Tag Archives: tomatoes

early tomato starts

our hoop house is little – at least when compared to what i’m used to.  i’ve mostly worked in houses that are 24-34 feet wide and 96 long.  our little 14 x 36 foot might be smaller – but it never feels cramped, due to the six foot ground post (and that i don’t have to share it with anyone but my family).  one major difference of working in this this house and the others i worked in, it’s ours.  no more improving soil for someone else – no more having to make decisions via consensus to decide planting dates – s and i just sit around the table and decide what to plant.

like most folks, getting tomatoes early is a big goal, but i’m not that into bragging about who has the earliest tomato, but i do like a good tomato (alright i do like to brag a bit, but it’s not the only reason for wanting early tomatoes).  how the early tomato has entered  the american psyche as the source for garden bragging i don’t really understand.  peas, spinach or even radishes are just as exciting to me.  xtra large pumpkins seem like the only other crop that comes close, and i don’t care at all about those – you either carve it or make soup out of it, otherwise the pumpkin has no point.  an early tomato you can eat, and that certainly seems worth bragging about.

because of the hoop house at work i have likely enjoyed fresh tomatoes much earlier than most detroiters.  with my own hoop house i can experiment with early tomatoes in a way i don’t feel at liberty at the farm.

so this year we are trying much larger tomato transplants.  i’m skeptical, my personal experience is that older take longer to bounce back from transplanting, but that’s out in the field.  in the hoop house they have less wind, more water and more shelter from cold.  perhaps they will do better.

is it really about earlier tomatoes?  i think it’s ultimately about starting tomatoes earlier.  nothing, nothing really gets me though the last of winter like starting seedlings.

there are so many possibilities for containers to start containers, but for several years now at home, i have settled on the not so high tech styrofoam egg carton.  it’s cheap, common, holds in heat well, and is shallow so heat from a heat mat penetrates easily.  i cut the top from the bottom and use the top as a tray to go underneath it, poke a hole in each of the egg holders, fill it soilless mix and yr good to go.

in order to label – i simple use an industrial waterproof marker to write on the tray of the egg carton underneath each of the egg holders.  it works better than little sticks.

egg carton

they go on a heat mat and a couple weeks later once they sprout they get pricked out and then go under lights.  if i have room i try to keep them on the heat mat as long as possible, but eventually they get kicked off to make room for the next crop.


i’m growing these for twelve weeks, which is why i started them so early.  normally i go for a eight week transplant – but as stated before, i’m trying large transplants.

the peppers for the hoop house are also started – and i’ve direct sown, peas, carrots, beets, radishes, arugula, scallions, and spinach.

what grows in your winter garden?  i’ve been reading more about about grafting of tomatoes anyone with thoughts about that?


freezer tomato paste

in previous years i have canned tomato paste into small 1/4 pint jars using a hot pack method.  this method has not been without controversy as several commenters have discussed their concerns over the safety of this method.  while i still stand by the safety and methods – i’ve also found that even a 1/4 pint of tomato paste is to much for me to open and not have go bad before i use it all.

this year my efforts to preserve food have been focused mostly on freezing, with the new house we have a basement where we were able to put in a chest freezer. it is now loaded full of sugar snap peas, green beans, broccoli and corn for the winter months.  with the little one around, freezing has proved a massively easier way to preserve food, in fact the only canning i have done is a dozen 1/2 pints of pear sauce made a couple of days after we got home from the hospital.  making and canning pear sauce completely sucked all my energy out of me, and the next day i was left a zombie trying to care for my son.  canning wasn’t going to work this year.

at work we have a lot of tomatoes that we picked green, brought inside, and are allowing to ripen slowly.  they don’t make for the best fresh eating tomatoes, and they often tend to get a bit ugly.  i can’t bear to see them go to waste and brought them home to make tomato paste.

this year’s batch is similar to the way i have made them is the past – though i kept it simpler in light of the complexity in my life.  tomatoes got quartered and cored, and thrown in a large heavy bottomed pot on the stove on low heat.  paste tomatoes are best, as they have less liquid, but almost any tomato will work, its just gonna take more time with beefsteaks.  they get simmered until they are soft and plenty of liquid has be released.  i leave them uncovered so as to reduce the liquid as they cook, but stir frequently so as to not burn them.

once they are soft and have released their liquid they go though a food mill and get ground.  this liquid then goes into the crock pot.  turn the crock pot on high leave the lid cracked so steam can escape, and stir every few hours.  the sides in particular tend to get thicker.  if you are not able to stir often, you can set it on low, but clearly this will take longer.  12 hours is about right on high – 18 on low.

once it has reach the constancy of tomato paste – this is where we depart from canning.  this year i went with freezing – but i needed some sort of mold to freeze them in, and a mold that was an appropriate serving size, i went with an ice cube tray!  paste1spoon some into each cube and stick it in the fridge.  allow them to freeze real solid overnight, and them crack em out and pack em in a freezer bag.  paste2yr done! and the serving size is a couple of tablespoons! and you don’t have to deal with the hot water bath canner – and folks don’t think i’m unsafe!

what are you stocking the larder with right now?

earliest first tomato ever!

we ate the first tomato of the season last night.  a cherokee purple.  one of my favorites. tomato1this is from outside, not from the hoop house.  by far the earliest we have had in our 10 years of gardening in detroit.  a few factors contributed to this.  one was the amazing tomato starts we received from our friends at labrosse farms.   we traded hazel nut trees for the starts, and in a classic barter, everyone feels like they got the better end of the deal.  we also have much more full sun in this yard, we have had lots of rain, and the raised beds certainly have not hurt.  still i’m feeling very optimistic about our garden future in the new house.   

photos from around the farm june 2012

a little late, as i try to get these up in the first week of the month, but better late than never.  i actually took the photos in the first week. echinacea flowers

orange butterfly weed aka pleurisy root

flowers in front of the community garden



the grapes leafed out and the new salvaged cedar posts from reclaim detroit.

the greenhouse mostly empty

red raspberries

red currants

the hoop house

tomatoes, peppers and squash in the hoop house.

black raspberries

the compost pile, greatly diminished

potatoes hilled

potato flower



that is all.  what is happening at your garden or farm?

p.s. let us celebrate, this is my 400th post.

photos from the first week of march 2012

welcome new readers!  we have had several new subscribers.  hope you will make some comments – it adds to the fun.

we made it to march.  as mild a winter as its been, it’s still be a long one.  i’m still ready for spring, and march helps me to feel like it just might come.  maybe.  so lets proceed with this months batch of random photos.

do you ever get sick of these shots of the inside of the hoop house?  i don’t.  lots of little spouts coming up.

freshly transplanted kale in the hoop house.

a praying mantis egg case on one of the currant bushes.

a service berry bud swelling and about to open.

a pile of branches from the recent pruning of the currant bushes.

collard transplants in the greenhouse.

tomato transplants.


new prototype compost sifter.  more on it later.  maybe a short film of it in action.

overwintered leeks.

compost laid down on beds to be planted in peas in a few weeks.

looking down through all the piles of compost.

garlic sprouts popping through straw.

writing soundtrack = can – tago mago

photos from the first week of november

i had big plans to get this out a couple of weeks ago before i took off  for the west coast, but it didn’t happen – so it’s happening now.  the west coast was great, and i’m currently jet lagged and bleary eyed from the overnight flight, but very glad to be back in detroit.

so even if they are late, here are this month’s addition of photos.

the late fall bounty at the market table.fall color on the service berriesthe recently flipped compost pile.  new compost piles! so neat!burdock seeds – getting stuck to all my clothes.onions ready for the winter.leaves down on the beds for winter.greens growing in the hoop house. sifted compost stowed in the hoop house for the winter.the last of the tomatoes in the hoop house.asparagus fronds turning yellow for fall.the greenhouse floor getting new fabric put down. bounty of winter squash

i hope to get west coast updates soon, but its gonna take awhile to sort though all the info and thoughts.

farm photos for the first week in august

orange cherry tomatoes a sea of winter squashzinnia  italian frying pepperstomatoes in the hoop househot pepper flowerthe lush mid summer growth, summer squash in the foreground, and tomatoes behind.the first of the eggplant