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.

 

 

Countdown to Terra Madre – A Primer

slow food international's turin logoA month from now, October 23, 2012, I will be leaving for Salone del Gusto Terra Madre in Turin, Italy. I didn't plan to have my first post up exactly a month out. It just worked out that way. (wink) I'm excited and honored to be attending as press since my paternal grandparents are from Calabria, and my maternal grandparents are from Basilicata. All of them were from farming families. I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to attend this event, whose organizer works to preserve food heritage and traditional farming practices. That honors my heritage. The high fructose corn syrup free icing on the cake would be, if my dual citizenship with Italy is confirmed before I leave. It will be close. In April, I was told it would be at least six months before I would received my certificate of Italian citizenship. October is the sixth month. Considering this is my first trip to Italy, taking the first step onto Italian soil as citizen, would  a moment on my lifetime. If not THE moment.

If the above is not enough inspiration, there's more. Slow Food International (SFI) has put together a comprehensive educational event that fosters a strong community. Let's start with SFI's description of the event from a recent press release;

For the first time, Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre merge to create a single event that will be held on October 25-29, 2012 in Turin, Italy. The biennial event organized by Slow Food, the City of Turin and the Region of Piedmont in collaboration with the Italian Ministry for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, will display the extraordinary diversity of food from all continents and unite small-scale farmers and artisans from around the world who follow the principles of good, clean and fair.

To support this mission, the following will be presented. From the from the Salone del Gusto website;

Taste Workshops – In the year that the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre merge to create a single event that can better communicate Slow Food’s message, the Taste Workshops will also reflect this change. They’ll be giving more space to the network’s key issues and campaigns: the importance of biodiversity and sustainability, the protection of the landscape and the rediscovery of traditional knowledge. As usual, they will feature tastings led by producers, chefs, winemakers, brewers and experts.

Master of Food: A Taste for Learning  – The Master of Food courses at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre offer a series of practical activities, stimulating and reinforcing learning through direct experience. That’s the spirit behind the courses, “Horticulture” and “Cooking Without Waste,” dedicated to sustainable production and consumption and designed to cater to visitors from both Italy and abroad. The production and cooking techniques outlined in these courses are simple yet powerful ideas that have the potential to change the world. Translation into English will be provided.

Theater of Taste – Chefs take to the stage, surrounded by an amphitheater of audience members. Their every move is followed by video cameras that capture their dexterity and culinary tricks and broadcast them on a big screen. The chefs will be preparing their signature dishes for the audience to sample and reveal the secrets behind their preparation.

Meetings With the Makers – Eagerly awaited by connoisseurs and professionals, or anyone who likes the idea of trying out new beers or following the last 30 years of Italian wine history, glass in hand: Meetings with the Makers events are held in a salon in the heart of the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, where you will be welcomed with delicious tastings and delightful stories, anecdotes and confessions from great figures from the international food and wine world.

Dinner Dates – Take a tour of the world’s cuisines: 39 chefs will be coming to Piedmont for 23 Dinner Dates, hosted by prestigious restaurants in and around Turin and famous wineries in the Langhe.

Slow Food Education – To help explain how food changes the world Slow Food will be organizing many fun and educational activities that invite visitors of all ages to rediscover the pleasures of conviviality, shop and eat responsibly, respect the seasons, benefit from biodiversity, train the senses and get to know the people who farm, catch and produce the foods that end up on our plates every day.

Conferences – Food changes the world through the choices of responsible consumers, chefs and producers who care about the stories of the products that they eat, cook and make. The Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre Conferences are an opportunity to talk about these experiences, to open up the debate on how responsible eating habits can improve our health and that of the planet’s and call into question the distortions and paradoxes of large-scale production and distribution systems.

The offer is on for a great experience. I can't wait. I seemed to have worked out some minor technical issues with posting from iPad, so I plan on updating as much as possible. I'll have more specific posts in the next 30 days.

Faux Green Olives, A Good Use of Green Tomatoes

green tomatoes and olivesI'm a little busy right now, and unfortunately, the garden has fallen down the list of priorities. I will be a vendor at The 2nd National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, CA, September 11-13, 2012. Shortly after that, I will be part of the international press covering, Salone del Gusto Terra Madre, in Turin, Italy October 25, 2012 - October, 28, 2012. Not to mention the day job, 2 hours commuting everyday, and all the activities associated with life, e.g. laundry. My garden is not located on my property. I have a community garden plot about 10 minutes from my house that I have to haul everything to and fro, including water. Even though I store water there, the water still has to get to the storage container. I need approximately 60 gallons at a time. It's a challenge. Especially with the water and with the heat and flirting with drought here in my corner of southern New Jersey.

Recently, I stopped by just to see what was up. It had rained, or stormed is more like it since rain just doesn't exist with the new weather, so I was off the hook for a bit with watering. When I got there, a branch of a lush Ramapo plant, a New Jersey heirloom, had split from the force of the weight of the green tomatoes. My lack of time contributed since I didn't keep up with securing the new growth to the stake, and than there was the power of the storm.

The tomatoes were too small to fry, and not really enough to pickle. Not one to waste the gift of food, I knew I could do something with them. So, while driving home with the green tomatoes, I thought, when in doubt, roast. From my harvest that day of ripe tomatoes and eggplants, I was going to make a fresh tomato sauce with eggplant, and to that, I would also add the roasted green tomatoes.

I remembered earlier in the day, I had bought some sigi olives, otherwise known as oil cured sicialin olives. They are dry cured black olives that are soaked in oil. The flavor is robust and dense, and they can be very salty. The dry curing intensifies all the flavor as the moisture is removed. They have pits, and for some, the flavor, can be overwhelming. Good, cured olives in tomato sauce is always a favorite of mine with pasta, so now, they were going into the sauce too.

I was all set in my mind until I started to cook. Always one to experiment, I decided to roast the olives with the green tomatoes. I would add  some Italian sunflower oil, which is superb, salt, fresh garlic, some fresh lemon juice, and hope for the best. As you can see by reading this, it worked because I'm sharing it with you.

When I cook, I never measure, that's why I don't bake. So, I can't give you precise amounts here. But here's what I did;

  1. Cut up the tomatoes into quarters, and placed them in a bowl
  2. Removed the pits from the olives, and added the pitted olives to the tomatoes int he bowl
  3. Coat with oil
  4. Sprinkled in some course sea salt, sliced 3 cloves of fresh garlic, and squeezed a fresh lemon into the tomatoes and olives.  I tossed it all together, and let it sit for about 10 minutes while the oven heated up. I used a counter top convection oven at 450
  5. Roasted them for about 12 minutes, removed them, and placed them in a bowl where I tossed them again.

When eaten together, the moisture from the roasted tomatoes, along with the oil, mellows the intense flavor of the dry cured olives while adding a slight tang, that a green olive would have. The textures blend into what one would expect from olives. Hence, faux green olives.

pasta and sauceRight before the pasta was done, I added the mixture with the eggplant, which I french fried, to the tomato sauce, which I tossed with a wonderful organic, Italian glutten freen pasta by BioNataure. I have to say, I was very pleased.

Let them marinate in the refrigerator for a couple days, and the green tomatoes really pick up the olive flavor. It makes a nice tapenade also. I'm so glad  I discovered this. I found another branch spilt from a second Ramapo plant. Can't wait to see a ripe Ramapo will taste like. All in good time. Time right now for me is lacking. Time though is a great equalizer. We all get 24 hours in a day. How we shape it into our own story defines who we are.

 

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.

 

Time Waits For No One, and Neither Do Seed Potatoes

Lately, I've been overbooked. The velocity of all the transition going on in my life right now is burning me out. Last week as I sprung forward, off the tracks I went. It's spring planting time. The calendar and nature sure are on schedule, perhaps nature is a bit ahead of schedule. It seems March is the new May around here, which adds to chaotic feel of things here.

So last week as I was swirling around in the chaos, which works well for my creative process and nothing else in my life, I opened a cabinet door to get something I rarely use, and wa la, there are Purple Majesty potato plants growing up from the bottom shelf.

Oh yea. Seed potatoes. Now what? Perplexed to start. I've never grown potatoes before. I thought when I ordered them, they shipped a bit early. When they arrived, I put them in a dark, comfortable place. I hoped they would be ok until my community garden plot became available on March 24, 2012. The potatoes, which have no concept of man's imposition of time on nature, had no desire to wait for me, or the community garden regulations. Can't say I blame them, when you have to sprout, you sprout.

Inspiration strikes. I have to get them in soil. I can be brilliant at times like this. I stopped what I was doing, and headed out to find some peat pots. The larger the better I thought. It was going to be a challenge for the larger peat pots. The local stores are just getting up to speed with their spring planting goods. I couldn't find the larger round peat pots I wanted, so I got the largest square ones I could find.

My thought was to get the pieces of potatoes into a peat pot. The instructions with the potatoes said to cut the potatoes into pieces with a minimum of 3 eyes on each piece to be planted, cyclops style I suppose. Some of the pieces ended up with only a pair of eyes, which I hope will see them through to sprouting.

When it comes time to plant in the ground, the soil will be compacted from being in the peat pot. I won't have to remove the contents from the pot. I could place the pot in the ground, and I can cut the pot down the sides and peel it away.

I assembled thirteen pots, some showing signs of responding well a week later. I'm glad the potatoes are responding well, the gardener on the other hand, is trying his best not to end up as a compost pile.

I'm very fortunate and grateful that so much is going on my life. It's a very fertile time, and the potato plants growing in a cabinet prove that. I bought an iris last year called Banish Misfortune. I planted it, and asked it to work it's magic. It did evidently. I will say when it bloomed I was ready to banish it to the compost pile. The magic wasn't immediate, wasn't in the form I thought it should be and as a storyteller, you would think I would have recognize this.

I recognize it now. It goes to show that the person who encourages you to live your life as a story you write everyday, that said person being me, needs to tells a story about his life to open his eyes to his own process from time to time.

 

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.

Fashioning an Heirloom Gardening Lifestyle – An Introduction

photo gardens No doubt about it, heirloom gardening is a hot trend. Take for example the class I’m about to teach. The class is a new offering at a local enrichment program, and I have thirteen people signed up for it. A WOW next to the last email in my inbox next to my  enrollment number tells me this is a good for a new class. This bodes well for everyone involved. The role of the enrichment program is fulfilled by offering information sought by those in the community. The participants will learn about the opportunities presented by heirloom gardening, knowledge about heirlooms and organic gardening will be shared, and most important, nature will be benefit by people learning to care for it in a natural way.

Nature has provided all we need to sustain ourselves. It serves as an example that we can learn from. Along the way societies have made choices, some good, some bad about how to sustain this example. After WWII there was a big shift in society, I wrote about a brief timeline about this change here. Woman were entering the workforce, the suburbs offered a reflection of a new prosperity, commuting and driving to regional shopping malls were eating into available time, television was a new medium that brought visual advertising into the living room, and industrial processed food was sold as a convenient product to fit this social change. One significant area that marketing could target this product was the fact more woman were working outside of the house. Their traditional role was changing, less time was left for cooking meals. Industrial food filled a gap by positioning it as new and convenient reflection of the new, modern and society.

However, the industrial food complex was very quiet about how their processing removed nutrients and replaced it with fillers and chemical preservatives. Never mind that people were canning their own food for ages without anything but what nature offered, the industrial food complex changed what they felt they needed for mass consumption and profit.

It also changed a lot of our choices about food.

Embracing this processed food was one of many choices that society made, and by doing so, ignored the lessons from nature that sustained societies for thousands of years.

Hindsight is 20/20. We’re at a critical point now with GMOs, and reliance on food that is low on natural ingredients and nutrients and high in chemicals. Biofuels have put a strain on food supplies. Factor in natural disasters thanks to climate change, and we are faced with challenges to sustain ourselves. The USDA just released a new hardiness gardening zone map that reflects a warmer USA.

With the rise in popularity of heirlooms, the opportunity is presented to transition this increased awareness into a lifestyle change that is more sustainable.

I wrote about Thoreau and Emerson here, and how their philosophy would be a big influence on what I aim to accomplish with Vanishing Feast, An Heirloom Solution. Since I wrote that post, I found an interesting parallel. In astrology Neptune has moved into Pisces, which in astrology is significant. Neptune is considered an outer planet. The outer plants move slow, and because of this their influence is a slow. This gradual change is what influences society since social change is slow, and what influences people in deep change to their being.

As a storyteller who studied the fine arts, symbolism is a paramount to being creative. An interesting fact I found out about Neptune moving into Pisces is the last time this happened Thoreau wrote Walden. Self-reliance and nature is a lot of what Walden is about. So in economy. What Thoreau did was write about how he lived and demonstrated the economy and practical nature of nature. He also studied nature and all the interactions that occur and has been refereed to the father of American Phenology. (The link will take you to the citation in a Google Books pdf.) That’s disputed, however it’s his observations that have attracted the most attention.

Phenology is a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (as bird migration or plant flowering)

Today a lot of the current research and writing about phenology is the effect climate change is having on it. A new phenology is coming into being. I will say the new hardiness zone map reflects this.

Symbols in a story are opportunities. They creative the narrative. Living life as a story, as I encourage here, it’s looking for these symbols and opportunities to drive my narrative, which is to keep heirloom plants from vanishing. When you work with this technique, trusting your intuition is something that needs to be nurtured, like a garden. To Thoreau and Emerson, intuition was an integral part of their philosophy. It is to mine also.

I see the rise of interest in heirlooms as an opportunity. I see the move of Neptune into Pieces as a symbol. I see the threat to the environment from GMOs, chemicals and climate change as facts. It’s with Vanishing Feast, An Heirloom Solution that I’m using storytelling to fashion an heirloom gardening lifestyle as a response to it all. I encourage you to join me. Nature will reward you if you do.

If you don't garden, I will write about other ways to support a heirloom gardening lifestyle. For now, check out localharvest.org for a lot of good information and links about how to support this lifestyle without a garden.

 

Heirloom Information, Companion Planting

photo of borage Along with heirloom seeds, the knowledge about how to grow them has been passed down from generation to generation also. Organic gardening is what I do, and it's what I encourage you to do also. Take a cue from nature, nature is organic.

When you create an garden, you're creating an environment for life of more than plants. You're creating a source of life for various creatures that exist in nature too. This is good. It's what you want to do. It's healthy and sustainable. Achieving the right balance is a challenge, but it's possible with some planning based in solid information.

While there are some creatures that will be drawn to your garden that you don't want, rabbits, deer and woodchucks for example, the fact that they are drawn to something you create to sustain their life tells you that your doing something right.

You do want to attract beneficial, whether they are pollinators, birds, or frogs, companion planting is one way to achieve this. Your garden is a abundant source of life concentrated in small area. That's why companion planting is important.

Here are a few examples of  why you should companion plant.

  • The legendary Native American Three Sisters, consists of corn, vining beans and squash. The corn provides a pole for the vining beans to grow up, so no poles are needs. The squash with it's broad leaves provide shade to soil which helps retain moisture and discourages weeds, and the prickly nature of squash plants deters some pests. Additionally the nutrients from these plants compliment each other. When cooked together, they form a perfect protein.
  • By planting different varieties of plants together you lessen the risk of an infestation of predator bugs. If you have a concentration of one variety of vegetable in a small area, you're offering up a all you can eat buffet for some bugs. If you scatter plants around, it's more of a scarp here and there instead. Companion plant some marigolds with the scattered planting, which  have a scent that repels some pests, you have a scrap that smell rotten.With this type of companion planting you are creating a sustainable environment for vegetable plants and marigolds which attracts and sustains beneficial pollinators, and reducing the need for toxic chemical insecticides.
  • Companion plants can serve as traps crops also. If you know have a common pest in the area where you garden that your crops attract, you can plant a companion plants as trap for the pests. Plant a concentrated area of the companion plant as a trap for the pest. Given the choice between an concentrated area of food, and a scattered area mention above, bugs will likely choose the concentrated area. Once they are concentrated, the pests are easier to pick off because they are in a concentrated area.

There are many other benefits to companion planting, and I've added a Companion Planting page that has three links to more information, including a pdf that you can download excerpted from Companion Planting, a book from Rodale’s Successful Organic Gardening series.

Just as some plants do well planted together, some plants don't. You can go here for a good chart of what not to plant together. There are more benefits than there are drawbacks so most of the information out there reflect that.

The bottom line is nature knows best, and think about any walk in a meadow, or woods that you have taken. That's the best example of the power and benefit of companion planting. Created by nature to sustain itself, over generations of time. Learning from that is the best source of heirloom information.

Gardens 2012, Yes Plural

photo of gardens One would think a single garden would be enough, but this one, me, doesn't think when opportunity is presented. Turning the think off is a moral to my story. So, as this story offers itself to someone who is paying attention to the what ifs, I'll leave the thinking to the what ifs since it's the what ifs that drive any story. I'll just create it. It's less pressure that way. <GRIN>

As it would be one day, I was cleaning out my garden plot when a couple came by. We started talking. Turns out they were from another community garden, and invited me to check their garden out. Well I did, and that's the reason for the plural, gardens, in the title. I now have a plot there too. It will be an interesting contrast since their community garden is completely different set up than my current one. A Tale of Two Gardens if you will.

So that means more seeds, or at least it did to me. More land to play with, different sites, different energy, a really great challenge. And, it provides so much opportunity for content. Life's a story unfolding everyday and looking at your life that way is a major theme that pushes me and Vanishing Feast into a great learning expereince that I can share with everyone. Telling a story with a garden, or as it will be this year, gardens, is awe inspiring. I'm very fortunate.

So in no particular order this is what I'm growing;

Romanesco Broccoli - It's renaissance, baroque and modern art in perfect fractal geometry. And, it has a nutty flavor. Love the sense of humor of all that. The last laugh is this, it's a finicky and difficult plant to get heads to set.

Another mystery tomato - If you recall last year I had the phantom seeds that I'm growing side by side with the Bisagnano #2. This year I found some old seeds I saved and forgot about. The first heirloom tomato plant I bought was an Orange Oxheart, that same year I grew my first Cherokee Purple. Now I know tomatoes don't cross pollinate but this tomato grew on the Cherokee Purple very late in the season that had the shape characteristics of both tomatoes in equal parts. One's an oxheart, one's a beefsteak. They are quite different shapes. The tomato never got fully ripe, but I did save the seeds. I thought one day I should try growing these. This year I will. I expect they will sprout and they will be Cherokee Purples. We'll see, the ol' to be continued...

Purple Majesty Potatoes - Potatoes do very well at one of the garden plots, and last year, thanks to a neighbor, I got to dig and cook some fresh potatoes. I never had better potatoes. So why not gow my own, and purple ones at that. The color in a heirloom vegetable is exaquiste. I expect to be stunned seeing purple this heirloom produces underground.

Silver Edge Squash - A Native American heirloom which are grown for their large seeds which have a silver edge. I love freshly roasted squash seeds and pumpkin seeds, so I'm psyched. The Native Americans honor Mother Nature, and their varities demonstrate that.

Crapaudine - It could be the oldest beet in existence. A description from 1885, written in the French book, The Vegetable Garden, stated it was one of the oldest varities at that time. It's estimated that this beet has been grown for 1000 years. The shape is more carrot than beet, and has a very dark color. I honored for this to be the first ever beet I'll grow.

Morado Purple Corn - A rare and old variety of corn from Peru. More pruple. I never grew corn either. I have this and a Chocolate Brown Popcorn. One for each plot.

That's it for now. More to come about at least one mellon and one pumpkin. Another vegetable variety grown for more than 400 years, and of course tomatoes.

 

Hopi Dye Sunflowers – Ancient Tradition, Modern Challenge

Hopi-dye I've written a lot about heirloom varieties of vegetables, but there are heirloom varieties of just about any plant. Take for example sunflowers. They have been around for a very long time. Some dates I have see put them back to 2600 b.c. While it's generally it's thought they originated in Central America, The Ancient Greeks have a myth about how the sunflower was created.

From Thomas Bullfinch;

Clytie was a water-nymph and in love with Apollo, who made her no return. So she pined away, sitting all day long upon the cold ground, with her unbound tresses streaming over her shoulders. Nine days she sat and tasted neither food nor drink, her own tears, and the chilly dew her only food. She gazed on the sun when he rose, and as he passed through his daily course to his setting; she saw no other object, her face turned constantly on him. At last, they say, her limbs rooted in the ground, her face became a flower,* which turns on its stem so as always to face the sun throughout its daily course; for it retains to that extent the feeling of the nymph from whom it sprang.

* The sunflower.

Sunflowers have been a staple with Native American nations for food, oil, and dye. They are credited with domesticating them in the Americas. The Hopi Dye Sunflower is a plant that I have known about for a very long time. I recall reading about them when I was young. I was fascinated by the concept that a dye could be made from something I snacked on. That thought got tucked away in my brain until this year while perusing sunflowers for my garden. I came across the Hopi Dye Sunflower and that thought popped out of hiding. I ordered the seeds.

The Hopi used it for dying yarn, baskets and face paint. The seeds will stain your fingers purple when harvesting them, and to extract the dye, boil the seeds. My fingers did get stained when I was harvesting the seed. I did extract they dye, the water in the pot turned black. I've read that you can extract dye from the stems and leaves which will be green. While researching this, I found out there's many plants and techniques that are used for creating dye. This presents another opportunity for those who wish to create a vegetable dye garden, and create a heirloom out that.

The plants are gorgeous. Sturdy, with deeper roots than the other sunflowers I grew this year. They are large plants but not overwhelming. There is one large central bloom, and multiple smaller blooms on the plants. The petals are nice rich yellow color, and the plants I grew, the center with the seeds were the dominant feature of the blooms. The seeds I planted were a rich, solid black with a sheen that looked they were varnished. The seeds I harvested did not have that full black color, but I also harvested them early since a hurricane was coming and I didn't want to lose the plants to the weather.

From reading some the information out there the Hopi Dye is a rare seed to come by. Sunflowers are so trendy now that there are more popular varieties that are more uniform and more appropriate as cut flowers. This trend is pushing the older varieties out.

As I have written before and will continue to write, one value of these heirloom varieties is the history and tradition with them. Take a minute and consider that a nation of people grew this plant for centuries. That is is not a trend, it's a a sustainable tradition.

Another value is you can't buy them at the market. You can only grow them. For those who don't garden that presents a challenge, to those folks I say this, think about the people in your life who do garden, ask them if they start their plants with seeds. If they do, consider these varities as gifts for them.

By doing so you can start a trend to sustain tradition.

If you love sunflowers and are looking for calender for 2012, check out Sunflowers a Go Go. The proceeds will benefit Vanishing Feast.

Big Boxing the Seed Collector, A Slight Timeline

Another plot twist, another piece of magic. I had a hunch to look up the word heirloom. I'm kind of a geek about words. I have the same dictionary on my shelf that I've had my whole life. I don't remember my life without it. It was published in 1965 when I was 5 years old. I've read through most of this dictionary in the course of our life together. It has served me well, and will continue to do so. So I went to my old friend and found that there were only two meanings given for the word heirloom, neither of which included plants. I went online where I found the current definition that does includes plants. I set off to find out when the meaning was changed to include plants, at least in the Merriam Webster's dictionaries.

I started an etymology search, and found that in 1949 heirloom plant came into lexicon of America. The hunch morphed into intrigue, and curiosity took over. I googled Levittown, and found this, from the Levittown Historical Society:

Then, in 1949, Levitt and Sons discontinued building rental houses and turned their attention to building larger, more modern houses, which they called "ranches" and which they would offer for sale at $7,990.  All a prospective buyer needed was a $90 deposit and payments of $58 per month.  The Levitt ranch measured 32' by 25' and came in five different models, differing only by exterior color, roof line, and the placement of windows.  Like previous Levitt homes, the ranch was built on a concrete slab with radiant heating coils.  It had no garage, and came with an expandable attic.  The kitchen was outfitted with a General Electric stove and refrigerator, stainless steel sink and cabinets, the latest Bendix washer, and a York oil burner.  Immediately, the demand for the new Levitt ranches was so overwhelming that even the procedure for purchasing them had to be modified to incorporate "assembly line" methods.  Once these techniques were put into action, a buyer could choose a house and sign a contract for  it within three minutes.

Two seemingly random events in the same year and I knew a good story was unfolding in front me. As I have written before, when you frame you life in the context of the stories you loved as a child, you can see how narrative develops. And this project demonstrates that.

Enter the next hunch, shopping malls. The first commerical shopping mall was opened in 1950:

On April 21, 1950, the Northgate Shopping Mall opens at NE Northgate Way at 5th Avenue NE in Seattle. Planned by developers Rex Allison and Ben B. Ehrlichman (1895-1971) and designed by John Graham Jr. (1908-1991), it is the country's first regional shopping center to be defined as a "mall" (although there were at least three predecessor shopping centers). The stores face "a wide shopping walkway, probably to be known as the Mall or Plaza, in which no vehicles will be permitted" (The Seattle Times). The parking lot is quickly found to be insufficient for the number of shoppers attracted by the Bon Marché and 17 other specialty stores.

Continuing on this fork in the road, remember I started out to find when the meaning of the word heirloom changed to include plants in Merriam Webster's dictionaries, I next went to processed foods. Processed foods have been around for a very long time, and I focused on commerically processed foods. I found that the first TV Dinner was developed in 1953. Next, I had to see when the first coast-to coast-televsion broadcast.  That was 1951.

In four years time, the phrase heirloom plant started to be used in America. The suburban planned development was being launched, regional shopping malls were coming into vogue, televesion became a coast-to-coast delivery vehicle for information, and complete, frozen meals were now commerically avilable from commerical food proccesing comapnies.

The suburban, big-box retail business model was being seeded by the direction of society. Meanwhile, the traditon and lifestyle of the seed collector as source of sustaining the food supply was being marginalized. Society was moving away from the local, and into regional, and national mindsets. The dymanics of food was changing with the growth of commerically processed foods. Televison allowed visual advertisment of perfection and conveince in way that never could be with print and radio spots.

Society changed, and the value of a diverse seed collection seems to have gotten lost in the process. Things are changing though:

Sales shot up 100 percent in 2008 at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a Missouri-based garden company that stocks 1,200 vegetable varieties, and the last two years have brought 20 percent annual growth, said the company’s owner, Jere Gettle.

And that's a good thing. Now that the current defintion of heirloom includes a third meaning relating to plants:

Definition of HEIRLOOM 1: a piece of property that descends to the heir as an inseparable part of an inheritance of real property

2: something of special value handed on from one generation to another

3: a horticultural variety that has survived for several generations usually due to the efforts of private individuals

I hope with this project to connect people with the value of seeds and plants. They represent the people who collect them, and plant them, as much as any other piece of property.

Words have meanings for a reason. As society changes, so does it language. It's interesting to see how far ahead of the curve the language was in 1949 when heirloom plant came into being. We can see now the massive shift that happened in society. And with that shift, the definition of heirloom now includes plants. This was not the case in 1965 as my faithful friend, my dictionary,  can attest to. The value in the third meaning of the word heirloom, which is a bout plants, needs to be elevated in society. It's that concept that I hope to accomplish.