Friday Free For All: Preserving Herbs

preserving herbsHere’s a simple and easy tip for preserving herbs from your garden. If you’re overrun with basil, sage, oregano, chives or any other herb, chop them up as you would to use them in your favorite recipes. Place some of your chopped herbs into ice cube trays, fill them with water and freeze. When you’re ready to use your herbs, you can either thaw them or add the whole ice cube to a soup or other hot dish. Yum! I love easy and common sense tips, whether they be for gardening, cooking or just everyday life. What are your favorite tips? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. Enjoy your weekend! Happy gardening!

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!















Pests and Diseases: Blossom End Rot

blossom end rot
Photo courtesy of

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? How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’m excited about today’s post. It’s a visual of our vegetable garden this year. We were way late planting this year, especially since we had awesome weather this spring. We finally got our plants in the ground on May 7. Last year, it was the first week in April. I also have to give full credit to Sean and Anna Taylor…their home houses the vegetable garden and they have done pretty much all of the maintenance and watering this year. I just haven’t had the time. It’s no excuse, but it’s absolutely true. OK…so here are the pictures.


vegetable garden
Look at the little baby tomato plants!


Can you even see the little baby tomatoes? They looked so pitiful when surrounded by the tremendous cages. I did a post about the veggie garden after planting and I mentioned that I was embarrassed by how small the plants were. Can you see why?


vegetable garden
Here are the plants a month later in early June



vegetable garden
Here are the same plants at the end of June


There are bush beans in the background that were doing fairly well until Bambi paid the garden a visit. Here’s a picture of the damage:

vegetable garden


The hugelkultur beds that we installed earlier this year are progressing along nicely. One is filled with eggplant and the other with peppers. I can’t say that the wood is helping give back moisture quite yet but these beds are a process. I’m sure that once the wood starts breaking down more and can finally fill completely up with water, the results will be phenomenal.

vegetable garden


Do you want to know what I love most about this picture? The weed-free pathways. Ah…they are so dreamy. It makes me so happy to not see weeds. There are still weeds in the garden but at least we know that this area doesn’t require our attention.

We tried planting squash, zucchini, watermelon and cucumbers from seed instead of starting them indoors first. I heard Paul Wheaton talk about veggies that are sown directly in the garden having better drought resistance than those started indoors. So we tried it…and…epic fail. We had a few plants come up but the overwhelming result was nada. Nothing. Zilch. Lesson learned. Here are a few pictures of what did come up.

vegetable garden
One of our two Mandurian Round cucumber plants. We wanted many more of these but…


vegetable garden
Suyo Long cucumber…again, we wanted more but…


vegetable garden
Here’s what our squash and zucchini have turned into…a wonderful home for squash bugs. I dusted these heavily with diatomaceous earth before I left


Here’s a picture of “Eddie” our scarecrow. He swivels and keeps a watchful eye over the garden.

vegetable garden


My son, Myles, picking peaches in the garden.

vegetable garden


Maddie in the jungle of German Johnson tomatoes.

vegetable garden


So, that’s an overview of the vegetable garden this year. How does your garden grow? Send me pictures so that I can share them with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. 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!





Reader Question: Squash Plants Not Producing Fruit

Today’s question comes from Phil in Upper Marlboro, Maryland:

I have squash in the garden that have produced little to no fruit this year. I have 10 plants (one isn’t looking so good) but I’ve only harvested about 15 squash. With the exception of the one plant, the plants look perfectly healthy. Any ideas?

Great question Phil…it’s one that I’ve heard a few times this year. Since your squash seem to be healthy my first thought is that the female blooms aren’t being fertilized. Not fertilized as in N-P-K but not fertilized by the male flowers. Squash are really cool plants that produce two very distinct flowers. When the female flowers, she already has a little baby squash behind the flower. If the flower isn’t pollinated, the little fruit and the flower wither away and die. If she is fortunate enough to receive the pollen from her male counterpart, then the baby squash grows and grows and ends up on your plate. Let’s take a look at the female flower.

Photo courtesy of


See the baby squash? The male flower is similar to the female except that is borne on a little stem. You can think of the stem as the male anatomy if that helps you remember which is which. With the male flower, there isn’t a baby squash behind the flower either. Here is a picture of the male flower.

squash flower
Photo courtesy of


Do you see the difference? Well, now that we’ve had our squash anatomy class, how can we make your squash plants produce squash? By helping nature along. Take a paint brush or a q-tip and get some of the male pollen and place it in the female flower. You don’t have to put on latex gloves and a white lab coat. Just be sure that the male pollen makes it to the female flowers.

I just realized that I assumed that your squash plants are flowering. If they aren’t flowering, then you have a whole ‘nother issue. If that’s the case, chances are that your nitrogen levels are too high and your plants are focusing on foliage production instead of flowers. If that’s the case, back off of the fertilizer and you should see your plants start to flower. If nature doesn’t take it’s course, then help her along like we talked about above.

I hope that helps you Phil. If any of the other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have other suggestions for Phil, 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: Squash Bugs

I hate them. I hate them, hate them, hate them. Squash bugs are my nemesis in the vegetable garden. Hate is a very strong word that I reserve for only the most vile of creatures. Squash bugs fit that description. In past years in the veggie garden, they have decimated the squash and zucchini. Once they finished up there, they moved onto the cucumbers, then the muskmelons and then the watermelons. I hate them.

Squash bugs resemble stink bugs and they smell like them too. Side note: if they release their smell on you, the smell is pretty yucky. But if you get them first and smush them, they smell like green apple Jolly Ranchers. There’s your useless trivia for today. Squash bugs are particularly fond of the cucurbit family which explains why they traveled throughout the garden destroying our veggies as they did. They usually start with squash and zucchini and kill them first. They don’t seem to prefer the cucumbers, muskmelons and watermelons but once the population has exploded, the critters need something to eat. I have to tell you this story about just how bad they were a few years back. The kids had helped get the garden established and took a lot of pride in it. They noticed that the zucchini leaves were wilting and turning yellow so they ventured in to see what was the matter. Once they got close to the zucchini, they discovered that the leaves were covered in squash bugs of all ages…old, new, and in between. They blazed a trail out of the garden screaming the whole way. Hilarious! I didn’t take the picture below but I could have…they were that bad.

squash bugs
Photo courtesy of


If your garden is infected with squash bugs there are several approaches that you can take.

  1. Conventional pesticides – sadly, I’ve taken this route. The ubiquitous Sevin dust was used one year and a chemical containing bifenthrin was used the next year. Neither had very good results. And I felt horrible afterwards…what if a honeybee walked through the insecticide and took it back to the hive…what if the ladybugs pranced through it…what if a praying mantis was looking for dinner at the time…what if, what if, what if?
  2. Trap crops – I’ve read of this technique but never practiced it. I understand the principle but not the logistics. From what I read, you plant a susceptible crop (Zucchini Black Beauty comes to mind) and let the squash bugs take over. Then you treat the trap crop or dispose of it. Sounds good right? BUT if you treat the trap crop, whose to say the beneficials aren’t there trying to feast on the squash bugs? If you dispose of the trap crop, how do you do that so that the majority of the squash bugs are killed? I don’t have the answers…please fill me in if you do.
  3. Hand picking – this works if you have a few squash bugs here and there. If your plants look like the picture above, you better enlist some extra hands and pray for more hours in the day.
  4. Wooden boards – I’ve read that you can lay down boards and the squash bugs will congregate underneath overnight. Then you can take care of them. My problem with this treatment method is two-fold: first, my garden is not at my home…too much shade. Secondly, I have a full time job that requires me to leave the house at 6:15 AM…not much time there to go hunting for squash bugs.
  5. Planning – I had the perfect plan this year to beat the squash bugs. We would plant squash and zucchinis everywhere in the garden and harvest, harvest, harvest. When the squash bugs became overwhelming, we’d pitch the plants and move on. What happened in reality? Pretty much, nothing. Life happened and we have a few squash and zucchini plants. Perhaps this technique will work for someone else…
  6. Diatomaceous earth – I did a post about this wondrous compound yesterday but I haven’t tried it…yet. My only concern with using DE is killing the beneficials too. I’m sure that I’m overthinking this, as is my nature, but it really bothers me to think that I could be killing all of those beautiful creatures.
  7. Chickens – this is the best option…ever…when it comes to getting a handle on squash bugs. Luckily, my garden buddies, Sean and Anna, are raising hens this year. They have six young girls that would love to get in the garden and peck the squash bugs. If you have chickens, let them out to free range in the garden. If you usually keep them in a tractor, you’ll have to let them out so that they can access the base of the plants. The key here is to monitor the hens and only allow them in long enough to get their fill; otherwise they’ll peck all of the veggies that are meant for your plate.


So…after all of that, what have you done to control squash bugs in your garden? What has worked and what hasn’t? Let me know so that I can share it with 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? Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth, or DE as it’s also called, is a naturally occurring compound that is derived from fossilized diatoms. It’s an excellent tool to have in your arsenal whether you’re a gardener, animal lover or homesteader. DE can help rid your garden of squash bugs, keep fleas from making your pets’ lives miserable and can act as a dewormer for your barnyard friends. Sounds too good to be true, huh?

diatomaceous earthDiatomaceous Earth works by cutting the exoskeleton of insects so that they dry out and die. Sounds painful. The great news for humans is that DE is completely safe for us…it doesn’t cut us or irritate our skin in any way. If you inhale too much, it can certainly make you cough but that’s about it. There are two types of DE: pool grade diatomaceous earth and food grade diatomaceous earth. You want FOOD GRADE DE. The pool grade DE has other stuff mixed in and I would much rather be safe than sorry, especially since you’ll be using it in your garden or on your pets.

So what parameters should you use when applying diatomaceous earth? If you’re using it in the garden, you need to apply it when the foliage is dry. DE is rendered ineffective when water touches it…the sharp edges of DE disappear as it mixes with water but once it dries DE is effective again. Try not to apply it first thing in the morning when the foliage is still dewy or before you water. If you have issues with insects in the garden, apply it directly to them making sure to coat the undersides of the leaves as well. DE will also kill beneficials in the garden so make sure that you are targeting a specific pest and not just blanketing your garden as a preventative.

What about fleas? We have an indoor/outdoor cat that thoroughly enjoys her job as protector of our property. Whether it be birds, squirrels, rabbits, moles, voles or snakes, she has successfully removed at least one of them from our yard.  But as is the case with most cats, she doesn’t just kill them and leave them be…no, she has to play with them. As a result, she has fleas; not tons of them but there are still fleas. One flea is enough to make me miserable so we use DE on her. The results vary depending on how often I apply it. We just sprinkle it on her coat and massage it down to her skin. The adult fleas are killed within a couple of hours but the eggs and larvae are still there long after the DE has faded. The effectiveness of the DE is only as good as the frequency of the application.

Now the part of the intro that mentioned using DE as a wormer in animals is not something that I’ve done personally but many folks, especially old-timers, swear by it. There are also quite a few websites that tout their products as being effective in controlling worms and other internal parasites. There are many people who ingest DE daily as well. That’s between you, the man upstairs and the DE if you decide to go that route. It can’t be much worse than the GMO laced food we ingest on a daily basis can it? Sorry for the tangent…

So, have you used diatomaceous earth to treat for pests in your garden or on your animals? What kind of results did you have? 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? Free Fertilizer

Today’s post may seem a bit obscene to some people but I think it’s a great way to use a waste product and it’s free fertilizer. This free fertilizer is urine. Yep, good ole pee. (I’m glad my 6 year old son doesn’t read these posts or he’d be repeating that incessantly for the next week) Urine is composed primarily of water with the second component being urea. Urea is one of the main ingredients of fertilizers and provides the plant with nitrogen that is needed for foliar growth. With that being said, why not use what God has provided us already?

Let me throw out a few disclaimers here:

  1. Don’t use your urine if you are suffering from any illness. The last thing you want is for your soil and plants to be exposed to pathogens.
  2. Don’t use your urine as fertilizer on plants that you’ll be eating the greens from. Skip the lettuce, cabbage, spinach, etc. and instead focus on veggies like tomatoes and peppers.
  3. If you are growing your veggies in containers, dilute the urine before watering your plants. I can tell you from personal experience that you can quickly burn the roots of your plants if you don’t.



free fertilizer
If your pepper plants look like this, consider giving them some free fertilizer

Speaking of burning your plants, it seems that men’s urine is much more potent than females. If your plants are in the ground and being watered on a regular basis, you shouldn’t need to dilute it first. If you live in an area with little precipitation, consider diluting it as the urine will act like a regular fertilizer and the salts can build up quickly in the soil. Also, don’t “fertilize” your plants every day; fertilize a couple of times and observe them for a few days. The urea is quickly absorbed by the plants and you should see results within a few days. If your plants still haven’t greened up after 3 days or so, give them another shot of fertilizer (pun intended) and wait for results.

I can’t think of a better way to get your son to help you in the garden. What boy doesn’t like to do his business outside? I know that mine does. An added benefit of using urine as free fertilizer is that it can help deter deer…for a while anyway. So, have you used free fertilizer in your garden? What kind of results have you had? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me your results. 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 at Twitter. Happy gardening!

Friday Free For All: Companion Planting for Your Vegetable Garden

companion plantsToday’s post is about companion planting for your vegetable garden. If you listen to anyone for long enough about gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, they’ll tell you about which plants go well with others. That marigolds help repel bad bugs in the garden and that onions don’t get along with pole beans. It can all get very confusing, so I made this chart to help you keep it all straight. I don’t claim that it’s all-inclusive but it’s a very good start. So what shouldn’t you plant with peppers?

Companion Plants

Did you check the chart? If you did, you know that peppers are great with everything! I would love to gather all of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers’ experiences and continue to update this chart. If you’d like to help, please 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 at Twitter. Happy gardening!