Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tomatoes Galore!

Our CSA has lots and lots of bulk tomatoes on sale right now.  Which works out great since our tomato crop is embarrassingly pitiful.

Last week, I ordered 20 lbs of San Marzano paste tomatoes and 10 lbs of heirloom (Cherokee Purple, Red Zebra, Brandywine, etc).  The paste tomatoes are perfect for sauces and canning, while the heirlooms are great for slicing and eating fresh with salt and pepper.  I looooooove tomatoes.  They are my favorite food so when I saw that Johnson's Backyard Garden was selling them in bulk, I knew I wanted to preserve some for the winter.  Homegrown tomatoes taste so much better than store bought that you can't even compare the two.

Ain't that purdy.

I ate 10 lbs of these heirlooms in a week.  No joke.

The paste tomatoes are alright to eat, but they are really suited for canning.  They have a firm flesh, small core and few seeds.  They cook up with a nice consistency too.  Canning is much simpler than I used to think.  You 1) blanch, 2) prep, 3) pack, 4) process.  Not much more than that.

We had 20 lbs of San Marzanos altogether.
I didn't get pictures of each step in the process, I may do that later when our next bulk order comes in next week.  But here's a shot of the final product:

Put them into jars along with some lemon juice and salt.
Ta-da!  Canned tomatoes.
I got nearly 10 quarts with 20 lbs of tomatoes.  Not too bad.  As you can see, I canned the tomatoes with only salt.  This way, I can make them any way I want to later.  For the batch that I'll get next week, I'll be making up some spaghetti sauce and salsa, too.  As far as salsas go, I pretty much like it all.  D, though, is particular about his salsa.  He also eats a lot more of it than I do so he's coming up with a custom recipe for the big batch.  I might also go crazy and get a whole bunch of tomatillos to make my favorite tomatillo salsa!

Can't wait for next week!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Goodbye Student Loans!

I can't tell you the pleasure I take in posting this screen shot:

D's student loan was paid in full yesterday.  That means, apart from our mortgage, we are 100% debt free.  In 3 years, we've paid off; $8,000 in credit card debt, a new vehicle, both our student loans, and 11% of our house (on top of the 14% we put down).  It's shocking to me when I add it all up.  And what's even more shocking is that I don't feel like we missed out on anything because of our frugal lifestyle change.  And we're definitely not rich.  D is a software engineer so the pay isn't terrible but we'll certainly never be rolling around in a bathtub full of money.  But shaving a little here and a little there and snowballing your debt payments really, really pays off.

And the best thing is the freedom we have now.  Our monthly financial commitments are 1) mortgage, 2) car insurance and, 3) utilities.  All the others we could put off if D suddenly lost his job or we one of us got sick.  Our plan now is to build up our savings to cover at least 6 months of expenses, then work on home improvements and building our retirement fund.  We're still debating about whether or not to snowball the payments into the mortgage or just pay the minimum plus a little bit since we're not underwater.

Seeing that big, fat $0.00 fills me with joy and hope for the future.  Financial freedom feels so good.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Conner Family Farm

We're starting to get some veggies from the garden.  For all the squash we're getting, the patty pan are still MIA.  Maybe they take longer than the regular straight neck.  Not really sure.  But I do love some patty pan squash so I'm really looking forward to them maturing.

Some seriously huge zucchini squash.

A one day harvest. Check out the weird double squash things.

We may have underestimated how much this 3 sisters bed would grow up.  Trying to pick the squash in between all the corn plants in a daring endeavor involving desperately trying not to squash on the squash (get it?  haha) or fall over into the corn.  Somehow, I managed it.

The corn and sunflowers now peek over the fence.  Check out the red amaranth in front.

At the very left of the above picture, you can see a wire cage.  Growing up in that cage is malabar spinach. It's not a true spinach but it grows very well in hot, humid weather and the leaves taste like, and can be eaten just like spinach.
Malabar spinach next to the amaranth.
There are rows in here somewhere.  Really.

We kind of forgot to train the peas up the corn stalks once the peas started coming up.  They seem to have found the squash more appealing than the corn, but they're mostly just growing free-for-all all over the place.  They make nice trip wires when you're trying to get into the rows to pick squash.

The peas seem to be growing up the squash instead  of the corn.

I'm sure our neighbors think we're nutters or hippies or something.  We're about to have some sunflowers peeking out above our fence.  Hopefully, the HOA won't mind too much.

Yet another view.

D and I celebrated our 3 year anniversary yesterday.  When I got home on Sunday, this was waiting for me.  I fell in love with it at the local nursery a few weeks ago.  It's about 4 feet tall and looks so pretty in the sun.
My anniversary present.
Another surprise was the new bed D built for black eyed peas (cow peas) next to the potatoes.  Black eyed peas are very heat tolerant and will germinate and grow long after it gets too hot for most other bush and pole beans.  Considering it's been 103 F (39.5 C for you metric folks) past two days, we'll be growing lots of cow peas.  I planted two rows of 10 seeds each about 6" apart this morning.  In the North cow peas are seen as "poor people food."  I don't know what they're talking about.  Cow peas are delicious.

Black eyed pea bed D built for me this weekend.
The peppers are giving us lots of fruit.  However, these "tame" jalapenos are not quite as tame as the ones we grew last year.  I bit into one this weekend and got a real mouthful of surprise.

Pepper galore.
The zucchini squash plant this year has gone crazy this year.  I've never seen a zucchini get to big.  It's easily almost 4 ft tall.

Zucchini and cucumber.
The cucumbers are growing really well too.  They just now started putting on flowers.  We did get two fruit yesterday but our friendly neighborhood mouse had already taken several bites out of them.  We set out more snap traps but the ants have found the peanut butter bait more appealing than the mice have.

All this is just two cucumber plants.
This little mouse melon is supposed to be native to our area and grow very well. It's finally got runners about 6 inches long after nearly 2 months of growth.  We'll see what happens.
Go, little mouse melon, go!
The tomatoes are still barely alive.  I know I should probably rip them up but I just can't bring myself to do it.  So they're dying a slow, ugly death.

Tomato plant.  Sad as always.

D planted some musk melons a few weeks ago (did I tell you that, probably not).  They seem to be doing really, really well.  I planted some lambs quarters in the cinder blocks around them and they've sprouted but are too tiny to photograph.

The musk melons are doing quite nicely.
The strawberries are putting on another round of fruit.  However, we let the weeds run rampant.  They'll be this weekend's project.

Somewhere in all that bermuda grass are strawberries.
And, as you can probably tell, as the weeks go by, we keep planting even more.  We're going to be up to our eyeballs in squash in a few short weeks.  I'm hoping that our pressure canner will help us get all of this yummy stuff preserved.  

We're still trying to experiment with tomatoes.  I'm going to try and plant a second crop of tomatoes (just a plant or two) in pots after the worst of the summer heat passes.  

The nice thing about our long growing season is that it's actually two seasons.  We have one season that runs from about March - early July and a second that runs from mid-August - October or early November.  In between, everything pretty much stops growing.

If you bungle up the first planting, you've got another chance.  However, you are highly unlikely to get anything out of your garden from mid-July through mid to late August.