, bake or mix zucchini with other vegetables; but then most people buy zucchini, not grow it. I currently have four different bush zucchini varieties, six plants total, which would have yielded a manageable level of production in past years. In Utah, one plant created an overdose. This year I have apparently broken the code on growing squash or the squash gods have decided to cut me some slack because even taking care of us, our neighbors, friends and family – no way we can keep up. Zucchini grows a little differently in that it takes a few weeks from the time you first spot a small zucchini to when it reaches the 6-8” size, just right for picking, but to go from 8” to 16” happens overnight. And that non-linear growth continues. So the function of zucchini bread is to do something with these goliaths. Clean the tomato sauce from the food processor and pop in the zucchini. Today’s baking included a large bunt cake and two 4×9” loaves. The bunt cake becomes a snack for the Wednesday bridge club; one of the loaves goes to George and Barbara; the final loaf was split with half going to our other neighbor, May, and the other half staying here. There’s enough zucchini in the fridge to repeat the process on Thursday – right after the next batch of spaghetti sauce – but the end is in sight. The variety, Cougar, is just about worn out and I’ll most likely be pulling those plants in a week or so.

Long position in tomatoes

Ate the first picked corn – incredible. I have to admit, I’ve outdone myself. The variety is Mirai, a super sweet, super tender designer corn. Maybe it’s the freshness but it seems to have no starchiness at all. The corn patch is one of those areas where I see spots with lesser soil quality. There will be eight or ten 7′ tall plants with nice large ears adjacent to eight or ten 4′ tall plants with spindly ears. Luckily for us, the split is 75/25 good to bad areas and those bad areas are easily spotted and fixed. The corn and squash in that area will be finished by the end of July and I’ll have a few yards of compost ready to be tilled in.
The picture is a morning harvest of tomatoes and jalapenos. This is Sunday and I’ll be able to repeat this by Tuesday. The tomatoes are destined for the sauce pot; the jalapenos to the grill as poppers. I would estimate that each of the buckets contains about 10 pounds of tomatoes, mostly San Marzanos this time. Last year I planted 4 San Marzano plants and probably ended up with 4 tomatoes and that could be an overstatement. I can’t begin to keep up with the 4 plant this year. On top of that, I planted a variety called Grenadier which is similar to San Marzano with the thought that if the Marzano’s did a repeat performance, I’d have a shot at another nice paste tomato. Can’t keep up with those either. If you’re wondering why I just didn’t give up on the Marzano’s, they are the primo tomato for Italian sauces. Trust me, you can tell the difference. You can buy cans of San Marzanos but aside from being expensive, they’re not always easy to find and like all canned veggies, are loaded with preservatives. Too bad my friend Lynda from Salt Lake isn’t here to share in the harvest. Lynda made the best salsa and by the gallons. I’d bring her the makin’s and she’d turn out a fine batch to share. And the varieties I’m growing now would have her throwing stones at the old stuff.

Went into Publix the other day with Nancy. I wandered over to the produce department to see what was going on and was totally blown away by the prices. I must be picking $10/day just in tomatoes and would have to take out a bank loan to buy Brussels. And that was just the regular produce department not the “organic” veggies. As much as they charge for organic produce, they should have an armed guard standing by. Two items that it really doesn’t make sense to grow are watermelons and corn. Both are cheap and take up lots of space in the garden so if the objective is to optimize $$/square foot, don’t plant melons or corn. Although after eating the Mirai, I may have to rethink that position. I looked at butternut squash and thought, that’s not too expensive until I realized the price was on a per pound basis. All of a sudden, those went from a maybe crop to a must do crop. They take up lots of space but seem to be worth it.