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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

If you haven’t already received your stack of seed catalogs, get online and order yourself a bunch!! I have a bunch gathering dust as I am *gulp* not buying seeds this year. I might get around to reading some just for recreation later in the season.

So, yeah. I’m not buying new seed, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be trying any  new varieties. I’ve got a couple newbies waiting in the wings, don’t worry. The reason? With a new baby I’ve got to streamline my life. That means working with what I’ve got and just growing the basics. And only growing what I can handle, which is a lot less than I’d like probably.

But on the other hand, that doesn’t mean less produce. In fact, we’ll be rolling in produce cause I just bought our family a CSA subscription! Wheeee! This is the first year I can afford it, and luckily I remembered before they were sold out. In case you don’t know what a CSA is, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture and basically means you prepay for a share of veggies (and sometimes fruit, eggs and poultry), grown by a local farmer and pick up your said produce weekly. Sound good? Look here for one near you.

I’ve signed us up for this one. It is a great farm that I’ve been ogling for 1 or 2 years already. It’s about a half-hour away but I can pick up my share of goodies at our local farmer’s market. Bring on the variety! They grow tons of stuff I have had no luck with like broccoli and carrots. Plus I’ll be able to make delicious organic vegetable purees for my baby in lots of different non-store flavors like parsnip, eggplant, and kohlrabi. And try lots of new recipes!

This farm also does fun farm activities too, which are included in the cost of the share. So Corin’s birthday will be spent having a fun hayride! They also do canning classes and bonfires/camping. And the farm owners have a baby boy only a few months older than my daughter. They could have farm related play dates 😉

CSAs mean everyone wins! It helps the farmer financially, and gives the client the benefits of gardening without the work. And it’s organic. 🙂

A friend's CSA share from mid-season.

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Homemade pizza sauce from homegrown tomatoes. It's superb!

This sauce is deliciously spicy and thick, making a great backdrop to a balanced pizza or pizza-baked spaghetti. It is easy to make for canning, as you get 2 full pints plus some extra to use right away! If you are using plum or paste tomatoes, you can use 5 cups otherwise, use 6 cups or about 2 pounds worth.

Don’t omit the “secret” ingredient of fennel seeds. You can substitute anise or caraway as they all taste similar. This will give the sauce that distinct flavor and say to your tongue, “I am not just spaghetti sauce with extra herbs.”

Ingredients
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 to 6 cups fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
3 tbsp parmesan cheese
4 tsp dried italian herbs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp ground pepper
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp fennel, anise or caraway seeds

Directions
In a large sauce pan, saute the onion, celery and garlic in the oil until soft and transparent.

Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir until smooth.

tomatoes, tomato paste and onions/celery in the pot.

Measure out the seasonings,

The seasonings

then stir them into the other ingredients and bring to a simmer.

pot with tomatoes, tomato paste, onions/celery and seasonings

Simmer for 45-60 minutes. Puree with a stick blender (or in batches in a blender). Spoon into pint jars or put back on the stove for added cooking time. Rule of thumb is to simmer it until no liquid pools when you make an indentation on the surface of the sauce. When canning, add ¼ tsp citric acid per pint to ensure adequate acidity.

Finished pizza sauce. 2 full pints plus a generous cup to use tonight.

Can in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes.  Yield: about 2 1/2 pints (5 cups)

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I selected this variety due to Amy Goldman’s glowing recommendation in her book. Of the few oxheart types she covers, she declares this variety to be the earliest, most productive and tastiest of all the oxhearts. That made it a winner in my eyes and I had high expectations.

These tomatoes had cracking on the shoulders. Size/weight were decent--this one is 12 oz.

The Description from where I got my seed:

This is an outstanding pink oxheart variety that distinguishes itself with extra high yields and richer flavor than most other pink oxhearts. Fruit weighs at least 10 ounces and may grow up to 1 lb. or more. Shaped like a heart, these tomatoes are very juicy and flavorful while being meaty with few seeds. Expect fern-like foliage that is typical of oxheart varieties. Indeterminate. 85-90 days

I apologize for this crappy photo--my camera is on the fritz, but you can at least see the heart shape of the tomato.

First Impressions:
This might be the only pink variety I’m growing this year, huh! No, wait I’m doing Giant Belgium too. But this is the first ripe pink of the year. I forgot what tomato pink looked like: it’s really pretty 😉

I’m not sure why my first tomato has so many cracks! It could have been due to the heavy rains and irregular watering schedule, but my other tomatoes haven’t done this so I’m not sure if it’s a variety thing. The oxheart shape is certainly unique and fun looking, but limits the sandwich-sized slices you can get from one.

Japanese oxheart makes a meaty tomato slice.

Sliced, the true meatiness is revealed. There’s so much meat there’s hardly any room at all for seeds or gel. Saving seeds from this type would be a real challenge as it’s practically seedless! The slices are very juicy too, even with the low amount of gel.

My taste review:
Don’t hate me when I say this tastes kinda watered down. Sure it’s a balanced taste with real tomato goodness (the gel isn’t even necessary to get a deliciously sweet tomato flavor) there just isn’t enough of it! The skin is thick.

On a sandwich: Darn. Even with two slices on my turkey-BLT this tomato doesn’t add anything to the sandwich. It just tastes too watered down to contribute much flavor. It was also very juicy, leaking water all over my bib-napkin and plate (yes I wear a bib: I’m 9 months pregnant at the moment).

Other uses: We diced the leftover slices as a topping for our spicy tacos. They were very good in this application, providing a great cold, mild counterpoint to the hot spicy meat. So these might have redeeming value as fresh salsa tomatoes.

Plant Growth & Health:
I grew just one of these due to losing two of them soon after transplanting. I was really looking forward to seeing the ferny foliage but was disappointed. It honestly looks just like any other regular leafed plant but with smaller leaves.

Health was just average, and this plant didn’t get very tall. Fruit set was lower than expected, but the size of the fruits is decent.

Will I grow again?
I don’t know yet. This might make a good sauce tomato if production was better, cause the skin can come off almost without blanching first. And few seeds mean you could skip straining sauce if you don’t like seeds (I personally don’t mind seeds, but leaving the skin on is a mistake I won’t be repeating in the future).

The tomato pictured is the ONLY tomato of this type to escape getting eaten by critters. For some reason the Japanese oxheart was my only variety to get eaten and they ate large bites out of all of the other tomatoes: some were reduced to mere skins and calyxes. I don’t know what ate them, but I guess they were tasty!

End-of-Year Stats:
# of Plants___Days to Maturity___Days Off____Yield_______Yield per Plant
__1____________83____________-2________14__________14

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Cherokee Purple Tomato

Does anyone else sing “Cherokee Nation” every time they think of this tomato? Of course you have to sing it, “Cherokee Purple! Cherokee Pri-ide! So proud to live! So proud to dine!”

These are a unique tomato: I’m still not sure if they are actually a “Black” tomato or not! They don’t quite have the characteristic burgundy outer coloring of other blacks, as they are much more pink. It’s probably safe to say they are only black on the inside–since there is Cherokee Chocolate that has the darker burgundy skin of other blacks. Cherokee Green also exists for those who like green-when-ripe types (me! me!). And there’s also Spudakee, for those who prefer potato-leaved plants (not me!).

The Description from where I got my seed:

Very productive plants bear loads of 10 to 12 oz. dusky rose/purple fruit with deep brick red interiors. The tomatoes are absolutely delicious with a pleasantly sweet and rich flavor. With thin skin and soft flesh, the fruit is somewhat perishable, but they taste so good they will be eaten quickly anyhow. Heirloom from Tennessee. Indeterminate. 80 days

Cherokee Purple tomato makes amazingly meaty slices!

First Impressions:
My first tomato of this type is a siamese twin with two distinct lobes with lots of scar tissue in between. It was from a megabloom, so it is probably against type. Later tomatoes will be much more round in shape.

When I sliced it open (after carefully removing the scar tissue), I was very surprised by how juicy, how deeply colored, and how very meaty the slices look. They actually look like beef cutlets on my plate! Beautiful!

My Taste Review:
Yummm! Biting into these slices is oh so good! They are incredibly balanced, even for the first tomato off the vine. They are soft textured and very juicy, with skin that’s a bit thick but acceptable. Very smooth mouthfeel with just the right amount of sweetness and sour. They do taste a bit watered down, however.

On a sandwich: We had these with my newest favorite sandwich, the turkey BLT (aka turkey club). They were very good! A bit juicy (drippy), but the tomato’s sweetness was enhanced with the contrasting salty and savory flavors of the turkey, cheese and bacon.

Plant Growth & Health:
This is where the bad news comes in. These plants are already supposed to be shorter than other indeterminates, and they are. But they are also scrawny and they were the first to start to get yellowing of the lower leaves (common mid to late season here). Then there was the fruit set. I’ve got one fruit growing on each of two plants. So two fruits. Two. And I just ate one.

That means fruit set is terrible during the crucial month of July–also the hottest month of the year. Terrible.

Will I grow again?
I don’t know. The fruit set is so bad, and other tomatoes taste just as good or better with better plant health and fruit set. I’m saving seed to keep my options open, but I will probably just hold on to the seeds for trading with.

End-of-Year Stats:
# of Plants___Days to Maturity___Days Off____Yield_______Yield per Plant
__2____________83_____________3________12__________6

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Unlike other recipes that call for coating in flour or breadcrumbs and deep fat frying, this recipe is a great lower fat alternative and can be made on the grill as well.

The prep is a lot simpler as well, so you don’t have to make poppers for hours on end. And you can make as many or as few as you want, leaving no extra ingredients (such as prepared filling or batter, etc). Just freeze left over bacon for later use, and refrigerate any unused cream cheese.

Ingredients:
jalapeno peppers
bacon (I prefer turkey bacon): one slice for every 2 whole peppers
cream cheese (can use low fat neufachel), chilled
salt

Directions:
Cut bacon slices into quarters so as to wrap 4 pepper halves with one total slice of bacon. First cut in half, then slit lengthwise. Set aside.

Prepare your peppers by slitting them from stem to tip (lengthwise). My purple jalapenos will turn green after cooking. Leave the stems on, if possible. De-seed and de-rib using a grapefruit spoon, or a small tongs.

Salt the open pepper halves sparingly. Fill the pepper halves with straight cream cheese using a spoon.

Then wrap with a quarter-piece of bacon and secure with a toothpick.

Fry in a frying pan or grill on low heat. Start with the cream cheese side, then flip to the jalapeno side. The cheese will not come out as it is chilled when you start and you flip them before they can start melting. Flip them when the bacon is starting to crisp on that side. Alternatively, you can broil these. Put in a broiling pan and cook on high heat until the bacon is crisp, about 10-15 minutes.

Remove from heat when bacon is crisp on both sides. Let cool slightly and remove the toothpicks. Remind your guests to avoid eating the stem.

For a hotter popper, leave some ribbing and/or seeds behind. Otherwise, these should taste deliciously mild. You can also use extra thick onion dip or flavored cream cheese spreads instead of plain cream cheese for a different flavor profile. Have fun experimenting but keep it simple or you’ll never make them again 😉

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I selected this unusual variety to do some cross-breeding experiments with. Being as purple is my favorite color, I was pretty curious to see for myself a tomato with true purple coloring, even if just in splashes. The taste of these wasn’t a factor when I chose to purchase my small allotment of seed for an exorbitant price.

This tomato plant was pretty consistent in making 6-8 oz tomatoes, with the occasional runt (above).

The Description from where I got my seed [edited]:

This stunning tomato is a vibrant, tangerine-orange with shocking true purple splashed in various amounts over its upper half. This is one of the few domestic tomatoes that have true purple pigment, although research is being done with wild purple tomatoes. These have a nice sweet, mild and fruit-like taste that makes them good for snacking or cooking. Fruit weighing 4-10 ounces were produced in abundance and tended to get more purple as the season progressed. 80-90 days. 

First Impressions:
I’ve never grown a truly orange tomato so I was happy that the coloring was a true tangerine. I can see the tiny blotches and pin pricks of true purple among the green shoulders. And I was very happy to get 3 ripe at once–a rarity in my garden and especially at such an early maturity. I’ve been having the best luck this year with early tomatoes–I’m pretty giddy about it 🙂 The green shoulders almost disappeared after a few days on the counter.

OFPS makes a great tomato slice.

Sliced, the tomato reveals a perfect tomato slice, with lots of juicy orange flesh. The flesh is a consistent deep orange throughout, unlike yellow tomatoes which might have orangey skin but yellow flesh.

My taste review:
Wow, so delicious! This was a mild tasting tomato, but not as mild as other yellow or bicolors I’ve tasted. It is a very balanced taste with an ever-so-subtle fruity flavor. The texture is soft; it is not really mushy or mealy, but very tender. The gel is pretty loose, spilling onto the plate. The skin is thick.

On a sandwich: I had these slices on a cheeseburger. It was very mild but good. It would probably do better in a plain turkey sandwich or an old fashioned tomato sandwich (aka Mater Sandwich).

Plant Growth & Health:
I grew just one of these but gave it the best shot I could at making purple smudges. I read that these need lots of heat and sun to make the purple pigment, so this plant got a front-row seat in my garden and seemed to love the heat wave throughout July. (cont)

Close up of the purple smudge. This is really good purple color considering it is one of the earliest tomatoes on the plant.

While it isn’t the tallest plant, it is pretty bushy and happy. The joints of the stems display the purple pigment and it had purple pigment as a seedling too, making identification easy.

Fruit set was really good too, making this a great variety for heat tolerance. I guess getting the true purple smudge is a total crap shoot, with the odds stacked against you. Other reviewers all say pretty much the same thing unless they are in the southern half of the country. I don’t know how Amy Goldman grew these with such beautiful purple smudges in New York state!

Will I grow again?
I didn’t want to. I wanted to do my cross breeding and be done with it. But since my varieties didn’t all bloom at the same time, and we had a huge rain the day before I tried to collect pollen, and a heat streak that lasted the whole July (heat kills pollen), I might be forced to try again next year.

That said, while I’ll be growing it again for breeding purposes, I’m looking forward to growing it again for the taste. Juicing these would probably be tongue-tingling. The plant does have some excellent traits for my breeding experiments however, so I am pleasantly anticipating some great crosses in the future!

End-of-Year Stats:
# of Plants___Days to Maturity___Days Off____Yield_______Yield per Plant
__1____________73____________-12_______27__________27

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Red Brandywine Tomato

When first starting out in the world of heirloom tomatoes, one is likely to come across a most famous variety, “Brandywine.” The problem with Brandywine (pink, potato leaved) is that it has a reputation for setting low numbers of fruit. And since it is often grown as a first heirloom type for beginners, Brandywine serves to mar the reputation of all heirlooms as having low yeilds. Bummer.

This variety, however is the original original Brandywine and it is red and regular leafed. I selected it because I wanted to avoid the low yields of it’s pink counterpart and potato leaved varieties don’t do as well in my garden. Also I want my pasta sauce to turn out red this year where as the pink varieties tend to make my sauce orange.

Amy Goldman also has a beautiful full-page spread of this variety in her book, The Heirloom Tomato. That article alone was enough to convince me to grow this variety.

Red Brandywine tomato makes for lovely slices!

The Description from where I got my seed:

This is a version of Brandywine that offers red fruit with luscious old-time, red tomato flavor. Plants have regularly-shaped leaves and are extremely productive, bearing long harvests of these 10 to 16 ounce fruit. Heirloom from the late 1800’s. Indeterminate. 80 days.

First Impressions:
I honestly grew this variety last year as well but never got any fruits before first frost. The ones I did get ripened on the counter and so I never did a review of them–obviously the taste wouldn’t have been as good as vine-ripened.

My first tomato of this year is beautifully oblong and mildly fluted. It was from a megabloom, so it is against type. Later tomatoes will be much more round in shape. I loved watching it ripen on the vine. The tomatoes start off white and gradually turn to yellow, then orange and finally a deep red.

Slicing it reveals the flesh to be rather firm for a beefsteak. You can almost hear the knife crunching through the meat. The tomato is nicely beefy with a fair amount of seeds and gel. Great red color throughout.

My Taste Review:
These taste rather similiarly to how Giant Belgiums tasted last year. They are beautifully juicy and tangy but with low sweetness. The skin is thick. I’m hoping later tomatoes are a bit sweeter–that would make them an ideal tomato.

On a sandwich: we had these on turkey bagel sandwiches as well as turkey-BLTs and the slices tasted good. They were acceptably tomatoey without being too overwhelming.

Plant Growth & Health:
These are the 2nd happiest plants in my garden behind Malachite Box. They are big and lush with greenery. The fruit set could be better, but that’s the case with all my varieties this year–dumb blossom drop! They seem to like the growing conditions way better this year than last. They also responded great to my staking whereas last year I let them sprawl–to my disappointment.

Will I grow again?
I will evaluate at the end of the season. I really like that these plants are healthy and happy. The taste is good so far, so we will see!

End-of-Year Stats:
# of Plants___Days to Maturity___Days Off____Yield_______Yield per Plant
__2____________70___________-10________17__________8

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