Let's Get Dirty

A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.

Send stories and pictures of your horticultural adventures to letsgetdirty@gjsentinel.com.

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Using the last of the fresh garden tomatoes

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Like almost every other gardener out there, I picked green tomatoes a month or so ago and gave them space to ripen. Some people put them in a cardboard box, others in a brown paper sack, I simply left mine in a couple of baskets and bowls on the counter. I think I had three or four bowls/baskets full of tomatoes a month ago.
I’ve been slowly using them and had five or six red ones and two small yellow ones left yesterday. I’ve also got a couple of green tomatoes in the fridge that I deliberately put there so they would retain their green, unripe and tart flavor to use in a lentil and rice dish. As I wrote the headline for this, I realized what an oxymoron it is... can you call them fresh garden tomatoes when you picked them more than a month ago? 

Although the red ones on the counter looked pretty, they tasted like grocery store tomatoes and not garden tomatoes, so I decided to use them in something cooked, where it wouldn’t make as much difference. Same with the yellow ones.

I also had some kaniwa, which is predicted to be the next superfood, but which I bought at Sprouts mostly because I was curious and it was on sale. I decided to make a hot kaniwa dish with red tomatoes and Swiss chard (which I picked right before Thanksgiving). As I was cooking, I decided to add some amaranth seeds, and then I thought a little corn meal wouldn’t hurt. I also added some cream cheese and grated parmesan, to make a creamy polenta-type dish. The kaniwa are the little brownish specks in the photo. 

My hubby thought it didn’t look particularly good, but admitted it tasted pretty good. (Then again, we’re from the tribe that thinks shoe leather with enough cheese would probably be good.)

For the shrimp portion of our dinner, I sautéed onions, garlic and the yellow tomatoes, then added some shrimp, fresh rosemary and a bit of fresh lemon juice. We ended up eating the shrimp on top of my ancient grains polenta (doesn’t that sound more appetizing than polenta with weird seeds?).
It was all quite tasty and probably incredibly nutritious, since both amaranth and kaniwa are supposed to be some of those nutrient-dense foods. Plus, it was a way to use up the last of my red tomatoes. I’m making the rice and lentil dish tonight.  


The last harvest (really, I mean it this time)

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I know I said it was the last harvest a couple of weeks ago, and it was the last harvest of warm weather crops. I left a few things out there in the garden and decided that it was time to pick the remainder last weekend.
Not a bad haul in my book. I mean, it’s almost the end of November, and I got a bowlful of Swiss Chard, a few carrots, some small purple kohlrabi, a few leeks and a whole bunch of kale.
I should have frozen some of it, but I just rinsed it and put it in plastic bags in the fridge.
Now there’s nothing left to do but look for seed catalogs coming in the mail.  


Preserving the garden’s bounty

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Because it’s hot and there’s always something more fun to do and somewhere else to go on weekends in August and September, I’ve quit canning tomatoes when I pick them. Instead, I wash the mud and dirt off, and then put them in a ziploc bag in the freezer.

My gardening buddy, Jan, does the same thing, and since Jan is also my canning buddy, we get together to can tomatoes whenever our freezers get too full of tomatoes or the weather finally cools off and we’ve got a free weekend. Sometimes, we do both.
This year, we canned a couple of times in the evening after work, which is how I got a couple rows of canned tomatoes on my shelf in the garage sometime in October. We both still had more than a dozen bags of tomatoes in the freezer, so we got together on Saturday for Cannapalooza.



We worked for about five hours on Saturday, and we canned about 35 quarts of tomatoes. We grew yellow, orange and red tomatoes, so we decided to separate them by color when we canned them. Fortunately, we decided this before we ever put tomatoes in bags and stuck them in the freezer, so our frozen tomatoes were all color-coded.



We ended up canning the yellow and orange ones together, and we think they’re pretty gorgeous. It will be interesting to cook with them.  





We both still have bags of frozen tomatoes in our freezers, but we also have room for other stuff, so our canning adventures may be finished for the year. That does not make me sad. 




My pantry shelf does look a bit more full, however, and that makes me happy, mostly because I know that between my hubby and me, we will create tasty food from it. 


It’s November… it must be time to plant

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It’s November, so that means it’s time to plant for 2016. Well, perhaps it’s a tad too early to plant most things, but it is the perfect time to get your garlic and spinach in the ground.

Because we’ve been playing on the weekends, I also had to tear out most of my garden over the weekend, but before I did that, I went to my compost bin and shoveled out a wheel barrow full of compost. Then I tore out the tomatoes, peppers, squashes, tomatillos and a few other things and refilled one of my compost bins.

I have an open compost bin in my other garden that has two sides to it, so I was able to fill one side and shovel compost out the other side. I got three wheel barrows full of compost from that bin. It’s only taken five years or so for my compost bins to actually work…

I left some things still standing in the garden just because they’re not quite finished. My broccoli plants are still forming little tiny broccoli heads, I’m hoping the last of my kohlrabi will form a bulb, the kale and Swiss chard are still good and the onions are fine. Really, I’m going to pick that last head of cabbage any day now.

I planted a 37-day spinach in the clear spot in that pic above in the first part of October, and as you can see, it never sprouted. Don’t know if it was too warm or if it didn’t get enough water or sunshine or if birds ate the seeds. It may still sprout sometime this winter, so I didn’t plant anything else on top of it.






Once I had some clear space in various parts of my yard, (in this garden space, I also had to pull out a ton of grass) I decided to plant both spinach and garlic here. I may have to water it with a watering can, but it also has an olla buried in it (it’s an unglazed terra cotta pot that allows water to seep out and water plants) because I didn’t think the sprinklers watered this particular garden well. I got too busy over the summer to remember to fill the olla, but perhaps I’ll remember to check it on weekends this winter. It will be interesting to see how quickly the water evaporates or how quickly it freezes once it gets really cold.



I ordered garlic from Territorial Seed again this year, and I opted for two kinds I’d never tried before, although I have to confess that when it comes to garlic, I’ve never really been able to tell the difference between varieties, with the exception of elephant garlic, which is huge and mild. 

The Chinese pink is supposed to be ready sometime in May or June, so that will be cool.




I also had some elephant garlic bulbs that someone had given me, along with two different types of spinach, so I had to find more room. Luckily, I have lots of space, and some of it gets more sun in the winter than in the summer.  

I think my germination rates are actually pretty low when I plant in November, because I always plant an entire packet of two of spinach and I'm never inundated with spinach. I do, however, get plenty to eat, share and sometimes freeze, which is more than I used to get when I waited to plant until the early spring. 


One last harvest before it freezes

By Penny Stine
Thursday, November 5, 2015

The majority of my garden has not frozen yet. I’ve got a few plants that got nipped by frost, but nothing is completely dead yet. I’m sure that’s all about to change, since the forecast says it will be 20 degrees tomorrow night. Yikes! What happened to easing into freezing?

We’ve been gone the last two weekends, so every night after week, I rush home and pick stuff, trying to remember where everything is before it gets too dark to see. As you can tell by the pics, my garden is a jumbled mess. 




I went home at lunch yesterday and picked a few things, including more tomatillos and green tomatoes.I thought I had picked them all last week before we left for Vegas, but I got a couple more pounds yesterday.

I also found two tiny melons, a few more green peppers, some spaghetti squash and one of my purple cabbages.

I was going to leave the other cabbage out in the garden because garden websites say that cabbage can survive a mild frost and even tastes better after it does so, but 20 degrees isn’t a mild frost. Since I only have 2 little cabbages, I’m planning on picking the other one tonight.

I’ll probably pick a bunch of kale, too, although I’m fairly certain it will be fine after one night at 20 degrees. I’ve still got carrots, onions and beets in the ground. They’re also staying in the ground.  


When I was rooting around the tomatillos, which appeared frost-damaged, but not frost-killed, I found this potato plant. I have several other potato plants elsewhere in my garden, evidence that I didn't do a good job of digging all my potatoes earlier in the summer.  I think I'll cover them with leaves this weekend, and uncover them in February. I'm going to do the same thing with tiny carrots that are coming up in several places. 

I had to take a photo of this red zinnia, just to remind myself that it's November and I still have flowers blooming in my yard. How cool is that? I'll have flowers again in late February or early March, as soon as the crocus pop up, so all I have to do is make it through the next three months...

Isn't the growing season in the Grand Valley marvelous?

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