How It All Began

raised-beds

I was teaching a Mental Health First Aid certification course, this weekend, when I got into a lunch conversation about gardening and canning fruits and vegetables. One of the participants was an avid gardener who told me that she was often chastized for the work it took to create and maintain a garden and can your own food. Other people at the table were also gardeners (on a smaller level), and the conversation turned positive. They indicated that they have noticed that in today’s world, gardening is making a comeback for many reasons. Then, I was asked, “Why did you start gardening?”

Well, I come from a large family where I was the oldest of my siblings. My mother had a small garden, and I was the only one mesmerized, from an early age, with the idea that we can work this piece of dirt, plant a seed or two, and somethng amazing grows. From that plant, we can be nourished. During my youth, as I heard the biblical stories of Creation, I automatically equated Mom’s little garden to how God created man in a garden. Since then, I have always tended a garden of some semblence.

I guess you can call my garden, “My Happy Place.” It’s my stress reliever, my exercise, my place of silence and peace, my shared experience with my family and friends who have become part of our family, and my place of shared creation. It is my outdoor place where I can be still and pray or meditate or just breathe and listen to the sounds around me. We also use the garden as the backdrop for outdoor activities and gatherings and as a place to teach others about growth, health, food, and canning. As the space develops into something more and more beautiful, we will use it for more… or less… depending on what our needs or calling might be.

To me, my garden depicts life in all of its beauty. It has strengths and weaknesses which are influenced by the environment and the people it encounters. My gardens have experienced some disasters (like last year’s wide-spread blossom-end rot) which have taught me some resiliency skills, as well as some patience. Each time, though, the garden and I have bounced back and remained alive and kicking. Overall, like life, the garden provides many more positive things than negative, and it always bounces back to being a productive life. It symbolizes the life cycle and how, if nurtured, a life can and will thrive. My gardens give me more than plants and food: My gardens provide feelings of hope and faith, and well…

…isn’t that everything?

 

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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

An Eggplant Gift from Janet

Janet's eggplant and tomato

I just wanted to share the beautiful gift I received from my friend, Janet, today. During a conversation, last week, I mentioned that Japanese beetles were nipping off the flowers on my eggplant, so the flowers were falling to the ground instead of producing fruit. Janet suggested that I apply a soap wash to the plants to deter the hungry little buggers, and it seems to have worked. Today, Janet paid me a visit and brought me a little gift: her first eggplant of the year and a tomato called a Granny Smith which grows to a beautiful shade of green. Thank you for your generosity, Janet!

first eggplant

You can see the damage caused by the Japanese beetles on the leaves of this plant. Since spraying the plant with the soap wash and sprinkling some cayenne papper on the ground around the plant, the insects have fled, and I now have my first eggplant fruit on the stalk! Since I want to avoid using insecticides, I am happy that the soap wash worked!