Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
July, 2007
Regional Report

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The first tomatoes -- yum!

Relishing Tomatoes and Beets

Did you get your 4th of July tomato? We had several, but they weren't from the plant we expected to be first -- 'Early Girl'. They were from my 'Celebrity' and 'Dona' tomatoes. And yummy they were! Of course, they couldn't be other than wonderful, being the first ones -- at least first big ones -- of the season. We'd been enjoying delicious 'Sungold' cherries for more than three weeks, first only a couple a day, but then almost a pint. These were joined by a few 'Stupice' small-to-midsized fruits. With some eight to twelve big tomatoes ripening on each of the other bushes, this will be a very good tomato year for us.

In case you're worried that you don't have many blossoms on your tomatoes, be aware that temperatures over 85 can cause the blossoms to stop setting. They'll return after about two weeks of lower temperatures. So, fear not! But do enjoy those already ripening ones since they may be all you'll have until the new blossoms set and ripen. Keep watering well, and give plants a fertilizer boost for the next set of blossoms and fruit. Tomatoes in loamy clay soil use about 1 inch of water in three days of hot dry weather. Remember to also rinse the undersides of leaves with water to discourage spider mites, which love hot dry weather.

Baby Beets
I'm also relishing -- as in both "enjoying" and "preparing relish" -- my red beets. Because I purposely sowed each variety thickly in their individual 1-foot by 2-foot beds, I'm pulling the globes that are no larger than 1 inch in diameter. The resulting spaces in the beds allow the remaining tiny beets to enlarge gradually, and my once-a-week harvesting keeps them coming at about a dozen each time. Sometimes I also pull a root with its bulb barely starting to form, so I just poke its root back into a finger-deep hole. Then I water the whole bed to resettle the remaining plants.

After years of steaming the beets in a pressure cooker, I've switched to using my microwave. I cut off the root and the entire set of greens, saving the younger interior ones for salads or sauteing, then put them in a shallow bowl with a little water, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave for 10 minutes. Amazingly, both the 2-inch ones and the 1-inch ones get done perfectly. When they've cooled enough to handle, I cut off the end where the greens were, and slip the beet out of its skin. I eat them hot with some butter, or chill them in a ziplock bag for later reheating or salads.

For pickling when they're still hot, I add a cup of water, a cup of cider vinegar, and a tablespoon of caraway seeds to the bowl, recover with new plastic wrap, and microwave for another 10 minutes. Then, I transfer both beets and liquid to the refrigerator for enjoying cold. They last almost until the next harvest!

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