By keeping a close ear to the weather radio several times a day, we had three days advance warning of a widespread frost advisory for our area. So, yep, we got really busy picking everything we could before the frost came. This time of the year, we are expecting a freeze and know it’s not just a scare tactic. Bean, corn, squash, pumpkin, melons, peppers, and, of course, tomatoes were all madly picked. We worked hard from morning until after dark. Then on the day before the frost was due, David brought over a truck load of tarps from his cabin and we spent a couple of hours covering everything left, while Will closed all the openings on the two hoop houses. The evening was clear and we could just feel the frost coming. We covered the immature beans, the cucumber patches, and even two big patches of “leftover” tomatoes in the Sand garden. By the time we finished it was getting colder.

David helping pick and haul in tomatoes ahead of the freeze.

On the front porch we had crates of both ripe and green tomatoes and buckets of peppers and sweet corn. Usually, the front porch stays about 10 degrees warmer than outside. David carried in my big pots of succulents and frost sensitive flowers. Then we waited through the night.

Yep, the frost came alright; it was 25° F. Not only did we get frost but a hard freeze. The forecast temperature was supposed to be in the “low thirties.” The hoop houses suffered freezing, even though they were closed up tight, but most of the peppers were still okay. The gardens were toast. Even the stuff that was covered by tarps was frozen pretty bad. How bad? We’ll see … We’re still harvesting beans, squash, and pumpkins.

So, yes, I’m canning like mad! In between pulling in more crops, I’m seeding tomatoes and peppers and canning up as much as I can. Yesterday I put up 12 half-pints of Vaquero relish from the peppers in the hoop houses that had frost spots (which I cut away) as well as 10 quarts of spaghetti sauce. Then I pulled in three lawn-trailer loads of pumpkins and squash from the North garden. We’d already harvested our largest Hopi Pale Grey squash, which are in the house. One new star of our garden was Theron’s Winter Harvest squash. This huge light gray squash with a giant “belly button” on the blossom end simply knocked off our socks. The one Will picked weighs 40 pounds! And there are lots more too. Now, if it just tastes great as well…

Check out this Theron’s Winter Harvest squash! It weighs 40 pounds.

It seems that everything was big this year. Our Bill Bean tomatoes were fantastic with over 40 better-than-a-pound tomatoes per plant. Most weighed 2 pounds plus! Last night we had BLTs with huge, thick slices. It doesn’t get better than that!

Our Bill Bean tomatoes were rock stars again this year.

Today I’m seeding more tomatoes and will be making enchilada sauce with the meat. I’m also harvesting more pumpkins and squash. Will’s out right now, pulling more of the Seneca Round Nose corn as the darned blackbirds are hard at it, trying to beat us to it. Long ago, I ate some blackbirds and I’m wondering how a pan full would taste about now … Naw, I’m not going to shoot them, but am sorely tempted! — Jackie


  1. No frost here in Southern Wisconsin but RAIN, RAIN, RAIN. Weather cooler and I harvested all the green and ripening tomatoes now on racks in our shed. The garden clean up has begun. Can you use the seeds from green tomatoes for growing plants? We haven’t been able to cut hay due to rain and hay will be very expensive. The Hopi Pale squash loved this weather and vined all over and produced very well. I have a odd brown ? fungus on our butternut squash and I’m not sure what that is and if the butternuts are ok to eat. It’s been an odd weather year. I can’t imagine the snowfall if the precipitation stays like this. Stay warm.

    • There is a point where the green tomatoes, when approaching maturity, will produce viable seed. You can definitely harvest viable seed if you let the green tomatoes ripen on the shelf our indoors. We’ve been having terrible rain too. So much so Will can hardly get across our pasture to spread manure beyond the North garden! And we got another inch last night, plus SNOW! Try wiping the butternuts with a solution of bleach water. This usually kills a fungus and allows the skin to dry out normally. They should be okay to eat unless the fungus has penetrated the skin already.

  2. We’ve had so much rain this year in Wisconsin that even tomatoes that rarely crack are doing so.

    Haven’t been able to find a recipe for vaquero relish and I dont see it in your cookbook. Is it possible to share one please?

    • Yep, we’ve had all that rain too and yes, we are experiencing cracking in many tomatoes because of it. The Vaquero relish is fairly new as I just discovered it last year. Here’s what I do:
      I first make a batch of Cowboy Candy, which is sweet pickled jalapeno slices. But if you don’t want to do that, here’s an alternative recipe that works:

      Vaquero Relish

      about 2 gallons of mixed colored sweet peppers
      1 lb jalapeno peppers
      6 Sugar Rush Peach hot peppers (optional but makes the TRUE Vaquero relish distinctive)
      2 C vinegar
      6 C sugar
      1 tsp turmeric
      1 tsp mustard seed
      1/2 tsp celery seed

      Slice up the jalapenos. Mix the vinegar, sugar and spices and bring to a boil. Boil hard for 5 minutes. Add jalapenos, which have been cut into slices about 1/4″ thick, removing the stem end. Bring to a boil and boil hard for 4 minutes. With a slotted spoon remove the peppers and pack hot into hot half pint jars. Bring the syrup back to a boil and boil hard for 5 minutes to thicken. Ladle over peppers, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Remove any bubbles and wipe rim of jar clean. Place a hot, previously simmered lid on the jar and screw the ring down firmly tight. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes.

      Now, you are ready to make Vaquero relish! Strain the remaining syrup through a sieve to remove the jalapeno seeds if you want less spicy relish. In a food processor, add all the colored sweet peppers, which have had the seeds and stems removed as well as the Sugar Rush Peach peppers with no seeds and grind fairly fine. Press out any liquid through a sieve. Add the relish to the syrup and bring to a boil. With a slotted spoon, ladle the hot relish out and pack into half pint jars, leaving 1/2″ of headspace. Then ladle syrup over the relish, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.
      If you don’t use the jalapenos or Sugar Rush Peach peppers your relish will still be good but not nearly as tasty if you do use them!

  3. Wish I could grow the big tomatoes here. Sadly, most do not set fruit when temps are over 90 degrees. We are still over 90 here for our high (N. Central Texas…… where we have been above average). Most of the bigger tomatoes do not set fruit well over 90 degrees. Sigh. Busy planting winter garden (mainly greens and other cooler loving plants). Fall tomatoes are blooming (I have at least 6 more weeks until a frost!). Want to get a green house up for winter tomatoes….. Maybe could do the big tomatoes here in the winter!

    • I know folks in Texas who do just that and are able to harvest big tomatoes in the winter. Just choose a variety that is quite early, despite the size.

  4. We had 22 a couple nights ago here in the Copper Basin, Alaska, now it’s raining hard to make up for almost none in July and August. I pulled all my tomatoes into flat boxes in the house just before. They are in the green house but there is a point where it is not worth spending more on fuel. Glacier was out star this year. I’m finishing off making a 25 pound batch of saurkraut today. Potatoes are all in the celar, just have to dig carrots and leeks yet. Be careful you don’t hurt your self with all you have to do but I wouldn’t want anything to go to waste either. Too bad you can’t call in the Biblical “gleaners” to help.

    • Luckily, I have friends who needed extra tomatoes; one of them had her garden pounded by hail. I’d sure love to have some gleaners come most years as we sure don’t want to waste a thing! I’m the one who makes watermelon rind pickles for heaven’s sake. (Yes! They’re good.)

  5. She has an awesome stake system. One of the prior blog posts has a picture of the stakes (sorry, can’t remember which post).

    • Our Bill Bean had so many tomatoes that it pulled over the steaks and fence. What a fine variety of tomato along with Ernie’s nose!!
      I had one very funky 3 lb Bill Bean. Like Jackie most were over a pound and some over two. I was so surprised by the yield bc it rained and rained and we were late getting plants out. Then came the heat and drought! So I thought the yield would be way down….could not have been more wrong!
      Thank You Jackie! Have learned so much from you.

      • I’m so glad your Bill Beans did so well! They are our very favorite tomato; so different than many “beefsteaks”. I had over 40 tomatoes on one vine over a pound and many much “over” that pound!

  6. Jackie- how do you stake your Bill Bean tomatoes? It must take some pretty fortified stakes at that size and amounts per plant!

    • All of our tomatoes are staked with 6′ steel fence posts with a concrete re-enforcing wire cage around the plant. We’ve never had a plant tip over since then. What a blessing that was! Our old wood posts often broke off at the ground after a wind and we’d end up walking through tomato vines. Ugh!

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