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!

0123, Box It...

sunflower seeds... and you get 2013 in lottery parlance. Happy New Year! 2012 was quite a year here at The travelling I did in 2012 to find my voice, and to build an audience, opened up so many possibilities. I'm overwhelmed really. The future looks good. For example, I have my first book signing on January 31, 2013. It will be at a local library. I will give a talk before the signing, and the subject will be pure seeds, and their value in the heirloom gardening and food movement. More details to come about this.

Now that I have one lined up, I can pitch the concept to other libraries or community groups. I state on the back cover of my book that the book is available for fund raising. Self-publishing offers me the opportunity to buy quantities of books at a wholesale price. For a fund-raising event the book gets marked up, the organization gets a percentage of the profit, and so do I. I'm trying this out as a model for a socially responsible business for the some of the products I create.

Along the same line, I'll be an author at a Meet Our Authors event in April 2013, which is a book show of local authors.

I have an interview this month, January 2013, with Matthew Dillon, the director of, a new initiative funded by the Clif Bar Family Foundation. Check out their website, specifically the Community Seed Tool Kits.

I'm working on my next book. It will be similar to Future Tomatoes. It will be a picture book with stories, quotes or references about sunflowers. I hope to have it ready for the 3rd Annual Heirloom Expo, September 10-13, 2013 in Santa Rosa, CA. I will be back there as a vendor.

I'm going to push my t-shirt awareness program Tasty T-shirt Tales this year. Since the goal is to add new varieties to the t-shirt catalogue on the Spring Equinox, that will be a goal for me to launch a bigger push on this.

I hope to get to Italy to explore some of the interesting possibilities offered up at Salone del Gusto Terra Madre. I'm waiting on my dual citizenship with Italy. Once I get that confirmation, I can work out the details of what I have in mind. Don't be surprised if you see culinary tours pop into the mix here.

I'm also going to get more aggressive with marketing my photography. You can see some of my work here, they are photos from my trip to Italy. These are for viewing now, but I will set up a store this year where you could order directly from They offer a wide range of mounting services, and I'm impressed with their quality.

And finally, there's the possible new tomato variety that I'm growing out.

That's what I see sitting here on New Year's Day. I'll be doing some behind the scenes work. The blog will be moving to a different hosting company, and I will continue to build my audience using search engine optimization. Social media will play a part, but since my audience is information seekers who are looking for benefits, not features, search engines is the way for me to go. Social media tools are great for trends, breaking news, and focus groups to see what kind of information people seek, however for now, I don't see it as a major part of  building my audience.

Lear's Macaw – Their Feast is Vanishing Too

When I started writing this blog, I focused on the varieties of vegetables that have vanished from seed collections. Being an avid gardener,I know the value of biodiversity to the long-term health of the garden, and the environment. I admit, I had a slight disconnect to the larger picture of endangered plants, all the species that rely on them, and what I am doing with this blog and my work. Sometimes the simple and obvious gets lost.

Recently though, that has changed. Let me explain how.

With my experience of preparing for the heirloom expo, the sunflower emerged as my new logo. After growing sunflowers this year, and being an astute observer of what I grow, the dots got connected about the sunflower's role in the biodiversity food chain. Pollinators, birds, animals, and humans are fed by the sunflower. It's a good symbol of the feast provided by nature. They are beautiful, and now they are the brand image for what I do.

Range of Lear's Macae

While reading a Slow Food International press release about Salone del Gusto Terra Madre, and the work of  the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium, I came across the plight of Lear's Macaw. Lear's Macaw is a wild parrot whose natural habitat is a very small area in Brazil, noted on the map on the left.

Lear's Macaw derives 90% of its diet from the Licuri Palm. The other 10% comes from  fruits in the area. They've been known to eat corn also, which puts them at odds with farmers.

When 90% of your diet comes from one source, and that source is diminished, naturally you're going to seek out other food source. I know I would. Habitat loss is one of the major factors putting pressure on Lear's Macaw. The other is illegal poaching. Some sources cite habitat loss over poaching, some sources cite the opposite. Both are reasons why Lear's Macaws are endangered, and both are not acceptable.

The habitat loss is from clear cutting and fires, techniques used to create cattle grazing pastures. This action is a controversial one, it impacts more than Lear's Macaw. I think how heavily these parrots rely on a single food that is being diminished puts this slash and burn practice in proper perspective for the damage that it does.

Some steps have been taken to preserve their habitat. Seedlings of the Licuri Palm that try to reclaim the pastures ate either stomped out by grazing, or are eaten as part of the grazing done in these pastures. As with any invasive species or action, tipping the natural balance in an environment has detrimental consequences.

There's still a lot of work to be done, and the populations of Lear's Macaw have stabilized to the point that in 2009  they have been moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered. This statement though, shows how precarious the situation is for the wild population;

A major fire could now wipe the whole palm population out (5), leaving this parrot fatally vulnerable.

While that statement is from the year 2000, it's still relevant today. The fact remains that a species of bird relies on one source of food for 90% of its diet. If anything illustrates the title of my blog, Vanishing Feast – An Heirloom Solution, the plight of Lear's Macaw does. The Licuri Palm is an heirloom variety of palm tree, and it provides the solution of the feast needed by Lear's Macaw.

There's a couple of valuable lessons here. First, for me, the expansion of my concept beyond seeds and seed collection is warranted. Second, coal miners used to use canaries in coal mines as warnings about dangers of lethal gases. Perhaps, this parrot in a palm tree is a symbol for the danger of habitat destruction and how lethal it can be.

For more information about the Licuri Palm take a look at the work of the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium, a Slow Food International's presidum dedicated to the Licuri Palm, the source of 90% of Lear Macaw's diet.

For more information about conservation efforts, here's a good article at The Parrot Society UK.

For mor information about Salone del Gusto Terra Madre, here's their website.

Licuri Palm Nuts – Woman Gathers and 90% of the Lear's Macaw Diet

slow food international's turin logoSo many stories, so little time. While reading through the information provided to me by Slow Food International's press office, I came across the the story of licuri palms. The palms produce a local, traditional food that's harvested by women gathers grouped together by a local cooperative, and the fruit is essential to the diet of two very beautiful birds, Lear’s macaw, which 90% of it's diet is from this tree, and the hyacinth macaw. Both birds are threatened by extinction due the habitat destruction of the licuri palm. I didn't know about the licuri palm until I read this article by Josenaide de Souza Alves, coordinator of the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium. (A Slow Food Presidium is a local project that focuses on preserving traditional foods and creating a viable program for local producers to stabilize production, establish stringent production procedures and promote local consumption.) From the linked article;

The imposing licuri palm is also called the solitary palm of the Brazilian caatinga, the characteristic biome of the northeast of the country, running from northern Minas Gerais to southern Pernambuco, through the states of Bahia, Sergipe and Alagoas. The palm was once an integral part of the landscape and its fruits a common food. Even O Tratado Descritivo do Brasil, published in 1587 by the Portuguese explorer Gabriel Soares de Sousa, contains a description of the flavor and quality of the licuri palm fruits.

That date, 1587, is significant. It establishes a baseline of knowledge about this tree in modern history. A lot of exploration of the new world was happening than, and while all of this was new to the Europeans, to the indigenous species of the region, these discoveries were centuries old.

As with any local food source, the licuri nut plays an integral role in the local economy. Here in the United States, a big push is on for people to get back to buying local. For many people in the world, as matter of necessity, it's always been the local economy  Traditionally, woman would gather the licuri nuts, and process them. Again from the article on the Salone del Gusto Terra Madre website;

In the Piemonte da Diamantina region, in the heart of the Bahian caatinga, the main harvest takes place between January and May. The bunches are cut using a knife or a scythe, collected in a typical basket made from woven lianas called a balaio and transported on the backs of mules or on women’s heads. The women both pick and process the fruit. Sitting at home or in the shade of a tree, they use a stone to break the shells of the small nuts.

The nuts are also part of the traditional Easter meal in the region. Since 2005, a cooperative, Coopes, groups 120 different woman gathers from 30 communities to harvest the nuts, and process them into products for sale.

As with most local food sources, the licuri nut is a food source for all inhabitants of the region, including the hyacinth macaw and Lear’s macaw. From the link;

An amazing 90% of the Lear’s macaw’s diet comes from the Licuri palm. There can therefore be no confusing the fact that the macaws are totally dependant on this palm and their conservation has to ensure the continuation of the Licuri into the future. Unfortunately however, as the human population in this region has expanded the number of small subsistence farms have increased, further reducing the available natural habitat. Perhaps an even greater concern is the grazing of cattle over large ranches. In many case land is cleared by fire and consequently many Licuri palms are lost. Efforts may be made to protect adult palms by the people clearing the land but this is only because their fruit bunches can be fed to cattle.

Think about that, what if your 90% of your diet was from one source and it was disappearing? Scary prospect I would say. As mentioned, the pressure on the licuri plam comes from land being cleared by fire. The fact that one species of life relies on the fruit of this tree for 90% of its diet, should raise the value of this tree above anymore land needed for cattle grazing.

This tree was described in 1587 by an explorer of the new world. The nut of this tree provides 9o% of the diet of the Lear's Macaw, and is traditional food of the people who live in this region of Brazil. It's part of their Easter meal, which to the people who are devout, and celebrate Easter, this holiday is most revered. It's demonstrates of the value of biodiversity, that being the dependence on one tree for one species of a bird.

Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium is a great example of the role of a Slow Food Presidium. To the local populations, the licuri plam is staple in their lives and traditions, and essential to the survival of Lear's Macaw. To lose the palm and Lear's Macaw would be tragic. With a local Slow Food Presidium working to ensure the survival of the licuri palm, the chances are much better for survival, and to ensure that part of the inherent biodiversity of our planet doesn't disappear.

This is one example of the information that will be shared at Salone Del Gusso Terra Madre. Josenaide de Souza Alves, coordinator of the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium will be there. If I find him, and  some licuri nuts at the Marketplace, I'll be sure to let you know.

Hello, and Welcome to the Folks from the Expo!

Thanks for stopping by! Make yourself at home, and look around. Be sure to follow me over the next few weeks as I post updates about Salone del Gusto Terra Made, and I will provide live updates from the event. In my previous post, I mentioned that I was going to talk about the choice of the sunflower as my brand image.

It all started organically, and for the new folks, I listen to nature, my intuition and I look for the elements that appear in my life that can be considered content of a larger story. I feel we write the story of our life everyday, and when you look at life that way, some really cool things happen.

Back to the sunflower. This year, I had a whole bunch of sunflowers volunteer in my garden. They sprouted early, and were growing like they were on a mission. I let them grow, and as it turns out, they became the inspiration for my art and my brand.

You see, the old guard sunflowers are at risk of becoming tomatoized. Since sunflowers have become such a popular cut flower, the plant breeders are responding with varieties that are commercially in demand, while the old guard gets forgotten. Much like what happened with the tomato and the tomato industry.

As it was, some of the sunflower volunteers in my garden were the Hopi Dye variety. I had grown them the year before, and some reseeded. The Hopi Dye are an ancient variety grown by the Hopi Indians as a food source and a dye source. The seeds are a deep, polished black, and they produce a dark purplish blue dye. The stalks and leaves produce a green dye. The Hopi would use this dye for yarn and baskets, and would also use the seeds for food and oil. A big difference from using a plant for only a cut flower. I believe there is room in the garden for both.

My aim is to raise awareness of threatened heirloom varieties of plants, and to encourage people to view them as family heirlooms. The Hopi Indians cherished these plants for all the gifts that Mother Nature gave these plants, a true heirloom to share with future generations. All of that would be enough to warrant a brand image for a project such as this. There is more though. The sunflower provides a feast for pollinators, birds, animals and humans. It's a feast for all to share. That's powerful, and for me, it's a honor to use this as the symbol of my work.

Had they not volunteered in my garden this year, and had I not recognized them for the content they were providing to my story, this post wouldn't have the interest that is has. And, that sums up a lot of what Vanishing Feast, An Heirloom solution is about.

Expo Preview

expo photoAs you might know, I will be a vendor at the 2nd National Annual Heirloom Expo. I'm probably very excited, but I'm too tired to notice. I've been pushing it to get ready, and with three weeks to go, I'm happy to say, I won't be rushing around like the people I deal with in my corporate day job. About the expo;

The National Heirloom Exposition is a not-for-profit event centered around the pure food movement, heirloom vegetables, and anti-GMO activism. Our inaugural event held mid-September 2011 in Santa Rosa, California drew more than 10,000 people from around the country and beyond. With more than 70 speakers and 250 natural food vendors, the event was the largest gathering in pure food history! The Heirloom Expo has gained incredible interest among home growers, farmers, school groups and the general public–so much so that it is being called the “World’s Fair of the pure food movement”!

The three day schedule of speakers alone is worth the price of admission. There will demonstrations  exhibits, and of course vendors. I'm listed as vendor under Magic Hat Media, my soon to be corporate name. I'm proud to be a part of this.

My goal is to introduce myself to the everyone I can. I am my best asset. It's what sets me apart from everyone else, and it's the same for you. Your talent in what you chose to do is an extension of who you are. No need to hide behind it, and no need to be obnoxiously pretentious about it either.

I want to grow my audience. As luck would have it, I will be at the Salone del Gusto Terra Madre by Slow Food International as press five weeks later. This presents an organic opportunity for me to entice the crowd to join at this event in Turin, Italy. Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food Movement is a speaker at the Expo, so there should be a buzz going on about this event.

I will have some books for sale, three different calendars of my photographs and some photographs. I was hoping to make some hats to sell, however they fell off the radar screen. They may still happen, but if they don't, they don't.

The big news is this, I will be launching an awareness program there. In the course of the creative process this summer, an inspiring idea presented itself. It was too good to let pass by. Not everyone wants to garden, and not everyone can. So how do they participate in raising awareness or preserving the heirloom varieties? Participating in farm markets is a great. Educating their children about the wonderful world of heirloom plants is another way. But how they help get the word out to the general public? Well, this program will be one way. That's all I'm going to say about it. I'm keeping it under my hat until the expo. It's the classic storytelling element of a cliff hanger.

Photo courtesy of the 2nd National Annual Heirloom Expo.

Faux Green Olives, A Good Use of Green Tomatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Who Needs Zucchini? White Scallop Squash is Divine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


In Praise of a Purple Potato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Vinegar as a Weed Inhibitor

In my FB newsfeed recently, an item appeared about white vinegar being a weed killer. Intrigued by this, I looked further into it across the internets. There I found  a number of blog posts about how this works. So, here's another one.

Always on outlook for simple, sustainable and effective ways to work in the garden, and to live my life with the smallest foot print I can, I gave white vinegar a try.

It's NOT a weed killer, rather it's a detriment to the growth of the weed above ground, or any plant that the vinegar lands on. It's not selective, and some plants seem more effected by it than others.

I took some photos to share, but I can't find them. I've been using it for the past 3 weeks in my garden, so the initial impact of how effective it works is no longer evident. I'm impressed. I have 3 sides to my community garden plot that are not being used. The weeds are over grown, it impacts my plot. The vinegar works great ant inhibiting new growth along my fence. It's buying me time to get to these areas with paper and mulch as long term solution.

It does not kill the plant, but it singes the the foliage, and stops the plant from advancing in size. The plant will spend it's energy recovering and regrowing the existing foliage instead of advancing the growth further.

Adding some dish soap is more effective than not, and I found that Proxi brand dish soap works significantly better than Dawn. I had both in my house, so I tried both. The dish soap makes the vinegar sticky, and when spayed on the plant, it  stays on the foliage longer than just running off.

Get a spray bottle, and my ratio was 2 tbls. of soap to the 32 ounces in the spray bottle I use. That's it.

The ph in the vinegar has minimal impact on the soil, and in my opinion, in the home garden,or around the house, there is no need to use anything other than the standard 5% acid vinegar sold in supermarkets. I've seen people suggest using pickling vinegar, which has 9% acid, but unless you have it readily available, there is no need to go out of your way to acquire it.

There is a product called horticultural vinegar, and that has 25% acid. That will burn your skin, and it's not necessary for home gardening use in my opinion. Why risk injury to yourself when you don't have to?

Also, it's almost 10 times the price per gallon as the standard, 5% acid vinegar you buy in the supermarket. Keeping the Economy chapter from Walden by Thoreau in mind, the supermarket version is practical and effective.

This post gives you more detailed information about the research going on about vinegar as an organic herbicide. Just think, that hassle of the weeds growing between the cracks of the sidewalk can be taken care of with this simple, sustainable and effective solution.


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...




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.

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.

Digging Deeper Than Freshly Dug Potatoes – ANDES-Potato Park-CIP Agreement

PotatoesThere's always a story lurking somewhere around me. Recently, I stopped by my garden plot at the community garden. It's the end of the season and I wanted to assess what had to be done to close it. I didn't plan to do any work, and was not dressed for any. I pulled up a few small plants, my neighbor saw me and hollered "You can dig as much potatoes as you can."

I never grew potatoes which means I never dug them either. All around me though, my neighbors had potatoes. Evidently they grow well there. Always looking for knowledge and content to write about, I said "Great, thanks!"

He asked me if ever dug them before, I said no and he said it wasn't a big deal. He didn't have fork, just a shovel, he demonstrated what to do and handed me the shovel. It's an easy thing really. You just have to be careful. You dig a little dirt, find the potato and brush off the dirt. Considering I had sandals on, and a nice pair of short pants, it was going to be a short experience.

I quickly dug about 5 pounds, and while digging I realized that I could have fresh roasted potatoes is less then an hour. I took my potatoes, thanked my neighbor, and was on my way. I have to say, the batch that I roasted were incredible. Like anything else that is fresh, the taste and texture were sublime.

I moved onto gnocchi. I just had to. Fresh potatoes, some King Arthur flour and in a short amount of time I had pillows of heaven. Shortly after, I cooked a butternut squash that another neighbor gave me, had the last of the tomatoes from my garden, and some of the frozen gnocchi. An impromptu dinner that was grown within 400 feet of each other. It doesn't get any better then that.

When I decided to write about this, naturally I had to research heirloom potatoes. In the course of digging for information, I came across the Andes-Potato Park-CIP Agreement. From the article that precedes the agreement;

LONDON, Jan 18 (IPS) - Peru gave the world the potato, and the potato now offers indigenous people around the world a new recipe for securing their rights.A new agreement between six indigenous communities and the International Potato Centre in Cusco, Peru, heart of the old Inca civilisation in the Andes mountains of Latin America, recognises the right of these communities over the unique potato strains that they have developed and grown.

So what does this mean? More from the article;

The new agreement "means that Andean communities can unlock the potato gene bank and repatriate biological diversity to farming communities and the natural environment for local and global benefit," ANDES said in a statement Tuesday.Though excluded and often oppressed, indigenous peoples are the traditional custodians of biodiversity, and this agreement recognises that "the conservation, sustainable use and development of maximum agro-biodiversity is of vital importance in order to improve the nutrition, health and other needs of the growing global population," ANDES says.

How GREAT is that? Except for the part about indigenous people being excluded and often oppressed, that's tragic. This agreement reclaims their rights to a food that they have cultivated and introduced to the world. They are the original stewards of potatoes.

This agreement signed in 2005 doesn't give them the right to patent the genes, it's just the opposite. It protects their rights from interlopers who would try to do that. The agreement was sign by six Peruvian indigenous communities, and the International Potato Center, an agricultural research center based in Lima, Peru, which is the sponsor of the Potato Park;

Located in Pisaq in the Sacred Valley of Peru, the Potato Park is a one of the few conservation initiatives in the world where the local people are managing and protecting local genetic resources and traditional knowledge about their health, food, and agriculture. The Park covers more than 12,000 ha between 3,150 and 5,000 masl. About 600 varieties of native potatoes grow in the Park, most of them unique to this habitat. Six Quechua communities live in the Park. Some had been struggling for land tenure for years until the Quechua-Aymara Association for Sustainable Communities (ANDES in Spanish) brought them together in this in-situ conservation project.

I'm amazed and inspired by this. I want to see this place. I have to. What better example of what I want to encourage people to do within their families? There will be more written about this I'm sure. For now though, a story that started out innocently enough with a brief visit to my garden plot and spontaneous potato dig will have to do.

Heirloom as Hybrid – 1890, The Essex Hybrid

Maulelarge I'll be the the first to admit it, I'm a sucker for the romantic notion of heirloom varities being pure as the driven snow. When I first strated exploring heirloom varities, I assumed, (and yes you can break it apart into THOSE three words), that these were pure lines of vegetables. The blue bloods pedigrees of the vegetable kindom.

HA! What an amateur assumption that was. Let's face it, farmers, horticulturists, seedmen, etc. have always had a vested interest in making the better producing plant. I love heirloom varities, and for the scale that I grew, they are fine. For market crops though they can be a real challenge. If you need to make money to flourish, a Watermelon Pink Beefsteak with it low yields is not a good choice. Cherokee Purples, Cherokee Chocolates and Black Cherry Tomatoes are prolific enough to turn some profit. And then there's the legendary Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter.

As I dug deeper into this wonderful and crazy world of heirloom vegetables, I came across a seedman by the name of William Henry Maule. He had a local business in Philadelphia, PA. I was excited to find out that he had a farm in Newfield, NJ, which is about 10 miles from where I live. He grew his business of plants seeds around the turn of the century, and established himself as well-know figure in the history of the seed business.

So when I found this description from his 1890 catalogue I laughed at the crazy assumption I had made when I first started out. From page 53 in William Heny Maule's 1890 catalogue;

Essex Hybrid - A most valuable new variety gaining great popularity everywhere. It's very solid, of rich flavor, grows perfectly smooth, large in size, and is very productive. It ripens all over alike and flesh is very hard and solid. A vigourous grower, fruits evenly on the vines. Just the sort for shipping. All progressive growers should plant the Essex variety largely.

Just the sort for shipping? Perfectly smooth? Sounds like some of the complaints today lodged about the factory-farmed pale red wax ball tomatos that basically destroyed the tomato growing industry, and put a lot of heirloom varities at risk for extinction.

I think this is a good lesson to learn that hybrids are not a problem. In fact, a lot of heirloom varities are hybrids, they're just an older generation, and they don't have the word hybrid in their name. The word hybrid doesn't fit into the old romantic notion that Radiator Charilie's Mortgage Lifter has, which by the way is a hybrid, or the endearing quality of Aunt Ruby's German Green. Dear, sweet Aunt Ruby.

The important thing is that we realize now that we are the stweards to keep these varities going no matter if they are a hybrid or not. The issue is one of extinction, not distinction between two words that begin with the letter h. There's room at the table for both. Just not for GMOs.

As far as the Essex Hyrid, I couldn't find any trusted sources of information about them. I'll keep an eye out and if I do find anything about them I'll include it another post.

Fermenting Hinkelhatz

photo hinklehatz pepperNo, it's not the title of a new Christopher Guest film. It's another self-induced adventure that I get to write a story about. You know the saying you just can't make this up, well I sorta do by growing my own content. Hinklehatz peppers, aka Chicken Heart Peppers are a very old Pennsylvannia Dutch heirloom. (If you click the link scroll about halfway down to the description.) Or, you can keep reading this;

These hot peppers have been cultivated in this area for over 150 years! Its name perfectly describes the shape and size of these extremely hot peppers. These hot little beauties are used almost exclusively in pickled form by the PA Dutch, although they also cook and puree the peppers to make a "pepper vinegar" similar to Tabasco sauce, which is used on sauerkraut and other dishes. A recipe appears in 1848 in Die Geschickte Hausfrau. Prolific, long-season plants. Very ornamental, on compact 1-1/2 to 2 foot bushes. Very resistant to all bugs and disease. Also very cold hardy for a chile pepper.

What the above fails to mention is the name, Hinklehatz, translates into chicken heart because the peppers are very close to to size, shape and color, if it's the red variety, of a chicken heart. They rate 125,000 units on the Scoville scale. They are very serious hot peppers.

The description of the plant is accurate. A large, sturdy bush that withstood the following; a hail storm that killed the rest of my garden, then torrential rains, a hurricane that passed within 60 miles of it where it was growing, and finally the remnants of a tropical storm. The pepper itself has a very tough skin. The flavor is somewhat fruity until the caspian kicks in and reminds you of it's ranking on the Scoville scale.

A friend mentioned that one day she wanted to ferment some hot peppers into a sauce. That got me thinking about trying that with the hinkelhatz. Since the Pennsylvania Dutch use these peppers for hot sauce and pickling vinegars, it seemed like a good fit for these peppers.

The Pennsylvania Dutch are stewards of heirloom varieties. Their contribution to the preservation of heirloom varieties is a standard that I hope a lot of people follow. It's essentially what the focus of this project is all about. That is growing varieties of plants with a history and tradition, and passing them along to future generations. I'll write more about the Pennsylvania Dutch and their varieties in the future. For now though, let's get back to fermenting hinklehatz.

I started out inspired. I wanted to work with the fruity notes in the flavor of the pepper, so I decided to use a locally grown canary melon. I would've used one that I grew, however the previously mentioned hail storm took them out. If you never had a canary melon, you are missing out on a very sweet melon, with a robust and deep melon flavor. Some bay leaf, black pepper, garlic, shallots, and some black cherry tomatoes would round out the sauce.

I would attempt to do some food styling for the photographs. I was going to ferment for 30 days. A complete month of fermenting, and document the process with weekly photos. It was going to be the best hot sauce ever.

As would be the case in any story, an antagonist would arrive on the scene muck up the works. In this story, it arrived in the form of yeast. The yeast formed from not having a sealed jar, and brine that lacked enough salt. There wasn't much information out there about fermenting hot peppers for sauce, and me being impatient and impulsive when it comes to being creative, I forged ahead with what little information I found.

Not that the yeast that grew was a bad thing, but it wasn't good either. So I did some more digging for information, or excavating is more like it, and found this site. It was here that I found the information that identified the yeast. After reading through this page I saw the errors of my way. If you want to try this, it seems like this page is a solid source of information. I haven't gone back to try this yet, perhaps I will since the plant I have still has a lot of hot peppers on it.

I thought the story was done, however as it will be, innocently enough at a pot luck dinner at a friend's house, another friend was talking about the hot peppers she grew. She mentioned how she would put them in a jar with some sherry and making a spicy cooking wine. BINGO!, I had a solution to this story, so that's what I did. While not a hot sauce or a pickling vinegar in the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch vein, a delightful end to this self-induced hinkelhatz adventure.

Book Update – Waiting for a Proof

Future_tomatoes_CVR_FinalI kicked around the idea of pre-selliing the book, but I have no control over the print quality. The print on demand nature of self-publishing lends itself to manuscript type of books where it's all type, or perhaps a lot of type with some illustrations through out the book.

Digital printing of photographs has gotten better over the years, and since this book does have superb photos in it, I thought it would be best to get a proof before selling it.

Another factor is the paper stock. I would think the people who run this business would have a good idea of what paper works the best for both type and photos. That's why we get proofs.

The files are uploaded. I'm waiting for them to be reviewed to see if they meet the submission guidelines required by, the publishing studio by I have confidence that the final product will be good.

I have a donation button the right hand side of the blog. I put there for people who want to donate to help me continue. I know the economy is tough. In October, I'm going to lose my job for the third time in 5.5 years. It will complicate my life in many ways, and it does offer the opportunity perhaps to spend more time on this.

With the gardening off-season coming up, I want to start shooting some video of what people are doing to preserve the heirloom varieties. I do believe it's a good niche to fill. I have the camera to shoot it. I need a good mic such as a Zoom H4 , and good tripod to start.

I now have a calendar store at which features my photography, with a wide range of subject matter. Any calendar ordered will support Vanishing Feast. The choices right now include the Sunflowers a Go Go mentioned in the previous post, The Sonoma County Coast, and Window Shopping, a series of photos of store windows that capture the surreal dioramas that the reflections in them create. I have a blog set up, and will be posting at the blog and tweeting daily to see what kind of traffic and attention I can get. Perhaps some Google Ad Words too.

I also woke up from a very lucid dream with the idea of three tomatoes and how to grow them. What better way to preserve the future tomatoes and vegetables than to teach children about them. I have a concept developed that's been soundly rejected by publishing companies so there has to be merit in the idea. I will adapt that concept to this.

I'm experimenting with the self-publishing opportunities that are out there. I see myself as a media company that creates media that will support heirloom varieties and offer some products to others to use as fund raising tools. It would a variation of the social business model that Muhammad Yunus presents in Creating a World Without Poverty. With your support, this will happen. Please feel free to pass this post along to anyone who you know that can help me achieve this goal.

I have a lot of talent and creativity and the corporate world has made it clear to me that I'm not worthy of them. No matter what happens over the course of the next six months with my situation, I will find a way to continue on with this.

Ok enough of the shameless self-promotion, now back to the stuff I grow and write about. On the horizon we have a failed experiment with fermenting hot peppers to create hot pepper sauce. I will demonstrate what not to do. It's a good metaphor at my attempt at my previous career.

I also tried to make dye from Hopi Dye Sunflowers that I grew this year. It didn't work either. It's a beautiful plant that the Hopi Nation has used for hundreds of years so I'm sure it works quite well when you know what to do with it.

That's it for now, and thank you for your support.