So many people come to me with questions about their gardens. I think one of the cutest things they tell me, is that they keep getting blossom end rot on their summer squash. You know, where, you get all excited because it is your first squash of the season. Every day you check on it with anticipation. Then, the horror of horrors, it starts turning yellow! Aaaahh! You babied it, watered it, fertilized it. Now, this.
More than likely, it wasn’t pollinated. Wind and bees are the primary ways pollination gets done. Mommy flower and Daddy flower get together, and well, you know how it works.
Squash, melons, pumpkins, and cucumbers are members of the same family and they often have problems with pollination due to the male flowers falling off before the female flowers open.
Here is a great article I read this morning that tells you, in simple terms, how to get around that. Easy peasy and soon you will be giving squash away, right and left!
Here is the link and I’ve included the article to. Thank you to Harvest to Table for the great read.
Hand pollination is the manual transfer of pollen from the stamen of one plant to the pistil of another–that is from a male flower to a female flower.
Members of the Cucurbit family–squash, melons, pumpkins, and cucumbers–often have pollination problems because the male flowers commonly open days before the female flowers and so often drop before pollinators such as bees can transfer pollen from male to female flowers.
When female flowers are not pollinated, the fruit will never appear. The nascent fruits–bulging embryos–at the stem end of female flowers will shrivel and die if not pollinated.
If fruit is not forming on your Cucurbit family plants, you can help. Rub a small brush or cotton swab on the stamen of a male flower (it will be dusty with pollen) then rub the brush on the stigma of the female flower.
Alternatively, you can remove the petals from a male flower and brush the stamen against the stigma of a female flower.
Which flower is male and which is female? Female flowers have a small bulge (a small immature flower) where the stem meets the flower. Male flowers are shorter than female flowers and often appear in clusters.
We planted our tomatoes into the ground a couple of days ago. They are big and beautiful. I have a video that I took of how we plant ours. You can find it on Youtube How to plant tomatoes The Tomato Lady Way! I hope you find it informative and interesting.
Since we planted, wouldn’t you know it, we have had some pretty nasty storms roll through. Nasty for our part of the country! My first thought was that my plants were going to be beat up, especially if we had hail. A couple of years ago we had some h ail damage and it wasn’t pretty. This is a picture of hail damage.
Luckily it was more aesthetic than harmful. This year we got a bit smarter and we covered every plant with a pot or a bucket. Of course, we take them off during the day (unless it hails or rains hard) so they don’t fry should the sun decide to make an appearance. It is also the way we would try to protect should we get some really cold temps.
Just so you know, they aren’t levitating, there are small metal tomato cages that we put over them when they are small, then we put our heavy-duty wooden cages over all that.
Wishful thinking, one summer in years gone by. Warm weather, monster tomato plants on our homemade tomato cages.
Our gallon pots that we are selling now
First, let me apologize, I fully expected to be able to continue this thread and then life got crazy! We started selling our plants much earlier than we had planned to. The Garden Expo we were camping up for was canceled due to the virus situation, and that is a third of our sales. I wish this was my “hobby” but it’s around 50% of our income so we had to scramble to figure out how we were going to overcome this serious setback. Instead of 1500 gallons, we had 3000! Thankfully, we are considered an essential business and we knew that the “new normal” would make selling a lot more difficult so we started to sell early. Everyone had been very generous and understanding. I lowered the price of my gallons by $2, they are now $8.00 and have changed the way we are getting plants to the customer. Curbside delivery, home delivery with minimum orders, appointments, social distancing, monitoring how many in a greenhouse at a time (1) husband and wife are considered as one person, if they haven’t caught it from each other at home they won’t be catching it in the greenhouse! Fun times! Apologies aside here is the long-awaited post.
Cute little guy with impatiens. For a shade garden, small soil cavity so better for a shade garden where it won’t dry out as fast.
So far we have discussed basic tips on raised bed gardening, in-ground gardening and edible landscaping which simply means including vegetable plants in your decorative gardens. I am a big believer in container gardening, for vegetables, for flowers, and for both mixed together. Edible container gardens don’t need to be boring or plain or merely functional. In container gardens, there is a design principle that most of us learn, thrillers, fillers, and spoilers.
For a shade garden – wax begonias, impatiens and alyssum in a “flower bed”
Thrillers are your focus plant. It is the dracaena spike, coleus, begonia, ornamental grasses anything that is a big, eye-catching focal point. In an edible container garden, it would be your tomato plant, cucumber vine, lettuce etc. Can you imagine growing carrots, with their ferny, frothy foliage in the middle of a large container surrounded by flowers? Sweet.
Krainy Sever, a dwarf tomato with petunias and lobelia
Fillers are mid-size, mounding or rounded plants that surround your focal plant. You can use it to complement or contrast the colors of the focal plant. If it is a dappled shade garden, wax begonias, gazania, ageratum, impatiens would be good choices. Petunias, mounding lobelia, alyssum, ivy geraniums, nasturtiums, and million bells, are all good choices for plants in containers in the sun.
Pansies and alyssum as a fluffy white skirt in a coffee pot
Spillers are plants that tumble over the sides of the container, softening the edges and providing more color. Bacopa, petunias, alyssum, trailing lobelia, sweet potato vine, ivy, are good choices.
Salad Bowls – various lettuces in colanders with alyssum and lobelia
Light, Temperature, Nutrition Some plants can work in partial, dappled shade, million bells, lobelia, alyssum, bacopa, petunias, and geraniums. Very versatile. This leads me to my next point: keeping in mind the various light, temperature and nutritional needs of the plants.
I would never put coleus and petunias in the same pot. Coleus, for the most part, like shade (although there are new sun-tolerant varieties coming out today), Petunias do better with more sun. Vegetables also do better with more sun. Lettuce would be a good filler or focus plant for partial sun. Tomatoes need a lot of sunshine to be prolific. anything that produces fruit, such as tomatoes or cucumbers, need a lot of energy to form it.
Think of putting drought-tolerant plants together, shade-loving plants, or sun-loving plants in the same pots. Temperature is another factor although I think of it more in terms of succession planting. Pansies and Schizanthus like cooler temperatures and lots of sun. One of my favorite combinations to plant is a tomato or lettuce plant (which also likes cooler temperatures), petunias, lobelia and alyssum. When the cool weather plants succumb to the heat, or I eat the lettuce, the petunias alyssum and lobelia take over. I can also insert other plants in their place. Two-season beauty!
Lettuce, alyssum, and a tomato in a pot, probably a Tumbler
When choosing your vegetables for your pots, choose varieties that are developed for containers. Determinate or dwarf tomato plants, compact pepper plants, carrots that are short in length, cucumbers that don’t vine too much, squash with a more compact shape, bush beans, (if you had a large pot, you could do a pole bean and trellis it), spinach, beets. and even melons. Look for words like “compact”, “determinate”, “short vines”, “small” and “dwarf”.
The picture above shows “Small Wonder” spaghetti squash, “Spacemaster” cucumber plant and fingerling potatoes in pots. Below are carrots that I grew as an experiment in pots. They were amazing!
Carrots in a square pot
Sweet Reba acorn squash
“Sweet Reba” (above) is a good candidate for a large container since it is a compact plant.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
October 11, 2019, My husband standing next to our Corno di Toro, still growing strong in the greenhouse with its friends.
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.
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!!!!
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
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.
Every Spring, An Idyllic Iranian Town Turns Fields of Roses Into Rose Water
A worker picks roses as butterflies dance over the fields. PHOTOGRAPHY BY EBRAHIM MIRMALEK
The soft, pink color of dawn still lingers in the sky, and the first golden rays of the sun are just starting to touch the tips of the surrounding mountains. Yet in the rose fields of Qamsar, a small town in the highlands of central Iran, work is already underway. Amid the chirping of nightingales, locals make their way into the fields, where the crisp morning air is heady with the thick aroma of Damask roses.
In a rose field on the outskirts of town, I watch as Javad Jafari picks rose after rose. His calloused, nimble fingers break each stem right below the petals with almost reverential delicacy, before he drops them into a length of cloth tied around his waist and neck. Like many of the other rose pickers who are busy in the fields around us, 66-year-old Jafari has been picking flowers since he was a young boy, helping his father in their family farm, or harvesting the flowers of neighbors. During the rose season, he wakes up at 5 a.m., says his morning prayers, and heads to the fields.
From late May to the middle of June, idyllic Qamsar becomes a dazzling canvas of pink roses. Rows upon rows of the plants, known in Iran as Mohammadi roses, bloom over the course of 25 days. Every year, hordes of tourists from all over the country and abroad come to watch as workers, farmers, and entire families pick roses and distill them into rose water.
The result is a culinary and therapeutic extract that has been used in Iran and the Middle East since ancient times. Qamsar is one of Iran’s main producers of rose water, an ingredient that flavors and aromatizes ice cream, baklava, rice pudding, and many other dishes in the Persian kitchen. Persians also use rose water to treat everything from headaches to heartache, as the fresh graves of the newly deceased are washed with rose water.
Rose water has religious purposes as well. Before the political rifts of recent years between Iran and Saudi Arabia, rose water from Qamsar anointed the Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam, twice a year. “This is the rose of the prophet, you know,” Jafari says, referring to the belief that the prophet Mohammad used the essence of Damask rose for both its fragrance and its therapeutic benefits. While the local name reflects this connection, abroad the rose often goes by Damask. One tale has it that the rose was brought to Europe by a crusader, who picked up the flower in the Syrian city of Damascus.
Yet research done by Dr. Ali Nikbakht, associate professor of horticulture at Isfahan University, postulates that the Damask rose was first grown and used in the Qamsar area 2,500 years ago. “The unique combination of strong sunlight and cool mountain air makes Qamsar ideal for the Mohammadi rose, with the roses grown there having the highest quality in all of Iran,” he says. At the time, rose petals were placed in oil to extract their essence. The first evidence of the steam distillation used today is found in the writings of Avicenna, the 11th-century Persian polymath who used rose water extract for medical purposes.
Jafari finishes picking the last of the roses just as the sun edges over the mountains, filling the valley with unwanted light and heat. “It’s best to finish picking them before the sun comes up over the mountains,” he says, explaining how direct sunlight and heat cause the delicate fragrance of the roses to evaporate, resulting in lower-quality rose water.
Jafari then swings a plastic bag containing over 15 kilograms of rose petals over his shoulder, and we make our way to a distillery owned by Haj Reza Aghayee, a relative of Jafari and a second-generation rose water maker. Like many other rose water makers, Aghayee has turned what used to be a seasonal job done by farmers into a full-time business that uses one ton of roses per season. Aghayee attributes the increase in sales to local transportation improvements and the recent popularity of herbal remedies in Iran. 20 years ago, he only sold rose water and a handful of other extracts, such as mint. “But now we sell over a hundred types,” Aghayee says.
Despite this prolific production, his distillery, like most in Qamsar, still employs traditional methods. In the distillery, Aghayee’s son Alireza adds Jafari’s roses, along with petals from other rose pickers, into a round copper still containing 70 liters of water. The amount of rose varies, depending on whether you want a “heavy or light extract,” Alireza explains. Their “two-fire” rose water, an exceptionally potent variety, is only made in small quantities due to its price and the huge amount of roses needed to make it.
Next, Alizera takes a metal lid, called a toghar, and places it on top of the still. Latching it shut, he turns on the flame below the still. Once the mix of petals and water has begun to steam, Alireza connects aluminum tubes to outlet valves on the still, guiding the fragrant steam along the tubes to large flasks submerged in a pool of cold, flowing water. For the next four hours, the steam will condensate and collect in the flask, producing about 40 liters of rose water.
With the process underway, Alireza turns his attention to a previous batch left to distill overnight. After removing the tubes and the lid, Alireza first removes the precious rose oil that has collected at the surface of the flask. He carefully lifts the jelly-like oils with a spoon and collects them in a jar. Later, it will be used to make perfume.
Then, after lifting the filled 40-liter flask from the pool of water with a small ceiling-mounted crane, Alireza pours the freshly distilled rose water into 20-liter tanks for storage. But first, each tank itself is rinsed with rose water to wash out any contamination. Rose water is very sensitive, he notes, and any droplets of water could cause it to prematurely lose its fragrance. Like the making of a unique wine, there are many subtleties to the distillation process. “They may seem like small things, but they make a difference in the final product,” he says.
In addition, the stills are strictly made out of copper, since copper catalyzes certain reactions that remove unwanted flavors. In other parts of the country, straight distillation tubes are traditionally used, yet distilleries in this region have always utilized two upside-down, V-shaped tubes to ensure that any impurities in the vapor are stopped in the upward slope of the pipe. After distillation, rose water is traditionally stored in tinted glass to prevent any loss of the precious scent that occurs with a plastic container. However, these days rose water is predominantly stored in plastic bottles, due to costs and breakage concerns.
Despite the harsh economic times in Iran, the rose water business is thriving as domestic and international demand continuously grows. It’s still only mid-morning, but Alireza has four stills simmering, and he is awaiting the next delivery of flowers. “Business is good,” he says. “We have five stills and we refill them three to four times a day.” His father agrees. “If you’d come here 50 years ago, you’d only find five rose water producers; now there are maybe over 200,” Aghayee says. While Bulgaria and Turkey produce more rose water than Iran, Aghayee sees change coming. “The industry is growing every year,” he says. “And that is great, because rose water is a Persian tradition.”