Wild Galápagos Tomatoes – Translucent Little Gems

Wild Galápagos Tomato I love this tomato. When I found it back in January at Terrior Seed Company, it captured my imagination. The Galápagos Islands are amazing, and to have the opportunity to grow something I'm so passionate about from there, and to be able to eat it too, well it doesn't get much better than that. It lived up to what I imagined, and has fascinated me ever more.

What I didn't expect was how translucent these little tomatoes are. If they catch the light right, they shimmer like little gems on the plant. If you look closely at the right hand side of the photo above, you can see below the skin of the tomato. It's easier to see before they ripen.

Green Wild Galápagos Tomato photThe photo on left is a green one, and the white lines are the cells below the skin.    Being a wild tomato, they are very small. The average size is slightly smaller than a dime, with some almost as small as a currant. I did peel some, and the skin is indeed transparent.

For a small tomato though, it packs a lot of flavor. So much so that it comes close to Black Cherry, which is my favorite cherry variety. Nice balance of sweet and acid, with some salty undertones. Perhaps it's the high tolerance of salt that imparts these tomatoes with that salty zest. They  can be found growing close to the beach, in between rocks on the Galápagos.

The salt resistance has plant breeders excited along with its natural resistance to whiteflies. These characteristics are being bred into other tomato varieties. Its been a very wet summer here in southern New Jersey, and early blight, and black spot has impacted all the other tomatoes I'm growing, I haven't seen a sign of it on these plants.

They naturally sprawl, so they are dense, compact, and bush-like when staked. They are very prolific, and from I read, they produce up until frost. They also produced early, so a long season of hearty and flavorful tomatoes is something I'll take every year. There is a second variety from the Galápagos, Sara's Galapagos, and are red. They don't seem to be a true wild tomato either.

The best thing for me though is the giant tortoises of the Galápagos are said to like these tomatoes. To be able to share a taste with these magnificent and graceful creatures a half a world away is a true gift of nature, and places these tomatoes in a special part of my heart.



Grafted Tomatoes – Facebook Like!

Small green tomato grafted tomato plantWe live in a social media world, and currently, a Facebook like is a seal of approval. So far I like my experience with grafted tomatoes. The grafting technique is over 7,000 years old, yet at the commercial level for tomatoes plants here in the United States it's relatively new. Local farmers, horticulturists, and gardeners probably have been doing this on their own, now it seems smart plant and seed companies have realized that this is a good alternative to genetically modified plants. It's a basic concept, you take a rootstock of a strong, disease resistant hybrid, and graft an heirloom tomato plant on top of it. The top part being grafted is called a scion. This gives you the benefits of a stronger root system, which is resistant to soil borne diseases, and the beauty, history and taste of an heirloom above the soil. You have to keep the grafting scar well above the soil, a minimum of 1 " is required. Tomato plants are notorious for self-rooting, and if the heirloom tomato scion is too close to the soil line, it will want to root. Also, any of the suckers that come out below the grafting scar, will be the root variety, so you need to cut them off.

This year is the first year I have seen them at nurseries and garden centers. While the $14.99 price tag put me off at first, once I started to read about these plants, I became intrigued. Also, an opportunity presented itself to sell some of my harvest, so the claim of up to a 50% higher yield went cha ching in my head.

The plants that I had access to by Burpee, a company that I trust. I bought a Black Krim to start. I love black tomatoes, while the color is not a true black, the darker color tomatoes have the flavor I look for in tomatoes. The strength of the Black Krim plant I bought convinced me to give these plants a try, The plant was trying desperately to grow out of the tight confinement it found itself in. The contortions caught my eye. Its was a tangled, gnarly mess, sending out a tremendous amount of new growth in every direction it could find to get someone's attention. It got mine. Leave the contortions to the circus, and let the tomato plant grow I thought.

I had to plant the root ball on an angle to coax the plant into growing vertically. I have on 3 stakes, and so far, it's responding well. Burpee doesn't say on the plant tags, or on it's web page for these plants what the rootstock is, but here is what it's resistant to:

Rootstock Resistances
C Cold (Sub-optimum temperature)
TMV Tobacco Mosaic Virus
N Nematodes
V Verticillium Wilt
F2 Fusarium Wilt (Races 1 & 2)
PL Corky Root Rot
FOR Fusarium Crown and Root Rot

I'll take that any day in heirloom plant.

When the opportunity presented itself to get some of my harvest to market, I went back to the first garden center where I saw these plants. They had a wider variety to choose from than the garden center I bought my Black Krim. When I got there, the plants 50% off. It was getting late in the season, the greenhouse was getting too hot, and the owner wanted the plants to find good homes instead of these plants becoming compost. I bought 3, and was given 3 more by the owner. SO now I have the lucky 7 as I call them.

Thanks to tomatogeek.com for this image.

I found Mortgage Lifters which have a well-deserved reputation for being prolific. If the yield is up to 50% more, Radiator Charlie's going to be very proud. Or at least I hope he will be.

There were Big Rainbows, a variety I didn't know about, and they sound very exciting. A large tricolor beefsteak. What's not to love? The photo at the top of this post is fruit that set on the vine this week. Last week, when the plant went into the ground,they were flowers. In a week's time, during a transplanting transition, it set some impressive fruit.

And the biggest surprise of all, I found a Big Zac, a New Jersey hybrid developed by Minnie Zaccaria by crossing two heirloom varieties. They are known for growing huge tomatoes that could reach 4lbs.-6 lbs. I said welcome home Zac! You're in your home soil with a strong rootstock, plenty of bat guano, and organic microbrewed-wormcasting fertilizer to feed ya. I'm Italian, we like to feed our friends and family well. Big Zac is my new BFF, so he will be quite comfortable, and well feed.

Next year, I will try this grafting technique. Thanks to Johnny's Select Seeds, they have a video up that explains the process, along with rootstock seeds, scion seeds and grafting clips. The grafting clips link doesn't work on the Johnny's page, but this link does.

Finally, here's an excellent overview, and in-dpeth look at grafted tomatoes from Anne Raver of the New York Times. I look forward to watching this tomatoes, grow and produce, and I'll you know how it goes.


A Historical Seed Map

graphic for the Library Seed Bank projectOk, so the posting here has been sporadic, and I apologize for that. I've been busy with planting the seeds for the Library Seed Bank. Did you catch what I did there ...

So, here's the update.

The indiegogo project isn't go going, That's because I haven't been pushing it. Please take a look, and if so inclined, please share it with folks you know. The reason I haven't been pushing it is, there's a lot of other things happening, and I'm one person here.

I'm thrilled, well actually over the moon, about this idea I have of a seed map. The idea is this, I'm going to map old seed companies and research what they were offering at the local level. There is no better reflection of what was grown locally than what the local seed sellers offered to the public. To quote the 1945 Agricultural Almanac by John Baer's Sons, Inc., Lancaster, PA;

The seed catalog is therefore a current encyclopedia of gardening, revised and brought up-to-date each year. Some are so complete as to be the prefered reference books in agricultural schools.

I had this idea before I came across this almanac in a used book store. When I read that, I knew I was on the right track. This map will provide a detailed historical record for the Library Seed Bank. The libraries who participate will have guidance to find the seeds of local varieties if they still exist. This map will free, and openly available for everyone. There will be an app coming out this too.

I will doing research at the Smithsonian Institute this summer! They have an extensive collection of seed catalogues that don't circulate, and are viewed by appointment only. I have a contact with a senior research librarian there, so that's exciting. My daily work contract is up in a month so the timing is fortuitous.

Already this project has inspired a teacher  to establish a seed bank at his school. His class this fall will help me with the seed map.

The plans for the first seed bank at the McGowan Memorial Library are moving along. There is a big craft show on September 21, 2013. It's a tradition for many, and draws a big crowd. I will be there doing a soft launch of the seed bank. And yes, I'll be giving out seeds.

The mayor of nearby town is very interested in the idea of a seed bank as community outreach through an arts organization in his town. This is good. It's always a benefit when the mayor likes an idea.

I have an idea to tie in tasting with the heirloom vegetables I grow as a way to demonstrate to people the value of heirloom seeds. Slow Food International says it's all starts with a taste. And it truly does. They inspire me, and I do agree with that statement. Give someone a taste and you have their attention.

This is all coming together organically, and I wouldn't have it any other way. So, after all the impressive progress is noted, here's the big plug at the end to help support the growth of the Library Seed Bank.

If you have old seed catalogs, or if you know of local seed companies, please let me know. You can leave a comment, or use the contact form.


Bee Active, They Need Our Help

petition_bannerI steer clear of activism here for a number of reason, today however will be an exception. My friend Gail and I were discussing the recent detrimental decisions of the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) concerning the plight of bees. We decide to work on a White House petition together. When I went to set up our petition at the We the People page, I found an existing petition. While our petition would've been directed at the EPA, this petition is great.  I encourage you to sign it, and share this petition with your network. As I write this post, 98,415 more signatures are needed by June 27, 2013 to get a response for the Obama administration. With your help, this can happen.

The recent decisions by the EPA that spurred me and Gail to take action are;

The approval of a new active ingredient called sulfoxaflor. With this approval, the EPA state Environment l Hazards  in their own document that acknowledges how toxic this is to bees. This raises serious concern to me about the what the current intent of the EPA is about, and the impact this product will have on bees. This screenshot, page 3 of the pdf, Notice of Pesticide Registration EPA Registration Number 62719-623;

Screen Shot Notice of Pesticide Registration EPA Registration Number 62719-623

So, as you can see from their own documentation, they acknowledge it's highly toxic to bees. On page 17 of this pdf, they have an Advisory Pollinator Statement;

Notifying known beekeepers within 1 mile of the treatment area 48 hours before the product is applied will allow them to take additional steps to protect their bees. Also limiting application to times when managed bees and native pollinators are least active, e.g., before 7 am or after 7pm local time or when temperature is below 55oF at the site of application, will minimize risk to bees.

This is not acceptable, especially since bees are under enormous environmental pressure now.

Than there's this decision;

Last week, CBS News "checked in" with EPA about its review. The agency's response: it "should be completed in five years." Which means at least another half-decade of vast swaths of lands planted with neonic-treated crops.

Again, not acceptable. While Europe moves sanely ahead, the EPA here in America is remiss in their duty to protect the environment. After all that the bees do for us, isn't it time we stood up for them?

Here's a press release from the American Bird Conservatory for the study cited in this petition.

Please sign here.


Help me establish seed banks at public libraries by supporting my Library Seed Bank indiegogo project

Live at indiegogo, Library Seed Bank

graphic for the Library Seed Bank projectI also have a blog set up for the Library Seed Bank. I will be cross posting between the two blogs as about the progress. The indiegogo option I chose was to accept funding even if I don't reach my goal. Unlike Kickstarter, where you have to reach your goal to get the funds, indiegogo allows you to accept all donations if you choose. My first priority is to set up a nonprofit so I can get grant, and accept donations. Everything else after that is icing on the cake. My first seed bank goes in at the McCowan Memorial Library in Pitman, NJ. I have a couple other leads that I'm following up on, so I will let you know if they happen.

Please share the link for this project if you feel comfortable doing so. It's a tremendous opportunity to create a community-based structure to preserve local heirloom varieties of plants, and local gardening knowledge. Information and agriculture have sustained society from the start. Now, with the Library Seed Bank, we can bring the two together as an heirloom social structure for future generations.


Library Seed Bank and Cowboy Cab

bean sprout photoThe pace is quick, and I'm slowing down due to the fact that I'm not as young as the day before. This is not a lament about old age, it's a fact of life. Hopefully, these two projects will speed my transition to a day job working on projects like these. First though, good news on the gardening front. I'm ahead of the game. One third of my tomato plants are planted in addition to my Adventurers in Spring Gardening. I'm on track to have my garden complete by the time I usually start to plant. This is a good thing. More about the rainbow of heirloom tomato varieties later.

Second, the Library Seed Bank. This will be a program that I work with public libraries to establish seed banks at the libraries. This will offer open and free access to heirloom  and open pollinated seeds, like the knowledge and information that libraries provide. To honor the tradition of libraries, the Library Seed Bank will also have a free education component to it about the value of heritage seeds and seed saving. I will be launching an indiegogo project so I can form a nonprofit to get grants and accept tax-deductible donations. This is a great opportunity, and I hope you will join me as it grows. Pun intended.

Third, Cowboy Cab. A friend of mine. Anea Botton owns a social business, Valley Girls Foodstuffs, which she wrote about as conclusion to a 4 part series I did here at Vanishing Feast. The Cowboy Cab as she referred to it in a recent email is a fund-raiser that demonstrates what Valley Girl Foodstuffs is all about. Anea works with at risk teens and uses the pure food system, not the manufactured one, as a way for the teens to develop life skills. I will documenting this in real-time at this fund-raiser. At the event at night I will mentoring a teen who will be the official photographer for the event. I'm excited beyond words about this. I hope to shoot some video too, and will a wealth of content to work with. As I do here at Vanishing Feast, I let the story tell itself so stay tuned and see what this story will tell about itself.

That's it for now.

Adventures in Spring Gardening

Last year without much success, I tried to do some spring gardening. I got jealous of my neighbors with their lush lettuces and stone age size cabbage heads while I declared victory with some micro broccoli rabe. I enjoyed it, but the kale, lettuce, onions, spinach and potatoes I planted either died or didn't do very well. Undaunted, because as a gardener that come with the plot, I jumped right in this year the weekend after my plot was ready. Today. I just about wrapped up the early planting. I'm happy to say that I have the following in the ground;

  • Blue Adirondack Potatoes
  • Crapaudine beets
  • Belgium White Carrots
  • Purple Dragon Carrots
  • Tasco Celery
  • Tabris Beans
  • Purple Pak Choy
  • Red, Golden and Candy Striped beets, they were some beet seedlings that I'm trying and that's all I could find out about them
  • Radicchio
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Red Zeppelin Onions

I'm impressed with myself. I've never had this much in the ground so early, and my garden plot in such a manageable position. I'm out ahead of the weeds, and I have some rapidly growing tomato plants that will be going in at least 10 days earlier than I planed. Black plastic will go down next weekend, which will heat the soil, and the following weekend they go in. I anticipate that they will be very happy.

So that's it for now. I hope your gardens are moving along.


Rain Garden – There's an App for That

Rain Garden App logoI was wondering what I would write about this week, and thanks to my friend Eric I have some interesting information about a new app to share with you. It's a handy tool that instantaneously puts the power of information about rain gardens at your finger tips. If you're having a conversation about one these topics, gardening, resource management, sustainability, or climate change, and you have this app, you can share the comprehensive information that this app supplies. It's current, and demonstrates an informative response to the changing forces effecting society. It also demonstrates the benefit of government funding since the app was developed by a grant from the NOAA Sea Grant Community Climate Adaptation Initiative: Helping communities prepare for climate change. From thee NOAA Sea Grant webpage;

NOAA Sea Grant is committed to improving the nation's ability to understand, plan for, and respond to climate variability and change along our shorelines.

You can read more about the Sea Grant Program, and see how science serves  America's coasts. Science and government, a strong collaboration that benefits all of society. Back to the app.

I never thought about a rain garden. My property is too small, and I have heavy shade, so for me it's a few containers crowded for the small spot of light on my porch. I've been fascinated with the thought of rain barrels for a while now, and I have one out at my community garden plot where I need it the most.

I downloaded the app and I like it. This app provides all the information you need to plan, layout and create a rain garden. It includes a cost calculator, a data base for searching plants, and videos. The interface is easy to use, it's thorough and it's free. What more could you ask for? Here's the article my friend sent along to me. I hope you'll take advantage of this great collaboration of knowledge, government, science, and nature.

Right now it's just avilable for the iPhone, and Android version is slated for re;ases in Spring 2013.


Library Seed Banks

Library Seed Bank IconTalk about a plot twist, this one is really exciting. Recently, NPR broadcast this story, How To Save A Public Library: Make It A Seed Bank. It garnered a lot of attention, and the library as seed bank is a great idea, and so is saving public libraries, but I fond that title a bit overstated. From the article;

 The American Library Association says there are at least a dozen similar programs throughout the country.

It's a great idea, and one that is worth developing. It's a rather simple procedure, a library member checks out a package of seeds like they would with a book, and they return a package of seeds from what they grew. There are many  benefits to a program like this such a learning about how important seeds and seed saving are, reviving a local community based tradition, having access to locally grown seeds, and depending on the program, access to heirloom varieties. Most important, it keeps open access to seeds for everyone.

There seems to some movement towards this becoming a trend. From my interview with Matthew Dillon, Director of  seed matters;

I'm very excited by the Community Seed Kits, and the intent to grow them into local seed libraries. I grew up around a farming community, and a local supply company had a seed room. On three walls in the room there were drawers like card catalogues, and on the front of the drawers, seed packets. There were barrels of onion and potato sets, scales at the counter, along with farmers trading stories. I was very fortunate to experience this. What are your thoughts about the seed kits, and why local seed libraries are important? Do you see these libraries as a potential national network? I just returned from the Midwest and met a young man who wants to build and network public libraries across state lines to be seed libraries, and to create a database and link their collections along the lines of an interlibrary book loan program. So I see great potential for the future of local seed libraries and other forms of local seed exchanges. It’s more than just libraries – it can be collaborations of school gardens, community gardens and individuals collectively curating a local collection in the field. The community seed movement is just beginning to emerge, and I expect to see a diversity of forms with a shared goal of creating local seed resiliency. It’s great to see people getting active in creating positive change, in determining their own seed futures and building community while they do it. We play a small role in that with our kits and our educational resources, but are glad to be a supportive player. Community Seed Kits.

The idea Matthew talks about is great. What a tremendous resource that database could be. Locally, I will work with my local library to set up a seed bank there. Also, I will be participating in a Meet the Author's event on April 20, 2013 where 9 libraries, including my local library, will showcase local authors and their books. Hopefully, I can generate some interest with the other 8 libraries as well. I have another lead for more libraries also. It all came in a flash, ignited by synchronicity. The story is telling me to follow it, and I will.

Here's what I want to do, set up a nonprofit media company to provide education material about seed saving, media planning and support to these library seed banks to get the message out to the community. I will develop an editable generic tool kit for them to print inhouse, and I can take care of media contacts and email blasts etc. I will use crowd sourcing, take donations, apply for grants and seek corporate support.

This too important to me to allow it to wither on the vine. I will offer my services to libraries to take care of the marketing and communication for them. My hope is that for libraries it will be a matter of checking packages of seeds and in and out, and some local printing of the materials they need to inform the community.

I have libraryseedbank.org, and libraryseedbank.info reserved for this, and hopefully by April 20, 2013 a crowd sourcing project set up. Cheers!

What's New in This Year's Garden

plant planting cellsSince the organization meeting for my community garden is coming up next week, and my plot will be available, it makes sense that I should get my seeds started. Most of what I grow will be planted after May 15, so I'm still good. Barely. Life happens so I will just go with the flow, and hope for the best. I have a couple new varieties this year, as always and I'm looking forward to what's going to happen with them. The Tabaris bean will be new, which I wrote about a little while back.

Toothache Plant or Szechuan Buttons will be new. It intrigues me. I look forward to growing and photographing it. It seems like a beautiful subject to photograph with the leaves described as bronze-purple, and flowers that look like yellow gumdrops with red eyes, it might be a specimen from a garden in Alice in Wonderland.  The leaves numb the mouth, hence the name Toothache Plant. There are references for culinary uses, for cocktails, and as a medicinal herb. It's a member of the Asteraceae family, which includes sunflowers, asters and daisies. Sounds like a fun plant.

Dragon Carrots, which is vegetable that people rave about, will have a place in my garden. Red skin with orange interiors, and chock full of vitamins, they demonstrate that nutrition can be fun. First and foremost, food is nutrition, and when you can grow fresh, organic nutrition, you should take advantage of it. It's a simple concept.

Paris White Cos lettuce is a new to me, but considering Jefferson grew this for 60 years at Monticello, it's been around a long time. It's a French heirloom. I find the French have a nice selection of heirloom lettuces. It's a romaine lettuce, which I enjoy a lot.

Green Pear Tomatoes sound interesting. I like green tomatoes a lot. Aunt Ruby's German Green Beefsteaks are legendary, and rightfully so. They have a sweet, spicy flavor that sets the standard for green tomatoes. The Green Pears are fruity in addition to the traditional spicy sweet green tomato flavor profile from the description. Throw in prolific and I'm sold.

Wild Galápagos Tomatoes are another tomato that captured my imagination. Anything Galápagos related is fascinating, especially the giant tortoises. I wasn't aware that wild tomatoes grew there until I came across these seeds. The seeds I have are one of two varieties endemic to the Galápagos. They are small, yellow-orange grape shaped, and because of their resistance to a number of tomato pests including the whitefly, and resistance to salt. plant breeders use them as source to cross with other varieties. It all sounds great but the key for me, I have a connection to the giant tortoises.

Japanese Black Trifele tomatoes introduces me to the Trifele tomatoes of Russia. Russia contributes a lot of varieties to the heirloom tomato rainbow, and these large, black, pear shape tomatoes are described everywhere, and I do mean everywhere on the Internet as;

In Russia the Trifele varieties of tomatoes (of which there are several colors) are highly prized and command big prices.

Where the Japanese in the name comes from I can't find a source for that because of the above sentence defines the tomato on the Google. I did find a source for the red, pink, and yellow Trifele varieties, Amishlandseeds.com, scroll through this interesting collection of Russian varieties to find them. Gotta love looking at Russian tomatoes with Japanese in their name on a website called Amish Land. A rainbow indeed.

Black tomatoes are some of the most flavorful around. These are compact, determinate potato leaf plants that produce all season, and can handle all types of weather from what I read. I'll see if they can handle the oppressive Jersey July humidity.

Sungold Tomato seeds were shared with me by Carol Ann, a good friend. They are sweet, early and have notes of fruit. The color is described as orange, tangerine, apricot or gold. I'll take any or all of those colors. They will be a nice contrast with the Green Pear described earlier, and the Black Cherry that I will be growing.

And finally, Speckled Roman, also from my friend Carol Ann, who raves about these paste tomatoes. Red with orange stripes, just the name alone makes want to grow them. Speckled has a gesture of humor to me, which I love.  They were developed by John Senson of the Seed Savers Exchange, and are said to be a cross between Antique Roman and Banana Legs.

That's what's new this year. Now, if the weather cooperates...



A Thousand Gardens in Africa

Now that Spring is coming, and gardens are germinating in minds and sunny windowsills, I thought it would be an appropriate time to write this post. For some, A Thousand Gardens in Africa is a half a world away, for most it's on another continent, but if you listen to what the folks are saying, the words could be spoken by you,or any other gardener.

When I was Salone del Gusto Terra Madre 2012, the exhibit for A Thousand Gardens in Africa fascinated me, The program truly reflects Slow Food International's commitment to good, clean and fair food. There was music, dance, and gardens. A real sense of local community as you can see from the photos below.

The video above says more about this program than anything I could write. I've only seen an exhibit, and read the literature about it, but these folks in the video live it everyday.

I do want to highlight this;

The thousand gardens are concrete models of sustainable agriculture, sensitive to different contexts (environmental, socioeconomic and cultural) and easily replicable.

The project involves the creation of school, community and gardens.

A good garden guarantees fresh and genuine products, promotes local products , safeguards traditional recipes, produces quality food products.

A clean garden respects the environment, uses soil and water sustainably, protects biodiversity.

A fair garden is a community experience, bringing together different generations and social groups; promotes the knowledge and skills of farmers, improving their autonomy and self- esteem; and encourages food sovereignty, giving the community the possibility to choose what to grow and eat.

The link above is from the Terra Madre 2012 page. There is a comprehensive look on Slow Food International's A Thousand Gardens in Africa page. As you step out into your garden, and work the soil, think about A Thousand Gardens in Africa, and how connected we are despite distance, language and culture.


gardens A Thousand Gardens in Africa







gardens at Terra Madre








dancing at A Thousand Gardens Exhibot







Gardens at Terra Madre

The Tarbais Bean – Local and Legendary

coat of arm Bigoree FranceI love a good cassoulet. It's a comfort food that warms my soul, and anything that does that I hold in high regard. So, when my friends at The Framed Table posted about a quick preparation of this classic of French cuisine, it was here that I learned about the Tarbais bean. While I love to cook, and French cuisine is a favorite of mine, I don't cook it. That's what French bistros are for. I didn't know an authentic cassoulet required these tender morsels from the land of Bigorre, an area in the southwest region of France. It all started to come together, food, a local ingredient with a history and traditional, and it came from a garden. It's a perfect match for me.

While researching, I came across this blog post about the bean. It's a fascinating read, and I'm going to highlight a couple of key parts. The first;

The first French bean to be granted of Label Rouge, in 1997, Tarbais Beans are famed for their extremely thin skin, which makes them easier to cook and gives them an unbeatable, delicate flavour.

The Label Rouge created in France in 1960 by the  Agricultural Orientation Law guarantees a product has superior features compared to a similar product. In response to the industrialization of poultry farming, French poultry farmers started the process to get this law passed.

The second part I want to highlight is this;

Favourable soil The land of Bigorre is known for its light, silt-laden and rather stony soil, with a somewhat acid PH and little clay. Too much clay would thicken the seed peel and make the bean more floury. The plants benefit from the gravel of the Pyrenean mountain streams, which store up warmth during the day and release it during the night.

Suitable climate The type of soil is not enough to explain the distinctive qualities of the Tarbais Bean. In fact, the same seed, grown in identical conditions on very similar soils in other areas (Petites Pyrenees, alluvial terraces of the Garonne...), do not produce the same quality.

Bigorre is where the oceanic influence of the Gulf of Gascony meets the continental effects of the region of Toulouse : the resulting pleasant climate is a determining factor in the character of the Tarbais Haricot. Our area is free from the drying “devil’s wind” (the Autan); instead it benefits from the temperate Föhn, which comes from Aragon and grows gentler as it crosses France.

One of the many things destroyed by the industrial food complex is the loss of quality in food including the subtle influences of locally grown food. French poultry farmers realized that industrialization threatened this quality, and their livelihood. They addressed this to the government in 1960, which responded, while America embraced this industrialization.

After reading about the subtle differences that the local soil and climate have on the authentic Tarbais bean, I saw an opportunity for content. As regular readers know, I look at my life as a story I write everyday. With that in mind, I look for opportunities to present themselves as content. I could have left this as a stand alone post, however that wouldn't be much fun. So, I found a source of Tabaris seeds, and will order them today. I'll grown them here in southern New Jersey, and get some authentic beans to compare and contrast. It will also challenge me to cook a cassoulet. Stay tuned.

Seed Matters – An Interview with Matthew Dillon

seed matters.or logo I'm excited, fortunate and grateful to share the recent opportunity to interview Matthew Dillon, Director of www.seedmatters.org. I found out about this initiative by the Clif Bar Family Foundation at The 2nd National Heirloom Expo in September 2012. I'm very impressed with the people I met, and with the goals of this program. Matthew was the Founding Director of the Organic Seed Alliance, an organization I have followed for a number of years. I am a big fan of theirs. They do good work, and I encourage you to support them also.

I like the core of what seed matters is about. The goals of seed matters are;

Seed Matters we advocate for the improvement and protection of organic seed, which ensures healthy, nutritious and productive crops that benefit people and planet.

Seed Matters’ goals are threefold:

  • Conserve crop genetic diversity
  • Promote farmers’ roles and rights as seed innovators and stewards
  • Reinvigorate public seed research and education

The relationship of farmers, seeds, public seed research and education is an area that has been co-opted by the push from factory farming, biotechnology and GMOs. Positioning seed matters as an alternative to that existing structure is bold, and demonstrates to me a commitment to leadership. Direct and to the point is sign of clear thinking for a long-term solution, not a fluffy feel good fashionable trend.

So without any further ado, here are the Q&As from my interview.

What motivated you to get involved with seed saving? In the mid-90s I was farming in Northern California, growing primarily organic vegetables and flowers, and realized that the vast majority of seed we planted was not organic. This struck me as disconnected, and a potential issue with regard to the integrity of organic production systems. Luckily, Sara McCamant (who now works with me on Seed Matters™ Community Seed Toolkits) was the farm manager and a member of Seed Savers Exchange. She saved seed from a number of crops and was well-versed in the issues of concentration in the seed industry. I saw seed conservation as the first step in eventually creating new genetic diversity that would be optimal for organic conditions. I describe it as breeding “the heirlooms of tomorrow.” Working to improve seed systems was what was important to me. I felt we’d lost the knowledge, tools and networks to develop regionally appropriate seed – and this was the issue more than the loss of varieties by name alone. A short four years later I was the Executive Director for Abundant Life Seed Foundation, a nonprofit with 30 years of experience in seed conservation networks. Two years after that I launched Organic Seed Alliance (OSA).

 While talking to people, I occasionally get feedback that they're not concerned about organic gardening. In your experience, what difference does organic growing make with seeds? Seeds are a product of their environment, and they never remain static. Your grandma’s version of Greyhound cabbage was not the same as the version you grow. It may look basically the same, but it is evolving or de-evolving (moving backwards to a less desirable type) with an ever-changing environment of pest, disease and climate pressures. So, the environment is a determinate in how the future variety will perform (look, yield, resist disease and handle adverse conditions). If you continue to select seed in an environment that includes inputs of synthetic fertilizer, herbicides and such, then you will eventually select for a variety that performs at its best only in the presence of these inputs. And in the long run these inputs are not sustainable, certainly not as sustainable as getting fertility from compost or green manure, or using biological and cultural methods to prevent and treat disease and pests.

What are the goals of Seed Matters?  Seed Matters is a very interesting initiative that I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of executing. Clif Bar Family Foundation launched it with a recognition that if we are going to transform our farming and food systems to be better for people and the planet, then we have to start with the seed, which is the first critical link in the food and fiber chain. The Foundation’s overarching objective was simple – improve and protect organic seed systems for the public good. They realized this was big work, and they couldn’t do it alone, so they invited others to collaborate, other funders as well as nonprofit and university partners to do the research, education and advocacy work. After examining the key obstacles to improving organic seed systems, we developed three goals:

  • Conserve crop genetic diversity
  • Promote farmers’ roles and rights as seed innovators and stewards
  • Reinvigorate public seed research and education.

Since seed is a living resource, we talk about it as doing “CPR” on seed.

Your work with the Organic Seed Alliance was impressive to me, and I see you're working with them on the Farmer Seed Initiative. Can you please tell me about that program? One of the goals of Seed Matters is to promote farmers’ roles and rights as seed innovators and stewards. If you look at the last 10,000 years of agricultural innovation, farmers have been the prime drivers. For example, there was no production of alfalfa for dairy cattle in the upper Midwest until a farmer named Wendelin Grimm began selecting North America’s first winter hardy alfalfa in the 1850s in Minnesota. There are thousands of anonymous examples for every situation where we actually know by name, place and crop. In the last 100 years farmers have increasingly disengaged from seed work. A number of factors are at play. The advent of hybrid seed is part of it, as is the rise of utility patents that prevent seed saving. But there were also social and economic changes in farming itself that encouraged farmers to be dependent on outside inputs – fertility, disease and pest management and seed. Many farmers are realizing that the more they can be self-sufficient in their inputs, the more resiliency their farms have both ecologically and economically. But they need support – both in re-learning the skills necessary to innovate and in advocating for their ability to engage as seed stewards. OSA does a great job of strengthening farmers’ seed skills – seed production as well as improving crops through basic breeding – and they have a strong advocacy program working to increase funding for participatory plant breeding, protecting farmers from transgenic contamination and working to stop the trend towards intellectual property practices that restrict seed saving. The Farmer Seed Stewardship Initiative is designed to promote and propagate a new generation of farmer seed stewards. The program has both an educational component of training farmers in seed skills and advocating with them as allies. It’s important for farmers to identify themselves as seed innovators so that OSA can leverage their collective voice on state and national issues.
I'm very excited by the Community Seed Kits, and the intent to grow them into local seed libraries. I grew up around a farming community, and a local supply company had a seed room. On three walls in the room there were drawers like card catalogues, and on the front of the drawers, seed packets. There were barrels of onion and potato sets, scales at the counter, along with farmers trading stories. I was very fortunate to experience this. What are your thoughts about the seed kits, and why local seed libraries are important? Do you see these libraries as a potential national network? I just returned from the Midwest and met a young man who wants to build and network public libraries across state lines to be seed libraries, and to create a database and link their collections along the lines of an interlibrary book loan program. So I see great potential for the future of local seed libraries and other forms of local seed exchanges. It’s more than just libraries – it can be collaborations of school gardens, community gardens and individuals collectively curating a local collection in the field. The community seed movement is just beginning to emerge, and I expect to see a diversity of forms with a shared goal of creating local seed resiliency. It’s great to see people getting active in creating positive change, in determining their own seed futures and building community while they do it. We play a small role in that with our kits and our educational resources, but are glad to be a supportive player. Community Seed Kits.

There are educational grants available, and the grant to Frank Kutka is very interesting. Can you please elaborate about that? We’re really pleased to be supporting Frank through a Seed Matters grant. He is breeding organic field corn that will reject pollen from transgenic (GMO) crops. The trait is called “gametophytic incompatibility” – plants that have it reject pollen from other plants that are dissimilar to it. It’s an imperfect system – sometimes cross-pollination occurs – but it can help reduce contamination of organic corn from GMO corn. It’s a naturally occurring trait that is being bred using classical field breeding. Frank is sharing his breeding populations with other researchers, and collectively they hope to improve the trait to be more effective in its ability to block cross contamination.

What are your thoughts on GMOs? I think they are a temporary technology that will eventually be shown to not produce an adequate, safe or sustainable return on investment. Years from now we will wonder at how much money our federal and private breeding programs threw at them. For the billions that have been spent, we have seen only two traits – RoundUp Resistance and Bt – and both of them are breaking down and failing in the field. Put the allergenic and health concerns people have about these aside for a moment, the simple truth is they simply aren’t working in the field anymore. They haven’t proved more sustainable, and they will be replaced with traits that are even less sustainable. Just because we create a tool doesn’t mean it is a good tool, or that we have to use it. What the private sector loved about this tool is they could commodify it (with patents) and package it with herbicides, and in the short term make a whole lot of money. The companies that were successful are now turning to patenting natural traits since they see their biotech traits are short-lived. It’s this move towards patenting natural traits – traits we want in organics – that we really need to be concerned about.

As a blogger, what can I do to help you? This interview is nice. It’s an honor. Thank you. Seed Matters certainly appreciates you sharing our success stories, upcoming campaigns and other information with your readership. We look for guest bloggers too – so if you have a story idea you want to share on our blog – The Seed Commons – let us know.

What's your favorite heirloom tomato? Well, as someone who has spent the last 15 years in the cool damp Pacific Northwest, I have almost stopped growing tomatoes due to the difficulty in getting good fruit maturity and the prevalence of late blight. The hybrid Sun Gold did well up there, but as a seed saver I wanted an open-pollinated variety that I could save. Luckily my friend John Navazio, who co-founded OSA with me, started a breeding project making selections out of Sun Gold. My favorite tomato is really that breeding population. Sorry, an experimental population - not an heirloom - at least not yet, but I am confident that when John is finished it will be an heirloom of tomorrow.

Thank you Matthew for taking the time to provide such thoughtful and inspiring answers. I hope you are inspired to get involved with seed matters, because seeds, do matter.

Tomato Talk!

poster for an event about heirloom gardening

I'm please to announce that I will give a talk about heirloom gardening with a focus on tomatoes and seed saving. I'm honored that McCowan Public Library and the Pitman Garden Club would ask me to do this. The event takes place Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. at the Pitman Boro Hall, (Municipal Building), 110 South Broadway, Pitman, NJ 08071.

There will be a book signing also of Future Tomatoes, my book about the beauty of tomato buds, featuring macro photographs about tomato buds and some stories about them. I hope to see you there.

Carrots, A Colorful History

photo of carrotsLast week I wrote about how to grow carrots. For a long time, growing root vegetables intimidated me. It was rather silly. All plants have roots, so what was the mystery about these plants with edible roots? Was there some kind of magic involved? A ritual maybe? Ancient secrets past down from ancient astronauts? In reality, none of these implied-in-my-head factors applied. Root vegetables like carrots are rather easy to grow. Like every plant, root vegetables have some individual requirements, but nothing outlandish. They are not divas, and are rather fun and colorful. Domestic carrots originated around Afghanistan in colors of purple, red and white. Yellow carrots appeared in Turkish writings in the 900s, and the Dutch developed the orange carrot in the 1600s. There are black carrots that are grown in some countries today that include Turkey, Syria and Egypt. They are grouped with the purple varieties. That's quite a history. Queen Anne's Lace, the carrot's wild cousin, grows from the Mediterranean region to Asia and North America. The root of Queen Anne's Lace is woody and not edible, but does have herbal medicinal uses.

It was the French seedhouse, Vilmorin-Andriueux in the late 1880s that developed a lot of today's carrot varieties, including the Nantes and Chantenay. Miniature, Imperator and Danvers round out the list to five varieties, and this chart  is a good reference.

Jaune De Doubs is a french heirloom variety that dates back to the 19th century. From Fedcoseeds.com;

Jaune du Doubs Carrot (78 days) Open-pollinated. I like this 19th century French heirloom best of all the yellow carrots. Holli Cederholm, another admirer, calls it “a mainstay in her open-pollinated rainbow carrot bunches,” and reports it performed beautifully on her heavy and rocky new ground—with fewer culls than #2076 Danvers or Dragon. Not everyone agrees. Some are put off by its sometimes rough unrefined appearance and variable taste and texture. We advise working your seed bed well before sowing to avoid forked or shallow roots. The plants have the kind of dense rampant wildness that has been tamed out of the newer hybrids, so thin them more rigorously than other varieties. Well-grown they produce smooth conical 5–8" yellow roots, showing slight green shoulders and good core color. Better flavor cooked than raw and retains good color. Cederholm reports that the roots stay crisp and crunchy in storage for tri-colored carrot slaw all winter.

Fast forward to a modern variety, Purple Dragon, which has the same amount of lycopene as tomatoes.When plants breeders create varieties that boost nutritional value that's a win. First and foremost food is nutrition, not a pesticide. That is the difference between hybrids and GMOs.

Off the soapbox and back to history, there is the White Belgian, a carrot grown historically for feed, but yet is a great tasting carrot. It's important to note that carrots have been grown for animal feed as well as the farmer's table. Perhaps that's one reason it took until the late 1800s for them to be reinvented for popular consumption. I grew White Belgians last year, but due the schedule I had, they fell to wayside. They got in the container too late, and languished in the intense heat we had in July 2012. I did get some long, very narrow carrots, and the taste was superb. It was this taste that inspired me to do it right this year. I'm adding Purple Dragons to my list, recommend by a cousin and a good friend, both who know gardening well, and Jaune De Doubs.

Atomic Red Carrots add red to the carrot color spectrum, The red is from lycopene. They are a imperator type, and are a good cooking carrot.

For miniature carrots, there are Paris Market, a round orange french heirloom, Little Fingers, a short cylindrical orange carrot, and Parmex Baby Ball Carrots, an improved version of the Paris Market that does not need peeling. The Parmex link also has Adelaide Baby Carrots listed.

For juicing, try the Healthmaster variety, an orange Danvers type. Also, any of the purple varieties would be good for juicing since they are full of antioxidants and lycopene.

This is a just sample of what's out there for carrot varieties. There are festivals around the world that honor this colorful and healthy root, and there's an International Carrot Day too. But the ultimate tribute in my book is the association with Bugs Bunny, a beloved cultural icon, my favorite cartoon character and an appropriate association.


Carrots, Growing, Not Manufactured

photo of carrotsManufactured carrots? Yes, but not in an evil scientist, GMO way. The baby carrots that are so popular today, have an interesting history. When they first appeared on the market, they started out as carrots that were deemed not market worthy. They were cut from these shamed carrots. Mike Yurosek of Newhall, California, a carrot farmer came up with this idea, and in the process, he revolutionized carrot breeding, and the carrot industry. You can read his story here.

If you look at the package label, baby-cut carrots are shaped out of larger carrots, and baby carrots are either carrots harvested early, or varieties that are full-sized, small carrots. You can also tell the difference by the shape of the shoulder, and if the carrots still have the skin on. If it has a true carrot shoulder, and the skin, you know it's not cut from a larger carrot.

It seems odd to refer to a naturally grown carrot whittled down to as a smaller version as a manufactured carrot, however, while researching this post, I kept coming across the term. I think it's great that a use was found for what was once scrap because of its shape or appearance. The scraps from the cutting process are used for juicing or for animal feed. Also, because of this process, carrot consumption has risen. According to snopes.com;

"Baby-cuts" are part of a sharp upsurge in the carrot's popularity in the U.S. Between 1970 and 1986, Americans ate  6 pounds of carrots per person per year. However, American consumption of carrots began to take off in 1987, and by 2002 it had reached <11 pounds per person.

Quite a good story all around I would say. It ties into a challenge of growing carrots. Carrots need soft, rock free soil at a preferred depth of twelve inches to grow long and straight. You always want to provide the optimum growing environment for your plants. While you might not mind knobby or fork shaped carrots, which can happen with hard soil or rocks in the path of the root growing down, this will add stress to the plant, and that's never a good thing.

To clear the soil for carrot beds, or for any root vegetable for that matter, you can sift it through a screen. You can also double dig, or use containers that you fill with soft, rock free soil. Raised beds are ideal since you're adding the soil to raised bed you can ensure that it will be soft and rock free.

Whatever method you choose, add in about a 1 inch layer of mature compost, or vermicompost, which is compost processed by worms. It's a great addition to your soil.

Direct sow your seeds. Carrot seeds are very small, so be careful handling them. Some suggest mixing them with an equal amount of sand to seed for spreading the mixture, and others suggest seed tapes. Whatever method you're comfortable with, sow them a quarter-inch deep, approximately 2" apart, and space the rows approximately a foot apart. Double and triple rows are ok, depending on the space you have available. If you do double or triple rows, try succession planting a week apart. This will extend your harvest for 2 or 3 weeks depending on how you time the succession planting. If you are using containers, keep the same spacing between plants. Don't crowd the container, or the row.

If you can't do twelve inches in your bed, or you have really hard soil, work with what you have. While the twelve inch dept is ideal, you can always plant Paris Market Carrots, a small round variety.

Carrots are slow germinators, be patient with them. Also, you can plant quick-growing radishes with them to mark where the row, and to break the soil. Just be sure to remove all the radishes when they sprout. Carrots don't like crowds, so mulch the rows to keep weeds at bay, and keep the soil evenly moist during the germination period.

You can plant them in the spring before the last frost, but the soil temperature needs should be at least 60 degrees. They can tolerate a light frost. They do better with phosphorous and potassium instead of nitrogen, so keep the manure away. They don't like acidic soil. A pH of 5.8-7 is best. If you test your soil and it's below the 5.8 pH number, use lime to raise the pH.

Harvest them when the carrots show a rich color, cut the tops off, wash and store them in a refrigerator or a cool root cellar.

Row covers are universally suggested to combat the carrot fly. Companion planting suggests that sage, lavender or rosemary mask the aroma of carrots that attract the carrot fly, and Allium, (leeks, shallots etc) confuse the carrot fly. Carrot Museum.co.uk however says this rarely works. They have details here on dealing with this pest.

That's how you grow them, next week it's what kind to grow. That will be fun!

Catalog Reading and Garden Planning Tips

catalogue coverPlease welcome my guest blogger for today. Stephen Scott, a co-owner of Terrior Seeds. Stephen writes a thoughtful and interesting post about planning a garden.  Perusing the newest crop of seed catalogs while engaging in some garden planning is a favorite pastime of gardeners everywhere during the cold, short days of winter. It is an excellent way to take your mind off of the often drab and dreary days that separate the last harvest from the first plantings. Seed catalogs can be much more than a pleasant distraction and fodder for summertime daydreams. They can help you with your upcoming garden planning by helping to visualize succession and companion plantings while arranging the palette of colors in the most attractive ways possible.

You can get started in one of two ways, with neither being right or wrong. Some prefer to sort through the catalogs first, circling what interests them and what standbys are always planted. Others will use different colors for vegetables, herbs and flowers to make organizing and planning a bit easier. The other approach is to put down an initial plan of the upcoming garden on note or graph paper, using zones or areas to show what types of plants go where. Others will use different colors for different plants to determine where everything will go. These initial plans are easily changed and updated as the planning process moves forward and the new garden starts taking shape. Once the plans is solidified, our Garden Journal is an excellent tool to help keep track of your progress this year. It is free as a download.

Remember to try something new each year, while keeping the foundation of what works going in your garden. This way you can experiment with new things and see what works and fits within the framework of what you already have established without risking losing too much if the new variety doesn’t make the grade.

If you want to try saving seeds – or you already do – make that part of your plan, where to plant those items for isolation to prevent possible cross-pollination and make the seed saving process as easy as possible. Pay attention to wind patterns and think about how you will isolate them, either through time, distance or exclusion. Time isolation just means planting those varieties you’ll save seed from either earlier or later than others of its type so that blooming and pollination don’t happen happen at the same time. Distance is easy – how far apart are you going to plant? How much space do you have? Can you use the front or back yard on the opposite side from the garden for planting? Exclusion is a physical barrier that keeps everything out including insects, meaning you might have to hand-pollinate that item.

While working on garden planning pay attention to the number of days to maturity for a variety and how that will work in your climate. Look at where you are wanting to locate it when reading the size and height descriptions, especially if it needs shade or full sun. Succession and companion planting can make a small or medium sized garden produce like a small scale farm, producing enormous amounts of veggies from a deceptively small space. Think about how much you or your family likes particular veggies, and plan on doing some succession planting this year. Examples of varieties that take well to succession planting are beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach and radishes, but there are others as well. Just give your plants a bit more space to accommodate succession planting alongside companion plants.

When deciding on how many plants you’ll need, seed counts are in the variety headings and in each singular variety description, as well as on the website. We are working on getting planting instructions up on the website for each variety, but each packet will have detailed instructions on the back.

Look at the colors of your garden and plan a rainbow to grow the aesthetic and nutritional benefits of different colors. Plant a few red, yellow and orange tomatoes with yellow, purple and orange carrots as companions. Use red Chicory with green Kale and rainbow Swiss chard. Pole beans in different colors partner extremely well with corn.

Plant some of the vining plants like Red Malabar spinach along the garden fence where it won’t take up space, but give you lots of great tasting heat tolerant spinach substitutes for your summer salads. Melons and squash are happy planted in corners of the garden where they can sprawl along the fence or even over and out without being in the way. Another approach is planting them in containers outside the garden where they have all the room needed and are out of danger of being stepped on.

Look at the hot and long season varieties or cold and short season ones on the website for more ideas of what works well for your climate. Use these as a start and experiment to refine into a basis of what, exactly, really works in your garden. This will take time if you are just starting out, but you might be surprised at how much you have figured out if you’ve been growing a bit, even if you haven’t thought about it just this way! Read the descriptions carefully, as we’ve worked hard to try and get good information into them to help you.

Flowers are an often overlooked, but essential component of any serious vegetable and food garden. They don’t just belong in the realm of the flower or landscape gardener! Flowers attract pollinators (not just bees) that greatly improve production in the garden; are nursemaid plants for smaller, more tender ones; are core ingredients for some incredible teas and bring a delightful aroma that soothes and grounds you. Our flowers are notated by Annual, Perennial, Biennial which depends a lot on climate zones but will allow you to do some accurate planning for where they fit in best. Some of the best ways to get started using more flowers in and around your garden is with one of our mixes, especially created for drylands, humid climates or to spread some serious fragrance in your garden.

You should have some good ideas starting about your garden this year. Spending some time during the colder times in planning will help you to create a masterpiece that will grow some incredibly tasty treats to enjoy with your family and share with some lucky friends and neighbors.