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How to ripen garden tomatoes quicker

Five ways to ripening those garden tomatoes

Ripen your tomatoes with these quick tips. Heirloom tomatoes like this may look deformed but have amazing flavor. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Ripen your tomatoes with these quick tips. Heirloom tomatoes like this may look deformed but have amazing flavor. Photo by Christine Willmsen

With shorter days and colder nights in the Pacific Northwest, it’s time to make sure your tomatoes get ripe so you can enjoy them in salads and in cooking. I planted my heirloom tomatoes from seeds and now I’m seeing all the amazing types of tomatoes grow and start to ripen. This reminds me of my childhood days, when almost every night we’d pull a red, juicy ripe tomato from the garden and serve it sliced with salt and pepper.

Here are five tips to guarantee tomatoes will taste amazing, and sooner than later:

Tear off small suckers, leaf starts, like these off the vine. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Tear off small suckers, leaf starts, like these off the vine. Photo by Christine Willmsen

1. If you already have multiple green tomatoes growing on the vine, cut the top of the plant where new shoots and flowers are starting to form. This focuses the energy on the current fruit.

2. Remove suckers every couple days. These are the small leaves that start growing in between the main branches of the tomato plant. They will literally “suck” the plant’s energy and make it challenging for your fruit to ripen.

3. Go by feel. Don’t base a tomato’s ripeness by the color. There are so many varieties of tomatoes that aren’t your classic deep red. If the tomato is plump feeling and tender then remove it from the vine. Some of my tomatoes are yellow and ripe now.

Even though this tomato is yellow, it's ripe. Base your ripeness on feel and when tender pull it. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Even though these tomatoes are yellow, they’re ripe. Base your ripeness on feel and when tender pull it. Photo by Christine Willmsen

4. With cold, wet nights approaching, you should thin the leaves and branches that aren’t critical to growing the fruit. This ensures that air can circulate between the leaves and fruit and it will help prevent late blight and mold.

5. If a tomato is too heavy for the plant like the one in the top photo, then harvest it and let it ripen on your counter or better yet in a shoe box in a cool, dark room.

Cheers

Christine

Quick tips to make your tomatoes grow

Six tips for a bumper crop of tomatoes

Dig deep hole, put an inch of compost and a sprinkle of fertilizer into the hole and then plant tomato in a warm, sunny spot.

Dig deep hole, put an inch of compost and a sprinkle of fertilizer into the hole and then plant tomato in a warm, sunny spot. Photo by Christine Willmsen

It’s time to get dirty. Yep, I said it – get in the dirt and get dirty.

Memorial Day weekend has passed and that means it’s fair game to plant a number of vegetables, some that will give you vegetables early and others in the middle of the summer. One of my favorites is the tomato.

Since I’m from the Midwest, I’m compelled to plant tomatoes. As a child I remember eating big, beefy tomatoes every day with a pinch of salt and pepper. I also recall my mom canning those juicy, plump tomatoes for winter dishes. So my goal is to relive those memories by planting my own this year. I want you to enjoy them too.

Here are six tips for healthy tomatoes that I’ve picked up over the years and from a recent class at Swanson’s Nursery:

1. If you are limited for space, grow tomatoes in large containers on your deck or patio. If the only person enjoying the tomatoes is you, then I suggest you buy two plants that are different types.

2. Choose starters from your local nursery or store at this point, seeds won’t develop in time. Pick the sunniest and warmest spot in your yard. Tomatoes need 6-8 hours of light per day.

3. Right before planting, pinch off the lowest two levels of leaves. This will encourage a strong stalk to support the heavy tomatoes.

4. Dig a deep hole, put an inch of compost in and sprinkle some fertilizer in the hole before planting it. Cover the root and plant with soil almost up to the first leaf.

5. Plant 18 inches apart and put a cage around each plant. If plants are too close to each other, they can get diseases due to wet foliage.

6. Water consistently, making sure soil doesn’t dry out. Inconsistent watering can lead to blossom-end rot, a brown leathery spot found on the bottom of fruit.

I planted tomato seeds indoors for the first time and had great success. Photo by Christine Willmsen

I planted tomato seeds indoors for the first time and had great success. Photo by Christine Willmsen

My desire for fresh tomatoes started two months ago when I planted two types of tomato seeds indoors – heirloom tomatoes and yellow cherry tomatoes. I used old plastic egg holders to start my seeds and placed them on the sunny kitchen windowsill.

After they got two strong leaves on them, I transplanted them into a small pot for several weeks before I daringly planted them in the ground this past weekend. I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll all have a hot, sunny summer, which means great tomatoes. Look for recipes from me in two months when we all are plucking them from our gardens.

Cheers

Christine

Two Beet Salad Recipes that are Quick and Healthy

Try these two quick and healthy beet salads; each is a perfect serving for one

Roasted beets can taste like candy when added to salads. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Roasted beets can taste like candy when added to salads. Photo by Christine Willmsen

It’s time to go beyond the traditional roasted beets your mom boiled or cooked in the oven and think of beets as a way to beef up your salads.

Go to the store and get two or three beets and start by cleaning them and trimming the green tops off.  Leave about one inch of the stems intact to prevent the beets from bleeding. But don’t throw away those green tops; use them in my chicken soup recipe I posted last week. Beets are superfoods, stocked with high levels of folate and potassium, according to Self Nutritional Data and the USDA.

I often cook several beets on a Sunday night so that I have them ready for these salads throughout the week. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Then rub each beet with a bit of olive oil and wrap them in aluminum foil.  Place them on a cooking sheet so that their juices won’t ooze to the bottom of the oven and make a mess. Cook them for at least one hour or until a knife can easily slide through the beet. Cool them to room temperature and peel them.

Now let’s have fun with two different salads that I promise will make your beets taste like candy from the earth. The first salad combines the sweetness of beets, the crunch of cucumbers and the salt of feta cheese to make this a savory and sweet salad. The second salad is all about combining fresh, simple ingredients. Each of these recipes is a perfect serving for one person for lunch or a side dish at dinner.

Hot in the Kitchen: Beet, Cucumber and Pea Salad with Feta

The sweetness of the beets, the crunch of cucumbers and the salt of feta cheese make this a great salad. Photo by Christine Willmsen

The sweetness of the beets, the crunch of cucumbers and the salt of feta cheese make this a great salad. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Ingredients:

1 cooked beet cut into squares

½ cucumber peeled and sliced

¼ cup peas defrosted

1/8 cup crumbled feta cheese

½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

Olive Oil

Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Salt and pepper to your taste. I used peas from my garden that I froze earlier in the year.

Hot in the Kitchen: Beet, Tomato and Avocado Salad

Beet, tomato and avocado salad only takes minutes to prepare. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Beet, tomato and avocado salad only takes minutes to prepare. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Ingredients:

1 cooked beet, sliced

5 cherry or teardrop yellow tomatoes sliced in half

½ avocado cut into thin slices

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Gently mix ingredients together and sprinkle with sea salt.  If you are craving greens in your salad, add ½ cup torn arugula.

Cheers

Christine

Bold nutty flavor of arugula makes a great healthy salad

Arugula is a fantastic, spicy green to grow in the garden. Arugula has a unique nutty, white pepper flavor that packs a punch.

Arugula fresh from my garden is ready for sandwiches, pasta and my new salad recipe. Grow it or pick it up at a farmer’s market.

In fact, I’ve tossed seeds in the garden and been surprised to see it growing like a weed and then turn into a bush. Just be sure to snip off the buds to prevent bolting, but if it flowers don’t be afraid to eat them too. This healthy green-leafed plant from the Mediterranean is part of the Brassicaceae family and is loaded with tons of vitamins. It’s a cool season crop, also known as rocket, that can grow for months in the Pacific Northwest.

I like arugula in sandwiches, wraps, mixed in with other greens to add zip or thrown in pasta. If you aren’t growing it in your garden, pick up a bunch from the farmer’s market or your local grocery store to make this fast, easy recipe that’s perfect for lunch or dinner. This recipe I created is an explosion of flavors in each bite with the spicy arugula, creamy avocado and crunchy cucumber.

Hot in the Kitchen

Arugula Avocado Salad 

2 packed cups of arugula

Arugula with simple ingredients makes a great spicy salad with a tangy dressing.

½ avocado diced

1/2 of tomato diced

¼ of cucumber diced

wedge of lemon

Dressing: combine the following ingredients thoroughly

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons honey

Dash of salt and pepper

Lightly toss arugula, avocado, tomato and cucumber with dressing and squeeze a wedge of lemon juice on top. To add protein to the salad just add diced firm tofu.

Arugula Avocado Salad is a great lunch or dinner for one person.

Cheers

Christine