Canning Tomatoes Made Easy Part 2

canning tomatoesIn yesterday’s post, we looked at how to make canning tomatoes easy. It involved the use of my beloved KitchenAid and the Fruit and Vegetable Strainer attachment. Today, we’ll follow up with actually canning the tomatoes. I decided to use Mrs. Wages Pizza Sauce mix with this batch of tomatoes. Yes, I know that I should be whipping up my own blend of spices to make my own authentic pizza sauce but remember the title of this post is “Canning Tomatoes Made Easy”. I was so excited to get started that I forgot to take a picture before I ripped the top off of the package.

While the mix may not be homemade, it doesn’t contain too many bad ingredients. Here’s a really poor quality picture for proof:

canning tomatoes

 

After you mix the Mrs. Wages packet with your tomatoes and the combo has come to a boil, you simmer the ingredients together for 25 minutes. This gives you the perfect opportunity to get your lids, bands and jars together. All of the pieces for canning need to be hot when you’re ready to put the product in the jars.

 

canning tomatoes

 

I used pints as it’s really hard for us to use a quart of pizza sauce before it goes bad. The slowest portion of the whole canning process (for me) is bringing the water in the canner to a boil. I like to can a bunch of things at the same time to save on the energy of bringing the water to boil but life’s not always perfect. Today, it’s 5 pints of pizza sauce. Here’s a picture of the 5 pint jars warming up in the canner.

canning tomatoes

 

Once the water in the canner starts to boil, it’s time to add the pizza sauce to the jars. A canning funnel makes this a ton easier…and neater. Be sure to leave headspace at the top of the jar. Each product is different but I never fill the jar any higher than the bottom of the neck. To make filling the jars easier, I use a measuring cup to dip the tomatoes out of the saucepan…or a coffee mug; whichever’s closest at the time.

canning tomatoes

 

Once the jars are filled, you have to add a lid and a band. The lids have to be new but the bands can be reused over and over. Since they’ve been sitting in simmering hot water, you need something to get them out of the pan. I love the little magnet on a stick that is included with the canning kit. It grabs the lids and bands so quickly and you don’t end up with burnt fingertips.

canning tomatoes

 

After the lid is put on and the band is hand tightened, it’s time to put the jar back into the canner. Enter another cool canning tool…the jar lifter. Grab the jar beneath the band and insert it back into the canner.

canning tomatoes

 

After all of the jars are put in the canner, put the lid on the canner (if you have one) and wait for the water to boil again if it has slowed down. Once the water starts boiling again, start timing. These particular jars needed to be processed for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, you end up with these beauties.

canning tomatoes

Set them on a towel that you can cover them with and wait for one of the most beautiful sounds ever…”PING”. I love that sound…it’s so gratifying knowing that you just successfully made delicious food for your family…even if you did it the easy way.

What is your favorite food to can? Or are you just learning about the ins-and-outs of canning? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me with your thoughts. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening…and canning!

 

 

 

 

Did You Know? Canning Tomatoes Made Easy Part 1

It’s tomato time here in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region and that means that it’s canning time too. Last year, I purchased a KitchenAid mixer and some of the many attachments that are made to make your life in the kitchen easier. By far, my favorite attachment is the Fruit and Vegetable Strainer. I use it to make canning tomatoes a pleasurable experience. Now I need to let you know that what comes out of the other end of the strainer is akin to tomato puree. I use this method to make my salsa, pizza sauce and chili mix. I prefer all of the above smoother rather than chunky. If you like your salsa with chunks of tomato, this may not be the way for you to go.

Before we start the pictorial, I thought that I would let you know how I prepped my tomatoes before I purchased the mixer and attachments. I would bring water to a boil, put the tomatoes in to blanch them for a minute or two, remove them from the water, put them in ice water to cool and then pop them out of their skins. Then I’d chop up the tomatoes to the desired consistency and strain them to try to get the seeds out. I think that the seeds can lend a bitter taste if they’re not removed. Once going through all of that, then I was ready to add the other ingredients and proceed with canning. Ugh. God bless all of the sous chefs in the world…all of that chopping drives me crazy.

But now, it’s easy breezy lemon squeezy. Here’s how I now prep the tomatoes for cannning.

 

canning tomatoes

The parts before being assembled on the mixer…it looks more intimidating than it really is

 

canning tomatoes

This is where the attachments go into the mixer

 

canning tomatoes

Here is everything ready to go. There are 5 pounds of tomatoes in the bowl

 

canning tomatoes

Aren’t those tomatoes beautiful?

 

canning tomatoes

The first drips of tomato puree. At the far right side you can see the skins and seeds being ejected

 

canning tomatoes

Here’s an overhead view of the process. The silver cone is what separates out the juice from the skins, stems and seeds

 

canning tomatoes

This is the bowl of “leftovers” after 5 pounds of tomatoes. There’s still a lot of juice and yummies left in the bowl so I send them through the strainer again

 

canning tomatoes

Here they are after a second run through the strainer

 

canning tomatoes

There was still quite a bit of juice left after the second run so I sent them through the strainer again. This is all the waste that remains from 5 pounds of tomatoes.

 

canning tomatoes

The frothy beautifullness of tomatoes…yes, I made that word up

 

canning tomatoes

I forgot to show the “pusher” in action…this is what pushes the tomatoes into the strainer

 

canning tomatoes

This is what is left after you remove the part that catches the puree. I put all of this in with the puree

 

canning tomatoes

Here’s the end result…9 cups of beautiful tomato puree

 

This whole process took 40 minutes from start to finish including cleanup and giving the kids a kiss goodnight. I wouldn’t normally pull out this equipment unless I was doing many, many pounds of tomatoes. The cleanup takes longer than the actual processing but I had a couple tomatoes go bad and I didn’t want to see the others meet the same fate.

How do you prep your tomatoes for canning? Do you use something similar or do you blanch them and chop them up? Tomorrow, we’ll look at the actual canning process since lots of people seem to have questions. Let me know your thoughts by leaving me a comment below or sending me an e-mail. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening…and canning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Question: Warm Season Turf Maintenance

Today’s Reader Question comes from Bill in Williamsburg:

I have a lawn that used to be primarily fescue. Over the past few years, bermudagrass has taken over the lawn and now it’s more bermuda than fescue. Can you let me know if the maintenance schedule is the same as it is for fescue? If not, can you let me know what I should be doing regarding fertilizer?

warm season turf maintenance

That’s a great question Bill and it’s quite timely too. We are in the middle of the warm season turf maintenance schedule and it’s not too late to begin yours. In case you’re not aware, bermudagrass is considered a warm season grass: it thrives during the warm part of the year. Fescue is considered a cool season grass as it performs best in the cooler parts of the year. With that being said, let’s look at the proper steps that need to be performed for warm season turf:

  1. Aeration – use a core aerator to aerate your soil. This lessens the effects of soil compaction as well as opens up little pockets of loveliness for items like compost to fill in.
  2. Perform a soil test – do this before adding any amendments to your soil so that you get a true reading of your soil composition
  3. Add compost – many people skip this step but if you want your turf to thrive instead of just survive, adding compost is a necessity. You only need to add a light layer, no more than a 1/4″ deep. By adding compost, you are feeding the soil which will in turn feed the plants.
  4. JJA Fertilization – JJA stands for June, July and August. Fertilize based on your soil test results applying no more than 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 ft2.
  5. Dethatching – in the first few years that your bermuda is establishing itself, dethatching won’t really be necessary. As the stolons on your bermuda continue to grow upon themselves each year, they pile up and have a hard time breaking down into organic matter for your soil. By dethatching, you are removing the stolons that aren’t breaking down. Your turf will look thin once you’ve completed the dethatching but it will fill in quickly.

 

warm season turf maintenanceI want to mention that as you add compost to your soil, you will be able to reduce your synthetic fertilizer inputs. As you transition over to a healthier, organic soil you should be able to completely eliminate traditional N-P-K. Here’s a link to an article describing the myth of synthetic fertilizers that you may find helpful. Also, I have to give credit where credit is due; I have gleaned virtually all of my turf knowledge from one of my co-workers, Brian Williams. He is a wonderful resource and without him, I wouldn’t have the “how-to” part of turf maintenance in my repertoire. Thanks Brian!

If other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have helpful hints or tips for warm season turf maintenance, leave me a comment below or shoot me an e-mail. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

Pests and Diseases: Blossom End Rot

blossom end rot
Photo courtesy of www.mofga.org

Blossom End Rot. Just the mention of it elicits all kinds of negative responses from vegetable gardeners. Those negative responses can involve frustration, anger and even curse words. For those of us veggie gardeners that start our tomatoes from seed, here is a typical progression of the season: You plant the seed in a nice warm, well lit area in your home so that it can get a good head start. You nurture that plant until it’s warm enough to be planted outside. You harden it off before planting. You amend the soil and finally it’s time to plant. You take great care planting it and water it in well so that it isn’t stressed in its first few days in the garden. You water the plant until it’s time to stake it. You stake it so the fruits wouldn’t be damaged from touching the ground. You continue to water it and then that magic moment happens. The green fruits ripen to a beautiful red and you go to pick your first tomato of the season. THIS is what you’ve waited for all season. All of your hard work culminates with…a tomato that has a big rotten spot on the end. Ughhhh!

blossom end rotBlossom end rot, otherwise known as BER, occurs on the “blossom end” of your fruit…the end opposite the stem. And lest that you think it only occurs on tomatoes, it can also happen on peppers. There are two main things that pre-dispose your tomatoes and peppers to BER. The first is a calcium deficiency in the soil. Calcium is needed for cell growth and if there isn’t enough calcium in the soil to “feed” the expanding fruit, the cell walls collapse and you end up with a mushy mess. The other major concern is soil moisture. That is directly related to the calcium issue. Nice and even soil moisture makes for nice and even tomatoes (does that description even make sense?) But alas, life is not perfect and we end up forgetting to water or God doesn’t provide enough rainfall to meet our tomatoes’ needs. Or we end up with a deluge of water like the central Virginia area did this past weekend. We received 5″ of rain! Five i-n-c-h-e-s of rain. I am beyond thankful for the rain after our many days of 100 degree weather and 0″ of rain. But…it won’t be good for the tomatoes.

So what can you do to prevent blossom end rot? There are several ways that you can reduce your chances of squishy, yucky ended tomatoes and peppers:

  1. Amend your soil so that it contains more organic matter. Organic matter helps to regulate soil moisture and that will help to prevent BER.
  2. At planting time, add a handful or two of Epsom salts to the planting hole. Epsom salts contains a readily available form of calcium that the plant can uptake. We did this last year (we forgot this year) and we had a great tomato season. This year…the tomatoes have blossom end rot.
  3. Mulch. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Again, it helps to regulate soil moisture. With even moisture comes those nice and even tomatoes we talked about earlier.
  4. Water evenly. I know that this is easier said than done but it really does help. While you can’t prevent 5″ of rain from reaching your plants (but then again, why would you want to?), you can help even out the dry times. Water deeply 2-3 times per week instead of lightly everyday. By watering deeply, you encourage your plants’ roots to dig deeper in the soil in search of H2O.

 

There’s one other thing that I wanted to mention about blossom end rot: if your fruits are infected, it doesn’t mean that you can’t eat them. Certainly don’t eat the squishy part…but the rest of the fruit is fine. They can be used in anything from sandwiches to salads to canning. They still taste delicious. If you have animals like pigs or chickens, offer them a change of pace with the bad ends. The pigs will turn all of those nasty ends into delicious bacon and the chickens will reward you with “hen fruit”. Yummmm….

So what has been your experience with blossom end rot this year? Mine has been that it’s a definite problem. Do you have any other remedies or ideas that you’d like to introduce to other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

 

Did You Know? Goldfish and Rain Barrels

goldfish and rain barrels
Photo courtesy of www.prwd.org

Many people have rain barrels. Where I live, you can spend $35 and a couple hours and build your own. Then you have the ability to capture rain water from your roof and use it to water your garden. That’s a pretty good tradeoff in my opinion. Lots of people are concerned about mosquitoes breeding in their rain barrels. There is a mosquito netting that you can put on top that also serves the purpose of keeping debris like leaves out. But there is still a concern that the mosquitoes could make their way in to populate. So what can you do about it?

Use goldfish. While goldfish and rain barrels may seem like an unlikely pairing, they can actually work quite well together. The goldfish will eat any skeeter larvae but you may still need to give them some supplemental food. Unless your rain barrel is open to the air without netting, the volume of larvae won’t be enough to sustain your goldfish.

goldfish and rain barrels
Photo courtesy of www.desktopgoldfish.com

If you decide to use the combination of goldfish and rain barrels, make sure that your spigot is high enough from the bottom so that when the barrel is “empty”, there is enough water left to support your fish. Buy the small feeder fish from the pet store to use in your rain barrel. And make plans for them when the season is over. I guess that you could technically bring them indoors in an aquarium when the temperatures drop but I think they would be better off in a water garden if you have the capability. If not, ask a friend or neighbor if they’d like some free fish…chances are they’ll say yes.

Have you used goldfish in your rain barrels to successfully keep your mosquito population down? If so, leave me a comment below or shoot me an e-mail. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

Plant Profile: Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.)

I thought that we would take a look at daylilies today…daylilies as a whole with discussion about a few popular cultivars. Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are perhaps the easiest to grow of all of the sun loving perennials. They withstand a tremendous amount of abuse, can grow in extremely harsh conditions and are only bothered by a few pests.

Daylilies perform best in full sun but can certainly withstand a bit of shade. They are one of the “sun” perennials that I’ve been able to successfully establish in my shady yard. I may not receive the same amount of blooms as those grown in sunnier areas, but I’m not complaining. As for moisture, they can’t grow in desert-like conditions or standing water. If your garden lies anywhere in between these two extremes, your plants will do well. While I say that they can’t grow in standing water, they can survive bareroot in water. When I worked at Maymont, we were allowed to take home divisions of plants that were being divided in the various gardens. I successfully housed bareroot daylilies in old pots and pans under my future-husband’s tall deck. They were a bit neglected and the pots often filled with rainwater. The daylilies did just fine and we have those divisions at our house now, 15 years later.

Daylilies seem to be one of those plants that hybridizers have a field day with. There are all sorts of beautiful cultivars that have been developed by daylily enthusiasts, many of them being backyard breeders. Check out The American Hemerocallis Society’s page to get a feel for just how many daylilies there are in the world. They have a pretty awesome database that can give you just about any information on a particular cultivar that you could want. Here are a few of the most popular cultivars:

daylilies
‘Stella d’Oro’ – Photo courtesy of Dutch Gardens

 

daylilies
‘Happy Returns’ – Photo courtesy of Conard-Pyle

 

 

daylilies
‘Gentle Shepherd’ – Photo courtesy of www.dayliliesforsale.com

 

daylilies
Hemerocallis fulva aka Roadside Daylily – Photo courtesy of www.discoverlife.org

 

Many people think of the Roadside daylilies as a weed…I happen to think they’re quite delightful. They naturalize quickly and fill old homesteads and ditches everywhere. There is even a double variety known as ‘Kwanso’.

I’d be remiss to not include some information on daylily rust. It is a “new” disease of daylilies that is spreading quickly. It takes a lot of fungicides to keep it under control so it is best to take care to not introduce it to your garden. Here is a picture of the symptoms:

daylilies

 

I’ll do a future post about daylily rust versus daylily leaf streak. They are two different diseases and it’s important to distinguish between the two. What daylilies do you grow in your garden? Are they old classics or some of the souped-up new hybrids? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

 

Pests and Diseases: June Bugs

june bugs
Photo courtesy of www.missouribeginningfarming.blogspot.com

 

Just a quick note for those who live in Virginia: those big green beetles that are flying around a couple of feet off the ground are June bugs. They’re not hornets, Japanese beetles or cicadas. And yes, people have asked me if what they are witnessing is an invasion. Rest assured that it’s not. The recent heavy rains have stimulated the bugs to get their rear ends out of the soil. And don’t stress over them…they don’t bite although they will leave a mark on your forehead if they fly into you (don’t ask me how I know!). Chemicals aren’t necessary. They generally are gone before you can reach for the pesticides.

Their life cycle is very similar to Japanese beetles and they can cause damage to your turfgrass. If you want to treat for them, follow the recommendations that I made in this article on Japanese beetles. Or you can just plant more perennials…or vegetables…or shrubs…or trees.

Let me know the funny things that you’ve heard regarding June bugs. My all-time favorite was the concern that they were hornets. If I ever see that many hornets, all you’ll see of me is my tail lights as I pack up and leave. 🙂 Leave me a comment or e-mail me. Don’t forget to like the Facebook page and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

Did You Know: Poison Ivy and Jewelweed

Mother Nature is brilliant. Most of the time, whenever she creates a “problem” for us, she also offers up the solution. Today I want to take a quick look at one way that Mother Nature has done just that: poison ivy and jewelweed. Jewelweed is a native plant that usually occurs in areas that are overrun with poison ivy. Let’s take a look at a picture of both.

poison ivy and jewelweed
The dreaded poison ivy

 

poison ivy and jewelweed
The delightful jewelweed

 

You may be wondering how the jewelweed helps to counteract the effects of the poison ivy. It’s actually quite simple. If you’ve been exposed to the poison ivy oil (urushiol), take some of the jewelweed and crush it. Rub it over the affected areas and use it to clean your skin. It’s quite a juicy plant so it will serve you well. I learned this from Peggy Singlemann at Maymont when I worked there. Like so many other things that I learned while working there, this has served me well.

Have you ever used jewelweed to counteract the misery that poison ivy can bring? Do you know of any other “homemade” remedies? If so, please leave a comment below or e-mail me so that other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers can learn from your experience. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

Plant Profile: Angelonia Serena Purple

I’m in love with an annual. It doesn’t produce food to eat and it dies when the cold weather arrives but I still love it. It’s Angelonia Serena Purple. It’s clear purple flowers are stunning in containers or when paired with other sun loving annuals or perennials. Look at the blooms.

angelonia serena

 

I can hear the oohs and ahhs from here. Stunning, am I right? The Angelonia Serena series reaches 12″ to 18″  tall and is perfect for the front of the border. You can use them in a clump as a specimen planting or interplant them with other annuals and allow them to mingle. In the picture above, they are used in large containers with Canna ‘Tropicanna’ as the centerpiece. They anchor the lower portion of the container and provide great balance. Here’s a picture of the planter to give you an idea:

angelonia serena

 

As a side note, I’m really digging the purple and orange theme this year. The Angelonia Serena series comes in a range of colors including purple, lavender, pink and white. One of the most attractive features of Angelonia is that they don’t require deadheading. They just bloom and bloom until a good frost takes them out. Plant them in full sun or very light shade and they will reward you with blooms all season.

Have you grown Angelonia before? Many people aren’t familiar with them but I hope that you will give them a try if you haven’t in the past. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me about your experience. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

Pests and Diseases: Japanese Beetles

Well, the Japanese beetles are zooming about and hiding out in your roses. They can quickly turn your prized plants into skeletons of their former selves. There are tons of chemicals that people use to kill them each year but is it really necessary? Do we really have to drench our beloved plants in insecticides to withstand the deluge of Japanese beetles? Let’s look at the life cycle of Japanese beetles to determine the best time to treat them.

 

japanese beetles
Photo courtesy of USDA

 

The winged insect that you see flying around in July is the culmination of a full year’s work. The eggs were layed in the soil the previous July or August and quickly hatched into grubs. Those tiny grubs eat plant roots until the temperatures cool down in the fall. At this point, they burrow down 4″-8″ to wait out the winter. In the spring as the temperatures rise, the larvae rise back to the surface where they mature into the adult that eats your plants. Now, thinking about how to successfully treat them, it only makes sense to treat the grubs when they are small in the late summer. In Virginia, August is the best time. If you wait until the spring, the grubs are large (over an 1″) and it takes much more chemical to kill them.

As you all know, I don’t like applying pesticides. As much as I don’t like them and won’t use them in my yard, I understand that many homeowners still prefer to use chemical methods. I would rather educate people so that if they apply chemicals they do so at the proper time instead of applying chemicals willy nilly. I am often asked in the spring what chemicals can be applied to take care of Japanese beetles. People are discouraged when I tell them that missed the boat and need to wait until late summer. At least you all know now.

In regards to more organic methods of Japanese beetle control there are a few options. The first is milky spore. It’s a soil dwelling bacteria that attacks the grubs and then reproduces in the soil. It is slow to establish itself but the magic of milky spore is that it continues to propagate itself without any effort from you. Another control option is trapping. There are the conventional yellow bag traps that have been used for decades and there are all sorts of newfangled ones. I saw an interesting video on a new type of trap that is renewable. I am by no means recommending it since I haven’t tried it but it’s still a great idea that I thought that I would pass along.

If you watched the video, you saw that backyard chickens are an integral part of the system. Chickens are a wonderful means of pest control that should be considered as part of any backyard garden. They provide pest control, manure that can be composted for your garden and “hen fruit”, the name that Joel Salatin has given to eggs.

Is your garden being inundated with Japanese beetles this year? What control methods are you using? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me to let me know. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!