Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Corn freaks?

I'm seeing something strange on my corn plants:

Underdeveloped tassels and silks on the same node.

It's occurring not just on one plant, but several.

This tends to occur on the upper nodes - above 2 regular ears.

Is this common or freaky?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tomato Lady

A couple of friends from Oakland stopped by our house recently. They had been touring Monterey all day with some other friends from DC. One of the male urbanites saw my "tomato table" and asked to try one. I said "Sure", since there were only about a hundred on the table.
The table of "honor and glory"!

Then, here it comes..."That's the best tomato I ever tasted!" says the urbanite.

I beamed.

Later that day, I found out from my friend that the tomato taster had nicknamed me "The Tomato Lady". Oh, yes, this made me happier than if he had nicknamed me "The Beautiful Lady from Monterey".

Mother Earth News is conducting a survey of all US tomato growers by region. Anybody who wants to participate can click here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=e1HH0dD96LHer4kqCFZFpQ_3d_3d. A summary of the results thus far is here. Mother Earth News plans to write up the final results for the February-March 2010 issue.

I wish they would have split up the regions a bit more. I'm included in the "Southwest" region for the survey, but I can guarantee you that I've got little to nothing in common with folks in Arizona.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Taste Tests 2009 - Early Girl F2

The next tomato I'm tasting is Early Girl F2. I saved see from a (hybrid) Early Girl tomato last year. This year I planted out two F2 seedlings. They are vastly different from each other! The one I'm tasting today has potato leaves and produces enormous (for me anyway) tomatoes up to 1.25 lbs. I named this one "Early Girl F2 East", since it grew east of the other seedling. (The other, regular-leaved plant produces small tomatoes.)

Seed Catalog Description:
No description, since it's an F2 (offspring of a hybrid). F2 is the abbreviation for the second filial generation.

Production and Earliness:
Early Girl F2 East produced the first ripe tomato on 7/24 - not bad for a huge beefsteak type tomato. I have collected 27 tomatoes from this plant weighing a total of 11.2 lbs.

Fruit Size, Color and Shape:
Ruffles galore. They are pretty, no doubt, but can make slicing complicated when catfacing occurs on the blossom end. The average tomato weighed 6.6 ounces. This plant definitely produced the largest tomatoes in my garden this year.

Plant Growth Habit:
Big, bushy and heavy plants. They need a strong support.

Typical beefsteak texture. Not the greatest, but not bad either.

They have a good flavor that is enhanced by salt. Medium acidity. Most of the flavor is in the gel, but the meat isn't bland. Traditional tomato taste.

Cooking and serving options:
This is a big slicing tomato. But I wonder what it would be like stuffed and roasted... Some of them are too much tomato for one person to eat in one sitting, so better to grab a friend.

Is it a winner?
The taste is good and the size is great. It's relatively early and has heavy production. Since there is no way to know what the offspring (F3) will be like, I'll probably have to grow out a few of them due to my curious nature.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

2009 Blotanical Awards

Well, I guess it's time for the 'superbowl' of Garden Blogging - the 2009 Blotanical Awards. I was quite surprised to see Jackie's Secret Garden as one of the top 5 nominees for "Best Vegetable Gardening Blog". Thanks to everybody who nominated me! The best thing about winning (if only I could be so fortunate) is not the fame (yeah right) or money (sheesh), but the award picture I could display! Witness the pic from 2008:

Cute, huh? Hey, wait! I didn't even have a blog in 2008, so how did I get that award sticker?!

And that one!

And THIS one?!

Ahh, the magic of computing... But, seriously, the Blotanicals are a real thing, just in case you think I've made them up. So, if you haven't voted, here's your chance! And you can go ahead and exclude this post when you are choosing the "Best Vegetable Gardening Blog". Thanks.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lady Who Will Grow Anything Except Grass

The neighbors in the cul-de-sac know me as "The Lady Who Will Grow Anything Except Grass In The Front Yard". They are not snide about it, just the opposite. One neighbor is tired of paying so much for water. He is constantly trying to get his grass to grow by moving around a sprinkler, so that he can spend his free time mowing. (Just kidding, he hates mowing.) Needless to say, he liked my installation of drought-resistant plants in the main part of the yard. Also, I believe the nice flowers and textures gives the neighbors something to look at besides a sea of green grass. I mean we are all facing into a circle, right? You hope that there's something nice to see outside your front window. Sometimes when I see the neighbors out in the cul-de-sac, they'll ask me questions about the garden. "Is that an artichoke?" "Did you eat any of them?" "Is that corn behind it?"

One neighbor told me that "The Crazy-Looking Lady Who Lives One Street Over and Walks Her Dog" had a plan/plot to take my artichokes. Oh, no, I thought. I also found out that she's the one who lets her dog take a dump in my yard and doesn't pick it up. I don't want to have to confront this lady. I tend to avoid confrontation as much as possible. But I WILL stand up for my ceanothus plant!
The only bright side of this story is that the color of the dried poo blends in with the wood chip mulch. Hey, I'm trying, here!

My ceanothus doesn't deserve to be covered in dog crap. An utter disregard for plant life might be why "The Crazy-Looking Lady Who Lives One Street Over and Walks Her Dog" grows a wide array of unchanging plastic and also metal plants in her front yard. Nice.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Taste Tests 2009 - Stupice

The next tomato up is Stupice.

Seed Catalog Description:
This potato-leaf heirloom from Czechoslovakia is a cold-tolerant tomato that bears an abundance of very sweet, flavorful 2 to 3-inch, deep red fruit. A 1988 comparative tasting in the San Francisco area gave it first place for its wonderful sweet/acid, tomatoey flavor and production.
Days: 52
Size: Indeterminate
Color: Red
Season: Early-Season
Type: Heirloom

Production and Earliness:
Stupice is my queen of earliness this year. The first ripe tomato was picked on 7/4. I'm growing 2 Stupice plants this year and the average number of fruits per plant is 139 weighing a total of 8.65 lbs.

Fruit Size, Color and Shape:
The average Stupice tomato weighs one ounce, but in reality there is quite a range of sizes. My plants have produced tomatoes between 0.5 ounce to ~2 ounces or so. The shape is also variable from roundish to heart shape. They seem to be prone to fasciation, but that doesn't bother me. The color inside and out is the classic red.

Plant Growth Habit:
Stupice is a potato-leaved variety. The plants are around 6 feet tall.

Good texture. Average meat to juice ratio.

Stupice has a good, bright and sweet taste. It is similar to Camp Joy, but not quite as flavorful. Medium acidity.

Cooking and serving options:
Hmmm...Stupice is a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of tomato as far as cooking and serving goes. It doesn't really lend itself to any particular purpose, but slicing for a side dish, salad, or sandwich would work just fine.

Is it a winner?
I feel like I'm really supposed to love Stupice. I've heard other people talk about how great it is and it's been hyped as great for the cool, coastal climate. It is good, but it's definitely not my favorite. I did appreciate it's earliness - first in the garden to ripen. But Camp Joy is similar in size to Stupice and I like it's flavor better. I hate to let Stupice go unplanted next year, but I just might do it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Good People Make Good Neighbors

I'm sure you heard the saying, "Good fences make good neighbors." I can't deny that this isn't true, but I do know that there's more to it. We moved into our house on February 29, 2008, but had already met one set of neighbors back in January while looking at the house. They pulled into the cul-de-sac one day as we walked around looking at the house from the sidewalk. "Are ya'll the new neighbors?" "We hope so!" "Well, alright. Good luck!" We were lucky...and we continue to be. Since our initial meeting we have been blessed by this couple time and time again. They are that genuine, "down home" type of people and they've been married for 50 years. We have borrowed every manner of tool from them. Pipe wrench? They've got all sizes - even the ultra-huge 2 footer, which is what we happened to need. How do we get some screws in this cement? Oh, you'll need to use my hammer drill...be right back. Sawhorses? I've got 2 kinds.

Today they really went over the top for us...rhubarb clumps! Several of them. They originally came from another cul-de-sac neighbor many years ago. Yes, we have the best cul-de-sac in town!
Look at this beast. Those look like tree roots!

Strawberry-rhubarb pie, here we come!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Taste Tests 2009 - Camp Joy

The next tomato up is Camp Joy.

Seed Catalog Description:
Heavy bearing heirloom variety that offers an abundance of luscious 1" fruit with huge, well-balanced, sweet tomato flavors. One of Gary Ibsen's favorite cherry varieties. Strong disease resistance. Perfect for snacking or salads.
Days: 81
Size: Indeterminate
Color: Cherry
Season: Mid-Season
Type: Heirloom

Production and Earliness:
Camp Joy produced a ripe tomato on 7/8. Great, I thought! But then my 2 plants made me wait until 7/24 for another taste. So I consider this pretty good earliness. The average plant has produced 96 tomatoes so far, weighing 3.27 lbs.

Fruit Size, Color and Shape:
This is a small sized tomato, think cherry to golf ball range. They are nice, round, and red. The average Camp Joy tomato weighs half an ounce. I like how all of the Camp Joy tomatoes are a similar size - there are very few little runts. This doesn't seem to happen with most of the other varieties I'm growing, which have a much larger range of sizes.

Plant Growth Habit:
These plants can grow! The catalog description says they have "strong disease resistance". I think their strategy is to simply outgrow diseases. I'm thinking that if my plants weren't growing all over the place, but were instead tied to a really tall stake, they would be 12 feet tall by now!

Lots of gel and seeds and juice. Rather creamy texture - nice.

They have a nice, sweet flavor with a hint of earthy-ness. There is medium acidity and salt enhances the flavor. Most of the flavor is contained in the gel, not in the 'meat'. I really liked the flavor and so did my husband. We both picked Camp Joy over Lahman Pink and Nepal.

Cooking and serving options:
Camp Joy is a snacking tomato, and a darn good one. Though it's not meaty enough to be considered for sauce, that's ok. I've enjoyed slicing the larger ones for topping my tomato sandwiches. And the smaller ones are great in salads.

Is it a winner?
I like this tomato. The great, sweet flavor and (relative) earliness are it's best qualities. I'll likely be growing this one again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day - September 2009

Sunflower for the "Great Sunflower Project". The goal of the project to understand the population dynamics of bees throughout North America. Individual people are encouraged to report bee sightings on their sunflowers to scientists who are studying the awesome creatures. Unfortunately, after 2 bee watching periods, I have seen no bees! In spite of this, I don't really think my garden is a "bee desert". In fact, I see lots of bees, but they are just on other plants, like lavender and squash.

The rest of my blooms are on orchids. This is Masdevallia coccinea alba "Snowbird" AM/AOS.

Mormolyca ringens

Masdevallia carruthersiana

Paphiopedilum Asteroid

Masdevallia Machu Picchu ''Crown Point" AM/AOS - 1st prize winner at the local fair.

Maclellanara Pagan Love Song var 'Golden Realm' HCC/AOS
I love the really tall spike...

...and the big, waxy flowers. They look like yellow starfish with black spots.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Taste Tests 2009 - Lahman Pink

The next tomato up is Lahman Pink.

Seed Catalog Description:
a.k.a. Grace Lahman's Pink. A TomatoFest favorite. One of the most popular tasting tomatoes at the Heirloom Garden Show. Our Tomatofest organic tomato seeds produce indeterminate, big, regular-leaf plants that yield tremendous amounts of 10-12 ounce, blemish-free, smooth, meaty and juicy, pink tomatoes that are richly sweet with a clean slightly acidic finish in the mouth. This tomato bears heavily until frost. Great tomato for slicing fresh or canning whole. Highly recommended as a farmer's market tomato because of the visual appeal and flavor. A good tomato for cooler growing conditions.
Days: 80
Size: Indeterminate.
Color: Pink
Season: Mid-Season
Type: Open Pollinated

Production and Earliness:
My Lahman Pink tomato plant has produced 10 tomatoes so far. The first tomato was ripe on 8/11 - very late, since the first ripe tomato I picked this year was on July 4.

Fruit Size, Color and Shape:
It's red! I don't know why they called the tomato a 'pink'. My picture isn't the greatest, but I promise you, it's red. Lahman Pink has produced 2.96 lbs and the average tomato weighs 4.75 ounces. The shape is very ruffled and quite pretty to look at.

Plant Growth Habit:
A bushy, full plant, but not reaching for the stars.

Meaty, few seeds. Lahman Pink has a creamy texture - nice.

It has classic, good tomato flavor, but there is a heavy, acidic, aftertaste 'kick'. I'm not sure I really like that much acidity, it kinda burns my mouth. Salt enhances the already nice flavor. Most of the flavor is in the walls of the tomato, not as much as in gel. This is quite unusual for tomatoes, as far as I can tell.

Cooking and serving options:
This is a good slicing tomato, but it would also be great for sauce because of it's meaty-ness. The only problem is low production. I'll have to wait to see the total production at the end of the season, but I'm thinking Lahman Pink won't be a stand-out.

Is it a winner?
Hmm...it's got good flavor, but maybe a bit too much acid for me. It's got great creamy texture, cute curves, and lots of "meat" for saucing. If the total production comes out at least average, then I'll probably grow it again.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Anti-Tree-Toppers, Unite!

"Can you believe what they did to me?"

I had never really seen the practice of tree topping before. That is, until I moved to California. It's absolutely rampant here! At first, I thought maybe there is some really good (and secret) reason that people do this. As it turns out, there's NOT!

The Arbor Day Foundation and many other reliable resources clearly spell out that tree topping in neither good for the trees, nor effective for the purposes that people are trying to achieve.

I feel so sad to look at topped trees. Some people in our neighborhood recently decided to cut off all of the leaves on their Magnolia tree (photo above). Why? Seriously, why did they do that?!

Some people top trees for fear they are getting too large. In fact, the topping process tend to create a surge of bushy growth from several growing points. Down the road, the topped tree may be even larger than if it had not been topped in the first place.
Proper pruning can remove excessive growth without the problems topping creates.

My Top 8 reasons to avoid tree topping:

8. Topping starves the tree

7. Topping a tree will NOT reduce storm damage, instead it likely increases storm damage

6. Topped trees can decrease your property value

5. Topping Stresses Trees (increased susceptibility to insects and disease)

4. Topping Causes Decay

3. Topping Creates Hazards (shoots that form at new growing points are not anchored securely)

2. Topping Is Expensive

1. Topping Makes Trees Ugly

And the "Ugly" isn't over when (if) new branches grow. It will continue to look unnatural...forever.

I think Jim McCausland said it best in a blog post for Sunset Magazine:
Tree topping is usually evil, always expensive, rarely effective, and dependably ugly.


Online Tree Topping Resources




Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Gardening-related Book Review: Farm City

Farm City
The Education of an Urban Farmer
by Novella Carpenter

The tale of a woman and her inner city farm...complete with pigs and all!

The book begins like this:
"I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto. My back stairs are dotted with chicken turds. Bales of straw come undone in the parking area next to my apartment. I harvest lettuce in an abandoned lot. I awake in the mornings to the sounds of farm animals mingled with the neighbor's blaring car alarm."
There's been a lot of hype surrounding this book. I've heard about it several times in various ways. I was 5th in line for it at the library and had to wait several weeks to get it. And it's even been reviewed on NPR. Would it live up to all the buzz? My answer? An emphatic "YES!" I absolutely loved it. Novella is a very entertaining writer. I was so sad to see the last page coming. Have you ever savored a book before?

The book is all about an urban farm that Novella and her boyfriend created in an abandoned lot next to their apartment in Oakland...the rough part of Oakland. It's a beautiful tale of hope and survival. It's gritty, real, funny and clever. If you've ever gardened in an urban or suburban setting, it a must read. Unless you are too prissy, of course. Dirt under your fingernails is a prerequisite ;) It's not only about the "Farm"...it's also about the "Urban". Take this passage for instance:
"So we were in our element in Oakland, with its mammoth piles of junk placed on curbs, clutter dropped under overpasses and, sometimes, in the middle of the street. The junk piles became so bad that at one point there were billboard ads urging people to DUMP BOYFRIENDS, NOT APPLIANCES. It was a strange campaign - stranger when half the lights on the billboard went out, leaving only the illuminated command DUMP BOYFRIENDS."
Yeah. It's freaking awesome.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Taste Tests 2009 - Nepal

The next tomato up is Nepal.

Seed Catalog Description:
Originally from Farmers Seed Co., from India's Himalaya Mountains. Big sprawling plant pruducing abundant crop of 6 to 10 -oz., smooth, round, scarlet-red fruits with little cracking and intense sweet tomatoey flavor. A great keeper if picked green late in summer and allowed to ripen when wrapped in paper.
Days: 75
Size: Indeterminate
Color: Red
Season: Mid-Season
Type: Heirloom

Production and Earliness:
My one Nepal plant has produced 14 tomatoes thus far in the season. They weigh in at a total of 5.28 lbs or ~6 ounces each...not bad for a central coast plant! The first tomato was picked on 7.24, which is kinda late.

Fruit Size, Color and Shape:
Nepal has an orangish-red color when ripe. The inside is a bit pinkish. The shape is nice and round - no ruffles here.

Plant Growth Habit:
Nepal isn't a mountain climber, thought the name might suggest differently. My plant is only about 6 feet tall and relatively compact.

Nepal is a firm tomato, definitely non-mushy.

There is very little flavor in the "walls" of the tomato, practically all of it is in the gel. There is quite a bit of acidity, yet the taste is simply not there.

Cooking and serving options:
Since there's not much flavor, I can't get very excited about serving options.

Is it a winner?
Sadly, not a winner. I had hoped that this variety would have a great taste, especially since it produced pretty large tomatoes in my garden - some weighed almost a pound. Ah, well. The search continues!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Old Canning Jars Are Brought Back to Life

My husband's grandmother (Nanna) gave me her old canning jars:
I love this old box that she kept them in. The company who made the jars seems quite proud of the "magic button". Maybe it had just recently been introduced.

Nanna also gave me some lids and rings. I thought this was a fun picture that compares the old with the new...the rings themselves haven't changed. The lids have changed a little bit and packaging has certainly changed a lot.
I wonder how old the jars and lids are...Nanna is 80... One of the jars commemorates the 200th birthday of the US. It proudly shows the liberty bell and the dates 1776-1976. So they might be from the 70s. A few jars look older than that to me, because they have a strange dent in the bottom. My husband thinks the dent was placed on the jars, so that the factory machinery could grab onto it as the jars were being made. May your gardens prosper and your jars seal!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Taste Tests 2009 - Sungold F2

The 2nd taste test for 2009 is Sungold. I'm actually growing and tasting an F2 plant because the original Sungold is a hybird. Sungold has a reputation for great taste and heavy production, even in cool weather.

I realize that this taste test is a little bit irrelevant in some respects, being that is a test of an F2. But it's important to me, since I love Sungold and I love open-pollinated plants. I have a mission to create an open-pollinated Sungold-like-plant. So, I going to continue to try and stabilize an OP version by selecting the best plant each year and saving seed. Eventually, I hope to have a great OP Sungold. When I get this future strain, I'll name it Sungold-OP. Or maybe Jackie's Lucky Sungold OP. Or...maybe I'll buy a race horse and name it that ;)

Anyway, the next tomato in the taste test series is Sungold F2.

Seed Catalog Description:
There is none. I got a hybrid seedling from a neighbor who bought too many for his garden last year. I saved seed from the 2008 plant and planted it out in 2009. I was able to fit in 2 Sungold F2 plants. One produced red (not the characteristic orange) fruit and is ok, but not great. The other is awesome! It produces bigger and more fruit than the original plant from 2008. It has incredible branching inflorescences that are loaded with fruit. This is the plant I'm reviewing here.

Production and Earliness:
My plant has produced 304 (dang!) tomatoes so far this season (first part of Sept.). The total production weighs in at 5.6 lbs. On average, the fruits weigh 0.3 ounce each. (Hey! It's a cherry tomato!) I picked the first ripe tomato on 7/08/09.

Fruit Size, Color and Shape:
This Sungold F2 produces bright, orange, cherry-sized tomaotes. They are dime- to half-dollar sized. Most fruit are quarter-sized. They are 'well rounded'. When sliced, they have a peachy-yellow coloring inside. If eaten when slightly under-ripe, the inside will be green and yellow. Slightly under-ripe Sungolds are golden with green shoulders.

Plant Growth Habit:
This Sungold F2 is not shy about it's height. It is currently about 9 feet tall and has regular tomato leaves.

There is little juice in Sungold, but instead it is more meaty.

The taste is citrusy and punchy. It is medium-high in acidity. If eaten when slightly under-ripe, the flavor is really strong with even more acidity. I prefer to eat them when they are fully ripe and, therefore, fully orange. Salt weakens the flavor somewhat.

Cooking and serving options: I usually just eat them fresh. But I've also halved them and used them as a topping for homemade pizza - yum. There have been so many this year, that I've also dried some in the dehydrator.

Is it a winner?
This Sungold F2 is a winner in my book! I'm hoping that its progeny (selfed) will be very similar to the parent plant. It produced early and heavily. And the flavor doesn't quit. I like a tomato with some kick and Sungold F2 has it. I'll definitely be growing out a few of the F3 generation next year.