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.


Who Needs Zucchini? White Scallop Squash is Divine

photo white squash I've never been a fan of zucchini. I won't plant them in my garden, but this year, a volunteer showed to grow right inside my fence. I let it stay because when a random plant shows up on  it's on, nature's providing you with a gift. I do like a lot about the zucchini plant. The large scale of the leaves. Squash blooms of any variety sure are pretty, and very tasty from what I'm told. Zucchini are QUITE abundant. They requires little care, and when left to grow to full size, the fruit can resemble the club Bam Bam carries in The Flintstones.

As a matter of fact, while growing up, my bothers and I used to let them grow like that so we could have make shift sword fights with them. We had so many of them, that we ran out of things to do with them. They don't freeze well, and there were just so many jars of zucchini relish that my Mom could can for our family to eat. Let's face it, relish is not a entree.

In my experience, rabbits won't touch them. Think about that. A hungry animal in the wild won't risk the ire of the garden owner to eat. That's quite a statement.

There are so many other options of squash. There are more winter squash varieties than summer varieties, but to grow anything but zucchini, generally, you need to start them from seeds. This year, I chose to go with some other options. One option is the White Scalloped Squash, considered a summer variety. I've seen references that date this plant back to 1500s. The Native Americans were growing them when the Europeans showed up. If a plant is grown by Native Americans, to me, that's a worthy endorsement.

Since they are a Native American variety, I thought they would work well for my attempt at a three sisters planting. The three sisters is a Native American interplanting technique that combines corn, squash and beans. You can see an example here.

The corn never grew, but the the White Scalloped Squash and the Dragon Tongue Beans did. The beans are future post. I direct sowed the seeds. I didn't have much luck with that this year. Going forward, I'm will germinate all my plants from seed and transplant to the garden.

The White Scalloped Squash plant is not as large, or broad as zucchini. It does vine, but not in the traditional sense where vines shoot out from a central source. The whole plant grows out together as one vine. The flowers are standard squash blooms. My experience this year is they are not as proficient as zucchini. Thankfully. I did have a couple early fruits rot as the blossom died, but overall,I like this squash a lot. They survived the awful heat this, and I have some more on the vine at the end of July, while the time of the zucchini has passed.

I like shape, the color of the skin is more like a light green than a pure white, and the texture is firm. The texture remains while cooking, and they have very little seeds. Keeping them under 3-4 inches is suggested from others who have grown this variety, and that's what I did. They have subtle, sweet and slightly nutty flavor.

I sliced them, dipped them in chick pea flour, and fried them. Delicious. They saute well, and overall a winner for me. Now, I can grow a squash that I can savor instead of dread, which is important.


In Praise of a Purple Potato

photo, purple majestic potatoes In the last century, (about 12 years ago), Americans discovered there a color palette for potatoes instead of the standard swatch of white . There were always sweet potatoes around, but it took Yukon Golds with slightly yellow color and their buttery flavor, and to break through the American mindset that potatoes only came in white. In a country that perfected the dehydrated potato flake, I guess what else could be expected? Contrast that with Peru, where potatoes originated, potatoes come in a wide spectrum of colors. Check out this gallery from the International Potato Center.

With the interest in heirloom vegetables growing, the idea of potatoes being more than just white, is becoming more mainstream. There still is a lot of people who don't know about anything other than white potatoes.

In the late winter and early spring, the question I get  is "What are you growing this year?" This year, the response included Purple Majesty Potatoes. I got a a good number of responses that were a mix of confusion and intrigue, which is one of the reasons I do what I do. I love that response. It demonstrates an interest in learning about alternatives to what they know. Since people also know that I'm a storyteller, they know there will be a good story for them to listen and learn from.

When I first learned about the Peruvian Blue potatoes, I was surprised. I had only known the white potatoes of my youth. Russets from Maine, and baking potatoes from Idaho. Once the red skin potatoes were introduced into the mix, they became a staple growing up also. I have to admit, I don't find the red skins to be all that, and will choose Yukon Golds in the supermarket over them without hesitation.

Last year, I had my first experience digging potatoes. They were of course, the red skin kind. Within 20 minutes of digging them, they were roasting in my oven. I also had enough to make some fresh gnocchi. Light as a feather, and tasty as could be, it was at this point I knew potatoes would be in my next garden.  I was certain they wouldn't be white. I wanted the Peruvian blues, but as it worked out, I ended up with the Purple Majesty. I keep reading about how great the Majesty were for chips or fries. Except for some misdirected BBQ Rib flavored potato chips, there has never been a bag of chips I haven't liked.

The Purple Majesty potato is not for long term storage, and is considered a medium starchy potato. While chips and fries were the best I've ever had, shredding them and making has browns is the way to go with these. They bake well, and I've seen recipes that use them as mashed potatoes. I didn't try them as mashed because once I went hash browns, I never went back.

Growing potatoes in the ground is easy. They can grow in containers also. While I grew them in the ground, I am growing sweet potatoes in a container. I'll let you know that turns out.

A Cornucopia of Sensual Delights

Sorry for not writing a new post last week, things got crazy in my life. I wrote an earlier post about how I was going to have two gardens this year, and I was going to compare and contrast the results. Well, it seems like some egos, and one ego in particular connected to a city government, conducted a micro coup d'état. This cabal took over a local community garden from the folks who built it over the last 6 years. I was told the offer for my plot would have to be renegotiated with the new regime. No thank you. I can do much better things without drama. And for the record, I believe the new leaders will destroy it.

I'm back to one garden, and that's fine by me. Now, granted I could've split my current plot up, but there are vast differences in how these two community gardens are structured. Those conceptual differences were going to be as much of the story as the harvests from the gardens.

For this year I will have a 20'x60' plot, which I'm going use a Square Foot Gardening/Intensive Gardening (SFGIG), hybrid technique. I will also be mixing some containers into the layout. I've always used my own version of intensive gardening, but always planted in rows. This year will be a new challenge. I have A LOT of new varities to grow, photograph and write about. So the SFGIG approach is approprite for me this year.

Both techniques demonstrate a efficient use of land. Following Thoreau's lead in the Economy chapter in Walden, both techniques fit into the philosophy he laid out in that chapter. As I move forward with Thoreau as an influence in my work, it's natural to demonstrate how I apply that influence, and share it here. With economical use of resources that nature provides, you can create an abundance.

I will have 8 squares to work with. Each square will be 7'x7', and I'll have an approximated 2' wide path around each square. The containers will have White Belgian Carrots, Crapaudine Beets, Lime Green Salad Tomatoes, Tequila Sunrise Peppers, Castelfranco Radicchio, and Rossa Di Treviso Radicchio.

Square 1 –  This will be heirloom tomatoes. I have 15 varieties to choose from including Hawaiian Pineapples, a new one of me this year. They are not to be confused with Pineapples, which I also have seeds for. While both varieties are late season beefsteaks, Hawaiian Pineapples are solid yellow with a hint of pineapple in the flavor from what I understand. Pineapples, are bicolors, and have notes of citrus in their flavor. This I know firsthand.

Square 2 – This will be interesting square since there will be an area that goes vertical. Growing vines vertically are part of the efficiency of SFGIG. So with that in mind, and always looking to push the boundaries, I'm creating art on a trellis. I view it as a blank canvass, and will growing Chinese Red Noodle Beans with Zucchino Rampicante. It should be nice contrast of foliage, flowers and fruit. The rest of the square will have Purple Tomatillo, Silver Edge Squash, Giant Cape Gooseberries and Golden Marconi Peppers.

Square 3 - Here will be Wild Garlic, Greek Pepporcini, and Green Nutmeg Melons. This square is a little light so something else may end up here.

Square 4 – This will be divided between Purple Majesty Potatoes and the classic 3 Sister combination using Morado Purple Corn, White Scallop Squash and Dragon Tongue Beans. While a traditional 3 Sisters planting uses a vining bean, I chose a bush bean since Dragon Tongue Beans are a famous Dutch heirloom variety.

Square 5 – More tomato plants here along with Winter Squash Marmellata, (Jam Pumpkin), as it's known in Italy, or Jaune Gros de Paris, (The Large Yellow of Paris Pumpkin), as it know in France. It can be a very large pumpkin, with a pinkish-orange skin and sweet yellow flesh. In Italy it's used for preserves, hence it's Italian name. I plan on making some pumpkin jam later on this year. I will also be growing some Giant Orange Amaranth and Greek Giant Amaranth in this square.

Square 6 – This will be my succession planting square. Succession planting is where you plant with the intention of harvesting crops is a succession. Whether this done with specific type of vegetable such as tomato, where you plant early varieties, mid-season varieties and late-season varieties, or plant a vegetable such as lettuce once a week for three weeks in a row so the harvest will last for three weeks in succession after maturity. Or, you do something like I will be doing. I'm going to do a succession of Viroflay Spinach, which dates back to 1885, and is the father of many modern hybrids, and Broccoli Rapini and Sorrento Broccoli Rabe all at the same time, followed by yet to be determined radishes, and than Tuscan Kale.

Square 7 – Here will be Black Lentils, Padron Peppers, and Delice De La Table (Delight of the Table) Melons, a famous French cantaloupe. It's very rare here in North America, still around in France. It's an old variety of a true cantaloupe, not like the cantaloupes that are sold in supermarkets. They are muskmelons. I can't wait have them delight my table.

Square 8 – This will have Jing Orange Okra, which I have seen described as a Asian or African variety. Any okra plant is a beautiful, and this one produces orange-red pods, and beautiful white flowers. I expect some beautiful photographs, and tasty pickled okra this summer. There will be Rouge D'Hiver Lettuce, an old french heirloom, which may get moved to the succession square with the kale. Since cool weather brings out the red color, that could be why they would be moved. Rounding out this square will be Shisgigatani or Tonas Makino pumpkin, a Japanese pumpkin developed in the ealry 1800's and is considered one of the kyo yasai, which are traditional vegetables of the Koyoto area of Japan. It's used in a vegetarian cooking known as shojin ryor, which is eaten by Buddhist priests. It will be a nice contrast to the Jam Pumpkin from Square 5, which is from France, and used for jam in Italy.

Still to be determined, Flat Red Onion of Italy, a red cippolini, and Romanesco Italia, a cauliflower that is called a broccoli, and is a chartreuse example of fractal geometry with a nutty flavor.

So while the tale of two gardens are gone, the economy of land use will provide a abundance for a cornucopia of sensual delights. It's a nice trade off.

Bisignano #2 Tomatoes – One Plant, Four Shapes of Fruit

photo group of bisignano2 tomatoes I like to think of this tomato like this as the anti-Cello pack tomato. The Cello Packs as I recalled were 3 bland tomatoes in a small, white rectangle shaped basket wrapped in cellophane. It was the perfect synthesis of what was, and still is wrong with the industrial food machine today.

Tomatoes bred for shipping not flavor, uniform in shape and size, and the shelf life and texture of the wax fruit that one could interchange in a pinch if needed. The packaging might have tasted better than those tomatoes.


Fortunately though, with a little luck, I think I found the Bisigano #2 tomato. Or I should say, the tomato found me. While I'm not sure the tomatoes I grew last year are Bisignano #2s, I will confirm it this year when I grow them side by side.

Last year I wrote about some seeds that came my way from a friend of mine. My friend got these seeds from a friend of hers. He had grown them for 36 years, did not know the name of the variety, and said the seeds came from a family in Italy. There was an air of mystery about this, and was sounded like many seed collecting and seed saving stories. I tried to research what variety they were based on the little information I had. No luck though. I needed a full season to observe all of the characteristics of the plants.

To my fascination I watched these seeds take off and grow into these large, lush and tall plants. The circumference of them was astounding to me, think a wooden bushel, and not only wide but tall also. I felt awkward staking them since they grew in such a perfect circle. I knew these were going to produce some special fruit, and they did.

green bisignano2 tomatoes

The first fruits were these large bell  shaped tomatoes that looked like bell peppers as you can see on the right. As if this was not enough to blow away a fanatic like me, I could sense the plants were laughing at me and saying to themselves "you ain't seen nothing yet."

And they were right. I observed harvested 3 other shaped tomatoes, on the plant. One a, standard plum shape, one oblong, and a globe shape. Some had a small tip at the end of them. This might have indicated that this variety were Opalkas, which has the tip as a distinctive characteristic. While a few did have it, the majority did not.

In my search for seeds this year, I happen to come across the Bisignano #2 tomatoes. I read this description, (scroll down the web page to the description), and it seems to describe the tomatoes as accurately;

A favorite plum tomato. From Italian, Mr. Bisignano. Sturdy, rampant vines, set out four different fruit shapes; oval, globes, plums, and large heart shapes. All are thick walled and meaty, deep orange-red with full, rich tomato flavor. One of the best processing types you'll ever find, they are equally good in salads. Some of the first plants I set out, and the last fruits I pick each year. A true all season tomato

While it will be a full season before I have the results of the side by side comparison, my gut tells me this is the tomato I grew last year. I hope it is. It's another example of the wonders of heirlooms and nature itself. And one I will advocate for since it seems to be less popular.

You can purchase seeds at the site of the description above, or here.

A Dried, Sweetened Tomato as a Fig Substitute?

Redfig_1 Evidently in colonial times in America, this Philadelphia heirlom variety did exactly that. It seemed odd and intriguing to me when I first read about the Red Fig tomato being used as fig susbsitute in early America. When I read about that use, of course I had to experience this piece of hertigae and history for myself. I was born in Philadelphia, and my family has lived in the city for 100 years. I'm also a history buff and sucker for a good story like this. I love fresh figs, and fresh tomatoes, but I never thought about substituting a tomato for a fig. As far as the dried versions of either, I can do without them.

So I ordered the seeds, and got a new perspective on the use of a tomato. The seeds came from On the Red Fig description page I found instructions on how to prepare tomato figs. Basically, you boil some water, place the tomatoes in the hot water so you can peel them. Once peeled, you place them in a jar with an equal amount of sugar and let them sit for a couple days. Everyday you pour off the syrup and add more sugar. Once that is complete, the colonial folks dried them in the sun for a few days on screens. I used my dehydrator. Once they are dried, in colonial times they covered them with powdered sugar and packed them away. I didn't coat my version in powdered sugar. It's too sweet and too processed for me. I also used light brown sugar to cure the tomatoes.

Red_fig_2 I did this for two days. The result is I have some tasty little nuggets that to me taste more bbq than a fig. I have some tomato simple syrup that will be used in a cocktail or a drizzle on some buttermilk ice cream the next time I make it. I only did a small batch since I wasn't quite sure how these would turn out. I would like to try them in some baking. Perhaps biscuits or breads with herbs and cheese. Thanks to a wicked hail storm the bulk of my harvest got knocked off the vine or else I would make more.

The plants produce an abundant amount of pear shaped tomatoes. The foliage is delicate, and on the dainty side. The plants remind me of botanical drawings. The fruit grows in clusters, and it falls ont he vine real easy. You have to be careful while picking the ripe ones.

They also dry in the oven well. I still don't get the Redfig_3 fig substitution but it doesn't really matter since the odd and intriguing concept inspired me to try this tomato. I can take it from here. As I learned in my art history courses, in order to create new art you have to study and understand the past. So while I won't be substituting these tasty morsels for figs anytime soon, I have a new ingredient and flavor in my culinary and gardening pallet. And in the end, that's just fine by me.



Lemon Cucumber, A Real Charmer

Lemon2 As promised, I present to you, the Lemon Cucumber. As you can see from this photo, it makes a great prop. Try that with you average, wax-encased supermarket variety. I know what you thinking, Jeff I don't need my cucumbers to be props, I need them them to crisp and tasty. Well I'm here to tell you the Lemon Cucumber is crisp and tasty, and it's beautiful. I challenge anyone to come up with a still life with the supermarket variety that has the grace and interest of what you see here. They are susceptible to the bacterial wilt spread by the dreaded cucumber beetle, and like a lot heirlooms, the shelf life is relatively short. All the more reason to eat them fresh off the vine. There is something about the round shape that makes devouring one quite easy. Lighter than an apple, and about the size of one, one bite and you'll see why you should grow them. Most cucumbers have a delicate and subtle flavor, this one has a more pronounced flavor that makes for a satisfying and somewhat thirst-quenching snack.

According to Seeds of Change, the Lemon Cucumber has been charming gardeners since the 1890s. Allow it to charm you, and share in over a century of delight.

Check out my project, a photo book of the buds of the 22 varities of tomatoes that I'm growing this year.  

Boothby's Blonde, My First Harvest

Bootby1 Tonight was it, my first harvest! And the first time I've tasted Boothby' Blonde Cucumber. And the result, it tastes like a cucumber, which I love cucumbers. And there is quite a difference in one that you grow as opposed to the ones you buy. A major difference, no wax. That's why I don't buy them in supermarkets. Secondly, there no comparison to a freshly picked anything and some supermarket dud. And finally and most important, you will never see these in a supermarket. A farm market perhaps. That's the value of growing heirlooms. They are unique. For myself that's important. I want to experience the buffet that Mother Nature provided. Not be feed what come profit driven business decides what's best for them. I like idea that cucumbers could be yellow, that tomatoes can be considered black or purple, string beans are purple and peppers and melons that come all shapes, sizes and colors. There's a zest to that. A passion that is meant to delight the senses, and inspire the soul. It's nice to have options.

Boothby2 The cucumber itself is delightfuly crisp, has a sweet creamy texture, and from what I can see, the plants are very prolific. I'm glad I choose to grow these. I hope you will consider them as well.

I have Lemon Cucumbers on deck. I grew them last year and only got a few. I did enjoy them and look forward to picking a few of them in the next week or so. I'll post about them as well. Round and yellow, now there's a cucumber to turn your concept of cucumbers upside down.

The First Tomato of the Season

No, not my first tomato, the first tomatoes of the season are out. I was running around the supermarket this afternoon with the intention of making a quick pizza for dinner with some roasted feta cheese that I was going to make like a friend me told me she made. I was going for the grape tomatoes, and low and behold there they were, the first local tomatoes of the season. I thought to myself, in the middle of June, really? I know there are early varieties having grown Early Girls and Jetsetters before, but never before the 4th of July. So I walked over and looked at the waxed caricatures of real tomatoes on that display. Madame Tussuad would be proud. There was an rendition of a beefsteak, which are my favorites. I wanted to cry at the sight of this fruit. There were globe shaped balls and a few that had the point of a strawberry variety.

I bought about a pound, and while they did taste better then the other red waxed balls from out-of-state, or out-of-country now, they were no match for a real heirloom. In the past few years I've noticed a quickening of the pace to get fresh local tomatoes to market. I know farmers need to make money, and I respect that, however when the product is marginally better and more expensive then what's available, you're doing nothing to help the buy local movement.

Food as fashion doesn't help, either but that's for another post. And Madison Ave. with their sale of perfection is another problem. As this story unfolds, I will focus some attention on those subjects. For now though, this rant is done with. By the way the pizza rocked. Roasting some feta in tin foil is a nice thing to do, especially with some olive oil, garlic and crushed, dried cherry peppers. The wax ball of a tomato melted into a pool of flavor thanks to roasting it with fresh basil, garlic through a press, a squeeze of fresh lemon and good olive oil.

The Garden is Finished

When I left off last time I was transitioning from Tribute to Tye Dye with Hopi Dye Sunflowers to some yet unknown patch in my garden. Ah, what a sweet and philosophical post that was. Living in the moment seemed to be the happy go lucky way forward.

There have been many moments since. Most of them wet with rain. Others filled with coughing from a really bad cold. Somewhere in between my birthday, which I usually spend in the garden. Well this year that was not the case, it was a washout here. I did however, write the draft of this post, so I was working the virtual soil.

Stuff happens, it's unavoidable. When you look at your life and what you do as a story, you come to realize the magic is messy and uncontrollable at at times. It still adds to the narrative. Take for example all the rain we've had around here. While it's decimated my plans to get the plants in the ground, as well as two pepper plants, it showed me that I had a slight problem with my plot. 

This double plot has a rather large low spot that the rain settled. I was able to fix it by filling it in with some other dirt.  I'm glad I didn't plant anything there. I've been working my way around it for no reason really. A potential safety hazard, my food dropped about a foot, which the rain help to expose. Not every plot twist will reap the magic that the Mark Twain tomatoes did, but that does not make any less important. 

And now back to the fun part of this story, the patches. The transition never happened. The Hopi Dye Sunflowers were going to transition to a patch that I call Tennessee. Tennessee has a rich tradition in heirloom gardening, specifically tomatoes like Cherokee PurplesAunt Ruby's German Green, and Lilian's Yellow, to name a few. I have Cherokee Purples and Cherokee Chocolates. It seemed perfect. The seeds from the Hopi Dye are used for dyeing, and they are named after one Native America nation would transition to another patch that featured Cherokee Purples, which are named after another Native American nation. The sunflowers would unite the two, except for the fact that my Family Garden Quilt was in the way. Smack dab in the middle of the two patches. So much for that. 

So now each patch will stand on its own, united by the fence that surrounds the plot, and the inclusion in this story. Tennessee has made a big splash into my life this year. It all started innocently enough, a gift of a package of Middle Tennessee Low Acid tomato seeds would arrive from with my order. Who knew it was foreshadowing?

An intriguing tomato, a low acid red, I was grateful for the generosity and the tomato blessings from Gary Isben and Dagma Lacey. After all Tennessee is where I acquired the Mark Twains, and and an Israeli tomato plant which is a Greene County, Tennesse heirloom. It was great to acknowledge this content with a patch of plants.

The next patch over is what I like to consider a patch of history. I have a Painted Serpent Cucumber, which has been gracing gardens since the 1400's, Grandfather Ashlocks which is named after a descendant of a soldier who fought in the Revolutionary war, Red Figs, which has been around since the early 1800s, Watermelon Pink Beefsteaks, which have been around for ovwer 100 years, and Goose Creek, which are red tomatoes that a slave brought seeds with them from their home land, passed those seeds down through generations of her family. 

There's my Family Garden Quilt, and finally Gallimaufry, which could turn out to be the most intriguing of them all. It's here that I have the mystery seeds planted. These seeds came to me through a friend, from a friend of hers, an elderly Italian gentleman whose family plants these seeds in Sicily. George, the seed source, called them Bell tomatoes. The instructions that I got was to plant the paper towel. The seeds were dried on a paper towel. I did plant the paper towel, and these plants took off like rockets. I believe they are plum type. The plants have the look of plums and name Bell, can be used to describe a variety of plum tomato. As the plants grow, and more distinctive characteristics appear, I will know for sure. There are the Cour Di Bue tomatoes, an Italian oxheart, and and a couple Hinkelhatz hot pepper plants. They are one of the oldest Pennsylvania Dutch heirlooms. 

Also, me being me, and that's human, I forgot to record what some seeds were when I started them. Last year I got the Pineapples and Aunt Ruby's German Green mixed up. I was waiting for the Aunt Rubys to turn yellow. The first few just got rotten. As the Pineapples started to turn yellow I realized my mistake. I think the tomatoes I didn't record are Cherokee Purples, but I won't know until the fruits ripen. A little fun and mystery goes a long way.

And that's the garden. I love that I was able to create these patches using the heirloom qualities and the stories that my plants possess. 

Garden Update; Living in the Moment, A Tribute to Tye-dye

Seems like that what plants do. Given the fact they have roots, and just can't get up and go, living in the moment seems like something they do. Weather, seasons, cycle of day and night. Except for a mighty Oak, I doubt seriously that they plan ahead.

Given the storytelling aspect here, living in the moment has become quite relevant. And, it seems like that's another lesson to learn from my plants. A lesson of course comes out of most stories.

I had this great garden planned in my head. That's where it will live. Forever. Life is busy,the weather has been very wet on weekends, and my garden plot not on my property and is 10 minutes. It's a conspiracy. And because of that, I won't be doing rows. I'll be doing patches instead. I always have done rows. The plot is now dived ed up into quarters, with a large area in the middle for my family garden quilt.

As I look at the stories behind the heirloom plants I have, which were picked totally at random, and with some other idea of how my garden is going to be, I had a moment. I can create narratives by using the nature of plants. Their heirloom quality. And you can too, if you want.

There will be a patch called Tribute to Tye-dye. Black Cherry TomatoesLime Green Salad TomatoesNorthern Lights, a bicolor. (And let's face it, the true northern lights are part of the spectrum of tye-dye palates in astronomy). Lemon CucumbersBoothbys BlondeCucumbersPeppino Melons which are yellow with purple stripes. Canary Melons for even more yellow. And some Hopi Dye Sunflowers to transition to the next chapter. A color is a defining characteristic of these plants, icluding the dye that can be culled from the seeds of the Hopi Dye Sunflower.

And that's it for this moment. I need to have 3 more for the rest of the patches, or this post is toast.


Heirloom? Hybrids? Why Not Both?

A friend of mine sent me a link to this article, Heirloom Seeds or Flinty Hybrids? and it gave me some food for thought. Since this is not a blog devoted to media critiques, I'll refrain from that. I will focus on the one thing that made sense to me from that article, the subject matter, heirlooms or hybrids. Heirlooms hold a special place in my heart. I am a passionate supporter of them. My mission now is to connect people to them, and encourage them to make them family heirlooms. That said, I feel hybrids serve an equally important purpose. It comes down to what is the end user's goal.

I can understand farmers needing to have a a uniform crop. Their living depends on the harvest. The challenge of weather, plant disease and pests is a formidable one. Hybrid seeds level the playing field in a big way, and encourage the farmer to farm. On a smaller scale, the home gardner faces the same challenges, and hybrids offer them the same advantage. Hybrids plants offer a safe and stable alternative to the potential gamble that heirlooms offer.

Heirloom varieties can be a bit of a crap shoot. Take for example heirloom tomatoes. For the farmer looking for a full-fledged, market-ready cash crop, a major stumbling blocks to heirloom tomatoes is their thin skin. It hinders shipping them over a distance. They also have a shorter shelf life. The plants can be more susceptible to disease. The odd shapes and sizes makes packing difficult.  In the structure of modern society, with the big box retail model as the driving consumer practice, heirloom tomatoes don't stand a chance.

For the backyard gardener, the stability of hybrids offers them opportunity to grow plants that aren't as finicky and fussy as heirlooms, according to the reputation that heirloom's have. Limitations of time, space, ability, and the growing zone in which a gardner lives, all are challenges that hybrids can address to a varying degree of success. They can bring more people in the fold as gardeners.

Hybrids on the surface offer a safer return on your investment of time and money for gardening for a certain segment of society.

They just don't taste as good. And you can't save the seeds. The seed factor is big. With hybrids you're handing over the power to sustain life on this planet to seed companies. These companies will decide which plants are worthy to be grown. This allows decisions to be made about what best for the company, not the balance of life on the planet. Keep in mind, mother nature perfected the blend of art and science in a seed. This generally tiny thing, that when planted in the earth with the addition of light and water, can grow into something that can help sustain life, for so many inhabitants on this planet, while tantalizing and tickling all of the human senses, is an amazing achievement. And it wasn't done for profit.

And it's that factor that I will place my trust in her, and her heirloom varieties.

While Watermelon Pink Beefsteaks, are, at least in my experience, one of THOSE varieties with THAT reputation about being not prolific, uncooperative and having a will of their own, the majesty of their process makes it easy to forgive them. Watching the fruit ripen on these plants is a sight to be seen. Not all ripen this way, however some go from a standard green tomato, to a green striped tomato that resembles a watermelon right before turning a highly chromatic crimson that is the color of a very sweet and ripe watermelon. The tomatoes are big, after all they are beefstakes, and ultra sweet. And the taste is worthy of the experience of their process. If you get a half a dozen from a plant, you've done well. They are truly fascinating. I'll always have a couple of these plants around.

So for me, that's what I relish in my garden. I could also understand why a farmer would pass these over for a cash crop, or someone who was challenged by time, space and enviromental issues, to choose a hybrid over a Watermelon Pink. There's good reasons for both heirlooms and hybrids. For me though, it's that nonconformist tendency that heirlooms offer, that make them my choice. And the power of their seeds.

My Family Garden Quilt

Well I'm planning my garden, and this year I'm ahead of the game. Last year it all happened so quickly that I was lucky to get anything out of it. The greatest harvest thought was this concept of Vanishing Feast. How lucky am I?! In these posts at my other blog, Magic Hat Stories (MHS), An Heirloom Garden, A Family Quilt by Another Name, Part 1, Part 2, I look at the concept of heirloom gardening, and put it in the context of a family quilt. This year I fully intend to use a portion of my garden as a family garden quilt.

In this post at MHS, My Heirloom Garden Follows the Journey of My Family, I use 3 heirloom varities of vegetables to trace my family's journey from Italy, to Philadelphia, PA, and eventually to southern New Jersey. While I did grow all three varities, they were not set up as a quilt. As I mentioned above, last year was rushed experience.

I will be using the same 3 varities I wrote about in the post mentioned in the paragraph above. These are Jimmy Nardello's Sweet Italian Peppers, Fish Peppers and Rutger's tomatoes. This year I will be adding Belmonte Tomatoes, which originated in Calabria area of Italy, where my Dad's family is from. The Jimmy Nardello's are from Basilicata, Italy where my Mom's family is from. The story of the Fish Peppers goes that it originated with African-American slaves, and was used in the Baltimore/Philadlephia area to flavor seafood chowders. Both sets of my grandparents settled in Philadelphia, and the Fish peper will honor that fact my garden quilt.

Rutgers and Boxcar Willie tomatoes will complete the quilt. They represent New Jersery where my dad moved our family in the 1960's. This is where my dad taught me and my brothers about organic gardening.  I'll use some flowers and herbs to represent my mom to color and texture. And yes, this will be a square shape. I plan on shooting video and still photos as part of the documentry.

I will share the photo and the progress on this blog.