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I’m hunkering down for winter, which includes capturing what I can of summer’s bounty in jars and dried and frozen garden produce. With this year’s rainy weather, tomato yields fell far short of expectations. Still, I have 19 shiny quart jars lined up on a shelf in the basement so far, and plan to eke out a few more before the season of summer vegetables comes to an end.

A past neighbor of mine used to begin the process of canning tomatoes by alternating layers of tomatoes with salt in tall, half-bushel baskets. Other gardeners begin by peeling, perhaps seeding, their tomatoes. As for myself, I opt for the quickest method possible, which is: Cut off any bad spots and drop the tomatoes into a large pot with just a half inch of water in the bottom; bring to a boil and then simmer until the volume is reduced by one-half; blend with an immersion blender; pack into canning jars and process in a pressure canner for 15 minutes at 5 pounds pressure. I figure that I can chop up and sprinkle in any flavorings for sauces or soups later, in winter, when I have more time and I know the jar’s end use.

My quick-canning method does not sacrifice flavor. Why? Because I use only the best-tasting varieties of tomato, mostly San Marzano, so revered in Italy that it’s presence is touted on the label when used in commercially canned tomatoes.

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I’m a little late this year in readying my houseplants for winter. I know from seasons past that when the plants come indoors, so do occasional pests. The pests that are most troublesome, the only ones about which I do something, are scale insects.

I never see scale insects now; they are there, though, on my citrus, kumquat, bay laurel, gardenia, and staghorn fern plants. By early winter, the pest starts showing up as occasional, small brown nodules on stems and leaves. That’s the protective “scale,” beneath which the scale insect is happily sucking away plant sap. Scale insects have never killed my plants but do weaken them and – perhaps worse – exude a sugary “honeydew” as they suck sap. This sticky honeydew gets all over floors, furniture, or whatever is beneath the plant. And then a fungus arrives to feed on that honeydew, giving it a dark, smoky, haze.

My tack for scale insects is to line susceptible plants up in my driveway, then spray them with relatively benign insecticide, Ced-o-flora (www.cedoproducts.com), which I did yesterday, September 14th. I’ll spray again in about a week, then again a week later, the goal being to catch all the buggers as they reach the stage when they are most susceptible to the spray.

After the last spray, in come all my houseplants, which should be while windows are still open at least some days and indoor air is not too different from outdoor air, easing the transition for the plants.

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My zinnia’s are making their last hurrah before cold shuts them down. These zinnias aren’t your usual small pompoms on foot-foot high plants. No, these are aptly named Scarlet Flame zinnias, the stems rising now to 3 to 4 feet in height, each capped by a fiery 3 to 4 inch in diameter head of loosely packed petals. That color really jumps out among the abundant greens and now muted colors of the late summer garden. Seeds started in seed flats in early May have been blossoming nonstop all summer.

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Reminder: BACKYARD FRUIT GROWING AND TASTING workshop in my garden on October 4th, from 2-5 pm. Come and taste and learn to grow delectable pawpaws, persimmons, hardy kiwifruits, and more! Email me or call 255-0417 for details.

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