by Charlene Burgi
This past spring I put several bags of chicken manure in my mom’s vegetable garden. We planted three tomato plants thinking this would meet her needs as vegetable production is never huge in this shadier part of her yard. However, this was the first year we planted tomatoes in this location.
I knew something was amiss last week when my husband came home from her house with a bag full of glorious heirloom tomatoes. They were huge, sweet and, without question, homegrown. I had bought the same variety that we planted in her garden, but my plants went into nursery cans that were filled with bagged soilless material so they could easily make the move to Lassen when the time came. Believe me, there was no comparison between what each yard produced! I will be lucky to find a dozen tomatoes on the heirloom varieties for the entire season. (I will, however, save the seeds for next year’s crop by smearing the seeds on a paper towel, letting it dry and storing for spring planting.)
I called my mom to thank her and found her in the midst of canning tomatoes. She had so many she didn’t know what else to do with them. I remembered then that my aunt would wash her tomatoes after picking them, put them in freezer bags and freeze the whole fruit. When making spaghetti sauce, soup or stew, she would grab a bag and pop the frozen tomatoes into hot water. The skins would immediately slip off. She would then add the tomatoes to whatever she was cooking. This “no muss, no fuss” idea is great if you have freezer space and are overburdened with tomatoes. The best part of this method is not dealing with boiling cauldrons of water, canning jars and finding the right size lids to seal the jars.
This subject brings up another issue during canning season: How much is enough or too much? Many of us go to the farmers’ market and pick our produce. Some of us are more ambitious and drive out to the orchards for larger orders at a more reasonable price. I found there is another way to purchase fruit here in the high country, where the growing season is too short for many varieties of fruit. The locals place an order for whatever fruit is desired. The concept is like having Sherpas deliver the produce grown in the valley up to the mountains. A dear friend opted for such an order. To her surprise she ended up with, not the four boxes of peaches that she thought she ordered, but four bushels. She called in family members and they spent the entire weekend canning peaches and making jam and pies. We capitalized on her abundance as she brought a peach pie to us for dessert one night. It was out of this world. I wonder if she would consider trading some of Mom’s tomatoes for more peach pie? This concept has a very familiar ring to it in history . . . I’d even be willing to share with her the idea of freezer bags full of whole tomatoes!
With all said, this is the time we reap what we sow. Remember that:
- Soil preparation will dictate crop yield.
Then, consider the size and scope of your garden to determine:
- How much produce can your family consume?
- Do you have friends and neighbors who would appreciate sharing the fruit of your labor?
- How much time and space do you have to start canning before you begin planning next year’s garden, or planting fruit trees?
Meanwhile, what do we do with this year’s abundance? We are fortunate to have several food banks in Marin that would welcome our garden crops. Sharing with those who don’t have room to grow these amazing homegrown vegetables is a good thing. Or if happiness is a huge garden, you might consider starting a barter system!
Our FREE Spanish Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (SQWEL) certification course is coming up October 11-29. This is a great opportunity for our Spanish-speaking landscape friends and co-workers to learn more about water conservation, irrigation techniques, latest technologies and water management that can save time, money and especially water. The reviews from graduates have been over the top! The class meets Tuesdays & Thursdays 6 – 9 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at Pickleweed Community Center at 50 Canal Street in San Rafael. For more information and to register, call (877) 689-7721. Please share this information with anyone who might benefit from the experience!