Too Many Tomatoes? Ain’t No Such Thing!

We’ve certainly been lucky this year with the weather. Tomorrow is the last day of September and amazingly, there is still basil growing in my garden and my pepper plants are laden with big, crispy fruit. Still, no two ways about it: when October begins summer is well and truly over. What to do with all the green tomatoes? Let me share my own favorite way of preserving the summer in the cold months.

Most people probably know that you can ripen green tomatoes indoors. I just put them on a shelf, but I hear that many people get better results putting them in a box with apples and bananas – the ethylene gas they put off is a plant hormone that will help them mature. Here’s my tomato shelf right now:

Notice that they are at various stages of ripeness. Whenever there’s a batch (maybe twice as many as are red-ish in this picture) ready to go, I cut a small X in the blossom (ie bottom) end of the fruits and put them directly into a large pot of boiling water about three at a time. Let them boil for a few seconds (20 or 30 is usually enough, but they may take longer) until you see the skin start to split all the way around. Then, take them out and plunge them into cold water and put in the next batch. This process is called “blanching” and is used to deactivate enzymes when processing a lot of foods for preservation. In this case, though, you mostly just want to make it easier to remove the skin.

Next, take a sip of your wine (forgot to mention that – this process goes marvellously well with a full-bodied red) and begin to peel and core the tomatoes. Just grab them one by one and the skin should slip right off. Take a sharp paring knife and take out the core, and if you’re fussy, cut the tomato in half and scoop out the seeds and juice. I sometimes do this for extra finesse if I’m making soup, but it’s not completely necessary. Then, just cut the tomatoes roughly into quarters. Don’t forget to put the cores, skins, and juice into your compost. Your garden will make them into more tomatoes next year!

Now, my favorite part: Turn the heat on medium high and stir gently once in a while until they start to simmer. This will make your house smell awesome, but will also reduce the tomatoes into pulp. How long you cook them depends on what you plan to do with them. If you want to make tomato soup (I recommend gazpacho) then simmer until they are mushed and leave it at that. Usually, though, I let them simmer for half an hour to an hour until they are reduced in volume a bit.

At this stage, I put the paste into small ziplock bags and freeze them without adding anything else, because I like the versatility – you can use it for Indian curries, pizza sauce, soup, or salsa. However, if you know you are making pasta sauce, for example, you might want to add parsley, oregano, garlic, and thyme while they simmer.

So get out to the garden and pick as many as you can carry before the frost makes them go to waste! Of course, you can also dry them, can them, and freeze them whole. Pasta sauce made with home-grown tomatoes and parsley in January will lift your mood, guaranteed! Mmmmm…

Speaking of parsley, does anybody want any of mine? I have a LOT!

Raising Expectations

Shedtemberfest was productive beyond what we dared hope! Even though we didn’t quite manage to finish the shed itself, we got the foundation, frame, and walls in place and the roof mostly done. In addition, thanks to the dozens of volunteers who showed up we were able to build some large compost bins, big enough to hold all of the autumn garden wastes and more besides. All this in a little over five hours total work.

Incidentally, we welcome any and all help with finishing the work over the next few weeks before the snow flies (yes, I said it). We are considering having a second work bee to side and roof the shed, and perhaps we can add the door and lock while we’re at it.

The pictures below sum up the outcomes of the day, although they can’t capture the magic of seeing so many former strangers come together to work for a common goal. Personally, I think the memory will help keep me warm in the winter! Thanks to all our lovely volunteers who cut, nailed, carried, dug, leveled, screwed, measured, barbecued, babysat, and served the beer. You guys rock!

The shed as it stood late in the afternoon.
The composters are complete and ready for the fall’s harvest.
It was this kind of day.

Shedtemberfest is Coming Up Soon! We need volunteers!

Hello Gardeners big and small!

The shed raising event is coming up fast – just two weeks, and there is a lot of preparation to do. We will have several stages of preparation before we can do the actual shed raising and we are asking for at least 10-15 volunteers to help us out. Please let us know ASAP if you are interested in helping with any of the following:
  • Providing a pickup truck for fetching the materials
  • Measuring and cutting raw materials – we are making our own “prefab” from our own design
  • Bringing and laying out the construction materials at the site two hours before the shed raising begins
  • Bringing the food and drink to the site
  • Providing and operating a barbecue
  • Providing a boom box and some appropriate music
  • Cleanup
Of course, anyone who can make it is welcome to attend the actual shed raising at 2PM on the 22nd!
The day’s schedule will be as follows:
12PM: Setup and layout
2PM: Shed raising!
5PM: Beer and bratwurst and a celebration of our (hopefully) complete shed
Don’t miss it!

Congratulations Parkallen

Congratulations Parkallen:

The Parkallen Community Garden is the proud winner of the 2012 Edmonton in Bloom Community Garden Award.

We should be very proud that our vision, hard work and community spirit has caught the loving eye of Edmontonians despite that our garden is just one year old! We beat out some very well-established and marvelous community gardens to collect this top award at City Hall.

“Edmonton salutes the Parkallen Community Garden for making our city a beautiful place in which to live and grow.” — Councillor Kim Krushell, City of Edmonton

One of the newest cg’s, (Parkallen Community Garden’s) story of engagement & education as well as the communal nature of their garden and its design, garnered over 100 votes. Runner up was last year’s winner, Sustain SU Campus Community Garden.  (W)e thank the over 635 people who took the time to cast a ballot!” — Sustainable Food Edmonton

Sitting Pretty

Diggers:

Our garden is so lush and productive. It is gorgeous to look at, tasty to harvest from, and so very easy to hand pull weeds out of the loamy soil in which the edible vegetables we planted are thriving.

The lasagne gardening technique we deployed to build the soil is clearly a raging success. Building our own soil from freely obtained mulch proved economical (we saved thousands of dollars), easy (oh, we sweated, but not as much as we would have scraping away the sod and piling truckloads of bought topsoil on top of it then fighting off the grass that would have come back this spring), and so effective (fertile, organic, exquisitely healthy soil!)

As you’ve probably heard, we’ve caught the eye of some granting and awards panels who will be touring our garden this week on Wednesday and Friday. We had a hearty work bee tonight during which we fought back some vegetation off the pathways, trimmed the grass around the garden, leveled our mulch and compost piles, and planted a beautiful apple tree with 5 zone hardy branches grafted on it, a plum, and a beaked hazelnut shrub. What a productive evening.

We also slapped several thousand mosquitoes, so if you visit the garden, please wear bug protection. All that rain has the mosquitoes thriving too.

For the rest of the summer until harvest time and Shedtemberfest (stay tuned for more details) we’re sitting pretty. When you visit the garden, please focus on any of the following tasks:

  • Make something prettier — tidy, yank and tend. We’ve got to keep our pathways visible and our garden weed free. Weeds get tossed in the garbage, everything else (yellowed leaves, etc.) can go in the composters
  • Eat something: just now there is kale, basil, oregano, chard, lettuce, sugar snap peas, spinach, baby carrots and lots and lots of beets. Eat fresh veggies on the spot or take them home to process. Fill your belly, fill your freezer!
  • If something looks thirsty, water it! Fill a watering can at our watering station (on the South side of the Parkallen Hall)
  • Tend the composters: add organic materials (your kitchen scraps are welcome), fluff and turn the compost, or water if it looks dry

As always, e-mail sustainability@parkallen.ca to join us or with your good ideas.

Inch by inch,

Marlene
Director, Parkallen Sprouts

Kale will make you Hale

Hello Diggers. Isn’t our garden lovely?

This is our kale patch. In case you’re a bit shy of it, let me tell you what I do with kale.

Step 1 is to snap off a dozen or so leaves. You don’t want the baby ones at the top, but the middle-ish ones that are fresh looking.

I took a dozen leaves plus a little red pepper and I doubt you could tell I was there.

There are two kinds of kale in our patch. One is a curly-leaf variety that is prized for it’s tastiness. The other kind is an ornamental variety.

The purple flowering variety is entirely edible (all kale varieties are) but prized for it’s showy colours, not for it’s flavor. I didn’t notice a big difference in taste this early in the season.

Take some home, wash it, and remove the spines. Toss them in your compost bucket. You want the leafy bits.

Kale freezes amazingly well so I like to stock up for the winter months. Kale is one crop that gets a bit sweeter with freezing and it holds it’s structure marvelously (more like cabbage then spinach) in soups, stews, sauces, chili, etc. so it’s wonderful to have a freezer full. In the winter when you’re cooking savoury dishes, add a few leaves of frozen kale. I don’t bother chopping them before freezing, I just crumple them into the pot. But do remove the spines. Kale adds so much green nutrition to winter foods.

I froze about half of the leaves I picked. I made a simple stir-fry side-dish out of the rest. My friend Audrey, a nutritionist and a rare beauty taught us this technique for cooking up any greens (bok choy, spinach, gai lan, what have you.) It works great for kale.

You need these ingredients:

Garlic (optional)
Onions
Kale (or any green)
Canola Oil (or Olive, or sesame & olive oil, whatever you like/have)
Black Bean Sauce (or Oyster sauce, or Teriyaki, or any stir-fry sauce you like/have)

The brand isn’t important.

Chop up your kale leaves about like so…

Sizzle the onions and garlic in a wok or frying pan. You need lots of room for greens in your pan, so you need a pan with enough volume.

I like them brownish…

Add the kale and toss it around.

Fry it until the greens are wilted, but still bright.

Add a wee slorp of black bean sauce. I used about about a tablespoon for six leaves of kale. It’s very salty, so don’t add too much. Use a little, taste it, then add more if needed.

Fast. Easy. So nutritious. Kale yum yums.

According to Organic Authority, Kale is the New Beef.

Drop by the Parkallen Community Garden anytime and help yourself to the kale.

Sprouts Bed Construction

Last spring, 2011, we started with this:

A big swath of lawn, a bail of hay, a stack of cardboard, some muscle, and a vision. This spring we have this:

An all-ages community garden with lots of room to grow.

Our lasagne gardening was a success. Without tilling the earth, we built a large tract of healthy soil using compost layering techniques.

We ordered some materials (local field-stones, road-crush and mulch) to give shape to the garden. Thanks to a Fido/Evergreen grant, we had funding to create four children’s gardening beds at the center of the Parkallen Community Garden. A crew assembled  this spring to ready the beds for the children to plant.

We dug trenches around the beds to collect water and provide shape.

Then we filled them with road crush. The crush-filled trenches around the beds provided a stable place for rock borders. The rocks provide thermal mass to warm the soil.

We muscled rocks into place around the four beds.

This is Tom. Tom is what you’d call an “active senior.”

And voila.

Ready to plant.

Well done, crew.

Don’t forget the “interpretive programming.”

And a proud sign:

We’ve had incredible momentum this Spring.

It’s NOT too late to get involved in this exciting permaculture project. The Parkallen Diggers are actively recruiting new members to be part of our casual and/or core gardening group.

We need master gardeners and newbies. We need compost turners and watering can luggers. We need a fruit tree tender and shrub lover. We need people to turn on a sprinkler when it’s stinking hot and people to tip-toe down the edible perennial border looking for ripe strawberries. We want hammer swingers, pea-munchers and turnip pullers. Whatever your age, expertise, and commitment levels, you are invited to participate in making this unique green space grow.