Tomato Sauce

I think that I have finally found a recipe for tomato sauce that works for us and that I just love. I am honestly writing this post for me just as I am writing it for you. I have a very bad habit of tweeking a recipe to get it just the way I like it and then forgetting what I did. I am writing to down now for all the world to see so that I do not forget it.

As you know I do not have as much of a garden as I would like. I get a couple pounds of tomatoes a week but never 45 pounds like the Ball recipe calls for to make tomato sauce. I have created a recipe that uses just 6 pounds of tomatoes. I call it a recipe for normal people. It makes two quart jars of sauce. It is not as much sauce as the big recipes make, but it is the best way for me to preserve my harvest and enjoy tomato sauce year round.

My small batch tomato sauce. Makes 2 quarts

6 pounds of Romas or San Marzano Tomatoes. (I grow San Marzanos and I love them and I am never going back to another variety.)

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon of onion powder

1/2 tablespoon of garlic powder

1 tablespoon of mince onion

1 tablespoon of basil

1 tablespoon of molasses

2 tablespoons of lemon juice or 1/2 tsp of citric acid (This is per quart jar and it does not go in till you are ready to put the lids on to can them)

 

I wash my San Marzanos and I cut them in half, remove the core and any seeds that are there. The great thing about San Marzano is that there is very little seeds. They are a very dry tomato and there is not much “jelly” as my kids call it, on the inside. I put all the washed and sliced tomatoes in my stock pot.  I add all my seasoning and put it on the stove to simmer.  I start out at a low temp because I do not want any to burn on the bottom of the pan.  Once the tomatoes start to liquify I then increase the heat to about medium heat.  I let them simmer for about a half in hour.  Once all the tomatoes are soft I then use the immersion blender and create a perfectly smooth liquid.  Yes you read these instructions correctly. I do not take the skin off my tomatoes, I like the added texture, nutrition and it does not waste as much of my precious tomatoes.  Once it is blended I let it simmer till it reaches the thickness I like in a sauce.  I like my sauce to stick to my spoon so there are times it simmers for an hour.  There are times there is less moisture in the tomatoes and it only simmers for 1/2 an hour.  Either way you can simmer it till it is the thickness you like.  Place the sauce in two clean and warm quart jars, I put mine in the dishwasher, and add your acid, either from lemon juice or citric acid. Put your canning lids on and water bath can them for 40 minutes or pressure can them at 11psi for 15 min. (This is based on our altitude and the Presto Canner guide instructions.)

I hope that you enjoy this sauce as much as our family does.  There is just something special about opening a can of sauce that you made, I love it.  Enjoy the rest of your canning season!

 

Tomato Rot

Every year we learn new things, and this year is no different.  We have grown tomatoes in the past, but we have never had a problem with tomato rot.  Our garden is not very big, we have very little sun in our yard, as a result we have to plant our crops as close together as possible to save space.  That and I also have a problem throwing away seedlings, I plant everything even when I know I will be planting them too close together.  In the past, that has just caused me to have a garden that looks like a jungle, this year however, I think that me planting the tomato plants to close together has caused the tomatoes to get tomato rot. 

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I dont think that I can take all the blame though, we have had a very unusual spring for this area.  It was cooler than normal with  a lot of rain.  I honestly think that it was a combination of the two, no matter the cause now we had tomato rot and we had to figure out a way to save at least some of our crop.  I planted a couple different types of tomatoes all with a different purpose.  Our sauce tomatoes however, were the ones that were effected the most by the tomato rot, they are also the most expensive to replace if I were to buy them at a farmers market. 
Not knowing much about tomato rot, I did a little research and found that moisture and air flow had something to do with it.  Even though no one really knows the reason for tomato rot.  I decided to try and trim my plants as much as possible to increase air flow at least two feet off the soil.  We trimmed off all suckers as well as any limbs that had not started to produce any tomatoes.  We made sure all the plants were tied up and supported and clipped any limbs that were rubbing another limb.  At first you read that and you think oh, that does not sound like much work at all… well you would be very wrong. It took three adults 2 days to complete this simple task.  In the end I think that it was worth every second of effort.  We still lost some of or crop, but once we trimmed we noticed a drastic improvement.  Was it the act of us trimming or was it the weather warming up and the rain slowing down, I cant answer that, but I am happy to have my sauce tomatoes back and we have continued to produced a close to 10 pounds of tomatoes a week.  Not bad for our little plot of land. 

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Tattooing

I feel like I know you well enough to be frank with you… I HATE tattooing rabbits.  I am a strong enough woman to admit when there is something that I am just no good at, and tattooing is it!  We have tried a couple different types of tattooing kits.  We originally bought a squeeze tattooing tool.  It uses a pin type system, you punch the wholes in the ears and then put the tattoo ink in.  Well, when we got this little torture device I read the instructions.  It told me to squeeze the ear, and then put the ink on it, wait a few and wipe extra ink off.  Well, when I did that I did not get any ink left on the ear.  Then we tried putting the ink on first and then squeezing the ear, still we got nothing.  So then I tried to do it both ways, we put ink on first, squeezed and put the ink on again, this time we left the ink there for hours, still nothing.

I decided that it was time to try something new, it had to be the device, there was no way I was this bad at tattooing.  We bought something called the rabbit tat.  This is a hand held tattoo pen that looks a lot like an electric tooth brush.  I was so excited to try it, finally, I would have tattooing success.  I tried the new tattoo pen today, and let me tell you how much it just did not work.  I followed the directions to a T and it still did not work.  I don’t know if it is me, or if maybe we have some bad ink. Can ink go bad?  We tried two different needles.  I tried 5 different rabbits… I am really starting to think it honestly is just me.  To my defense, my husband, did not have any luck either.

I don’t know what we are going to do.  I can not sell pedigree rabbits without them being tattooed.  I have to solve this problem.  I know some of you raise rabbits and I would love to have you give me suggestions.  What do you use?  What am I doing wrong? 

End of June Update

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Well things are continuing to grow.  Our tomato plants are 8 feet tall and my garden looks like an over grown jungle.  It is truly a magical thing, to think that a couple of months ago it was just dirt in raised beds, now it is a vegetable wonderland.

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This weekend we harvested 10 cucumbers, 2 pounds of beets, 2 pounds of green beans,  a couple of handfuls of blueberries that never made it in the house and some strawberries that also never made it out of the strawberry patch.  The down side of using children as garden assistants is sometimes they eat more than they bring in the house.  But I would rather have that then children that do not like to help in the garden.  My little girl not only eats all the berries, but also eats green beans and cucumbers fresh from the plants. We are not able to can the beets right now so I am going to boil them, slice them and freeze them.  I would much rather can them, but this works great too.

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Everything is continuing to grow.  The tomato plants are taking over, to the point that I am having to cut them back and pull tomato plants up and transplant them into the aquaponics system.  Our white beans are very close to being harvested, because they are a dry bean I have to pull the whole plant and hang it all to dry.  This was the first year that I planted drying beans and I learned that those should not be planted till much later in the season.  In fact, I have not planted my black beans or red beans yet because I want them to be able to dry on the vine.  The potato plants are starting to turn yellow, I look forward to harvesting fresh potatoes.  That is another thing that I would do differently next year.  I would plant potatoes in waves, so that I would have a more constant supply and have some ready right at the end of the season for the winter.  This is the first year we have planted sweet potatoes and they look great.  It is so much fun learning new things.  The carrots are also almost ready to be harvested, my husband and I always argue about carrots, I always want to pull them up to see how they are doing, and he wants me to leave them in the ground until fall… we will see who wins.

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Now that we have harvested all the beets, I did my second planting in the bed. My husband help me build a pallet trellis for butternut squash to grow up.  Under the pallets, I planted head lettuce, hoping that the shade from the butternut will keep them from bolting in the heat.  I also planted 2 more rows of beans, and a row of chard.  I am just starting to figure out how to do second plantings.  I really need to get better at it.  Every year life gets in the way, but I guess that is what makes it life.  I am looking forward to seeing how this bed turns out, I will post pictures.  Below is a picture of it now.

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In the aquaponics system the fish are growing great.  The new filter that we put in works great for keeping the water clean.  I am so frustrated though because the cabbage moths have found all my cabbage, broccoli, and brussel sprouts. I have been pulling cabbage worms off every day, but they are still doing a fair amount of damage.  With these  plants being the aquaponics system there is very little I can do to get rid of them.  I have thought about netting the plants, but my husband things that we are just going to have to grow these plants under row covers in the fall when the moths are not around.  We are lucky that these are the only major pest that we have in the garden.

This is a very busy time, I am enjoying the fresh veggies and having dirt under my nails.  Keep getting dirty!

 

What’s growing

This spring started off really slow, but is now really getting going.  We are grateful for the warm days, sun and even the rain.  I have friends that make hay, they are not liking the rain, but my tomatoes are loving it.

We expanded out garden this year, but did not add a lot of variety.  We planted a couple different types of potatoes, tomatoes, beans, squash and melons… that pretty much takes up our whole garden.  We do have smaller batches of lettuce, radishes, beets, carrots, cucumbers, strawberries, blueberries, brussel sprouts, and asparagus.  We also have some stuff experimenting with in the aquaponics system.

 

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This is a picture of my little girls fort for the summer.  We are growing lettuce in the middle till the beans get nice and tall.  It is doing really well, my daughter is going to be spending a lot of time in there this summer.

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This is one of my variety of tomato plants, san mazanos tomatoes.  I was able to tie all of the plants up so that they can get the sun and rain that they need.  These plants are really looking good!

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I love this upcycle.  That is a broken window in the middle.  I hung it from the frame of my raised bed and tied my plants up so that they have tons of room to grow.  I have flowers and some small cucumber buds.  I can not tell you how much I love spring.  Those are my tomatoes in the back ground.

 

 

The Downside of Raising Animals

This post might be too graphic for young readers and those with a weak stomach. I will post the cute pictures first!

 

Most days I really enjoy the animals that we raise and they bring me more joy than sadness.  This morning however, was not one of those times.  We have a doe that has been struggling as a mother.  Aurora, we have learned, does not play well with others. For the last six months she has been living in our “Bunny Barn” with the rest of our rabbits.  While in the barn, she was not being a very good momma rabbit.  She would not put her babies in the nest, and she would not cover them up when it was 10 degrees outside.  We lost a lot of babies this winter as the result of this.  All of those babies were dead when we found them, it was sad, but there was not much that we could do.

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So we took the hint, and this spring we moved her out of the Bunny Barn.  This was her last chance to prove that she could be a good momma.  She lives in her own hutch that sits in my garden area, her new set up is in the picture above.   She can see the whole yard, the dogs come and sniff her and the kids can poke at her more than they could in the Bunny Barn.  However, even with all those stresses, she seems very happy in the garden.  She kindled six kits early yesterday morning, she built an amazing nest and she pulled way more hair, than needed in June, to cover them up and keep them toasty.  We were so proud of her.

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When I investigated the kits better to count them and remove any still born, my heart sank!  One of her little kits was born with no skull or skin covering up its brain.  (I put at picture at the very bottom of the post).  I called our amazing, trusty vet, and friend to ask if there was any hope of saving this little one.  Sadly, the answer was no.  Our baby had Encephalocele, this is a congenital birth defect that happens in gestation when there is not proper development of the nervous system.  There was no way this rabbit could live for very long and it would suffer if it did live.  So even though this was the most active kit in the litter, I had to humanly kill it so that it did not suffer anymore.  Our kind vet suggested putting it in a bag and putting it in the freezer, even though it was not the fastest way, it was the most peaceful, the baby would just go to sleep.   The other choice I had was to break its neck and that would have been even more difficult for me to do.

At the end of the day, I am glad that the rest of the litter is still doing well.  I am sad that we lost the one, but it is much better than losing all of them like we did this winter.  I am happy to announce that Aurora is being a much better momma now, she lays in the door way to the nesting area and protects the babies.  She built them an amazing nest, without a nesting box.  I hope that other rabbit people are able to  learn something from this sad story.

 

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Tilapia are here

I have been posting about my aquaponics system for a while.  It has been a project that took a lot to get off the ground.  We built the greenhouse, had to build the beds, find the tanks, order the grow media, order the pond liner… we have struggled with pumps, water pH, algae, freezing temps and many other hurdles.  But finally we have tilapia in our system. 
We actually got the tilapia in the mail about a week ago, I took pictures and wanted to post about them right away, but I was really worried I would kill them all in the first week.  Which would be so embarrassing to have to come back and write another post about how I really have no idea what I am doing.  So I waited a week to post anything about the fish.  The good news is that they are still alive, however I have realized I still have no idea what I am doing. 

Ok back to the fish, we ordered them from a hatchery in the mid west and they were shipped over night to us.  They arrived in a foam cooler with a bag inside filled with oxygen.  The first thing I did was open the bag and put an air bubbler in, thinking that was the smart thing to do.  However, about 30 seconds after I did that my husband pointed out that was not what I was suppose to do and asked me if I read the instructions… which of course I gave to him to read so I did not have to.  After letting the fish rest for a couple of hours we began adding a cup of our water to the water they were shipped in.  We needed to get them adjusted to not only the temperature difference but also the pH difference.  After a couple hours of that, we took their bag out and set it in our tank.  This would better get them adjusted to our water temperature.  After another couple of hours we put them into our tank and sat and stared at them for a while.  Apparently, that was also in the instructions, or at least that was what my husband told me after we realized an hour had passed and we were still looking at fish.  I am not sure if that was in the instructions or not, because I still have not read them. 

So we have enjoyed the introduction of the tilapia.  We are learning as we go.  The first thing that we learned is that they were A LOT smaller than we thought they would be.  I know that we ordered fingerlings, but they look more like guppies to me.  They are about the size of the feeder fish you see that the pet store.  Second, we are learning that they eat a lot of food.  We feed them a couple times a day and the food is gone within seconds of it hitting the water.  The last thing that we learned is that our water was really green.  After staring at it for hours

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, we realized we need to do something about our algae problem.  So we bought and installed a in-line UV filter… now the water is clearer and it is much easier to stare at the fish for hours.  It really is relaxing, you should try it.

In 9 months, I hope to be having a fish fry in the back yard to celebrate our aquaponics system!