Independence Days Update: The First Tomato

Sharon July 4th, 2010

I ate the first ripe tomato today on the fourth of July.  I just feel that statement should be preserved in amber, because it is the dream I always begin with in February.  When the first tomato seeds go into the ground in winter, the fourth of July is the dream date.  Most years, we don’t make it - too cold, too wet, too something.  But in winter, when summer seems infinitely far away, I dream of a hot day Independence Day in summer, popping a sweet cherry tomato into my mouth.

And today I got to do it - it was from a variety I’ve never grown before “Venus” designed for container culture.  These are the smallest tomatoes I’ve ever grown - true dwarfs.  But they have a surprisingly heavy yield for their size and the two that I ate today were sweet - not as good as sungold, but better than my usual first tomato, Glacier. 

I’m in between trips right now - I was in New York City for a few days earlier this week with the boys and Eric and my mother in law, back for a bit, and then headed to Boston to celebrate my great-aunt’s 90th birthday.  After that we dive into the meat of July - Eli attends summer school and the other boys are attending a wonderful skills-oriented camp program for three weeks.  Meanwhile, Eric and I plan to use most of the time with no obligations and several uninterrupted hours every morning (this is very unusual for us) to build buck pens, put up fencing and continue expanding the garden beds. 

That last couple of days have been more about getting what we already have in order - weeding, sorting, planting a few things still lingering.  I started the fall broccoli and cabbage crop, got two of the production herb beds planted, finished up the peas and planted late cucumbers and have been generally trying to get ready to go away again.  Phil the awesome housemate did a terrific job on his first soloing with the creatures, but this time he may have to do some garden work as well, so I’m in the process of figuring out how to get him up to speed - and also minimize his time spent on this, since his orals are rapidly approaching.

We’re t-three weeks from first goat babies, and that’ll be the other priority - getting a second kidding pen built, getting my supplies in order and preparing for the babies.  We did the first round of vaccinations for the girls due early, and will do the second one on Tuesday.  I’m not sure if Tekky’s pregnant or not - she’s a *lot* thinner than the other girls, and I can’t tell by palpating.  It is possible that she didn’t settle on the first go round and is due a month after the other girls.

I’m enjoying the fact that chores take so little time without milking, but I admit, I’m also looking forward to milking again - and I hate buying milk.  Although my kids think it is a huge treat - everyone was so excited to have cow’s milk again - Asher said “Mommy, I love cow’s milk!”  He likes the goat stuff fine too, so presumably that will also have the pleasure of novelty when it comes back into our lives.

We are done with the cherries, but it was quite an orgy while it lasted.  I have a few cherry trees, just coming into production, but our local pick-your-own has them, and we picked a lot - I think picking cherries is my favorite kind of fruit harvesting.  You are reaching up rather than bending down, you get to be in the shade, and well, then there’s all these cherries.  We ate them and ate them, dried them and jammed them (although it didn’t set up very well), and I had the last few this morning.  I fantasize that there will be a few left on the trees next week, but I know that the season is short and its time is past - soon it will be blueberries.  But I have trouble letting go of cherries for some reason. 

I’ve been harvesting and drying herbs quite steadily, and I’m starting to figure out what it will take in terms of existing plants to grow a given weight of dried herbs. I spent part of yesterday experimenting with tea blends - my favorite is a headache blend that combines Betony, Skullcap, Lemon Verbena and Lemon Balm - it tastes almost exactly like a black tea with lemon.  Betony is a superb black tea substitute, as well as being a lovely medicinal.

Another success was the greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts combo I pulled together for respiratory conditions - Elecampane, Yarrow, Anise Hyssop and Peppermint.  Neither elecampane root nor yarrow is a particularly yummy tasting herb - both are strong, and elecampane has an odd spiciness, not unpleasant, but a little strange, while yarrow is fairly bitter.  Oddly, the four together create a really surprisingly pleasant synthesis - I might add some cinnamon as well, but I liked it more than I expected. 

We have set up our mudroom as an herb drying room, but it remains to be seen whether this will be wholly successful or not - I really don’t yet have an optimal way of drying herbs quickly and effectively.  The problem is that my solar dryer on a sunny day gets far too hot to effectively preserve herbs, while on an overcast day often doesn’t dry them fast enough.  Since it is important to dry herbs very quickly but at low temperatures and out of direct sunlight to best preserve their medicinal qualities, I’ve been trying to figure out something that works as well as my electric dehydrator, which is extremely effective, but which obviously uses electricity.  My solar dryer is great for fruit and vegetables, but not ideal for herbs.  Hanging in my house usually takes too long - the herbs lose color and fragrance.  I’ve tried the attic, and that’s ok - but cleaning out the attic to be able to really use it will be something of a production, and not something I want to do in July, when it is 100 degrees in there.  Thus, the mudroom, which heats up well.

What I’ve found is that it doesn’t hold heat well over night, though, and in the cool stretch we had last week, the herbs took too long to dry and weren’t of the quality I want.  I may have to break down and do what other growers I know have - reserve space in a hoophouse to get appropriate temps, but I don’t have one yet, so that won’t be this year.  I’m watching to see how we do in this hot, dry stretch.

The sour cherries are just about ready to be picked, and the peaches and plums are coloring up.  The wild raspberries are producing, and the blueberries will be along next week.  My black currants would be ready, but the goats got at them - I won’t have many black currants this year.  I’m going to move the bushes in behind the fence - I was lazy, because the goats had ignored them.

Otherwise, not too much going on here - quiet and peaceful and hot.  With all the young plants going in, I’m having to water more than I like, but our well is good and the year hasn’t been so terribly dry.  It would have been smarter to put everything in earlier, but then we’d have had to have the beds built.  As always, reality and the ideal come banging firmly against one another. 

Plant something: Cucumbers, bush beans, broccoli, cabbage, kale, mesclun, chard, echinacea (3 varieties), skullcap, yarrow, horehound, vervain, blue vervain, marshmallow, valerian, feverfew, blue cohosh, spilanthes, dill, sage, pennyroyal, betony, elecampane, angelica

Harvest something: Tomatoes, zucchini, snap peas, shelling peas, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, eggs,  motherwort, yarrow, meadowsweet, yellow bedstraw, chamomile, calendula, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, kale, mesclun, lettuce

Preserve something: Made cherry jam, dried cherries, canned rhubarb sauce, dried herbs, froze snap peas

Waste Not: Because we’ve been travelling, we’re trying not to build up food that won’t get eaten, so mostly just trying to cook in correct quantities.  Otherwise, the usual composting, not throwing stuff out, etc..

Want Not: Picked up the pasta I ordered way back when.

Eat the food:  Cherries, cherries and more cherries.  And snap peas.  This time of year, I find it hard to do creative cooking - everything tastes so delicious just as it is!

Build community food systems: Nothing new.

How about you?


16 Responses to “Independence Days Update: The First Tomato”

  1. Lise says:

    Boy, I wish we had a pick-your-own cherry place. Here, cherries are too expensive to get more than a few pints at the market. I did discover a new-to-me fruit this year, though: cherry plums, growing at a nearby park. Just waiting for them to be ripe enough to pick. My latest update is here:

  2. KiwiRach says:

    I’ve been picking cherries from the municipal cherry trees planted at the end of our street and in our neighbourhood park, and wondering whether it would be bad form to take a ladder to pick from a street tree. I don’t think I’ve got the chutzpah to do it, but it seems a shame for most of them to go to the birds.

    ate our first courgette this week, picked small because I know we’ll be drowning in them in a week or two. I think I’ve got six plants when I know that two or three would be adequate, but there were six seeds in the packet and my 2yo son was helping with the planting so there are six courgette plants, also three greek squash and three butternut squash, but I forgot to label the pots when I planted them so it’ll just be cucurbit suprise when they start fruiting :-)

    We’ve got enough veg at the allotment now that I’ve put the veg box on “pause” for the duration. spud yield is fairly feeble though as the weather has been very dry.

    harvested oodles of onions, shallots and garlic and planted swedes (aka rutabaga I think) in the bed the shallots were in.

    kale seeds planted in modules plus another six purple cauliflower seeds.

  3. Leigh says:

    Woo hoo! We just ate our 1st tomato too. On 4th of July hamburgers. Yummy even if they were Romas.

    My IDC update is here -

    I’ve asked my readers a question and would appreciate answers from you all as well.

  4. Gabrielle says:

    It was another dry week in East TN. While the garden is pretty piddly in comparison to last year, I have hope that the succession plantings will continue to fill in and add to our yield.

    Plant— Nothing planted this week.

    Harvest— blackberries, plums, a few blueberries, squash, zucchini, green beans, jalapenos, onions, green onions, ridiculously small and gnarled cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes. Blackberries and blueberries from a local pick-your-own farm.

    Preserve—11 pints pickled beets, wild blackberry jam, watermelon rind pickles, 4 quart bags of blueberries in the freezer, 1 bag of blackberries in the freezer

    Waste Not/Reduce Waste— We continue to collect the water from kitchen tasks and bring it down to the garden. I made watermelon rind pickles instead of composting the rind from an organic watermelon we bought this week.

    Want Not/Prep/Storage— Not much new in this area this week.

    Building Community Food Systems— Daughter and I picked wild blackberries at a friend’s house, which was absolutely wonderful. The following day we went with friends to a pick-your-own farm for blueberries. At the last minute, I couldn’t resist picking a few blackberries. As we were picking blueberries, I asked our daughter if she would like to make a cobbler by herself with the blueberries she picked herself. While she usually helps in the kitchen, this was the first time she made a cobbler almost exclusively alone. ( Don’t worry, I took care of the oven part.) I wish I had a picture of the proud look on her face as we served it for dessert.

    Eat the Food— Our daughter’s very first cobbler was hands down the best I’ve ever eaten in my life.

  5. Karin says:

    Sparse but still something..

    here is my update

  6. Sonrisa says:

    It’s been over a month since my last update. Biggest news is we got a frost on June 17. The weather station in town registered 29 F, but we are usually a few degrees cooler than there. Luckily, I anticipated it and only put out things that I had plenty of replacements for. Unfortunately, the frost was so hard my cabbage has never fully recovered. In other words, no 4th tomatoes for us! ;) Actually the only tomatoes we get before August come from the greenhouse. On to business!

    Plant- tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, beans, corn, onions, carrots, cukes, vine peach, squash, pumpkins, watermelons, fall cabbage, cumin, basil.

    Harvest- Head and leaf lettuce, beets, turnips, kale, carrots, onions, green beans, the first aquaponic strawberries, peas, garlic, marjoram, oregano, rhubarb, thyme, sage, dill, mint, horehound, radish, cardoon buds (mini artichokes), comfrey, alfalfa, grass for the goats, quail, goat, milk, and eggs.

    Preserve- Pickled beets and onions. Canned quail and goat meat. Dried marjoram, dill, thyme, horehound, and oregano. Made hay from excess alfalfa, pasture, and comfrey for winter feed. Made yogurt, cheese, and butter from milk. Put up eggs in a lime brine for winter use. Cured garlic for storage. Rendered goat tallow.

    Waste not- Added a lot of feathers to the stash. Saved a skin for tanning. Most weeds go to the critters.

    Want not- Bought more jars and lids.

    Community- Talked to some people in town about growing our own wheat and our flour mill. Also talked about using our wheat, garlic, and egyptian onions as late frost insurance. Most people here grow small gardens (mainly squash) along with being cattle ranchers and alfalfa farmers.

    Also, some of my family came out to the hippie hermitage for the first time in four years to see all the “self sufficiency” stuff we’ve done. It seems that the chaos going on in the world has magically turned our lifestyle from weird to smart. Whatever the reason I’m glad people are starting to wake up. Anyway, they wanted a full tour with as much info on the passive solar, compost, wheat, sourdough, etc. They oohed and ahhhed and even took pictures to show people. Needless to say it was unexpected.

    Eat the food- For my husbands birthday we had a lasagna and salad from almost all homegrown ingredients. The noodles were made from homegrown wheat and eggs. The meat and cheese were from our goats. Mushrooms, lettuce, onions, herbs, and garlic from the garden. For dessert we had a rhubarb pie. The crust was made with wheat from the garden and butter from the goats. And a bottle of rhubarb wine I made last fall (I use my sourdough as wine yeast too). It was excellent!

    *Update on the rice. It’s toast! The cold spring and our soil made it very unhappy, so I chucked it. I have a few plants in the aquaponic tank, but I didn’t want to waste so much space on something that wasn’t likely to produce. Oh well.

  7. Lise says:

    P.S. I guess my actual latest update is here:
    Lost track.

  8. KC says:

    I am out of town for 3 weeks … so not too much happening here. I have stopped by the house and garden for a few hours here and there. No rain here in quite a while and the fields are turning brown. I want to start the fall garden soon, but it is difficult to get motivated when I am away from home and the weather is hot and dry.

    planted: bush beans, cucumbers

    harvest, green beans, onions, garlic, kale, chard, dill, basil

    preserve: blackberries and greenbeans (in the freezer). dehydrated summer squash, onions & garlic drying on front porch and almost ready to braid.

    waste not/ want not : usual

    community food systems: we may start a fall garden discussion group on local listserve

  9. Claire says:

    Dry in the St. Louis, MO area, for a change. Cool for a few delightful days last week (I measured lows in the upper 50sF, almost unheard of this late in the summer), back to more normal temps and humidity now.

    Planted: the last couple St. Johnswort and elecampane seedlings. Pricked-out some bok choy, broccoli, and collard seedlings, and put them into individual cell packs for planting-out later when it’s right for fall crops. Started a flat of fall lettuce.

    Harvested: a few very late lettuces from the end of May planting (not the best quality, but edible); cabbage; turnips and greens; beets and greens; kale; tomatoes; calendula flowers; jiao-gu-lan and anise hyssop leaves.

    Preserved: the last three items above, by drying. Finished drying last year’s popcorn in the solar dryer.

    (Sharon, for what it’s worth, I found I did well drying herbs in my solar dryer by setting it in the dappled shade under a redbud tree. The temp didn’t go over about 110F and it took two days. Also, if you put several 55 gallon drums of water in your mudroom, they would absorb heat during the day and release it at night - this might keep the nighttime temps high enough to dry your herbs more effectively. Check solar greenhouse books to get an idea of how much water storage you’d need.)

    Waste not: the usual, mostly trying to avoid excess waste during our visit to friends with no waste-consciousness at all over the holiday weekend. We offered to bring home leftover food from the weekend that they wouldn’t use and got some of it. Consulted my computer-guru friend re computer issues we’re having so we could fix them without getting another computer. At worst we might need to get a replacement motherboard so we can keep this 9 year old computer running.

    Want not: got another estimate on glassing in the south-facing front porch, to convert it to a greenhouse.

    Community: we took our sun oven to the campground where our friends have a trailer - the same friends mentioned in the waste-not item above. We cooked the potatoes for the homemade potato salad in it. Fortunately the day was perfect for solar cooking and not only our friends but their friends at the campground also noticed how well the sun oven worked. We answered lots of questions about how it worked. Also took homegrown tomatoes and cabbage and ate them during the visit.

    Eat the food: a totally home-grown lettuce and fixins salad; a stir-fry with only the rice not being homegrown; the homegrown cole slaw my DH made for the visit to our friends. We took homemade beer and wine to the campground, and they got pretty good reviews.

  10. NM says:

    I planted! I preserved! Woohoo!
    Much happiness, in spite of the sudden heat wave arriving virtually overnight, after a month of cool, rainy weather. I LIKE cool, rainy weather. But, oh well. Presumably the heat will be good for the eggplants, peppers and tomatoes.
    Plant: Eggplants, peppers, lettuce, basil, lemon basil, chard, tomatoes. Mulched everything with straw, hoping to protect the young transplants from the sudden heat.
    Harvest: A couple strawberries, a handful of raspberries, local eggs, CSA vegetables.
    Preserve: Oregon grape (native berry) jam; Oregon grape jelly, raspberry jam, Oregon grape liqueur.
    Want not: Nothing much
    Waste not: Used some of the frozen raspberries from last year to round out a batch of jam.
    Community food systems: shared some excess CSA vegetables.
    Eat the food: Chard and spinach calzone, broccoli-stuffed potatoes, eggs with toasted homemade oatmeal bread and homemade jam, scones with bits of candied orange rind.

  11. JB says:

    I am drying herbs too, including chamomile and calendula but need more trays to dry them on. Any advice materials to use to make trays ? I don’t really want to use window screen, although I do have quite a bit extra. Thanks!

  12. Laney says:

    Sharon, your post about drying herbs set the wheels in my head spinning. My lovely husband bought me a small greenhouse for our 25th wedding anniversary. (He knows me so well — no flowers or jewelry, just an unusually extravagant garden toy!) Needless to say, it’s too hot to use during these Arkansas summer days. Could I use it for drying fruits and vegetables?

    OK. my first ever Independence Day:
    Plant something: Cucumbers, bush beans, red and green basil, marigolds, sunflowers, purple hull peas, okra (maybe it’s not too late?), winter squash, summer squash, pumpkin

    Harvest something: Tomatoes, raspberries (a handful for eating in the patch), eggs, onions, jalapenoes, blueberries, cilantro, 1 apple

    Preserve something: froze blueberries

    Waste Not: Fed the hundreds (thousands?) of Japanese beetles from my berries, fruit trees, and roses to the chickens, rather than drowning them in the Beetle Bucket of Doom. Now the chickens (who actually belong to my daughter) follow me everywhere. Drippings from 4th of July ribs stored in the frig to pour over the dog’s dry food each morning. SOP: edible scraps to the chickens, compostable scraps to the compost pile.

    Want Not: Nothing.

    Eat the food: Taught my daughter to make biscuits.

    Build community food systems: Does selling eggs and blueberries count?


  13. jb says:

    Laney - I used my greenhouse last summer to dehydrate fruits and veggies and it worked great. I used a messy mix of cardboard and wire to create darkness and places for trays (I used the trays from my electric food dehydrator). I had to guard against ants (I put “tanglefood” on the parts of the shelf structure that touched any place the ants could crawl onto it, and that worked well). I opened the door and all vents, and used an electric fan to keep air circulating. I am going to do again this year (with improved shelf design I hope). I am the one just above your email with the question about what to use for trays to dry herbs on - so if you come up with something I would love to have you post it to sharon’s blog.

  14. Jill says:

    Plant something: Basil only. Had a busy week getting ready for visiting family

    Harvest something: Potatoes, apricots, zucchini, green beans, blueberries

    Preseved something: Apricot jam, zucchini bread, Blueberry/lime jam, dried onions for onion powder

    Waste not: Yard sales, sewing, recycling, compost

    Want not: nothing

    Eat the food: zucchini bread, jam,

    Build community food systems: Got my adorable 2 year old nephew out in the garden to harvest green beans.

  15. Laney says:

    Janet -

    Thanks for the thumbs up. If I figure out anything, I’ll share it.


  16. Evey says:

    Well I have been busy finally moving to the WV farm so until now had not much to report.
    It has been very dry and hot here, mid 90s four days running; hopefully some thunderstorms coming tonight.
    However, This past week:

    Planted: in trays for fall garden- 3 different kinds of brussels sprouts, bulb fennel, long storage cabbage, 2 kinds of broccoli, cheddar caulifower, collards rabb, 6 each-arugula, mottistone lettuce, fiero lettuce, 4 seasons lettuce, Youg red lettuce summertime lettuce, fireball lettuce, cimmaron lettuce.

    Harvested: green beans, beets, last of lettuce, >190 garlic bulbs of 4 varieties, small onions with rotting greens???, scallions, asian style eggplant, kale, last of chard, shallots with rotting greens same as onions.

    Preserved : quick sweet dill pickles(we’ll try them tonight) froze various meat bones rescued from the dog for soup this winter.

    Waste not: remade cold rice salad leftovers into 2 more lunch/supper offerings, remade the haphazard compost pile into a “cooking” one with a wheelbarrow load of garden weeds and sawdust from DH shop.

    Community food: On the 4th, while walking around downtown (pop. 2000), I saw the man who plowed our pasture for garden last spring. I commented on his side yard garden and he insisted I pick some cucumbers. He ran into his house and brought out a plastic grocery bag for me to fill. Said cucumbers are the ones I quick pickled in above. Ours should be in this week.

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