One benefit of the 2020 Canning Lid Shortage is that I was able to explore a few different methods of food preservation. While I did NOT have success with lacto-fermented veggies, despite spending $30-40.00 on tools and supplies, I DID have success with dehydrating some of the produce that I would've otherwise canned.
The Hunt for a Great Tomato Sauce
One of my favorite dehydration experiments was dried tomatoes. In the past, I've never had a homemade pizza/spaghetti sauce that I've been happy with unless I added some store bought tomato paste for thickness. In 2019 I didn't make any sauce at all, but rather I only canned diced tomatoes. Then when I wanted to make a good sauce, I mixed store-bought organic tomato paste ($0.72) with water and added some homegrown canned tomatoes.
Last winter, I did the same thing but added my dehydrated tomatoes to the sauce. I LOVED it! The chewy texture and added flavor of the dried tomatoes made a superior sauce than any I've made before. Not only that, but the dried tomatoes soaked up some of the extra liquid and made and even thicker sauce.
This year I was fortunate enough to find more organic canned tomatoes at a great price. Some were diced, and some were fire-roasted. I was happy for that, since it has been SO hot that the very thought of canning has me breaking out in a sweat. Unless it cools down, I will continue to slice and dehydrate all of the extra tomatoes I pick.
Growing Tomatoes for Self-Sufficiency
One of my ongoing interests in life is the idea of a self-sustaining homestead. This year I decided to grow a small "market garden" out back with tomatoes and winter squash (you can see it in some of my garden update videos on Rumble). I'll talk about the squash another time, but this is how I did the tomato patch.
I grew 13 tomato plants this spring, of varying types. Two of those plants went into my kitchen garden by the house. I planted eight plants in two 4' x 4' raised beds; four plants in each bed, with a sturdy cage around each plant. Two of those plants died, so I replanted with two reserve plants; I ended up putting the last plant in a terra cotta pot.
Anyway: eight plants in 32 square feet. They are the gift that keeps on giving! This year I'm going to dry most of them, and possibly sell some at a local farmers market. You can see in the picture above that one of the jars has an oxygen absorber, which is technically better than just screwing the jar closed... although in 2020 I just screwed the jar closed and kept it in the pantry, and the tomatoes were just fine.
In an ideal scenario, I would harvest enough tomatoes from this patch to have enough for our own use, fresh and preserved, and then also have a bunch to sell out by the road at our farm stand. Farmers markets are a better place to gather petition signatures than to sell anything, in my humble experience. But if you bring some stuff to sell, you get more signatures, so.... those tomatoes are good for something.
I've been growing heirloom tomatoes since 2017, and they are beautiful! However, my Solar Flare tomatoes have somehow cross pollinated and I have a good amount of little frankentomatoes now, four years later. I decided to invest in some new seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I bought several different varieties. Since tomato seeds are viable for up to six years, my plan is to use the 2021 seeds as long as I can, only using 5-10 seeds of each variety per year. The year that I use up the last of each packet, I'll endeavor to separate designated seed plants so they don't cross pollinate.
I've discovered that it's totally possible to spend $0.00 on tomatoes year after year, which makes me happy. If you can sell off some of the extra, that can offset the cost of preservation (electricity costs, mostly). And thus, I've succeeded in making this part of my garden a closed-loop system.
My recent seed haul included mostly Italian varieties, but I'll also keep some Solar Flare, Brandywine and Black Vernissage seeds (from my 2017 haul) handy for variety. I did also grow Besser Cherry tomatoes this year, but that variety was boring and I won't be growing it again.
But Wait... There's More
I haven't told you about my potted tomato plant yet! So, my little plant is now a large, gangly plant with a few green tomatoes. I made sure to plant a cherry variety in the pot, so it wouldn't take as long to produce fruit. But more importantly, I will bring the whole plant indoors after the frost comes, and I'm eager to see if it will continue to produce fruit into the winter.
I think that is all I have to say about tomatoes! In addition to gardening, I've also been spending as much time as I can reading. I haven't been writing as much as I would like to, but if an author's "well" of ideas and/or projects is empty, there's nothing to draw from in terms of new material for books. It's been several years since I published a "Housewife's Guide", and I think part of that was because I had been beating a dead horse for so long with the "saving money on food" ideas. I've really enjoyed the last year or so of extensive reading and listening on a wide variety of topics. I've bought several books in the last few months that I'd like to finish reading, and have a whole stack of biographies to dig into yet.
Til next time,