Saturday, October 31, 2009

Genome of late blight is sequenced - a podcast

I heard an interesting podcast on Science Friday recently. The topic? Late blight. The organism that has devastated tomato and potato crops in the eastern US this year. I had thought that late blight was a fungus...but no! It's now classified as a water mold. With a flagellum and all!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Of germ plasm and royal families

"The fact is that we are running out of a resource as vital as petroleum. The technical name for it is germ plasm and it means the genetic plant material whose biological diversity the hybridist could, until recently, draw on to a practically limitless extent. But the genetic base of our major food crops is narrowing steadily. An analogy might be the royal family that, having pursued a policy of perpetual intermarriage, winds up with many of its members afflicted with hereditary blindness, hemophilia or congenital idiocy. According to a recent study, most modern agriculture has come to be based on fewer than thirty plant species, and some of the consequences are already visible. Genetic diversity is agriculture's first line of defense against pest, diseases and adverse climatic conditions. Endless fields of genetically identical hybrid crops are, on the contrary, an invitation to disaster - disasters such as the wheat stem rust of 1954 and the southern corn blight of 1970, in which thousands of acres were destroyed."

-Eleanor Perenyi Green Thoughts - A Writer in the Garden (1981) p. 102

Sounds like something you might read today. Maybe in Organic Gardening magazine or the New York Times. Eleanor, born in 1918, was far ahead of her time.

She is completely right in defending genetic diversity, but I think we need to take it one step further. It's not enough to just grow the rare varieties, like watermelon radishes and Cherokee Trail of Tears beans. We need to continue to seek out well adapted individuals and save their seed. Plagues rise and fall and we, as gardeners and farmers, the caretakers of the earth, must be on the lookout for those plants that have the ability to sustain us through whatever may come. I'm not proclaiming an imminent doomsday here, but I do think this is an important issue. Maybe someone had a tomato plant in their garden on the east coast that was not affected by late blight, when all the others were. Wouldn't that be incredible?!

I personally haven't been successful at hybridizing vegetables. I tried it with my tomatoes this year, but to no avail. (Though I've been successful with fuchsias.) Others say it's easy to do with peas and squash, though.

We really shouldn't depend on seed companies to do all of the seed saving for us...most of those companies are owned by Monsanto, anyway. If you don't want to hybridize, try simply saving your own seeds, it's fun. As an added bonus, it creates a bit of that "stick it to the man" kind of feeling.

Oh yeah, Monsanto? You think you can make me pay you for your stupid, tasteless, F1 seeds?

HaHaHa, I've outsmarted you! So, take this!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

GenY and gardening

Recently, on Garden Rant there have been a couple of guest posts on GenerationY (those born between 1977 and 1986) and how they relate to gardening. I don't believe that everyone in this generation fits the stereotypes of GenY, but overall I think it is possibly a useful exercise to look at generations as a whole.

GenY has been described as "a schizophrenic generation that is simultaneously self-absorbed yet philanthropic, craves information and connectedness, but seeks out only self-referential sources, is materialistic, impatient and in search of instant gratification yet feels a deep and genuine connection to the planet." Again, this is certainly not accurate for everyone, in my opinion.

Isabel Hardman of Fennel and Fern describes her gardening life as a GenY-er and how she feels left out of the current gardening scene. She even believes that maybe she's not welcome there.

I, too, am a GenY-er, apparently. I don't really feel left out of the gardening scene...but that's because I've never been afraid to create my own scene. (For better or worse!) Most of the time, the older generations have been encouraging to me and my vegetable pursuits. My neighbor, who is 81, has given me several cuttings from her garden and a jar of her homemade jam. My other neighbor, who is at least 2 decades older than me, actually asks me questions about what to do regarding problems in his vegetable beds. But not always are my interactions so lovely. I can attest to the occasional discouragement from the "chemical generation". Some of the older folks don't even know what organic means. They seem to believe it is some "new fangled" hippy thing. When's old as dirt - literally. There's a generation gap here, to be sure.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Free Farm Stand...How Beautiful!

This is one of the most beautiful things I've seen in a long time. I'm considering trying to start something similar in Seaside, but on a smaller scale. Just need some friends to get onboard...

The Free Farm Stand from Boris Igor A on Vimeo.

You can visit the blog to find out more.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Book Review - Golden Gate Gardening

Golden Gate Gardening: the complete guide to year-round food gardnening in the San Francisco Bay area & coastal California (2nd edition)
by Pam Pierce

This book has taught me so much over the last 2 years. It is so thorough and detailed. I believe everyone who grows vegetables near the coast in central California should read it, if not own it. I have checked it out from the library 3 times this year. (Yes, I know I should just buy it!) My Google Documents contain several scanned pages from the book, such as the monthly planting times for all of the major crops, as well as suggestions on crop rotations. The book begins with an introduction to our region (and subregions) and the difficulties and rewards of growing here. There are, of course, lots of tips for beginners, but I truly believe that even the most seasoned gardener has something to learn from Pam. I really enjoy the detailed write up of each type of crop. We're not just talking about the major ones either. Pam lets us in on all her growing secrets, from the mildly exotic kohlrabi, to the obscure Bolivian Sunroot (one of her new favorites). Golden Gate Gardening is a must read for central CA, ya'll!

Just checked Amazon and the soon-to-be-released 3rd edition is available for pre-order ($20). The book cover says that it will now include info on edible flowers and cut flowers, as well as fruit trees and shrubs. It should be shipping to my house in February 2010!

By the way, I just found out that Pam has a blog, aptly named Golden Gate Gardener.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day - October 2009

Making a comeback after it was nearly killed to the ground during a freeze last winter.



Orchid: Odcm. Tiger Crow 'Golden Girl'

Orchid: Spathoglottis

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vegetable bartering

There is a restaurant located deep in Carmel Valley. It's only open on Monday nights. There are no menus and the curtains are cut out of paper, like paper dolls. And you have to "know somebody" to get in. That's not to say that you have to know somebody who is rich or famous or powerful. No, you just have to know somebody who knows the chef. The General Store dinners are related to the chef's catering business - a chance to try out new recipes on friends. The cuisine is all about local, organic, seasonal food. A nice change from the typical catered affair. We have only been to the General Store once. It takes about an hour or so to get there on steep winding roads. When we arrived, the place was packed. A lively atmosphere inside the old wooden building. Bare bones everything, except the food. It was absolutely delicious! The meal was not particularly unusual. This is to say that I recognized everything on my plate: roasted chicken, steamed romano beans, roasted potatoes, and a salad with local organic tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. The beauty was in the freshness of the ingredients and the careful preparation!

I have a friend who lives in the valley near the Cachagua General Store. She grows loads of vegetables and has often been asked by the chef to bring in some of her extra exchange for dinner with her husband. That's a reason to live an hour away from civilization in the valley, if I ever heard of one. This year the chef asked her to grow out some Aji pepper seeds that he had acquired from Peru.

To be growing vegetables directly for a fantastic restaurant - what a thrill! Now I just need to find my own local, organic-type restaurant...and another half acre ;)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

If You Ain't Drippin', You Ain't Livin'

I installed drip irrigation for the first time this spring and I will never turn back. It's that good! The plants have grown so much better this year, as compared to last. And the best part - I don't have to spend hours with the hose, wondering if I've watered long enough yet. I don't even have to think about it now, the drip lines are on a timer. The slow, deep watering is the closest thing you can get to a soaking, gentle rain.

I'm sure some people are afraid of the "plumbing skills" required to install drip. I know I was! But it's really not that difficult. Really.

The simplest type of drip line attaches directly to your spigot. You can get a splitter, so you still have a place for your hose, etc.

Or, if you have an underground system of PVC, you can attach your drip to that line. That's what I have in the main vegetable garden in the backyard.

There are lots of websites that show you how to install the system properly. Just google "how to install drip irrigation". I learned a lot here. But don't let that website make you think it's too complicated. It's not.

I spent less than $100 on my system. I really like the "drip tape" that has emitters pre-installed. (Emitters are sophisticated holes where the water comes out.) Plastic pipe with pre-installed emitters means that you don't have to spend hours trying to insert little plastic emitters into your 1/2" plastic pipe. I did just this for the greenhouse. Trust me, it's no fun. The drip line that I installed in the vegetable garden this year comes with emitters spaced every 18", which seems to work just fine. You can buy little T and L fittings and endcaps.

I water for 2 hours twice a week - actually the timer and drip line do the watering, not me. That might be too much for some people with clay soil, but I have very sandy soil. One of my lines (in the front yard) is currently not attached to a timer. So I'll warn you that I've been known to turn it on and forget about it. Two hours comes and goes and I've totally forgotten. Sometimes I've watered for 24 hours - not good. I've learned to set a timer on the microwave (or any other time-keeping device) to remind me to shut it off.

If you get a lot of rain in your area throughout the year, then lucky you! But for the rest of us, drip is the way to go. Especially in CA, where we basically have a monsoon climate with lots of rain in the winter and not a drop for the whole summer.

Go on, get your drip on!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Make way for the vegetables, ye lowly concrete!

I'm getting new raised beds in the backyard! Whoo-hooh! Last weekend we went to work breaking up part of the concrete slab in the backyard. I said "we", but really it was my husband who did the concrete busting with the sledge hammer. I brought him ice water and helped pick up the broken pieces. It only took us about an hour to complete our mission. We thought we were going to have to rent a concrete cutter to cut the slab off. But lo and behold, when we moved the pavers, the slab below was already cut...almost exactly where we had wanted! I was very glad we didn't have to deal with a scary, loud concrete cutter. Now I have space for 3 raised beds on the east side of the yard.

"Make way for the vegetables, ye lowly concrete!"

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Book Review - Harvest: a year in the life of an organic farm

Harvest: a year in the life of an organic farm
by Nicola Smith

I grabbed this book from the library shelf for 2 reasons:
1) the title
2) the cover picture

I was slightly afraid that the book might inspire me to give it all up, buy a little plot of land, and start a CSA. That's basically what this married couple of farmers did after finishing their Master's Degrees in Science. Sounds romantic, no? But then comes drought, animal sickness, and a harsh Vermont winter. The farming couple struggles to survive all of this while simultaneously raising a small child. I read this book rather quickly, in 2 days. I admit skipping through some paragraphs that I believed were extraneous. There is a strong emphasis on the "animal" side of farming, with very little said about the growing of the vegetables. It is a personal tale, not a how-to book. I shouldn't have been surprised to see so much text devoted to the animals, since this was the primary focus of the farmers. I guess I'm just biased toward plants, since I don't raise animals and eat very, very few of the ones that live on land. Anyway, I liked the book, but I'm not rushing out to tell my friends about it. And no, I don't want to become a professional farmer. This book scared that dream right out of my head!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tomato-pesto-cheese Savory Pie

It's been cool around here lately, so I've been thinking about warm, savory dishes for dinner. Tonight I made a "Tomato-pesto-cheese Savory Pie". The original recipe was posted on FarmGirl Fare - thanks, Susan.

It's a great way to use up a bunch of homegrown tomatoes and basil. Since I don't have a wheat field or a cow, I had to purchase the other main ingredients ;) I added some soy chorizo to the pie (not in the original recipe) and we liked the spicy kick that it added. My husband thinks that artichoke hearts would also be good in there and I agree. That's one of the beauties of this recipe - it's adaptable to what you have on hand. Another is that you can freeze the leftovers for later. I was surprised by how nice the "crust" came out. It tasted like a moist, cheesy biscuit!

Here is the recipe from Susan.

For The Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour (I use
Heartland Mill organic)
4 teaspoons baking powder (make sure it's fresh!) **
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick/ 4 ounces) cold butter
1 cup (about 2-1/2 ounces) finely grated pecorino romano (or other hard cheese, such as parmesan)
3/4 cup milk

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix in the butter using a pastry blender, fork, or your fingers until the largest pieces are pea-size. Stir in the pecorino romano. Pour in the milk and use a fork to gently form a soft dough. Do not overmix. Divide the dough in two pieces, making one slightly larger than the other.

On a generously floured surface, use a rolling pin to gently roll out the larger piece of dough into a circle about 12 inches across, rolling from the center outward. Sprinkle dough with flour if sticky. Gently fold the dough in half and transfer into a 9-inch pie pan. If the dough tears, simply press it back together with your fingers. Roll out the remaining piece of dough into a slightly smaller circle and set aside (or wait until you have the filling in the pan and then roll it out).

Assembling The Pie:
1 cup pesto, divided
2-1/2 pounds of the best plum tomatoes you can find, sliced lengthwise into 4 or 5 slices each (I used San Marzanos & Golden Romas to add extra color as well as more flavor)
8 ounces mozzarella, grated or thinly sliced (I used a fresh log which can't be grated)
1/2 cup (about 1-1/4 ounces) finely grated pecorino romano (or other hard cheese such as parmesan)

Using a spoon, spread 1/2 cup of pesto over the bottom layer of dough in the pie pan. Layer about half of the tomatoes over the pesto. Cover the tomatoes with about 2/3 of the mozzarella. Layer on the rest of the tomatoes (you may not need them all to fill the pan). Carefully spread the remaining 1/2 cup of pesto over the tomatoes. Cover with the remaining mozzarella and the pecorino romano.

Roll out the second piece of dough if you haven't already, and carefully place it over the pie. Fold the edge of the bottom piece over the top piece and press together to seal. Use your fingers to make a crimped design around the edge. If any dough falls apart, simply press it back together with your fingers. Don't worry if it isn't perfect. The handmade look has much more charm.

Cut four slits in the top of the pie for steam to escape. Bake at 375 degrees F in the center of the oven until the crust is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Cover the edge with foil if it starts to brown too quickly.

Let cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. Crust edges may be sampled much sooner. (As with nearly any fruit pie, if you cut into it while it is still warm, some juice will seep out. If you plan to store any leftover pie right in the pan, simply drain off the juice so the bottom crust doesn't become soggy.) Or cool pie completely, cover, and refrigerate.

You can also freeze this pie. I wrapped a hunk in foil then put it in a zipper freezer bag and tossed it into the freezer. I defrosted the whole piece overnight in the refrigerator, then cut it in half and reheated the slices in my beloved toaster convection oven for 15-20 minutes at 325 degrees, each on a fresh piece of foil and covered lightly with the foil so the tops wouldn't brown too quickly. The bottom crust was a bit soggy, but I'm pretty sure that was because I let the pie sit in the fridge three days before deciding to freeze it. Otherwise it looked and tasted as if it had just come out of the oven the first time. Hint: If you plan to freeze the entire pie and don't want to freeze it in the pan, use a disposable pie pan or line your pan with a piece of heavy duty foil so you can simply lift the whole cooled pie out of the pan.

(From farmgirl fare blog)

I didn't need the foil on the crust and 40 minutes was the perfect amount of cooking time. Susan gives a more detailed discussion of the recipe on her blog post.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Golden Rule of Corn

I grew corn this year for the first time. Although it's maybe not the best choice for a relatively small garden, I decided that I had genetics on my side. My grandfather grew it for a living. And really, I simply love the taste of fresh sweet corn. The reason many people with small gardens choose not to grow it is because the ratio of food to growing space is very low for corn. In addition, sweet corn is relatively cheap at the market...usually around $1 for 2 organic ears. Nevertheless, I forged ahead and decided to grow the front yard. It grew quite well, I'd say.
Happy corn growing - check out the pink silks!

After picking about 2-3 ears from each of the 8 corn stalks over the last few weeks, I chopped down the plants today. My husband looked at me in dismay and said "That's all?" "Yep, that's all...that's corn," I said.
This is the first ear I picked:

You may have noticed that I said 8 plants. The Golden Rule of Corn planting is that you should have at least a 4x4 foot area planted in solid corn. That's about 16 plants spaced 12" apart. This is so that there is enough pollen present to pollinate the silks. Planting only one long row is said to result in low pollination. Imagine if the predominate wind direction is perpendicular to the row...little to no pollen will fall on the silks.

For some reason, I thought that this rule really didn't apply to me and my corn. I planted 2 rows of 4 plants each. I would have planted more, but tomatoes were dominating the garden this year, so space was at a premium. As it turns out, several ears looked like this:

Notice all of the unpollinated kernels!

Next year, if I grow corn, I'll be playing by it's rules.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Taste Tests 2009 - Paul Robeson

The next tomato in the taste test series is Paul Robeson.

Paul Robeson, the man for whom the tomato was named (from Wikipedia):
Paul LeRoy Bustill Robeson (April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) was an American actor of film and stage, All-American and professional athlete, writer, multi-lingual orator, lawyer, and basso profundo concert singer who was also noted for his wide-ranging social justice activism. A forerunner of the civil rights movement, Robeson was a trade union activist, peace activist, fellow traveler, Phi Beta Kappa Society laureate, and a recipient of the Spingarn Medal and Stalin Peace Prize.
Sounds like a cool dude!

Seed Catalog Description:
Seed for this Russian heirloom was made available by Marina Danilenko, a Moscow seedswoman. This favorite tomato was named after the operatic artist who won acclaim as an advocate of equal rights for Blacks. His artistry was admired world-wide, especially in the Soviet Union. This "black" beefsteak tomato is slightly flattened, round, and grows to 4-inches. It’s deep, rich colors stand it apart from others…a dusky, dark-red, with dark-green shoulders, and red flesh in it’s center. Very flavorful fruits with luscious, earthy, exotic flavors and good acid/sweet balance. Paul Robeson (aka Pol Robeson) won "Best of Show" at Carmel TomatoFest. As this variety originates from Siberia and sets fruits at lower temps, it is an excellent choice for cooler growing regions.

Production and Earliness:
My plant has produced 24 tomatoes so far this season. The total production weighs in at 5 lbs. I picked the first ripe tomato on 8/03/09.

Fruit Size, Color and Shape:
On average, the fruits weigh 3.4 ounces each, though the size varies quite a bit. They are prone to "funkyness" on the bottom:

It's hard to categorize the color of this tomato...reddish, mahogany, greenish, orangish. Each tomato is different. Some have an orange "base color" when ripe and others have a red "base color".Plant Growth Habit:
This plant is regular-leaved. It was relatively more susceptible to the disease that affected my tomatoes this year. (I don't know for sure what the disease was, but I'm guessing early blight.)

The texture is a little bit mealy and somewhat crumbly.

The taste is hard to describe. It's earthy, slightly citrusy, medium-low acidity. Each bite is different! Because the fruit ripens to different colors, the flavor of each tomato is a bit different. I like the flavor - definitely. But it's hard to put it into words.

Cooking and serving options:
It's a slicer, through and through.

Is it a winner?
I like the flavor a lot. I appreciate the fact that every tomato tastes slightly different, but all are good. Drawbacks include the low yield and the fact that disease symptoms showed up early and strongly. In spite of this, I'll be growing it again next year because of the "delicious factor".