lessons learned: putting the gardens to bed

Yesterday, my daughter and I updated our kitchen calendar with events for the next couple of months.  In the corner, I noted some projects I have planned for us to complete over Labor Day weekend–paint the bathrooms, steam clean the upstairs, and put the gardens to bed.

“‘Put the gardens to bed,'” my daughter exclaimed, “isn’t there a more technical term for that?”  (For someone who’d rather pick up a cell phone than a hoe, who was she to be so persnickety?!)

“Well, many gardeners use that term,” I noted nonchalantly, and with that I snapped the top on the marker and walked away.

As I spent time homesteading in the kitchen that afternoon, I meditated on why I like the phrase “put the gardens to bed.”  Perhaps, it connects me to the earth in a way that feels good–like a parent who gently tucks in her child each night before sleep comes.  Maybe, it symbolizes the way I nurture my gardens as I carefully tend to them in preparation for winter.

Either way, I believe the phrase reminds me of what Autumn brings with her–a time for slowing down, a season of preparation.

Putting the gardens to bed in September removes any parts of the summer that may pull energy out of the soil.  It also includes nourishing the dirt with organic amendments or mulch that will enrich the earth over the winter.

But most importantly, it creates the opportunity for Nature to “just be” with the Creator.

Sometimes, we forget the importance of preparing for rest–transitioning from an active life to a quiet one.  If you have ever cared for little children, you know they cannot come right in from playing outside and head straight for a nap.  They need to slow down first, prepare their little bodies for sleep, then head to bed.

It is the same for us as adults.  Putting the gardens to bed reminds us to be intentional about resting in God on our journey.

As I walked into the kitchen this morning, I noticed the list again.  I began making a mental checklist of all that I wanted to accomplish prior to Winter’s rest.

I smiled when I realized that I wasn’t focusing on Growing Grace Farm but about my own spirit.

 

 

drying tomatoes for a taste of summer all year round

Last year, I came across some yellow roma tomatoes at the farmers’ market.  I bought a bagful, dried them, and saved some seed.  This year, these tomatoes were the heartiest of the bunch in our tomato bed.  This past weekend, I spent hours washing, slicing, and drying, and I know come January, it will have been well worth it.  I’m reposting this one for anyone looking to taste that summer sweetness when the cold wind blows.

There is nothing I like more than throwing a handful of sundried tomatoes into a dish to add a bit of tangy punch and a little bit of summer.  Tonight, I wandered out to the tomato and pepper bed, rounded the corner, and ta-dah!  The sundrying tomatoes are ripening!  Start your (dehydrating) engines and sterilize the Mason jars–it’s time to start drying.

A couple of years ago, I got fed up paying so much money for dehydrated tomatoes in the store when I knew I could do it produce.yellow roma tomatoesmyself.  I will admit, I do not actually “sun dry” mine.  I bought a relatively affordable and effective dehydrator and started making my own dried tomatoes.  I like to slice them thinly so they almost become crunchy.  No worries though–once I bake, saute, or cook them, they soak up moisture and taste just like they did in July.

Some quick tips for dehydrating/drying tomatoes:

  • Using a tomato grown for drying makes the process much easier.  I have been using Amish Paste and Principe Borghese from my favorite seed company, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (http://www.southernexposure.com).    They are both very flavorful and are great for other recipes that require a tomato with less juice and more “meat.”  They are also a great size for slicing and drying–small enough to stay together to make beautiful circles which look lovely baked in an omelet or stirred into pasta.
  • Tomatoes will shrink.  If you want a decent amount of dried tomatoes to get you through fall and winter, make sure you plan for several visits to the garden/market and even more trips to the dehydrator.
  • I prefer a dehydrator because you can control the temperature and air circulation so that the tomatoes dry evenly.  My dehydrator with four trays usually dries thinly sliced tomatoes overnight (8-12 hours); the thicker the tomato slice, the longer the dry time.
  • Seeding the tomatoes will help them dry more quickly.
  • Since I slice mine thinly, I don’t remove the skins.  Some people prefer to, but I find that they cook just fine and the texture and flavor are fine with me.
  • Do spray the dehydrator trays with a thin coat of oil or coking spray.  It will make removal much, much easier.  Believe me and my fingernails–dried tomatoes can be a bit like bamboo shoots if you end up scraping them off the trays.
  • Let the tomatoes cool all the way before packaging.homesteading.dryingtomatoes

There are several methods for packing and storing dehydrated tomatoes.  The primary goal is to keep them dry until you are ready to rehydrate–the last thing you want to find is mold or some other creature taking over your delicious goodies.  Some suggested packaging:  zip-top bags, stuff and seal bags, containers with lids, and my personal favorite–Mason jars.  As a precaution, I sterilize my jars, either in a boiling water bath or in the dishwasher, then let them air dry.

Now that you’ve dried and stored your tomatoes, what to do with them?   Some of my favorites:

  • For breakfast, I make an omelet or egg souffle with spinach, sundried tomatoes, and feta cheese.
  • I throw a cup into marinara sauce and soup (homemade or store bought) to add texture and flavor.
  • We love them on pizza.
  • I bake them in bread dough with basil and parmesan cheese.
  • I add some into a crock pot with chicken, garlic, onion, and herbs for a quick dinner on an autumn eve.
  • I add to dips for color and flavor.

So now that you know the ins and outs of drying tomatoes, give it a try–your wallet and your recipes will thank you!

tips for your next trip to the farmer’s market

So you’ve found your local market, and you’re ready to head out–what’s next?

Seattle Farmers’ Market, Spring 2009

  • Give yourself plenty of time!  There’s so much to see and explore.  The market is not like the grocery store–it’s not about getting in and out with the necessities.  Take the time to get to know both the food and the folks.
  • Take a bag or two.  They may have some plastic bags from the grocery store or brown paper lunch bags, but it will be much easier if you take a “green” cloth bag that can hold several different items.
  • Take cash and preferably, in small bills, and keep it easily accessible.  It will make for easier shopping.
  • If your market is not covered, prepare for the weather.  Sunscreen and a hat might be in order on those warm summer days.
  • Be aware that farmers have different personalities and salesmanship.  Some will invite you to inspect the food; others will clearly give you the stink eye if you start digging through their peach basket.  Also, I never initiate bargaining with a farmer–I just don’t feel right about taking money out of their pockets.  If they offer to lower the price (like at the end of the day), I’ll graciously accept.
  • And speaking of the end of the day–want to go when there are fewer people and possible deals?  Hit the market at the very end of the day.  Want to  get the freshest choices and have first pick?  Head out in the early morning.
  • Remember that there’s not necessarily a traffic flow at the market like you’d find in a grocery store.  Be respectful of those around you and aware of how people are moving to see the food and make purchases.
  • Appreciate the farmer’s time–he or she may be the only person working the booth or stall which means he or she

    WNC Farmers’ Market from http://www.activerain.com

    will be answering questions, bagging food, making sales, etc.  Asking for special samples or asking a lot of questions may cause the farmer (and those around you) a bit of stress.

And what I consider the most important tip–thank the farmer who has grown this amazing food for you.  These folks are offering you the opportunity not only to live a healthy lifestyle but also connect with the community.   It’s a wonderful outing, and you’ll find it so much more enjoyable than rolling a cart up and down aisles of an indoor store.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to run make my list–Saturday’s just around the corner!