For Beginners: Tomato Growing Basics

tomatoI know I previously mentioned tomato blight, an infection that can do some serious damage to tomatoes in damp summer months, but I thought it would also be good to just go over some basics about tomato growing. Tomatoes are probably one of the most popular vegetables for home gardeners to grow. They are pretty easy to grow but if you take the time to learn some very basic steps to care for your tomatoes you can increase your yield and improve the health of your tomato plant. These steps are mostly the cause of trial and error on my own part (my tomatoes last year were no bigger than a quarter), but now I have nice and healthy tomato plants growing up on my roof. After the jump, find my five basic steps for growing tomatoes.
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Good Eats: Gooseberry-Ginger Jam

gooseberryGooseberries aren’t that popular in the United States, but they are enjoyed in parts of Europe where they are often used in jams and syrups. Before I made this gooseberry-ginger jam, I had never tried gooseberries but I was intrigued when I saw some for sale at the Greenmarket and was told they were a good alternative to sweet fruit. (I’m not a huge fan of sweet things.) Gooseberries also come shrouded in an aura of danger since according to Wikipedia–the most accurate, never-wrong source since Truth was invented by George Washington and Joe the Plumber back in 1821–the gooseberry is outlawed in some parts of the US! I have been told, however, that they are pretty easy to grow in containers–particularly if you live in an area that gets a good cold winter.

This jam, from Doris and Jilly cook, is really great. Everyone I offer it to goes mad for it. The sweetness of the sugar is undercut by the tart gooseberry and a hint of ginger gives it a sort of candy-like, but not too-sweet, quality. Perfect if you are trying to avoid saccharine jams. One note, about the recipe since they didn’t make a note about it when it was posted: the recipe will yield about 5 half-pint jars with a half-inch head space.

(photo via Flickr)

What Do You Do When Your Cilantro Bolts? Get Coriander!

corianderI’m a big fan of making Mexican food, specifically fresh guacamole, so when I was planning out my garden for this year I was sure to make space for cilantro, an herb that is frequently used in Mexican and other Latino dishes. This was my first experience growing cilantro so I was unaware that bolting–when a plant uses all of its energy to make seeds rather than continue growing, this usually happens when the weather is warm–was a common problem with the herb. Apparently, cilantro, like humans, prefers to remain at room temperature (somewhere between 68 degrees and 74 degrees). Once cilantro feels the temperature rising, it bolts, and seeing as how New York has hot, muggy summers, my cilantro was destined to bolt early. Luckily, the seeds/fruit that cilantro produces after it bolts is another common herb: coriander, so all is not lost when your cilantro bolts.

After the jump, find out how to collect coriander seeds and tips on growing cilantro.
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Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

clematisHello there! I’ve made some small changes to this blog. First, the most obvious change, I’ve changed the name of the site to “The Brooklyn Gardener” and changed the main domain to thebrooklyngardener.com. “Shout it from the rooftops” was just too long of a name for a blog and it didn’t really reveal anything about the nature of this blog. Everything (including the email, for now) still goes through the old Shout It From The Rooftops name. Baby steps!

Secondly, I’ve expanded the focus of this site to include cooking (specifically using ingredients from gardens) and preserving. That isn’t that big of news since I was already writing about that stuff before, but now it is just official. Don’t worry, the main focus of the site will still be gardening but I just wanted to include those new categories in with the blog. I’ve also created new tags to make using this website a little bit easier: Gardening, Cooking, Preserving and the ever popular Guides are probably the most important categories for you to know about.

I’ve also updated the “About” section and, here is the part that will hopefully interest you, decided to make a commitment of at least two posts a week to this blog. So, that is my guarantee to you, the reader! If I don’t post at least two times a week, assume that I am dead (or on vacation).

Hopefully you will find that these changes make my humble little blog a little bit easier to use. Feel free to email me to let me know how you feel about the new direction!

Not Even Martha Stewart Is Safe From Tomato Blight

tomatoblight You may have heard something about the Northeast’s latest bout of late blight or “tomato blight.” We in the Northeast have been cursed with some real dreadful weather as of late. Thunderstorms, humidity and a seemingly never ending stretch of gray clouds have made this summer downright lame. Farmers were worried that if it didn’t start to warm up soon (you know, like how it is normally supposed to be in, uh, JULY?) that late blight might infect tomatoes across the Northeast region, ruining possibly hundreds of crops, driving up regional tomato prices and seriously hurting local farmers. Well now, it seems, the tomato blight has even gotten to lifestyle expert Martha Stewart who posted a picture of her infected tomato crop on her Twitter.

Sigh. If not even Martha, with her army of gardeners, could save her tomatoes, what does that mean for us mere urban gardening plebes? Luckily, I planted my tomatoes a little late by some people’s standards (I just planted the seedlings in May and they should be ripe by September) so hopefully the blight will be killed off by then. (Late blight is killed off by summer heat; however, this weather is starting to make me think my crop may be in danger as well.) I hope that things improve soon because not only do I hate to see local farmers and gardeners hurt by late blight but I also don’t want to have to scrap my annual tomato canning mania this Fall.

NOTE: If you’re tomatoes have been infected by late blight, pull up the entire plant (yes, the entire plant), bag it immediately and throw it away. Do not compost plants infected by late blight or any disease! This disease can also effect potatoes so be sure that you keep an eye on your spuds as well and dispose of them in the same way.

(Pic via MarthaStewart)

From The Comments: Requests For Fruit/Veggie Seed Collecting

Commenter Maddie left me a comment in my step-by-step seed collecting guide asking for me to do a guide for fruit and veggie seed collecting. I never thought my small seed guide would become so popular but I will definitely be making a post about collecting seeds and/or taking cuttings for fruits and vegetables. It is an important skill to learn! Those posts will be coming soon (unfortunately we aren’t exactly in the best time for vegetable seed collecting) and if anyone else has any other suggestions for more posts please let me know in the comments or by emailing me directly.

Also: I’m going to be making a few changes around here, so be prepared!

Recipes From The Garden: Well-Preserved

wellpreservedbone I have a (not so hidden) secret: I love preserving foods. There is just something about canning and preserving that gets me excited. This weekend I went on a preserving binge, making cabbage and radish kimchee (a spicy Korean fermented dish), refrigerator pickles, infused cherries in Grand Marnier as well as balsamic strawberry jam and home-cured bacon from recipes I got from Well-Preserved. I really cannot recommend this book enough, even if you are a novice. The book, by Eugenia Bone, is focused mainly on unique small-batches of food and covers a wide variety of home-preserving methods, not just water bath canning. The book also comes with several recipes for the different unique items to can or preserve (including apricot amaretto jam, zucchini flower sauce and pickled cauliflower) and I recently made some chicken breasts in a lemon sauce that I made with home-made preserved lemons (also a recipe in the book, preserved lemons are a staple of North African cuisine and provide a great sour/salty taste).

Anyways, enough of my rambling. If you buy one canning book for the rest of your life, buy this one! Otherwise go to my favorite canning site Canning USA to fill you in on anything else.