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July 26th, 2012

Tomato Times: Livin’ Large

So. Who’s picked the most tomatoes so far this year? Who cares? I don’t because I just picked my first tom this season. ‘Pilcer Vesy’ by  name. One pound of sugary slurpy sweetness the color of a goldfish, and lifted gently from the branch of a 6ft tall plant. If this tomato was a gal, she’d be called “statuesque”. I knocked myself out. Him Indoors was pretty impressed too. It’s a variety we are testing for next year’s tomato story, and THAT is all I will give away.

It deserved a photo so I propped it on my best piece of glass — a ladeedah Tiffany candlestick — and paid homage with my lens. It mesmerised me: The way the sun-kissed skin glowed, its little blemished shoulder turned shyly to the shadow. It rested quietly, demurely even as I captured its tender image — not like some glossy ol’ red Big Boy as thick as a red neck aiming to punch out  my lights….tomato1

The next step was to slice into this beauty. Selecting my sharpest knife I approached with reverence. All too often I’ve been disappointed:  too many seeds, wet soggy innards, mealy flesh. This fruit was as good inside as out.

sliced

Next came the all important taste test. But this was not to be just any old chomp-a-slice and see. No! This was the first tomato of the year, and after the Tiffany candlestick, only the best would do: A succulent 6 ounce burger of grass-fed organic Angus beef, with organic trimmings, including a generous shredding of home-reared lettuce-leaf basil, a freshly baked white roll, mayo, not too much ketchup, a shmeer of English mustard (Colman’s thankyou very much), and a slice of Provolone melted into a milky mantle.

Whoooa Buddy! now that’s what I call a meal fit for a tomato.

burger

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July 17th, 2012

Organic Gardening is keeping it Fresh!

Just want to take this opportunity to crow about the third edition of FRESH! Youth Voices for Food & Sustainability. It’s a village effort: many hands pulled together to help teacher Meredith Hill and her 7th grade Food & Sustainability class produce this publication, but OG’s involvement all started in 2010 when she and I met at a New York City Grows event. The rain was coming down in sheets, but the turnout had been amazing. As the day drew to a close, Meredith approached me and, describing her English lit class’s summer study of food sustainability, asked me if there was anything OG could do to help. The kids were visiting farms and organic growers, researching and writing reports, taking photos. Since making magazines is what I do, I offered up the idea of creating an OG junior, inviting the class to come to our offices and learn about the editorial process, as well as have visits to the Rodale Institute for a soil science lesson, the Rodale Family farm where it all began for a lesson in the history of organics in the USA and to the Rodale Food Service to learn about food sheds, local food sourcing and other supply and demand issues.

The class arrived on a hot day in late June. Just as their schoolmates before, the 2012 class had a lot on the ball, they had their questions, their opinions, and most importantly, they had a heavy dose of curiosity, the secret ingredient of a good journalist. It was going to be a great day!

Art Director Gavin Robinson and the Fresh! design team

Art Director Gavin Robinson and the Fresh! design team

Over lunch in the Rodale Café, the Organic Gardening team offered their experience, talking about design, illustration, editing, planning, copy editing and production, as well as marketing and advertising. The results are terrific.

The project has gone from strength to strength. Meredith’s dedication to her students and her passion for giving them the very best learning experience they can have while in her care is nothing short of awe-inspiring; and because of it she is able to draw the best out of each individual and bring them together to create their magazine. Their work together is a perfect testament to what teachers mean to the success of our society and the strength of nation’s future. They deserve our respect and support in whatever way we can give it.

So please, take a moment to listen to the young people are saying, even as you read their words. They are the voice of the future. (Photos courtesy of Michael Harlan Turkell, www.harlanturk.com.)

The Class of 2012 at Rodale with Ethne Clarke

The Class of 2012 at Rodale with Ethne Clarke

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July 12th, 2012

Light in the Darkness

The garden at night is a beautiful thing. White flowers glimmer, owls hoot, scent that is fugitive in the daylight lingers in the air. There are certain plants I grow especially for dusk and dark, such as lilies and moonflowers; Vita Sackville West’s famous white garden at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent in southern England was created as a “moonlight garden”, which is a centuries-old conceit originating in Persia, where enclosures within gardens were planted specifically to be viewed at night. No artificial lighting allowed, just the spectral glow of errant moonbeams puddling on lawns and dappling shrubberies. Ah….

But, since I like to sit out of a cool evening and the silvery moon ain’t always shining on, I’ve tried various sorts of lighting — from Mexican-made sconces with votive candles to big ol’ citronella candles in bright colored buckets (light and almost no bugs, but pungent). But my favorites have turned out to be solar-powered twinkle lights and spots that I received from Gardener’s Supply Company. Many of the solar efforts I’ve experienced have been wimpy, but these fittings really power out the beams. Best of all: Light where you want it, no electricity needed. Priceless.

The twinkle lights I use are detachable from the spikes with which they’re fitted, so that they can be strung like Christmas tree lights around a deck or between uprights. This is the best way to use them: I began by pegging them along the garden path, but they looked too much like a landing zone for alien craft. Very small alien craft…

Twinkle lights are not just for Christmas trees. They provide a kind, soft light for patios — bright enough to see your wine glass.

Twinkle lights are not just for Christmas trees. They provide a kind, soft light for patios — bright enough to see your wine glass.

The silvery grey boughs that uphold the magnolia tree’s canopy over one end of my garden are quite a sculptural, and I have deployed two spots to highlight their form.

This smudgey photo gives an idea of the uplighting effect of the solar-powered spots.

This smudgy photo gives an idea of the uplighting effect of the solar-powered spots.

The ambient light they give off is just enough to illuminate the nearby flowerbeds, so I can see what is where without having to don sunglasses or worry about light pollution, as one might if using incandescent spotlights. There’s nothing worse than trying to enjoy the dark garden when a neighbor’s Kluge lights are burning your retinas. So, if you are going to deploy any kind of lights, step outside the garden and see them as others might. And be sure to check out We Like This in this month’s issue: we’ve found some very cool garden illuminators.

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July 6th, 2012

Lily Love Affair

Last year in October I planted a 25 lily bulbs of one sort: the magnificent Orienpet ‘Lavon’, I planted them in bunches up the front path, across the front of the house, and at the back gate. They have more than fulfilled my vision of walking through a lily grove with blooms at head height so the scent is instantly enjoyable; the stems range from 5 feet to 6 feet, and the blooms, up to six inches across, are richly perfumed of almond and vanilla. They’ve been blooming about a week in the humidity and heat, and are just beginning to drop their petals. What a feast.  Here’ s a photo taken this morning, along with what John Scheepers/Van Engelen bulbs has to say about Orienpet cultivation.

Orienpet lily 'Lavon': a single stem can be six feet tall

Easy Fall Planting
Among the last of the fall harvested flower bulbs, Orienpet Lilies ship in mid-October just as soon as we receive them in our warehouse from the Netherlands. Hardy for horticultural zones 4 through 8 (and maybe even 9), Orienpet Lily bulbs should be planted in the fall when the soil has cooled down to about 55 degrees F (after two weeks of sweater weather when night time temps hover in the 40s). Orienpet Lilies need a minimum of six hours of daily sunlight and well-draining, neutral pH soil.

These 14/16 cm bulbs should be planted 6 to 8 inches deep and 8 to 10 inches apart with the pointed sprouting tip up and the basal plate (bottom of the bulb where the roots grow) down. Planting Lily bulbs in the fall rather than the spring affords them the time to set down roots and get established before the warming spring soil demands top growth. Space the bulbs properly to make sure there is good air circulation between the plants so that the leaves can easily dry off after rainfall. This helps to keep the foliage and plants healthy.

Over time, Orienpet Lilies benefit from a 4-10-6 granular fertilizer top dressing three times a year: at fall planting time, in the early spring when the sprouts emerge and when the flower starts to die back in late spring. (Don’t ever put fertilize in the planting hole: it could cause root burn that would stunt plant growth.) If winters in your area bring temperature spiking and inconsistent snow cover, a 2 inch layer of mulch may be applied after the surface of the ground freezes.

Good mulching mediums include straw, salt marsh hay or oak leaves. Prior to planting, Orienpet Lily bulbs may be stored in a cool, dry place with low humidity, away from heat, frost and strong sunlight at a temperature between 50 and 70 degrees F.

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