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.

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.

Nature Reveals the Truth

white flower photo For a while now, I've wanted to write about sourcing good seeds. I'm relatively new to the seed game. This is my third year. By looking at a tomato seed, you have no idea what variety it is, if it's authentic organic, or how fertile it is. Trust is a paramount when sourcing seeds. Seeds are a commodity, and like all commodities, they are bought and sold.

Last year, I came across a source for Goose Creek Tomatoes. I read that it's a rare variety, and there was story about the origins. Without question, that combination peaked my curiosity so much, that I had to grow it. Later, I found out about the questions concerning the veracity of the story.

From Tatiana's TOMATObase;

  • There is some controversy about the origins/dating of this tomato, as tomato experts know that there were no 'smooth' tomatoes available in the early 1800s.
  • There is also a lot of controversy about the fruit color, whether it is supposed to be red or pink.

Goose Creek seeds are hard to find, but I found a source on eBay. I ordered them right away. They were expensive as far as seeds go, fifty cents a seed to be exact. Since seeds are a commodity, and in a market driven economy, scarcity is factor in price.

When the seeds arrived, they were in a small, clear plastic envelope with a handwritten label on it. A slight pagne of skectipsism came over me. Now, for small seed collectors, having a preprinted package is expense that might discourage them from the important role of seed collecting.

A preprinted package though, is no gurantee that the contents inside, match the content printed on the outside. That's what the white flower told me last week. It provided the truth of what was inside the package of Zucchino Rampicante, a vining zuchinni and pumpkin, that I ordered this year.

I was SO looking forward to this variety. A massive vinning zuchinni with large bottleneck fruit that can be either a summer or winter squash, is a maddness that I embrace whole heartingly.

It would be trellissed with long red  asian string beans. A living Jackson Pollock painting perhaps, with the distinct contrast in foligae, flower and fruit between these two varieties.

Alas, that won't happen this year. While I was admiring the lush foligae of the vine, I saw a white flower. I found this odd, squash and pumpkin flowers are yellow. The flower I saw had expired, but I could tell it was a brilliant white.

So, I went to the Google and presented my case, white squash bloom. The verdict, I have either a birdhouse gourd, or an apple gourd. Lucky me. I don't like gourds. I don't get them, nor do I want to. Evidently though, this year I will have no choice.

From what I could find, these two varities of gourds come up consistently id keywords search for white squash flower. They are grown for a variety of craft products, and they do have some interest to them.

Mistakes happen, and I trust the source where these gourd seeds came from. They are passionate about heirloom varities. I had some iffy results from some other vendors this year. It was the first time I ordered from them. Other first time vendors I had good luck with. It's a matter of trial and error, and following your gut. If your not sure, don't order from them. If your fortunate enough to have a local seed vendor, with local seed sources, buy from them.

The Goose Creek tomato seeds I ordered were fine, and so were the Tiger Melon seeds I ordered from that eBay vendor last year. The other melon seeds not so much. This year, the pepper seeds I ordered from different vendor resulted in some fairly week plants across three varities. But I also didn't start a large number of each variety, so it's a tough call.  The  organic San Marzanno seeds I got from the same vendor are doing tremendous, so it's kind of a balance.

Not every seed from every plant is going to be a blue ribbon winner. I have noticed though that some vendor's seeds have a high germination rate, consistent with what's noted as the standard rate for that variety, while others not so much. This is also all the more reason to learn about seed collecting. You can get to see where your strong plants are, and you can collect seeds from a wide variety of fruit.

The Goose Creek tomato is very tasty, and the green tomatoes are a very light shade of green, almost a translucent white. Very pretty to see.  They were a lot like the Box Car Willies (BCW) I grew last year. Almost strikingly similiar. The BCWs were a lot later though, and thanks to a hail storm, which destroyed the BCWs, I couldn't do a tatse test.

I love that fact that a white flower told me a story this week. It goes to show that no matter what, storytellers tell their stories. And, on a blog influenced by Thoreau, that is as much about storytelling as gardening, how fortunate that this story was told by my garden?  The wonder of it all.

 

The First Harvest, Sorrento and Rapini Broccoli Rabe

Being the second generation Italian that I am, growing up long before Andy Boy brought broccoli rabe into the mainstream, whenever my mom would work her magic, and have this exotic, bitter and very tasty green appear on the dinner table, it was always a celebration.

My mom had her sources, the corner stores in South Philly, the Italian neighborhood of Philadelphia, or, from the local baker, who had connections to the authentic Italian food pipeline. The sandwiches of grilled sausage or roast pork, topped with broccoli rabe and imported provolone cheese so sharp that it felt like it was cutting your tongue, are fond memories of how food was such a integral part of who I am today.

As much as we grew in our garden year after year, we never grew broccoli rabe. The organic farmer that my dad got our plants from never had it as plants, and none of the farmer friends of the family ever grew it. Seeds were never available.

Since this year since I'm challenging myself to try an intensive approach to my garden, which is allowing me to grow a wide variety of vegetables, of course I had to grow this family heirloom food. It's a treasure that held a special place at my family's table.

A descendant of a wild herb, and a member of the mustard family, it's classified as a turnip.  Broccoli rabe is used by Italians, Chinese, Portugal and the Netherlands, and now readily available in America.

I ordered two vairties of broccoli rabe seeds, Sorrento and Rapini, which is a generic name for this plant. I planted both, and had a much better harvest of the Sorrento. Both were planted at the same time, and what I found was the Sorrento grew a little larger, but for all intents and purposes, they could've been the same plant. They tasted alike also. I'm letting some bolt to seed and will have a fall harvest from those seeds.

It's a small plant, and would work in containers, and naturally, in a herb garden considering it's lineage.

I love that this was my first harvest. It's a family tradition, and it's the core of Vanishing Feast, An Heirloom Solution. Now, if I could just grow some of that provolone cheese...

 

 

 

Thoreau as Model for a Heirloom Gardening Movement

Ghandi. Martin Luther King, Jr. Anti-war protesters from the 1970s. Three significant agents of social change. They credit Thoreau as an inspiration for their action. So why not use Thoreau as a model for a social change against GMOs, and the Industrial Food Complex? If you read Walden, Thoreau lays out an example of being self-sustaining, and the value of economy. The chapter of Economy in Walden, to me references what we call our carbon footprint today. If blogging been around in his time, Thoreau would've been a great blogger.

Thoreau's writing about phenology is cited frequently.

Phenology

is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate.

Nature's influence on Thoreau's journal writings, his beliefs, and philosophy was immense. I would love to read what he would write about GMOs, factory farming, and especially climate change.  When you consider the painstaking detail of his phenology work, and how climate change can make it all obsolete, his point of view of where we are at today, and the lack of government action on climate change, would be an important critique. All though with the state of society today, he would have to do it a reality TV format that our culture embraces so dearly to have an impact.

Can you see Bravo or TLC doing Civil Disobedience, where Thoreau lays out his argument for taking a moral stand against the government? Neither can I.

In Civil Disobedience, Thoreau's wrote about how an personal act of conscious is larger than any civil law. Thoreau's objection was to slavery and the  Mexcian-American War, both embraced by the American government at the time. He wrote about this after spending a night in jail after withholding his poll tax while at Walden. He was released after someone paid his tax debt for him.

Mention civil disobedience in conversation, and it send shudders down the spines of a lot of people. It's not for everyone, and long term, it's not sustainable, like a an organic, heirloom garden. That may seem like a huge leap, but it's really not. Both are actions that can be used to take a conscious stand against actions that our government or corporations are taking that have negative impacts on society and nature.

Genetic Modified Organisms (GMOs) uses genetic engenering to modify an organism to achieve a certain end than nature intended. There is no value to nature, or to human beings added by this process. It's about profit and control by the corporation modifying the organism.

While governments outside the USA are taking steps to ban these organisms, we have a government that appoints Michael Taylor,a former lawyer for Monsanto, the company that is leading the charge for GMOs, as the Deputy Commissioner for Foods at The Food and Drug Administration. The American government is also siding with the Industrial Food Complex by allowing GMOs into processed foods, and not enforcing these foods be labeled so the consumer knows what they are eating.

It's not slavery, which was Thoreau's objection, but with the government allowing the use of GMOs while not enforcing the labeling of foods that contain GMOs, this action removes the freedom of choice and trust that is part of the social fabric in a free and just society. While there is no law forcing the American public to eat GMOs, allowing the use of them while not enforcing the labeling of foods that contain them, in my opinion, is  tacit concent.

tacit consent - (law) tacit approval of someone's wrongdoing

It puts more value on the profit of the Industrial Food Complex than on the health and well being of our planet, our democracy and our society.

When you have a society that embraces Snooki, Kim Kardashian and Real Housewives, asking them to take action that would qualify as civil disobedience would fall on deaf and dumb ears, like their reality TV Goddesses.

Positioning an organic heirloom garden as means of action against the tacit consent of the American government on GMOs is more accessible to a wider range of people than an act of civil disobedience.

It's also a good first step to disconnect from the Industrial Food Complex. Social change takes a long time. Especially, when it's against large corporate interests, and their influence on government policy. An organic heirloom garden is nature driven, sustainable and authentic. Positioning it as an action for social change against government and corporate interests that puts the health of nature and society at risk, such as what's going on with GMOs right now, is one that I think would have Thoreau's approval.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

Heirloom Garden 2011, Part 2 of 2

As mention in part 1, I'm going to be growing a lot of tomato varieties, sixteen to be exact. A few more then I originally thought, but since I have a knack for growing them, I might as well work with the inherent magic that is presented. Without further ado, and in no particular order, I give you tomatoes 2011:

Pomodoro Belmonte – That is what the front of this beautiful package of seeds from Italy says. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, and Belmonte is a heirloom from the Calabria region in Italy. There is a town called Belmonte in Italy, which the residents are very proud of their culinary flag.

I was so excited to find these tomatoes. They will be part of my Family Garden Quilt. My paternal grandparents are from Calabria, so to find a tomato that is from their region is really very special. While my grandparents are gone, I will be sharing a taste of a tomato that I would venture a guess they tasted before they left for America. I shared some seeds with my cousins who will be growing them this year also. One tomato, many generations, and a common experience of taste, aroma and visual stimulation.

Black Cherry Tomato – This is considered a rare cherry tomato. From what I read, black tomatoes are argued by a lot of connoisseurs to be the best tasting color in palette of tomato colors. I love cherry tomatoes, and these are said to produce and abundant crop.

Goose Creek Tomato – The story of this tomato is that a Caribbean slave smuggled these seeds aboard a ship that docked near Goose Creek, South Carolina. She planted the seeds the first spring after she arrived, and the seeds have been passed down through generations of her family. I look forward to sharing the taste that motivated a slave to smuggle seeds with her on her journey, and shared with her family as a true heirloom.

Lime Green Salad Tomatoes – These are new to me this year. They are small fruits, early season and grow on compact plants. Green tomatoes have a great flavor, and this variety is said to be be prolific. I'm excited to mix these with the black cherry tomatoes in a very colorful salad.

Northern Lights – Another early season variety. Last year I planted all mid to late season varieties. I ended up with a  boat load of tomatoes that ripened all at once, over a two week period. It's a bicolor, red and yellow, and smaller then most of the bicolors that are around. I may never see the northern lights but I will be able to say I tasted them.

Middle Tennessee Low Acid – These seeds were a gift from a purchase from tomatofest.com. What a great surprise. These large red beefsteaks have a low acidity to them, something I used to only associate with yellow tomatoes. Now this gift of seeds will not only broaden my selection of tomatoes that I grow, but my knowledge of low acid tomatoes.

Red Fig – I was fascinated by the story of this tomato. Imagine that. Me fascinated by a story. Grown since the early 1800's in America, this small pear shaped, red tomato got it's name from a process in which they ended dried out and stored as a fig substitute. Yum. You can about that process here.

Grandfather Ashlock – More history that I'm going to grow and taste. Three Ashlock brothers served George Washington in the Revolutionary War., One brother settled in Kentucky, where he grew this pink, potato-leaf beefsteak variety. The seeds were passed along the generations, and this is a very rare tomato.

Cherokee Chocolate – Cherokee Purples are my favorite tomato overall,and any variety that comes from them is going to get attention from me. From what I read, there's not much difference in taste, but it's the color and size that distinguishes the chocolate from the purple. Evidently, there was mutation in a grower's garden that changed the color of the epidermis from clear to yellow, which changed the color of the fruit to mahogany.

Cherokee Purples – My favorite tomato, all though last year Henderson's Pink Ponderosas swooped in and stole my heart. The Cherokee Purples though, still retain the top spot. An amazing taste experience for me. And quite beautiful to look at. I saved seeds from last year's garden.

Watermelon Pink Beefsteak – These tomatoes are big, red and very sweet. Last year they were the least prolific in my garden, but produced some of of the largest tomatoes overall. During the ripening process, I observed a couple that developed green stripes on them, and for a couple days they had the markings of a watermelon. It's said that it's the little things in life that make it worth living. Seeing that process is one of them. Allow yourself to see it too by growing them.

Mark Twain – I never heard of these tomaotes before, and I haven't found the reason why they are named for Mark Twain yet. I will do my best though to find out. These are another very rare tomato, one that I will drive from NJ to Tennessee to buy Mark Twain tomato plants. They will be featured post in the future, so stay tuned for more about them.

Pomodoro Cuor Di Bue – Or Oxheart, or Heart of the Bull. Another Italian variety, and since I am a Taurus, I do have heart, and I am of Italian descent, this is me in a tomato. As I encourage people to look at plants as a reflection of themselves, and their family, this tomato demonstrates that concept for me. It's an oxheart shaped tomato, pink/red in color, very meaty from what I read, and a nice saucing tomato. It's also considered a rare tomato by some. I look forward to growing them. I grew an Orange Oxheart one year, and I just loved the shape, and flavor of that tomato.

Rutger's Tomato – I grew this New Jersey heirloom last year. A wonderful tomato I have to say. Small sized fruits, very prolific, a great taste, no cracking problems, and overall a tomato that demonstrates what a Jersey Tomato is all about. The local lore here in New Jersey is that we grow the best tasting tomatoes. Anywhere.

Boxcar Willie – Another New Jersey heirloom, a late season orange/red tomato that will round out my Family Garden Quilt as representative of learning to grow tomatoes in New Jersey. I welcome this tomato into the fold, and look forward to making a nice sauce with the Rutgers for a true Jersey Tomato sauce.

"Bell Tomatoes" – I put the name of this tomato in parentheses because that's the name of the tomato that these seeds originated from. The seeds are part of a larger seed collecting story that I feel I'm living right now. This is another post in the making, and has the potential to add a significant layer to the story of Vanishing Feast. For now thought I will leave you with the cryptic instructions I was given, "...plant the paper towel".

That's the list for this year. It's through the power of seeds that I can do this. They offer me the opportunity to grow history, and tickle and tantalize my senses like so many generations before, and hopefully after, providing that this feast for the senses does not vanish.

The Magic in This Story's Process

When I started writing my other blog, Magic Hat Stories (MHS) I encouraged people to look at their lives as stories, and to remember the magic and impact that stories had on them growing up. I know for myself, as an adult, I get caught up in the stress of modern life, and at times, forgo the magic that living a life framed in stories offered. I got really lucky when I started writing MHS. It reconnected me to when I was a child living the adventures in my storybook pages. The incredible journeys that myths and folklore took me on in college, and at one point, when both of those times conspired to push me into being a storytelling milliner. That though, is another story for another time.

In the midst of living my life, and being open to the creating this story of Vanishing Feast, the magic appeared ten fold over the past 6 weeks or so. In any process, magic happens. One has to keep a keen eye or two open, and perhaps three if you consider the mythical third eye to your soul, to see what magic happens with the process. I feel the magic that existed in the storybooks of my youth is what I'm experiencing now with this project.

For example;

Mark Twain tomatoes- Never heard of them until I started seeking out rare tomato seeds for Vanishing Feast. I discovered them in the fedcoseed.com catalogue. When I went to order the seeds, they were out. I was faced with a choice, a classic example in building a narrative in a story. Do I just say "oh well I'll order earlier next year" or do I demonstrate my commitment to this project, and start a journey to find these seeds or plants. I chose to find seeds, plants or both. A little alchemy later for making the right choice, I found plants that will be available in northern Tennessee at Shy Valley Plant Farm. Living in southern New Jersey I can make this trip, document it as part of this story, and taste these rare tomatoes, that evidently bruise easily but taste really good. Perhaps the Mark Twain will become a rally point in this story.

Seed Collecting Stories - The charm of a lot heirloom plants for me obviously is the story behind them. In the course of a conversation with a friend, it seems like I am living a my own version of a seed saving or seed collecting story. I'm keeping this close to vest as I follow the path this story is taking me on. Once I get more details I will share them here. You gotta love the instructions "Plant the paper towel."

Hydroponics - It started innocently enough, I walked in the door of the local horticultural supply company. When I walked out, I had this potential hydroponic system in my head as way to keep the feast going year round. There's an odd shaped closet in my studio that has become a catch all of dead energy. What a great flip this would be to turn this dead space into a thriving area that could perpetuate the feast all year round. This presents a bit of challenge  since I would have to slightly modify a room and find the cash for this system though.

In the context of living my life as a story though, the plot twists above offer me the opportunity to take this story to the next level. And as true storyteller will tell you, these magical moments that so innocently appear, offer the best content to be told.

I've secured a double lot in the community garden program I participate in for this year, have a great variety of seeds, and will be plotting my garden this afternoon. That will be the next post up. I will be posting more frequently now, so thanks for your patience and stay tuned.

A Reason Why – San Marzano Tomatoes

In a conversation with a rather astute associate of mine about the idea of Vanishing Feast, the devil's advocate appeared, and asked me "So why is this important? A tomato is just a tomato." It was a great question. The challenge was meant so I could think through why this would be important for someone who doesn't have a vested interest in this project. It forced me to practice the principle of detachment, which to me in communications, is a important part of the process.

To survive the shark infested waters of corporate America, I learned detachment as a survival mechanism. When the devil advocate played his role mentioned above, I wasn't aware of the story of San Marzano tomatoes. Had I been, I would've been prepared. Now I am, and this story will be the featured response should that question come up again.

I woke up one morning with the words San Marzano in my head. I couldn't imagine what theses Italian plum tomatoes had to do with anything but a delcious tomato sauce. So I asked my good friend Google to search the words San Marzano. Lo and behold I found a fascinating story at sanmarzanotomatoes.org. From the site;

Royalty, emmigration, 70 years of glory, gradual neglect, forsaken, replaced, threat of extinction, rescue, redemption, prosperity, politics, public relations, protectionism, DNA testing, and the most ironic outcome of all: - this is the story of the San Marzano Tomato that few people in America know about.

Take a trip over there and read the whole story. It's a fun and fascinating read. I'll leave you with this tidbit, the moral of San Marzano story is what Vanishing Feast is all about.

I hope to get to Campania, Italy this year to video some of the lore of this scrappy heirloom hero.