Monday, September 22, 2014

How to Use the Last of The Season's Tomatoes

Tomatoes are taking over the house,
but they're not ripening on the vine.
Fall is officially here. Shorter days and cooler nights take their toll on sun-loving crops, like tomatoes, okra, cucumbers and squash. Gardening in a small space means that when crops slow way down, it's time for them to move out and make space for those that relish the current season.

It's always a sad day when I pick the last tomatoes, but also something of a relief. Relatively cool weather and consistent rain resulted in the best harvest in recent memory. Working through a bumper crop of nearly everything is both joyful and time consuming. Nevertheless, I won't let a single tomato go to waste. Underripe tomatoes quickly mature in a sunny window, where temperatures are steadily around 70 degrees. Here are few tips for preserving and using the last of the pomme d'amore - apples of love:
Greenish tomatoes will ripen in a sunny window,
when outdoor temperatures begin to fall. 

Dry Tomatoes In The Oven

Nothing says umami like a chewy, sun-dried tomato. However, leaving tomatoes in the sun to dry will only result in unwelcome guests chowing down on what is rightfully yours and those whom you chose to feed. Tomatoes are easy to dry in the oven, and the resultant delicacies will store in the freezer for several months. Any type of tomato can be dried, but I like to use 'Roma' varieties that have little pulp. 
Sliced 'Roma' dry easily
in a warm oven.
  1. Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees, or use your oven's lowest temperature setting.
  2. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil. 
  3. Slice the tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick and space them evenly on the baking sheet.
  4. Spray the tomatoes lightly with olive oil.
  5. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Add some dried herbs, if you like.
  6. Bake for about 8 hours. 
  7. Tomatoes will be leathery and flexible when ready. 
  8. Store in freezer-safe bags for up to 3 months. 
  • Use dried tomatoes on pizza.
  • Combine them with rice and toasted pecans for a delicious side dish.
  • Mix them into salads.
  • Pizza with sun dried tomatoes,
    olives, basil, pine nuts, and mozzarella.
    Dried tomatoes will feel leathery. 
  • Share your favorite way to use them!

Prepare and Store Tomato Sauce

  1. Collect the last of the tomatoes onions, peppers, basil, fresh thyme, rosemary, and garlic the farmer's market or your garden. 
  2. Dice vegetables and put them into a crock pot.
  3. Add a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of honey, and a dash of red wine. 
  4. Set the temperature on low for 8 hours. 
  5. Dinner is ready! 
  6. Store the rest in freezer safe containers for up to 3 months. 
    Select fresh, seasonal ingredients.
    Dice them into a crock pot.

    Store tomato sauce in freezer-safe containers.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Native Plants for Northern Virginia Resource and Publication

The Plant NoVa Natives campaign recently released the publication, Guide to Native Plants for Northern Virginia. Why plant natives? Flora that are indigenous to a region evolved to accommodate and benefit from the wildlife that is also indigenous to that region. Native plants grow easily in the soil they've inhabited for centuries, if not millennia. This means fewer pesticides and less need for supplemental water and fertilizer.

Development endangers native species, which often come to be categorized as weeds. Native clover is a prime example of a beneficial plant that got a bad rap when homeowners longed for ever-green grass. Lawn herbicides knock out native clover, along with crabgrass and other noxious weeds. However, white and purple clover are essential nectar and pollen sources for bees.

The plight of the Monarch butterfly is well-known by now: development caused near elimination of the milkweed, the Monarch's only host plant. Recognition of the value of native plants, and their intrinsic beauty, is slowly restoring the acceptance and encouragement homeowners and gardeners need to grow long overlooked "wild" flowers. Hopefully this beautiful publication, which is available online and filled with gorgeous photos and resources, will encourage local gardeners to go a little wild in our own backyards.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Growing and Using Heirloom Ground Cherries

Check out this link to my first post for Mother Earth News. Find out more about growing and using Heirloom Ground Cherries, a husk fruit that's been around for more than 200 years and were recently classified as an endangered species. Help prevent their extinction, and give your taste buds a rare treat, by growing unusual little gems.
'Aunt Molly's' ground cherries

Monday, September 15, 2014

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day September 15, 2014

On the 15th of each month, garden bloggers around the globe post photos of flowers in bloom in our backyards. What a wonderful way to share the beauty of the world around us! Thanks to May Dreams Gardens for bringing us together, virtually, each month!

It's hard to believe summer's on the wane already, but with night time temperatures reaching the 50's, we're seeing evidence of fall already. Pollinators need plenty of nectar sources this time of year. As I ride my bike and hike local trails, I'm reminded of the native plants NOT growing in my garden, and I wonder if I have space for just a little more goldenrod, aster, and Joe-pye weed. Here's a snapshot of what's in bloom in my backyard:

Cheloni lyonii 'Hot Lips'

Salvia nemerosa 'Snow Hill'

Dandelion (why not?)

Dianthus 'Fire Witch'

Geranium 'Rozeann'


Zinnia elegans 'Thumbelina'

Symphiotrichum novae angliae (New England Aster)

Phaseolus vulgaris 'Purple Pod' 
Thumbergia alata (black-eyed Susan vine)

Lantana camara 'Sunset'

Tropaeolum majus 'Jewel Mix' (nasturtium)

Solidago (goldenrod)

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'


Monday, September 8, 2014

Pollinators Make a Beeline for Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips'

When summer's blooms fade, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other garden visitors look far and wide for sustenance. Fall is a crucial time for pollinators to fuel up on nectar and pollen. They need vital stores of carbohydrates (nectar) and protein (pollen) to nurture their young, hunker down for winter, or migrate to warmer climes.
A bumblebee with pollen baskets
enters a Chelone lyonii bloom.

Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips,' commonly known as pink turtlehead, is perfectly timed to coincide with the demise of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and other summer stalwarts. This inviting perennial provides vital support to native pollinators, while brightening partially shaded garden corners in August and September. Its tubular, fuchsia blooms resemble turtles with their mouths wide open, waiting to gulp down insects. Fortunately, the plant is not carnivorous. Blooms are built to host large bumblebees and then release them.

Bees see flower color much differently than we do. While humans see a spectrum ranging from red through violet, a bee's vision ranges from yellow, blue-green, and violet to ultra-violet. Streaks of ultra-violet light, invisible to the human eye, guide bees toward nectar at the base of the flower. On their way to reach the nectar, pollen attaches to the bees' bristly legs and stomach. Bumblebees comb the pollen into little bundles on their sides, commonly referred to as 'baskets.'

The bumblebee emerges,
ready to pollinate the next bloom.
Once sated, the bee retreats, with plenty of pollen tucked away. They transport the pollen back to their hives in order to feed larva. Meanwhile, any excess pollen remaining on their furry legs and belly is deposited on the next flower they visit, ensuring the flower's reproductive cycle.

Gardeners can support pollinators throughout the seasons by planting a range of native plants that bloom from early spring through frost. Chelone lyonii is native to the eastern U.S. and is hardy in USDA climate zones 3-8. Reaching a mature height of 2 to 3 feet, the bright green foliage provides a lovely backdrop for fading native blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium augustifolium), barrenwort (Epimedium), or  Brunnera macrphylla 'Jack Frost.' In my garden, it spreads beneath a young magnolia tree, where it receives light afternoon sun.

Though beautiful from a distance, an intimate look at Chelone lyonii reveals that there's more to her character than 'Hot Lips' implies. The symbiotic relationship with the larger eco-system makes her that much more desirable. If 'Hot Lips' doesn't fit into your color scheme, try white-petaled Chelone glabra, an equally beneficial species that is host to the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly.