Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ripe Garden Tomatoes in December and Your Christmas Gift

Tomato update: 
Today is December 13, and I just unwrapped the last of our ripe garden tomatoes.  I used a method of wrapping unripe tomatoes from our fall harvest in newspaper and letting them ripen on their own in shallow boxes on my pantry shelf.  

I've been unwrapping and using garden tomatoes since the end of October. About once a week, I would go through a box and find a few tomatoes to use that week.  A few days before Thanksgiving, I went through all the tomatoes, and most of them had ripened. Because I wrap them separately, I was able to throw away any that went too far and got squishy or moldy. There were the few that were obviously never going to ripen. They looked like this one:
And some of them were questionable, like these:
But all in all, I would say that 70% of the tomatoes were red, ripe, and usable.  

It was worth the effort of saving them. 

My sister and I made a large batch of my dad's famous salsa with the tomatoes I brought to her house the week after Thanksgiving.  My dad's salsa is so fresh-tasting and addictive, that he gets requests for it all the time. In fact, it is what he makes to give to his friends and neighbors at Christmas time.  His salsa is the main reason that you should own a food processor. It is a simple, fresh salsa with peppers, cilantro and lemon juice, not the cooked down, canned-kind (although I do enjoy my recipe for that variety as well).  At Christmas time, my dad doesn't use the fresh garden tomatoes, because there are not enough of them, but he uses canned tomatoes, which work just as well.  

I bet right about now that you are wishing that you were my dad's neighbor, I know I am!  As a Christmas gift to my readers, I am sharing the recipe with you, straight from my family's recipe book. Now you can gift to your neighbors some fresh, healthy salsa!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Aunt's Plants

 This fine couple is my Aunt and Uncle.  They live in Vacaville, California, and we visited them this past summer.  The plants they have around their house are much different than the ones we have around our place.  Tame Dames #2 and #3 took pictures of the front yard plants for you to enjoy.  Come take a look...

These potted beauties add a fresh green to their front doorstep.

This is Jade.  It is a remarkable succulent. 

We have cacti where we live, so these pokey friends were not unfamiliar.

I'm not sure what plant this is, but it appears to have gone to seed and given up the ghost.

This is another fabulous succulent that is very easy to care for.  My aunt gave me a start of it.

Here's a close-up of the jade.  We also got to take home a start of this.

We don't ever see snails or slugs in our soil at home, so it was fun to find one here.

Below are a few of the flowers in bloom in July.

My uncle got this sign for his front yard from a golf course.  He thought it fit nicely with their on-going landscaping project.

Below you'll see the glory of a cactus in bloom. 

We took our starts home in a plastic sack that we kept in a shady box, and made sure that we never left it in our hot car.  We sorta forgot about them, and unfortunately didn't get around to planting them until a month later.  I was afraid we were too late, and the plants would be dead, but it appears not.  These succulents are very hardy and easy to care for.  That's my kind of plant!  They are happy now in their new pots on our windowsill.
I regret that there are no pictures of the backyard plants.  We saw lemon, lime, avocado, and orange trees.  There were pots, borders and boxes planted with veggies and flowers.  They have a fantastic mulch bin that I'm told that at one time got so hot, they found the newspaper in their was actually smoldering and sending up smoke.  There's a nice toilet planter too, which I probably shouldn't even pique your interest with since I have no picture to show you.  I'll just have to go back for a visit and take a picture.  Until then, a warm adieu from the land of Vacaville!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Planting Bulbs and First Snowflakes

Baby, it's cold outside!
Although we have not gotten our first snowstorm yet, it is cold enough that we have got our first snowflakes this morning.  

I was laying in bed, listening to the household waking up, when I heard my kids opening the blinds.  It was the announcement of, "It's snowing!" at 7:30 this morning that sparked my memory that we have some bulbs that need to get into the ground before winter hits. 

After breakfast, we bundled up and braved the freezing temperatures.
 I grabbed a shovel and dug into the ground, and my kids followed behind with the bulbs. 
After we covered the bulbs up with dirt, we decided to catch a snowflake. 
I wish my camera I had with me could have taken a better picture. The snowflakes are really beautifully formed and perfect for picture taking.

We were only out there for maybe 15 minutes, but it was enough time to get our noses running and freeze our faces, fingers, and toes.  Buckle up folks!  Here comes the cold!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

HomemadeTomato-Vegetable Juice

Who loves V8? I do! For those unsure what I'm even talking about, the V8 I'm talking about has nothing to do with cars, and everything to do with tomato-vegetable juice. After a hefty harvest of tomatoes, I was determined to make some of my own V8 juice, and now I'm going to show you how I did it.

The recipe I used came out of the Ball Blue Book Of Preserving under the title "Tomato Garden Juice Blend."  The recipe makes 7 quarts, but mine made 9 quarts and some.  I'm assuming that's because my weighing of the tomatoes was not extremely accurate.  The recipe juices the tomatoes in a food processor or food mill, but I don't have either of those, so I used my good ol' Blendtec blender.  It pulverizes so well that when I poured the mixture through a strainer there was not a piece of peel or seed to be found.  That means I had no need to strain the liquid, kinda nice to be able to skip a step.

Homemade Tomato Garden Juice Blend
from: Ball Blue Book of preserving
  • 22 lbs. tomatoes
  • 3/4 c. diced carrots
  • 3/4 c. chopped celery
  • 3/4 c. chopped green pepper
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion (I used red)
  • 1/4 c. chopped parsley
  • 1 Tbs. salt (optional)
  • Bottled lemon juice
Wash Tomatoes; drain.  Remove core and blossom ends.  Cut into quarters.  Combine tomatoes and vegetables in a large saucepot (or several large pots like I did); simmer 20 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking.  Juice tomatoes in a food processor or food mill, then strain juice to remove peels and seeds.  Stir in salt, if desired.  Heat juice 5 minutes at 190 degrees Fahrenheit.  Do not boil.  Add 1 Tbs. bottled lemon juice to each pint jar, 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice to each quart jar.  Ladle hot juice into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Adjust two piece caps.  Process pints 35 minutes, quarts 40 minutes, in a boiling water canner.

And for those who like a love pretty pictures put to music, enjoy the slideshow below. ;)
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Creepy Carrots" Book Review

Welcome to the first edition of The Wild West Gardeners Growing Smarts Series.  The Wild West Gardeners love to grow.  We grow a garden, as you well know, but we also grow smarts.  If you don't see us digging in the garden, you'll probably find us digging into good books.  We read as individuals and as a family every day.  My hubby and I have read to our children since birth.  When she was 4 years old, my firstborn daughter told me that she wanted to learn how to read.  For Christmas, I got her the book Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons, just so I would have somewhere to start.  She took the initiative to learn to read.  When she wanted to, she would bring me that book and I would teach her a lesson.  This happened maybe 3-4 times per week.  We finished the book in 6 months time, and she has been reading ever since.  Her sister followed in her footsteps, and we read every day as individuals and as a family.

One of our readers mentioned that our past post about creepy carrots reminded her of the children's book by the same title.  I immediately wanted to get my hands on that book.  You can imagine how thrilled I was to find it today on the shelves of our tiny town library.  We brought it home, got comfy and cracked it open.

The Wild West Gardeners Growing Smarts Series Book Review

Title: Creepy Carrots
Author: Aaron Reynolds
Illustrator: Peter Brown

9-year-old Tame Dame #2 says,
"Creepy Carrots is about this bunny that loves eating carrots and he says that he can never have too many carrots.  Anytime he goes somewhere, he takes carrots with him.  But one day, the carrots decided to stop him by scaring him at night and following him around.  Each time he thought he saw a creepy carrot following him, he yelled for his mom and dad.  They came and looked around, but never saw any carrots.  So, the bunny thought of a plan to stop the carrots by putting up a wall around the carrot patch and making a moat with alligators in it.  The carrots cheered because they would never get crunched up again."
Rating: 10 out of 10 carrots because it's a cute little book and I like it.

7-year-old Tame Dame #3 says,
"I like how he builds this wall and he's like, "They will never get past this wall!" And then the carrots are like, "Yes!  Our plan worked!"
Rating: 10 out 10 carrots because it's a very good and funny book.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How To Ripen Green Tomatoes Into The Winter Tutorial

When you have a surplus of green tomatoes at the end of the harvest season, you don't have to watch them rot away on the vine. Years ago, my mother-in-law taught me how to pick them green and wrap them in newspaper to ripen over the next few months.  It's a simple way to enjoy garden goodness into the winter. 
Sort them and get rid of any with open skins.  Any that are turning reddish-orange can be ripened on your counter in about a week. Set those aside in their own shallow bowl. 
Set the ripest reddest ones on top, so that you use those first.
Now it's time to wrap the green ones. All you need is newspaper and some small shallow boxes. 

Start with the greenest tomatoes, and wrap those first using a single sheet of newspaper torn to about the size that can cover the tomato.   10-inch squares were plenty big for the tomatoes we grew. 
If you save the tomatoes that are already starting to turn yellow or orange and wrap those last, they will be on the top, and you will be able to find the ripened tomatoes more easily.
Line up the wrapped tomatoes in the shallow box.  Don't stack them more than two deep in the box.
Now they are ready for storage. Put them on a dark shelf in your cool basement, or in your pantry. They will begin to ripen, and when you're in need of a tomato, just unwrap. If the tomato is still green, wrap it back up, and set it aside. The tomatoes will ripen at different intervals, so you may need to check a few of them before you find one that is ready to use. I like to unwrap a few, and any that are turning orange-ish I set out on my counter to ripen, or I rewrap it and stick in a separate spot from the green ones. 

It is important to keep the tomatoes wrapped individually, just in case some of them go bad before you get to them, they won't spoil the whole batch. If you pick up a wrapped tomato and the newspaper is wet you can just toss it.

I've had garden tomatoes well into the holiday season, thanks to this method.  It is normal if you notice that the skins are a little thicker when the tomato finally ripens. They are still a lovely addition to a salad or taco, and it brings me a little piece of garden joy during our sub-zero winter weather.  

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