Tomatoes: Stage 52 and Beyond

Sink Full of Tomatoes

For the past few weeks, I have been very busy. The new semester started at the school I teach for, I have been working on my dissertation, I planted my Fall plants, and my tomatoes came into their harvest period! That means that my weekends have been filled with lesson-planning and tomato processing. I thought I would share some of this year’s wonderful tomato adventures with you.

Once or twice per week, I pick a double sink full of beautiful tomatoes. The first few weeks are always devoted to making my delicious Italian pasta sauce. My goal is to always can a minimum of 52 quarts, so my family can have enough to eat pasta dishes, once per week all year. So far, this year, I have 68 quarts finished and may make more to give as gifts and share wth family.

Once the pasta sauce reaches “Stage 52,” as I call it, I start canning other products that my family uses throughout the year. I usually make some soup and salsas, as well as a few other things; however, this year, I planted a couple of hybrid tomato types which are touted as offering much larger Roma-style tomatoes than the standard Roma. That equates to much more tomato pulp available to use.

Supersauce versus Roma

The tomatoes in the photo, from left to right, are Super Sauce, Roma, Super Sauce, and Big Mama. The Big Mama tomatoes turned out to be 2-3 times the size of the Romas, but this year due to a very rainy early season, they suffered from blossom end rot which ruined approximately half of the crop. The Super Sauce tomatoes, however, thrived, this year. As you can see, the typical Super Sauce can be 10-20 times the size of a typical Roma. I even had one weigh in at 3.5 pounds! I think that would be heavy weight class.

What does that mean for me? It means less work: fewer tomatoes to blanch and peel, fewer tomatoes to remove seeds and liquid from, and more meat available to work with per fruit. In addition, they taste really good.

I grew all of my Super Sauce tomato plants from seed. The tomatoes came ripened only two weeks after the 8-inch tall tomato plants that I bought at the store and planted. The seed-started plants were also stronger, more vigorous, and highly productive. It turns out that in the same amount of space, I was able to get much more usable tomato from Super Sauce than the other Roma-style plants that I planted. I will definitely be planting Super Sauce, again!

So what have I done with all of that tomato? So far I have 68 quarts of pasta sauce, 13 pints of stewed tomatoes, 10 pints of stewed tomatoes with green chilis, 15 pint and a half jars of honey barbeque sauce, 18 jars of 4-alarm super hot salsa, 15 jars of mild salsa, 8 jars of medium salsa, a dozen jars of tomato-basil soup, and two quarts of tomato soup base (for vegetable-beef soup). This weekend, I am making and canning hot sauces, chili, and dried Italian tomato slices.

I predict 3-4 more weeks of sauce-style tomato canning, since all of my plants have started producing another abundance of fruit. Did I say that none of this has anything to do with my table tomatoes? Yes, it is true: We get to eat sliced, diced, or wedged fresh tomatoes, every day, as well. Well, that’s anbother story!

mmmmm mmmmm mmmmm It’s all so yummy: Tomato goodness, all year long.

 

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harvest

This past week, I attended the International Leadership Association’s (ILA) Leadership Education Academy (LEA). It was an amazing event, a cross between a conference and a work development program, created specifically for leadership educators. I met some creative, inspiring leadership professors, people who teach leadership skills to youth and young adults, and leadership professionals who teach within their organizations. The staff, all leadership professors, was fantastic, and the content of knowledge we learned is extremely helpful. You know… It was information that I will use, and use often in my career. I was so inspired and leadership focused… until I got home.

As you can imagine, in Indiana, the most important time of the harvesting season starts mid-July and runs throughSeptember, or even October… and even sometimes into November, if the weather holds out! I made sure that I had harvested everything available the day before I left for Denver.

I was gone for five days, and I was shocked at what needed to be done to get the garden caught up. As you can see, I had a boatload of green beans and peppers, as well as cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, and blackberries to harvest. Before taking that photo, I gave away two dozen peppers, a dozen tomatoes, and six cucumbers, and I cooked down enough blackberries to freeze two gallons of juice. I also set a few dozen tomatoes on my ripening table that you don’t see here. It never seems like so much is ready when I work on it, every day, but skip a week, and WOW!

Now, it’s time to decide what to do with it all. Wednesday, I will be teaching a certification class in YOUTH Mental Health First Aid, so I will be able to serve some of the peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes with our lunch. I have a boatload of kale ready to be harvested, too, so I will also take some of it to the class. I have been pickling sweet yellow and banana peppers, lately, and I have enough for a year’s worth of my family’s use. I recently saw a recipe for sweet and hot peppers which I might try, though, and I will start canning my jalapeno peppers, since they started producing. The red Cayenne peppers will be dried and used by my son on all kinds of yummy (and spicy) foods.

The tomatoes that I grew from plants are ripening, nicely, but they are mostly table tomatoes. Since my family eats a lot of fresh tomatoes, we are using them up or giving them away to friends and family. My parents could eat fresh tomatoes, especially the german- or beefsteak-style tomatoes, at every meal, so yes, they get used up, quickly. I also like to make some of the extras into stewed tomatoes or salsas.

The tomatoes that I planted from seed are a week or so behind the other tomato plants, even though they were planted at least six weeks after the others. They are they types that I turn into pasta sauce, salsa, and soups. They have very little liquid and very few seeds, so they are easy to process and have lots of meaty flesh to use. The breeds I planted were a Roma-style called “Big Mama” and “Super Sauce.”

Super Sauce is, by far, my favorite saucing tomato, because it is huge (up to 2.5 pounds each) and tasty, which make less work for me. I have made tomato sauce that fits in one quart-sized jar with just two Super Sauce tomatoes! The ones in the garden are so big on some plants that the stems started bending over, because the plant couldn’t hold them up without help. As you can imagine, I have been outside tying the heavier stems up on the stakes I use to support the plants.

Well, I guess I need to stop gushing about this harvest, because I need to go can some green beans! I have a lot to do. Anyway.. I wish you Happy Harvesting and Preserving!

Rogue Tomato Plants

cherry volunteer 2It should be no secret to anyone that I plant a lot of tomato plants, each year. I prepare and can enough pasta sauce, tomato sauce, salsa, stewed tomatoes, tomato-basil soup, vegetable soup, chili, and hot sauce for my family to eat for the entire year. My parents, who live next door, love fresh sliced tomatoes and tomato-cucumber salad, and Dad and I eat tomato bruchetta like it is going out of style when basil and tomatoes are fresh and in season. I even toss in a few other tomato recipes on occassion. Two years ago, I found a recipe for dried italian tomatoes in my new dehydrator manual that are out of this world (Imagine eating a chewy dried tomato slice which tastes like a piece of pizza as a snack). Needless-to-say, I need many tomato plants to meet our needs.

Each year a few tomatoes rot on the vine or get escorted away by some insect or worm and the seeds end up in my garden beds. The following year, after the beds have been turned and planted, we end up with some volunteer tomato plants growing from those forgotten seeds. Some years those plants have been so prolific that we started calling them “Rogue” tomato plants. Until a few years ago, I just removed them, because they were, in essence, weeds. For the past three years, however, I let them grow to see what would happen.

So how many rogue plants is a prolific amount? Let me see… Last year, I gave away 1150 rogue tomato plants to various organizations and individuals who didn’t mind that they would not know what type of tomato to expect. That wasn’t even half of the plants that grew! I kept some of them and put them in garden beds by themselves in order to be able to keep them separate from the tomatoes I grew on purpose and to be able to rotate my crops to keep the soil healthy. I just wanted to see what would happen, and I ended up with some very good, healthy, delicious tomatoes. Some of the people who took the rogue plants later told me that they were enjoying a variety of types of tomatoes.

This year, I only let the rogues grow in two beds, while I gave away a few plants and composted the rest. My mission, this year, was to grow only certain types, the kinds I knew we would use an abundance of. The rogue tomatoes that I did keep, this year, were only grown in specific beds, last year, so I could guess what they might be, and so far, I am right. The one in the photo grew in my mom’s garden where I had planted only one cherry tomato plant, last year, and it’s a cherry! I also am enjoying the sight of several plants of Romas and a couple of Super Sauce. I am still waiting to hear from recipients of this year’s rogues to see what types they got, and I hope they are as excited to see tomatoes on them as I am.

You might hear about my purposeful tomatoes in a future blog. What did I plant? Yellow tomatoes are my favorite cut tomatoes, so you know I have those. Then, the Rutgers and German Lady tomatoes are the favorite of the parents, next door. I also bought Jet Star plants for a general, easy table tomato. I grew 100 Big Mama plants and 150 Super Sauce from seed for my canning projects later in the summer. mmm mmm mmm

Blossom End Rot Not Shattering Tomato Dreams

End Blossom Rot

Until this year, I have not ever had a problem with blossom end rot in any of my crops. From what I understand, blossom end rot occurs in many different types of fruit-bearing plants. Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and squash are the most common plants which suffer from it in Indiana gardens. After doing a little research on the Purdue agricultural websites and talking to an extension agent (EA), I learned that the problem stems from plants not getting enough or not being able to use enough calcium.

Big mama TomatoWhile I am particularly interested in tomatoes, since this is the only plant I am experiencing blossom end rot, I am finding that only one variety of tomato that I planted is having the problem, the Big Mama hybrid. I planted both Big Mama (photo on the left) and Super Sauce (photo on the right) hybrid tomatoes from seed, this year. I planted the seed directly in the ground as soon as the soil was warm enough. Super Sauce tomatoesI also bought German Lady, Rutgers, Lemon Boy, and Jet Star tomato plants, and have a few Roma and Cherry ROGUE (volunteer) plants, all of which are producing fruit with no problem with blossom end rot.  Last year, I bought Super Sauce plants from Burpee Gardening, and they were, not only tasty tomatoes, but extra-large and with very little extra water and few seeds, so they are easy to use and provide little waste, with less effort, to make sauce and salsa. Super Sauce are heavy producing plants and do well in the Indiana climates. I decided to try the Big Mama tomatoes based on reviews of people who liked the Super Sauce, since it also produces extra large Roma-style fruits. So far, the Big Mama plants seem to be loaded with tomatoes, but I have lost dozens of them them to the blossom end rot.

end blossom rot starts 2

Blossom end rot starts out looking like a brown water spot on a ceiling at the area that the flower blossom was when the tomato started growing. The end of the tomato dies off and dries up resulting in the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 of the tomato being discolored and hard.

I have been throwing the damaged tomatoes into the composter, but I read, today, that once the tomato turns red, some people just cut the bad part off and eat or use the rest of the tomato. Maybe I will try to use the good part of the tomato when this issue occurs just to see how it turns out. I stopped counting Big Mama tomatoes at 1200, this morning, and I would hate to throw away all of that goodness just because of the blossom end rot. It’s at least something to think about.

So what can be done about the blossom end rot? Well, it turns out that there is not a hard and fast answer to that. It depends on the reason it is occurring.  For our gardens, it turns out that we have simply had so much water that the plants can’t keep up with or use the amount of calcium being flushed up into the affected plants. It happens that the rest of the tomato varieties we are growing happen to be blossom end rot resistant, so they aren’t having the same issues. Since my garden beds are already raised and filled with great soil which drains well, and we have no control over the amount of rain we are getting this year, I can only pray for the rain to reduce a little and August to dryer.

For others, I suggest you ask an area EA to come look at your beds and test your soil. They are full of great information to help you decide if you should do something or not. For people who have drainage problems, your EA  might suggest you try adding peat moss or large garden grade vermiculite, elevating your garden beds, or  relocating them to support good drainage. For those of you who have a calcium problem not related to drainage or too much water, you might try adding calcium to the soil with a soil suppliment or clean eggshells. If your plants have simply grown so fast they can’t keep up with nutrient uptake, using less nitrogen-based fertilizer might help. While many think that simply adding calcium will stop blossom end rot, you might find that the problem with calcium isn’t about adding it at all, but a simpler change… or Mother Nature’s changes that you can’t help… will be the solution.  I am hoping for happy tomatoes for the rest of the summer!