Saturday, October 21, 2006

Moving plants into the greenhouse for winter

I haven't posted about my greenhouse adventures in ages. I got my first (and only) greenhouse a year ago June. Last year I wintered over a bunch of tender perennials sold as annuals, with mixed success. Petunias did very well, but a lot of the other stuff died (partly my fault for going too long between waterings and having inadequate air circulation in the greenhouse).

Fast forward to this year. I spent most of today moving stuff into the greenhouse, since our nights here in Portland are beginning to get cold. We've had frost in some areas already, though what we got at my place was more like slush and didn't kill anything off. But why tempt fate? So I got busy.

In addition to the citrus and brugmansia from last year, I have some bouganvilla and mandevilla. Plus, this year I'm trying an experiment. I dug up my bell peppers and jalapenos, potted 'em up, and moved them into the greenhouse. I don't expect them to bear during the winter, since I don't provide supplemental light, and I only keep the greenhouse heated enough to keep things from freezing. But I'm hoping to keep them alive so they can get an earlier start next spring. Plus I think it'll be cool to have shrub-sized pepper plants.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Grow a giant pumpkin next year!

This year I grew Atlantic Giant pumpkins for the first time. While large, mine were nowhere near world record holders, mostly because I didn't give them the daily TLC required to produce orange behemoths. If you do have the time and inclination to grow a pumpkin suitable for Cinderella's coach, you might want to check out the tips from Organic Gardening and start planning for next season. Good luck!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Homemade sun-dried tomatoes: the perfect use for end-of-season tomatoes

Here in Portland, tomato season is winding down. I'm still getting a few slicers, but they often get mushy or icky before they fully ripen. So I pick them when they're pink and let them ripen on my counter. My cherry tomatoes are still ripening on the vine, but they often split before I get around to harvesting them. I think it's due to the wet, dewy mornings and occasional rain showers. Soon we'll have our first frost, and I'll need to pick all the decently-developed green tomatoes to ripen in the house. So, whether they're slicers or cherry tomatoes, what I'm harvesting now isn't of high enough quality for eating out of hand. But I hate to waste them. What to do?

The most common answer is, make sauce! Yep, that works, but one can only use so much tomato sauce. And sauce isn't a practical option for cherry tomatoes, because it's way too much work to peel them. This year I tried something different -- drying them. The Cooking Inn has some good instructions, but I found a few problems with them. Their instructions for preparing cherry tomatoes are fine. But when I used their cooking temperatures, the tomatoes burned very quickly. I had better luck using lower temperatures for a longer period. Here's how I dried a boatload of cherry tomatoes, most of which were split but otherwise in good shape:

Homemade Sun-Dried Cherry Tomatoes
(Well, they're really oven-dried. What did you expect from an Oregonian?)
  1. Preheat oven to about 200-250 degrees
  2. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray or lightly grease with oil.
  3. Rinse cherry tomatoes and cut in half. Split ones are OK as long as they aren't discolored or starting to rot.
  4. Place tomatoes cut side up on baking sheet.
  5. Put tomatoes in oven and turn temperature down below 200. I recommend experimenting to get the right temperature. I had the best luck with my electric oven set a little below 200 with the door slightly ajar.
  6. Bake till dry but still pliable. I did mine till they were no longer sticky to the touch. You don't want to get them crunchy, because they'll be harder to use in recipes, especially pesto or something similar that has to be processed in a blender.
  7. Store them in jars with lids. You can pack them in oil (instructions available at the link mentioned above) or just store them dry.