DIY Blog

2016 Garden

I grew a lot of starters this year, about 150 tomato plants between all the heirlooms.  

Not a good year in my own garden because I started so late but even for those who started earlier than me it wasn't a good year.  All the gardener friends I've been talking to had a slow growing year for their red fruits, though cucumbers and beans did great.  

I still canned but not nearly like I did last year.  That worked fine as it's been a super-busy year with RTD projects and constituents who need assistance.  Plus, I'm up for re-election this year so makes it even busier.  My best canning project this year was Dilled Asparagus which is super spicy.  You can only eat a couple spears since it's so zesty but it makes a great addition chopped into tuna salad.

This year, I've also got my eggs coming at me faster than I can use them.  If only I had more time...I'd try Creme Brulee because who doesn't want to use a propane torch while you're cooking? 

Backyard DIY


This year turned out to be more structure improvements in the backyard to produce food.  The 25' length of grapevine trellis I installed is working super.  Over the 20+ years I've lived in this house I've had to rebuild my grapevine trellis twice when the wood posts would fail or more common was a high-wind would hammer it.  Last Fall I installed steel upright posts with a top rail and used heavy wire stretched horizontally for the vines to grow up.  I don't have time or desire to can grape juice this year but they are doing very well on their new growing structure and even if the wires need some maintenance that's a whole lot better than having to dig out posts and reinstall every several years.  I don't like pressure treated wood if I can avoid it so the galvanized steel works nicely.

Another much needed improvement was a better compost system so I took down the old one, reused part of it and built a new 2-compartment system with the sliders that I needed in the front and between the two bins.  Part 3 is still coming, that's for the final compost product so it'll have a sifter on top.  I used supplies I had laying around.

The shop I used to co-own is next to a deck company so I get great new cedar and redwood pieces from their scrap bin.  Many times I can get teak there!  Someday I'll have the time to make something of those pieces of beautiful wood.  As you can see here, I didn't have enough new wood for the compost bin so I used pieces I'd saved from other projects.  E.g. I wasn't going to pay $1.00 a piece for new cedar pickets so I could make a compost bin that holds rotting vegetation so I had some old pickets laying around.  I even used part of an old antique stove that I once parted out.  That's the white steel panel on the one top - the reason that's there is that it fits perfectly and it's easy to move off when I put larger items in the bin. 


Speaking of wood, another project still in the works is firewood.  I've got 1 cord ready and stacked but need to split and cut the remaining 1/2 cord.  That doesn't get me enough stock but it's better than nothing.  Ideally, there's 3 cords ready but I've been trying to get a pathway open to having a very clear area to cut down a couple dead trees and heavily trim a big ash tree before the coldest part of winter.

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.



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