The Slow Food garden situated in the center of Indianapolis incorporates mind and body in its teaching while gardeners grow unique veggies. Here is some of what I saw:
Does anyone remember the series of letters Carol from May Dreams Gardens and Mary Ann from Gardens of the Wild, Wild West and I wrote to each other last summer profiling our vegetable gardens? We enjoyed our comparisons, and hope you did too, because we’re doing it again this year. If you like, feel free to do something similar with your friends like plant the same variety of a particular vegetable or flower and compare notes. Think of it as a weekly “Dear Friend and Gardener” meme.
Dear Carol and Mary Ann and Gardening Friends Everywhere,
I sit in my cozy kitchen/office typing as I watch the sun rise in all its golden glory. Yesterday, the north wind wasn’t too biting, so I got outside for the second time this year. For me, and many other gardeners across the U.S., winter has stayed way past its welcome. I can’t wait for even milder temperatures and the end of snow before planting, or I might miss the window of opportunity. However, I admit the rain and snow have done my garden good. The soil was nice and damp, but not too wet. Like Goldilocks would say, it was just right.
We haven’t finished building the new, kitchen potager, but hope to by the time it is tomato and pepper planting time (i.e., end of April or early May). The bad economy took some of the oomph our of monetary sails, so we’re taking it slow. We want to use tumbled, concrete pavers (because stone is cost prohibitive for this Oklahoma gardener) to edge the beds. The red, brick walks between won’t cost anything except labor, because we recycled them from a paving job, and that’s where we’ll start first.
The weather hasn’t cooperated either, but the plan is drawn, and we’re doing it in stages. At one end, is a greenhouse facing the garden. A fountain, maybe a blue urn, will be the centerpiece and attract wildlife. I saw one in an ornamental bed in Oklahoma Gardening’s studio garden, and I’d like to do something similar. Here’s a shot which I took in September 2009 of their fountain.
I have room in the back garden for my early spring crops. It doesn’t get crowded until later. Yesterday, I did some clearing and trimmed up a couple of roses. Then, I planted. In honor of my beloved Grandma Nita, I’m growing Alaska shelling peas. Since the weather has been so cool, I’m hoping I’ll have time to reap a nice harvest. Some years, warmth comes too quickly, and the peas don’t fill out their pods. These, I planted along the north fence where I hope they’ll clamber with a bit of help. HH did some fence repairs screwing the rails into some of the posts. We also replaced a broken rail at the end of the garden. I noticed my blueleaf honeysuckle was planted too close to a ‘Belinda’s Dream’ rose, so I moved it before it broke dormancy. I also dug up some old daylilies I no longer want.
The other seeds I planted were Little Finger baby carrots, Lacinato Nero Toscana kale, Early Wonder beets, Petrowski turnips, Tatsoi mustard, Bourdeaux spinach, three kinds of lettuce: Red Sails, De Morges Braun and Marvel of Four Seasons. I still have my potatoes, snow peas, swiss chard, dwarf pak choy, and onions to get in the ground. After today, the weather is supposed to be nice again. I also realized I didn’t plant any Black Seeded Simpson lettuce, so I’ll need to buy some. Weren’t we also going to plant Speckled Troutback (a/k/a Forellenschluss) lettuce together this year to see how it performs across our three zones? I’ll get a packet of it too at TLC Nursery. They have a lot of seed varieties.
Also wanted to let you know the chickens are doing great and eating us out of house and home. They should be laying eggs soon, and I’ll show you the different colors of the brown and rainbow eggs. Remember cute, little Alex? He’s the big, white rooster on the left.
Just getting out in the sun and touching the crumbly soil with my hands did this gardener good. Oh, and I saw the first crocus of the season. How are things in your neck of the woods?
This year, I swore no indoor seed growing. Here’s why:
- I really don’t have a place for them except the basement (where I’ll forget to water).
- The seedlings get leggy from not enough light (although I use full spectrum, grow lights);
- and quite frankly, I don’t wanna.
After placing orders for those seeds I can direct sow (outdoors), I gathered up the catalog multitude for recycling. Totally Tomatoes landed in a basket, and a small, lonely sigh escaped from within its depths. I tried to ignore it, but then a tabbed page fell open to my deep, dark paramours.
Smitten by their charcoal beauty, I began leafing through their descriptions.
Carbon, Black Krim, Black from Tula, Japanese Black Truffle or Trifele (new to me), Paul Robeson ((named after the African-American concert singer and activist) and Black Brandywine (more disease resistant in my garden than the original). Deep, rich, dark taste. Sultry grace on a summer plate combined with an ability to co-mingle with the brighters colors in the tomato rainbow. I confess we are in love, and, sadly, I’d nearly forgotten them.
Here, I would love to show a picture of one growing in my garden, but after looking through all of my photos, I discovered I don’t have a single one. Apparently, I ate them too fast to take a picture.
As stated on the Cold Climate Tomato website, almost all of these originally hail from Russian locales. I wonder if their darker color developed as a way to trap more sunlight. At 75 to 80 days, many of them are mid-season tomatoes (another reason to love them). They are indeterminate, and I like to grow a mix of determinate and indeterminate types. Although black tomatoes were developed in a frigid climate, I’ve never had trouble growing them in Oklahoma (at least in those years when I could grow tomatoes at all).
Yes, I can buy plants of hybrids locally, but other than the now almost-ordinary Brandywine, heirlooms are bit hard to locate. And, yes, I know I said hybrids will be my garden maintstays this year due to their built-in resistance to common diseases. Ah, but the black tomatoes are nearly impossible to resist.
So, do I pull out the trays, or do I buy plants from Lisa Merrill, the Tomato Man’s Daughter?
That is the question. She definitely has Carbon, Black Brandywine, Black from Tula and Cherokee Purple (which is nearly black). I’m sorry Totally Tomatoes. I’m taking the easy route this year and tearing up the asphalt to Tulsa. I can also hit Whole Foods while I’m there.
Anyone up for a road trip?
She also has eggplant (the French aubergine is so much prettier don’t you think?) and pepper plants. April 15, 2010 is her official opening day.
With all this bounty, my love can wait.
About a hundred years ago, when I first started gardening out here in the country in my red dirt, I subscribed to Kitchen Gardener magazine (formerly known as Kitchen Garden). Like a vegetable garden bible, I carried this magazine everywhere, and I read its bimonthly issue cover to cover. I was so entranced by one particular article that I ran with it to HH and begged him to make a garden like it for me. The design was a diamond in the middle with four triangular beds surrounding it. As those of you who regularly read RDR know, that design was later expanded.
After a few years, Taunton Press decided Kitchen Gardener would be no more, and I wept bitter tears. I kept all my back issues and consulted them regularly like scrolls. Then, one day, we had a roof leak, and guess what . . . my issues were ruined. I had to throw away three years of them.
Are you wondering why I would so want a vegetable gardening magazine when I’m a writer myself? Well, Kitchen Gardener was special. It was written for those who loved to grow vegetables, and it was extremely forward thinking. For example, there were articles on attractive deer fencing, potagers, and keeping your cold frame warm with an electric grid beneath it. They wrote about cloches, and the best use of different cultivars of garlic (hard neck and soft neck), along with vegetable garden design.
Vegetable garden design. Think about that for a moment . . . when was the last time, you read a serious article about the most attractive fencing (“Protecting the Harvest Beautifully by Stefanie Vancura); or, about the placement of fruit trees against walls (“Demystifying Espalier,” by Ron Clancy)? These people were serious about gardens which were both beautiful and fruitful, and it’s nice to have such companions again at my fingertips.
As I began working on the design for the new potager and where it is to be placed, I found I missed my magazine more and more. A couple of weeks ago, I was on ebay. No one who knows me would be surprised. I scour ebay for old, garden things. I once got an old issue of a flower gardening magazine which featured daylilies from the 1940s. Great history there.
A woman had listed one issue of Kitchen Gardener for a pittance. I decided to write and ask if she had any more issues. I discovered she is an estate liquidation specialist, and she did. Nine issues starting in 1999 and going on through much of 2000. We made a deal, and today, they appeared on my doorstep.
I’ve spent a very pleasant, half hour going over those months. Alas, the issue with my garden plan isn’t among them. However, Taunton is having a fifty percent off sale, so I went and bought those issues I don’t have. These may not contain the prize issue, but perhaps they will. In any event, I will have most of my Kitchen Gardener library back again.
You may be shaking your head and thinking how sad it is that one person’s estate is being sold off piece by piece, but I don’t mind if my children decide one day to sell many of my things, especially if they go to someone who will enjoy them as much as I. I see it as the ultimate in recycling. Being thrifty and reusing things would make my Grandma Nita proud I’m sure, and I know she’d like the reel mower I’m giving away. She used such a mower. I remember.
Last week, Frances wrote a post asking what will happen with our blogs when we’re gone, and although I didn’t yet comment, I’ve thought about it all week. Earlier MSS wrote a post about this same subject. What will happen? Will anyone care to read our work once we’re no longer able to update it this side of heaven? I don’t know the answer, but I’ve given my passwords to the Diva, and I hope, when my time comes, she’ll write a last post for me. Then, if my friends want to comment, that would be lovely. In the meantime, I hope my words help other gardeners who are trying to grow beautiful things in stubborn soil, and are a comfort to them.
I’m also comforted by the thought of some future gardener picking up the mantle where I left off and running with it after I’m gone.
Kind of like how I’m using the magazines now, and how my grandmother inspired me. Not to tie things up with a cliche, but it truly is the circle of life.
Last month, as I worked in the garden, picking the last of the green tomatoes, ripe ‘Yummy’ peppers and a couple of overlooked carrots and green onions, I reflected on how my tomatoes performed this season. The best grower and producer of any tomato was ‘Giant Belgium.’ GB outperformed every other tomato in the group, with the plant itself eventually growing to seven feet tall. Because I didn’t stake it properly (I am not a good staker), GB sprawled all over my pricey ‘Rhapsody in Pink’ crapemyrtle and ‘Belinda’s Dream’ rose. Fortunately, these two, tough plants didn’t seem to mind.
In spite of the wicked, early summer heat (hovering around 107F every day for two weeks at the end of June), I still picked a dozen or more of GB’s gigantic fruits. Unfortunately, I found this pink tomato to be mealy in texture and not acidic. Diva and I (the tomato fans in our family) like our fruit to have a bit of a bite.
My favorite three tomatoes overall were ‘Cherokee Purple’ (can’t go wrong with this dark tomato), ‘Carbon’ (love its dark color and rich, hearty taste, plus I like black plants) and ‘Super Fantastic’ (a hybrid with great taste and all around superior performance). ‘Sungold’ (sweet, golden , cherry-sized fruit is “sweet”) and ‘Royal Hillbilly’ (delicious taste, but not so prolific) were also good. As for the losers, there are so many it’s difficult to catalog them all. Varieties like ‘Aunt Anna,’ ‘Fireworks,’ ‘Millionaire,’ ‘Hazelfield Farm,’ ‘Grandma Mary’s Paste,’ ‘Crimson Carmello,’ ‘Virginia Sweets’ all quickly died from disease or the extreme heat.
‘Lumpy Red’ and ‘True Black Brandywine’ produced a few fruits, but nothing to write home about.
In February, when browsing catalogs, it’s easy to get wrapped up in beautiful names and sultry seed descriptions. After all, the wind is howling around the corners of the house, and all the frozen and canned tomatoes are growing thin. The thought of a juicy, ripe tomato just pulled off the vine is almost more than a body can stand.
Last winter, I made a huge mistake when I ordered nearly all-new varieties just because I wanted to try them. As a result, my tomato crop nearly failed.
I think it’s good to grow a variety of tomatoes, both hybrid and heirloom. With the heirlooms, you get complex flavors, unusual fruit you can brag on, and plants taller than you are. On the other hand, hybrids offer consistent size and yield, and they have built in tomato disease resistance, something that heirlooms don’t always have. Yes, I know some gardeners swear by those heirlooms they grow and select for disease resistance themselves, but they aren’t the average, busy gardener, who has kids in sports and Boy Scouts. That gardener wants tomatoes which grow and succeed.
I’m not the only one who feels this way, I know, because Jane Black wrote about her quiet revolt in the Christian Science Monitor. I’m not quite ready to revolt myself, but I am going to give more planting space to a few, select hybrids next summer.
I’ll be planting the following varieties, and you all need to hold me to it. I only get to try two new ones, and they must not be green, like ‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’ or ‘Green Zebra’ because these varieties always fail in my vegetable garden.
‘Sioux’ or ‘Super Sioux’
This list provides me with plenty of slicers, and I may use one of my new varieties for a paste tomato. We’ll see. I’m curious about your end-of-season tomato thoughts. Which varieties did well in your garden? Which failed miserably? Which would you try again?