If a tree grows at the farm…

Maple sapling alongside the driveway

Three and a half years ago, we got four maple saplings from Lowes. They were free and part of a giveaway in response to the ice storm we’d been through the previous Christmas. Three of the trees have survived, but interestingly they’re growing very differently.

We planted most of the trees alongside the driveway to further my ambition of having beautiful big branches arching over the driveway some day. One of these trees is the one that died. We planted the final tree on the turnaround. We already have a huge old maple that I love on the turnaround. But I’m worried that some day it may come to the end of its life, and I’d like to have a new tree established at that time.

The trees were all very, very small when we got them from Lowes, but they were all roughly the same size.

No longer.

For some reason, the tree on the turnaround is growing big and fat, while the two on the driveway are still fairly spindly.

Observe the one on the turnaround–with a handy maple leaf for scale.

Maple tree trunk

And now let’s walk down the driveway with our same measuring leaf.

Maple tree trunk

Does it seem weird to anyone else that these trees are so different? They’re supposed to be the same type of trees (red maples), planted at the same time on the same property and cared for neglected in the same way.

As I’m writing this, I’m looking out the window at the turnaround, and I’m wondering if this tree is different from the others. You can see in the photo at the start of this post that the driveway tree sports a crown of beautiful red leaves. The turnaround tree–which has many, many more leaves and branches–is still completely green. Hmmm. That would certainly explain why it’s growing differently.

Any other ideas? Any tips for tree care? I admit, my usual approach is to do nothing.

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Long term tomato storage

It’s finally starting to feel like fall here in Southern Ontario. We had an unexpected frost on the weekend that made me fear for our still growing garden, but we made it through fairly well. Sarah in Illinois is feeling the coming fall and looking to prolong her garden too. She’s here today to talk about how she’s trying to store that favourite garden fruit, tomatoes, for as long as possible.

Fall-like temperatures have finally hit Illinois and the cooler weather is a sure sign that the days for getting fresh vegetables from the garden are numbered. I posted earlier that I am learning the ropes of canning, but there are other methods for storing vegetables well after the frost arrives.

When I was choosing the tomatoes that I wanted to plant this year, I had on my list “Long Keeper.” Long Keeper is a variety of tomato by Burpee that is supposed to be great for winter storage. I tried to plant some from seed, but I am still struggling with the hardening off process.

A friend provided me with several varieties of tomatoes that she grew from seed, I was excited to discover that one plant was a “Red October” which is another variety of storage tomato.

Thankfully, this plant did very well and had an abundant supply of fruit.

So now that I have all of these tomatoes, what is the best way to store them?

The info I have gathered from several sources has a few things in common.

  1. Store tomatoes so they are not touching.
  2. Store in a cool (but not cold), dry spot.
  3. Check often for spoilage, since one bad tomato can cause the others to spoil quickly.

When I picked the tomatoes to store, I made sure to pick only the healthiest, firmest tomatoes. I figured that if they are already showing signs of over-ripening there was no reason to attempt to store them. I also picked them in varying degrees of ripeness. I am not sure if they will ripen well in the box or not.

Blitz quickly figured out what I was doing and added his red tomato-colored ball to my bucket. Man, it amazes me how smart he is!

I have a seemingly endless supply of cardboard boxes at work so I picked a shallow box and made a cardboard grid to keep the tomatoes from touching.

To make the grid I cut pieces of cardboard the height of the box (4 inches in this case) and then I cut them the length of the box. Some I cut the length of the short side of the box, and some the longer length. I ended up with 4 longer pieces and 6 shorter pieces. Each box of course will be different and you can adapt it to your needs, but in this case my box was 15 inches by 21 inches. So when I evenly spaced the slats I had 3 inch squares for the tomatoes to sit in.

To get the slats to fit together in a grid I cut slits evenly across each piece. I made sure to cut each slit more than halfway so that the grid fit together nicely.

I was able to fit my slats together fairly easily. None of my measurements were exact so thankfully cardboard is forgiving and I could work everything into place.

Once my grid was in place I was able to fill it with tomatoes.

I have chosen to store the box in the garage attached to our house. This way I can keep a close eye on them to check for spoilage and I know that it will be a while before it freezes out there.

This really is an experiment. I have no idea if I will have garden tomatoes in January, or if they only last into October. So I plan to report back on how it is going and anything I learn along the way.

Have you ever stored tomatoes long term? Any advice for me? Have you ever grown Red October tomatoes?

I feel like this is as good a technique as any, Sarah. I’m curious to see how it works for you.

I received an interesting preserving cookbook last Christmas called Batch, and it talked about how there are so many more preserving techniques than just canning. Cellaring (like what you’re doing) and freezing were two additional techniques along with several others (and yes, there’s a whole section on tomatoes).

I slow roasted a batch of cherry tomatoes on the weekend. They’re super simple to toss in the freezer and then toss onto pizza in the middle of winter. Unfortunately, I got distracted and didn’t check them soon enough and they were beyond roasted by the time I pulled them out. I’m still mourning them a bit. But they’re in the composter now, so I may have some volunteer tomato plants next year.

September summer keeps the vegetables coming

The first weekend of fall was not at all fall-ish. Temperatures were over 30 degrees (85F), and it felt like 40 degrees (100F+) with the humidity. Matt and I both agreed that it felt like the hottest weekend we’ve had all year.

The good news about summer continuing into fall is that our garden is continuing to grow.

In fact, our blackberries have started blooming.

Blackberry blooms

I don’t think we’re going to get to the berry stage before the weather officially turns–it’s going to happen eventually–but we’ve managed to successfully get to the bean stage with our yellow bush beans.

Matt and I braved the heat on Sunday afternoon to pick our first couple of quarts of the year.

Yellow bush beans

Like our berries, the other crop I’m extremely skeptical about is our first try at eggplant. We were so, so late getting these plants in the ground. We have some beautiful purple little babies finally, but I’m not sure they’ll have time to grow up. (Isn’t the colour amazing?)

Baby eggplant

We picked and froze 35 jalapeno peppers over the weekend and have a whole lot more coming. I’m watching our bell peppers closely hoping they turn red soon.

Our tomatoes are still battling, and I managed to salvage a few dozen cherry tomatoes. I’ll be roasting these off tomorrow.

Zucchini are slowly persisting, although a few got away from me and grew a little too large for my liking. Zucchini bread coming up.

Basket of zucchini

We got such a late start on planting the garden this spring. I’m grateful that the weather has held, so that we actually are able to have a decent growing season. Summer’s my favourite season, so garden or not, I’m really hoping that the hot weather hangs around a little bit longer.

What’s the weather like where you are? What do you think my chances are of harvesting eggplant this year?

Foggy morning on the farm

Foggy morning on the farm

Last Friday we set record warm temperatures for November. But before the thermometer rose, the fog descended, making for a very murky morning walk.

Foggy morning on the farm

My favourite tree still stood.

Foggy morning on the farm

But it felt like the world ended at the edge of the farm.

Foggy morning on the farm

By the end of the walk, the sun had risen and the fog was burning off and the farm returned.

Foggy morning on the farm

I love seeing how the farm changes over a day, over an hour and over a season. Starting and ending my days here never gets old.

Winter rye cover crop in the vegetable garden

Winter rye sprouts in the vegetable garden

Look at our pretty green sprouts.

Fall in Ontario is about brown. Gardening season is done. Leaves, grass, flowers are all pretty drab. But we have one new crop growing.

This is our winter rye cover crop in the vegetable garden. It’s our first time trying a cover crop.

We love our garden and how productive it is. So we’re working hard to maintain the quality of our soil. Last year, I spread straw and manure all over the garden. This year, we’re going with so-called green manure.

In the spring, we’ll cut the rye and turn it into the soil.

Have you ever grown a cover crop? Do you have any green growing at your house?

That time my husband dropped a 2×4 on my head

Or, as Matt tells the story, the time I followed too closely behind him while he was carrying–and dropping–lumber.

Head wound

Saturday afternoon was fall cleanup day here on the farm.

Remember this pile of lumber that I cleaned up back in the spring? I was so proud. I am woman, hear me roar.

Lumber pile at the edge of the field

Field after clearing the lumber pile

However, I really only did half the job. I brought it over to the barn, but not actually into the barn. I dumped it beside the silo.

Lumber piled outside the barn

Putting it into the barn was one of the tasks on my (mental) fall to-do list. After mucking all of the old straw and manure out of the stalls last fall, we have lots of extra space, and I knew one of the empty stalls would be perfect to corral all of this lumber.

I recruited Matt to help me, and we moved 6x6s, 4x4s, 2x8s, barnboard siding and assorted other lumber–including a few pesky 2x4s–into the barn. There is so much lumber, yet it takes up barely a quarter of a stall. Horses are big animals, people.

Lumber piled in a horse stall

Along the way we picked up the leftover fence posts that have sat by the garden all year, some other lumber, some metal posts–five piles in all.

Trailer loaded with old fence posts

I’m so happy that the property is looking just a wee bit tidier. Next year when we mow these new areas, it will look even better. I’m not sure Matt is quite as enthused yet. Especially since he’s our main mower.

Lumber pile cleaned up beside the silo

My husband knows me so well. When we came into the house at the end of the day, he asked me, “How much of that did you have planned, woman? I thought we were just moving the one pile by the silo when I agreed to this. I want to re-examine the contract. I think I might sue.”

I admitted that I had planned for three out of the five piles–the other two were just a bonus. I also reminded him of the original contract, which says, “for better or for worse.”

How did you spend your weekend?

Odds and sods

 

Preserves and homegrown apples

It’s been a busy week–really a busy month (or months)–so I’m taking it easy today with a quick list of the odds and sods that have been happening recently:

  • One of my very best friends left a whole package of homemade preserves, muffins and fresh apples on our driveway gate this week. We’ve been friends for more than 30 years and still live less than 10 minutes from each other. Life gets busy and we don’t see each other as often as we’d like, but we’re still connected. Little moments like this are what friendship is all about for me.
  • The 30th anniversary issue of House and Home was full of great rooms. A lot of the old favourites were some of my memorable spaces too. Kim Cattrall’s ocean front home (seriously, she stood in the ocean and then sat on driftwood for two pictures) is pretty special.
  • Our warm fall lulled me into a false sense of security. We’ve had windchills, negative temperatures and even snow over the past week. I need to get cracking on the annual seasonal shutdown. This weekend’s to-dos are remove the tractor mower deck and turn off the outside water.
  • Speaking of cold weather, I’ve started knitting again–and am teaching a whole bunch of people at my day job how to knit too. Yet another pair of my favourite slippers from French Press Knits are on my needles right now.

Is anyone else feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day right now? Or the things I want to/need to do are too many for the time I have available? Obviously, my friend (who is also mom to two little boys) has found some deeper level of productivity than I have yet uncovered.