Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thanks for the mentions!

I'm glad people are talking about heirlooms, and flattered they are talking about me. Thanks, Jesse and Melanie and Mr True North BBQ!

In the case of the last article in the St Catharines Standard, the picture is what makes me so happy...(and of course what the wonderful Start me up Niagara is doing!) The tiller was my dad's pride and joy, and my sister had it for years after dad died. When my sister's family downsized, the tiller came to me, but I already had 4!  Enough for any woman, I guess.

So I'm happy it is being used and by such great people.

Check out these links! And thanks.  When I'm old(er) and gray(er), your words will keep me smiling.

Jessie and Melanies 1st visit-here

2nd visit here

I really enjoyed the tomato descriptions.  This is a guy who knows and appreciates great tomatoes! BBQ and tomatoes

St Catharines Standard   (note the tiller, note the tiller!!)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Guest post-Steven Biggs comes to Wellandport!

(nota bene -copies of Steve and Donna's book "No Guff Gardening" are available here at the farm. Save the shipping cost!)

Tomato Days was my first visit to Tree and Twig farm…and I didn’t leave empty handed! I came home with lots of cool new tomato plants—some for me, and some for my kids. When I asked Linda to recommend tomato varieties for my young kids, she suggested White Currant, which has small, sweet, white fruit.

I am excited about Solanum purpureum, which Linda tells me becomes a three-foot-high ornamental plant combining purplish leaves, thorns, flowers, and ornamental fruit. I’m hoping it’s showy enough that it will bring forgiveness from my neighbours, who have watched my once-green front lawn turn into a mud pie as I transform it into a garden.

I have always staked and tied my plants—as my dad taught me to do, and as his father taught him to do. But for the past couple of years the plants got ahead of me and became a jungle of cascading foliage. So this year I’ve resolved to try something different, and am making four-foot-high cages, with openings large enough to reach through and pick.

Steven Biggs
Writer/Journalist: farming, food, and gardening
(416) 227-1549
(416) 953-1549 (mobile)

Boy meets girl...and two garden coaches collaborate on a super-opinionated, super-fun book about vegetable gardening.

By Steven Biggs and Donna Balzer.

Published by No Guff Press

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tomatoes, People and Pincushions

 This weekend was all about tomatoes and people for me.
Well, a bit more too.

Life never seems to allow you to have one or even two focuses.
And that, I believe is a good thing.

I had a sense it was going to be a good weekend for my sale because I am a bit of a superstitious person.

When Mollie came running out of the  coop on Saturday morning where my "old girls" (10 year old chickens) reside and cried with enthusiasm "an egg, mom, an egg", I knew for certain "Tomato Days" would go well.  The lovely old gals put their heads together I think and decide who will push out the yearly egg that I charge them for their room and board.  And magically, it was the Saturday of 'Tomato Days".

Thanks girls, for your contribution.

But by then there were actually lots of people here.  Thankfully, we had a gorgeous day and a lot of enthusiasm for heirlooms. All good in my books.

I wish I could have spoken to everyone that came.  I know I did do a lot of talking...I felt a bit hoarse on Saturday night, and then again Sunday.  If people had to wait for help I apologize.  But it does seem to me that tomato-types don't get too bent out of shape about these things.

Let me tell you some stories about the tomato plant sales this year.

I received an email shortly before my sale weekend from a woman who had a dear friend dying of cancer.  Her friend had been an avid gardener all her life, especially loving tomatoes and hoping to taste a fresh one before her time came.  This kind friend sought me out and I hope the Stupice plants she has now can do just that..give her fruit within the next 2 months.   Tell me, is it divine intervention that one of the plants I gave her already had fruit forming?  The love of gardening and growing your own food runs deep.  The therapeutic value is immense.

Again this year I saw Dennis from Burlington.  He's been quite ill this year he tells me, but he still wants his Stokesdale tomatoes.  He phoned me maybe 6 or 7 years ago asking about this variety of tomato.  I was lucky enough to find the seed through the SSE seed exchange and Dennis has been coming ever since.

It seems when he was young, his parents owned a tomato farm and grew 10, 000 Stokesdale plants a year.  The taste takes him back...a good place to be.  I'm actually not sure if many other people pick up the Stokesdale plants.  I continue to grow them and save the seed.  Good tomato.  Maybe you should give it a try.

I have such a mix of people. Younger people just getting into gardening who have a million questions....where does the broccoli form on the plant, how many carrots do you get from one seed, how do you plant beans? Can I grow in containers, can I plant now, and most importantly what is your best advice about growing tomatoes?

There are the people too who have gardened all their lives and are disgusted by the hybrid plants they are finding in the garden centres.  Hundreds of people say "show me a tomato that tastes like a tomato!"  They want red, not the stripes or peachy skins or colours.

I believe I did!  "Abe Lincoln", "Believe It or Not", "Stump of the World"  and many, many more lovely reds are nestling in their new garden homes tonight.

And so many kind people. Firstly all my family and friends who helped.  (You all left your jackets and sweaters behind and they are hanging up in the garage!)  Mary from Simcoe, whom I see every year, a fellow tomato enthusiast , who brought some wonderful ornamental plants for Mollie's garden.  You are too kind.

Linda, from St David's who brought me the most wonderful tomato pincushions, made with her son William's help. fantastic.

I look forward to this weekend too, because I see my Crago relatives from "God's country" as my dad would say.  My cousins Beth and Fred make the trek down from Lucan for their garden goodies. Fred now believes, I think, that tomatoes are good even if they aren't red.  He loves his yellow pear and the ground cherries are a hit.  Thanks for the wonderful baking, Beth. You are both the best!  Maybe this is the year I'll get up to visit you.

We dug up a few garden things too.  Wild violets and bloody dock were admired and the excess is happy in it's new homes.  Gardeners share. This"business" is never all business.

It was great to have "No Guff Gardening" author Steven Biggs here as well as Josie from Cake and Loaf. A good read, a good feed. It all fit so well.

And tomatoes?  YES!! I still have some wonderful plants available.  Come on out and get weekend the prices find a bit more space! Hundreds of varieties remain.

Good to see you all, new friends, old friends, tomato friends.

Blessing and hallelujah !   Tomato plantin' time is here!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

It's all Good

 Life tends to be pretty busy these days. 

Everyone you talk to tells you the same thing.

My friends are working overtime, checking their"devices" for the latest, running their kids here and there, and of course I'm getting ready for "Tomato Days".

We're tagging plants, filling orders and just trying to keep our heads above the water.

It's okay though. I have my little breaks for sanity and look to the really cool things in my life to keep me afloat.

How about this?

The Tomato Poem

Time to talk about tomatoes,
Not peas carrots or potatoes.
Red, pink, yellow or green.
Each tomato makes the scene.
Some tomatoes are so sweet,
Doesn't it make you want to eat?"

How much better does it get than that?  My Mollie is learning about poetry in school and can come up with a poem for every occasion.  That just makes me smile.  Inside too.

And then of course there are the puppies. Now it is three.We have our walk every morning before I start work.  People I don't know wave at me as they head down our road to go off to work for the day.  I must look quite the sight with my multi-lead leash and my three best buds in tow.  Wainfleet is a great place to live.  Everybody people other places do that too?

I love my dogs.  Love. Many times they are sanity. I've received criticisms about my two most recent additions, rescued from a kill shelter in Ohio. I guess American dogs aren't worth saving? One criticism was from a pet food store owner.  He doesn't get my business anymore.  Some things in life are really not other people's business to comment on. I've done what was right for me.

I've been lucky this spring to have been surrounded by great people. That brings me peace. In some ways, it worked out okay for me that the spring weather was poor...I've been unwell in an undiagnose-able sort of way. Lost a lot of weight and energy. My sisters, my friends and especially my Lisa have pulled me through it all.  Everyone needs a Lisa to help them out.

But you can't have mine.  She is a hard worker, has genuine enthusiasm and the best, sunniest outlook ever. Three years ago when Lisa first came to help me, she wasn't a gardener. That year her first veg garden went in, and it has expanded ever since. 

My sister Susanne too, and my friend Emily. I'd be up the creek without everyone coming to my rescue.

And Erin, tag writer extraordinaire.  Since when do people you don't know very well offer their time and effort so freely? I'm blown away by your desire to help me out.  You are the best.  I see friendship , beyond the tags, in our future.

Interesting things on the farm keep you afloat too.  A muskrat in the pond for example, and all I can catch in my live trap is racoons.

We're incubating duck eggs and when I candle the eggs I can see the little heads and bills.
Wow...just wow.

Pickle rules.
And there's a stray cat we've named Percy.  We're feeding him, and he's such a nice boy.  Could be a trip to the vet in the future and a new cat...making number six.  As long as Pickle can accept him.

Of course there are the people starting to trickle in to pick up plants before the craziness of Tomato Days.  A chicken farmer from Hagersville who loves his Red Belly tomato.  Irena and her Beaver Dam pepper (she's 94 and likes the heat!), Tina from Niagara Falls and her unbridled enthusiasm for heirloom tomatoes ...on and on it goes.

I'm so happy to see you all and NEVER say "sorry to bug you!" You sure aren't.
And I'm looking forward to seeing even more of you at "Tomato Days".

And if you want more time to talk, come on Sunday.  There are loads of tomatoes..I won't run out and the pace is a bit slower.

Saner.  One of those times to breathe in the good Wainfleet air and realize it is all so very good.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tomato Tuesday- Succulent and Scrumptious Super Sweet Slicers

I'll start this off by saying sorry about the title.

I was looking in the thesaurus for an alternative word for "delicious" that started with an "s".

Well...I liked them all, and they all certainly describe perfectly, the perfect slicing tomato. So, what the heck.  Betcha can't say it ten times fast!

Lots of people come to the farm asking for the best slicing tomato I grow.  One that will cover a slice of bread and make the world's best sandwich.

It's tough to pinpoint what the best is when there are just so many good ones. If you come to my sale on May 21-22 you may be able to find hundreds of great ones.  But if not, these varieties are perhaps worth your consideration.

I'll talk red first, because there still are legions of people who look for reds, and can't move beyond that.

Well, yes.  I do have Beefsteak, Bush Beefsteak, Watermelon Beefsteak, Lescana Beefsteak, Magnum Beefsteak, Coeur de Boeuf de Nice, and Buckbee's Beefsteak.  They all have that wonderful rich tomato flavor, with a bit of an acid tang. Really what a lot of people are looking for, and I generally sell out of all the beefsteak varieties.

In Niagara too,  there seems to be regional preferences, and I sell more beefsteaks, per capita to fellow Wainfleet township folk, (Fleeters) than I do to other parts of the region. Do tell.

 Other awesome red slicers to consider are, of course, Glamour, Bonnie Best, Break O' Day, Mrs Bott's Italian Giant, Mortgage Lifter, Large Red, Lumpy Red, Stump of the World ,Oxheart, Cosmonaut Volkov, German Red Strawberry, Russian 117 and Debbie.  Abraham Lincoln is a good one, Box Car Willie and of course Delicious, which is a producer of huge tomatoes, and holds the world's record for the largest tomato ever grown. Believe it or Not is a good one too - I mean grow it for the name alone!

And there are more....lots more.

I actually grow more reds than any other colour of tomato.  People like their red tomatoes, and I guess I do too.

Brandywine is also a variety many people look for.  There is a Red Brandywine and Landis Strain, the pink, which is the best known, a few different strains of the pink-Sudduth and  OTV .  But also Yellow Brandywine and the Platfoot strain of that, Purple Brandywine, Black Brandywine and White Brandywine. Why not try the whole family for a tasty colourful slicing session ?

I have found when growing the Brandywine, that "Big Purple" is by far the most productive. And I do like the pink varieties. Superb, of course.

But in terms of comparable flavour and greatly increased productivity, Earl's Faux is unparalleled More bang for your buck.

I understand some people like to stick by their reds.  But you may be surprised to try some of the other colours on your sandwich too.  And find out, yes, they still do taste like tomatoes.

Years ago my mom introduced me to Persimmon, and since then the oranges are some of my favourites.
Sweet and fruity, I find many of them to have a nice juicy but dense flesh.  They are truly memorable.
Last year I renewed my love affair with oranges when I grew Maylor Roths Orange Brandywine. What an incredible tomato.  Large sweet and productive, this tomato has it all. Also just so delicious are Orange Russian 117, KBX, Dawson's Russian Oxheart, Hawaiian Pineapple and Orange Bull's Heart. Orange tomatoes might surprise you-they really are something special.

Bicolours too.  There are so many good big ones.  Big Rainbow, Old German , Striped German, Copia. Big Orange Stripe, Beauty King and Beauty Queen, amongst others.  These super sweet tomatoes add taste to a sandwich, but also their stunning appearance adds pizzazz to any dish.  I find every year I grow more and more of them, because in my opinion they are the most interesting category of tomatoes.  Stripes, zigzags, colour combinations.  They are exciting tomatoes to grow, but most importantly to taste.

Black, greens, whites and yellows come in slicing size too.  Paul Robeson and Carbon are two of my most popular blacks and of course who could ignore a tomato called chocolate?  Aunt Ruby's German Green has your sandwich covered, as well as Cherokee Green and Green Giant.

I know the whites found some new fans last year as people are asking for them now.  Big White, Grande Blanche and White Brandywine have people coming back for more.

Huge Lemon Oxheart was a massive producer of mild flavoured white-yellow tomatoes last year, Chucks Yellow Beefsteak, Manyel and the various strains of Golden Queen are worth your while.

So many to try, and such a short season.  Try a rainbow of slicers this year.  Your sandwiches will thank you!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

TOMATO Days 2011, May 21-22, Updates

 For anybody and everybody who grows and gardens for a living in our neck of the woods, this is a busy time of year. When I call garden centres about their tomato orders, I can hear the rushed breathlessness in the voices. Getting ready...everybody is getting ready. Especially the customers who await the warm weather, the planting days, and just the plain excitement of another growing year.

It is hard to remember everything you have to do.  I write my aptly named "Totally Unrealistic Lists of Things to do Today" on pieces of paper, and then misplace the lists, finding them in with tomato orders, bills and recycling.

My husband says I should put this all on my computer,  but with my luck, I'd lose the computer.

But despite it all, it is with great delight and relief I am able to say that the tomatoes are finally all transplanted. It took 3 weeks of working 7 days each week to get them done, but yes they are happily nestled in their pots.
Should have been earlier, but it could just be that when you come to Tomato Days this year, you'll find even more selection.  In fact I know you will.

There are more tomatoes and more varieties of tomatoes, which I'm pleased about. But at my event, really, there never has been a risk of running out of tomatoes.  Some varieties do sell out, but I always tell people that if what you want is sold out, there are always lots of great substitutes to give a try.

And remember, they are all good!

This year you'll find there is just more of everything.  Last year I sold out of sweet peppers, cucumbers and ground cherries.  There are lots more this year.

There are fabulous hot peppers, including the scorcher Naga Jolokia. Huge selection of eggplants too.

There are melons, zucchinis, summer and winter squash, jelly melons, tomatillos, herbs (most notably basils, including the fabulous African Blue.)

I also have a big selection of brassicas...broccolis, cabbages, kales, cauliflowers, and my friend Tiffany's favourite ( grown just for her), brussels sprouts.

solanum atrourpureum

There are a few pretty cool ornamentals too, like the awesome "Five Minute Plant" (solanum atropurpureum).

And lots, lots more!

When you come, remember I am not a big fancy garden centre.  The plants are laid out in my driveway and categorized by colour and in alphabetical order.  I am working on a list to help folks understand what is what.

People helping are my family and friends and they are the absolute best!  They don't know tomatoes as well as maybe I do, but wow- will they ever try to help you find the treasure you want for your garden.

And this year I won't say I am your one stop shopping centre for everything...but you can pick up some very special baking from Cake and Loaf 
on Saturday, which is a great added treat. They are very special and supportive gals with incredible talent!

I will also have Steven Biggs and Donna Balzers' hot off the press "No Guff Gardening books for sale for $25.  And if you come Saturday, you will be able to meet Steve and perhaps get some practical down to earth gardening advice.

And this year, there are deals!  For each 10 tomato plants purchased, get one free (my selection). 

The sale runs from 8 am-4 pm both Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine.
My municipal address has changed for 2011, but I haven't moved!  The new address is 74038 Reg Rd #45, Wellandport, On.

If you get lost, check in with Sabir at the Esso Station in town, he knows how to find me. Also check out the excitement at the Wellandport Community Centre on Saturday - there is a community garage sale.

Saturday is always the busiest day of my event. You can park at the church across the road that day, if you wish. I have people who can help carry plants out to vehicles. If at all possible, bring flats and boxes to carry out your plants.  I have some, but will run out.

If you want to come and have more time to chat, Sunday is the best day. It is a much slower paced day. There are still tons of tomatoes, but more time to contemplate choices.

And once your plants are safely planted in that gorgeous warm and fertile soil, remember... I am very happy to accept pots and flats back so I can reuse them. 

Welcome one and all.  So looking forward to seeing everyone.

And watch for me...I'm the one with the "I "heart" Tomatoes t-shirt!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tomato Tuesday- Wacky and Wonderful !

Does my hair appear a whole lot grayer this year? Yes, I know, I know.  I haven't been to the hairdresser for a cut for months and it is a frizzy mess. But the gray?  I am convinced that it is the weather this year that is turning it gray. I am a farmer.  I depend on good weather.  This is not good weather.

Who likes this cool, damp rubbish people are forced to call weather? Not me, not my hair and certainly not my thousands of sweet little tomato plants who are yearning for the sun.

There are always things beyond the control of anyone who works for a living.  Computers go down, new competition comes to town and costs go up.  But to have your livelihood depend on the whims of the weather is one of the downsides of farming. Especially these days when it just seems a little wackier than ever.

Which is a disjointed segue into the topic of wacky tomatoes.

Wacky hair, wacky weather and wacky tomatoes.

If you come out to the farm on the May 21-22 weekend, you will find some intriguing varieties.
They are just plain fun to grow because they are so different.  It is an anticipatory growers' high - waiting for the shapes, stripes and plant features to develop.

Michael Pollan

Unripe Reisetomate

There are tomato varieties whose fruits are not exceptionally unusual...but the plants are.
Micro Tom, an open pollinated variety, but not an heirloom, is a super-mini type tomato.  It only grows 6-8" tall, and produces very sweet and small red fruit. It will do just fine in a small pot for the season, and then in the fall just bring it in your house, pop it on your windowsill and expect a little bit of winter fruit. Micro Tom certainly won't satisfy any great cravings for tomatoes, but it really is a fun little novelty plant.

Another very intriguing plant is Stick.  It grows like one...a straight single stem, with rosettes of leaves at 6-8' intervals, and nice little red tomatoes on top. If you don't stake this one, down she goes.

Angora leaf tomatoes are something quite different.  They have a white fuzz on their leaves, and many also have a bit of peach fuzz on the fruit- like Roughwood Golden Tiger.  This very rare tomato is just all around cool. Angora leaf and oval fuzzy fruit, which is red in colour with gold stripes. Add great flavour and you have a winner.

Lutescent is another odd tomato.  In the garden, it looks like an unhealthy plant as its' foliage is yellow-green, not the deep vibrant green which signifies a healthy plant.  The blossoms are an unusual white in colour, and the tomatoes ripen from white-not green- to red.

Variegated is another interesting plant, which has lovely small red tomatoes, and of course variegated foliage.  Very pretty!  Silvery Fir has very pretty lacy foliage and produces a very good and early small red tomato.

Peach tomatoes are amongst my favourite varieties..  I love Red Garden Peach, and would definitely say it is without question  one of my most highly anticipated fruits of the season.  It is just so sweet , juicy and flavourful. Its' downside is its' upside though. It is fragile and needs to be eaten quickly.  I am happy to oblige.

Brad Gates from California has an amazing array of "created" heirlooms...that is varieties that are created by crossing two heirloom varieties and growing them out until they grow "true to type".  Michael Pollan is one of his more recent creations.  How fabulous to have a tomato named after you!  And what a fabulous tomato - prolific, beautiful and very unique.
There are tomatoes named after boars and hogs bearing stripes, fuzz and flavour galore. I've got a lot of them, and it is a very cool collection.

Tom Wagners' creations are equally stunning.  Tom, the legendary breeder of Green Zebra also came up with some other fabulous fruit.  Green Sausage, long green with yellow stripes,
T2, T4 and T5 are unique shaped reds with gold striping, with T4 being one of the truly weirdest ever.  It is a small pink fruit with green stripes and a waxy, nearly rubbery feel. But it is good!  Weird but good!

Stuffers  like Gourmet Yellow Stuffer, Green Bell Pepper (yes,it IS a tomato), Striped Cavern and Pink Zapotec Ribbed can add a nice little"je ne sais quoi" to an otherwise boring meal.

And for more weird appeal in the garden, there is always the very funky and unpredictable Reisetomate.  This lovely red acidy tomato appears like a bunch of cherry tomatoes fused together, and truly every fruit on the plant is different.  It really is fun to watch them develop.

And there are many, many more here on "Tomato Days".

And if you come ignore the hair, pray for the weather (well-maybe for the hair too!) and watch for the wacky tomatoes.  Have a bit of fun in your garden!

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Students' Questions

It is kind of neat to get an email from someone in high school asking about heirloom vegetables.  Here are the questions, and here are my answers!  

Hi Melissa,

It is a very busy time on the farm, so sorry I didn't get right back to you.
What made you choose to do a project on heirloom vegetables, and what subject are you doing it for? I'm just curious.
Here are my answers... and thanks for asking the questions and for your interest in heirlooms
On 2011-05-02, at 3:15 PM, ------- wrote:


I am doing a school project on heirloom vegetables and have to do a case study on a specific heirloom farm. So, I researched heirloom farms and found your farm. I was just wondering if you could answer a few questions that I would like include in my project. 

1. Why do you choose to grow heirloom vegetables rather then normal vegetables?

Heirloom vegetables once were the "normal " vegetables, and I think we have made a mistake getting away from them!  By normal, I think you mean hybrids / chemically grown. I choose to grow heirlooms for many reasons.  First, I believe they taste better, and there is a huge number of varieties to choose from.  Did you know there are more than 10,000 heirloom tomato varieties for example? 
As a farmer too, I can save seed from my vegetables and they grow "true to type"...that is, they are just what their parent plants were-they are  "open pollinated".   Hybrids are plants that are produced by cross pollinating different varieties.  When seed from these plants are saved, they revert back to one of the parent plants, or something completely different. As a grower it is important to me to be able to save my own seed...and I don't have to purchase seed from a seed company every year.
Diversity in our food crops is very important.  Because the Irish people depended on one variety of potato for their main food crop, when disease struck their potatoes, millions died in the Irish Potato Famine. If they had grown many varieties of potatoes, perhaps all the potatoes would not have been susceptible. 
2. Is growing heirloom vegetables a sustainable practice?

It can be, but that depends on the grower. If you are growing without the use of chemicals and using inputs for your crops that are produced on your own farm, like compost and manure, and saving your own seed to replant, then yes.  Without question, not all farmers growing heirlooms grow in this manner.

3. Is growing heirloom vegetables environmentally friendly?

Again, it can be.   But growing hybrids can be as well.  It depends on the growing methods used.

4. How does it impact Canada economiclly, socially, and environmentally?

It probably has minimal effect  in these areas.  Heirlooms and seed saving are a grass roots movement.  It is generally the business of small farmers and business owners, such as myself. Non profit organizations such as Seed Savers Exchange however are having a huge impact on how the worlds' home gardens grow and for creating a growing interest in the cause of diversity and the importance of preserving our vegetable past.  Big agriculture, with it's hybrids, chemicals and machinery certainly dominates and sadly has a huge impact environmentally.

5. What type of vegetables do you grow?

Heirloom tomatoes are my specialty - I grow probably around 700 varieties, but may have lost count !  But I also grow pretty much every other vegetable that you can think of, including some you may not know, like for example- tomatillos, jelly melons , cowpeas, agretti and spigiarello.
I won't tell you what these are...I'll give you a chance to look them up. But guaranteed, you won't find them in the grocery store. 

Hope this helps, and best of luck !

Thank you in advance for any information that you can send me to assist in my studies.

Thank you,Melissa