Revisiting The Victory Garden

Victory-garden

I have always enjoyed gardening. Flowers for the soul and vegetables for the belly. For me, there is nothing more soothing and joyous than picking fresh beans or squash for the supper table with a side of colorful flowers in a vase to brighten my day.

People have always gardened for food, since the beginning of time. Their goal was to feed their families. Today, we can buy any kind of produce any time of the year (thanks to worldwide markets and transportation)  in our local grocery stores. I wouldn’t say that everything tastes great but it is available. Back in the day, if. you didn’t grow, you didn’t eat.

It is important to know where your food is from and how it was grown. Poor hygiene in the fields is pretty common. Several times last year, you couldn’t eat Romaine lettuce because of some nefarious pathogens. There are many examples of this kind of thing.

If you grow your own veggies you can control what fertilizers or pesticides are used on them. You don’t need to wax them to keep them fresh. Nothing tastes as good as a sweet, juicy Sungold cherry tomato straight from the vine, warmed by the sun.  Or a crisp, crunchy cucumber you discovered hanging from a vine at the back of the row.

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During World War I, there was a food shortage. Initially called the War Garden Movement, people were encouraged to grow their own. Here is a quote from an article on the history of the Victory Garden,

“. . . advocating that civilians “Sow the seeds of victory” by planting their own vegetables, the war garden movement (as it was originally known) was spread by word of mouth through numerous women’s clubs, civic associations and chambers of commerce, which actively encouraged participation in the campaign. Amateur gardeners were provided with instruction pamphlets on how, when and where to sow, and were offered suggestions as to the best crops to plant, along with tips on preventing disease and insect infestations.” To read more click on the link:  https://www.history.com/news/americas-patriotic-victory-gardens

With our “shelter in place” orders and possible food shortages, you too can have your own garden. it is a relaxing way to spend the time. Feed your family and if you have an abundance, feed your neighbors!

You don’t need a half-acre or a large garden plot in your backyard to accomplish this. Containers are ideal for those with balconies, small patios, or small yards. The only real thing you need is at least 6 – 8 hours of sun and the ability to keep them watered. There are things you can grow even with partial sun and veggies/flowers that like cooler weather.

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This is the first in a series of posts that will help you to grow your own vegetables and flowers. I will talk about types of containers, growing in the ground, types of veggies best suited for various conditions, etc. Stay tuned.

You may find that after this crisis is over you will still want to grow for fun!

 

Costoluto Genovese and Costoluto Fiorintino: Old Heirloom Tomatoes from Italy

costoluto genovese

Costoluto Genovese The fluted, old Italian favorite that has been around since the early 19th century. Fruit is rather flattened and quite attractive with its deep ribbing. This variety is a standard in Italy for both fresh eating and preserving, and known for its intensely flavorful, deep red flesh. They were also one of the varieties planted at Thomas Jefferson’s home in Monticello in 1809.

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Costoluto Fiorentino Heavily ribbed (costoluta) flat Italian heirloom beefsteak type from Florence. Red, 12-16 ounces slightly flattened fruit. Outstanding taste. Large, vigorous, indeterminate plant with good production. Similar to Costoluto Genovese but slightly flatter and higher-yielding.

Costoluto refers to the distinct flattened, heavily-ribbed shape of various Italian heirlooms. Both of these tomatoes are shaped like this. some of my customers don’t like the ribbing but I think it is pretty and the taste is good. There is a reason these are heirlooms!

Both these pics are from my garden the year that I grew them.

Latah, Moscow, Sandpoint, and Shoshone: New Tomatoes from The Tomato Lady

We have some new tomatoes that I was just tickled to find. They were developed locally at the University of Idaho. Latah, Moscow, Sandpoint, and Shoshone, I have great expectations for these four. Here is what I found on the Snake River Seed Cooperative site. I discovered this company only just last year. I was happy to find seeds that are bred to be acclimated to our region, (although there are many microclimates in this area). I also believe in buying local whenever I can. This is what the Snake River Seed Cooperative has to say about themselves and their seeds (the short version):

“Snake River Seed Cooperative is a collective of family farmers in the Intermountain West who work together to produce a wide diversity of locally-adapted seeds.”

 

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LATAH Early, productive, and yummy variety bred by University of Idaho–perfect for containers! Latah county growers Kelly and Russell Kingsland grow this little gem, and they offer this description: Compact determinate. Bred at UI (in Latah County), Latah is well suited to Idaho’s cooler nights and relatively short growing season. A prolific producer of 2-3 oz, delicious well balanced, red fruits with good texture.

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MOSCOW The largest of the U of I bred tomatoes. Good slicer and canning tomato. Not the earliest of the U of I bred tomatoes, but certainly the largest. Big, indeterminate plants spit out dozens of large, 4-5″ red fruits good for slicing and canning. Almost lost to the ether but for a Utah gardener who kept it as his main canning tomato.

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SANDPOINT The smallest and earliest of Idaho bred varieties…great for containers! Extremely early variety bred by the U of Idaho in the 1960s. Small fruits range from cherries to saladette size, on very compact plants–excellent for containers, and for short-season areas.

Want a bumper crop of tomatoes? Listen to this guy

SHOSHONE Early-ripening Idaho-bred tomato! Compact plants with lots of round red fruits! Of all the varieties bred by the U of ID in the 1960s, Shoshone tied for the earliest harvest and blew the standard early-ripening varieties out of the water for taste, compact plant size, and productivity. Excellent for containers and small spaces. Fruits vary in size from cherry to large saladette tomato.

Keep in mind that I haven’t grown these yet in my garden so these aren’t my pictures. They are ones that I found in doing an internet search. Next year they will be my own. I love taking lots of pictures of everything I grow. Most of them I am pretty proud of.

I hope that these varieties will help some of my more northern customers be more successful with their tomatoes.

Insights Into How I Run My Business – The Tomato Lady

tomato seedlings

Every year I try to be more organized with my business. I ask myself questions like these:

  • What do I want to offer this year?
  • What tomatoes or peppers did I not like?
  • What do my customers want?
  • Are there any new and astounding introductions that I need to try?
  • How much soil and germinating mix do I need?
  • Do we have enough stock of the amendments we incorporate into our mix?
  • When do we want to open?
  • When do we need our other greenhouses up?

And then I have to think about updating the website, doing research for descriptions, pictures, making large tags, small tags, marketing, doing the bookkeeping/taxes . . . etc.

I think one of the biggest concerns is figuring out how far back to plant the seeds so they are ready at a certain time. It doesn’t matter whether they are tomatoes, peppers, flowers or veggies. When I first started my business, I planted everything on March 17th. That didn’t work out so well. I had ginormous plants in small pots. (We called them trenching tomatoes!)

One variable we can’t control (a big one) is the weather. Since we grow ours as close to nature as possible, we heat only to keep them from freezing. We don’t grow ours as the bigger operations do with climate controls for even temperatures. It gets hot, it gets cold. (I think that is why ours do really well here in our part of the world). When the sun comes out, even if it is cold outside, it heats up very quickly. Cooler temps encourage root development so they have a stable base to start reaching for the stars when it gets warmer. We have had some of our varieties grow a foot in one week! (I know that sounds great but that is not good at all).

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My dining room becomes the seed starting room for several months. Shelves, fluorescent light banks, germinating mix, water jugs, seed packets, plant lists, pixie stakes, anything needed for planting. It is quite the mess! This is the room we use for our game nights twice a month, needless to say, we are relegated to the living room playing Scattergorries or Charades for several months.

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This year we are going to try and have 2500 gallons for sale. That is 1000 more than last year. They are easier to keep happy, don’t require as much water (don’t dry out) and have a BIG headstart over the ones in the smaller pots. That is really important in my part of the world where there every other town/location seems to have a different growing zone! Our weather. isn’t really consistent. sometimes we have a long growing season, sometimes we don’t. Last year we had a frost/snow late September. One year it didn’t get ugly until November. All it takes is one frost and your plants are done, it doesn’t matter if we have two months after that of temperate weather. With some varieties, it is important to have the headstart.

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Take the Pink Brandywine. It has a long growing season and really needs the extra two months. I have found that it is not the size of the plant but the maturity of the plant that determines whether you harvest something or not. Pineapple is another one that benefits from this, as do a lot of the bigger heirloom varieties. We will still have our regular pot size.

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I just finished my first cup of coffee and as I contemplate going out to transplant some more tomatoes, I am glad I could tell you some of what I do and how I do it.

I know this is a long post but I wanted to share some of the workings and thoughts behind being an “urban farmer”. It’s not all fun and games and takes quite a bit of planning and thinking and of course hard work! To the gentleman who said that farming is a no-brainer occupation, I’d like to invite him to put himself in my shoes and the shoes of every other farmer out there and let him see how hard it really is! It’s not as simple as digging a hole and dropping a seed in it. I use a lot of gray matter to grow my business!

 

Pepper Varieties: Glow and Volcano Candy, Sweet and Spicy

glow

Glow

Glow is a sweet pepper that caught my eye as I was thumbing through the catalogs. It literally looked like it was glowing. Amazing.

Since I haven’t grown these yet, I have to rely on the descriptions I read.

Tapered, thick-walled, 2-3 lobed fruits are 4-5″ long and are deliciously sweet and fruity. Medium-size plants yield well. Early and easy to grow in diverse climates.

It’s cute that people tell me they want and orange (or red or yellow) pepper. They say the green peppers don’t agree with them. The reality is that most peppers start out green, when they mature, they turn color. That is why the green ones in the store are so much cheaper, they can be picked earlier, leading the way for more peppers to form.

 

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Volcano Candy

One of my husband’s new favorites. We grew these for the first time last year. originally named, Devil’s Kiss, we took artistic license and renamed them. Volcano Candy. Dark red, round fruits, very prolific, somewhere between the heat of a jalapeno and a habanero. The husband says they actually have a peppery fruity flavor and that if you cut them and removed the seeds and membranes, the flesh wasn’t hot at all. They look like cherry bombs. We kept this growing in our greenhouse (along with our Yellow Bull’s horn) long after the first frost and it did well until mid-December when we decided to pull the plant. We just couldn’t keep the greenhouse warm enough to maintain their health.

steve and corno di toro yelow

October 11, 2019, My husband standing next to our Corno di Toro, still growing strong in the greenhouse with its friends.

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Notice how the leaves are starting to droop. 
They got worse as the month went on. At first, I thought it was a lack of water but their fruits were just as firm as ever. I realized it was temperature. Peppers come from warmer climates after all.

last of the corno di tornos 2019

Corno di Toro (Yellow Bulls Horn) Here is a picture of what we harvested on December 22 right before we pulled the plant. That pepper is 7 inches long. Believe it or not!!!!

Hello Spring! (I think)

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One of my many harvests last year. Wishful thinking!

it’s been very cold here or maybe I am just getting older. Lots of sunshine and the birds are starting to make melodies so I expect it to be considerably warmer than it feels. I go through this every year right around February.

I have transplanted 0ver 900 pepper plants already and they are snug as a bug in a rug in our “pepper greenhouse”. I planted 62 varieties this year and will be showcasing some of the newer and favorites on this blog in the future.

As for tomatoes? This year I have over 200 varieties, by far the most that I have ever done. Last year I had 178 and wanted less. Yup, you can blame it on the catalogs. With their pretty pictures and fantastical descriptions such as “the best tasting”, “brilliant color palette”, “earliest for northern regions”, “most prolific”, “an heirloom older than dirt” etc. (the last one, not really, but it sounds like something someone would say.)

I got rid of some I didn’t like or that were hard to sell and of course, kept my favorites and the favorites of my customers. In all, what with taking away and adding, I have 203 varieties. Uh huh, that is a lot! I order mostly from seed catalogs like Seeds n Such, Totally Tomatoes, Tomatofest, Harris Seeds, Johnny’s Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, and others. I also peruse our local Northwest Seed and Pet for their offerings. This year I found some seed by Snake River Cooperative, Shoshone, Moscow, Latah and Sandpoint, seeds developed in our area by Idaho State University. I am anxious to try those and see how they do.

As with the peppers, I will showcase some of the tomato varieties also.

This is my busy season, buying and researching seeds, ordering supplies, figuring out a planting schedule, making big and little tags, ordering preprinted tags, planting and transplanting babies, updating the website, organizing marketing materials and email lists, creating blog posts, watering, fertilizing, arranging heaters and keeping an eye on the temps, taking cuttings and rooting them, to name just a few of my responsibilities

Good thing I love what I do!.

My New Favorite Pepper: Violet Sparkle

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“Violet Sparkle” from my garden.

As most of my friends know, I like my peppers sweet and my tomatoes sweeter! I don’t eat hot or spicy peppers…ever! The sweetest pepper I have eaten up to this point was the Patio Red Marconi, a small golf ball-sized red pepper. I was only able to grow it one year and then couldn’ find the seed anywhere. 

A teaching moment here: Most people buy blocky, green peppers in the store for considerably less than the red, yellow and orange ones. The green ones are actually unripe. With a few exceptions (there are some that start out white, chartreuse green, or purple), all peppers begin life green, and will eventually turn some color as they mature. The reason you pay more for the colored fruit is that they stay on the plant longer. Doesn’t matter whether they are hot or sweet peppers, hybrids or heirlooms.

Back to my favorite pepper. While perusing the seed catalogs last January, I was intrigued by a pepper called “Violet Sparkle” carried by Baker Seeds. First, it caught my eye because it was purple. Secondly, it had stripes. I am all over those things. Last night I cut one fo the red ones up and it was by far the sweetest pepper I’ve ever had. No weird aftertaste either. So, in conclusion: starts out purple, stays purple with cream-colored stripes (varies from pepper to pepper), fairly prolific and early, matures to a lovely, deep red, and is the sweetest thing on my plate. What’s not to love?

Purple Cauliflower, Golden Cauliflower White Cucumbers, and A Paprika Pepper

cualiflower cucumbers 8119 - 3We have been picking broccoli for quite a while now, today, I picked our cauliflower. One was a gorgeous purple and the other a beautiful cheddar yellow. First time I’ve ever grown cauliflower and got something besides a softball size, insect-eaten, inedible object, sprouting flowers. My first introduction to colored cauliflower came from Winco. One day, they were sitting in the produce aisle. As you know I love color. They taste exactly like the white ones but are prettier. Great for a veggie tray although I see cheese sauce in it’s future.

Shown is also one of my white cucumbers (yes, I was going to eat it and cut the ends off and then decided it needed it’s 5 minutes of fame). Love it! Sweet and juicy, not bitter in the least. There is also the spineless Beth Alpha, an Israeli cucumber and several pickling cukes. I think I have enough to make several jars.

 

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The red object is one of my paprika peppers. This is the most amazing pepper plant ever. Let’s face it, peppers are hard to grow here. We always grow our plants in the greenhouse which develops extremely hot temps, probably not unlike a blast furnace. I always tell people don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have success. Some years are better than others.

This one is growing outside, in a large black pot. It was the first one to put on peppers and there are so many that they are crowding the stem. I picked the one that was starting to color up. This one is called “Feher Ozon Paprika” the plant isn’t even two feet tall! This is the first year for this and I will certainly grow it again.

Just a little note: Making your own paprika is easy. Let them dry thoroughly (ok, truth be told, I put mine in a box and promptly forgot them for two years) until crispy, dry and light. They are easy to crumble. Use a coffee grinder to grind as fine as you like. It was a wonder using my own ground paprika, didn’t taste like red dust!

Got Tomatoes??? Our First Picking of the Year

Here is a picture of our first picking this summer. Sungold, Sweet Treats, Sweet Baby Girl, Blue Creme Berries, Rose Quartz and one Brad’s Atomic (it’s the metallic looking one). We also picked our first cucumber from our Spacemaster in a container.

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Brad’s Atomic Grape cherry tomato

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Various cherry tomatoes picked July 20, 2019

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Spacemaster space saver bush tomato

Beaver Dam Pepper

Beaver Dam Pepper

A pepper so good, Hungarian immigrants carried it with them when they came to Wisconsin.

It is no wonder that the Beaver Dam pepper was nearly lost to posterity, trampled upon by the market demand for easier-to-grow pepper varieties that don’t require such laborious agricultural techniques as planting individual stakes for each pepper plant.

The eponymous pepper came to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, in 1912, with Joe Hussli, a Hungarian immigrant who couldn’t conceive of a new American life without a little peppery taste of home. Locals and descendants of friends of the Hussli family like to say that the Husslis planted the seeds, grew the peppers, and shared the seeds with friends and neighbors, thus setting up a little community of Beaver Dam pepper growers who appreciated the delicious plant’s mild bite, enough to pass the seeds down for generations. There are pepper-growing families in Beaver Dam who have saved seeds from at least the 1980s. However, over generations, farming of this pepper has dwindled considerably as hybrids flood the market.

Today, Beaver Dam still celebrates its favorite pepper in the form of an annual Beaver Dam Pepper Festival. Fans can buy the prized crop from local growers, eat pepper sausages, and even participate in an apple pepper pie–eating competition with the town sheriff. Current growers, who descend from a long line of Beaver Dam pepper cultivators, also give presentations on the plant’s history.

For locals, preserving the town’s pepper is crucial. The story of its near-extinction is a story of how our current food culture has prioritized efficiency and shelf-life over flavor. The Beaver Dam, an heirloom variety, requires more care in growing than hybrid peppers that are hardier, more disease-resistant, and thus more dependable in terms of yield. But organizations such as Seed Savers and Slow Food USA are building up a steady base of growers yearning for flavor and willing to return to traditional, sustainable methods of farming. Thanks to their interest, the Beaver Dam pepper has been preserved and there are enough seeds available now to bring the pepper back from the brink of extinction.

The peppers start out lime-green but gradually mature to an orange or blood-red color, over a period of 80 days. Between three and eight peppers grow on each plant. Thick-fleshed, the peppers are mild-to-hot with an appealing crunch that is great in salads and fresh salsas. They also go brilliantly sliced into a sandwich or stuffed with a rice or meat filling. And some fans insist that they’re an absolute must in Hungarian goulash. The peppers are between 500 and 1,000 SHU on the Scoville heat scale.

 

For those not in the Beaver Dam pepper inner circle, the seeds are also available through organizations such as the Seed Savers Exchange, a repository of heirloom seeds meant to preserve endangered varieties of garden and food crops.