Sunday, July 31, 2011

Heirloom Tomato Bash 2011-Sun,September 4

2010 heirloom tasting table.  ( Picture,T Mayer)
The date is finally set!

When I initially set the date for my " Heirloom Tomato Bash" this year, I had chosen August 21.  If you have one of my calendars, you can now just go ahead and scratch that date.  Put a big  "X" right through it.

The season messed me up a little bit, the spring being wet, and my clay being, well...clay. So the tomatoes went in a bit later.

 And other commitments have come into play.  I'm excited to be doing an event at THE GOOD EARTH on August 28th, and details about this major cool event will follow soon.

So..the date is a little bit later than I originally planned.

I sure hope people can make it. My celebration of heirloom tomatoes, and all things heirloom, will be Sunday September 4, from 1-4 pm in the afternoon. 

By then I am hoping to have the garden weeded, and know for sure there will be lots of great tomatoes to try.  Lots.

We'll have a garden tour, with the necessary sampling along the way, a tasting table set up so people can get a sense of the some of the incredible heirloom tomatoes available (tip of the iceberg, my friends) and some fabulous tomato treats to sample. Last year we had "tomato shooters", created by the incomparable Chef Mark Picone, tomato ice cream, tomato cake, tomato muffins and salsa of course. And perfectly paired wine.

This year I am delighted that Mark will join us again, and I have a few other special guests lined up, as well as a few select vendors.  My tomatoes and other produce will be available for purchase, as well as my remaining 2010 seed stock (cheap!), "No Guff Gardening" books and more.  All will be announced soon.

Cost is a minimum $10.00 donation to help me cover my costs. This  includes food, wine, fun, music and new tomato friends.   Any money that is raised in excess will be donated to Seed Savers Exchange, as it was last year.

You again will need to let me know if you plan on attending, and I can only accommodate a smaller crowd.
Please phone, (905)-386-7388, or email to let me know you intentions. 

I can't tell you how much I look forward to seeing people come out. As last year...we go rain or shine!

2010-yes, it rained!

Late beet planting challenge-two weeks in!

So. How do your beets grow?

If you haven't read about what we're doing read HERE

Interesting things are happening with the beets at Tree and Twig.

 Seed was not pre-soaked

Pre-soaked seed
Compare these beets!

The germination on the seeds I did not soak overnight was spotty. I think this is the case because we were in the middle of a dry spell and heat wave.  I planted them in a light soil, and...had problems with germination.  I'm not terribly surprised.

However, the beet seeds that I soaked overnight were up in THREE days, and well represented....there were lots up!

Look at the difference in size now. 

And now, my friends I am a soaker of beet seeds. 

There are about 20 folks out there who requested the Detroit Dark Red beet seed.  I'd love to hear from you and learn how your beets are growing.

And please send pictures if you have them!

Friday, July 29, 2011

It is here! Genetically Modified Sweet Corn (CBAN alert)

Urgent Consumer Advisory: Genetically Modified Sweet Corn in Canada

Issued: July 29, 2011 - Please distribute widely. This advisory is posted at

Choose organic sweet corn or ask at your Farmers’ Market, roadside stand or grocery store.

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) and the Ecological Farmers of Ontario have confirmed that genetically modified (GM) sweet corn is being grown by farmers in Ontario who are selling at roadside stands, at Farmers’ Markets, and through some local grocery stores.

What consumers can do:

1. Buy organic sweet corn. Organic farming prohibits the use of genetic modification. Certified organic is your guarantee that your sweet corn is not genetically modified (and is also pesticide-free).

2. Ask your local farmer or manager at the farm stand or grocery store if the sweet corn they are selling is genetically modified (also called genetically engineered).

Below is a checklist of information to help you get an answer to your question. The checklist is important because:
- Some farmers may be growing GM sweet corn but not be aware that it is GM.
- Staff at the grocery store, or even the farm stand, will probably not be able to immediately answer your question and are very likely to be misinformed about GM foods.

GM corn is one of 4 GM crops grown in Canada: canola, soy, and white sugar beet (for sugar processing) are the others. The GM corn grown in Canada has been, until recently, all hard corn used for processed food ingredients and animal feed. The Canadian government does not label GM foods and does not keep national statistics on how much GM is grown or where. CBAN researches and monitors GM foods for you: for more information please see

GM Sweet Corn Check List

Tips for asking your local farmer:

Does your sweet corn have insect protection? Is it resistant to corn borer or earworm?

o   The GM sweet corn is sold under the brand name “Attribute” from Rogers which is owned by the biotech company Syngenta.
o   The GM sweet corn is genetically modified to be toxic to the European corn borer and corn earworm.
o   The GM technology that makes the plant toxic to these insects is Monsanto’s Bt “YieldGard” technology.
o   Farmers purchasing Attribute “BT insect-protected” seed will sign a “Attribute Grower Stewardship Agreement”.

What company did you buy your corn seed from? GM sweet corn is available to buy from US seed companies, including Seedway, selling “Genetically Enhanced” hybrid sweet corn seed. The sweet corn varieties are also called “insect protected hybrids” - the corn is a hybrid but it is also genetically modified. (Seedway also sells organic and untreated sweet corn seed.)

Tips for asking your grocery store, produce manager or farm stand manager:
CBAN has made a questionnaire that you can leave with your grocery store, produce or farm stand manager if necessary. Ask them to fill it out and get back to you. You can download the questionnaire at

You can also print “CBAN’s Quick Guide to GM Foods” to hand to them. Download the flyer at (If you have this information from CBAN, you will most likely have more information than your grocery store manager.)

Please contact us:

If you find GM sweet corn, please inform CBAN of the location and of any details from your conversation with the farmer, farm stand manager or grocery store manager. Please send your information to Fax 613 241 2506 or leave a message at 613 241 2267 ext 25 (this number will not be staffed until August 11). If you have questions: You can also call Ann Slater, Chair of the Ecological Farmers of Ontario GE Committee 519-349-2448

Thank you for your action!

This advisory was issued by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) and the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario July 29, 2011.

Donate today to support our work:

Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) 
Collaborative Campaigning for Food Sovereignty and Environmental Justice 
431 Gilmour Street, Second Floor 
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K2P 0R5 
Phone: 613 241 2267 ext. 25
Fax: 613 241 2506 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

We'll miss you, Mama

Mama Duck
This week has had it's share of ups and downs and major life changes.

In amongst it all is the loss of a special old duck, our Mama.

Mama will be missed terribly.  She was special friend and companion to our Joey the pig for his entire life, and it is clear he is feeling her loss.

Mama died of old age, I imagine.

She was old.  Likely about 10 years, which I imagine must be a reasonably good age to be when you are a duck.

Going home to Joey
She was a muscovy.   A terrific mom to many little ducklings along the way, bug catcher extraordinaire, and was blessed with a great personality.

Hard to think she won't be out by the front door waiting for me in the mornings.  Looking up at me with those pale blue eyes and telling me her tales from the night.  Or pecking at my rubber boots in an effort to speed me along so she could get her morning meal underway.

The Indian Runners

She had no patience for the Indian Runners.  I'm sure she just considered them silly, with their comings and goings.
The cats and dogs knew she was the boss, and would give her wide berth.  Very wise, actually. In her later years she would peck at you as soon as look at you.


But never with Joey.  Those two were joined at the hip as only a pig and his duck can be.

Bye, Mama.  Rest in peace.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tomato of the week-T5

I'm not really efficient at keeping up with this"Tomato of the Week" thing I can admit.

Weeks have passed.  Without rain, I might add, until last night when the heavens finally opened.

Last week it was that I spied it..a ripe T5.  So of course that's the tomato I'll need to discuss now in my (is it monthly?) "Tomato of the Week."

Happy days on Heritage Farm, Decorah, Iowa
T5 is a tomato created by tomato/potato genius Tom Wagner.  Tom is perhaps best known for breeding the well known and loved 'Green Zebra" tomato which he first introduced to the world in 1983 via his Tater Mater seed catalog. 

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him at the Seed Savers Exchange Annual Convention several years back when he was a featured speaker and also led a workshop on tomato and potato breeding techniques.

The seed for T5 originally came to me via Bill Minkey of Wisconsin.  Bill has a huge collection of seed which he shares through the Seed Saver Exchange Yearbook, and every year I find myself requesting 30 or 40 new "must try" heirloom tomato varieties from Bill.  Of course the yearbook is not a seed catalogue.  

It is a starting point.  Once the seed is requested, the recipient should be growing out the seed with the intent of saving the seed, and possibly even re-offering it in the next years' yearbook.

And that has been the fun part.  Treasures received and saved.

When I requested T5, I also requested T2 and T4 at the same time.  Of course all three are Tom's tomatoes.  Tom..if you are out there.  Is there a T3?  And does the T stand for Tom?  Just wondering.

T5 surprised me with it's earliness this year.  Wow.  This is under 60 days from transplant, whereas it has generally been more around 80 days.  I'll be saving the seed from the first ripe fruits to see if this earliness can be passed on in future years.

T5  is red, with gold stripes.  

T5 is about 3" in diameter, with some ribbing as you can see from the picture. It is a gorgeous fruit, on a pretty rugosa leaved plant which is reasonably compact, or determinate. Taste?  Yum-very good.

T2 and T4 are worth mentions here as well. T2 is just a gorgeous tomato, red with very distinct gold stripes.  Perfect globe shape, big production and high yields on a regular leaf, indeterminate plant.

Last year it was just tremendous..this year, can't wait.

And T4?  Well, good, but weird.  It is truly unlike any other tomato I have grown here. And why?

An unripe T4

It has a very odd waxy, even rubbery skin. When you touch it, it feels perhaps a bit rotten... lots of give. It is a pinkish tomato with pale green striping, crinkled rugosa type leaves and yes. 

The most important feature - it tastes good, surprisingly. Just move beyond the skin and expand your tomato experience by trying it.

I consider these three "T's" treasures.  Gifts I will save year after year.

Thanks, Tom.  (Bill too.)

What are they ?? Cool veg and fruit for a hot night!

Spotted in the garden tonight.

Who am I ?






.... answers to follow soon !

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pictures on a Hot Summer's Night

Mouse Melon

Szechuan Buttons

Bambino eggplants

Prickly Caterpillar


In the field, the first larger tomato -T5

Blueberry tomato

Watching over their tomato plants

Watering while the sun goes down

Summer Snowflake marigold

Lutescent tomato-white flower, yellow plant!

Pinot Noir peppers

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Late beet planting challenge-calling for comments!

It has been a challenge in many ways, this old beet challenge.

Who knew we'd get this crazy heat and drought after the record setting wet of the spring.

I guess if you are going to have a challenge, make it a real challenge.

As for me, I'm loving my clay, which is holding onto the water beautifully well.  This characteristic I could have done without in the spring.  But me and my clay, we're back on again.

I planted my beets for the challenge on July 15th and up they popped on the 18th.

Remember now I soaked some, others I didn't.

And the ones that came up first were the ones I had soaked, and scattered on the soil, just to use them up, because they didn't fit in my neat little rows (15-10 foot rows.)

They are all up now and it didn't seem to matter if they were soaked in water or kelp solution...they just grew more rapidly when soaked.

I'd love to hear from everybody else long was it till germination?  Even you late planters..keep tabs.

And most importantly, keep watering.

                                       Calling all beet growers!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Late planting challenge-beets are up in Wellandport!

...BEETS are up! Planted July 15th, germination on the 18th. "Holy heart failure, Batman!" (source-Robin)

Anybody else?
(...and in Montreal, IN they go!  Read here )

Story to follow.

Cruelty in a cube

I was shocked to read this email this morning from Niagara Action for Animals. Please. This should not be happening.  If you can call, email or visit the stores involved please do so. Read more here .

Dear Friends of Animals

Please contact Green earth by phone 905-704-0615 or by email or in person at the Pen Centre regarding the sale of dwarf frogs in 4 inch square cubes... Below is some info collected by PeTA regarding sale of these animals in the U.S. (the same items are shipped to Canada ....
Following a national PETA campaign against Brookstone's sale of Frog-O-Spheres, the retailer has discontinued the sale of these little frog prisons, which it purchased from Wild Creations.
For years, complaints have poured in to PETA about the tens of thousands of African dwarf frogs who are sold as decorations in tiny plastic boxes by various retailers in malls and stores across the United States and Canada. These cruel and terribly unnatural cubes, which confine two frogs in a few ounces of water, have been deemed "unacceptable in failing to meet the basic requirements for good animal husbandry" by experts. They deprive these nocturnal animals of everything that is natural and important to them, including basics such as space to swim and a place to hide.
In November 2009, PETA went undercover at Wild Creations, the company that supplies the frogs and boxes (often called "EcoAquariums") to stores across the U.S and Canada. PETA's investigator documented the rampant neglect and mishandling of these delicate animals and the total disregard for their needs, welfare, and lives―an attitude that trickled down from the company's co-owner to its supervisors and employees. PETA's investigator found the following:
Employees carelessly grabbed frogs by the handful and pinched their delicate limbs when picking them up for packaging. Bags of "replacement frogs"-shipped to customers whose frogs had died soon after purchase-were thrown carelessly into bins by the dozen. At the time of PETA's investigation, Wild Creations was preparing and shipping up to 100 "replacement frogs" daily because of the frogs' high mortality rate.
Hundreds of frogs were crammed into uncovered plastic tubs. The unfiltered water grew increasingly murky from excrement and molted skin with each passing day before the frogs were finally removed and packaged. Dr. Phil Bishop, senior lecturer at the University of Otago and chair of the New Zealand Amphibian Specialist Group, stated that these living conditions "would result in high levels of ammonia, which would result in stress and pain on the sensitive skin of the frogs" and that they "are the barest minimum that allow the frogs to be kept alive."
Weeks passed before PETA's investigator-who worked full-time-saw any of the frogs kept at the Wild Creations warehouse being fed. When customers complained of frogs with "leg deformities," a call from Wild Creations to the Madera County, California-based frog breeder Blue Lobster Farms revealed that the frogs were so starved while at Wild Creations that they were chewing on each other's legs, causing wounds, infections, and, eventually, rot and loss of limbs.
No training in basic amphibian health assessment was provided to employees. As a result, live frogs were mistaken for dead ones and sick or injured frogs were thrown into the trash instead of being quarantined and given veterinary care or being humanely euthanized.
Frogs suspected of being sick were mistakenly shipped to customers instead of being properly quarantined, as were frogs who were plucked from tubs containing the bloated, fungus-covered remains of decomposing frogs.
In addition to the mistreatment and neglect that Wild Creations employees inflicted on the frogs at the company's supply house, there are other problems:
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified more than 200 people, most of whom are children, in 41 states who were exposed to a unique strain of salmonella that was traced to Wild Creations' frog supplier, Blue Lobster Farms in California. In April 2011, the California Department of Public Health sent an urgent notice to pet stores and distributors of "aquatic pets" urging vendors to "immediately discontinue distribution and sale of these frogs" and asking that vendors share the memo with customers who may have purchased these animals.
Wild Creations supervisors confirmed that an estimated 180 shipped frogs froze to death because employees failed to include heat packs with the shipment.
Wild Creations owner Peter Gasca, while training salespeople at an exhibition booth, cautioned against leading customers to question how long frogs would survive and discouraged "pitching" the "seven-day warranty" that's advertised with the "ecosystems." Gasca provided his salespeople with a net to scoop out frog "casualties" and instructed them, with regard to customers who voice concerns for the frogs' welfare, "'It's a completely safe environment for the frogs.' That's all you need to tell them."
Your Voice Is Urgently Needed
Stores that carry and sell these cruel products bear much of the responsibility for the systemic neglect and mistreatment of frogs uncovered by PETA's investigation. Locally, Games A Lot at the Seaway Mall and Green Earth at the Pen Centre are 2 places that we know of that are selling these frogs.  These companies continue to sell these little torture chambers. Please join us in urging them to ban the sale of these cruel frog prisons immediately and to pledge never to sell any live animals again. Please keep all correspondence polite.

Niagara Action for Animals is a non-profit, all volunteer charity devoted to ending all forms of animal cruelty through education, direct action and legitimate protest. Nothing contained in this email is intended to encourage or incite illicit acts. Please let us know (by return email), if you no longer wish to receive these email alerts.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wild and wonderful Purslane

Purslane seems to be on everyone's mind lately.  There is domesticated, that is growing all over my garden, unseeded by me this year, and undomesticated, that is growing all over my garden this year.

Both good.  Really, really good.

According to my book "Edible Wild Plants" by John Kallas, PhD , purslane is wildly popular in the Mediterranean and has more omega 3's than any other leafy green.  Double that of kale.

As well it has big quantities of Vitamin E, important antioxidants and as much iron as spinach.

Need more info?  Read here to get the full story from the always useful Mother Earth News. 

Can you believe it?  This stuff grows everywhere!

In my experience, purslane growing in your garden is the sign of a rich, soil.  I'm actually feeling pretty good about what its' presence is telling me about my garden soil this year.

Purslane is yummy in salads, with it's succulent leaves that have a slight hint of lemon.  Or how about stir-fried, with peppers.  

Or pesto!

This recipe is from

Parpadelle with Spinach and Purslane Pesto

Parpadelle with Spinach and Purslane Pesto


1 Cup Purslane
6 oz Spinach
6 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Whole Onion roughly chopped
1 Clove of Garlic sliced
1 Jalepeno finely chopped
1/2 Cup Pecans roughly chopped
Handful of Basil
Handful of Oregano
The zest and juice of 1/2 a Lemon
Pinch of Salt
Pinch of Ground Black Pepper
1 Lb Parpardelle
If you haven't tried Purslane, I suggest you do an internet search for it. Chances are it's growing in your garden, or in the cracks of your sidewalk. Give it a try!

Roughly chop the onion and jalepeno and throw them in a hot pan with the olive oil. You’re going to cook them until the onions just start to color. As that’s going, slice the garlic and zest the lemon. As the onions go translucent, throw in the garlic and lemon zest and stir. Wash the spinach and purslane, chopping the stalks of both into small pieces. Take half of the basil and oregano and give them a rough chop as well. Throw it all into the pan and stir it around for a few minutes until the greens start to wilt. At this point you can take it off the heat and transfer it into a blender or food processor along with 2/3 the Pecans, Salt, and Pepper. Pulse the mixture until it is a creamy consistency and the nuts are mixed in. Toss it with he cooked pasta adding a small amount of the pasta water to loosen it up. Finish with a a squeeze of lemon and the remainder of Basil and Oregano.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

There's no best...but let there beets!It's the late beet planting challenge!

Cathy's seeds arrived!
Spinning Cartoon Beet - Royalty Free Clipart Picture

Now most of us are underway in the late planting challenge of beets.

But let me make one thing perfectly clear.

I'm not big on "best". Or "first", or "most perfect" or any of those fine descriptors when it comes to growing things in the garden.  

A garden is the place to get away from all the competitiveness of the world and watch nature unfold her magic. Plant a seed and watch it grow. Miraculous.  Always miraculous. I think the following message applies to beet growers too! (Substitute the word "beets" in the appropriate  "if you compare your BEETS with others...)

"If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans." (from Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann)

So if you have never grown a beet successfully, or never grown a beet at all and the one you grow is the size of your baby finger...I offer my congratulations. You have grown a beet and you have succeeded.  (Probably the best damn beet you ever ate too!)

We'll compare results, but there are no winners or losers.  Well, maybe that's wrong.  If we get to eat the beets that's a prize in itself.

Sadly, yes.  Canada Post may be back at work, but had some challenges getting the beet seed out.  Maybe they rejected the delivering of beet seeds in their new collective agreement. I just don't know.

So if you are late getting your seed, just keep track of what date it went in, and pull 65 days later.

Most of us will do the big pull on September 18th, when Detroit Dark Red should be ready, 65 days from the !5th of July.

I got mine in yesterday afternoon after smoothing out the remains of the compost pile, and tilling it until I had a gorgeous fine soil.

With this heat it has been water, water and more water in an attempt to keep the seed bed evenly moist.

As I suggested i'm doing a trial within a trial.  Some seeds I soaked overnight in water, some in my kelp fertilizer, and the others I planted dry.

It will be interesting to see if planting in pots is as successful as ground planting, how our methods effect our beets and if we can figure how location plays into it at all. And most importantly that perhaps it NEVER is too late to plant. Well, nearly never.

And here are a few stories from other folks...Callie K  from Toronto, and K from Fort Erie. Glad you are having fun with it.

Sheri from St Catharines planted in a good heap of alpaca poo.

Cathy from TO wrote that this was her method:

-Used two large clay pots to plant 8 seeds in each
-Used Miracle Grow potting soil with about an inch of a mix of loam/peat/compost mixed into the top
-Placed in the sunniest spot next to the house.

Keep your results coming!  Germination is next..

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mark Picone's Lime Basil Pesto

Thanks Mark , for sharing your recipe using the very unique 'Lime Basil" that I am growing in the garden this year.  Lime Basil is one of the seeds I received as a test gardener for Organic Gardening magazine
It is quite different, so folks were a bit puzzled what to do with it. So I turned to the experts!

It was the captivating aroma of the bruised leaves that first caught my attention or was it the sheer tenderness of flavour when I tasted it?  Linda offered this `new’ lime basil to me a few weeks back and said to have some fun with it.  Food is meant to be shared – the true essence of any chef is just that; what we call hospitality! 
My first thought was pesto, that quintessential summer sauce.  It’s verdant green accentuated by olive oil, nuts and cheese.  Ancient forms dating back to the Romans included garlic, vinegar and ewe’s milk.  In recent times, it has been closely associated with Liguria and, specifically, Genoa.  
Purists would say that a `pesto’ (pestle - the technique of using a mortar and pestle) be pounded.  Nowadays, a food processor is the tool of choice. Regardless, the classic basil version is just one interpretation of an open-ended technique. If extra is made, freeze in small batches so that you can enjoy it throughout the seasons.
Lime Basil and Toasted Pumpkin Seed Pesto
Makes about 2 cups
4 cups  lime basil, picked and washed
1 cup flat parsley, picked and washed
½ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
½  cup Monforte Toscano cheese, grated
sea salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil to desired consistency, about 1 cup
Blend basil and parsley in a food processor with just enough olive oil to make a semi thick paste (about a half cup). Add remaining ingredients and blend well. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and add more olive oil to desired consistency. 
The versatility of this sauce is tremendous.  Try tossing with summer beans and new crop potatoes for a delightful side dish or spooned over grilled trout. It would also make a great filling for an omelet with sautéed field mushrooms.