Why Not to Plant to Early in the Spring

frost damaged tomatoes.jpg
Frost-damaged plants
I have a sad story and a word of caution to share with you. One of my “most favorite” customers misread the weather app and planted the tomatoes in the garden yesterday.Unfortunately, they froze last night. At my house, we didn’t get frost. Everyone has microclimates at their house. My garden area is probably about 5 degrees cooler than up by the house. Keep that in mind when you plant.
I don’t recommend that you plant until mid-May in the Spokane area because our weather is so unpredictable. We are all anxious to get started planting after the long, cold, dreary winter but just because it is warm during the day doesn’t mean it is warmer at night. (That’s where it pays to know your microclimate) If you do have them out, cover them for a few degrees of protection if it’s going to be below 32 degrees. If they’ve only been in the ground for a day or two and you know frost is coming, pull them out and put them back into their pots. They won’t have started spreading their roots yet.
This is a picture of when we used buckets to cover the plants. It provides a few degrees of protection. They still froze, see the story in next paragraph.
One last thing, if they get touched by frost, they will look dreadful, kinda like canned spinach when the sun hits them. Don’t be in a hurry to rip them out of the earth. One year the same thing happened in the first week June (I mean really???) to our garden. I cried, said some not so nice words and left them in. They recovered and grew as big as before! Unless we have several days of killing frost and the ground freezes, give them a chance.

Bi-Color and Striped Tomatoes Color My World

As an artist, I am in love with color! Any color. Of course my favorite is purple but I almost equal opportunity when it comes other colors; my clothes, my vegetables, my flowers etc.

Todays post is about colored tomatoes – striped ones to be exact. When I started choosing my own seeds for tomatoes many, many years ago, I thought there were only red, round ones. Boy, was I surprised when I started looking at the seed catalogs. Red, purple, black, yellow, orange, pink, bicolors, green, striped, white, cream, and now “blue”. And the shapes: round, heart-shaped, sausage-shaped, fluted, grape-shaped, blocky oblong, the list goes on.

After 20 years of choosing, I’ve come to the conclusion that my favorites are usually not red. Stripes and bi-colors float my boat. No too come in the same color. Here are a couple that I especially love.


This is Speckled Roman, a paste tomato. It is reddish orangish with yellowish stripes. Good flavor.


This one is a cherry tomato called Blush, a real beauty, with bright yellow skin suffused with red streaks. It has a lovely sweet-tart taste when you bite into it.


Here we have Ananis Noir. It means black pineapple in french and was a sport of Pineapple in someones garden. I am glad they cultivated it. Admittedly, outside isn’t all that attractive to my eyes, but the inside is gorgeous, fruity and juicy. And, they can get pretty big as you can see by the numbers on the scale.


Orange Russian, on of the first bicolors I’ve tried. they are considered an oxheart, but like all heirlooms, their shapes and size can differ on the same plant. This one is a lovely orangish-yellow with reddish highlights, even on the inside.


Bunblebee is a cherry and comes in many colors with striping. Sweet and pretty!


Chocolate Stripes – Brick red with greenish stripes. Juicy and sweet with dark colored interior. Yum!


Lucky Tiger, cherry, originally a customer request. I’m glad I grew it for her. It is now one of my husband’s favorites along with Sungold. Golden green when ripe with green and reddish-yellow striping. Great taste.

roman candle 2012roman-candle-2012.jpg

Roman Candle, a paste. Definitely easy to find, it seems to light up the interior of the plant! Bright yellow, sometimes with green shoulders, more often than not it has faint green stripes. Makes good sauce and brightens up any salad or salsa.

gold medal trio

Gold Medal, a bi-color. Good flavor, yellowish orange with red blushing. Shows up on the inside and is sweet and juicy.

isis candy

Isis Candy, another bi-color cherry, this one round, often times with a white starburst on the underside. Very prolific, a favorite of my kids when they were still at home.


Fred’s Tye Dye, a tomato developed by The Dwarf Tomato Project. There was a desire for a larger tomato on a smaller plant, especially good for a large container or small space gardening. The plant gets to about 4 feet tall with a massive stalk (sometimes they are called tree tomatoes), and dark green leaves. the color is perfect, dark red with metallic green stripes. Love this one!

pink berkeley tie dye cat

Last but least is Pink Berkeley Tye Dye. this is a Wild Boar introduction. A gentleman named Brad Gates, started breeding for striped and bicolor tomatoes. He has an amazing collection of them now. I think this one is an amazing tomato, with dark pink coloring and metallic green stripes.

Anyway you slice them, these beautiful and tasty tomatoes!

Here are some pictures of the newly transplanted babies, tomato babies. Just in case you thought I was sitting on my laurels! I try not to transplant until they have there first true leaves. It takes them 4 to 7 days to germinate, then another week to grow their true leaves I have found there is no real point to transplanting any earlier than that. Often, when you do, they fail to thrive. There isn’t enough root system to recover well.


Here are the two greenhouses almost full of plants. I will be transplanting about 2000 more in about a week. Again, waiting for them to get their true leaves.

Now for some individual pictures


A Quest for the Gros Michel, the Great Banana of Yesteryear

Who knew this about bananas?

The forgotten, flavorsome Big Mike is elusive, but not impossible to find.

A colorized 1902 photograph shows a banana cart in Detroit

A colorized 1902 photograph shows a banana cart in Detroit LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/LC-D4-19576

Just below the end of Wall Street, at the tip of Lower Manhattan where the island meets the furthest estuaries of the green-grey Atlantic, there are no bananas. I’m around a hundred years too late: In the early 20th century, so many boats bearing bushels of bananas arrived at this spot that the Old Slip piers became known as the Banana Docks, as ships laden with bananas came in to land.

In the shops nearby, admittedly, there are a few—lurid yellow Cavendishes occasionally making an appearance behind the glass sheet windows of Starbucks, or for a buck apiece on the street corner from a local vendor. Unfortunately, the Cavendish will not do. I am here for the Gros Michel—the OG banana that was the standard across the United States from 1870, when it sold for $2 a bunch in Jersey City, until the late 1950s, when the ruinous fungus Panama disease all but wiped it out.

For decades, the Gros Michel banana was the standard in the United States and across the world.
For decades, the Gros Michel banana was the standard in the United States and across the world. WELLCOME COLLECTION/CC BY 4.0

I am on a quest across New York City for the Gros Michel, the Big Mike, the banana that launched a thousand pratfalls. Online, people speak of it in revered digital tones: “I am absolutely dying to try one,” one banana forum user writes, promising to pay “an arm and a leg” for them. Another claims they are so delicious that regular Cavendish bananas are disgusting by comparison. Today, the banana is virtually gone from the consumer market in the United States—finding it will be at best a challenge, and perhaps impossible.


It wasn’t always the case: The Gros Michel was once everywhere. When America fell in love with the banana, this is the fruit that captured its heart. The alchemist who first produced the banana split used a Gros Michel; the chemist who produced artificial banana flavor allegedly had it in mind as well. When Eddie Cantor sings “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” it is Big Mike he’s singing about. In New York, for enough money, you can get nearly anything: dice made of camel bonesa purple latex executioner’s hood; half a cow, sliced lengthways. But can you get a Gros Michel banana?

New York's Banana Docks were once located at the end of Wall Street.
New York’s Banana Docks were once located at the end of Wall Street. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/LC-D401-19576

My first port of call is the internet. I’m by no means the first person to search for this, and strangers online have a few ideas about where I should be looking. A Reddit user thinks she’s seen them for sale in Chinatown. It seems sensible enough: If you can get pomelo and dragon fruit, lychees and longans, perhaps you can get a rare banana as well.

When Panama disease crept across the world in the first half of the 20th century, only a few places in a few countries were spared the blight that blackened bananas from the inside out. The few countries that still produce the Gros Michel today mostly do so under another name: Thihmwe in Myanmar, Johnson in Cuba, Pisang Ambon in Malaysia. In Hawai’i, it is commercially grown as Bluefields. The world’s largest banana firms don’t sell it—Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte have their hands full with Cavendishes—so any fruit with a recognizable blue and yellow sticker is automatically out. (This is helpful as, from pictures and YouTube video taste tests, the Gros Michel looks near indistinguishable from the Cavendish.)

Photographs of banana blossoms and fruit growing in Florida in 1888.
Photographs of banana blossoms and fruit growing in Florida in 1888. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/LC-DIG-STEREO-1S09786

It’s possible that some Gros Michels under another name have slipped into a shipment of fruit from Thailand or Indonesia, therefore—and that’s what I’m banking on. Down on Forsyth Street, in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, Chinese-speaking vendors sell frilly green cabbage for a dollar a pound. It is just days after Chinese New Year, and supplies of fruit and vegetables seem lower than usual, though pouting red strawberries are selling like hotcakes. Barely a banana to speak of—just a fan of green phalanges, unceremoniously dumped in a cardboard box. I look closer at their stickers. They’re Del Monte. Back to the drawing board.

Back in Brooklyn, specialist fruit stores, markets and street vendors are all selling glossy Cavendishes, custard and green and as flawless as an emoji. (A fruit seller, speaking to the New York Times, described the less ripe version as the Millennial banana; older generations apparently prefer them golden-yellow and flecked with brown, like in the extremely suggestive Chiquita banana commercial.) The Cavendish, in fact, is just about the only banana commercially sold in the city, and the country, with the average American eating over 100 a year.

Cavendish bananas being sold in New York's Chinatown.
Cavendish bananas being sold in New York’s Chinatown. NATASHA FROST/ATLAS OBSCURA

As the Gros Michel went down, banana producers scrabbled for a variety that they could replace it with—one that, like the Gros Michel, shipped easily, grew readily, and could handle the odd bump and bruise in the packing process. In 1961, producers plumped for the Cavendish. Descended from a plant grown in a Devonshire hothouse 180 years ago, it takes its name from the family name of its Duke and Duchess. It was a compromise, says Dan Koeppel, author of Banana, The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. The Cavendish is not as hardy as the Gros Michel, leading to changes in how the bananas were boxed and bagged. It is also not quite as delicious, he says. “Chiquita and Dole definitely worried that consumers would reject the Cavendish because it didn’t taste as good.”

Eight years after Cavendishes started being grown commercially, they became the standard in American stores. But this revolution in the banana industry seems to have made little impact on consumers. Today, a slight change of recipe for a commercial foodstuff provokes petitionspublic outcry, and much media coverage—but there was barely a peep from banana-munchers whose Gros Michels were entirely replaced by Cavendishes in the early 1960s.

By the time <em>The Velvet Underground and Nico</em> came out in 1966, the Gros Michel was gone from stores.
By the time The Velvet Underground and Nico came out in 1966, the Gros Michel was gone from stores. YANN CARADEC/CC BY-SA 2.0

To Koeppel’s mind, and palate, it’s simply because they don’t taste that different. He likens them to vanilla ice-cream. The Cavendish might be a five-gallon tub from the back of the supermarket freezer; the Gros Michel only one step up from that. Neither one, he says, is exactly Haagen-Dazs. “The Gros Michel is a better tasting banana. I don’t think there’s any question about that. But it’s not a million miles ahead of Cavendish,” he says. “There are many, many varieties that are astonishingly good, where you would notice a difference immediately.” None of these more delicious bananas fit the bill from a shipping perspective, however—and so we are stuck with the McDonald’s hamburger of the banana world.

A Chinese friend, hearing of my search for the banana in Chinatown, suggests that I look in New York’s Thai grocery stores instead, along bustling Woodside Avenue, in Queens. Koeppel suspects I won’t find them there. (I don’t.) In countries where people eat many different kinds of bananas, like Thailand, he says, no one hankers for the Gros Michel. “Thailand, I guess, has 40 or 50 fairly common backyard banana varieties,” he says. Many are simply more delicious, like the diminutive “lady finger” Nu Meu Puying banana, or candy-sweet red varieties with a peel the color of lungs.

A 1918 photograph shows Gros Michel plants struck by Panama disease.
A 1918 photograph shows Gros Michel plants struck by Panama disease. PUBLIC DOMAIN

If banana giants like Dole and Del Monte were to offer a greater selection of bananas to customers, Koeppel says, they’d have to change the way they think about the fruit. At the moment, “it’s an industrial product. It’s all about scale and markets.” More delicious bananas are also more expensive to ship—requiring a cognitive shift in how consumers think about them. In short, we’d have to start thinking of bananas as fruit worth spending more than a few cents on. At the moment, only the Cavendish can promise that.

But how much longer the singular Cavendish will remain in our stores remains to be seen. For some time, it has teetered on the precipice of disaster, after a new incarnation of Panama disease began to wipe out crops in Asia in the late 1980s. In the years since, the fungus has destroyed African crops, Filipino plantations, bananas in China, Pakistan, Indonesia. This month alone, it struck a third commercial banana farm in Queensland, Australia. Cavendish bananas don’t have seeds inside—they’re clones of one another, no matter their provenance. But, like the Gros Michel before them, their monoculture makes them vulnerable to attack. Anything that will wipe out one plant will kill them all. The Cavendish’s days are numbered—unless they can be modified to fight off the plant cancer that has already felled so many.

There are a few options on the table. In Australia, scientists are attempting to “switch on” the gene that makes the Cavendish able to resist this particular blight. In Japan, they have engineered a new form of the Gros Michel, with a lettuce-like skin that fruit fans can simply bite into. (If this one were to become the norm, shipping practices would have to change dramatically, likely driving up prices.) But these, and other biotech options, again prioritize the monoculture that led us to this problem in the first place. Banana barons seem to have learned little from the demise of the Gros Michel, and are now finding themselves bitten by precisely the same bug. No one knows exactly when the Cavendish will come crashing down—Koeppel is reluctant to make any predictions—but it seems an inevitability.

A selection of Gros Michel bananas, grown in Florida.
A selection of Gros Michel bananas, grown in Florida. CHRIS NAKA/ATLAS OBSCURA

The day I speak to Koeppel, a FedEx box arrives on my desk from Miami. Inside are 26 bananas, each around four inches in length, of varying shades of chartreuse and canary yellow. Having given up on finding the Gros Michel in the wild, I’ve ordered it in from the Miami Fruit Company in South Florida, a tropical fruit grower with so many different bananas they’ll ship you an entire sampler of different varieties. I spend the next week waiting for them to ripen so I can hand them out to Atlas Obscura staff members and their banana-loving family members. “It’s not a taste revelation,” Koeppel has warned me on the phone. Visually, there’s no obvious difference—the inside of the skin is a little silkier, the stem, to my mind, slightly more delicate. Across a room, I’d definitely mistake them for a Cavendish.

Biting into the banana of yesteryear, I expect a more intensely tropical flavor and the vivid sweetness of artificial isoamyl acetate banana flavor. Instead, the fruit is tangy and complex. Everyone who eats one over the following week agrees: This is a superior banana, with a creamier texture and a more delicious flavor. I could eat three in one go, easily. But these bananas have not come cheap. Each costs about $2 a pop, which would get me at least a half-dozen at my local bodega.

One thing is for certain: The model of banana growing is likely to change. Small plantations like this one, where lots of different varieties are grown side by side, is one possibility, though one that would put an end to “Big Banana.” Moving from monoculture to multiculture is a more environmentally sound outcome, but one that may push bananas into a higher cost bracket. Whether consumers believe that to be a reasonable price is hard to say. If that is the eventual outcome of the Cavendish being scuppered, however, the specially grown Gros Michels on my desk may not be a vestige of the past, but the bananas of the future.

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Pepper House – Now Full! Transplanting Peppers When It Is 20 Degrees Outside

Disclaimer: Sorry about the quality of the pictures. I usually like them looking clearer but was in a hurry before it got too cold for me to run out to the greenhouse! Yes, I am a wuss!

Over the last three days, I have been transplanting peppers. Sweet bell peppers, sweet non-bells, Italian frying peppers, heirlooms, super hot peppers, medium hot and just plain hot peppers, All types, all colors. Right now it is about 20 degrees outside, There is still snow on the ground. In the greenhouse it is a balmy 60 degrees due to the sun being out and shining on me and my babies. I also transplanted some schizanthus, cinnamon basil, million bells, alyssum and petunias.

I had a hard time getting into my groove as The Tomato Lady. Not sure why but as soon as I got my hands into the potting soil, I started getting into the swing of it. Nothing says spring like green plants. The knowledge that each one of those itty bitty plants was going to become a large plant giving us good things to eat in the summer just amazes me!

SCHIZANTHUS Baby and in full bloom

And the flowers are even better to work with. Those are truly tiny and they will be gracing mine and your yards at a future date flooding the landscape with color and scents.


The basil is giving back already. As I put each of them into larger homes, the myriad of aromas tickled my nose. Especially the cinnamon, one of my favorites. I like to mix it with fresh tomatoes, sweet onion and little bit of garlic and make a light, fresh sauce for pasta.

The count on peppers so far is 1210 pots with maybe an additional 30 pots coming from late “germinators                 .


How to Test the Germination Rate of Your Old Seeds – Courtesy of You Grow Girl

This is an excellent article on testing the germination rate of seeds. If you are like me, I am always saving seeds I buy, seeds I collect from my garden, seeds I save from other folk’s plants… Sometimes I feel the need to test the germination rate of seeds I buy from commercial seed houses! Occasionally I get no or little germination on a seed packet.

How to Test the Germination Rate of Your Old Seeds

I love to buy, collect, save, and trade seed, but I have to admit that I do not go about it in a particularly organized fashion. While I am careful about where and how I store my seeds and I do have my own “it’s all in my head” system, it doesn’t exactly compare to some of the personal seed banks I have seen. I do not have Excel charts or lists of any kind that track what I have and when I got it. If I’m being honest, I often don’t realize I am out of a particular something or other unless I bother to check ahead of time. However, most years that moment doesn’t come until I am in the act of sowing. Whoops, guess I won’t be growing that this year.  For this reason, it’s not uncommon for me to find packets in my stash that are older than I can remember. Most store-bought seeds have a “packed for” date on them, but I receive a lot of seed in trade, and some of those traders are even less organized than me. The seed of some plants last no more than a year or so. If I find an unmarked, rogue packet of onions or leeks I can be nearly certain that they are junk. Tomatoes seem to last forever, so if I find a packet of unknown origin that I’d like to grow, it’s worth spending the time to test its germination rate.A germination test determines the viability of the seed — how many in a packet will reliably germinate. This is important because the window of opportunity to get some crops sown and growing can be short. I’ve lost the chance to grow a specific variety some years because I sowed and then waited on seed that wouldn’t grow.Germination rate can also provide a gauge of a seed’s vigor. I explain what this is below.

How to Test for Germination Rate
There are lots of ways to go about this. Some people use paper towels. I use coffee filters because I find it easier to see the germinated seeds and their roots should I opt to plant those that have germinated. Fragile roots and leaves tend to disappear in the pile of paper towels.

What You Need:
Coffee filters
Plastic baggies
10 Seeds (per test)
Permanent marker

Cut or tear the coffee filter along the bottom and one side seam. Lightly moisten with water so that it is moist, but not sopping wet. I sometimes use a spray bottle but you can also just dip it into a bowl of water and squeeze it out.

Open the filter up flat and lay out 10 seeds on one half. You do not have to do 10 seeds at a time, but it makes figuring out the germination rate a heck of a lot easier. Spread the seeds out so that they aren’t touching. I do this so that there is less chance that their roots will become entangled should I decide to plant them up.

Fold the half of the coffee filter that does not have seeds over onto the side that does.

Fold the bottom half up.

Place the moist and folded coffee filter inside a baggie and seal. Write the variety name and the date you started the test on the outside of the baggie. I write this onto sticker labels so I can reuse the baggies in further testing.

Place the sealed and labelled baggies in a warm place and check on them every few days to see whether germination has occurred. Some seeds may require more time. Some may also require light in order to germinate, or more heat.

Tip: The majority of the seeds I test do well in a kitchen or utility drawer that is used often. Otherwise I have a tendency to forget about them! I also put a sticky note on the front of the drawer as an added reminder to keep checking the seeds! Hot peppers tend to need more heat, so I keep them on top of a reliably warm (but not hot) appliance.

The rate is determined by the number of seeds out of 10 that have germinated. For example, 6 out of 10 seeds = 60% 3 out of 10 = 30% and so on.

You can go ahead and plant any seedling that have germinated into soil just as you would a seed. Don’t bother trying to remove the seedling from the paper — you risk damaging delicate roots. Instead, tear the paper around the plant. (Note: If your seedlings have browned roots like mine do in the above photo then I would not suggest planting them up. I left those too long and the roots were starting to rot.)

Loss of Vigor: Seeds that fall below 70% germination tend to suffer from a loss of vigor that will increase with each passing year. What this means is that even though many of them will still germinate, the seedlings that develop may not be healthy or develop into strong, vital plants. If the percentage isn’t too low you may decide to take a chance and see how the seedlings develop. It should be easy enough to determine which are suffering. However, if you’re planning to save seed from this plant for future crops then you may want to replace the seed now. Unhealthy plants beget unhealthy plants and since you’re going to the effort, it is worth it to start out with the best of the best.

Please note that some varieties suffer from a poor germination rate even when new and healthy, so it’s important to know your plant/variety.

Tip: I keep all of my seed testing equipment (including the used baggies) together with my seed saving equipment in one of the dollar store containers that I use for organizing seed. That way I have it on hand whenever I need it.

Source: How to Test the Germination Rate of Your Old Seeds – You Grow Girl

5 Great Tomatoes for Cool Climates | Veggie Gardener (With Commentary from The Tomato Lady!)

this is a good article that I got in my email. it showcases early tomatoes. I  have grown all of these but Novia. I am carrying SubArctic, Legend, and Black Prince. Look for my My Two Cents Worth: I will tell you my thoughts on the variety.

Here’s a tip for early tomatoes. I will try it and let you know how it works. Or you can try it and let me know how it works for you. Flick the blossoms (they are self pollinating) or take a cotton swab/paint brush to pollinate your early tomatoes. Sometimes we don’t have the necessary wind or the bees aren’t out yet so they aren’t being pollinated, therefore no fruit. I don’t know why I never thought of this myself!

Tomatoes are very adaptive plants, and can produce fruit in a wide variety of climates and regions. Whether you live in zone 4 or in zone 10, you can grow tomatoes without too much trouble.Although this is true it is important to choose varieties that are well-matched for the climate you live in for the best results. Some tomato varieties perform best in very warm climates, while others are bred for better production in cooler climates.If you live in a cool climate (from zone 6 to zone 4) here are five tomato varieties that should thrive for your area.

Northern Exposure

Northern Exposure is a determinate tomato variety that performs very well in cool climates. They are generally ready to pick in about 67 days after transplanting outside which is great for shorter seasons.The compact size of this tomato plant makes them perfect for containers. According to my sources it is now sold on Burpee seed racks as Burpee Early Harvest Hybrid. I honestly don’t know why they change the names! My Two Cents Worth: I have grown this for sale but not put it in my own garden (I only have so much garden space). I have heard from my customers that they love this tomato. It is a very healthy plant in my greenhouse.


Sub Arctic

With a name like Sub Arctic you know this tomato does well in cooler, short climates. It is a determinate variety that produces four ounce tomatoes in about 42 days after transplanting.Ideal for short seasons in the north, or for a quick harvest in southern vegetable gardens. My Two Cents Worth: I love this tomato. Grew it for years but never put it in my garden until I had a leftover plant. I put it into an enormous container and loved, loved, loved it. They are a smaller tomato, about the size of a ping pong ball, sometimes larger and very sweet and bright red. I am offering this one this year.


The Legend tomato is another variety that produces well in cool climates and is resistant to late blight.It produces large fruit that can measure four to five inches in diameter and are a bright, glossy red color. This is one of the earliest maturing slicing tomatoes available. My Two Cents Worth: This is a lovely tomato, good flavor, consistent size, shape and color. Plus, it doesn’t want to take over the world. In my garden the fruit didn’t get to 5″ across but about the size of baseballs. I am offering this one this year.


The Novia tomato variety is an indeterminate that produces seven to nine ounce fruit and is very disease resistant.They contain a high level of lycopene which is a beneficial antioxidant. These tomatoes perform well in cooler climates, but can also be grown as far south as zone 9.

Black Prince

The Black Prince tomato variety comes from Siberia, so you know it is used to some cold weather and short seasons.This heirloom tomato features medium-sized fruit that are a deep red with green to purplish shoulders. They are loved for their rich, almost smoky tomato flavor and excellent hardiness in cold temperatures. My Two Cents Worth: This is very pretty tomato. One of those that are considered “black” Mine were a dark, dusky puprle with green shoulders and about the size of large eggs. The inside is a  beautiful dark red and the taste is good but I honestly don”t get the “smokey”  flavor. I think that is a trick of the mind!  I am offering this one this year.

Source: 5 Great Tomatoes for Cool Climates | Veggie Gardener

Garden Planning for Preservation: Best Foods to Freeze, Can, Dehydrate and Ferment – Organic Gardening – MOTHER EARTH NEWS


Illustration by Lyn Wellsand

This is an excellent article for those of us who like to can, dry, freeze and ferment our produce for future eating. It is courtesy of Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening.

Certain strategies can make your food preserver’s garden a success. Draw a map of your garden, noting which crops and varieties you plan to grow, to ensure you plant to meet your preservation goals. Also, you could even install an outdoor harvest kitchen near your garden to make canning and preserving more accessible and enjoyable.

Our vegetable gardens offer us beautiful, fresh bounty during the growing season — and they also have the potential to increase our food security the rest of the year. When you craft a plan to put up some of the crops you grow, you’re preparing for the future, simplifying winter meals, reducing waste, and saving money, too.

As you plan your garden with preservation in mind, consider what your family loves to eat versus what they merely tolerate. Talk with your household members about what you want your meals to look like for the following year. If you’re aiming for year-round veggie self-sufficiency, calculate how many times per week on average your family eats a particular crop, and multiply that figure by 52 (number of weeks in a year). Then, use our chart of crop yields in Garden Planning: Guidelines for Growing Vegetables to arrive at a rough calculation of how much of that crop to plant. Or, to start smaller, jump in with any of the following ideas, organized from the easiest to grow and preserve to the crops and storage methods that require more expertise or a longer-term commitment.

Easy Crops and Preservation Projects

From a preservation perspective, some vegetables are much more flexible to work with than others. I suggest starting with tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers, green beans, summer squash, leafy greens and carrots because, with proper variety selection, they’re all easy to grow in most regions, and they lend themselves to a plethora of simple preservation projects, such as freezing, pickling and water bath canning. Note that water bath canning and pressure canning each require a distinct type of canner and have unique safety guidelines, and most beginners start with water bath canning.

One of my favorite methods is to peel and chop tomatoes and put them in 1-quart freezer bags with several chopped hot peppers and onions. When I want to make a pot of chili in winter, all I have to do is brown some ground meat and add spices and a bag of these frozen veggies. I use tomatoes, sweet peppers and onions in canned pizza and pasta sauces, and freeze bags of tomatoes and onions for later use in soups, too. Try ‘Carmen’ sweet peppers, which deliver high yields and superb flavor.

When deciding what to plant for future preservation projects, you’ll also want to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each crop variety. If you use a large slicing tomato to make pasta or pizza sauce, for example, you’ll have to start with twice as many pounds of tomatoes as you would use if you had chosen a paste variety, which has denser, meatier flesh and less water content. You’d have to cook slicing tomatoes a lot longer to get the thicker consistency you’ll want in a sauce. Although you can use any type of tomato to make a sauce, the paste varieties, such as ‘Roma,’ ‘Amish Paste’ and ‘Striped Roman,’ see pics below, (first two are “Speckled Roman, then roma, Green Zebra, Great White and Amish Paste”) will make the task much quicker. (See Best Tomato Varieties to Grow This Year for many more tomato variety recommendations by type.) Also, remember that preservation projects needn’t be solo pursuits in a hot kitchen. Plan a canning party (even outdoors!) to share harvests and the labor.

So how many tomatoes should you sow? Depending on the variety and your growing conditions, you can expect about 15 to 25 pounds per plant, so make calculations based on how many pounds you think your family will go through in a year. Many years ago, when we lived in the suburbs, we found that just eight ‘Big Boy’ tomato plants could produce enough tomatoes for freezing whole and canning pasta sauce for our five-person family’s annual needs. In Sustainable Market Farming, author Pam Dawling describes planting 250 paste tomatoes and 90 slicing tomatoes in a community garden for 100 people, and canning about 500 gallons of sauce annually from the harvests.

Tomato soup is a dish in which lots of different tomato varieties can really shine, and you can make big batches for the freezer. ‘Green Zebra’ tomatoes make a citrusy tasting soup, while ‘Great White’ imparts a smokier flavor. Try dehydrating some tomatoes, too. Paste types and cherry types typically dry best, although ‘Green Zebra’ tomatoes are one of the best foods to dehydrate and then layer in quiche or casseroles.

Cucumbers are a classic crop to pickle. Don’t be swayed by those called “pickling cucumbers,” as you can pickle any variety — and you can eat any variety fresh, too. The pickling types are ideal if you’ll be canning whole dill pickles, though, because they stay small enough to fit well in your canning jars. You can pickle hot peppers, such as jalapeños, serranos and habaneros, as well.

Although my children were never fans of plain canned green beans, which require pressure canning, they loved crisp, pickled dilly beans. Because dilly beans are pickled in vinegar, the acid level makes them safe to water bath can. This keeps the beans crunchy.

Hot peppers, summer squash and thick-leaved greens, such as kale or collards, are excellent crops for drying. Use your dried hot peppers in spicy Mexican and Italian recipes, and grind some into homemade spice blends. Stash dried greens and slices of dried summer squash for use in soups, veggie lasagna, quiche or snacks. You likely won’t have to plant extra squash to make this possible, as summer squash harvests come on strong, and gardeners are often searching for a way to use them up.

Carrots are one of the best foods to freeze. Try the uniform, heavy-yielding Nantes types, such as ‘Bolero,’ ‘Nelson’ or ‘Napa.’ Slice, blanch and then freeze them in gallon bags to add to stews and other dishes all winter. Try growing a smaller spring planting of carrots for fresh eating through summer and fall, and then a large fall planting to harvest for the freezer.

Intermediate Crops and Preservation Projects

Have more time and want to venture into crops and preservation projects that may present a few more challenges? Eggplant and corn are long-season crops that need plenty of warmth. They may pose a few pest and disease issues, but when you get a good harvest, you’ll be able to roast and freeze them in super-flavorful packs that will enliven a wide diversity of dishes — think roasted-eggplant dip or chili with roasted corn.

You may also be ready to try fermenting and pressure canning, which will provide you with even more storage options. I’ve heard many people say they’re afraid to attempt fermenting because they might make someone sick. But according to Sandor Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation, that’s highly unlikely to happen. Fermentation is an ancient method of food preservation, and Katz says you can ferment virtually any vegetable. Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) is a classic favorite, and Katz also recommends fermenting celery and radishes.

Almost any low-acid canned vegetable you can buy at the store, such as green beans or corn, you can also preserve at home using a pressure canner. Don’t have enough of any one crop to pressure can it? Then try a pressure canning recipe for mixed vegetable soup.

Although winter squash will keep well in a cool room, you can also cook, purée and then freeze them. Use the purée later for soups, pies, breads or other desserts, such as pumpkin ice cream. Try ‘Waltham’ butternut or ‘Burgess’ buttercup squash for sweet fruits that purée perfectly.

I recommend successively sowing your crops whenever possible to make way for more food preservation projects. Your spring plantings can yield a fresh harvest for summer, and, in many regions, your fall garden can offer another substantial harvest period. If you eat up all of your spring-planted cabbage in fresh slaws, for example, you can plant more cabbage in summer to furnish a fall crop for fermenting into sauerkraut and kimchi.

Planting Perennials and Long-Term Garden Planning

Most perennial crops take a few years to produce a harvest, but they’re worth the wait, as you’ll get many years of fruits and vegetables from that one planting. Consider planting asparagus and rhubarb, which are simple to freeze or can. Although most people think of rhubarb as a fruit thanks to the popularity of rhubarb pie, it’s actually a versatile vegetable that can add interest to soups, casseroles and main dishes. It even goes well in mixed drinks — think refreshing rhubarb mojitos.

All types of berries are great candidates for freezing or dehydrating, and, of course, they make wonderful jams and preserves. Most are also easy to grow, and they tend to multiply every year. If you lack space in your garden, establish berry bushes and vines as elements of edible landscaping throughout your property.

If you want fresh strawberries as well as some to preserve, you should plant both June-bearers and ever-bearers. Over a two- to three-week period, the June-bearers will produce a heavy crop perfect for freezing or making jam, while the ever-bearers will ripen gradually over the course of a couple of months, making them ideal for fresh eating through summer.

When choosing stone fruits to plant, such as peach and plum trees, select freestone, rather than clingstone, varieties. Flesh clinging to the pit isn’t a big deal when you’re eating a fresh fruit, but if you use freestone fruits for preserving, you’ll save a lot of time and ultimately get more fruit for canning, freezing or drying.

When planting apple trees, note that some varieties are firmer, which dry well, while some are softer and make better applesauce. Apple varieties also ripen at different times, which may affect your preservation game plan. For example, ‘Lodi’ apples ripen early and are a great sauce apple. You could make your sauce from that variety, and choose a firmer, late-season apple for drying and storing.

Year-to-Year Garden Planning

As you brainstorm your preserver’s garden, record your plans in a garden journal. This can be as simple as a spiral notebook, or as detailed as a digital journal and map made using a computer program, such as the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Vegetable Garden Planner.  Had I started keeping a journal earlier in my gardening life, the learning curve would’ve been much smoother. In your records, include a list of the varieties you’ve planted and keep notes throughout the season about what’s working and what’s not. Ideally, you’ll weigh your harvests throughout the season, or at least make rough notes on yields, so you’ll know how much each variety produced and whether you grew enough of any one crop. Also, jot down how much of each crop you’re able to stow — what you canned, froze, dried and fermented — so you can refer to this information when planning future gardens. Add kitchen observations to your notes now and then, too, about what’s sitting on your pantry shelves too long and what you’re using up faster than you anticipated.

Even if you create the best plan imaginable, odds are good that you’ll wind up with too much or too little of one food or another every year. If you fall short, barter with friends or visit your local farmers market to supplement what you’ve grown, so you can still fill your pantry and freezer. There are no rules against purchasing produce to preserve. And one thing is certain: Next winter when the snow flies, you’ll be grateful for all the food you were able to put by.

Source: Garden Planning for Preservation: Best Foods to Freeze, Can, Dehydrate and Ferment – Organic Gardening – MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Wise Pairings: Best Flowers to Plant with Vegetables – Organic Gardening – MOTHER EARTH NEWS

adelaide festival 7 6 17This is a long article but I thought it is worth sharing.

Wise Pairings: Best Flowers to Plant with VegetablesPlant a profusion of pollen- and nectar-rich flowers among your edible plants to naturally control pests, boost pollination and provide pretty pops of color. Here, learn some of the best flowers to plant with vegetables and get tips for arranging your space.By Rosalind Creasy | February/March 2015     As you plant flowers in the vegetable garden, play with colors and textures as the author does in her beautiful central California edible landscape.Photo by Rosalind Creasy In the 1970s, when I was a budding landscape designer newly exciting about strategizing the best flowers to plant with vegetables, I attended the garden opening of one of my clients. As I walked around anonymously, wine glass in hand, I overheard many guests exclaiming, “Do you see that? She put flowers in the vegetable garden!”In the United States, segregating vegetables from flowers still seems like such a hard-and-fast rule that when I lecture on edible landscaping, one of the first things I mention is that I’ve checked the Constitution, and planting flowers in a vegetable garden is not forbidden. Not only can you put flowers in with vegetables, you should.I admit that, in the ’70s, I first intermixed my flowers and vegetables because I was gardening in the front yard of my suburban home and hoped the neighbors wouldn’t notice or complain as long as the veggies were surrounded by flowers. Soon, however, I discovered I had fewer pest problems, I saw more and more birds, and my crops were thriving.It turns out that flowers are an essential ingredient in establishing a healthy garden because they attract beneficial insects and birds, which control pests and pollinate crops. Most gardeners understand this on some level. They may even know that pollen and nectar are food for insects, and that seed heads provide food for birds. What some may not realize is just how many of our wild meadows and native plants have disappeared under acres of lawn, inedible shrubs and industrial agriculture’s fields of monocultures, leaving fewer food sources for beneficial critters. With bees and other pollinators under a chemical siege these days and their populations in drastic decline, offering chemical-free food sources and safe havens is crucial. Plus, giving beneficial insects supplemental food sources of pollen and nectar throughout the season means they’ll stick around for when pests show up.-Advertisement- Envision an Integrated Edible LandscapeOne of the cornerstones of edible landscaping is that gardens should be beautiful as well as bountiful. Mixing flowers and vegetables so that both are an integral part of the garden’s design is another key. Let’s say you have a shady backyard, so you decide to put a vegetable garden in the sunny front yard. Many folks would install a rectangular bed or wooden boxes, and plant long rows of vegetables, maybe placing a few marigolds in the corners, or planting a separate flower border. In either case, the gardener will have added plants offering a bit of much-needed pollen and nectar.Integrating an abundance of flowers among the vegetables, however, would impart visual grace while also helping beneficial insects accomplish more. Plentiful food sources will allow the insects to healthily reproduce. Plus, most of their larvae have limited mobility. For example, if a female lady beetle or green lacewing lays her eggs next to the aphids on your violas, the slow-moving, carnivorous larvae won’t be able to easily crawl all the way across the yard to also help manage the aphids chowing down on your broccoli.In addition to bringing in more “good guys” to munch pests, flowers will give you more control because they can act as a useful barrier — a physical barrier as opposed to the chemical barriers created in non-organic systems. The hornworms on your tomato plant, for instance, won’t readily migrate to a neighboring tomato plant if there’s a tall, “stinky” marigold blocking the way.Create Cool Combos of Flowers and VegetablesTo begin establishing your edible landscape, you should plant flowers with a variety of colors and textures, different sizes and shapes, and an overall appealing aesthetic. After you’ve shed the notion that flowers and vegetables must be separated, a surprising number of crop-and-flower combinations will naturally emerge, especially if you keep in mind the following six guidelines.1. Stagger sizes. Pay attention to the eventual height and width of each flower and food plant (check seed packets and nursery tags), and place them accordingly. Tall plants, for the most part, belong in back. They’ll still be visible, but they won’t block the smaller plants from view or from sunshine. A good rule is to put the taller plants on the north and east sides of your garden, and the shorter ones on the south and west sides.-Advertisement-2. Consider proportions. A 6-foot-tall sunflower planted next to an 18-inch-tall cabbage would look lopsided. Instead, place

Source: Wise Pairings: Best Flowers to Plant with Vegetables – Organic Gardening – MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Fabulous Apple and Squash Recipe


Picture Courtesy of:  Can’t Stay Out Of The Kitchen

I have been making this since I got my first Betty Crocker cookbook as a child. My husband hates winter squash and yams but I love this recipe. It is really good. I use Sweet Mama, Kabocha and Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert squash, which ever is handy since I am not a fan of Butternut squash. A perfect blend of harvest fruits in the fall.

2 pounds butternut squash or other winter squash (see my choices above)
1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)
1/4 cup butter – melted
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mace (You can use cinnamon and/or nutmeg instead)
2 baking apples, (golden delicious, granny smith etc) cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut each squash in half and remove seeds and fibers; peel squash. Cut into 1/2-inch slices. (I find it easier to peel the squash once it is sliced into 1/2″ slices)

Stir together remaining ingredients except apples. Arrange squash in ungreased baking dish alternating with apple slices.

Sprinkle sugar mixture over top; cover with foil and bake 50 to 60 minutes or until squash is tender.

Eat Up!