The Backyard

The Backyard

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Variety Pack of Heirloom Tomatoes - What a Fun Surprise

I don't believe I've ever had so much fun in the garden as I am this year trying to figure out what kind of tomato is ripening. I started 10 seeds from a variety pack of heirloom tomato seeds this spring and they are now producing the most beautiful fruit I think I've ever seen. My parents are SUCH traditionalists and only like the red ones, but the unique and rare (I'm discovering) tomatoes are truly unusual. Thanks to FEDCO seeds, a coop seed group that ONLY sells organic seeds and adamantly opposes any genetic modification or hybrids, I have some beautiful tomatoes this year. Perhaps the most unique is the Peach tomato. They are a small tomato, slightly larger than a cherry tomato, reaching top weights of 2 ounces. Aside from the skin resembling a fuzzy peach, its the flavor that is unusual. It's tomatoey, with a fruity sweetness - very unusual. Then there's the Black Krim tomato. When sliced, this guy has blackish stripes at the seed area. My husband says it looks rotted...but obviously its not. The flavor is more traditional on this one -- its definitely the coloring that is an attention getter. The size is typical -- maybe 6-8 ounces each, with traditional shaping. The striped tomatoes are interesting too. It took me a long time to find the variety name, but I'm fairly certain its called a Striped Roman. At first I searched for striped tomatoes, then I searched for Roma (paste) tomatoes, and I come to discover this one belongs in a class called "sausage" tomatoes. Yup, they are long like sausages and we were joking at work about what else they look like. Its a heavier fruit, with paste-like qualities - very firm - and good for canning. Although I enjoy looking at them so much (I sit tomatoes in a bowl on the table for decoration) its hard to actually do something with them. Lastly, one of the last plants most noteworthy, produces huge orange 1.5 pounders. I believe they are a variety called Amana Orange. These puppies are humongous and would consume a piece of bread easily. I took about a dozen to work and they were gone in no time. I also have an ox heart tomato that is the best for canning, and two orange plum tomatoes which to be honest, I pulled one of the plants because there's just not much you can do with a small, orange plum tomato. The flavor was mediocre, and they can horribly (nothing like traditional red in the jar). There's also a traditional size and flavor orange and red tomato. I didn't have a chance to look them up -- they are too average! Fun stuff.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tomatoes, Tomatoes, and more Tomatoes -all Heirloom and all Organic

This year, I did something different -- I took a chance and started 10 plants of certified organic heirloom tomatoes from a variety pack. I had no idea what I was getting -- that's the different part. Typically, we all know exactly what tomatoes we like best and grow ONLY that variety. For years, I was an Early Girl fan, but this year has changed that. My 10 plants started ripening about 3 weeks ago with the first being a BLACK KRIM which I'll talk about in another post (very unusual), but shortly after that was the red oxheart (can't identify the variety), and a red striped large paste (can't identify it either, but its unusual), and two separate varieties of orange paste tomatoes. This weekend I was forced to can some of them -- there was simply too many to eat and share; and the whole idea of growing so many WAS to can, so I did the deed and got 5 jars of organic tomatoes for this winter's dishes. Canning is a dying hobby and I'm SO glad my mother shared her skill with me. I started canning about 14 years ago, but found it a ton of work and sorta got out of it until recently. I have to admit, its much easier to pick a can off the shelf, but there's a certain satisfaction to opening your jar of tomatoes knowing everything about the contents -- organic, the variety, where it was grown, etc. To me, that makes it all worthwhile. My 5 jars took me a total of about 3 hours to pick, scald the skins, cut up and stew a little, sterilize the jars themselves/lids/rings, fill the jars and seal. Yes, I'm a bad girl... I don't hot water bath or pressure cook my tomatoes. The acidity helps fight off bacteria in tomatoes and I've never had a problem with spoilage. Although all the nutritionists would tell me otherwise and recommend NOT doing the open kettle method. I'll do a post on each variety of tomatoes a little later. First up will be the PEACH TOMATO! Very novel.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Success -- Milkweed at the Front Door

The Monarch Caterpillar

The Annual Onion Harvest

For the 15th year, the onions have done their thing and blessed us with a plentiful harvest. Each year after a season of growing, I fret over the timing to pull, cure, and store the onions. Mother nature and working with her has everything to do with whether or not you'll keep all those nice, dry onions you pulled, or whether they'll succumb to rotting because they either weren't quite ready, were left in the ground too long and started to resprout, or weren't cured properly. The shriveled, dried tops is the first sign they are ready. They are then pulled and left to dry in the garden a day or two (my best luck was laying them on straw bails), then moved under acovered porch for about two weeks to cure. In the past, I've let them cure for as much as a month and end up storing them when fall comes. My best season for keepers were years we had drought. And obviously opposite from that, wet years produced several rotters. This year appears half and half unless my dear hubby succeeds in finding the perfect spot to cure the o's. He's quite concerned about them -- even the night dew they attract under a covered porch has him worried they'll rot from moisture (he moved them twice now!) I'm not as worried - I've never lost more than half and with the amount of onions in the ground (over 300), keeping half is fine by me. Christmas dinner usually sees the final onions from a summer harvest - those are good keepers if you ask me! I grow them mainly for my mom and she doesn't mind that I plant seedlings, but her preference is sets. Having grown both, I'd have to admit the sets produced better keepers.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Another "Weed" Beneficial to Your Garden

If you have them, don't pull them! Queen Anne's Lace, better known as Wild Carrot is a member of the parsley family and not shy about about attracting beneficial insects. Hoverflies, ladybugs and lacewings feed off of the Wild Carrot and they love to eat the bad bugs hanging around your garden. Several years ago, I planted a wildflower meadow and the plant that thrived is the wild carrot. At first I was dissappointed, but when I saw the plethora of bugs hanging on them, I knew they couldn't be all bad - and they aren't. Being a member of the parsley member gives this plant a real boost up the scale of good "weeds."

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Milkweed in the Garden

Like most people, for years I thought of milkweed as just that -- a weed. It wasn't until I became a little more educated on plants, bugs, and butterflies and how they all work together as a team that I come to the realization that many "weeds" can be perfect garden plants. The milkweed a good example -- a monarch butterfly can't live without milkweed, so why not grow it? Its certainly easy enough to grow -- why not in the garden? One thing you need for it is space. There are some varieties that stay semi-compact such as the popular orange butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa) which stays between 1.5 and 2 feet tall in a fairly nice mound. Then there's the classic common milkweed which is the familiar site along most roadways. There are actually over 100 varieties of milkweeds, each with varied growing habits - some getting as tall as 6 feet (in the picture above near my front door!) with colorful flowers in orange, yellow, pink, or white. The scent of the flowers are incredible too attracting bees and nectar loving creatures to your garden. Its also an interesting plant to get kids involved in gardening and nature. This cool Wisconsin state website called EEK (Environmental Education for Kids) provides facts about the plant and nature that kids will find fascinating (adults will too!). Milkweed is part of the arsenal of native plants that every organic gardener should have in their garden.