Monday, July 29, 2013

"Fort Tomato" Nearly Complete, and Just in Time!

Readers may be familiar with an annual tomato-fight in Spain, La Tomatina, held in the Valencian town of Buñol. Spain has lots of tomatoes, as I found out when I lived there for a year, but I'd claim that no one has enough to simply wallow in them. I certainly don't. Each year, depending on our harvest and time, we put up in pint and quart jars between two and four gallons of my Mediterranean tomato sauce, a slow-cooked delight that serves as the the basis for everything from pasta dishes to Lubee (a baroque Lebanese concoction of string beans with lamb).

That means I need a lot of tomatoes. Some years, when the garden is lean or the weather poor, I hit the farmer's markets near closing time; last year I got a twenty-five-pound box of "crooks" for  $10. These are the mishappen tomatoes from the bottom of the vine. My dad was a produce wholesaler who taught me to savor these oddballs from the tomato patch. Their flavor is exqusite.

This  year, we have no shortage of plants or produce, but I'm watchful after two "corn raids" by racoons and earlier incursions by groundhogs. If they finish with the corn, the tomatoes may be next. And that means all-out war.

Note for the non-snarky: that's a plastic Johnny Seven rifle that belonged to my old buddy, the late and legendary Gary Braswell. Before his executor sells his antique toys, I had to pose, just once, with the toy gun every little boy craved in the mid-60s.

Firearms aside, the groundhogs cannot penetrate our new fence, over or under, but raccoons have a little advantage: thumbs.  I've trapped and shot one already, since it's illegal to relocate animals in Virginia. As I write this, I've two traps outside ready for the bandit who gobbled down half our corn last night. I picked the rest, as I wait for the next rows to come in.

Tomorrow "Fort Tomato" will have a finished garden gate. Next year, it will have electric and some dogs to run around 3/4 of it, after I do an outer fence that includes our little apple orchard.

More money, but worth every penny to grow one's own food. Even if the critters get some of it!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Garden Comes In

And it comes in all at once, too.

There's great satisfaction in seeing so much abundance, in a year when the rain has fallen in buckets. Bunny in Buckingham lost his garden, and he blames it on near-daily rains there. We had torrents, but then a dry-enough spell to get the tomatoes to begin ripening.

Tonight Nan is freezing squash and beans, and I'll soon be making gallons of Middle-Eastern tomato sauce by the gallon. It cans easily.  We probably have enough cukes to pickle but last year I put up a lot. So we'll eat cucumber soup and make gazpacho.

The work of building "Fort Tomato" and the groundhog invasion (one most certainly shot dead, another probable, two remaining) seems worth while. The invaders got about 12 ears of corn but more is on the way and the fence and traps seem to be working.

The year has been odd, as so many summers and winters have been since climate change really began to influence Virginia's two seasons of extremes. I'm happy for the cooler and wetter summer, but there will be hell to pay later.

And then there are the tart blackberries, growing wild everywhere, to contrast with a bowl of ice cream. It does not get much better in a Virginia Summer, our first in the country.