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 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? 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: Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Today’s Reader Question comes from Chad in Virginia:

I’m planning on growing tomatoes in containers this year as my yard is quite small and I have dogs to contend with. Can you give me some tips and things that I need to consider?

Congratulations on not using your space limitations and dogs as an excuse to not grow your own food. It’s so important that people take charge of some portion of their food production; plus those tomatoes will be the most delicious that you’ve ever had. Let’s dig right into the ins and outs of growing tomatoes in containers:

  1. The container – make sure that the container you will be using is large enough to sustain a tomato in July. That 12″ tall tomato that you buy from the garden center will grow to be a 3′-6′ giant, depending on the cultivar. I think that the container should be at least 12″ in diameter…the bigger, the better.
  2. The soil – when growing any plant in a container, it is imperative that you not use garden soil. When garden soil is placed in a container, it creates an aeration and drainage problem. Check out this article for more information. So what should you use? If you can afford it, use a pre-mixed soilless media that is specifically formulated for containers. If your pockets aren’t that deep, use compost (bagged or from your own pile) mixed with vermiculite, perlite or another amendment to provide greater aeration. If you are using bagged compost, mix several types together at the very least.
  3. Watering – this is going to be one of the most important factors to take into consideration when growing in containers. While that little tomato plant from a 6-pack is cute and easy to maintain now, it is going to require a great deal of moisture when it’s producing tomatoes for your salads and sandwiches. Daily watering will be the norm and in the hottest parts of summer, you may have to water in the morning and evenings. To extend the time between waterings, consider putting a rotting log in the pot to create a hugelkultur container. Read this article for more information on how hugelkultur can reduce or eliminate the need for watering.
  4. Fertility – your tomatoes will be hungrier in containers than they are in the ground. When they are in the ground, they have all of the soil around them to garner nutrition from. In your container, they are limited to the soil in which they grow so you will need to supplement with additional nutrients. Consider making compost tea from your compost pile or using a fish fertilizer. There are many fish fertilizers like Neptune’s that have less smell than others.

 

I want to take a moment to discuss some of the benefits of growing tomatoes in containers. When the sun is beating down and it’s 98+ degrees outside, you have the ability to move your containers to a shady area for a bit of a respite. If your containers are heavy, use a hand truck or dolly to help with the move. Another benefit of growing in containers is you can avoid the first frosts of fall. Move your plants to the garage for the evening a couple of times and you’ll have fresh tomatoes long after your neighbor’s have bit the dust.

I hope that I’ve offered you some helpful tips for growing tomatoes in containers. Don’t limit yourself to just tomatoes, unless that’s the only veggie you enjoy. Consider peppers, cucumbers, watermelons, muskmelons, okra and leafy greens like spinach and lettuce. What other vegetables have Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers grown in containers? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

Plant Profile: Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes

 

With the first day of spring behind us, I thought that we would look at tomatoes. In Zone 7 we are less than a month away from planting our warm season veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, etc. A tomato is a tomato right? Wrong! There are two very distinct types of tomatoes: determinate vs. indeterminate.

DETERMINATE TOMATOES

Determinate means that most of the tomatoes ripen at the same time…their timing is determined if you will. These types of tomatoes are excellent for canning as you can have a large bounty at the same time. But you can also easily become overwhelmed if you aren’t prepared to deal with the onslaught of tomatoes. Determinate types are generally shorter and bushier and don’t require the amount of staking that the indeterminate types do. Some examples of heirloom determinate tomatoes include:

  • Costuloto Genovese
  • Heinz 1350 VF
  • Hungarian Italian Paste
  • Principe Borghese
  • Roma VF
  • Rutgers Improved
  • Sophie’s Choice

 

INDETERMINATE TOMATOES

determinate vs indeterminate tomatoesIndeterminate means that the tomatoes will ripen over an extended period of time. Once the tomatoes begin to ripen, they will continue to produce throughout the summer, often up until the first hard frost in the fall. If you enjoy using tomatoes in a more laid back way such as salads, sandwiches or for cooking, indeterminate tomatoes will be the way to go. Be prepared ahead of time to stake your tomatoes. There are several ways that this can be successfully accomplished including tomato cages made from concrete wire (my favorite way), tying them to single poles or even the Florida tomato weave. Most of the tomatoes that you buy from garden centers will be indeterminate types including the infamous Better Boy and Early Girl. Here is a list of indeterminate heirloom tomatoes:

  • Amish Paste
  • Arkansas Traveler
  • Black Krim
  • Brandywine
  • Cherry tomatoes (virtually all of them are indeterminate)
  • Druzba
  • German Johnson
  • Green Zebra
  • Mortgage Lifter
  • Stone

 

Of course these lists of determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes are by no means exhaustive. What are your favorite types of tomatoes to plant? I’ll be growing around 12 different types this year and I hope to be able to give you a play-by-play regarding their performance. 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!