Library Seed Bank and Cowboy Cab

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

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

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

That's it for now.

Adventures in Spring Gardening

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

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

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

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


Carrots, Growing, Not Manufactured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon Tongue Beans

dragon tounge beansQuite a bean if I say so myself. This 18th century Netherlands heirloom has never been manipulated, so the bean you grow in your garden is the same as the original cultivar. They are versatile, use them as a snap bean, or as a dry bean. I chose to let them dry on the plant, and I'm glad I did. I made a pot of soup today with the dry beans, and for me, they are the best tasting beans I've ever had. Slightly sweet and nutty with a creamy texture, they had a unique flavor that transcends any bean flavor I've ever had. I like beans, so I've sample a good number of varieties. I did sample a few fresh off the plant in the garden, and they weren't much different from a fresh string bean. In my experience, they are a bean well worth drying.

The plants are compact and I was quite satisfied with the yield. I'm glad I didn't plan my garden before I had the soup. I might have overlooked these tasty morsels. They will be my bean of choice until further notice.


Rat Tail Radish

Sorry, I don't have a photo for this heirloom variety yet. You can find one here, along with a seed source. Hoover your mouse over the thumbnail and you can see a larger photo. I like radishes, and until a couple of years ago all I knew were the small, vibrant red, pungent, crunchy balls of flavor. Once korean cuisines entered the trendy foodie scene, the Daikon radish appeared. These large, white cylindrical shaped roots challenged what I knew and thought a radish was. Once the fascination starts, the researcher and historian kicks in, and all of sudden I have a new subject matter to explore, which makes me happy.

Now, as an advocate for heirloom vegetables and pure food, it gives me great pleasure to find different varieties of vegetables as content for what I do. This year, Rat Tail Radishes will be in my garden. When I saw the photos and description of this edible seed pod, I felt a deja vu, which is always a plus for me.

The Rat Tail Radish arrived in England in the early 1800s from Java. They made their to America, and became a very popular addition to gardens during the 1860s, and like a lot varieties fell out of vogue for a number of reasons including this snip from From Kitchen Gardens International ;

...  The plant may have become a victim of the hype, begun by Mr. Bull, who exhibited the curious radish at the great International Horticultural Exhibition in London in 1866. The new unnamed radish caused a sensation and was accompanied by claims of spectacular performance. It was claimed that its pods grow three inches overnight and attain a length of three to four feet. It was “destined to supersede root radishes of all kinds, and render us no longer dependent upon crops that were uncertain, and good only at certain times.” It was predicted that breeding with the garden radish would produce hybrids with both edible pods and roots. Soon there were others reporting growing it, and the descriptions, names used and place of origin were so different that it caused much confusion in the botanical and horticultural world. The disputes over name and classification were more easily settled than the claims of its marvelous qualities. ...

I found the above an interesting read about the Rat Radish. Again, here's the link.

All root varieties of radishes produce edible seeds pods, the unique aspect fo the Rat Tail variety is they are grown for their edible seed pods, not for their root. The plants grow up to 5 feet tall, produce delicate flowers which I've seen described ad edible also. Harvest the pods when small, up to 4 inches in length, they can become tough when they get large from what I've read. They attract pollinators, always a plus, and the young leaves are also edible, which makes sence Since they are members of the Brassicaceae family, otherwise know as the mustards, or cabbage family.

You can search for Madras seeds or Rat Tail Radish if you want to do your own research. And finally, I love the name. It adds to the quirky nature of heirloom vegetables.

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.


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 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.

A Bounty of Delight

I just placed my final seed order! I love looking around and discovering new heirlooms. A fascinating aspect that I learned this year is the threat that feed carrots face. While lingering over the vast selection at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, I found Blanche A Collete Vert, or White Belgian Carrot. A large white carrot that was popular as animal feed in the 1800s, it's well suited for the kitchen. If you haven't guessed by now, I'm growing it this year. It will be my first attempt at carrots. Interesting enough, while browsing around Heritage Harvest Seed I found the Jaune de Doubs, a french heirloom carrot originally grown as fodder. While I won't be growing them this year, it did occur to me that heirloom feed crops for animals are just as endangered as heirloom table crops. An aha moment that gives me another avenue to explore. Love it.

Another exciting first for me will a three sisters plot. I have Morado Purple corn, White Scallop Squash and Devil Tounge Beans. The corn is very old Peruvian variety, the squash, an Native American variety, and the beans are a Dutch heirloom variety. What a beautiful perfect protein they will create as a meal.

 Zucchino Rampicante, is described by Baker Creek as the Italian vining zucchini pumpkin. I knew I had to grow this. It's a an aggressive vine, with an abundant harvest of crookneck squash that can grow rather large. I'm not a fan of zucchini, but I LOVE the plant. It fascinates me that I will have a aggressive vine that references zucchini, and has the texture of a acorn or butternut squash. Nice content for some beautiful photographs I'm sure. It's also known as the trombone squash.

I'm branching out into Asian heirlooms this year. Shishigatani or Toonas Makino is very rare Japanese pumpkin. I'm intrigued by the shape, color and texture  of this variety. It's shaped like a bottle gourd and it's skin is covered with warts. Why does a wart covered skin intrigue me so? That's for another post.

Another Asian variety for me this year is Chineese Red Noodle Beans. I love string beans, and the long Asian varieties of beans are a favorite of mine. It's a heat tolerant bean, which is nice because I'm using a trellis as canvas this year. I will attempt an modern art installation piece with these and Zucchino Rampicante.

And finally, at least for the Asian varieties, I will have Jing Orange Okra somewhere in the two gardens this year.

There will be purple tomalitos, giant cape gooseberries, two kinds of amaranth, and for the first time ever, Hawaiian Pineapple tomatoes.

Having two garden plots this year offers the chance to experiment and experience more than ever before. Nowhere is it written that you need to have a full row of any anything. Why limit yourself? I may only have a couple of each variety, but that's ok. I want sensory overkill with what nature offers. It inspires me, and by doing so, I can share it with you. With this way of paying it forward, we all win.

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.


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

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

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


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

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

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

green bisignano2 tomatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year! A New and Exciting Chapter

Photo of silver edge squash seed Happy New Year! How do you like the new look? I took the blog off the blog server and put under the domain name on a web server. The theme or layout I chose is one that adapts to devices such as tablets and phones. Lots of potential here, and this blogging software is new to me so there will be a few hiccups along the way, which if you experience any on your end, please let me know.

Also, there are buttons on the sidebar or at the bottom of the page depending on the device you are using to use Twitter or Facebook. If you're on Twitter please follow me at @vanishingfeast. The RSS feed will be set up shortly.

As you know, I write this blog from the perspective of a life lived as an unfolding story. So with out further ado, let's catch up.

The banner I would love to wax poetically about how I created that art on my own. How it was a true labor of love. That however would be such a tall tale that even at 6'4" I couldn't pull it off. I doubt Paul Bunyon would be able to either.

The banner is an old label type of artwork from a tomato packing house that no longer exists here in southern NJ. The art work is in the public domain, and the town where this packing house was located is 11 miles from my house. Considering that the tomato is the state vegetable here in NJ, I know of only one tomato packing house left here. They do produce a couple of tasty brands of tomatoes, Scalfini, and Don Pepino, which is pizza sauce.

Hmmm, it looks like they have been taken over by B&G foods. I haven't been to their site in a few years. The last time I was able to contact the plant directly. The tomatoes though haven't changed. I bought them recently.

I felt that it was appropriate to use this artwork for Vanishing Feast, and to create the brand image with it. The history and character that is inherent to this artwork represents Vanishing Feast - An Heirloom Solution better than anything I could create on my own.

I've been carrying those labels around for 14 years, and I have no idea how long they were in my parent's attic. Now, the banner will live on in honor of a what once was, and hopefully provide inspiration for preservation and or resurrection of what it was once.

The Silver Edge Squash Seed They say that every dark cloud has a silver lining. Whoever they are, they say a lot of things that sometimes doesn't make sense. In time though, if you stop, breathe and listen, sense presents itself in a form that you never expect. The end of 0f 2011 was awful in a lot of ways for me. It's working itself out, and there is a silver lining.

Enter the Silver Edge Squash seed. Now as any storyteller worth their words will tell you, symbolism and content happen if you let it. I found this seed, was intrigued by the silver edge, and ordered it. It wasn't until I started writing this section today that I realized the connection to the silver lining that has emerged in my life during the past moth or so.

The squash is a Native American variety that is grown for its seed only. The flesh is unpalatable from the descriptions. The seeds however are made into pepitas. I love freshly roasted pumpkin and squash seed, which is a good source of nutrition, so this was a natural fit for me to order. Look for a post about this variety in the late season of this year.

The book It will be soon, another month or so. The transition to this nimble and current format was necessary for the long term. With that comes the learning curve of new software, and setting up a online store. I have a list of plugins for this software to look at, as well as a storefront set up with a revenue collection service that's not PayPal.

If you were reading this blog last year, hopefully, you'll recall the adventures of the Mark Twain tomatoes. If not  here is an bit from a post;

Mark Twain tomatoes- Never heard of them until I started seeking out rare tomato seeds for Vanishing Feast. I discovered them in the 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.

and here is a continuation of this adventure from last year. As it turns out, Fedco Seeds, doesn't have any seeds this year. Fedco is the seed company that I originally found about theses tomatoes. Last year they claimed they were the only commercial source for these seeds, and that there were only two seed savers they knew of that were saving these seeds. It remains to be seen why they don't have seeds this year. Perhaps the seed savers are rotating their varieties. The story continues for another year.

I'm glad I went to TN and got some plants, and despite the nasty hail storm that destroyed my garden last year, I have still have seeds.

So what does this have to do with the book? The cover photo is the Mark Twain tomato plant, and the Mark Twain tomato plant introduces the reader to the the stories and photos of the tomato buds featured in the book. Another really cool plot twist.

Posting schedule A new post will be up every Saturday. In order to build an audience, I think a regular schedule of posts are in order. As I transition into doing this full time I hope that I will be able to post more often. And add video also.

Project 366K Ok, so what the heck is this? To be honest, I'm not really sure but here's the concept. If 1 picture is worth 1,000 words, and 366 days are in 2012, 1 photo a day would equal 366k words if posted consecutively.  So, that's what I'm doing. Since I'm a skilled photographer with various subject matter, I'm experimenting with From what I can tell it's a hybrid of Twitter and blogs.

As I explore this ever changing landscaoe of new media, I figure this would be a good experiment. I have lots of photos to work with and will have many more in 2012. Why not see what kind of exposure I can get for my work? The theme I chose for my tumblr is designed to adapt to devices like tablets and phones, so it is current with the changing nature of how people retrieve the information they seek.

There will be captions and photo credits. The words will be tags and the thoughts that the viewer experiences. No description, just the image.

The Silver Edge Squash seed was the first photo published. The symbolism there was the planting of a new idea. Here is a link. If you have a tumblr, please follow me there.

So that's it for now. See you on Saturday.

Lime Green Salad Tomatoes, A Unique Tomato Experience

Limegreen1 Lime Green Salad Tomatoes, aka Green Elf tomatoes, are a unique tomato bred by Tom Wagner, a well-known breeder of heritage type potatoes and tomatoes. When I first read the name Lime Green Salad Tomatoes, the concept of a compact tomato plant that offered up small green tomatoes captured my imagination. It boggled my mind that a tomato plant less the 3 ft. tall could produce an abundant amount of tasty tomatoes. And the fact of the matter is, they do it very well. The tomatoes themselves are 1 oz.– 3 oz. in size, and have the sweet and slightly spicy taste that the green tomatoes have. The tend to get a nice hue of yellow as they get very ripe, and they contrast nicely is a gazpacho or salsa with the black cherry tomatoes, and some northern lights bicolor. The flavor is not as deep as a Aunt Ruby's German Green, however it is satisfying enough that you'll go back for more.

Limegreen2 When I grew these again they will be in containers. The plants are so compact that if you put them in the ground, you're going to spend a lot of time on the ground caring for them. I tend to pick the predator bugs off my plants. I'm impressed with neem oil as a pesticide, however I really try to avoid spraying anything on my plants.

And because the plants are so compact, it's easy for some beetles or cutworms to hide in the very center of these plants. The foliage is lush dark green, darker then most of the foliage I have seen on other plants. Another unique element of these plants are the canopy of branches that rise up from the top of the plants, like a crown that is filled with hundreds of tiny yellow flowers. Once the fruit forms, the plants I grew got top heavy, and the toppled Limegreen3 over.

It seems like cages are more appropriate for these plants then stakes. The way the canopy rises up, it's like a network of small, thin branches. It was hard for me to find a good center point for a stake, and even if I could, the branches seemed a little fragile to tie up securely to a stake. So a container and a cage would work well for these plants.


Lemon Cucumber, A Real Charmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 commercially 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, television became a coast-to-coast delivery vehicle for information, and complete, frozen meals were now commercially available from commercial food processing companies.

The suburban, big-box retail business model was being seeded by the direction of society. Meanwhile, the tradition 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 dynamics of food was changing with the growth of commercially processed foods. Television allowed visual advertisement of perfection and connivence 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.