Archive for Gardening

Homegrown Tomatoes

One of the highlights of my garden season is picking fresh, homegrown, tomatoes. Nothing quite beats a flavorful, juicy, garden fresh, red, Better Boy tomato. You know, the kind that squirts juice and drips down your hands when you bite into a thick slice on a mayonnaise laden bread. It makes my mouth water to just think about it.

For the ultimate tomato sandwich choose a big, fully ripe tomato fresh from the garden; one that more than covers your slice of bread. Cut a thick slice an inch thick-yes, an inch thick-because for a tomato sandwich you just need a thick slice! Slather your bread with Real Kraft Mayo and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Lean over the kitchen sink and sink your teeth into that baby. It just doesn’t get much better! You still might have to change your shirt!

Johnny Denver sang a song about homegrown tomatoes that I really like. Crank up the volume and sing along.

“Homegrown Tomatoes” by Guy Clark.

Gardening-Raised Beds

Several years ago, I built several raised beds in my garden.  I love them for some of my gardening.  Because I am an avid gardener and depend on my garden for eating and preserving  vegetables for the months of nongardening weather,  I can’t grow enough of the main vegetables (beans, sweet corn, limas & tomatoes) in 5’x10′ raised beds to meet my needs.

I really like my raised beds for radishes, lettuce, onions, cabbage, broccoli, and squash.  In the spring, the soil in the beds drains better so I can plant my early spring items before you can even dream of planting in the main garden. If a late frost threatens, they is easy to cover with old sheets.

In the fall, when the weeds have taken over the main garden, I can quickly work up the soil in the raised beds and plant my fall crops. I can winterize the main garden without the fall planting being in the way.

I have never, in all my years in Powhatan, had trouble with deer in my garden until the last two years. My yard and garden was far enough away from the woods and they just did not come this way. Last year they found my strawberries.  They ate the plants as if it was a buffet laid out just for them.  Their tracks revealed that perhaps they gathered around the raised beds and blessed the food before partaking! Bless their hearts!!!

I put hoops over the beds and covered with netting. I used one large piece of netting and hooked it around the sides with nails tilled slightly downward. It worked, but was a little difficult to work with.

This spring I discovered deer tracks all over the garden, up in the raised beds and around my blackberries. I worked up the beds and planted my spring plants and seeds. The next morning the one of the lettuce plants was totally gone and their hooves had exposed some of the onion sets as they danced across the beds. Rascals. What they don’t know is that now they are on my bad side. That is not a good place to be.  I am like my dad in that such a situation. I have to come up with a creative plan and it needs to be clever, neat and easy to use. After much deliberation, I finally had my plan. I am very pleased-so far-with what I came up with but time will see how it works.

Here is my solution.

I have three 5’x10′ beds for my spring and fall plantings.

For my hoops, I used 1/2″x10′ PVC pressure water tubes (Outside diameter of tube is 3/4″). I drilled holes in my railroad ties and simply stuck the ends into the holes. The tubes are sturdy but also bend into a nice hoop.  I used three hoops plus one tube across the top of the hoops and fastened using a single screw through each hoop to make them sturdy and not tilt over.  It took a total of four tubes for each bed.

I made panels from 1″ square vinyl deer barrier fence (this is heavier that netting) by weaving a 1/2″x10′ Flowguard tube through the fencing.  The flowguard tubing is a little smaller in diameter than the PVC and worked perfect with the fencing.

We screwed J-hooks into the hoops near top of the hoop for the top tube of the panel to rest on.  I wove another tube through the bottom of the fencing to hold it down. Because of the horseshoe shape curve of the hoop, the top tube only needed to be 4′ but I used the 5′ piece and just let it stick over the side at the top.

The bottom tube of the fence panel is just lying on the railroad tie. To pick my vegetables or work the bed, I can either lift the bottom panel up and rest on the J-hook with the top rail or simply take the panel off and lay on the ground. The 10′ tube worked perfect for the sides and by cutting the tube in half, the 5′ sections worked great for the ends. It took four of the tubes and ten J-hooks for each bed.

Because my strawberry bed is longer, 20′ long, I used a coupler to connect two 10′ pieces together for the side fence panels. It took a total of seven 1/2″x10′ PVC for the hoops and twelve 1/2″x10′ Flowguard for the fence panels.

Ok, deer friends, I hope I have you beat!  But now my worry will be the main garden and my blackberries, which they have already been feasting on.

And in case you are wondering, deer friends, there is a penalty to pay if you try to beat the system. Just ask Mr. Groundhog. Ooops, you can’t!!!  The Scoundrel.

Five Weeks later.

I am so pleased with my netting system. The deer have not been able to bother the plants and it is easy to work with.

Lettuce and radishes.

Spring onions.




Evening Primrose

One of my favorite flowers is the Evening Primrose. If you have never seen one open, you are missing a very special treat. They open in the evening just before dusk. Right now it is around 8:45 p.m. You can literally watch them pop open.

The head of each stalk contains lots of little blossom pods.  Before opening the pod swells up.  In the picture above you can see the already open flower and the one ready to pop open in about half a minute. The two larger pods behind with the reddish tint will open tomorrow evening and the next larger ones in two evenings.

The stages of opening:





Just about as fast as you looked at these pictures, it happened.

The flowers only last one day. By tomorrow evening it will be drooped and wilted and start to fall off. (Picture below)

Years and years ago, a friend gave me a start and I have had them ever since.  They are bi-annuals meaning they bloom the second year. After they finish blooming the little pods you see sticking on the side of the stalk in the picture below will fill with very tiny black seeds.

This fall they will shatter to the ground. The plants that come up this fall or very early next spring will bloom next summer. The ones that sprout later-maybe April or May will stay little all summer and bloom next year. (See picture below).  These are tucked in the flower bed under the blooming plants.

The flowers are very fragrant and at the peak of blooming the plants are loaded with bright yellow blossoms. But this is one plant you have to sit outside in the evening to enjoy. By the time the sun is up in the morning they are on the decline.

One thing you have to remember is, you don’t just watch one blossom open. Everyone of those flowers opened tonight plus  more that aren’t on the picture.

The hummingbird moths love this plant. They look like a cross between a hummingbird and moth with the body of a moth and beak and hovering of a hummingbird.  Under cover of dark, shortly after blooming, they buzz in and fill their beaks with the luscious, sweet nectar. I have two kinds of hummingbird moths; one with a short beak that buries his head into the blossom and the other with long, dangling beak that hovers above the flower and drops his beak into the blossom.  The picture below is the long beaked moth. I don’t have a picture of the short-beaked one.

The Evening Primrose also comes in pink (which I don’t have) and it is a low spreading plant where the yellow one grows 3 feet tall. They are also considered a wildflower and if you are looking for them, you can find them in the ditch banks along roadways in unmowed areas. Most people never notice them because they are night-time blooming.

This 1-minute video shows a flower opening in real time. There was no editing, no shortening of time.

If you want to see this spectacular God-show, I would love to have you stop by (call first to be sure I’m home). Right now they are at their peak and by mid-July it will be almost over. It will be an evening you will always remember.

Homegrown Blackberries

Last spring I planted a row of thornless Prime-Ark Freedom Blackberries from Burpee in my garden. It has been a learning curve but I am so happy and excited about my berries. This evening I picked the first bowl full of the season to eat.

Let me start at the beginning. Last spring I ordered six plants and they all lived and are doing well. I asked advice from local farmer friends, Bill and India Cox, who raise blackberries to sell at farmer’s markets. They do not raise primocanes but their experience was well worth listening to and very helpful.

When I planted the berries, I put a short 2-ring tomato cage over each one . You can’t see them but they are there.  This helps the canes to stay upright from the start. We also built a support fence for them to help support the canes and also to give me a “controlled” row for the stalks.

My support post at each end of the 50 foot row.

We used two strands of hi-tensile wire on each side of the row with the bottom wire 28″ off the ground and 24″ apart and the top wires are 48 ” off the ground and 36″ apart.  Each wire has a hi-tensile wire tightener/ratchet so that we can tighten the wire as it stretches. We did not put any support posts in between which was a mistake and the weight of the canes soon popped the wires loose.

They produced all summer until frost and cold weather killed the canes. This picture was taken November 10th!

The patch ended up being a mess as my support wires had broken and I had canes 8 foot long stretched out over the ground. I talked to my friends and did some reading online. I ended up trimming the canes back to about 12 inches tall for the winter. The fruit is produced on new growth. We rebuilt the fence and added four t-post on each side to strengthen the wires. This summer as the canes reach over the top wire, I am nipping them off which is causing them to get develop stronger bushes. So far it is working well and I am very happy.

This picture shows the new support posts. We put them in on a slant.

This year the row has filled in to almost a solid row. The plants are strong and bushy. Any stray shoots popping up outside the row I am pulling up and potting some for family.

A spoonful of fresh homegrown garden goodness! I have even had some bigger than this one.

Another helpful website: Growing Erect Blackberries


I have numerous favorite flowers but I have to say the exquisite, perennial peony has to be top, even though roses and daisies follow close behind.  I can remember my mother having a long row of the fragrant bushes on the farm where I grew up.  When I got married and moved to Powhatan, I discovered that Gene’s dad had planted a stunning row of them beside the house several years prior.

I can always count on them starting to bloom the week before Mother’s Day. They don’t last more than 2-3 weeks but the fragrance is like no other flower. It just begs for you to bury your nose in the soft, velvety petals and breathe deeply. They do really well as cut flowers and make a stunning, fragrant bouquet that catches your attention when you step into the room.


It is best (they last longer) to pick the flowers while they are still buds. This will also decrease the amount of ants you carry into the house! Ants are attracted to the sticky sweetness and also help to open the buds. The first, “on my own,” gardening year, I sprayed them with pesticide to kill the pesky rascals. That was a mistake! I learned the importance and value of ants.  To determine when the bud is ready to pick, take hold of the bud between your thumb and first finger and gently pinch. If it is squishy, not hard, it is ready. Within a day of being cut, they will open to a full flower.  (I just recently learned this trick from a gardening friend, Lisa Ziegler).

My row of peonies is at least 48 years old, maybe older.  I have never divided them, although it probably would be a good idea. I am afraid I might mess up a good thing. They say peonies need very little care and can produce for 100 years.

In October after the stalks have died, I cut the dead foliage off as close to the ground as possible. That is all I do to prepare them for winter and the following spring.  If you are want to transplant or divide the plants, October is the month. The first year after replanting they probably will not bloom.  You need to be very careful in replanting that you only cover the roots with 2-3 inches of dirt or they will not bloom.  Peonies love sun but also like some shade protection during the hottest part of the day. Mine are planted on the north side of the house but because they are about 6 feet away from the house they have the benefit of a lot of sun and a little shade. It has been a perfect spot.

Peonies come in different colors and varieties, the most popular and hardy, being the old-fashion white. I also have a lovely, soft, light pink and a medium pink. The red I have replanted several times, I just can’t seem to keep it.


Rain is not kind to peonies once they start to bloom. Because of the very large flowers and multiple blossoms per stalk, the rain weights them down and the blossoms quickly turn brown. This year was especially hard on them. We have had 5 inches of rain in the last week just as they are at their peak. Even the buds hang their heads.

I like using peony rings with my plants. You can’t see them and it helps to hold the heavy stalks and keep them from falling over. I prefer the open two-ring style that looks like a tomato cage, only shorter, rather that the one with the grid top.




There are some vegetables people love to hate and okra is one of them.  But, for those of us who love okra, it is simply divine.



According to  the word okra is of Nigerian origin and is also referred to as “lady fingers or gumbo” outside of Nigeria. 

“The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of South Asian, Ethiopian and West African origins. Supporters of a South Asian origin point to the presence of its proposed parents in that region. Supporters of a West African origin point to the greater diversity of okra in that region.

The Egyptians and Moors of the 12th and 13th centuries used the Arabic word for the plant, bamya, suggesting it had come from the east. The plant may have entered southwest Asia across the Red Sea or the Bab-el-Mandeb strait to the Arabian Peninsula, rather than north across the Sahara, or from India. One of the earliest accounts is by a Spanish Moor who visited Egypt in 1216, who described the plant under cultivation by the locals who ate the tender, young pods with meal.

From Arabia, the plant spread around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and eastward. The plant was introduced to the Americas by ships plying the Atlantic slave trade by 1658, when its presence was recorded in Brazil. It was further documented in Suriname in 1686.” 

The plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions around the world and is among the most heat and drought tolerant vegetable in the world. It will does well in heavy clay soils and intermittent moisture but frost will kill the plant. Thomas Jefferson noted it was well established in Virginia by 1781.Okra is a popular health food due to its high fiber, vitamin C, and folate content. Okra is also known for being high in antioxidants. Okra is also a good source of calcium and potassium.”  

True southerners love it!

The flowers and pods of the vegetable are very pretty.


This is one vegetable I love and my husbands dislikes. I will fry a bowlful for myself and I do not have to share. He says he was “scarred” in childhood when his mother ruined fried potatoes by adding okra and making him eat it!!!

Fried Okra: Cut the pods into 1/4″ slices, coat it with cornmeal meal and fry it with a little oil, salt, pepper and onions until crispy and golden brown.  Add some salsa or stewed tomatoes on top when you eat them and they are mouth-watering good!




I also like okra pickles. In fact I can actually crave these slimy things!


You can use any dill pickle recipe but here is mine.

Stuff quart or pint jars with small whole okra.

In each quart add

2 T. salt (this is correct)

1 large tsp. mustard seed

1/4 tsp. garlic powder or clove of garlic

1 tsp. dill seed (or 1 large fresh head of dill).

Mix together the following brine, heat to boiling and fill the jars.

1 c. water

1 c. vinegar

Immediately put on “hot” lids and they will seal.

Okra freezes well. I cut into 1/4″ slices, coat it with corn meal and freeze it raw in gallon size Ziploc bags.  By adding the cornmeal it will easily break apart when you are ready to use it and you do not have to use the whole bag at once.


Hydroponics – Dutch Bucket System

I did a post recently about the hydroponic flood table I set up for my lettuce.


Now I have set up a Dutch Bucket system for my broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.  This system is not replacing my garden but complimenting it by extending my gardening season, hopefully, both in the spring and fall.


I have really enjoyed watching the youtube video by mhpgardener, Dutch Bucket Hydroponics-How it works and How to Make Your Own Buckets and Hydroponic Update-Dutch Butch Tomatoes & Kratky Lettuce.  This system is a little more involved than the flood table but still very simple, cost effective and easy to set up. You can watch the above videos but I will also show you how I set my system up, the supplies that are needed and the cost.  You can even set this up in a basement if you use grow lights.  The neat thing is it does not take much space.

I chose this system for my “longer season” and “heavier” crops.  I am experimenting with several crops the video doesn’t show (broccoli and squash). I found another video showing cucumbers.  The challenge with cucumbers will be pollination so we will see how that goes. I have been told by an experienced greenhouse grower that tomatoes do not need bees to pollinate the blossoms. They just need wind to vibrate the blossoms.  I will probably use a small fan to make my breeze when they start to bloom. The other thing I am very anxious to see is whether the squash bore will bother plants in a hydroponic setup. Since they will be planted in perlite instead of soil maybe, just maybe, the bore will not be able to bother the plant.  Time will tell on that one. Stay tuned!!!

I have been collecting my components and today I set up my system. It took me all day. I am one tired puppy tonight but very pleased.


Drilled 1″ hole in my bucket2-3″ from bottom.


Insert the rubber grommet.


Using a hacksaw cut a piece of 1/2″ PVC the length that you need with about 2-3″ inside the bucket. Use a file to remove sharp edges on the end that goes through the grommet. By slightly beveling the edge it also helps it to go through the grommet better. It is a tight fit. Put one hand inside the bucket to hold the grommet and with the other use a firm, gentle and careful twisting of tube until it is properly in place. Add a 1/2″ elbow on each end.


Face the elbow down. This is your drain system from the bucket.


Put the 5 gallon paint strainer net in the bucket. It is a wonderful fit.


Fill the bucket with perlite and rinse with water until you have a steady flow out the drain pipe. This will settle the perlite and also remove some of the dust. Refill if necessary. After it stops draining set it in place.


This is my tote filled about 3/4 full with fertilized water, the air stones and water pump.  Right now I am using the same fertilizer mix as I used with the flood table. 1 T. Peters lite per gallon of water.  I need to go back and listen again to the videos as I know he had a special mix for tomatoes. I am hoping I can use the same tote for my broccoli, cabbage, squash, cucumbers and tomatoes. Time will tell!  This is a learning experience and you get to see me learn!



The 2″ PVC is my return or drain line. On the one end put a 2″ cap and the other end a 2″ elbow to drop into the tote reservoir.  I have it on a slight slope so that it drains well.  Then hook the 5/8″ Antelco tubing to the water pump and run it along the drain tube. I covered the tub to prevent evaporation, algae growth and to keep the water clean.  Note the air pump sitting above it on the pallet.


Use a punch tool to pierce a small hole in the tubing.


Insert one end of the connector into the spaghetti tubing and the other end push into the hole in the mainline tubing.  The spaghetti tubing needs to be long enough to go into the top of the bucket. I have several inches inserted into the perlite to help hold the tubing in place and also so it is near the roots of the plants.


Insert a piece of 1/2″ PVC into the elbow and down into the drain line.


Wash the dirt off the roots of the plant (this is broccoli) and plant into the perlite.


I set up this area for my tomatoes (two buckets on the left)  and cucumbers (the one with wire back for climbing).  I plan to plant 4 cucumbers in the same bucket. The bucket on the far left  is an award winning heirloom tomato, potato leaf Marizol Bratka,  given to me by friends Bill and India Cox.  The other tomato is an Early Girl so that I can have some early tomatoes in 45 days. This area is one reason is one of the reason I had to dig a hole for my tote to set in.  I wanted the plants as close to the ground as possible because of their growth height and the drain needed to be able to sloop into the tote.

 Today I only got six buckets set up but I plan to add a few more.  I am thinking about adding a few strawberries. I have strawberries in my garden but my curiosity has me wanting to try. In a few weeks I will do an update on the progress of my vegetables.  I anticipate some great things.


 Setup components, cost and where the items can be purchased.

  • I purchased a 18 liter tote for my water/fertilizer reservoir.  Usually the totes have lids and you can drill holes in the plastic lid for your tubes to come out of.  I got my tote for half price as it was missing the lid. Of course it was the only one they had like I wanted so I will improvise with a piece of ply board. (Dollar General)
  • I am using a 290 gph Danner Fountain Pump (Hertzler Farm & Feed): $36.99
  • 2-outlet Aquascape pond aerator with 2 air stones (Hertzler Farm & Feed): $59.95
  • 8-5 gallon buckets (I was fortunate to have some from here on the farm that I could recycle).  I am doing 2 tomatoes, 1 cabbage, 1 bucket with 4 pickling cucumbers, 2-broccoli, and 2-straightneck squash.  I am thinking of adding several buckets of strawberries. ($4.50 Hertzler Farm and Feed).  I can easily add more buckets as I “grow” into my system.
  • 5 gallon paint strainer nets (Goodwyn’s Hardware): 2 pkg $3.99
  • 4 cu. ft bag of Coarse Perlite (Hertzler Farm & Feed): $18.99
  • 2″ PVC tubing 10′ ($7.95) and  2″ PVC end cap ($1.29) and 2″ elbow ($2.39):(Goodwyn’s Hardware)
  • 1/2″ PVC tubing ($2.49 for 10′ section), 1/2″ PVC elbows ($.49 ea):   (Goodwyn’s Hardware).  The pipe is actually 7/8″ outside diameter and 1/2″ inside. This  works with the grommets.
  • I used 5/8″ Antelco irrigation mainline tubing A51082 ( $12.00 50′ roll), Antelco 1/4″ spaghetti dripline tubing A50812 ($4.99 50′ roll),  Antelco 1/4″ tubing barb connectors A40195($.59 each) and Antelco Pocket Punch tool A50048 ($14.95): Hertzler Farm & Feed.
  • 4′ Fluorescent Light Fixture with pull chain ($29.99) and 4′ grow light bulbs.  (I needed this as the section of my greenhouse that I am setting this up in does not have the best lighting). (Hertzler Farm & Feed)
  • 8-rubber grommets. Inside hole is 3/4″ with outer ring 1-1/8″  (Graingers). This was my hardest and most confusing item to come up with.  After checking numerous places, I ordered from Graingers. They were $8.71 but with tax and shipping it was $18.94 for a package of 50.  Item #3MPL8.

Hydroponics – Flood Table Style

I am very excited about dabbing into hydroponics this season.  I have been intrigued for quite a while; reading, browsing the internet, talking to a friend and visiting her aquaponic setup.  I did not want to spend lots of money nor did I want a fancy setup.  I just wanted a simple, easy-to-do method to expand my home garden growing season, especially for lettuce and tomatoes.  This particular blog will deal with lettuce.  I plan to use the dutch bucket method for my tomatoes.  That blog will come later.

Hydroponics is growing plants in fertilized water.  Aquaponics is a little more involved as you use fish to fertilize the water.  But the benefit of aquaponics is that you are also growing fresh, homegrown fish to eat.  I decided to venture into hydroponics.

There are numerous “how-to-do it” videos on youtube and the one that really caught my eye was Off Grid Hydroponics Experiment-The Kratky Method and a follow up video Floating Raft Hydroponics.  This guy has convinced me and I am trying his method.

I am blogging my setup and you can join me in watching the progress in my greenhouse.  This is a first trial run so hopefully it will work the way I envision.  You get the privilege of watching this develop!

I purchased a 48″x48″ flood table 6″ deep.  I decided this was easier for me than having to build a table. (He shows on the video how to build a wooden frame table and line it with black plastic).  I filled it with water and added 1 T. Peters Lite Fertilizer (label says it is good for hydroponics) per gallon. It took 26 gallons to fill this baby.


(The sides of the greenhouse  and shelf are reflecting off the water of the flood table)

I took a 1″ thick 4’x8′ sheet of Styrofoam insulation board and cut it to fit (45-1/2″x 45-1/2″).  The flood table has a lip for the board to set on making it flush with the top.  The sheet will make two flood tables.   I purchased 3″ net cups.

Laying the board on the floor, I set my cups on the board to determine placement and then using a straight edge or T-square I marked grids on the board where I wanted my cups placed, approximately 7″ apart. Then I turned my cups upside down and drew my circles on the board.


I discovered it was easier for me to set the board on edge to cut the holes. Trying to work on the floor killed my back and knees. Using a box cutter, I carefully cut out the circles about 1/8″ smaller than what I had marked.  The cups have a narrow lip that need to rest on the board.



When I was finished I put the board on my flood table and it was a perfect fit.  I have 25 holes in the top.


I carefully washed the dirt off the roots using lukewarm water and messaging the roots to separate the roots from the soil. You want to remove as much of the dirt as possible.



I put some pea gravel in the net cup and tilted it over on its side so I could gently lay the lettuce in the cup and get the roots stretched out evenly before adding more gravel.  You can use pea gravel or hydroponic clay rocks.  The videos say there was no difference using either medium so I choose pea gravel as it was easier to obtain.



I put the cups in the holes in the Styrofoam and checked to make sure the bottoms of the cups were in the water about 1 inch.  Done!  It was that simple!



Now we will see what happens.  I anticipate lettuce in 4-6 weeks.  I only planted 8 lettuce plants (4 Red Sails and 4 Boston-Buttercrunch) as we can’t eat but so much at a time.  There are 25 holes in my board and every 2 weeks I will add 8 more. This will give me a 6 week rotation of lettuce.  You can add herbs.  I am considering doing one with strawberries.

I set some lettuce plants out in the garden 9 days ago.  I wanted to do both at the same time but my hydroponic supplies didn’t get here as planned.  It will be very interesting to compare growth rate, quality and flavor.  The youtube videos say you can put this system outside-you don’t have to have a greenhouse. But since I have one I am using it as I feel it will extend my season both in the spring and fall even though the greenhouse is unheated.

Expenses and supplies:

I have in stock:

  • 4’x4′ x6″ flood tables: $89.00
  • Peters Lite 20-10-20 Fertilizer: 6 lb. tub $16.00
  • 3″ net cups: $.65 each

You can purchase the insulation board at Lowes for $15-18.  I like to buy local but our local hardware store does not stock it.

My Garden

I like a pretty garden. There is something very satisfying about a well maintained garden with straight, weed-free, and mulched rows.  A well maintained garden will yield  bigger, better, healthier fruit. A well maintained garden will yield a bountiful harvest.  A well maintained garden is inviting and a delight to work in.  A well maintained garden means that someone has been hard at work;  sweating, planting, hoeing, tilling, pulling weeds, spraying for bugs, and fertilizing.

Weeds. Those nasty, uninvited, unproductive, useless plants that spring up overnight, grow 4 times as fast as vegetables, thrive in wet or dry conditions and will overtake a garden if left unattended.  Weeds. Thistles. Briers…one of the curses of the fall when Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3: 17-19).

My life is like a garden. I have spent a lot of time and effort planting seeds of kindness, joy, love, good deeds, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  I have faithfully sprinkled it with prayer and mulched it with the Word of God.  I have harvested good fruit. I have also pulled many weeds, heaping them on piles and burning them at the cross of Jesus Christ.

But the weeds in my garden are a constant challenge. Just when I let down my guard and relax, a root of bitterness, a sprig of doubt, a clump of unkind words, or a brier of selfishness will shoot up and catch me off guard.  The thorny weeds are especially difficult to pull and control. I have pulled weeds of gossip, hate, revenge,  and  impure thoughts.  And there in the midst of my manicured garden a new crop of weeds will appear again and again and again.  The weeds look innocent enough at the beginning and sometimes I even mistake them for a good plant, but left unattended they can  crowd out the vegetables, send down deep, hard-to-pull roots and develop prickly thorns.

I want my life to be a well-manicured garden of faith.  I want my heart to be free of sin and watered with the goodness of God’s abundant grace.  I want a bountiful harvest of good fruit.  I want my words, my thoughts and my conduct to be pure, holy and honorable. At the end of my life I want to hear the words, “well-done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23) But until then, I’m just gonna have to keep pullin’ those weeds.

How to Can Tomatoes and Juice

Today I will share with you how to can tomato juice. Canning whole tomatoes is at the bottom of this post.

First of all I just have to show you a few pictures of my Better Boy tomato plants. They are really doing well this year and we are enjoying fresh tomato sandwiches.  I finally got enough to start canning.

Choose vine-ripe tomatoes, wash, core, and remove any bad or damaged spots.

Cut into wedges and put into a big pot to cook.

Then I take my hands and squeeze some of the tomatoes to make some juice in the pot.  I usually add about 1 cup of water so the tomatoes don’t stick to the bottom of the pan and scorch.

Cook the tomatoes until they are fall-apart soft and juicy.  Stir frequently.

It will take 15-20 minutes, depending on your size of pot.

I have a very simple sieve which I use to extract the juice from the skin and seeds. I do not have a juicer.

It sets perfectly into my old enamel dishpan -they probably aren’t even available any more!!!  I have one of the large white plastic Tupperware bowl but it is not big enough.

Dip the hot tomatoes into the sieve.  Fill about 2/3 full.  You do not want to  overfill or when you spin the wooden stick around the tomatoes come out the top of the sieve.

I was trying to take pictures during the process and I had to do everything with my left hand in order to snap the picture with my right so if I look a little awkward that is why.  There was no way to snap the camera with my left hand!!!

Center the wooden rod in the center of your hand and roll it around the edges of the sieve until all  the juice is extracted and the skins and seeds are left.  It is easy to do and you will soon get the hang of it. It only takes a few seconds to do.

When I am done I have a bowl full of juice ready to can.

I like to pour the juice into a large 4-cup measuring bowl to pour into the canning jars.

After the jars are filled to the lower rim at the neck of the jar I add 1 tsp. salt per quart.

In a small pan bring the jar lids to a boil before you put them on the jars and tighten firmly.

Put 2 quarts of water in the pressure canner. I add 1 tsp. cream of tarter to the water to keep the aluminum inside of the canner shiny and clean looking.

Carefully set the jars into the canner. Today I had 6 quarts and 1 pint. I put them all together as it really will not make any difference. Quarts and pints are both done the same amount of time. I was a little bit short on juice so I added an inch or so of water to several of my quarts of juice. You will never be able to tell I cheated!!!

Put on the lid and turn the temperature on high. After steam starts coming through the vent on top of the canner, set the weight on top of the vent hole.

After several minutes the canner vent will close and the temperature gauge will start to rise. It takes about 1 minute to raise the gauge 1 pound of pressure.  For tomatoes you want the gauge to go to 5 pounds.  Adjust your temperature to keep it at 5 pounds of pressure for 5 minutes. I set my timer. Do not walk away from your canner unless you take your timer with you so that you have that constant reminder.  Your canner is very safe to use and I have never had any accidents or close calls. But if you leave it and forget about it and the gauge goes into the black warning zone you might end up with a hole in your ceiling.

When my gauge reaches the desired amount of pounds I can usually turn the burner back to medium high and it will hold  consistent pressure.  A pound or two over is no deal I do not like to be under.

When the timer rings, turn your burner off and let the canner sit on the burner until the gauge reaches 0.  It is very important that you DO NOT OPEN the canner before the gauge reaches 0. The canner is under pressure and you could have serious scald burns and broken jars if you do.  When it is 0,  you  can safely open the canner and remove the jars.

I set the jars on a towel on the counter to cool.

Within a few minutes you will hear the “popping” of the lids as they seal. This is music to the ears! The center of the lids will actually pop downward. If one has a bubble and isn’t firmly down within 15 minutes, it has not sealed.  You may open the jar and immediately can it again using an new lid or you can put it in the refrigerator to use within the next several days.   This evening I had one that acted like it wasn’t going to seal-all the others had so I turned it upside down for a few seconds and it sealed. I got lucky!  Sometimes it will seal and sometimes it won’t. You have to do this within the first 10-15 minutes while the jars are still very hot.

I let the jars cool overnight and then I remove the rings. The lids will stay sealed and put the jars in my pantry to store.

Several very helpful hints…these are words to the wise!!!!

  • Watch your pot of tomatoes when they are cooking so they do not boil over or scorch (burn) to the bottom of your pan. You will learn your lesson very quickly the hard way if you don’t. It is not an easy mess to clean up!
  • Always, always clean up your pots and pans immediately. They clean up easy while they are hot but if you let them sit and cool, you will have a difficult mess on your hands. Tomato juice is hard to clean.

Note: If you do not have a tunnel sieve like I used, you can use a strainer, bowl and spoon. Sometimes I use this if I don’t have very many to do rather than get out my sieve.

If you want you may hot water bath your juice.  Cover the jars with boiling water for 15 minutes.

Canning Whole or Quartered Tomatoes

Choose vine ripe tomatoes and rinse in water to remove any dirt.

Put a large pot of water on the stove and fill about 2/3 full of water and bring to a boil.  Drop the whole, unpeeled tomatoes into the hot water for about 1 minute. Depending on the size of your pan you can do maybe 10-12 at a time. Gently remove tomatoes and drop into ice-cold water for a few minutes. The peels will crack. Take your knife and core the top of the tomato and the skins will slip off.

Stuff the whole or quartered tomato into quart or pint size jars. I press the tomatoes in, filling the jar.  By pressing the tomatoes into the jars they make their own juice and you don’t need to add any water. If necessary, you may add some water to finish filling the jar. Add 1 tsp. salt per quart or 1/2 tsp. per pint.

Pressure can quarts at 5 lbs. pressure for 10 minutes using the same method as used for juice. Pints, I do 8 minutes.

« Previous entries
%d bloggers like this: