Here in Denver the weather is insane. It’s pretty common to have it be snowing one day & sunny in the 70’s the next but honestly, that’s one of the reasons I love it here so much! That & the fact that it’s sunny 99% of the time. Colorado actually has one of the highest rates of sunny days in the entire country! Since it’s so nice & sunny here I decided I wanted to make sun-dried tomatoes this summer. I’ve had an amazing crop of tomatoes this year in my new garden! I am so happy with how my new garden did. There are a few things I feel like I did right & I’ll share those tips for anyone interested in growing awesome tomatoes.
- Use a whiskey barrel: Thanks to my dad, I was able to have a fantastically huge crop of tomatoes because I grew them in a make-shift whiskey barrel. Growing veggies in containers like this is definitely the way to go. The larger size allows plenty of room for the roots as well as giving you a place to create the perfect soil mixture without having to worry about the quality of the soil. Plus it keeps the moisture trapped within the walls of the barrel, reducing the need to water every day.You can see what the homemade whiskey barrel setup with the tomatoes growing in the picture below.
- Feed your plants: I used a tomato food from Burpee.com called Tomato-Tone. It’s organic & all-natural so you don’t have to worry about chemicals getting into your food. I had four groups of plants, each group had 2-3 plants in it. I feed each group 3 tablespoons of Tomato-Tone every other weekend. From the very first feeding, the results were almost immediate! The plants started producing extra flowers within a few days of the feeding.
- Prune like crazy: This tip is from my mom. If you haven’t read any of my older posts then you wouldn’t know that my parents are the most awesomest gardeners ever. Ok, maybe that’s a stretch, but they did with the Rocky Mountain News Home & Garden Denver Home Garden Contest & were pictured on the front page of the Lifestyle section sitting in between their happy little plants! I think what I’m trying to say is that my parents know what’s up when it comes to growing stuff. In regards to the tomato plants, my mom put it like this: tomatoes are really a vine-like plant. You basically want to nip off all the leaves & suckers near the bottom of the plant so the plant puts all its energy into producing plants. My mom drew me a little picture, which I don’t have anymore, but it showed that you leave the top 5 flower buds plus their suckers & pinch off everything below it. I didn’t really follow the 5 rule, I kind of just pinched off everything below a certain point & that seemed to work just fine. As they grew, I chose which suckers I wanted to let get bigger, depending on where there were located on the plant, how many suckers it already had, how big & healthy it looks. You start to get a feel for what needs to come off & what needs to stay after a few weeks. But I got such a fantastic crop this summer I’m definitely going to prune like that next summer. You can see in the picture below how it looks like there’s hardly any leaves, just tomatoes!
With the recent REALLY cold snap that lasted for one week in the beginning of October, the tomato season came to a sudden end. I went outside & harvested EVERYTHING I could off the tomato plants. My neighbors didn’t really harvest any of their tomatoes this summer so I picked all their plants too. I am going to make a spicy pepper mix with the green tomatoes (post will follow) but the red ones I didn’t really know what to do with. I REALLY wanted to can some tomatoes this summer but all I got around to were pickling some cherry tomatoes with garlic & purple basil. Most of the tomatoes I grew were cherry, thanks to the mystery plants donated by my mom this spring. Don’t get me wrong, I am SUPER happy I didn’t have to buy plants but I think next year I’ll add some different varieties. But on the bright side, all the extra cherry tomatoes ended up being perfect for sun-dried tomatoes. Now the last week of October isn’t the sunniest week around here, I probably would have been better off doing it in the 100 plus degree weather we had for three solid months this summer but better late than never!
I started off by speeding up the drying process in the over. I drizzled extra virgin olive oil on a big roasting pan. I spread the cherry tomatoes evenly over the pan.
I stuck them in the oven for about a half hour at 275 degrees. I also propped the oven door open because cooking tomatoes doesn’t mean they are getting dry. That’s another trick I learned from my mom since that what she does when she makes beef jerky. It allows the moist air in the over to escape & reduces the humidity inside. After they looked like they were starting to get a little bit shriveled, I took them out of the oven.
I set them outside on my balcony on the rail where I thought they’d get the most sun during the day. I left them outside for 3 days. At that point they weren’t completely done but it was going to snow & that would have ruined them.
I brought them back inside & left them out on the table in the pan to finish. Every day I picked out the tomatoes that looked done so there wouldn’t be extra humidity in the pan (kind of like how the less clothes you have in the dryer the faster it gets done). Remember, you don’t want them bone dry, think raisins. They should be slightly soft & the test I used to determine if they were ready was if they felt solid between my fingers. If there was any mushiness then they still had some liquid left inside & needed more drying time.
As they got done, I stuck them in a mason jar with a lid one it, not sealed or anything, just air tight so they wouldn’t become dry & crumble to dust. After an extra 3 days the last of them were done. I ate one & they were really good! I can’t wait to cook with them!!!