Yesterday I checked the weather forecast and saw that this week would have a low of 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

And then I felt saaaaaaaad.

I know I can extend the growing season by covering my tomatoes and basil with a row cover, but that’s just prolonging the inevitable. My basil is still producing lush, pungent leaves (and also going to seed), but my tomatoes have slowed to one ripe Italian Plum every three days–and the blue jays get to it before I do. There are just a bunch of green tomatoes on the vine, which I’ll probably turn into green tomato salsa this week.

It’s not just the thought of losing radiant red tomatoes and fresh basil that is making me weepy. I feel God’s love through his creations, and this garden has been full of his love! When I spend time in the garden to observe, work, or harvest, my heart is reawakened with gratitude and love for my Creator. I’ve grown closer to him each day as I witness in real time the miracles of life, growth, sequence, and divine order. Maybe part of me feels like this precious time with him is coming to an end. But a relationship with God never comes to an end–we just change where we both meet up. I can find God in so many other places–in the scriptures, in his holy house, and in prayer.

It’s so hard to say goodbye to plants that I raised from seed, protected from slugs/ducks/crazy heat dome, and watched fulfill the measure of their creation–producing things like baby eggplant, bicolor corn, delicata squash, fennel, red potatoes, and white beets. I probably–nope, definitely!–spent more time with plants than I did with people this summer (unless you count my family). There were so many times Josh walked by the garden while I was crouched down weeding or harvesting and I heard “Oh, there you are!” My fingernails swung the pendulum of being intolerably dirty to being almost clean. No nail brush, however stiff and British, is a match for Mother Nature.

This is as clean as they get–even after a good scrubbing.

The days are much, much shorter now. We all feel that cozy, nostalgic, fall feeling. Last night for dinner our family had soup, fresh baked bread, cheese and fresh-pressed apple cider (from 100 lbs of apples the family picked yesterday–and pressed using the press Grant and I built this summer for such a time as this!). The whole meal just felt like a warm blanket and a long hug.

The apple cider press

I’m going to give myself a season for my heart to be tender. And then I’ll need to find joy in fall and winter. Every season is about growth–and these darker, shorter days mean the growth will happen somewhere else. Somewhere hidden. In the earth.

This is soil building season.

Today is the last day of July. This means that tomorrow is…AUGUST! In the past 24 hours we’ve seen the first few Italian Plum tomatoes start to turn red. We thought it would never happen.

Ten out of our eleven pastured bunnies escaped and ate all the plants Josh bought for me for Mother’s Day. So yesterday I repurchased all my Mother’s Day gifts and replanted them. Two Juliet tomatoes, habanero, and thai chili–but I didn’t replace the snapdragons because I don’t want snapdragons in my garden. I also didn’t replace the leeks because they will grow back. The peppers might grow back too. I also need to replant some greens that the bunnies ate.

Grant, Isaac and I put 2 inch poultry netting on the bottom of the rabbit tractor so they won’t escape, but they’ll still have access to fresh grass.

I also planted 8 Italian Paste tomato plants, another habanero + thai chili for Josh, along with a spicy basil and 6 nasturtiums.

Today I am soaking beans for 12-24 hours before I plant them. I also dug up the horseradish and comfrey and moved them out to the exterior of the pasture.

Today I’ll dig up the ditch in front of our house and plant some wildflower seeds. Mostly sunflowers and millet. Maybe a few other seeds, too.

Lots of work in the garden today. We seeded peas and carrots. We transplanted six plugs of leeks, two Juliette tomatoes, a habanero pepper, and a Thai pepper plant, as well as six snapdragon plants. Heather transplanted a anise hyssop plant in the herb row. We laid down two more soaker hoses and watered. Things have been really dry lately for springtime. Today involved lots of weeding, cultivating soil, and raking.

I’m seed saving!

This is the first time I’ve ever seed saved. I’m doing it because seeds were hard to come by this year. Not super hard to come by, just annoyingly hard to come by. Everyone decided to grow a garden and it took the seed companies by surprise.

We’ll, I don’t want to be taken by surprise next spring. We’re going to have tomatoes, beans, garlic and corn. And a bunch of other stuff. It’ll be a great year, just like this year was!

Soldiers of flavor

For the past three days I’ve been picking and saving tomatoes so that I could do a large batch of fire roasted salsa.

Today was that day. It began with picking and washing tomatoes of all shapes, types and colors. We’ve got paste tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, pear tomatoes, striped tomatoes and that about it.

Then I put the tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet with parchment paper. The tomatoes roasted in a 450 F degree oven, then I blasted them with the broiler to blacken and blister their skins. This is the secret to the sauce.

I got 12 pints today. My family can easily inhale a pint of salsa as a pre-dinner snack, so 12 pints is less than 2 weeks worth of salsa. Kind of weak, but I’m happy that we canned our own homemade salsa this year. It may not fill our family’s yearly salsa needs 100% but it’s a step toward self sufficiency, and that’s what matters.

Next year, though, my salsa ambitions are going to scare you. Who wouldn’t love knowing that they have access to a fresh new jar of organic, home grown, home processed fire-roasted salsa 365 days of the year. At 12 jars per canning session, that’s a lotta math and a whole lot more tomatoes.

365 divided by 12 pints = about 30 days

This means that for the entire month of August, I’d have to can a dozen jars of salsa every day.

Road trippin’ with my friend, Mme. Cherry Tomato

Yesterday, amid the smoke, fires, destruction, and global pandemic I harvested about 20 pounds of tomatoes from our 6-row kitchen garden. This is the largest tomato harvest of the season so far!

Gardens bring hope, that’s true. But they also bring something that runs a really close second: fire-roasted salsa. And now, because of a couple hours effort, our family has 16 pints of nature’s gift to tortilla chips.

In yesterday’s batch of salsa I carefully altered the recipe (which your not supposed to do because it’s risky with water bath canning + acid levels). I subbed our gypsy peppers instead of jalapenos (we didn’t plant any hot peppers this year). I subbed our flat leaf parsley instead of cilantro (which would have required another trip to the store–no gracias). And I subbed lemon juice for lime juice because we had lemon juice open in the fridge.

I’m hoping that in just a few days we’ll have another huge, 20 lb. haul of vine-ripened tomatoes. I promise to make more salsa!

I feel very sad for people who have chosen to cut tomatoes out of their lives. We harvested about 15 pounds this morning. They are bursting with the essence of summer. I can’t imagine my life without tomatoes.

These ones will become fire-roasted diced tomatoes, which I will either bottle, freeze or dehydrate. Haven’t decided yet.

Another batch of sun-dried tomatoes! This is one of the best products of summer.

We did about 5 pounds last week and this is probably another 5 pounds. The tomatoes can’t come on fast enough.

That reminds me of something I want to say about this garden. We haven’t been overwhelmed by the harvest. No glut of beans or towering baskets of tomatoes. It’s encouraging that we can keep up and that there’s no waste, however, it means that we don’t have a ton extra to preserve because we’re eating most of it as it comes in.

One more thing, since I’m rambling… I bought more canning jars yesterday. Jars are beautiful!

This is our first big tomato harvest. It makes me happy. We have some paste tomatoes, some heirlooms, some “dollar store tomato seed” tomatoes, and some volunteer yellow pear.

Tomatoes have to be a part of any happy garden because they provide the visual and flavor payoff of all your hard work. I’m the beginning, everything in a garden is green–peas, lettuce, kale, beans, herbs–up until the first blush of the first tomato. It’s a magical moment.

Today I planted tomatoes that I received from a Yamhill County Barter connection. Someone was looking for two truckloads of wood chips for their garden paths. I offered to give them some in exchange for anything “farmy” (like plant starts, fencing, cages, chickens, etc.)

Anyway, the woman I bartered with had a ton of heirloom veggie starts–so I asked her to pick out ten tomato plants. Here’s the selection she picked for us:

2 German Pink Tomatoes
1 Green Giant
2 Vintage Wine
4 San Marzano
1 Sunshine Cherry Tomato

…aaaaaand, one PURPLE TOMATILLO!!! I’ve never grown tomatillos before, much less a purple one! I’m super excited and I cannot type this without gratuitous exclamatory punctuation!!!!

One of my goals this summer is to grow enough tomatoes to supply our family’s tomato needs for an entire year. We probably won’t quite make it, but we’ll be closer than we were last year. This fall I’ll put more focus into preserving our tomatoes–most likely in the form of sun dried tomatoes, so that I can turn it into tomato powder, which is endlessly useful.

Heather brought home another rabbit today, so we have one buck and two does. This one might be pregnant.

We planted the rest of the garden today:

  • Row 1: transplanted two tomato plants
  • Row 2: seeded bush beans
  • Row 3: transplanted 2 tomato plants
  • Row 4: seeded corn, transplanted delicata squash, two watermelon plants, and pickling cucumbers

Grant transplanted a bunch of chives along the north wall of the carport.

I got my first handful of beans a few days ago. We haven’t been able to keep up with the pea harvest of a pound every few days, so I’ll plant half as many next year. My kale and chard are very healthy and producing well. My Mortgage Lifter tomato finally has some blossoms that have become fruits. Overall, my garden row hasn’t needed much watering.

I got my first kale harvest (4 oz). I found one green worm eating some kale.

My peas are looking fantastic. I picked a few today, but I think I should have enough to be part of dinner tomorrow or the day after. I added a one-foot-high fence for them to climb. I probably could have added something taller.

My second planting of beans is up, and greener than the first planting, which is yellowish.

My Mortgage Lifter tomato seems to be recovering and greening up.

The peas that I direct seeded have taken off in the past week. They’re looking great. The beans have been up for a couple weeks. I planted 14 more beans today.

The tomatoes and squash plants have been doing poorly.

The NHS plant sale is a dangerous place of you’re wanting to have the value of your harvest exceed the cost of planting. We spent $31. I transplanted dwarf blue curled Scotch kale, Italian silver rib Swiss chard, and Mortgage Lifter tomato in my garden row (all heirloom), plus Delicata squash, yellow summer squash, and spaghetti squash in the row that we planned to leave fallow this year. Grant transplanted a black Krim tomato in that row, too.

Heather transplanted herbs out into the pasture along the fence.

I ran a 1/4-inch soaker hose on my row. It’s not very good. All the water leaks out within the first 15 feet–especially the first 5 feet. I might try a 1/2-inch soaker hose.

The peas that I direct-seeded have caught up with the transplanted ones, and they’re healthier. Today I planted an Early Girl tomato plant that I got at the Ag Fest, and 10 blue lake bush beans. The soil on my garden row dries out quickly and can absorb a lot of water.

Heather planted a few Oregon sugar pod peas on her row and transplanted two tomato plants of unknown variety from the Ag Fest.

In the back corner of the property, one of our douglas fir trees got mowed down. It was the one that wasn’t doing well anyway. We planted another one in its place that we got at the Ag Fest. We also planted two lodge pine trees that we got at the Ag Fest, and we mulched the trees with wood chips.