DIY Blog

The last few years I've grown between 40-50 heirloom tomatoes and a variety of vegetables.  2017 wasn't a good year for tomatoes but the bell pepper and winter squash performed like rock stars.  I swore that I would take this year off but I was unable to resist and finally splurged on growing a couple Black Krim tomato plants which are my all-time favorite tomatoes, plus one Amana Orange which is a beautiful mellow tomato.  I'm a bit sad that I won't grow enough to make it worth canning but I may dry and grind some tomatoes to make a tomato powder for winter soups.

One purple bell pepper, acorn squash, and a butternut squash are also growing.  Flat Italian beans are a sure winner even if planted in July.  The only other seeds that went in the ground are some Cinnamon Basil and another sure-fire winner with Swiss Chard which is one of my favorite greens.

This year we've had a lot of heavy hail in the Denver region so I'm glad that I won't worry about investing too much in plants and if a storm appears I have a better chance of getting covers up.  I use PVC hoops and leave them installed so all I have to do is throw some windscreen material over the tops and clamp it down.  The wicked storms don't give a lot of warning and so many false alerts make it easy to let the guard down.


2015 Harvest

This summer and fall provided a gorgeous, plentiful crop once we got past the enormous amount of rain we got in May/June 2015.  I didn't keep an accurate log of the produce yield but I easily harvested over a 150 lbs of tomatoes by mid-September. There were so many green ones on the plants once frost came that I'm still ripening ones in my house and it's now December 6th. 

Though I grew cauliflower, sweet bell peppers (never a productive success for me), cabbage, green beans, swiss chard (always a winner), carrots, beets, strawberries and raspberries - I wanted to finally can a lot of vegetables for use thru the winter so that meant tomatoes were the star of the show.  The simple route would have been just canning the tomatoes and using them to make sauces later but I wanted something that I could open up and it'd be ready to go.  

I didn't track all the types of tomatoes as well as I wanted to, my intention was to make a chart when I had time but by then the tomato plants had grown enormous and the plant tags got buried under intertwining stems.  Almost all of the tomatoes were heirloom so I saved seeds over the months so that I'll have plenty to start with next spring.  I hadn't really chosen a favorite tomato for taste until this year and I have to say I fell in love with Black Krim - tasty!

Besides Black Krim, I also grew Romas, Ace 55, Yellow Jubilee, Amana Paste, Amana Orange, Dester, Crimson Cushion, Chiani Rose, Black Zebra, Bloody Butcher, Early Picker,d about 5 types of cherry and grape size. 

Lessons from this year were that I need a super strong structure system for some of the heirlooms with expectations that they'll grow 6' tall and have fruit that weighs 16 oz or more.  Also grew far too many cherry varieties.

Since it's easy enough to search up recipes but not so easy to determine yields from canning, I'll focus on what it takes to get X amount of jars for winter eating.

I'll start with the basics. Note that some of my canning is done with a pressure canner, this is different from a pressure cooker.  

Tomato Paste is usually bought in small cans at the store but I decided to give it a try.  It was especially hard to find a recipe that gave a yield so I thought this may be useful for anyone who runs across this page.

Tomato Paste

I started with 8 pounds of paste variety tomatoes, mostly Roma and Amish Paste.  Half the batch was prepped by washing (of course - ok first and last time I will say that) then blanched for a few minutes in boiling water.  The other half was roasted in the oven.  Then both batches were run thru my KitchenAid vegetable strainer so I yielded 12 cups of smooth tomato sauce.  Since the recipe was paste it had to be reduced which took a long time. I didn't note the total time cooking at low heat but it was close to 12 hours.  After simmering on the stove for a long time I got irritated and poured the sauce into shallow pans - cookie sheets, and then heated it on the lowest setting I could in my oven, this still required some periodic stirring.

Net result was 1 quart of rich paste that didn't have that bitter taste that's present in store bought paste.  Was it worth it? For the experience, yes.  Time-wise was questionable but the paste will last me for months.

How to store it?  After reading up, I decided to do it the old fashioned way.  I put the paste in sterilized mason jar and covered it with olive oil.  When I need a couple scoops I dish it out and replenish the layer of oil.  It could be frozen in ice cube trays and then transferred to plastic containers but I'm saving my freezer space for meat.