Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reaping What I've Sown

The roma tomatoes were piling up. I borrowed a pressure canner, picked some basil and got to work. I started with probably 6 quarts of whole roma tomatoes from the garden and 3 or 4 cups of freshly cut whole sweet basil leaves. I blanched the tomatoes, peeled them and diced them. I chopped the basil leaves somewhat coarsely. They filled 9 half-pint jars. I put them in the canner for 20 minutes at 15 pounds. No magic to those numbers. I just made it up. I read a few web sites with various different times and pressures and decided 15 pounds for 20 minutes was good.

Here is what I learned about pressure canners in the last couple of days. The pressure allows you to boil water at temperatures higher than 100 degrees Celsius. Normally if you boil anything, the temperature of your food can't get above 100 because the water can't get above 100. If it does, it boils off as steam. Wikipedia gives the details, but the advantages to food preservation are twofold:
  1. The temperature of the food is raised above 100 degrees Celsius for an extended period of time, thus killing off bacteria that might otherwise grow inside the jar and spoil the food.
  2. The heating and subsequent cooling of the jars in this environment creates a vacuum seal for the jar that means bacteria outside can't get in.
These jars should keep at room temperature pretty much indefinitely. As an added bonus, the fact the the food cooks in the jars means their nutrients don't get boiled away as they cook.

I also learned that pressure cookers can cook food much faster than open pots and can use up to 70% less energy to do so. That alone has me wanting to get a small pressure cooker for everyday vegetable cooking. Nevermind that it can also be used to sterilize items like baby bottles and breast pump parts. Add to that the ability to can foods and the pressure cooker is looking like a handy gadget to have in the kitchen.

Out in the garden, we got three inches of rain in the last two days. The lettuce is bolting. The tomatoes are petering out. The beans are drying up. Summer harvest is nearly over. I need to begin planning out my square foot garden and start my graduated planting crops, like carrots and onions.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

New Plantings

August is about the time to get seeds going for the winter garden, so I've read. The first frost comes to North Florida in mid November and the last one is typically late February or early March. So I have a good 100+ days before the frost.

Winter harvest is kind a new concept for me, but I've been reading about plants that do well in the cool and cold weather. The picture above is some plantings I did today. I just want to document them.

The 10 pot flat on the right is half spaghetti squash and half butternut. The 8 pot flat is all Hopi squash, which is technically a summer squash, but I'm going to try my luck. The three round pots each have two pumpkin seeds planted and the black flat on the left has six spots with chinese cabbage. I'm going to try my hand at the graduated planting. New concept for me, yet totally obvious and sensible. Every two weeks, I plant another six of those. After I transplant them into the garden, they will mature over time instead of all at once.

Squash need to come in more or less together because they need to have blossoms at the same time to pollinate. Though, as I discovered this Spring when my volunteer pumpkins were came up right next to my yellow crooknecks, cross-pollinating squash can cause some undesirable effects.

In addition to what is planted, I've got seeds for carrots, onions, cabbage, spinach and other leafy greens. The underground and the leafy stuff do better in the cool weather apparently. Once I turn my mulched beds I can start planting them, though I'm in no hurry. We'll still have daytime temps in the 90s for another month and a half.

State of the Garden

To start my log I want to describe the state of the garden as it is. Later I can go back and add the history. I've got good photos for that.

My garden is made of six 8x4 foot beds. The photo is facing north so the west bed is on the left. It contains big boi tomatoes and sweet basil in the north bed (1W), roma tomatoes and grape tomatoes, plus more basil in the middle bed (2W) plus a few small pepper plants that didn't do well. And the south bed (3W) contains leaf lettuce, echinacea, chamomile, fennel, and dill. I've got marigolds throughout the garden as a pest deterrent. Also, I had some volunteer canteloupe vines from the compost pile that I let run wild, mainly in 2W and 1W.

The east bed is nearer the house and doesn't get quite as much sun. I've got bush beans in the north end (1E) and I'm mulching the rest of the bed with hay. I just pulled out zucchini and cucumbers. The middle bed (2E) is also mulched with hay. It had cucumbers and yellow squash. The south bed has carrots and onions, and some volunteers peppers and butternut squash that did not pan out.

Very soon I'm going to be ripping out the canteloupe and peppers. The former are done and the latter never got going. That's the general layout of the garden. I can review bed by bed in later posts.

Starting a Gardening Log

When my wife and I went house shopping last year, one of my requirements was having a yard with some open, flat space that wasn't shaded so I could start a vegetable garden. Our new house has a spot in the side yard that is perfect. So last fall I built two raised beds, four feet wide and 24 feet long and one foot high. I filled them with new soil and planted my first crops.

This year, I planted earlier and did a little better, but I'm learning more all the time. I've gotten some great books from my father-in-law, one of which is Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. It has completely changed my approach to gardening or at least, it will when I plant next.

One of Mel's recommendations is keeping a gardening log of what you plant and when, how you treat the soil, what kind of pest you have, how you deal with them, what the results are, what the crop yields are, etc. The log is a tool for learning what works and having a record of it to refer to. When it came to keeping a log, I wanted to include diagrams and photographs and I thought a blog would be the perfect tool for that. So if no one ever reads this blog but me, it serves its purpose. If someone reads it and finds something of value, then that's great too.