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All my friends are jealous this week because I just pulled my first large tomatoes.    early_girl1

In Wake County (NC) big, homegrown tomatoes usually ripen by July 4th, but the weather this year….enough said. 

Still my little victory doesn’t mean I’m a better gardener than my friends.  I just have an Early Girl plant. 

Ok, I was  pretty smart this year.  I planted seed for EARLY, MID-SEASON, and LATE tomatoes.  Now my planning is paying off. 

Early Girl matures in about 55 days and while it doesn’t have the juicy sweetness or size of an August tomato, it’s very, very good.  early_girl2

There’s nothing like homegrown, is there? 

Fresh tomatoes are the centerpiece of  many summer meals in our house.  Here’s one of the favorites:  Caprese Salad made with homegrown tomatoes, basil, local garlic; plus buffalo mozzarella, and lots of good olive oil from my favorite Italian Market, Capri Flavors.  Check them out, especially if you need oil for roasting vegetables.  The house brand, Titina’s Extra Virgin is a bargain.  early_girl3

So what are you eating from the garden this week?


Got lots of tomatoes?  Make this  pasta variation of the classic Caprese Salad.  My husband Bill asked for this dish not once-but twice  last week.

  • Cube fresh mozzarella cheese and  put  in a large bowl.
  • Boil water and cook your favorite pasta. Drain. Then pour warm pasta over the cheese and toss.
  • Next add 1 or 2 chopped fresh tomatoes and their juices, minced garlic, and capers in salt (rinsed and drained).
  • Finish the dish with lots of  good olive oil and chopped fresh basil. Serve at room temperature with  bread to soak up the juice.

Note: .  I’m lucky enough to do some part-time writing for Capri Flavors, the local Italian food importer. They have high-quality olive oil, capers in salt, and real buffalo mozzarella cheese that’s shipped from Italy  frozen ( so even retired people lik e me can afford it).

I use all three of those favorite items in this dish.  And yes, I would serve this  easy, meat less pasta to guests.  Is there anything better that fresh home-grown tomatoes?  What a delicacy!

Homegrown greens at New Years are not unusual at our house.  But the mild December weather is giving  us a bumper crop this year.

Chard–Kale–Turnip Greens

Here’s a mess (as my grandmother would say) just cut and ready for Monday night’s dinner.    

While grandmother loved to cook her greens a long, LONG time, I approach mine like an Italian–that means with a light hand:

Rinse in a colander and shake off excess water.  (Some water will cling to leaves and that’s ok.  It helps them cook)

Dump greens  into a large, wide  skillet and toss with some good olive oil and salt. 

Now I add my secret ingredient:  Polli Garlic and Spicy Peppers from Capri Flavors, optional–but a great product to have in your frig. 

Top with a lid and cook over medium high until greens are just wilted and barely tender. 

Dress with a little vinegar if desired (I use white balsamic, another Capri Flavors favorite). 

And that’s what’s cooking at my house–How about yours?  Is anything from the garden on your table this January?

As you clean up your beds throughout the season, try to get in the habit of saving seeds.   It’s thrifty, green and great way to share your garden with others.    Saving seeds is also really, really simple. 

Ok–you can buy some gear for the process likes screens and special envelopes if you like gear.  But  saving seeds is a no-brianer– the way humans stopped being hunter-gathers and began cultivation, If I remember my history lessons.  You don’t need anything special to do this. 

My seed saving tools are: 

  • Garden clippers or scissors
  • Paper sacks–I like the ones from Capri Flavors Italian Market because they are a good size and stay open well–and I like to shop there.
  • Envelopes
  • Marker or pencil

The process: 

  • Let some plants in your garden GO TO SEED.  This means a pod will form where a flower was and the pot will fill with seed.  Basically, you do nothing.
  • Still doing nothing–let the pod dry, or brown.
  • When seed is ripe, but before it pops open, cut the plant and turn it over in the sack.  You should hear seed falling into the bag. 
  • Label with the marker and set the bag in a dry place.  I put them on the porch, out of direct sun.  Don’t put them in the garage.  It’s way too hot this time of year.
  • Do nothing some more.  Then after a few weeks or when I have the time, I shake the plants in the bag, tear the bag open and harvest my seeds. 
  • To harvest, pour seeds into an envelope removing as much of the trash (leaves, pods and stems) as you can.  You don’t have to get it all out, but don’t put anything green in your envelope. It could rot and ruin the batch. 
  • Label the envelope and seal.  Store in a cool, dry place.  I use the hall closet. 

Now–Rip up the bag and toss it in the compost pile, along with all the stems and plant left overs.  In time it will all breakdown and add to your soil and nothing goes in the trash. 

Good Candidates for Seed Saving: 

  • Cleome
  • Larkspur
  • Hollyhocks
  • Melampodium
  • Poppies
  • Heirloom tomatoes
  • Formosa lilies
  • Zinnias
  • Marigold
  • Cypress vine
  • Moon Vine
  • Heirloom vegetables and tomatoes

No Brainer Tip number 2:  While you’re cleaning up your garden, take a big jug of cider vinegar out with you.  Hats off to blog reader Gerri who told me to try this for killing weeds without Roundup.  I poured it straight on driveway grass on Sunday.  Look at the Wednesday morning results.  Wow! I’m impressed.   Another super simple solution–like seed saving.  You should try that.

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