Gardening Diary: Preserving Eggplant for Winter

I had an over-abundance of eggplant this season. Thankfully I planted the “little fingers” variety which resulted in small thin eggplants.

I added a lot to tomatoes (and peppers) to make sauces, which I froze in freezer bags. But my freezer was getting full, so I searched for a better, more compact way to preserve eggplant.

Yay! Oven drying (or dehydrating if you are lucky enough to own a dehydrator) to the rescue, similar to the process I used for my tomatoes.

First, I chopped the eggplant into smaller pieces. I used my “Vidalia Chop Wizard” – I’ve had this gadget for years. I don’t use it every day, but when I need small, even pieces, it works well. It’s very loud though, when you push down on it.
chop eggplant into smaller pieces
chop eggplant into smaller pieces

I scattered the eggplant pieces on a shallow grill sheet pan (included with my countertop oven) covered with parchment paper.
chop eggplant into smaller pieces

Drying at about 150° in my smaller counter top oven, it took a couple of hours. The pieces should be dried, but not rock hard.
chop eggplant into smaller pieces

I allowed the eggplant to cool for a few minutes, then scattered them on a large dish and put into the freezer to “flash-freeze” – this ensures they stay as individual pieces when bagged later. I’m storing in freezer to add to winter soups and sauces!

I’ve oven dried several batches of eggplant, and just kept adding to the freezer bag.

Gardening Diary: Canning & Preserving the Harvest

canned jelly and apple sauce

Wow, this year, surprisingly I found that I really enjoy the craft of canning!

It’s a lot of work, but once you get 2 or 3 batches under your belt, there’s confidence and organization that makes the process a little bit easier. The rewards will outweigh the work!

There was a lot that I was worried about in the beginning (like most newbie canners), most importantly was I did NOT want to kill myself and my family with deadly bacteria!

But after reading a lot of library books, and scouring the web for good information, I learned that if done properly, following the instructions, you do not have to fear the canning process!

This post is L-O-N-G, and it might be boring to a lot of visitors, so if you want to learn more about my canning experience (and see a few photos), read onward!

Continue reading “Gardening Diary: Canning & Preserving the Harvest”

Gardening Diary: True Vine Ripened Tomatoes

Having a garden really opens your eyes to how produce naturally grows, and it’s a lot different than what’s found at the store.

Grocery stores offer “vine-ripened” tomatoes, but as I recently learned, even those are not truly ripened while attached to the tomato plant. The branch is cut, but the tomatoes are still attached to the “vine” so they can market them as such. They are then ripened by ethylene gas, as it travels across country.

As my tomatoes are growing and ripening, I’ve noticed that the fruit that is closest to the main branch will ripen first, then ripen outward toward the end of the row.

tomatoes ripen naturally on the vine

This morning, as I was harvesting my tomatoes, I got to thinking about the perfectly-colored-red ripened tomatoes on the vine at the grocery stores (like the “grape” variety) and how unnatural it is to have the whole vine ripened at the same time.

At least that’s not how it happens in my natural backyard garden!

Gardening Diary: Preserving Tomatoes by Freezing, Oven Drying & Canning

cherry tomatoes ripening on the vine

My garden will never produce as many tomatoes as I’d like…even though I’m getting full bowlfuls every couple of days, it is never enough! Tomatoes are the perfect food. I adore them!

I’d love to someday grow enough tomatoes so I’d never have to purchase another can/carton of commercial tomatoes again, but that is not a reality this year, but I’m trying to make the best of what I have.

So, I have been learning about the many ways to preserve fresh garden produce for consumption in colder months.

I’ve made a lot of tomato sauce, sometimes with eggplant and peppers. I’m slow-cooking in the oven or in my crock pot. Then storing in freezer bags in my freezer.

I tried something new the other day and I think it’s going to be a favorite.

I was watching the Dehydration class over at breadbeckers.com and it inspired me to learn more about dehydration in the oven. I was thrilled to find out that my oven offers very low temperatures, as low as 100° so I experimented with a batch of cherry tomatoes.

sliced cherry tomatoes before oven drying

It took over 24 hours, experimenting with different temperatures (135-150°) depending on the time of day – it’s helpful if you use an oven thermometer to make sure oven temps aren’t off. The tomatoes dried to little jewels of sugary-flavorful-goodness!

oven dried cherry tomatoes

oven dried cherry tomatoes - close up

Then I spread them on a large plate, and flash-froze them, then bagged them in a quart freezer bag for freezer storage. I know it could be possible to maybe store in a jar, or in olive oil, but I figure that the freezer would be the safest method for now.

I finished drying a second batch yesterday morning, and they went into the freezer as well.

Next, I’m going to try some good ole fashioned canning! I haven’t decided if I’ll do a raw-pack or maybe stewed. I suppose I could try both!

I know I will not have enough of my own tomatoes, so I might be buying some “seconds” tomatoes at the local farm. One farm is selling 7 lbs for $5.99 while supplies last.

I’ve been pouring over canning cookbooks for the last week or so, trying to learn all I can (haha, no pun intended) and I hope that I love canning enough to keep doing it all year long. I have dreams of applesauce in the fall, and orange jam in the winter.

Exciting!

Project Food Budget / My Healthy Food Budget: Aug Month 10 / Week 1

Project Food Budget Weekly total: $149.50

My healthy budget goal is to eat seasonal (local if possible,) home-cooked meals while sticking to a $400 monthly budget for all food including groceries, dining out, entertaining, vitamins/supplements, and gardening.

There’s two of us eating (mostly) 3 meals per day. My husband occasionally eats take-out lunch at work, & that $ comes out of his personal cash stash.

Aug – Month Ten, Week One

This week, I spent $149.50. That leaves $250.50 for the rest of August.

The first week is always a bit higher. I needed some basic pantry items from iHerb.com. Love that store!!! We also hosted a big pot luck party for DH’s previous co-workers. Fun!

I have high hopes that it’ll be a good budgeting month.

My veggie garden is starting to REALLY payoff, I feel so sustainable! hehee Between the tomatoes, pickling cukes, beets, and eggplant, I yielded my first red cabbage! Exciting! I hope I can keep growing well into the cooler months!

Entertaining: $35.87 – bbq potluck party at our house
Groceries: $104.17

Spending Details

iHerb.com $39.71: Bob’s Red Mill 7 grain hot cereal, Frontier organic dried rosemary, (2) Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flours, Lundberg short grain brown rice, California Olive Ranch Arbosana oil, and Simply Organic Madagascar vanilla extract

Whole Foods Market $26.11: Bragg’s organic apple cider vinegar, organic plain yogurt, organic half & half, canned organic tomatoes, organic fruit spread, Jarslberg cheese, organic champagne grapes, cantaloupe, organic bananas, and organic celery

Meat CSA $11.96: Center cut pork chops (Luckily, products from the Meat CSA are paid in full, so technically no real money is actually spent, but I apply the cost to my budget as we consume it.)

Local Farmstand $10.07: blueberries, yellow squash, & peaches

Market Basket $11.29: (3) jars salsa, King Arthur white flour

Whole Foods Market (2nd trip) $9.46: Organic champagne grapes, local peaches, organic bananas, and cantaloupe

Week of Meals

  • Wednesday: BBQ pork chops with leftover brown rice topped with sautéed garden tomatoes, spring onion, celery & garden eggplant
  • Thursday: Late lunch at parents. DH had toast broiled with swiss & tomatoes
  • Friday: Stir fry with garden eggplant, garden cabbage, garden tomatoes, scallions, garden beet greens, celery, summer squash over barley topped with fried egg
  • Saturday: BBQ pot luck at our house
  • Sunday: Sautéed garden tomatoes, garden eggplant, celery, scallions, & garden cabbage over brown rice
  • Monday: Garden potatoes, onions, garden beets topped with fried eggs & salsa
  • Tuesday: Homemade flatbread pizza with swiss, salsa, garden tomatoes & homemade pickled onions
  • Wednesday: Leftover frozen hotdog sandwiches with homemade pickled cukes & onions, with a side of sautéed garden eggplant, bell pepper, scallions, celery

Want to Join the Project Food Budget?

project food budget

It’s never too late to join the Project Food Budget!

If you’d like to participate, get the details and let Emily know you’re on board!

Here’s who else is budgeting this week:

Gardening Diary: Fascinating Bug Life

I saw two awesomely interesting things today in the garden.

First I saw a small-sort-of-dragonfly-ish bug with some sort of white stuff under it. Initially I thought he was caught in something, so I touched it with my scissors and he flew off. He landed on another tomato stake and I got a closer look.

Then I thought, is he eating that white butterfly? Or is he mating with it? LOL. You know how it’s so difficult to really tell! hahaa.

Anyway, I watched as the white butterfly got smaller and smaller, yep he was eating it. It was truly fascinating. I wished I had my camera with me!

Then just as I was nearing the end of my garden weeding, I noticed a group of ants dragging a green worm. It looked like they were stinging him, and he was violently thrashing as they carried him into their ant hole. It was like something you’d see in a horror movie, but again, quite fascinating!

It’s funny, two of the pests I dislike (white butterflies & green worms) were being taken out by other garden bugs! I love nature! Life is good!

I am glad that I decided against using BT on the cabbage. No, my cabbage plants are not perfect, but I’ve been trying to keep up with picking off the green worms/eggs, and it seems to be working. In fact, the worm quantity has been reduced drastically. I wonder if that is normal as it gets warmer? I’m still a bit leery; I keep having visions of cutting into a cabbage, and there’s green worms deep inside. Yuck. I don’t know if they eat from the outside in, or the inside out.

PS. This morning, I picked a bounty of pickling cucumbers and peas; I also picked enough oregano to share with a neighbor. I can’t wait until our tomatoes are RED!!!

Gardening Diary: Another Harvest & Pest Update

It’s supposed to rain most of the today, so this AM I went out and gathered a bunch of fresh veggies from the garden. Yum

Cut a bunch of lettuce & basil, just a few tender beet greens, a few pea shoots (I’m growing shoots in a separate container), bunches of pea pods, a few sprigs of oregano, and two very small green Carmen peppers.

This is my fourth harvest. Here is a photo of my last (third) harvest of greens from my garden:

harvested lettuce, basil, beet greens, peas, and shoots
harvested lettuce, basil, beet greens, peas, and shoots
harvested lettuce, basil, beet greens, peas, and shoots

Gardening Notes:

So far, the only pepper plants with fruit are the Carmens and the plants are still so short/small, the fruit is larger and starting to drag. I figured I’d try cutting off two fruits to allow the plant to maybe catch up and grow some more! I had heard that it encourages the plant to grow more fruit if you pick the peppers while they are green, as opposed to waiting until they turn red. This will be an experiment!

Yesterday, I caved and bought a bottle of BT-Thuricide (Bacillus Thuringiensis), which is an organic solution for cabbage worms/larva.

tiny cabbage worm egg larva
close up of tiny cabbage worm egg larva

It was very easy picking off the tiny little yellow worm/eggs from the cabbage outer leaves, see my photos above. But then I noticed there were a bunch of worms snacking on inner leaves and it’s a lot more difficult to get them out!

The organic experts say BT is safe, but I still am reluctant to use it, mainly because it can cause resistance if overused. It’s especially disconcerting that they are “weaving” BT into Genetically-Modified (GMO) cabbage plants, which will eventually make BT useless for caterpillar/worm control!

UPDATE: 2012-06-27 I returned the BT. I decided that I would keep trying to pick off by hand.

Other than that, most of my plants are doing very well, in-ground and in-containers.

The only plants with issues are the bell peppers. I guess it might be more difficult to grow in the North. Most of them are looking “black” and losing their leaves. It could be from overwatering and not enough “heat.” I don’t know if I’ll attempt to plant bell peppers again next season.

Life is good!

Gardening Diary: Garden Expansion Photos

I wanted to share some of the photos I took of my little veggie garden. It started off smaller, then expanded, and expanded.

For now, I’m posting wide angles, but soon, I’ll share more detailed photos to show the growth of each plant.

Last season, we started with a very small patch of garden, as you can see from notes on two photos. Our first expansion was adding a few more feet next to the fence, and another row with a pathway.

Here’s what it looked like on 5/24 (with notations for last season).

We’ve got (1st row near fence) snap & shell peas, a large perennial oregano plant, beet seedlings, more peas, pickling cucumbers, then (2nd row), carrots, lettuce, brussells sprouts, red cabbage, and eggplant. In containers, there’s red cabbage, potatoes, (2) lettuce, and (2) brussels sprouts.

Oh and we also have grape vines in the fence corner, and another vine in the middle area of the fence.
the garden started
The containers were placed on top of long metal fence posts to allow good drainage.
the garden started
garden diagram from last season

Continue reading “Gardening Diary: Garden Expansion Photos”

No CSA For Me – Regrets? Or Not?

No, I didn’t sign up for Farmer Dave’s vegetable CSA this season.

Part of me is experiencing remorse, reading their newsletters, remembering the exciting “countdown” to the first pickup.

I remember the first joy of eating raw snap peas fresh from the farm. Because of the CSA, I learned about so many cool veggies like garlic scapes, husk cherry tomatoes, and kohrabi. In fact, one of my favorite foods is now tatsoi, a vegetable that’s rarely sold in conventional grocery stores. I also realized that I really like the taste of radishes and turnips.

first csa pickup from farmer dave

Yes, I am a little regretful that I didn’t register, but another part of me is thrilled by the freedom to try other local farmers markets and the ability to purchase exactly what I need when I need it.

I’ve participated in the CSA for the prior two years, and while it was totally worth the $ spent, I couldn’t ignore the negatives were beginning to outweigh the positives.

My reasons for not joining this season:

  1. There was a lot of produce to process (wash, store, etc) and at times I found it overwhelming, coming home with a large bundle late in the afternoon, when it was time to also start preparing dinner. It will be nice to shop in the morning, on my “own” time.
  2. It was difficult to create new & different recipes for the same produce week after week. Greens, greens, greens! We were getting tired of so many leafy greens!
  3. I had cravings for other produce like carrots, broccoli, or cabbage, but there usually wasn’t enough time/space to buy much of anything else before the next CSA pick-up.
  4. Sometimes, the produce we’d get one week, would last us well into the following week and worse, some of it had to be thrown out, which is shameful! I need to take back control over the amount of produce coming in, so I can eliminate waste!
  5. Whether I need to shop once or twice a week, or even every 10 days, I will be in charge of exactly what I need and when I need it. If we are going on vacation, it will be so much easier to plan my food.
  6. Lastly, if all goes well, I’m hoping my own vegetable garden will reward me for all my hard work with some delightful edibles. I might not need to buy so much produce this season! whoo hooo!

Don’t get me wrong, I still do highly recommend CSA’s, especially if you haven’t tried one before. They are a wonderful way to support your local farmer and you really do get to experience a vast amount of awesome (and unique) produce!

It’s just, for me, after two years, I needed a break.

We’ll see how it goes this season. I might be begging to come back to Farmer Dave’s CSA, but then again, maybe I’ll have found my gardening niche and next year, I’ll be self-sustainable. Ha, now wouldn’t THAT be cool!

Want to learn more about Farmer Dave and their CSA? Read my reviews from 2010 and 2011: