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Posts Tagged ‘tomato’

I’m not disappearing again; I am working on a piece about literature that is taking longer than I expected. So, in the meantime, here’s a quick garden update.

Using store-bought potatoes, I eyed and planted a few small rows of red potatoes on Friday, March 4. A week later, I started several varieties indoors, one dozen “starts” each of the following:

Late Flat Dutch Cabbage
Nineveh Tomatoes
Reisentraube Tomatoes
Great White Tomatoes
Rutger Tomatoes
California Wonder Sweet Peppers
Chichiquelite Huckleberries

Yesterday, a packet of Sugar Snap Peas went in the ground, and I sowed a small patch of Bloomsdale Spinach.

As for the seed providers, SkyFire Garden Seeds again provided almost instant turn-around with no substitutions, a friendly note, and a free packet of seeds. Baker Creek Heirlooms proved slower but not untimely; I received my order, also with a free packet of seeds, about two weeks after placing it by mail. The order had one substitution and one notice of a variety no longer available (I declined a substitute on the one no longer available and a refund for it was included with the order).

My assessment is that both are good seed sources. For future plantings, I think I will order the tried-and-true staples from SkyFire Garden and rely on Baker Creek Heirlooms for anything else.

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In a post a few weeks back I noted that I had gardening on the brain and was determined to make it happen. I also said I would share my information in case it would be useful to some other poor reader out there. Let me preface what follows by pointing out that this is my first garden in years (years) and what I do may or may not be what is generally recommended.

First, I bought my seeds from a small distributor of heirloom varieties, Skyfire Garden Seeds. Turnaround was beyond excellent; I mailed my order and payment on a Monday and received my shipment that Friday. I also received two “thank you” packets free in my shipment and a hand-written note wishing me “a great garden this year.” I value that personalized touch. Even better, Skyfire beat both Burpee and Gurney’s prices on every variety I ordered, often by a landslide. So far, that puts Skyfire up by four-to-one (better products, customer service, turnaround, and price).

But the proof is in the pudding as they say, so with a handful of starter trays and a bag of potting soil, I got to work. (I’ll also note here that every seed packet contained more than the amount listed on the website, especially nice for those of us with a bit of black in their thumb.) On March 19th, three heirloom varieties of tomatoes were planted: Rutger, Pearson, and Long Keeper. They got a south-facing window in a garden shed and water but no special treatment (heat lamps, flourescent lights, etc.). On sunny days, I moved them outside for direct sun; nighttime temperatures stayed mostly in the 50s but dipped into the low 40s a couple times. On March 24th, Orange Sun Sweet Bell Peppers went in under the same conditions. The Pearson tomatoes sprouted earliest, on April 1st, followed quickly by the Rutgers and Long Keepers simultaneously on the 2nd. My Orange Sun Bells sprouted yesterday.

Together, the varieties have averaged a 95%+ germination rate, even with my unskilled plantings and less-than-ideal conditions. (And, in case they didn’t sprout, Skyfire offers a replace-or-refund guarantee.) March 19th also saw the open sowing of a cabbage variety called Glory of Enkuizen. They came up beautifully and thick as fleas; a few more nice days and they’ll be ready for transplanting. It’s a couple weeks until I’ll plant the rest of the seeds ordered but so far I am immensely pleased with the results and have nothing but praise for Skyfire Garden Seeds.

My garden growings also include yellow onions, purchased locally in sets and planted March 19th, and potatoes eyed from grocery store spuds. The onions are 6 to 8 inches tall; the few potato sprouts (about 4 in all so far) up are 1 to 2 inches.

I’ll keep posting from time to time and make notes, if only for myself. 🙂 For further consideration, I offer up the abundant resources of Dave’s Garden, which is very friendly and helpful in all things sproutable. In signing off, I’d like to say that gardening is not much of a chore, and the proceeds greatly exceed the effort. Plus, it’s a nice way to stay a bit active, promote independence, and stick it to the man. How could anyone resist?

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The phrase used by optimistic economists for the last year is starting to come to life. But I’m not going to talk about the economy, or politics, or even Team Blue (which, by the way, needs a mascot, I think … but Blue Devils is taken and I don’t think Blue Balls would go over well for either side, so I could use some input on that). With the Ides of March just around the corner and spring soon to follow, I’m talking about real green shoots, the kind full of chlorophyll that push up from the soil into the sun when the frost leaves and the ground starts to warm.

The resurgence of the “Victory Garden” over the last couple years has been nothing short of amazing. Some seed suppliers are finding themselves overrun with orders and the busy season is just getting started. Widely popularized during World War II, the Victory Garden is essentially a small vegetable patch for a family or similarly sized group of people, providing a source of wholesome food for very little monetary investment. With a less-than-stellar economic situation for millions in the U.S. over the last few years, these gardens have again become popular. For a few dollars worth of seed, a family can enjoy a supply of fresh vegetables for months to come. I’m joining the bandwagon this spring with big plans and elbow grease on stand-by … because one way or another there will be a garden outside my door.

I realized last summer how disgusted I was with the produce offered at local supermarkets. What hasn’t been dropped, crushed, bruised, poked, or otherwise beaten half-unidentifiable costs an arm and a leg. And if it happens to say “organic” on the label, just go ahead and triple the price, no matter how puny, shriveled, or misshapen the items might be. But price aside, that produce has also been doused with god knows what all kind of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and – I’m quite certain – people-icides. A few years ago I researched just what went into the classification systems of food products and was astounded at the lack of regulation in what we eat.

To begin with, the vast majority of fresh food in this country is imported, and not just exotics like bananas and mangoes but boring old staples like lettuce and tomatoes. Remember the spinach scare a few years back? Tons of produce tainted with E. Coli were shipped all over America and had to be recalled after people fell ill and some died. It had been imported. The government assured its people that it was an isolated incident. But food marketing in the U.S. is essentially an honor system. If Company A claims its goods are organic, they can market it as such with almost no oversight. Although there are reams of laws and stipulations that should be followed, the chances of enforcement are miniscule. No one is out there testing produce to see what chemicals it has come into contact with. No one is randomly sampling imports (or even U.S. produce) to see if it carries pathogens on its merry way to your plate. Caveat emptor indeed.

And what does all the spraying and genetic engineering and hybridization supply us? Judging from the local supermarkets, rubbish. Most of the produce is picked so green it could sit on display for a month (for those of you who may not know better, “fresh” produce should go off much quicker than that) and has all the subtle flavor of a cardboard box. In an age when I can fly halfway around the world in less than a day, including plane changes and layovers, why is my produce almost old enough to legally drink?

So this year I’m growing my own. Not a lot, but a good variety. And though I’ve a poor history with plants, I sincerely bet the result will be exponentially better than what I find at the store. Surely it can be no worse.

And in an effort to both encourage local business and “stick it to the man,” I’ll be using all heirloom seeds from a small supplier. (Gurney’s and Burpees be damned; I could never get a decent tomato out of them anyway.) When I’ve finalized my plans I’ll post them here just in case anyone should care to join the Victors with a garden of their own.

Oh, and you know what, if you’re tight on funds and worried about getting enough fertilizer for your garden … just use some of that bullshit Washington keeps shoveling at us. Lord knows there’s plenty of it. 😉

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I believe agriculture has failed us. Or, more aptly, that we, as a species, have failed the practice of agriculture.

I picked up a few melons from a farm stand. It being summer, and having a penchant for melon-meat anyway, I could not resist the lovely array of melons the stand offered. I picked a quintessential seasonal trio of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew, each which I was assure was “ready to cut and eat” as early as that very evening. They looked wonderful. They smelled wonderful. I could hardly wait to dig into the soft flesh and find out whether they also tasted wonderful.

Long story short, they didn’t. Not one of them. Even after picking the ripest of the lot, the only one actually “ready to cut and eat” was the watermelon, which turned out to be very juicy (a good thing) but almost flavorless (not a good thing). But watermelon is finicky, I understand, and depends a great deal on both rainfall and soils (similar to the grapes of vineyards, I suppose, which is how some connoisseurs can hone in on what region produced a wine from a single taste). So okay, no harm no foul, on to the next melon.

The cantaloupe aged three days before I cut it, even though it already had a large soft spot on one side (which allowed me to get it for a fraction of the asking price). Again, after picking through the lot and going with the ripest one, it simply wasn’t ready. But after waiting as long as I dared, I cut it with a watering mouth and eager taste-buds, ready for that sweet soft orange flesh to practically melt on my tongue. The first sign that my plans were going awry came when the melon fell in two halves and I stared at its white innards. White, not orange, like every other cantaloupe I had ever cut that was even remotely near ripeness. Uh-oh. It wasn’t soured (my primary fear from that large soft spot on the side) but was, again, almost flavorless. The hue of the heart deepened to a pale peachy color and tasted as though someone had lightly drizzled it with the juice of an actual ripe cantaloupe … and the rest was bland. Not sweet, not sour, not bitter, nothing. And the meat itself was actually tough. For the first time in my life, I fought to scoop bites of it out with a spoon. “Well,” I reasoned, “the farm also grows gourds so maybe this one accidentally crossed with one of them.” I try to play devil’s advocate, but it was disappointing. Ah, but the honeydew still awaited. I love a good sweet honeydew and I thought if it were a fraction as good as it should be, all would be forgiven.

I waited 10 days on the poor honeydew and it never did ripen. Ten days! But it, too, was developing soft spots so I reluctantly cut it and discovered … a multi-color melon. The green around the rind was still three-quarters of an inch thick (which I take to mean it would actually have needed another week or two to fully “ripen”), and that layer was topped with light orange region comparable to – guess what – cantaloupe. The third layer, the heart, was indeed the pale greenish-white expected of a honeydew. And the flavor was non-existent. Half a dozen bites of the heart had a faint trace of something like honeydew and cantaloupe mixed and the rest was simply wet. And tough. So tough I eventually gave in and used a knife to carve the meat up. I was disgusted and ate only one slice; the rest was cut and thrown to mulch.

You can say it was just one farm, just one stand and a bad year and maybe all kinds of produce were cross-pollinating … but I don’t believe it. I haven’t had a good melon from grocery stores in years and roadside stands are hit-and-miss at best. I had hoped a farm stand, from a commercial farm, operating only a few scant miles from the farm itself, open daily, would have melons picked within a few days of being full ripe. Silly me. Why pick them ripe when you can gather them green and let them lay about for weeks on end while endless streams of gullible customers file by?

But more than that is the meat. Granted, the toughness of those latter two melons was unprecedented, but ignoring all that for the moment … where is the sweetness? Melon is a fruit, a sugar-laden fruit at that, and should taste so. It’s called a honeydew because the flesh is supposed to be sweet as, you guessed it, HONEY! What in god’s name have these melons been crossed with and genetically modified by that they can barely be eaten, let alone enjoyed?

I was never a great gardener, by any means, and can in fact unintentionally kill just about any plant known to man, but even I grew better melons than that from volunteer sprouts that came up at the edge of our garden for years. They weren’t great melons but they were good. And sweet. And we enjoyed eating them. And I know if I can (unintentionally) do it from the seeds of store-boughten cantaloupes past, these large commercial farms should have no problem at all producing a worthwhile melon. I realize that the produce needs to be picked green enough to withstand shipping and then lay on display in a store for days for potential customers to browse … but come on. Seriously. This is getting ridiculous.

When I go to the store, the tomatoes are hard and generally pink at best and subsequently all but tasteless. The apples can sit on the counter for weeks and still be bitter when you bite into them. The bananas are so green I’m afraid I’ll die of old age before they ripen. Why are third-world countries eating better produce than we are?

I have fresh-grown tomatoes in the refrigerator, right alongside my fresh-grown onions, and I’ve decided that next year I’m growing my own melons, come hell or high water. And then if they turn out gourd-tough and dirt-bland at least I’ll have tried.

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