November 7th, 2012
122 Slugs and Counting

DebbieLeungThere was a break in the rain today, so I had to get out into the garden. It was gray, dry or lightly misting, and warm (about 60 degrees). First, there were lots of slugs, the little kind—there had to have been over a hundred that I “dealt” with. Many were on the Portuguese kale. What is amazing about this “kale” is that they are making giant heads, about 8 to 10 inches across! I’m going to wait for a good frost to sweeten them up before harvesting.

Portuguese kale, or "tronchuda beira," from Renee's Garden

Portuguese kale, or "tronchuda beira," from Renee's Garden

Remember the giant kohlrabi from last year, ‘Superschmelz’? I’ve been letting them get really big to really test them and thought I’d bring one in today for lunch. It wasn’t very pretty, but it was a good 8 inches in diameter and very heavy. I cut off a wedge, peeled it and it was fabulous! Sweet, crunchy, and not woody. It’ll take a while to eat it all!

'Yellowstone' carrot, 'Jester' acorn squash, and 'Chersonskaya' winter squash

'Yellowstone' carrot, 'Jester' acorn squash, and 'Chersonskaya' winter squash

Two weeks ago, I pulled another ‘Yellowstone’ carrot from a mid-April sowing for a stew. It just keeps getting bigger! Here’s a picture of it with the ‘Jester’ acorn squash, both surrounded by the ‘Chersonskaya’ winter squash. Haven’t tasted the squash yet. Beautiful, but I’m disappointed by the yield of both varieties.

While finishing up fall chores in the garden after lunch, I noticed more slugs! This time I counted: 122.  —Debbie Leung, Olympia, Washington

Tags: , , , ,

October 4th, 2012
Debbie’s Tomato Tasting

DebbieLeungAs another mostly-annual tomato-tasting party approached, we knew that this year’s record-setting stretch of warm, dry days here in Olympia, Washington, had to end soon. Hopes for ripe tomatoes were high in this region where growing tomatoes is always a challenge. But as equinox approached, reality set in. Evening temperatures dropped into the 40s and we remembered this year’s cool, wet spring that seemed to last into midsummer. Like most years, we awoke on party day to gray skies, scattered showers forecasted for the afternoon – drats!!! My hope was to not repeat past parties where, huddled on the covered back deck with tomato juice dribbling down our fingers and chins, a constant drizzle chilled us to the bones.

debtomato1As people started to arrive, the weather seemed to improve. Many contributed their best homegrown tomatoes for the tasting.

With a crunchy baguette sliced thinly to cleanse the palate between tastes and volunteers ready to slice and dice tomatoes, we gathered outside. Many folks had wandered through the garden while we waited for everyone (and tomatoes) to arrive, and I was barraged by questions about the “black tomatoes.” So to introduce the tasting, I told the story about the ‘Indigo Rose’ tomatoes and the experience of our test group, but we didn’t taste them first—no need to start with disappointment.

debtomato3The heirlooms ‘Prudence’ and ‘Moskovitch’ were grown by neighbors in cloches to minimize blight and maximize heat potential. A riper specimen might have improved the blah response to ‘Prudence’. Many liked ‘Moskovitch’, with its tangy, citrusy zing. Sweet and dependable ‘Juliet’, a mini-Roma-type, is favored by a gardener friend and was grown outdoors in the open without fussing. People generally liked its firmness and flavor. My next-door neighbor brought full-sized Romas. The not-quite-ripe sample got muted comments that included sweet and firm with the texture of melons.

In contrast, little ‘Cherry Roma’ got people excited. They loved the crunch, the acid, the splash in the mouth, the burst of concentrated flavor. People also liked ‘Black Cherry’, a test variety, for its wide range of flavors, a complexity that included a limy tartness with a savory flavor that “stays with you.”

debtomato4

Clockwise from upper left: ‘Indigo Rose’, ‘Momotaro’, ‘Sungold’, ‘Early Cascade’, ‘Black Cherry’

‘Early Cascade’ is my standard, usually a small, dependable slicer. A few were ripe weeks ago, but the not-quite-ripe samples got expected responses, including “a little supermarket-y.” The flavor of ‘Momotaro’ makes it worth growing for me even though it ripens only in the best of seasons. Tasters agreed even with the barely-ripe sample. Animated descriptions included smoky, meaty sweetness, great for sandwiches. Also “a mellow, understated pleasantness.”

The sun peeked through the clouds as we tasted ‘Early Girl’, my neighbor’s standard for ripening and being blight-free in our drizzly climate, and ‘Indigo Rose’. People found ‘Early Girl’ agreeable and the eating quality of ‘Indigo Rose’ horrid, “definitely flashy in appearance but not in flavor.” They hadn’t yet colored up to the shoulders, but flavor at full ripeness could still be a question.

debtomato2‘Sungold’ got passed around last as in year past, like a comforting dessert that everyone loves.

We concluded that here in the Puget Sound region of western Washington, growing cherry tomatoes are where it’s at. Our growing season is very long, but conditions that favor tomatoes are short and unstable. Ripening slicers takes short-season varieties, weather luck, and fussing with microclimates and plastic.

debtomato5Eleven-year-old Emily summed up the event. The tomato lover travelled 75 miles with her parents and grandparents for the rare occasion to eat her fill of tomatoes. Her favorites? ‘Black Cherry’, ‘Cherry Roma’, and ‘Moskovitch’. She helped polish those plates clean.

debtomato6Postscript: As people left, they asked what I would do with all the leftover tomatoes. Sauce! My lazy method, easy enough to make even after a long day of party preparation and socializing, starts with quartering the tomatoes, skins and all. Throw them into a pot to simmer. Stir occasionally, especially in the beginning as the tomatoes in the bottom of the pot cook first. When the tomatoes are soft, use a hand-held blender to dissolve the chunks and skins right in the pot. Continue to simmer until it thickens as desired.   —Debbie Leung, Olympia, Washington

Tags:

September 4th, 2012
Slug Patrol

DebbieLeung It’s still warm enough to wear T-shirts, but it is definitely fall here in Olympia. Mornings are chilly and days are in the 70s. You can feel it in the air and see it in the light. Days are getting shorter. I could use a bit more summer!

Last week I thought I’d start slug patrol again since another planting of lettuce seedlings got devoured. I found hundreds of those pesky little slugs. Then I started counting. Yesterday there were 61; today 58. Most were on the Portuguese kale and ‘Little Jade’ Napa cabbage (the fall crop that is growing very quickly), followed by ‘Ozette’ potatoes and kohlrabi. I also found some on arugula, beans, and peppers.

A brief report on some of this year’s trial varieties: ‘Black Cherry’ tomato is starting to ripen and taste quite fine. ‘Indigo Rose’ tomato plants are still filled with large cherry tomato-sized shiny black balls. I let a Portuguese kale grow without harvesting its leaves, and it’s starting to form a head! Got small ‘Purple Peacock’ broccoli heads, one off each plant, and the side shoots are quite slow in coming. ‘Jester’ acorn squash is putting on squash and they look beautiful. I had high hopes for the ‘Chersonskaya’ winter squash, which were starting to make a number of squashes, but they look like they probably didn’t get pollinated—they’re drying up while only a couple inches across.

'Yellowstone' carrots from Fedco Seeds

'Yellowstone' carrots from Fedco Seeds

Here’s a picture of the ‘Yellowstone’ carrots. They look great but don’t taste so great fresh; it’s a good carrot to cook with. The ‘Atomic Red’ carrots are about an inch tall. I’m growing them for the winter season.  —Debbie Leung, Olympia, Washington

Tags: , , , ,

August 20th, 2012
Nan’s Tomato Tasting

nanstermanAfter dinner this evening, we did a tomato taste test. I can’t tell you how full I feel! Our faves so far this year are ‘Indigo Rose’, ‘Black Cherry’, and ‘Tang’.

• ‘Indigo Rose’ has sweet flesh with acid seeds and a bit of an earthy musk essence. Earlier in the season its flavor was boring, but now it’s very good. Black shoulders on orangey/red fruits.

tomato2• ‘Black Cherry’ has a complex flavor; sweet without being too sweet, and tangy. The fruits are olive-blushed red and the plants are quite productive.

• ‘Tang’ is a medium-sized bright orange/red tomato with a very good balance of sweet and acid. It’s moderately productive.

People rave about ‘Green Zebra’ but I’ve never been that impressed by it. This is the first year I’ve gotten a reasonable-sized crop from it, but fruits are mushy. It’s sweet and tart but not exciting.  —Nan Sterman, Encinitas, California

tomato1

Tags:

August 14th, 2012
Plasticulture: A Dilemma for Organic Growers

don_tnPlasticulture—farming that relies on sheets of plastic film for mulch, among other uses—has become incredibly popular right now among small and large commercial farmers. There are even special machines to form beds and lay the plastic over them. The “mulch” (it’s a sheet of plastic, a world away from organic mulches we know and love, such as straw or chopped leaves) warms and protects soil, suppresses weeds without herbicides or tillage, helps prevent some diseases and pests, and makes it easier to keep crop quality high.

BUT, it involves spreading huge sheets of plastic across your fields. This material is not recycled and has the potential for adding nasty things to the environment, whether that means trashing the oceans or releasing chemicals that go along with plastic.

A farmer I know here in North Carolina grew some amazing canary melons this year using plasticulture. Man, they tasted so good they risked being outlawed. He got excellent money for them, too, about $4 for a 3-pound melon, and worth it. Although he is very scientifically literate, he dismisses concerns about the use of plastics in farming. On crops where plasticulture gives him better yields (and the difference can be very significant on melons, strawberries, and several other crops), he uses it. Besides, he says, if small farmers don’t use these kinds of techniques, they can’t compete.

He’s not alone. Recently, in Winston-Salem, a large community food bank project changed over to a completely plasticulture approach. Extension brought in the equipment and put everything in place. The yields were improved, but lost was any sense of community, and the glorious jumble that typifies community gardens.

I’m pretty skeptical, though I do use floating row covers (I recycle them), a hoop house covered in plastic, drip irrigation with plastic drip tape, and sometimes plastic film for soil solarization. I don’t know if I’m being a Luddite or if this is yet another example of our national penchant for rushing ahead with the latest gadgets and technologies in search of bigger profits, without really considering the environmental costs.  —Don Boekelheide, Charlotte, North Carolina






OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image
OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image OGFooter image