Saturday, 2 March 2019

Garden Update

Hello.  It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting inside hiding from this relentless heat.   I actually just watched an episode of garden gurus and that has inspired me to write this blurb.

 I don’t know about anyone else but I am over the hot dry conditions.  I’m probably not alone in saying that my garden has suffered and as a result I have reduced my veggie patch down to long-term crops only to save water. 

 Our March workshop is very relevant considering our climate change.   Dave crook is the local Gardner who will demonstrate how to build a wicking bed from a half wine barrel.   This has several positives for gardeners, one being the obvious water saving and another being the extension of life of the pot its self as wine barrels tend to rot away fairly quickly.    Wine barrels are quite roomy and would be very suitable to crops of greens and trellises of snow peas for example. Our workshops are held on the third Saturday of each month.  That will be 16 March.

 As I move about in the community people often comment to me about our community garden.  This morning some locals were very pleased to tell me that in their opinion the garden looks lovely at the moment.   Our Saturday morning short get-togethers have achieved a lot considering the small amount of effort we put in.  We have mainly been keeping the beds watered with the help of dripper hoses and just removing some spent vegetables and a few weeds.  As usual we enjoy a chat and always learn something about what’s going on in Gardens at the moment.  We are also very fortunate to have the help of the Shire with a weekly trip on the ride on mower.  The boys from Beechworth prison have made a valuable contribution by visiting and running along the creek edge and up our native bank with their brush cutters.  These are the jobs that our small group of volunteers would not manage to do regularly so we are very grateful for this help.

Cheers to all and let’s hope for some useful rain soon.


Thursday, 31 May 2018

Saving Tomato seed

Lee-Anne brought a couple of tomatoes along to the Yackandandah Community Garden. They are from a cherry tomato which she considers is a very nice variety and suits her needs extremely well so she is keen to keep growing the same type each year.
So far it has successfully self seeded in her garden each year so there's been no need to replant but she is worried that one year something will happen and no volunteers will pop up. That's how good this tomato is for her.
The solution is to keep some seeds from a couple of healthy fruit from a plant that is typical of the variety. That way, if the unthinkable happens and no volunteer seedlings turn up one year she will at least be able to grow the same type from seed she has saved.
That brings me back to those tomatoes she brought to the garden. What's the best way to collect and store the seed for future planting?
The simplest way to save tomato seed is to squeeze the seeds and juice out of a ripe fruit onto some paper (paper towel or tissue paper is good but newspaper will do) and spread the seeds out thinly. Sit it in a warm, dry place for a few days until the pulp has dried. The seeds will be glued quite well to the paper so just roll up the paper with seeds and store in a sealed container. Make sure you label the seeds or the container. Even if you have a good memory in 12 months or a couple of years you'll find the container and wonder what the stained piece of paper is about. Add the date so that you will be able to keep track of how old the seeds are. Tomato seed is generally viable for around 5 years but I have had some that germinated well after 8 years so these seeds will be good for a long time.
When the time comes to plant just tear the paper up into small pieces and plant the seeds paper and all.

One possible problem with storing tomato seed like this is that any diseases that are in your tomato this year will still be present in the dried pulp surrounding the seeds so when you plant it your young seedlings can be infected right from the start.

A better alternative for tomatoes and other soft fruits is to ferment the pulp. Fermenting helps to dissolve the fruit and may even kill some diseases.
Squash the fruit into a container. Here I've used a glass jar but a plastic container is just as good. If the tomato has little pulp or flesh you can add just a little water.
Don't add too much water at this stage. It appears that tomato fruit have some chemicals that inhibit the seeds from germinating. Water dilutes these chemicals and leaches them away until the seed can grow. I think that's an impressive adaptation. Seeds won't grow inside the juicy fruit and, even when the fruit has fallen on the ground it takes some time for the chemicals to disperse so the seeds won't even try to grow for several months and by then it is spring again. A very neat trick to make sure the tomato babies are safe from the winter cold.
Leave the container of tomato pulp and seeds uncovered in a warm place. After a few days the pulp should start to go mouldy - that's good. The bacteria and fungi are breaking down the tomato flesh and cleaning your seeds. If it dries out just add a little more water to keep the pulp just liquid.

After 4-6 days it is time to rinse the seeds.

Pour the mouldy pulp into a kitchen sieve and rinse under a tap our outside with a hose.

All the softened pulp should wash away but you may need to assist by rubbing the softened pulp with your fingers. It should take just a couple of minutes to clean the seeds.

Shake off excess water then turn the sieve upside down over a sheet of newspaper and tap the sieve to transfer the seeds to the paper.

Leave the paper in a warm place for a few days until the mass of seed is dry They will usually stick together but when properly dry just rub between the fingers to separate the seeds.

Store in an airtight container, label with the type and date for future reference and keep in a cool, dark place to keep them viable for years.

If you're growing a really nice tomato variety why not keep some seeds for next year or to give away to friends. I've found this treatment ideal for both tomato and cucumber seeds.

Happy seed saving

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Tomatoes - lots of tomatoes

Its that time of year again. Late summer and the tomatoes are ripening fast.
There's only so many tomato sandwiches you can eat and a few more get used in summer salads so what can you do with the rest?
Here are some ideas so your surplus tomatoes don't go to waste.

Preserved tomatoes: Tomatoes are relatively easy to preserve. I mostly use the Fowlers preserving system as you can see in the photo but I have also tried hot packs in normal screw top jars which works just as well. I bottle whole tomatoes, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and tomatoes packed in tomato puree.

Yackandandah Community Garden has several fowlers outfits available for community use. They can be booked at Yackandandah Community Centre.

Passata: The Yackandandah Community Garden has run a couple of passata days to show how this traditional Italian tomato pure is preserved. There are many ways to get passata but basically you just need to puree the tomatoes, bottle the sauce then heat treat the jars to preserve the contents. You can puree your tomatoes either before or after cooking them with a food processor, blender or sieve. A passata machine takes a lot of the work out of pulping the tomatoes and removes all the seeds and skins.
There is a Community Garden passata machine available for community use from the Yackandandah Community Centre.

Sun Dried tomatoes: Great for party nibbles or for added flavour in salads and very simple to do. Simply cut tomatoes into 1-2cm thick slices and place them on a tray in the sun for a few days (bring them inside at night or if rain threatens) until they reach your desired consistency. If you let them dry right out they will store in a sealed container in the pantry for use in winter soups and stews. We prefer them semi dried so the partly dry tomatoes are packed into jars, covered with olive oil and sealed then kept in the fridge. You can add garlic or other flavours to the jar if you like. I prefer Roma tomatoes for drying. They are just the right size when cut in half and are not as juicy as some varieties so the don't take too long to dry. Cherry tomatoes are just a bit too small and dry out to ultra thin tomato chips.
If drying food in the sun worries you dry them inside in a dehydrator. Your community Garden group also has a dehydrator available from the Community Centre.

Tomato paste: I cut up the tomatoes then cook them gently until soft then run the mixture through my Mouli mill. A blender or food processor should achieve the same outcome. The puree then goes back on the stove with any flavours and is cooked gently again to infuse the flavours and reduce the sauce some more. Remember to stir regularly or it can burn on the bottom of the pan. You could reduce it to the final paste consistency on the stove but I usually pour the mixture into my drying trays and sit it in the sun until it reaches final paste stage. That may take a couple of days. As for dried tomatoes, bring the trays inside or under cover at night or if it rains. The photo shows a tray of pizza sauce drying. I've added onion, herbs and garlic to the basic tomato puree for extra flavour.

Pasta Sauce: Cook up tomatoes, celery, capsicum, onion or whatever combination you like. When it has reached the desired consistency pour into warmed jars, seal and process in the oven, microwave or water bath to sterilise and vacuum seal the jars. This is great for a quick, easy winter meal - just cook some pasta and open a jar of your very own sauce. There's a bottle of pasta sauce on the right of the photo at the top of this post.

If you've got any good ideas for surplus tomatoes let us know so we can share them with others.

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