The Grovestead

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Tag: tomatoes (page 1 of 3)

Spring Ahead

Spring has arrived about 6 weeks early in Minnesota this year. That’s not to say winter won’t stop by again, but today is the 3rd day in a row of 60+ temps and will be the last day snow can be seen on our property. Even the grass is starting to green up!

Spring is always welcome here. However, Spring on a Hobby Farm means lots of work! And I’m not fully ready to come out of hibernation yet.

The seedlings are planted and growing well: tomatoes, broccoli (which Becca says she wants every week of the summer), lettuce, and a variety of flowers.

tomato seedlings

The chickens are laying abundantly, after about a 5-month hiatus during the coldest months.

Chickens enjoying the warm weather

All the maple trees are tapped and flowing a full 3 weeks ahead of season. I just hauled in 5 more gallons of sap after taking this picture. 30 gallons collected so far, waiting to be evaporated.

Collecting maple sap in buckets

Tapping maple trees started early this year

Since the sap is flowing, it is also the best time of year to graft trees. I made my first attempt, grafting a branch from a HoneyGold apple tree onto the MacIntosh nearby. The yellow HoneyGold was one of a few trees we planted without ever knowing how the fruit would taste. It turned out be delicious! Like a cross between a pear and an apple, but the texture of a HoneyCrisp. Needless to say, we want more HoneyGold and a simple way to expand the supply is to graft onto another tree.

Graft of apple tree

If successful, the MacIntosh will be bearing both red and yellow apples!

 


Saving heirloom tomato seeds, step-by-step

Saving heirloom tomato seeds

One of the joys of hobby farming is discovering trends that develop over many seasons. A homegrown tomato plant originally inspired me to start my own garden. Five years later I’m still growing them–and just about everything else that will sprout in Minnesota soil. I still feel like a beginner and often chide myself for not putting more effort into the essentials like weeding, pruning, mulching. But looking back over the long haul, it’s fun to see how far we’ve come.

This was the first year I grew some of our garden veggies from saved heirloom seed. Heirloom seeds are from plants that breed true, meaning the children grow up to produce the same edible fruit as the parent. Heirloom seeds are what our great great grandparents relied on when settling the Midwest because you could reliably reproduce the same crop year after year. Hybrid seeds, by contrast, have many advantages such as disease resistance, better flavor, or yield but are usually good only for one season. For that reason, I’ve decided to become proficient at growing–and saving–heirloom seeds. Personally, I’d rather have a locally-adapted, organically grown seed bank of my favorite garden veggies than rely on mass-produced seeds from the garden section of the hardware store.

First heirloom generation

Last year I saved my first batch of several breeds of tomatoes, including cherry (small), rutgers (medium), and the same cherry variety that happened to produce tiny yellow tomatoes. The saved seed all grew exceptionally well, and in fact germinated better than my store-bought seed.

Heirloom tomatoes growing in our garden

Now I’m saving the second generation of seed. Here’s how:

1. Pick good tomatoes.

Cutting the tomatoes to save seed

If you can distinguish one plant as being a better grower (more disease resistant, better flavor, etc) pick tomatoes from that plant.

2. Scoop out the goop.

Scooping out the seeds

Cut down the middle of each tomato and scoop out the gelatinous goop into a plastic or glass bowl. The seeds are embedded inside the goo, so don’t bother trying to separate.

3. Cover and let ferment.

Cover cup and let ferment

Add a little bit of water to the bowl, enough to cover the seeds. Cover the bowl with an air permeable lid like cloth or plastic wrap with a hole poked in the top. Set on a windowsill or someplace warm for a few days to ferment. Stir once a day and recover. If you see foamy suds atop the mixture, its working. The fermentation process separates the goo from the seed and kills off any pathogens which might carry disease into your next crop.

4. Strain and dry.

Use a kitchen sieve to strain seeds

After a few days have passed, use a fine kitchen sieve to strain the mixture and wash off the goop. Spread the seeds out into a coffee filter to let dry for about a week.

That’s all there is to it! Put the seeds in an envelope and store in a cool, dry place until next Spring.

 


Garden Update

Garden beds

Tomato starts

Planting tomatoes in late Spring

Garden update 2015

With the new barn construction taking most of our attention this summer, we didn’t have as much time to devote to the garden. But we still managed to get our favorite crops planted: tomatoes, corn, peas, onions, potatoes, beets, cucumber and another testbed of watermelon (we have yet to be successful with watermelon).

Corn and potatoes

By the way, did you know beets make excellent salads? Just chop up the beets and leaves (throw the stems) and add some dressing. We’ve been eating them daily around here. In fact, beet greens are the healthiest part of the plant and are ranked among the world’s top 10 healthiest foods!

Health Beets

The main lesson I learned from last year was that you can’t slack on the weeding and “make it up on volume”. It’s much more productive to plant a smaller garden and keep it well weeded that a huge garden that doesn’t get tended. The harvest of corn, peppers, potatoes and onions last year was pathetic where I let the weeds take over.

Blueberry patch

Another lesson learned is how incredibly “fruitful” our perennial fruit plants are. The blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and apple trees are healthy, abundant, and require almost no work on my part. Minimum input, maximum output.

Strawberries

This has led us to more conversations about what other kinds of fruit we should be planting. Cherry, apricot, peach and plum trees may be in our future.

The only trick is finding ripe fruit before our kids do.

Picking blueberries


The harvest begins

Really really spicy pepper

With the exception of cucumbers and sweet peas which started ripening in late June, we’ve been waiting patiently for most of our garden to get to the harvest stage. It looks like harvest is now upon us. In the past week I have harvested:

  • 65 lbs of potatoes (about 1/4 our crop)
  • 7.5 lbs of beets
  • 9 lbs of tomatoes (with many more coming)

Tomatoes ripening

Tomato harvest

Digging potatoes out of the ground

Potato harvest

We’ve also plucked salad greens, cabbage, swiss chard, beans, carrots, eggplant and late-season strawberries.

Plenty of peppers are ready to harvest too, like this one called Cherry Bomb, because it feels like a bomb went off in your mouth if you try to eat one:

Peppers ripening

The sweet corn is just about ready too, except we came home from a family vacation to find many of the best stalks shredded and ears of corn eaten. It was raccoons, of course.

Raccoons got into our sweet corn

It’s the risk I take, not having a fence. I would have been more upset except the anemic growth of our corn this year didn’t produce much. I either planted the corn too close together or the weed pressure was too high (or both). However, in my no-till experiment, the corn stalks are mammoth. Look for a post on that later.

My pumpkins are growing great but watermelon and cantaloupe are struggling. Again, I think the weeds won the day in my melon patch.

Rainbow in the distance


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