Michigan Gardening To-Do List: October

October Raspberries

Here’s a quick list of what needs to get done in your garden in October:

Herb/Vegetable Garden

  • Plant garlic for harvest next summer.
  • Keep watering and weeding.
  • Harvest regularly to keep plants producing well.
  • Reduce the numbers of overwintering pests and diseases by cleaning up garden debris.
  • Sow more fall crops directly into your garden, including mesclun, spinach, mache, radishes, and carrots.

Annuals

  • Keep deadheading to keep plants looking their best.
  • Water regularly.
  • Remove summer annuals that may be looking ragged and replace with fall flowers, such as mums, asters, ornamental kale, or pansies.

Perennials

  • October is a great time to dig and divide any perennials that look overgrown to you. To protect against a sudden freeze mulch the newly divided plants heavily with fall leaves. Check out our Michigan Frost Dates to find your frost dates.
  • You can usually get good deals on many plants this month, when garden centers and nurseries start running their “fall planting” sales. As above, make sure you protect these new plants with a thick layer of mulch.

Bulbs

  • You can continue planting spring-blooming bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, muscari, and snowdrops.
  • If squirrels or other wildlife dig up your bulbs, place a section of chicken wire or metal hardware cloth over the area. Pin it down and cover it with mulch. This should protect it from those pesky critters.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Trees and shrubs will need an inch of water per week to stay healthy, either from rain or from the hose.

How to Make Pickled Green Tomatoes

I reached a point last week where I just got tired of looking at tomato plants, tired of pruning, harvesting, and battling septoria — just kind of over tomatoes this year. I left my favorite variieties growing, but I ripped out plenty of plants so i could make room for our fall crops.

Since I hate wasting food (and doubly hate wasting food that we put all of this effort into growing!) I harvested as many of the green tomatoes as I could. Several have ripened over the last week, and we’ve been eating them. The rest….I needed to figure out how to deal with.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I love pickles. I just do. And I knew I’d heard of green tomato pickles before, so I looked it up and made a few batches. The good news: they’re delicious, and it is SO EASY.

Here’s how.

What You Need:
(for 3 quarts of green tomato pickles)

8 pounds of green tomatoes
4 cups of white vinegar
4 cups of water
4 tbsp. of kosher salt
dill seeds
whole black peppercorns
garlic
red pepper flakes

Jars — either 3 quart-sized jars or 6 pint-sized jars, as well we lids and rings (or any old jar you can find, if you’re going to make refrigerator pickles)
Hot water canner (if you’re planning on storing your pickles long term)
Jar lifter

Prepping Your Tomatoes

(Note: If you’re planning to process your pickles in a hot water canner, you should fill the canner with water, add your jars, and turn the water on to sterilize and warm your jars. Just leave the jars in the water until you’re ready to use them. Place the lids and rings in another pan with simmering – not boiling- water until you’re ready to use them.)

**One of the sites I found when I searched for green tomato pickles online was Garden Betty — who wrote a great post on the topic. I adapted the spices and quantities to work for me, but she has some great ideas for other spice blends.

Gather and wash 8 pounds of green tomatoes. After tasting the ones I made, I prefer cherry tomatoes because they seemed to stay firmer after processing, but any tomato will work.

Then, cut your tomatoes in half. If they’re larger, cut them into quarters.

Now, it’s time to make your brine. Add the vinegar, water, and salt to a pan, and bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling, it’s time to start filling your jars.

Remove the jars from the boiling water canner with your jar tongs. Set them on a towel on your counter (so they don’t crack when they come into contact with the cool surface) and add the following to each jar:

  • 1 tsp. dill seeds
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 tsp (or more if you want them spicier) of red pepper flakes

Once your spices are in, start packing your tomatoes into the jars. Really, pack them in. Once they’re packed, add brine to fill the spaces between tomatoes. Use a chopstick or knife to go around the inside of the jar and remove any air bubbles, then fill with more brine if you need to. Leave 1/4 inch of headspace, then wipe the rims of your jars to clean up any brine, add your lids and tighten your rings.Pickled Green Tomatoes

Put your jars in your hot water canner, and cover with a lid. Once the water comes up to a boil, start your timer — you’ll be processing your pickles for fifteen minutes.

Once time is up, remove your jars — carefully — and place them on a towel on your counter. They’ll have to sit there for several hours to cool.

Making Refrigerator Pickled Green Tomatoes

You can also forget about the boiling water processing if you just want to make a few jars of pickles to be eaten within the next month or so. Prep your tomatoes, add your spices, tomatoes, and boiling brine to the jars, and place in the refrigerator. They’ll be ready to eat in about a week.

What to Do with Pickled Green Tomatoes

You can snack on them, of course. Or slice/dice them up to top a hamburger or hot dog. I also diced some of mine up and added them to chicken salad that I was making for sandwiches — really good.

Which is Better? Processed or Refrigerator?

I made mine both ways so I could see which version tasted better. At this point, I prefer the refrigerator method because they are crisper than the ones I processed in the boiling water bath. However, if you added something like “Pickle Crisp” to the jars, processed green tomato pickles would probably be much more crisp.

I hope you try these! They’re easy to make, and it’s always great when we can avoid wasting food from our gardens.

More About Preserving the Harvest:

How To Make Quick and Easy Refrigerator Dilly Beans

How to Make Dill Pickles

How to Make Easy Watermelon Rind Refrigerator Pickles

How to Make Chive Blossom Vinegar

Pickled Watermelon Rind

How to Make Easy Watermelon Rind Refrigerator Pickles

 

This was one of those projects I approached with some trepidation. On one hand, the phrase “watermelon rind pickles” is not exactly yum-inducing. On the other hand….I have yet to meet a pickle I didn’t like.

And we can now add watermelon rind pickles to the “pickles I will devour with abandon” list.

We had about half of a decent-sized watermelon, which I cut up and we snacked on. And since hearing about watermelon rind pickles a few years ago, I feel a little guilty not putting those rinds to use. We do compost them, so it’s not like they go to waste, exactly. But if you can get one more edible use out of them, why not, right?

So I Googled, and I compared recipes, and I ultimately ended up making something of my own based on what I found, what sounded good, and what I had on hand (I wanted to make them NOW, without going to the grocery store.) Also, most of the recipes I came across had what seemed like ridiculous amounts of sugar. I wanted just a hint of sweetness, plenty of sour, and a bit of spicy kick. I’m pretty happy with the way they turned out!

Here’s the recipe I used (this made 2 quarts and 1 pint of pickles).

Watermelon Rind Refrigerator Pickles

  • Rinds from 1/2 of a large watermelon, prepared as described below
  • 4 cups vinegar (white, apple cider, or white wine would all be good — I used regular white distilled vinegar this time)
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1/3 cup of kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (you could toss a stick or two into the brine, if you have sticks instead of ground)
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

1. Prepare the rind. If you slice your watermelon into 1-inch slices, that will make prep easy. You want to end up with roughly one-inch chunks for your pickles. Try to leave at least 1/4 inch of the pink watermelon flesh on the rind — this adds nice flavor and really pretty color to your brine. You need to take off the outer green layer of rind. It was really easy to do this by using a regular vegetable peeler to remove the green parts. Do this, and you’re left with slices that look like this:

 

After you’ve got the slices peeled, then just cut them into roughly 1 to 1.5 inch cubes. TIP: The areas of the rind that have turned yellow are much tougher than the green areas. Avoid using this part, or, if you choose to use the yellow part of the rind, forego the vegetable peeler and use a paring knife instead; you’ll have to remove more of the rind to get down to the softer white part.

Set your cubes aside while you make your brine.

 

To make the brine, just add your vinegar, water, sugar and salt to a pan that will be large enough to accommodate the brine plus all of your watermelon rinds. Bring this to a boil, stirring regularly to help dissolve the sugar and salt.

Once the brine has reached a boil, add your watermelon rind and bring the mixture up to a boil again. Let it boil for about a minute, then remove it from the heat. Add your cinnamon and red pepper flakes, and let the mixture sit and cool for an hour or so.

Once the mixture is cool enough to handle safely, add the pickles to jars or other containers, adding enough of your brine to cover the pickles completely. Store them in the refrigerator. You can eat them as soon as they’re cool, if you want (and I did….) but they’re even better if the flavors are allowed to meld a bit overnight.

These pickles will keep for about a month. Please note that these are not pantry storage pickles — they need to be kept in the refrigerator and eaten within a fairly short amount of time.

These were SO good. And you can really mess with the recipe quite a bit. I wanted something fast, and many of the traditional recipes recommend making the brine, soaking the rind in it overnight, and then doing a hot water bath process so you can store them in the pantry. I may try that later on. You can also play quite a bit with the spices:

This is definitely a pickle you can tailor to your own tastes. Have fun with it!

More About Preserving the Harvest:

How To Make Quick and Easy Refrigerator Dilly Beans

How to Make Dill Pickles

How to Make Pickled Green Tomatoes

How to Make Chive Blossom Vinegar