Archive for September, 2011

Tomatoes Everywhere!

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

This is the year of the tomato for us – our best harvest in three years.  Two years ago the blight attacked our tomatoes and last year due to an extremely busy schedule we didn’t do a good job of trellising and keeping the tomatoes off ground.  Our freezer was looking mighty empty of our favorite garden produce.

Tomatoes in Dryer - Before

We’ve been making lots of sauce for the freezer and as you can see from the pictures we’ve been drying cherry type tomatoes.  The dried tomatoes are great reconstituted with a little water and balsamic vinegar and used for pizza toppings, grilled cheese sandwich additions and dried tomato pesto, just to name a few.

Dried Cherry Tomatoes - After

If you don’t have a food dehydrator just use your oven set at 200 degrees with the door slightly ajar to let the moisture escape.  There are lots of drying methods on the world wide web so give it a try.

Early Frost

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Yesterday, the Weather Service forecast a hard freeze for Cambridge.  The weather people always try to err on the worst case side of things, but you never know, so Judy and I covered everything we could with plastic or ag fabric.  We managed to cover the tomatoes, the peppers, the squash, the sweet potatoes, the basil and remaining cukes, and some of the beans.

While hardly an architectural masterpiece, form follows function, and Louis Sullivan would have to give us a positive nod as we lost nothing to the frost.  Actually, I don’t think the garden got cold enough to incur any damage even though the lawn had noticeable frost this morning.

We are supposed to have one more night of really cold temperatures then it will warm up again.  That’s very typical of September in Wisconsin.  If you can get past the first early frost, you often have another month of growing before the really hard freezes set in.

Help People Grow Food, Win Good Garden Gear

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

We’re giving away a CobraHead Weeder, a garden fork, and a kneeling pad, our Garden Essentials Package worth $89.95 to help Austin’s Urban Roots program – see the details at the end of the post. We’re also matching donations in kind with up to $1,000 worth of our tools and other products.

Austin has an amazing youth agriculture program called Urban Roots, a program of Youth Launch.

Darriyan and Autumm at Farmers Market

Darriyan and Autumn at Farmers Market

Now in its fourth year, Urban Roots is a youth development program that uses sustainable agriculture as a means to transform the lives of young people and increases the access to healthy food in Austin. By growing sustainably farmed vegetables, young people work together to serve the community, cultivate farming and business skills, learn the value of meaningful work, and discover how to eat and cook in healthy ways.

Markel and Fig Tree at Urban Roots

Markel and Fig Tree at Urban Roots

I’ve known about Urban Roots since its inception, and I’d been out to the farm several times to donate a few CobraHead tools. This past year Urban Roots founder Max Elliot invited me to be on the Farm Advisory Council.

Getting to know the program better I found out some important things. This year the young people at Urban Roots harvested 32,191 lbs. of produce grown on just 3.5 acres. They donated 10,929 lbs. of that to hunger relief organizations in Austin. The rest they sold at farmers markets, through their CSA and to local restaurants. Learn about Urban Roots from the young people themselves by checking out this video.

The program has thirty youth Farm Interns, a small dedicated staff, and over 1,000 volunteers who have given over 3500 hours of their time on the farm this year. For a great majority of these interns, this farm is the first farm they’ve ever visited. It’s a completely new environment and not like any park in town or like any green space in their neighborhood.

It takes money to run a program like this. We at CobraHead want to help Urban Roots raise $1,000 over the next two weeks. To do that, we are matching any cash donations between now and October 1st with an in-kind donation of CobraHead tools and other garden products up to $1,000. Click here to make a donation.

Your support in any amount, however large or small, is welcome.

$40 sponsors one youth Farm Intern for a full day on the farm.

$160 allows a crew of eight youth to volunteer at the food bank for a half day.

$1,600 sponsors one youth Farm Intern to work for the entire Program-Spring-Summer.

To encourage donations, we’ve added a contest to the fundraiser. Help us get the word out about Urban Roots and the fundraiser by sharing on Facebook, re-Tweeting, posting on your own blog or just sending an email to a friend. Then leave a comment here on our blog about how you have spread the word.

Whoever does the best job promoting this fundraiser (judged by our very subjective standards) will receive a Garden Essentials package. That’s an $89.95 value.

I look forward to continuing to work with Urban Roots and with your support the program will only get stronger.

Laughing Group Game at Urban Roots Farm

Laughing Group Game at Urban Roots Farm

Please click here to make a donation.

Sweet Treats Tomatoes

Sunday, September 11th, 2011


With Anneliese and Geoff off to California this week to represent CobraHead at the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, it seems a little odd to be posting about a hybrid tomato.  However, I grow hybrids frequently.  Hybridizing has been around a long, long time and is something that can be accomplished by nearly anyone including the home gardener.  Hybrid seeds should not be confused with genetically modified seeds.

There are qualities that can be achieved with hybrids that are unlikely or impossible to be easily replicated with open pollinated plants.  I usually grow about 30 different tomatoes.  Many are started from my own saved seed, and most are open-pollinated (heirloom) varieties, but hybrids can offer the home gardener some unique properties including exceptional production, and that is one of the great things about Sweet Treats.

I’m pretty sure I got these seeds as a handout at a trade show, but the source escapes me.  The package is from the seed producer, Sakata, of Japan.  I’m sure I did not buy anything directly from them.  An online search shows many of the major seed catalogs are now carrying them.

Sweet Treats is a large indeterminate cherry tomato.  The plant puts out voluminous grape clusters of fruit.  Sakata promotes the “pink” color of the fruit, but we find them turning rather red before they are fully ripe.  They are exceptionally productive and they taste good.  Judy has a post about using them as the main tomato in a cherry tomato pasta recipe here.  I’m sure I’ll be harvesting them right into the frosts and for as long as I can keep the plants alive.  The other hybrid I have always liked is the tart orange cherry tomato –  Sungold.

Roasted Green Beans and Cherry Tomato Pasta

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Garden meals are the name of the game around here during harvest season.  As much as you’d like various items to ripen at different times the inevitable happens.  It’s like being a kid in the proverbial candy store…. what do we eat first, next and thereafter?

Last night’s meal was roasted green beans and cherry tomato pasta.  Yum!  Ever since I talked to my friend, Pat from Michigan, and her love for roasted green beans, I’ve been experimenting.  The first time I roasted some raw green beans, slivered onions and sliced yellow summer squash.  I tossed this mixture with a splash of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste and roasted it for about 25-30 minutes at 425 degrees.

The next time we tried the beans on the grill but couldn’t get them soft enough for our liking before they got too dark.  It may have been that the temperature wasn’t quite right.  As much as crunchy green beans seem to be in favor at a lot of restaurants these days we like our beans slightly softer – they are more enjoyable to us that way.

So back to the drawing board – this time I blanched the whole beans for 4 minutes & let them drain.  I tossed them with a splash of tamari, olive oil and toasted sesame oil mixed with a crushed clove of garlic.  If I had to hazard a guess – the splash is about 2 teaspoons each – for about a pound of beans.  Noel put them on a hot grill for 15-20 minutes, until they started to blacken & shrivel a little.  They were declared the best green beans ever by our friend Dave!

Now for the cherry tomato pasta sauce, I read this recipe in a magazine several years ago.  I have no idea who to credit this to but I’ve been making it every year since. Halve about 4 cups cherry tomatoes of various kinds – red, yellow, orange, purple – whatever you have.  If using some of the larger ones such as Sweet Treats you may have to quarter them.  Mince several cloves of garlic and sauté in 2-3 T. olive oil for about 1 minute on medium low.  Don’t let the garlic brown or the flavor of the garlic may add a bitterness to the sauce.  Add the chopped tomatoes all at once being careful not to get splashed by the hot oil.  Add about ½ tsp. salt & freshly ground pepper and let simmer for 10-15 minutes or to taste.  Add a handful of chopped fresh basil for the last 5 minutes. Serve over your favorite pasta & top with freshly ground parmesan cheese.

Now I wonder what we’re going to eat next????