For anyone who missed my recent 90 minute webinar on GOURMET COMPOST, the webinar has been recorded and is available for $35 on-demand from Oct. 1st, 2020 until Oct. 8th for $35. The webinar covers options for compost bins, feeding your compost “pets, monitoring progress, what can go wrong and how to right it, when is compost “finished,” and making the best use of your compost. Click below to pay almost by any of a number of ways. Thank you.

Putting Summer in Jars

I’m hunkering down for winter, which includes capturing what I can of summer’s bounty in jars and dried and frozen garden produce. With this year’s hot, sunny weather, tomato plants yielded plenty of fruit — until cut short with a few nights of freezing temperatures about a week ago. Still, I have over two dozen shiny quart jars lined up on a shelf in the basement.

This year, San Marzano, which I (and most of Italy, where San Marzano canned tomatoes are labeled as such) consider to be the best-tasting canned tomato, got segregated into a number of jars all by itself. Other pluses for San Marzano is that it’s an heirloom variety, so I can save my own seed from ripe fruits, and it bears heavily over a long season on healthy, stocky vines.

A past neighbor of mine used to begin his process of canning tomatoes by alternating layers of tomatoes with salt in tall, half-bushel baskets. Other gardeners begin by peeling, perhaps seeding, their tomatoes.

Me? I opt for the quickest method possible, which is: Cut off any bad spots and drop the tomatoes into a large pot with just a half inch of water in the bottom. After being brought to a boil, the tomatoes get simmered until the volume is reduced by one-half, with less reduction for San Marzano’s because of their low water content. Then, a thorough blending with an immersion blender.

New guidelines call for keeping the acidity of canned tomatoes below pH 4.6 to prevent growth of Clostridium botulinum, aka botulis bacteria, by adding 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid per quart. This is because of lower acidity of some modern tomatoes. I do so just to make sure even though my tomatoes’ acidity measured below 4.6. Finally, the canning jars go into the pressure canner for processing for 10 minutes at 15 pounds pressure.

I figure that I can chop up and sprinkle in any flavorings for sauces or soups later, in winter, when I have more time and I know the jar’s end use.

(House) Plants on the Move

I’m a little late this year in readying my houseplants for winter. I know from seasons past that when they come indoors, so do occasional pests. The pests that are most troublesome, the only ones about which I need to do something, are scale insects.

Scale insects aren’t always in evidence now but I know they are there on my citrus, bay laurel, orchid, and staghorn fern plants. By early winter, the pest becomes more obvious as occasional, small brown nodules on stems and leaves. That’s the protective “scale,” beneath which the scale insect is happily sucking away plant sap. 

Scale insects have never killed my plants but do weaken them and – perhaps worse – exude a sugary “honeydew” as they suck sap. This sticky honeydew gets all over floors, furniture, or whatever is beneath the plant. And then a fungus arrives to feed on that honeydew, giving leaves a dark, smoky, haze.

Hard-shell scale on staghorn fern

Hard-shell scale on staghorn fern

My tack for scale insects is to line susceptible plants up in my driveway, then spray them with some relatively benign insecticide such as Ced-o-flora, horticultural oil, neem oil, or pyganic. I’ve been doing that for the past few weeks in an effort to get the young scales before they find shelter beneath their protective shells.

With the last spray finished, in come all my houseplants. Windows are still open at least some days so indoor air is not too different from outdoor air, easing the environmental transition for the plants.

Squirreling Away

Black walnuts are one of my favorite nuts and they’re conveniently abundant and free for the picking, at least around here. Perhaps too abundant. Once there are a couple trees, they beget more and more as squirrels start “planting” them everywhere. My vegetable garden, with it’s soft, rich soil is a favorite spot.

Admittedly, the nuts aren’s so convenient to eat. Their messy husks need to be removed. Then the nuts have to be cured in a dry, cool or cold, squirrel-proof space until around New Year’s Day, And finally, the very tough nuts need cracking. I recommend the ‘Master Nut Cracker’, in my opinion the best nut cracker for those tough shells.

Last year black walnuts were raining down all over the place here and in town. This year, probably because of last year’s overabundance, the crop is light everywhere. How are the walnuts doing where you are?

I’m lucky. One tree here on the farmden that provided most of our nuts in years past, is bearing heavily. Up to a few years ago it was useless, bearing nuts whose innards were almost always spoiled or shriveled. That  might have been because of hurricane Irene back in 2011, when the nearby Wallkill River flooded its banks to wash over here and rise about four feet up that tree’s trunk.
black walnuts in jar
I cracked a few of the nuts this year to see how the nutmeats look. They’re well-filled and a nice, white color inside. But not edible, as I wrote, until they’re cured. Until January, we can enjoy what’s left of last year’s nuts.

12 replies
  1. Karen Schaffel
    Karen Schaffel says:

    Hi Lee,
    My San Marzano’s did great as well, and no freeze yet here in my little micro system. I will try to save seeds as well. I obtained mine from someone who saved the seeds…. We have lots of black walnuts here if you are feeling you need more. They are just starting to rain down. Feel free. That is one crop I have not done here….perhaps down the road. Karen

    EDWARD F, MORROW says:

    As always, informative and envy provoking. As for freezing nights, here on the California coast we had +100 degree temperatures yesterday.
    Is there some reason why you don’t fill your tomato jars to within a quarter of an inch of the top. My grandmother always insisted on this as a way to prevent spoilage. Is it a myth? – Thanks

    • Lee Reich
      Lee Reich says:

      Other readers pointed out the relatively large headspace above the tomatoes in my jars. That’s to reduce siphoning, where, as jars cool and pressure drops, tomatoes start bubbling. If they bubble too much against the lid, they might find an opening out of which to seep before the lids press totally down from pressure decrease. Too much continuity between the liquid and the lids can then cause the liquid to start siphoning out. A little more headspace decreases those chances.

  3. Carol
    Carol says:

    I notice that your jars of canned tomatoes have quite a bit of head space in the jar. Is that to reduce siphoning? I’ve been having trouble with that, even though I use the water bath method. Thanks.

  4. Bonny
    Bonny says:

    My walnut trees yield an abundance every other year. This year the one with the largest, I mean huge, walnuts hangs over my bedroom metal roof. This year the walnuts are the largest I can remember in 30 years here in zone 7.
    I read with interest about your seminar on compost. I would buy into one on figs.


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