Thursday, July 28, 2011

Variety is the Spice of Life

And, it's inspiration in the garden and kitchen, too.  I love trying something new that I have never worked with before.  Unfortunately, when you have a penchant for variety, gardening can get expensive fast.  For instance, this is the list of tomatoes I would like to grow for fun:
  • Better Boy
  • Beafeater
  • Black from Tula
  • Black Plum
  • Paul Robeson
  • Japanese Trifele Black
  • Purple Calabash
  • Yellow Pear
  • Broad Ripple Yellow
  • Hartman's Yellow Gooseberry OG
  • Lemon Drop
  • Riesentraube
  • San Marzano
  • Cream Sausage
  • Green Zebra
  • Sheboygan OG (in honor of my sister who lives in the great state of chaos Wisconsin with her FIVE lovely kids and husband.)
  • Tasty Evergreen (reminds me of Colorado even if it's from Ohio.)
  •  Neves Azorean
  • Mrs. Maxwells Big
  • Vinson Watts
  • A variety of mystery heirlooms currently growing in my garden.
  • Anything else that suits my fancy at any given moment.  (Full disclosure: I have been known to go to Whole Foods and buy heirloom tomatoes just to save the seeds.)

And, this is just my tomato list.  You should see my pepper list and my squash list and my...  Well, you get the point.  So, frugal gardeners with a longing for variety have to risk breaking several laws get creative to get their hands on them.  That is pretty much what it boils down to.  Last week, Rick Callihan posted on his blog about his tomatoes, one of which is the much sought after Black from Tula.  That was his first mistake.  His second mistake was not only acknowledging my existence, but actually answering my post when I asked him if I could come over and take some cuttings.  He said yes. I know!  I still can't believe it!

So, this past weekend, I sharpened my scissors and made my way over to Rick's to take cuttings from his tomato plants.  Jackpot!  Rick is so crazy generous that he not only let me have cuttings, he walked around his garden packing me a to-go bag of tomatoes and peppers.  And, to think I came -->this close<-- to just sneaking into his garden in the dark of night for some cuttings. Big thanks to Rick for doing your part to keep me out of jail! My family thanks you, too!

Anyway, the timing of this is perfect because about this time every year, mid-July, I realize that my tomatoes, while still delicious, are getting smaller and the vines thinner.  They won't make big, tasty tomatoes for much longer.  So, I always take cuttings from my own vines and root them so I can have tomatoes well into fall.  Last year, I had tomatoes in December!  It's very simple.  All you have to do is take a cutting from a current plant, root it in a cup of water in a sunny windowsill and voila!  Once rooted, you have a new plant.  It's that easy!

And, this benefits the tomatoes on the plant, too.  It tells the plant to stop growing tall and work on finishing the tomatoes currently growing on the plant.  It sort-of forces ripening.  If you time it all right, then the new plant will start producing at about the time you are plucking the last ripe tomato off the old plant.  I really like this technique for extending the summer tomato bounty in my garden into the fall.

(We also used this technique at the Spruill Gallery garden when we realized one of the tomato plants was diseased but didn't want to sacrifice the tomatoes growing on it.  Within a week of cutting the tips off the plant, one of the young tomatoes was already turning.) 

Here are a few photos of the bounty from my cutting session at Rick's:

Rick's picks.  Black from Tula on the left.  Some other delightful orange variety that is soon to be a favorite on the right.
Black from Tula cutting I am rooting in my kitchen.  This will grow roots within about a week.  Once it does, I plant it in the garden at the end of the day and water it in well.  This gives it time to adjust to its new home before the heat of the day.  It will wilt a little until it gets used to its new roots and then it will flourish.
Cutting from Rick's other delightful variety.
Last but not least, Rick tossed a handful of these into my to-go bag.  These are tomato seeds Rick secured from a friend who recently traveled through Greece.  Apparently, this friend packed a bunch of ripe tomatoes as souvenirs.  Over time, the tomatoes rotted away leaving these seed clusters.  Since I have no idea what they are, they will forever be referred to as "Rick's Get 'em from the Greeks" tomatoes.
One final note, if you want to replicate a plant but are not sure if it is an hybrid, then a cutting is the way to go.  An hybrid will not grow true from seed.  In other words, who knows what you'll end up with?  So, if your neighbor is growing some delightful variety that you absolutely must have, I suggest you fire up the oven and bake some cookies to barter for a cutting rather than relying on seeds you dig out of their compost.

Happy cutting!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Saving the Past, Securing the Future

Yellow, cherry tomatoes not yet ripe.

In my garden, the future is now.  Literally, right now.
The fruit growing in my garden will provide enough seeds for my future garden.
And, maybe yours, too.

Last summer, my Mom's friend gave her a handful of yellow, cherry tomatoes that she swiped from a well-known grower in Indiana.  We'll just say that they might have been harvested swiftly and without the grower's knowledge.  Apparently, they have some pedigree and even though we didn't know exactly what they were, some research confirmed that they were, indeed, heirloom and desirable. 

Upon receiving them, my Mom called me and asked me how to preserve their future.  I tried to tell her how to save the seeds, but she felt more comfortable shipping them to me.  And, so, one day later, a tiny box arrived on my doorstep with the future safely tucked inside.  It had arrived completely intact.  The agreement was that I would harvest and save the seeds.  My reward would be in delicious, juicy tomato flesh as I got to eat all four tiny fruits.  In return, I would not only share the seeds, but I would grow transplants for my Mom and her friend.  That way, we would all eat the fruit.  Easy.  In the photo above, you see the result of that agreement - this year's tomato plant sown from last year's saved seeds, dripping with the future. 

Here's how to save tomato seeds:

A yellow, cherry tomato ripe, full of seeds and ready to eat.

First step, cut through the tomato close to the top but far enough down that you expose the seeds.

The seeds are secure in that gel.

Remove the seeds, gel and all, from the tomato and put them into a fine mesh strainer over a bowl.  Here, I have a very small strainer set inside a ramekin.
Add water to cover the seeds.  In a few days, the seeds will separate from the gel and reveal themselves.  When that happens, you will want to drain them on a coffee filter, paper plate, paper towel, etc.  When they are dry, place them in a paper envelope for storage.  Done!

You may be asking yourself why I go to the trouble of saving seeds when you can easily buy seeds.  Well, for starters, it's cheaper.  In some cases, like that of the yellow, cherry tomato, it's even free.  I happen to be a variety junkie and that can get expensive.  The other reason is that the seeds are readily available until they aren't.  And, then, it's too late.  This happened with my favorite beans.  Up until very recently, they had been out of stock to the public for nearly a year.  But, it was a non-issue for me.  I had been saving those seeds for two years and had plenty for this year's garden and thankfully, I have plenty for next year's, too.

I love securing the future by saving the seeds of the past.  And, while it does take a little thought and a few extra minutes, it is not complicated.  So, give it a try!  After all, you never know what the future holds!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Unruly plants, I will cut you.

Like everyone, I happen to love a good laugh.  Oh, I really do.  One thing that is sure to bring on the laughs is Anjelah Johnson's Bon Qui Qui character.  You can and should witness the funny here.  I love the line, "Girl, I will cut him."  Followed by, "Oh, girl, yes I did, girl!"  

Sometimes, while in the garden, I am saying this out loud in my head as I am tackling suckers or diseased leaves.  I fancy myself the Bon Qui Qui of the garden.  In fact, I have elevated this to a verb.  "I need to go out there and Bon Qui Qui some stuff."  

Well, now, I am armed with a new tool and not only is it sharp (read- perfect for Bon Qui Qu'ing some stuff), it is mighty.  My friend, Keren King, turned me on to this beauty while planting at the new Strong4Life Teaching Garden at Scottish Rite.  Once I witnessed her ability to dig through heavy clay mixed with rock with this HAND tool while I had to keep borrowing big guns from the landscapers, I knew I had to have one.  (Sidebar:  If you have not been there to view this garden, you should.  It is gorgeous.  And, my friend, Regan Cox, the amazing, loaned her husband out to do the woodwork.  Again, gorgeous!)

Here it is in all its shiny glory:

One serrated blade.  One smooth, sharp blade.  Notch for ripping twine.  And, measuring increments.

See how it shines?  That would be the rust-resistant Swedish Stainless Steel.

Technically, the tool is an A.M. Leonard Soil Knife.  It should come as no surprise that I have named mine Boo and will, from here on out, refer to it accordingly.  In all honesty, Boo is not just sharp.  According to the label/website, it is the perfect gardening tool for a variety of tasks including:
  • Dig weeds out of your flower beds and lawn
  • Scrape out cracks in your drive, walk, patio, etc...
  • Loosen compacted soils
  • Chop the greens off of your root vegetables
  • Saw through roots, and divide perennials and grasses
  • Dig a shallow furrow for a row of seeds
  • Mix soil when adding amendments
  • Dig out stones, rocks and other debris
  • Measure for accurate planting depth
  • Cut twine and ties quickly and easily

All this in one tool!  And, after witnessing this beauty in action, I believe it.  Hey, it has 53 perfect 5 star ratings.  That is no easy feat!  And, we all know, its sharp!  And, IT'S ON SALE right now!  Listen, you don't like this?  "Do NOT get loud wit me! Oh NO!   Sacurity!  Saaaa-curity!"