The western states enjoy a garden harvest almost all year round. Warm weather crops like tomatoes, eggplants, corn, cucumbers, chiles, beans, melons and many others are ready to pick by mid-summer, but you can keep your garden going. Your mild winters will also allow you to grow a variety of cool season crops and citrus fruits.
Many cooks can their surplus tomatoes, or pop them into the freezer for later use in soups, sauces, salsas, and stews. This year, try saving some of your bounty in a food dehydrator.
Choose small, meaty tomatoes, such as Roma types, for drying. First, wash and slice them thinly. Place them in the dehydrator and set the temperature as directed by the manufacturer. When the pieces are dry, store them in freezer bags or clean glass jars.
Our California Muddy Boots associate, Gail, has more tips for preserving your summer harvest:
- “If you have lots of citrus, put the fruits in a juicer. Then freeze the juice. You can use it later for drinking or making jelly.”
- “Save some juice for cooking, and measure it out in small amounts to store in the freezer.” That makes it easier when you whip up a recipe. Gail keeps 1 or 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in small bags so it’s handy when she cans apricot and peach jam or makes orange juice jelly.
- “One of the easiest vegetables to harvest and save in a cool place is winter squash.”
- “Slice and freeze zucchinis for a nice vegetarian spaghetti sauce.”
- Freeze your harvested herbs in ice cube trays, then pop them out and store them in small, labeled bags for use in cooking. Gail says she grows some herbs to cook and leaves others in the garden to attract beneficial bugs.
- For cooking, Gail saves basil, oregano, garlic, and bay leaves. “Be sure to use the cooking bay leaf, known as Sweet bay, bay laurel, or sweet laurel. (The correct Latin name is ‘Laurus nobilis.’) Keep your bay leaf in a large pot, or it can grow into a tree! Bay leaves also may help to keep bugs out of your flour products in the pantry,” she says.
- “There are so many different basils. I am trying the Boxwood and Thai basil this year to see what the flavor difference is in cooking.”
- “Dill is great for making flavored vinegar for dressing, I reuse old, clean wine bottles and corks. I use a whole stem in the vinegar, and let sit for 1 to 2 weeks, keeping it out of the sun. I also keep some dill in the garden and let it go to seed, along with a carrot or two and some chamomile, to lure extra ladybugs into the yard. Ladybugs help keep aphids and whiteflies at bay.”
Summer Weather in the West:
In 2012, much of the U.S. suffered from drought. Climatologists from the National Drought Mitigation Center predict that the Southwestern states will continue to have subnormal amounts of rainfall in 2013. Drier than usual conditions are also expected in parts of the Pacific Northwest, including Oregon and Idaho.
Use these tips to help save water in your vegetable garden:
- Water wisely. Vegetables need about an inch a week, in the absence of sufficient rainfall. Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation, and set timers, to help avoid losing water to evaporation in the heated air. It’s better to water thoroughly, which encourages deep root growth, than to water lightly.
- Mulch. Replace mulch as needed to help keep moisture in the soil and control water-hogging weeds.
- Slow down or stop fertilizing.
- Plant in blocks, rather than rows, so plants can help shade the roots of neighboring plants.
- Plant wisely. Beans, broccoli, and cauliflower need lots of water. The next time you plant, try plants with more drought tolerance, such as okra, peppers, and Swiss chard, or herbs like sage, oregano, thyme, and rosemary. Look for varieties of other plants, such as ‘Hopi Pink’ corn or ‘Iroquios’ cantaloupe, that can handle dry conditions.
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Image: Shutterstock/Ersler Dmitry