Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mystery Keeper tomato

I often think that if people knew about some of the amazing food out there, they would complain a whole lot less.

For example, how many times have you heard people complaining about off-season tomatoes.?

I think the solution to that is simple. Either don't buy the darn things, or grow something yourself that is just better.

And you can do it. You can have homegrown tomatoes in the harsh Ontario (or wherever) winter by planting a longkeeper type. I've tried a bunch of them, and like Mystery Keeper the best. But there's a Burpee longkeeper, Graham's Goodkeeper and more no doubt.

No special trick to it....these are storage tomatoes that ripen super slowly after you pick them. I've had fresh tomatoes for Easter from tomatoes picked the fall before.

Sources for these seeds are Burpees of course, but in Canada Mapple Farms and Salt Spring Seed have them . I'll try to have some too.

Join the seed exchanges and find even more variety.

I generally plant my long keepers a bit later than my other tomatoes so they are ready for picking right before a frost-that's NOW!!

And they look like the picture, just sort of ripe and still hard. Any with blemishes are no good, they will just rot. Bring in perfect fruit, sit them at room temperature, and they'll slowly ripen.

You'll know when they are ripe when they are soft to touch. They will look the same on the outside, still rather orangey. But inside the flesh will be red and juicy with a nice acid tang.

So- so long indian rubber winter tomato balls! This is better!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Garden notes

Yup- it is getting cooler out now. But surprisingly the tomatoes, which I usually find don't taste as good when the nights get cool, still are summer yummy.

Why, when I've been eating them for a solid 14 weeks now, am I still eating as many as I can? One for for me it seems to go.

I know it won't be much longer.

But there are still so many good summer things in the garden. Yes- the tomatoes, but also really good sweet and hot peppers. Still some Naga Jolokias, for folks brave enough to try the worlds hottest pepper.

Tomatillos, ground cherries, cape gooseberries, huckleberries, Bobis Albenga beans, rat tailed radish. This all has to come off before the frost. There are still seeds to collect from these, and about 20 other different types of beans, dry, bush snap, pole, runner and cowpeas.

I think there will be oodles of bean seed. Enough for my planting needs and the seed exchanges, enough to sell some, and enough for lots of great dried beans for our winter meals.

Noticed a few tomatoes today too I need the seed from, most notably Kentucky Plate, a HUGE pink tomato (picked a 3 lb one today), and Canadian Heart.

I have potatoes to dig. I think it is a good crop, particularly of one of my favourites....the French Fingerlings. I planted them in July, avoided the Colorado Potato Beetle, and now have to get them up. But it isn't a bad job, as they are just sitting under a good pile of hay down the rows.
I imagine the mice have enjoyed a few, but there are still lots.

I'll leave the carrots and the beets in for quite a while. I am selling good quantities of both right now, but the carrots improve drastically after a good hard frost. So sweet. I'll dig both up and store them before the ground freezes entirely.

There are lots of cruciferous types in the garden too - kales, leaf broccoli, regular broccoli, cabbages, collards and more. These too are much improved after a frost, so on they stay. These crops, plus the chards, are workhorses. I keep picking them and they keep coming. The plants are so gorgeous and productive now I'm thinking I need to put a low tunnel over them so they'll carry on even longer.

And there is still planting to do.

I like to get my 2011 garlic crop in now. I will still have lots for sale, but I also hold back quite a bit to plant. Music is my main variety, but I also have some Italian Purple, a softneck with huge heads and cloves for planting. Make that next weeks goal.

This weekend the hoophouse tomatoes, some of which have been producing since June, will say their good-byes. Yes, it is time to plant the winter garden in there. Winter lettuces, chards, mustards, chinese greens and, (I have to say it- I love the name), Ching Chang Choy. And more!

Squash is out there too, some of it a bit of a gift. Butternuts, from On the Twenty compost have done well, and I have quite a few intentional acorns.

But for sure this weekend we'll take a break and do what lots of other Fleeters (those from Wainfleet) do. We'll check out the Wainfleet Fall Fair, a very small agricultural offering from Niagara's smallest township. I'll beeline, of course, to the veggies to see how everyone else's season has gone. Should be great displays-wow- it's been, and still is a great year!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Saving seed

I try to save seed from as many plants as I can.
And certainly right now as the cooler weather settles in that is a huge priority.
Some plants I grow are extremely difficult to find the seed for. For example, the little husk fruit pictured here, is not a typical tomatillo, a ground cherry or a cape gooseberry. It is in fact physalis philadelphica or wild tomatillo sourced from France.
I'll likely never be able to find the seed again....and then of course, why would I need to.?
I can easily save my own.
By husking any of the above mentioned fruit, adding them to a blender with sufficient water to cover them, I blend them gently , then dump the blender contents into a bowl. Adding more water, I watch as the good seed sinks to the bottom, then pour off the debris, until all that remains is good seed and water.
Using a strainer, I strain off the water, and am left with good seed.
I usually dry my seed in a protected area, on paper. And package it and pop it in my freezer when I am certain it is dry.

Tomatoes, tomatoes.
There is much discussion and disagreement about how much distance if any, is required between tomato varieties if you are saving seed.
Essentially tomatoes are inbreeding plants with a retracted style, making cross pollination unlikely.
Of course there are exceptions. Potato leaf types, currant tomatoes and beefsteak tomatoes with double blossoms DO cross with other tomatoes.
It happens!
This year I purchased some seed from a "reliable" source, only to find that all the seed was potato leaf....and none of it should have been for the particular tomato I was growing. I won't be saving that seed!
Pick good fruit with the characteristics you want to preserve. Early fruit is usually best for saving...but I still find myself out there picking fruit for seed.
Pick fruit from as many of the same type of plants as you can, and choose fruit that is quite ripe.
I cut my fruit open and empty the seed into a plastic tub or container, guts and all.
Add a bit of water and let it ferment for a few days-2 or 3 depending on the weather. This is a stinky it outside under shelter unless you want your house full of flies.
What you want to see is a fungus develop and cover your seeds. This fungus is valuable in that it helps destroy any seed borne bacteria.
Rinse the seed out under running water in a strainer, and dry in a spot out of the sun. When completely dry, store in a dry cool place, or even the freezer.
I've had saved tomato seed last up to 10 years.
Bean seeds are super easy to save. Let your beans dry on the plants, and when dry enough that they rattle.... collect!
Beets, carrots and cabbage are another story. Mine are still in the garden and will be for some time yet.
When I'm afraid they are going to freeze, I get them up and store them in barrels in the garage, layered with dry straw. The cabbage needs to be yanked up by the roots, and the carrots and beets need their leaves removed.
In the spring, when the ground can be worked, replant them and watch the magic begin.
The cabbage needs help...cut an "X" in it's centre...and from there sprouts up a seed stalk. The carrots and beets do it all on it's own.
Watch for cross pollination with these..if you have a small garden it is best to try only one variety. And remember carrots will cross with Queen Annes Lace, and beets with chard.
I sure don't know it all... and often find myself referring to "Seed to Seed" by Suzanne Ashworth. It is all in there!
Any questions? I'm glad to try to answer them!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Perks of the job!

There are certainly perks to being a grower.

There is the obvious.

We eat quite well of course. I get to be outside all day. I can dress very comfortably and I get lots of exercise.

I suppose some people would want to consider the downside, but we'll forget about that for now.

And of course because it been a GOOD year. Yes, capitals for good.

And despite all the hard work and sweat and exhaustion- it has had some fun moments and moments that I'll remember for a long time.

I was delighted to receive an invitation to join Frank Dodd, the executive chef at Hillebrand Winery Estates in hosting a Harvest dinner on September 11. Really every growers dream.

Can you imagine going through your garden, harvesting some wonderful items and then having a chef of Frank's calibre creating dishes from your produce? Wonderful!

I picked a bushel of interesting veggies and fruits last week, and delivered them to Hillebrand a few days in advance , giving Frank a chance to get creative. And he sure did.

There were 8 other folks sitting around the table from literally all over the world. A couple had just flown in from London, England, another from Vancouver, a few folks from Toronto and Ottawa. So interesting to hear their reaction.

A lovely beet salad, tomato gazpacho and tomatoes, bean and rat tailed radish medley, couscous with veg, and pictured above a wonderful cake with tomatillo topping and a candied Cape Gooseberry. Wow.

I also saw the huckleberries, the black radishes, peppers and greens incorporated into the dishes. And the final touch-the Szechuan Buttons with their mouth numbing

That one threw people off a bit, but all in fun.

Other great events this summer involved other clever (and talented) folk.

Pictured below are the ever bubbly and effervescent Adam and Tam from El Gastronomo Vagabundo at their launch at Flat Rock Cellars. Their gourmet taco truck is making quite a splash-as it should.
It's all in good fun and good taste. Nothing pretentious or stuffy or greasy or processed. Just wonderfully creative fresh and tasty food. Get there by Thanksgiving, weekends only, and check it out!

And then of course another event to remember.
"Outstanding in the Field"-a long harvest table set in a farmers field, while a local (amazing) chef creates a meal around local produce. The brainchild of a California organization, this event is played out in various farmers fields across the continent, although primarily the US.

I was lucky enough to be invited by the incomparable Stephen Treadwell to enjoy the meal, but also talk to guests about my contributions-the heirlooms tomatoes and rat tailed radishes.

Lots of wonderful 13th Street wine, so I blathered on about my tomatoes, as of course I like to do.
Thank you Doug and Karen Whitty for playing host to this fabulous event!

It's been an honour to be involved in these events.

I may be a farmer, but I have dined like a queen this summer!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Brine-Cured Dill Crock

I've got a few things on my mind right now.

And one is most definitely doing some fun things with some of my produce to get it ready for future eating.

In a rare moment out of the garden today, I happened upon a rambling-type recipe by Euell Gibbons, of "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" fame.

It described his way of putting together a wonderful melange of whatever veggies he had available. And of course being Euell Gibbons, he snuck in a few treats he had foraged.

I have done some of these exceptionally easy and delicious pickled items before and it is definitely worth sharing. The best part is making your mix uniquely you-add whatever you like and see how it turns out.

Brine-Cured Dill Crock

4 handfuls fresh dill
1 gallon glass jar or crock (or larger)
3 peeled cloves garlic
3 hot chili peppers, sliced with seeds removed
1 lb Jerusalem Artichoke (sliced into 1/2 " rounds)
6 scallions or onions, sliced
1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
1 lb beans, left whole
3 carrots sliced
3 stalks celery sliced
10 small pickling onions
1/3 cup salt and
8 cups white vinegar

With dill on the top and bottom layers, layer all other veggies into your crock.
Combine salt with 2 cups of the vinegar and mix to dissolve. Pour over vegetables in crock, then add remaining 6 cups of vinegar, ensuring all vegetables are covered.
I use a heavy plate to cover my veggies, pushing them down under the liquid.
Stand this concoction on your counter for 4-6 days, then refrigerate. Drain off liquid after a week or so, and the veggies will stay good for 2-3 months.
Alternately, it can be canned in it's own brine, using a hot water bath.

Enjoy and get creative with it!
(from Rodale's book" Stocking Up " by Carol Hupping)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The rest of the story...The Power of Seed

There is more that needs to be told about the connection I made because of this cute little heirloom marigold, Pinwheel or Jolly Jester as it is alternately called.

There is much more.

As I wrote in a previous blog entry, I was contacted by the aunt of a young man who was dying. She wanted to find some marigold seed to hand out to people who would be attending his memorial service. Marigolds were his favourite flower.

As it turned out, I could help. I did have the seed, courtesy of an early season, cleaned it up, packeted it and mailed it off to her with my very best wishes.

There was some very important information that I didn't tell, that I know his family would very desperately want to be shared. And I know he would too.

Here goes.

I received word today from his aunt that David passed away peacefully and in the arms of his family yesterday, September 3rd. Rest his soul.

I didn't know him. Only because of the request for seed did I become aware of him and an issue that he and his family publicized nation wide - the dire need for bone marrow donors.

David was born with Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome, diagnosed at 6 months of age. This is an autosomal recessive disorder, which can lead to fatal complications, such as leukemia as it did in David's case.

But the onset of this disease was rapid. David had been a student at Trent University, apparently a voracious learner. And happy.

This summer he learned after experiencing some aches and pains, that he had advanced leukemia. And his family began getting the word out they needed help, as did many, many others.

In Canada, at present, there are about 800 people waiting for a life saving match.

In David's case, finding the right donor could have been life saving. Clinics were held in his hometown of Oakville, with the hope that a match would be found. But apparently finding a match is like "finding a needle in a haystack" I have read.

It seems to me then, that the more people who attend a clinic to have their bone marrow tested, the wider the pool of possible matches. And according to David's aunt, it is a simple swab on the inside of the mouth. I understand that the data is registered in a system that lists potential donors world-wide.

There is a clinic being held on Tuesday, September 7 at the Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial Hospital for OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network. Or ask your doctor more about this process and how you can be involved.

Please give some consideration to this way that you can make a difference and possibly help others.

We are really all in this together.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Heirloom Tomato Honour Roll 2010

It has been a good tomato year.


I'm hearing back from people who got seed and transplants from me, and am glad to hear about their favourites in the garden.

Mentioned frequently are Pineapple and Hawaiian Pineapple, Stupice and Black Krim.

People often ask me what my favourite tomato is , and of course my answer has to be "all of them". I mean really. Why else would I grow so many kinds?

But now we are still in tomato season and the tastes are so fresh in my mind, I'll admit to some real standouts this year.

As always, Stupice. This incredible smaller red tomato has been producing in my unheated hoophouse since June. Rich and sweet flavoured , I find it very worthwhile to grow. Always.

The orange oxhearts were amazing-variety names to look for are Golden Oxheart and Dawson's Russian Oxheart. Sweet and mild flavoured, with very dense flesh and small seed cavity. I could eat these forever.

Elfin, a small red grape type had a thicker skin, but, wow! Sweet , just like popping candy in your mouth and equally addictive.

Cherokee Green was a standout amongst the green tomatoes. I always admit a weakness for greens, with their distinct spicy flavour. Cherokee Green is really good eating.

I thank "tomato king" Bill Minkey from Wisconsin for the great seed for a new favourite of mine. I just LOVED Cinnamon Pear. A dark brown inch long pear tomato with a sweet flavour-wonderful.
Imagine it in a salad with the other pears - yellow, red and ivory. Absolutely stunning!

And I'll finish up with another long time favourite. Red Garden Peach or Peche Rouge, always rocks. This is a super fragile tomato and one you will never find in the grocery store. But sweet beyond belief and juicy delicious with a velvety skin. This one will always have a place in my garden.

I could go on, but...I'd better leave it there. Because really, I could go on AND on.

It was a good tomato year!