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.
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.
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!
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!!!!
We 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.
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!
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.
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.”
I just finished up the second wave of tomato plants yesterday, March 25th. n 4 days, I transplanted 4289 little guys. Couple that with 1480 plants destined for gallons, that brings me to 6769 plants. I will be seeding a third wave, almost exclusively early and cherry varieties, including a few more Sungolds. Those will be for after Garden Expo when we usually are out of these plants. In this area, everyone wants a short season variety or a cherry, which in my book are a usually shorter season than the big, later season heirlooms.
My suggestion for those who live in Deer Park and other short, short season areas is to buy the plants you want in a gallon size. They are almost 2 months more mature and will produce sooner than the same in a smaller pot, even if they are almost physically the same size. That is the only way I can get Pink Brandywines here (and they are delectable).
Tomorrow I start on flowers. We had to put up another temporary greenhouse to house them. One of these days I will do a post about how we construct our greenhouses. We recycle and reuse!
Here is a list of seed companies that I interact with on a regular basis. Good prices, nice selection of varieties, excellent seed quality, and good customer service! (My cat, Samson, has nothing to do with this subject but he sure is cute and is in the garden! Sam is a Maine Coon)
Seeds n Such
I love that this gentleman used to own Totally Tomatoes and decided to retire, which didn’t suit him so he opened up Seeds n Such. One of the nicest things about him is that their shipping is right in line with what it should be and they have a deal whereby if you buy 20 packets of seeds, they are all $1.99. Believe me, it’s easy to find that many things you want.
Lots and lots of heirloom tomato seeds, some I have never heard of. The really nice thing is they are “local” – California based. Most companies are midwest or eastern based companies. (I love them too, I just like buying local if I can)
Many, many varieties of tomatoes and peppers. Now they have other veggies. so I guess they aren’t “totally” tomatoes anymore! That’s ok, I like the variations.
Swallowtail Garden Seeds
This is for the flower growers. Veggies are good for your bodies, flowers are good for your soul. They have a nice variety, good prices, and quality seed. I love the pictures on the website, and they are fast!
I recently found this company. I can’t remember how but am sure glad I did. Prices are phenomenal, customer service outstanding (Dora rocks!) varieties are numerous. Stuff you didn’t know you needed! the only drawback is that they don’t have pictures (but that is what the internet is for, right?) and at this time, you can’t order online. Mere nuisances. They have trade packets and bigger bulk sizes. I’d recommend the trade packets for home gardeners.
I found this company in the last couple of years also. I love that they are a Cooperative and represent seed from a lot of small, independent growers. Great website too, lots of pictures. I found they have seeds with great histories; for instance, I found a winter squash called Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert Squash (a mouthful) on their site. it was passed down forever and as far as I can see, it’s not available anywhere else. it is delicious! Lots of fun stuff!
Irish Eyes Seeds –Located in Ellensburg, WA, Huge selection of potatoes and garlic and other cooler climate veggies.
High Mowing – I ordered from them last week and they have great selection and shipping was surprisingly fast. Out of Vermont.
Baker SeedsGreat selection, good prices, and reasonable shipping. Unusual heirloom seeds from all over, rare and exotic seeds from around the world. Two examples: Thai Lavender Frog Egg Eggplant and Sichuan Red Beauty Radish. I have to be honest, some of them are so odd I can’t imagine growing them, like the Sakurajima Giant Radish, considered the world’s largest Radish. it’s white and bigger than my head! Definitely, an entertaining place to visit.
Snake River Seeds – They are new, at least to me, and I have yet to order from them but I will. they have bulk seeds too and they are local to me. In their own words:
“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. We believe that sharing seed saving knowledge with farmers in our region is vital to growing a robust, regional seedshed.”
While I can’t name everyone I like dealing with, (actually I could AND include all the links but I do have other things to do today!) here are some other companies I recommend, just search for them on the internet: Parks, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Victory Seeds, Pase Seeds, Harris Seeds to name a few.
Don’t forget Northwest Seed and Pet. It is the best and biggest gardening store that I know of here in Spokane. They have a HUGE selection of seeds, a lot of which you may not have heard of. They carry their own bulk brand, Burpees, High Mowing, Baker Seeds, Snake River Seeds, Botanical Interests, Irish Eyes and many, many more. Don’t miss their cat, give him a scratch.
Today, I transplanted 557 baby flowers into their 3.5′ pots. Pansies (Bolero, Fizzle Sizzle Mix and then the Yellow and Blue, Chianti, Colussus, Super Swiss Giants, Heat Elite, and Flirty Skirts), Petunias (Silver Tidal Wave, Dolcissima Flambe, Subperbissima Doubled, Fluffy Ruffles, Pico Bella, Spellbound in Pink, Wine Red, Dark Purple and White Blush, and Evening Scentsation), Impatiens (Accent Mystic, Red Flash, Star, Athena Red Flash, Athena mix Impressa Cherry Splash and Shady Ladies Blushing Beauties, alyssum, and Verbena (Peaches and Cream and Scentsation) tomorrow the alyssums and lobelias. Pansies and Petunias are some of my very favorite flowers.
Of course, nothing looks like this but hope springs eternal, at least for us gardeners. Winter has finally shown up and we have almost a foot of snow on the ground, maybe a little more. I had my stereo on and a heater keeping me warm as I transplanted, dreaming of summer days and bright happy faces of pansies. I do love the snow but it is mid=February and it should be done by now. Maybe next year we could have winter in December and January!
Oh, I also planted the one Godetia that came up. The seed was pretty old.