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Archive for the ‘Garden 2010’ Category

I made the switch to all heirloom or open-pollinated seed varieties in 2009. My main concern in doing this was saving my own seed in order to reduce future seed costs and to have the ability to trade seed with other gardening friends. Saving seed for me is a great connection to the earth, and completes the life cycle. The whole point of a fruit, after all, is seed dispersal.

Some home gardeners swear by hybrids and love to buy them. And they do. Every year. I have no problem with people planting hybrids. The companies develop them to have disease resistance, grow in less than favorable conditions, such as less water or maybe less sunlight. Some also have more herbicide resistance as well. Almost all commercial varieties of crops are hybrids.

A modern seed company will make most or all of its monies from the sale of hybrid seeds. I have no problem with this at all. Hybrids can be a great option for beginning gardeners who want to grow successful produce without extra work. Hybrid seeds often come with a large markup because the company must make new hybrid seed every year. They hand-pollinate Proprietary Parent #1 with Proprietary Parent #2 and harvest all the seed from the fruits grown. This is an F1 Hybrid and the seeds from those fruits (now called F2) will not grow “true” if planted, but will show various traits of each or both parents.

The problem comes in when I was reading my 2011 large seed company catalog yesterday. I ordered from this company in the past and haven’t had a problem with them before.

Here’s the problem:

This is an "Heirloom" tomato collection. Notice anything?

Look closely at the 2nd tomato variety. It is called “Burpee’s Supersteak Hybrid.” But wait–I thought this was an heirloom tomato collection? My first impression of this listing: [laughing] “Hey babe, they’re including a hybrid in this heirloom collection!” Eyebrows go up all around. A closer reading of the collection is that it is an heirloom taste collection. So they admit that they’re including a hybrid, but swear that it tastes just like an heirloom. Still, it’s misleading.

I continue reading the catalog (hey, I’m a gardener, to me this is a magazine). Then I come to this listing:

Hmmm, this listing of a Hybrid is tagged as an Heirloom. What gives?

My first impression is that this company made a mistake in their catalog. They accidentally identified this hybrid variety as an heirloom. It’s possible that this variety is actually an heirloom, but I only know of one heirloom that retained the name “hybrid” and that’s the squash “Essex Hybrid.” It means it was a hybrid at one point but has since been grown out and stabilized to be true to type and open pollinated. But the key word in the listing above is “our.” Possessing a variety indicates ownership. You can’t own a variety technically, unless it’s a proprietary hybrid.

These two pieces of evidence could be dismissed as mistakes or harmless mislabeling. Until the third piece of evidence was discovered:

This most famous of hybrid tomatoes is labelled as an Heirloom. Cause it's old, right?

Okay, the secret’s out. This is the Burpee catalog. This hybrid tomato variety is probably the most famous and most well known and possibly the most recognized variety of tomato out there. But it’s still a hybrid. So why is it labelled an heirloom?

Let’s go back to basics and define what an heirloom is. Unfortunately, there is a matter of debate among gardeners about the particulars. But it is generally agreed upon that an heirloom seed will:

  • be open pollinated. This means that seed saved from the vegetable/fruit will make fruit exactly resembling the parent. Assuming it is not cross pollinated.
  • be at least 50 years old. This point is debated because some newer open-pollinated varieties have become fast favorites but aren’t yet 50. An example is Green Zebra, which wasn’t widely distributed until the 1980s, even though it existed back to the early 60s as a stable variety.
  • Should have a history attached. This means that a variety called Aunt Gertie’s Gold should have some relation to a woman named Gertie (and it would help if she was an Aunt) who grew the variety in the family for a bunch of years, etc. This part of the definition is optional, but a great inclusion.

So an heirloom is above all an open-pollinated variety. It may or may not be at least 50 years old and/or have a known history.

So what is the big deal about calling “Big Boy” tomato a heirloom? Does it meet the definition:

  • is it 50+ years old? Hmmm, the catalog says it is from 1949. That’s 61 years, so yes.
  • does it have a history? Well it was probably developed by Burpee to be sold (and patented) by Burpee. Probably developed with certain traits in mind, mainly for size and color. Possibly production and disease resistance. But we may never know for sure. The parents of this hybrid remain proprietary.
  • is it open pollinated? No.

I could have skipped the first two questions. A hybrid will never (ever) be an heirloom even if it meets 2 out of the 3 requirements unless it is open pollinated. So a hybrid can’t be anything other than a hybrid. Period, end of story.

So why does this matter so much? Words have meaning. If this company says, well this hybrid is over 50 years old, (even though they have to physically make the seed with the two secret parents each year), so why can’t we call it an heirloom? It is owned by Burpee and will always be owned by Burpee, so it is an heirloom we’ll pass on to the next Burpee employees on a need-to-know basis. In this sentence, “it” refers not to the tomato, but the genetic recipe for the tomato plant.

Stretching the definition of words to suit your own views is dangerous. It is misleading. Growers can look at this catalog and get excited because they have now been given the license by Burpee to call a hybrid an “heirloom.” They can take this seed and grow it out. Then take the fruit to their farmer’s market and tell all their patrons that they are buying “heirloom” tomatoes. It’s a lie. If by chance a patron decided this was the best tomato ever and saved the seed, they’d grow wild card plants that don’t look anything like the “Big Boy” tomato they’d eaten. They could then get fed up with “heirlooms” that don’t grow true and feel negative to them forevermore.

That is a long-shot. But it’s in the catalog not once but 3 times. If we start to erode even this simple distinction, what’s the gain and what’s the loss? Burpee may gain a few more seed packet sales. Gardeners will lose space for genuine heirlooms in their gardens. And farmer market gardeners can gain a fake label for their fruits and possibly make more sales.

Burpee must have caught on that heirloom seeds are getting to be a real trend (read market share) in gardening today. They want to get in more on this heirloom market so they just call their hybrids “heirlooms” and hope gardeners won’t  notice long enough to shell out their money. What other reason is there?

Of course, they could try selling more actual heirloom varieties. But there is one glaring exception: the Burpee company developed the first yellow zucchini. It was an open pollinated variety from the start and has a great history attached to it. It is probably over 50 years old by now so it is an heirloom variety in every sense of the definition. But it is not being sold by Burpee for 2011. It’s a mind bender. . .

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After pouring over my 2010 catalogs for months on end, and making a long list of ‘maybes’ I finally finalized and narrowed down my seed list and placed the orders last night. Whew!

I ordered from two places and will be getting:

  • 1 beet, a new vegetable for us
  • 1 bean, maybe just maybe I’ll be successful at beans this year
  • 1 watermelon, an orange one
  • 1 huckleberry, new fruit
  • 1 flower (gasp, I know), calendula which for my credit is edible
  • 1 herb, cinnamon basil
  • 1 kale
  • 6 new tomatoes
  • 5 new peppers

Plus I have 2 new tomatoes I got in a trade; and 3 new peppers from a trade. My main problem now becomes finding room for everything. . .

After my seedlings are growing then I’ll add the specifics to my Seed List page for quick reference.

2011 Seed Cost: just over $50
Ordered from: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Tomato Growers Supply Co.

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There are whole books out there about growing really big tomatoes (rbts). Outside of great soil, fertile amendments, and proper staking, spacing, and pruning, sometimes getting an rbt is a stroke of luck. It’s called a mega-bloom.

A real live megabloom: It is 5 or 8 times bigger than a single tomato flower.

I’ve had the privilege of watching megablooms grow in my garden 2 years now (from the same variety: Carbon). This freak of nature creates the ultimate of siamese twins. Sometimes the flower was “supposed” to be 5 or 6 or more separate blooms that for some reason or the other got fused together in a tomato flower mishmash.

When fertilized, the fruit grows into a monster: a twisted, convoluted mass of flesh called the rbt or winner of the heaviest tomato contests.

The megabloom has given birth to a budding mega tomato

When you’re the proud parent of such an oddity, you have a love of a fruit that is so irregular no one else sees the beauty in it. It might have catfacing, cracking, unsightly seams or in the case of my Carbon freak, physical twisting of its convoluted shape with smaller siamese twins attached—sometimes with their own stems.

My convoluted mass of tomato flesh weighs 1 lb 4 oz.

This was one tomato fruit that had it been a human child it surely wouldn’t have survived the womb. It is one fruit that should have been at least 3. Bu the beauty of it all is that it is edible. Tasty, even delicious. Freak or not, my toungue can’t tell the difference.

Mega tomato, top view. This was picked 6 weeks after the megabloom was pictured.

Should you spot the mythical mega-bloom in your garden, watch with wonder as the rbt grows before your eyes. Then at last, when your convoluted mass of tomato flesh is ripe, take a picture before you dig in with both elbows. A tomato this odd is one worth remembering.

RBTs of Years Past (All of my RBTs of this sort have been Carbon tomatoes):

This one grew so convoluted, it wrapped around itself forming a doughnut.

These tomatoes could be twinsies: both are from megablooms.

Further Reading:

Garden Notes: Loads of Tomatoes (megablooms on Carbon, Purple Russian)
Water Sun Dirt (megablooms on Tasty Evergreen)
Gone Feral in Idaho (megablooms on Black Krim)

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I admit it: I am an avid reader! But I am a slow newbie when it comes to teen vampire/werewolf drama romances. However, even years late, I admit that the Twilight Saga makes a great summer read. Stephanie Meyer’s The Host was an excellent example of vivid storytelling. But I’ll talk about that book in another post.

After reading all 4 books in the Twilight Saga, and then reading my Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog again, I realized that one could very easily plant a Twilight garden! (Some of these can also be found at Tomato Growers Supply.) Some of my descriptions may include spoilers, so go out and read the books already 😉

This list could be used to encourage young adults and teens to get into gardening. It could be used for a community garden, a school garden, or in your own personal garden. There’s a wide variety here for vegetables, but I’ve included some flowers as well at the end for those who are inclined. Enjoy!

A smattering of the tomatoes for the Twilight Garden

Tomatoes:
Violet Jasper: These tomatoes are similar to Green Zebra only deep purple with green stripes. Very nice. So picked after the character Jasper, obviously. Jasper is one of my favorite characters–he was excellently developed deeper in Eclipse.

Topaz: These tomatoes very similar to Violet Jasper only they are yellow with green speckles. Picked after the color of the Cullen’s eyes.  Bella changes her favorite gemstone to topaz after meeting Edward.

Bella Rosa Hybrid: These are medium-large red globes. Yes, this is a hybrid pick. But it is the only tomato named Bella–can you believe it?

Rosalita: These are red grape tomatoes. Picked after Rosalie, of course. I loved how she was developed more in Eclipse. You could also plant Rose or Red Rose instead.

Black Prince: A black salad tomato, or a small globe. This is doubly appropriate for Jacob, as he is a Black and the natural leader of his pack, or alpha. So prince works. You would not believe the number of plants that have the word ‘Black’ in them, so this is the only one I’ve included here. I’m totally Team Jacob, btw.

Break-o-Day: a great producing red globe. So picked for Breaking Dawn.

Seattle Best of All: Another red all purpose tomato. So picked because the books take place in Forks, Washington. Seattle is in Washington, obviously. It is also where Victoria chooses to create her new vampire coven in Eclipse.

Weeping Charlie: This is a red paste-style tomato. So picked after Bella’s father. But does he actually seem like the kind of man who’d weep? I think not, but it’s the only tomato named Charlie so there you go.

Morning Sun: A yellow grape (cherry) tomato. These would look great when paired with Rosalita. So picked after Breaking Dawn also.

A beautiful assortment of veggies from the Twilight Garden

Other Vegetables:
Loves-Lies-Bleeding Red Amaranth: This is one freaky looking plant. It is grown for its edible leaves (use like spinach), and also as a grain crop for its seeds. But the name is so interesting when thought of in the Twilight perspective. Bella lies bleeding on the floor in Twilight, and again in New Moon, and finally in Breaking Dawn. She probably bleeds in Eclipse too, when Edward is fighting Victoria.

Moonshadow Hyacinth (Lablab) Bean: I’ve grown these for 2 years now and I love them. It is ornamental because the vines and leaves are tinged purple, and it puts out beautiful lavender flowers. Its dark burgundy bean pods are very tasty in stir fry. So picked after Eclipse. As an eclipse is when the shadow of the moon covers the sun, or the shadow of the earth covers the moon. Which is more appropriate for the series?

Mary Washington Asparagus: These are the classic heirloom asparagus. I did not choose to plant these because they drop seeds and can become invasive. So picked because they are in Forks, Washington (not picked after the person in this instance).

Dragon Tongue Bean: These are a very cool looking bean for the garden, being both green and purple. They are to be eaten as a regular green bean (edible pod). This is an intersting pick because the word ‘dragon’ in Romanian is ‘dracul’ which of course, referrs to the original vampire, Dracula.

Jacob’s Cattle Bean: These are a very old type of bean that is used dry, like Pinto beans. They are white and maroon speckled. So picked after Jacob, though he hardly has cattle.

Bull’s Blood Beet: These are the reddest of the red beets. Even the leafy parts are deeply colored. So picked because the Cullens survive off the blood of animals, not humans.

Romanesco Italia Broccoli: This is the super cool spiriling broccoli. You may have seen pictures of it, but it is more commonly grown in Europe. In New Moon, Bella and Alice travel to Italy to save Edward from the Italian vampires. This broccoli’s name covers all the bases for anything Italian.

Tete Noir Cabbage: This is a very dark purple variety of cabbage. So picked because the French name means ‘black head or face’, which makes me think of an eclipse again.

Lunar White Carrot: Before carrots were orange, they were white. These are a natural pick after New Moon.

Edmondson Cucumber: These are a very cute 4 inch light green mini cucumber. It has also been around since 1913, which is very close to Edward’s year of birth. But it is so picked because finally something is named Edward or a derivitave.

Golden Honeymoon Melon: This is a unique Honeydew melon with gold skin. Obviously picked for Breaking Dawn where Edward and Bella honeymoon on a private island off of Brazil.

Jake’s Melon: This unique melon is a Native American heirloom. It has yellow-orange flesh with a spotty tan rind. So picked after Jacob again.

Alaska Peas: These are a classic shelled pea. So picked because when Edward meets Bella for the first time, the only thing he can do to keep himself from killing her is to drive to Alaska. Plus another friendly coven of vegetarian vampires lives there as well.

Chicago Warted Hubbard Squash: These are like classic Hubbard squash except with wrinkled warty skin. It might be a stretch, but Edward was born in Chicago. I think that’s where Carlisle turned him as well.

Victoria Rhubarb: Despite Victoria’s red hair, this rhubarb only has a blush of red on the stalks. They’re mostly green. They’re also perennial (come back year after year–much like the real Victoria) so don’t plant them unless you really mean it.

Verona Watermelon: A classic red watermelon with dark green skin. It’s another stretch, but in New Moon, Bella and Edward are studying Romeo and Juliet and the play takes place in Verona, Italy.

Diamond Eggplant: This eggplant grows a longer, more narrower shaped fruit. In Eclipse Edward gives Bella a diamond (and more than one in her engagement ring).

And some lovely flowers as well.

Other Plants:
Yeti Nasturtium: because like the Yeti (Abominable Snowman) we all know that werewolves and vampires don’t exist. 😉 Nasturtium is also edible, having a spicy peppery taste.

Moonlight Nasturtium: another stretch but with all the ‘moon’ talk, moonlight seems appropriate. Plus Moonlight was another vampire-related tv show which was very good.

Evening Sun Sunflower: a stretch, but technically twilight is the last light of the day.

Lion’s Tail Herb: This herb is like mint. Edward’s favorite meal is Mountain Lion. He also refers to himself as a lion, and Bella a lamb.

Tiger Eye Sunflower: a stretch, but if you’ve seen this flower it looks just like Edward’s eyes.

King Edward Sweet Peas: Finally, something actually named Edward! But sweet peas aren’t edible, alas.

Isabellini Zinna: The only thing even closely related to Bella’s name, Isabella. It is the flower in the center above, a buttery yellow flower.

The end! If you’ve read down this far, congratulations!

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“Whaaaa, whaaa!”

This was the sound I made when I entered the kitchen to find my plates of tomato seed had gotten turned over by a rogue wind gust during the night. 3 varieties, one of which was bagged, were all scattered on my unsorted mail and floor. The ones on the floor were also being rolled around on by our cat Zoie.

After wallowing for a few minutes, I gathered up all my almost-dry-but-not-quite-yet seed and threw it in the compost bin. Maybe I’ll get lucky next year with voluteers…

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