Friday, July 20, 2012

Is Canning Tomatoes Worth it?

I considered titling this photo "Pineapple King Surrounded by his Adoring Tomato Subjects" but then went with the more conventional name "Before". 


I am having a bad garden year. First, out of the 30 or so tomato plants I planted, about half died (drought + short hose = death). Second, I grew my own plants from seeds. This spring, I must have picked up a package of "cherry tomato" plants instead of regular tomato plants. The only regular sized tomatoes I have grown this year came from volunteer plants that sprang up from a corner of the garden where I threw rotten tomatoes last summer. Third, squash bugs.

One day I wondered out to the garden to find my zucchini and yellow squash covered in hundreds of  ugly, squat brown bugs and the plants half dead. I ran inside to "google" the intruder. Verdict: Your whole garden is probably going to die.

Throughout the drought, I have refused to allow my garden to die, preferring to water it enough to just make it suffer. "Enough already," the plants seem to scream. "We're ready to go."

I called my Dad (from here out referred to as the "The Farmer") for advice. I explained the situation.

"Well, one year I got squash bugs in the garden," The Farmer reminisced. "It was looking bad. I pretty much figured the entire garden was a goner. Now let me tell you, it was a stressful time.  It looked like we might be forced to eat unripe, flavorless grocery store tomatoes all year."

Listening to the Farmer over the telephone, I couldn't wait for the answer. "Quick, what did you do," I asked breathlessly.

"Wouldn't you know it," the Farmer drawled. "A covey of quails descended on the garden and they gobbled up every single one of those bugs! I guess quail just love squash bugs! Yup, that's what I 'd do...get quail."

I felt a little defeated. Unlike The Farmer's Missouri farmstead, my suburban backyard is not known for it's quail coveys.

"And what about the drought? Any suggestions on how to save my garden?" I asked, perhaps a little sarcastically.

"Oh, are you dry down there? The farm just got three inches," he crowed.

"What did you do to deserve rain?" I asked.

"It's like I was telling the boys down at the coffee shop.  I was just walking out of church and it started to rain," he said mockingly.

"Which did the boys have a harder time believing?  That you got rain or that you went to church?" I responded.

One benefit of a home garden, is you know what has been put on the plants. Unfortunately, pest sprays kill not only the  "bad" bugs but also the "good" bugs, like bees. I read online you could just pick off the bugs and pull their eggs off the leaves with duct tape.

So, I took a jar of water out to the garden in which to drown the picked off bugs and a roll of duct tape to start removing bug eggs.  After about an hour of bug and bug egg picking in 100 degree heat, I got in my car and drove up to Ace Hardware for some pesticide. 

I did can 12 pints of tomatoes this week. Last Saturday, I canned 12 pints of Salsa. In the midst of canning tomatoes, I realized I did not have any lids or lemon juice, both vital to canning tomatoes. I jumped in the car to run to Dillon's. As I was backing out of the driveway, I asked myself, "Did you remember to turn off the stove?"

I answered myself, "Don't be ridiculous! Of course, I remembered to turn off the stove!"

"You actually recall turning the little white knob and seeing the flame go out?  I respond to myself.

"Well, no, I don't remember but I am sure I did!" I think.

I am what is known as an "extreme worrier".

I convinced myself I did not need to pull back in the driveway and go check the stove. I felt uncomfortable but knew I was being irrational.

When I return, water is pouring down the driveway. "What happened?" I ask myself, as I drive through a river, before jumping out of the vehicle in a panic.

When I left for the store, I apparently left the garden hose running. But you will be happy to know, the stove was OFF.

The requirements for canning tomatoes has changed. When I was a kid, neither of my Grandma's  processed the tomatoes in  a canner.  They used the "hot pack method" which is no longer recommended. While I did process my tomatoes in a canner, the worrier in me kept saying, "Are you sure you processed the tomatoes for long enough?

Botulism is rare but nobody wants to be known for say, killing off their entire family with tomatoes. With botulism, there is no food discoloration or mold.  It's hard to detect. I kept fretting and muttering. Finally my husband asked impatiently, "Isn't there a test for Botulism?"

"Yes, I responded. "It's called, 'You Eat First'."

Store bought canned tomatoes are relatively cheap. I am not simplifying my life by canning tomatoes and I doubt it even saves any money.  I get great satisfaction from growing and canning tomatoes but is it worth it?

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