2017 Harvest

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sun dried tomatoes

Extremely hot end of the July and the beginning of August did a serious damage to our plants. Almost all of them have dried due to the lack of the water and some have even been completely burned.
In all the bad things extreme heat and drought bring there is one positive thing. Sun dried tomatoes.

 Storing tomatoes for winter without cooking can be a very difficult task. Cooking kills that strong tomato taste we love during the summer. Cooking with fresh tomatoes that didn't get enough sun and warmth during the growing season to me is like cooking with rubber tomatoes. There is almost no taste in them. This is why we don't buy tomatoes outside of the tomato season(June- September) instead of buying we use sun dried tomatoes.
Every tomato variety can be dried and used as dried tomatoes, still, in my own opinion, there is no better variety for drying than cherry shaped tomatoes. All those small round tomatoes are perfect. They have enough meat, don't contain too much water like for example oxheart tomatoes which are very juicy and hard to dry. Also, they have a higher concentration of the "tomato taste"  once they are dried.
All cherry varieties are perfect, pear shaped, red, black, yellow cherry. Every variety based on cherry varieties is also great,  Reisetomatoe (brainy tomato) is perfect and strong tasted, basically, every tomato smaller than the walnut shape is perfect. Bigger ones need to be cut in more slices and when dried the middle slices have a very small skin part and almost no meat.

Left to right: orange dwarf tomatoes, balcony yellow, Reisetomate

The process of drying is really simple, tomatoes sliced in half or slices if bigger are placed on a metal baking tray, sprinkled with a bit of salt (not too much just to help the process of drying) and then they should be placed in the sun during the day. The higher temperature outside the faster they will dry. In temperatures around 38°C(100F) tomatoes will be completely dry in a two or three days.

After a day of drying

When completely dry place them in a glass jar and cover with oil. The type of oil depends on the type of taste you like. Using olive oil will give your tomatoes a touch of Mediterranean flavor and placing a dried chili pepper inside the jar will make them spicy.
Completely dried tomatoes don't need pasteurization, they will stay fresh and won't go bad in months.

Completely dried tomatoes could be too dry to eat even after the cooking or baking process so before using them you can soak them in hot water for 30 minutes or just use them for cooking and remove them before eating the meal.
The other way to store them for winter without the need of pre-soaking is not drying them all the way but until they loose all the water and the meat is dry(a day and a half). In that case, you pasteurization is needed. Still, because of the oil process can be done at low temperature and for a very short time.
Just place closed and filled jars in the oven at 100°C(212F) and keep them inside for 30 minutes. This way tomatoes can be stored up to a year without going bad.

This type of tomatoes can be used in every meal and in every cooking process. They will add that perfect tomato taste to the meal. Oil is also perfect for cooking because it keeps the tomato taste and adds a touch of the tomato to the meal even without the fruit itself.
Sund dried tomatoes can be dried in the oven also on 100°C with two fingers opened the oven door, and dried until they are dry but of course, that means your oven will be turned on for hours and will probably heat up your kitchen which in the summer isn't the option we like.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

We've got rain

Finally, after almost two months of dry and sunny weather, we've got some rain. In the past 3 days, we got over 70 liters of rain which places us back to the average rainfall month even though they were completely unbalanced. In the past 7 days, we also had the hottest day in this July with 36.2°C (officially measured), the second coldest morning with only 12°C and the coldest day with only 15°C.

Fortunately, there was very little hail so there was no damage to the garden, unlike some villages just couple of miles from me that were completely devastated by the hail that was sometimes the size of a golf or even tennis balls.
The rain came on Monday morning with a roaring thunder but without any wind. By the looks of it I was sure we would be hit with hail but as I said there was only few hail pods and that was it.
The amount of rain was nice, but it was still not enough after a long and dry period.

Luckily, the showers continued throughout Tuesday and yesterday so we even got some water problems like flooded yard.

After all the rain we got we woke up to a cold and foggy day like we were transported to the middle of September.

Garden is now completely wet and finally, my plants can recuperate a bit after a long and stressful period.

Like I said there is no damage in the garden, only a few tomatoes that fell down from the wind, but it doesn't matter because they will ripe perfectly fine at home on the balcony.

It is a great feeling to have a break from the constant heat.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Roe deer battle

Ever since we moved here we've always had the company of a few species of forest animals. It has been a perfectly normal to see rabbits running down the street, squirrels stealing our walnuts, dozens of different birds jumping around the garden and roe deer feeding on the meadows around us.
But in the past few years, roe deer have become a problem to the gardeners in our village.
Since there are no hunters in the village there is also no threat for them and they have started to run around completely free and unscared of anything. It has become a normal thing to see a roe deer with little ones walking just a few meters from the people. Over the past two years, they have learned how to jump over the fences and that is where the problems begun.

It's becoming almost impossible to keep them out of the garden. There is no fence high enough to keep them out. They simply stare at the fence and two minutes later they jump over without a run-up.
Once they are in the garden they start their feast.
They don't eat everything, no they have special vegetables they prefer. Beans are the ones that they adore. Every single young leaf they find they will gobble up, but only the young leaves. Pods and older leaves are left intact. This wouldn't be a problem if they came to eat once the plants have already made some pods. But usually they eat as soon as the plants start producing leaves and this means no pods.

Another favorite thing for them are beet and carrot leaves. It's the same story like with beans, they eat only the leaves, leaving the root intact.

Once they finish with this 3 vegetables they slowly turn to lettuce, amaranth, and blackberries chewing every single leaf.
And that is basically everything they eat. They couldn't care less for cabbages, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers which are left unharmed.

Of course, this situation is getting on our nerves so we try to prevent them from entering our garden. By our laws, we can't buy liquid repellents against animals because we don't own a certificate that we're in the business of professional gardening and there are no small packages for hobby gardeners so we have to use other methods which are more or less unsuccessful.
Some of our neighbors tried the oil trick dipping pieces of cloth in motor oil and hanging them all over the fence. It worked for a week or two and then they got used to it and started chewing again.
I've tried the old dog hair trick last year. Supposedly deer are scared of dogs so they avoid any place with dog hair. So last year I've filled little bags with dog hair, with I have plenty of having two dogs at home. It didn't work, probably because they are so relaxed they chew the grass in front of the yard with Nero barking just a few meters away. The good thing about the hairs was that in the spring birds used every single hair for their nests so I had to fill the bags again, but at least they were used for something good.

I've also tried making my fence look higher by sticking long branches and sticks inside it. This method worked for a while until they realized my branches were just branches. Now they don't have any problem with breaking them.

The next move was to make an ugly scarecrow(which doesn't scare crows at all) to keep them out. I've even places some bells on so it would make some noise while the wind is blowing. This is working for now, or at least I think it is because since I've placed my scarythingie there were no roe deer entering my garden.

Another thing I've noticed is that when I leave a barrel full of water in the garden they are always inside. Now someone would think poor little deer don't have where to drink so they enter the garden. Yeah, not true, they are just lazy. There is a creek just a few meters from my house with drinkable, fresh water and they are just too lazy to go there. Or maybe they are just using my water as an excuse to come and gobble my beans.
I'm hoping I will not find out the reason because eventhough I love animals and I love to see roe deer in the morning I prefer to see them away from my vegetables.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Harvesting and hiding from the sun

June and the first half of July have been extremely dry and hot. So dry that we didn't get any rain in almost two months. Of course, that means that our plants are suffering from heat stress and giving less fruit than in normal condition. Besides the extremely dry weather temperatures have also been a real problem. Over the past 30 days, we had 20 days with temperatures over 30°C, most of those days were even over 35°C which means that the temperature in the garden is much higher than that. Of course, we try to water our plants but there is also a water restriction so we are careful not to use too much water. That means we only water our cucumbers, peppers, and zucchinis but even to them, the water we give them is not enough. In Croatia we have a saying which translates roughly to "giving water to overheated plants is like throwing water at a thirsty man's face"
It helps a bit but it doesn't give them the water they need.

With this conditions and deer party in my garden(I'll write about it in another post) I'm happy with any fruits I manage to harvest.

It has been almost a full month since we started harvesting blackberries. They have started with juicy, big fruits but over the weeks they are also starting to show heat issues and the fruits are starting to turn dry even before they are ready for harvest. Harvests started with 1kg a day, then climbed to 2kg a day and now we collect 0.5kg a day. There are around 5kg of blackberries left on the net and with that 5kg we'll have a total of 25kg of blackberries this year. This is a pretty decent harvest. bigger than the last year when deer ate my berries, but much smaller than the harvest in 2015. The biggest issue is the fact we'll get a lot less juice from this year's blackberries than the past years because of the heat.

Tomatoes and peppers have just started giving first fruits past week.

This year I had a huge issue with my pepper seedlings, to be exact I had a problem with my seed germination. The lack of warmth stopped my seedlings from germinating so this year I have a very small amount of pepper plants. Also, the lack of warmth in May kept my chili peppers very small so they are just started to grow. It seems they don't mind the heat too much, with a regular watering and full sun all day they are slowly growing and giving healthy fruits. So far we've made two jars of pickled chili peppers.

Tomatoes, on the other hand, are struggling with this heat. Although they love the heat and the sun right now they are having too much sun here and basically, they get cooked before turning red.
The biggest issue is with my black tomato varieties that get the sun burns even before they start turning black. I have to harvest them as soon as they show a bit of color or they turn into a cooked mix of skin and juice without any meat.  The ones that give best fruits, for now, are yellow varieties. The less time they need to be ready for harvest, the healthier their fruits are.

We've also started to harvest our potatoes.

This year we decided against buying potato seeds and used leftover small potatoes we collected during the winter. They turned up to be an excellent choice. Perfectly healthy, with a few bug bites and decent sized they are a much better choice than the preselected and packed potatoes used as seeds. Mainly because of the price which is very high here.
We still have 2/3 of the bed to harvest.

Most of the other plants haven't yet started to give fruits or they have been ruined by the dry and warm weather. After a wonderful bean year last year when we harvested beans from June till October this year we have almost nothing. Plants are drying even with watering they still don't produce any beans or the beans they produce are small and dry.

When it comes to herbs we've been collecting mint and lavender.
The story with mint surprising me every single day of the past two years. After years and years of trying to sow the mint and failing last year, it started growing by itself on my potato bed. I suspect it came from one of the other beds but clearly, it likes it here. Last year I've harvested 2 huge jars of mint and this year it is growing even better. Again I've been harvesting it and drying to use as tea.
Lavender has been excellent like every year, although this year I will have to trim it a bit because it's taking over my tomato bed, I feel bad to cut it because it has such a beautiful flower and shape.

I'm hoping for at least a days or two of rain because with this heat our gardening year will end by the end of August and we haven't even started to harvest like we should.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Summer is here, peas are gone

 After an average May, June came with style. Most of the month temperatures have been over 30°C, with almost no wind and absolutely no rain. It has been almost 30 days since the last decent rain. The soil is completely dry and my garden is full of cracks.

Summer temperatures are excellent for some vegetables, but others have much shorter harvest time because of them. The most affected are peas that can stop growing and start drying in a matter of days.
Two weeks ago peas were completely green, with big almost full pods and still blooming.

A couple of days later and pea plants started to dry. Once they start drying the best thing to do is to harvest everything. They will not grow anymore, pods will not fill up. They will eventually dry like the plant and the peas inside will turn hard. This is great when you use dry peas for cooking, but if you want them fresh this can be a problem.

This year I had two harvests with a total of 4kilos(8.8lbs) of clean and blanched peas. This means there were around 9 kilos(19.8lbs) of fresh unpeeled ones which is a good result considering I've planted 900gr(1.9lbs) of peas and the fact that many pods did not ripe due to the extreme warmth.

The remaining good pea plants have been used for bunny food and the rest I'll dry completely and use as mulch for my other plants.

Now I'll have to prepare this beds for bean sowing, but there is no point in doing it until the first rain falls. Let's hope it will come soon.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Garden in May

After a very cold April with below average morning temperatures, May has been a very mild month. With the average amount of rain, morning temperatures slightly over 10°C and average daily temperatures there haven't been many problems in the garden.
Everything has been sown, planted and transplanted and all that is left now is to try and get rid of the weeds that are everywhere.

Today I've cleaned my bean beads and covered them with deer protection. Although I've placed a protective branch fence on top of my existing fence to make it look taller I've also placed protective net, just to be on the safe side.

The string beans are on the other side of the garden so I'm hoping they will not get eaten so I'm not placing any protection on it.

Potatoes were cleaned and covered last week and growing nicely.

Peas have started blooming. Villo will come a bit later and American wonder should be ready in a couple of weeks.

The first zucchinis are blooming while the rest of them that were sown directly into the garden are forming their first real leaves.

The only part that will not be cleaned is my small lettuce/onion bed. On this bed I had my potatoes and beans and a big bunch of wild mint started growing during the year. Now I've noticed that the mint is starting to grow again so I will leave it.


 Fruits are starting to bring us first few fruits. Red currants are almost ready for the first harvest and today I've picked first few strawberries.