Simply Resourceful

Simple ways to be more conscious about how we use our resources.

Cattle Panel Tomato Trellis Review

As mentioned in a previous post earlier this year, we are using cattle panels as tomato trellises.  I am happy to report they have done a phenomenal job at supporting the tomatoes, providing adequate airflow, and making weeding a quick chore with the weed wacker.  Our rows are seven feet wide which sounds kind of ridiculous, but this distance has really kept the plants from getting tangled together, and we can walk down the rows without brushing leaves and releasing blight spores.  The tomatoes are showing some blight, but it is very minimal this year despite being a wet year. 

This year we also used old t-shirts as tie-backs for the tomato stems.  The t-shirts work well in the tomato patch because they don't cut into the stems like twine and rope do.  


Making Tomato Paste Over the Fire

Tomatoes are finally making a presence in the garden and kitchen.  We are thrilled to have thriving plants this year after last year's blight.  Our first priority is tomato paste because we use a half-pint for every batch of homemade pizza and we eat a lot of pizza.  Altogether this summer we have canned 32 half-pints of paste.

We are growing 15 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes this year.  The different color combinations and size differences make for a colorful presentation, don't you think?  

We discovered years ago that we don't need to remove skins from our tomatoes when canning.  This saves a lot of time when processing a large batch.  We are using the cast iron pot we used when boiling maple syrup the first time.  It works really well for cooking down large batches of tomatoes for paste and even gives the sauce a smoky flavor which tastes great.

An immersion blender gives the paste a smoothe consistency and is the best kitchen gadget ever.

One teaspoon of lemon juice is added to each jar of paste before processing. 

In our super duper large 41 quart canner we fit all 32 half-pints in one load.  Water bath for 45 minutes. 


Fighting Flea Beetles With Basil Flowers

A few weeks ago I blogged about fighting flea beetles with used coffee grounds and wormwood.  We have had good success with this method even with the rain diluting the strength of the coffee.  This week we found another quick way to keep flea beetles away: basil flowers!  We have 10 basil plants that keep trying to go to seed and we have found that placing the basil flowering heads on the eggplant leaves keep the flea beetles away.  We have never seen this mentioned as a flea beetle deterrent so we could just be lucky or there may be something to this strategy.  We won't think too hard about it though, we are just thrilled that it is working!

Picture above shows basil flower resting on the eggplant leaf.

Isn't this Listada De Gandia Eggplant so cute?! 

Casper Eggplant

Unknown eggplant variety given to us from a friend.


Harvesting Garlic and Onions Before They Rot

It has been a very wet summer for us in West Virginia.  In 3 weeks, we have received 14 inches of rain.  The garden has been so wet that we do the absolute minimum amount of work because wet plants spread disease when touched and we want to avoid soil compaction.  The weeds have definitely taken over and some of the plants are rotting in the ground.  Potatoes were harvested before they flowered and the brassicas rotted with a month left to grow.  We are not taking chances with the garlic and onions.  My family absolutely loves garlic and we never have enough onions for canning and cooking.  In fact, this week we are finishing up the last of the 85 bulbs of garlic that we harvested last year!

This year we planted both large cloves and bulbettes. The picture above shows the finished size difference between cloves and bulbettes. The bulbettes came from the flowering scapes that were picked and dried from last summer and planted last fall.  The bulbette that was harvested this summer will then be planted this fall for next year's garlic crop.  It's basically two years of growing before you receive a finished large bulb of garlic when you start with bulbettes.

Garlic bulbettes that are still on the plant.

Garlic bulbettes ready for drying that will be planted this fall for next year's crop.

Water-logged garlic picked early this year.

Zebrune Shallots picked early this year.
Some brassicas are still holding on but many have rotted.


Stack Exchange - The Perfect Organic Gardening Resource

This shows our tomato blight last year.  Stack Exchange has given us great tips on how to prevent it this year. 

Do you have a question about organic gardening and want some advice from fellow gardeners who have down-to-earth experience and practical solutions?  One resource my husband discovered this summer is Garden Stack Exchange.  It is an online forum where you can post questions and receive answers about organic gardening from a broad community of gardeners. The answers are then rated by the community and the question asker can select the best answer to a question. Each question that you ask or answer gives you more clout and thus you can build your reputation and your garden skills.  Here's an example of a question we asked:
http://gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/19495/how-far-do-potatoes-really-need-to-be-from-tomatoes-to-prevent-disease-blight

There's even another one for baking/cooking which can prove useful too: https://cooking.stackexchange.com/

To make it easy, you can use your Facebook or Google account to login too.

Fighting Flea Beetles With Coffee Grounds

If you grow organically, flea beetles are probably one of the top five most peskiest bugs in your garden.  They are small black bugs about the size of a poppy seed.  They feed on the leaves of plants and jump when disturbed.  For young plants, it can kill them overnight.  In our garden, the flea beetles pose the biggest threat to eggplants, tomatillos, potatoes, and arugula.  We have found three ways to keep these pesky critters at bay: row covers, hot pepper spray, and used coffee grounds.  Jon collects coffee grounds at work so we have an abundance of them to use in the garden.  Simply spread the coffee grounds under the plant and reapply after it rains.  In the above picture, fresh coffee grounds were sprinkled underneath a young tomatillo plant.


The challenge with only using row covers is that flea beetles hatch from the soil each year so your plants can get infested with the beetles even though they are in an isolated bubble.  Row covers are the easiest form of pest control to use though  because you don't have to worry about rain washing the hot pepper spray off the leaves and dissolving the coffee grounds into the soil.  To give the fragile eggplants a head start we use both the row covers and coffee grounds.  This year we did plant wormwood with the eggplants because we learned that they are a great companion plant.  The problem with wormwood is that it emits a chemical that stunts plant growth, so we are not so sure how beneficial it is.  Perhaps growing the wormwood in containers and setting them within the eggplant patch would be the better option.

Go here for another post about flea beetle control!


Using Cattle Panels As a Tomato Trellis

Cattle panels seem to be a versatile item around the homestead.  Last year we used them for the greenhouse project and bean trellis.  This year we are using them as a tomato trellis.  I have seen gardeners cut the cattle panels into boxes or lay them parallel to the ground for supporting their tomatoes.  We decided to try a simpler approach of not cutting the panels and just staking them perpendicular to the ground.  The advantage to this approach is easy access to the weeds.  We will see how this method works and give an update later in the summer.

In between the tomatoes we alternated basil and borage.  Basil enhances the tomato flavors while tomatoes enhance basil flavors.  In the picture above you can see a small borage plant to the left of the tomato.  Borage is a companion plant that helps combat the tomato hornworms by attracting the parasitic wasp that lays its eggs on the hornworm.  The wasp larvae kill the worm by eating it.

Look closely...there is a large hornworm on the tomato stem.  If left alone, the hornworm will strip the entire plant of its leaves. 

Here is a dead hornworm after the wasp larvae killed it.



About this blog

A weekly update on our adventures of trying to be more self-sufficient by using resources wisely. We explore a variety of topics that most broadly fit in the "Homesteading" category, i.e. beekeeping, organic gardening, edible landscaping/fruit forest, food preservation/canning, woodworking, soap-making, and environmental stewardship.

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