Friday, September 28, 2012

And the (tomato) winner is...

The podium has been filled with my top tomatoes of drought-stinkbug year 2012

... unnamed because it doesn't have its label but looks to me like oxheart. How am I suppose to do serious gardening around these parts with kids and birds and dogs removing my labels. I even double labelled these. Next year I will make that backup map I keep threatening to do.

Gold: 'Oxheart' (centre of photo) was early for a beefstake, delicious and weathered the drought well without excessive blossom end rot. It also put up with my habit of letting tomato plants sprawl over mulch rather than staking.

Silver: 'Opalka' sauce tomato (left in photo). Also italicized because of label destruction though I'm more sure of its identity. Not only that but Opalka has been a winner before for me though in a different garden. That time it fought off various diseases and pests pretty much untended and definitely unwatered at a community garden.

Bronze: Striped cavern (right in photo) did not do super duper well but it was adequately early and won because of its interesting form.

Runners up included: An OSU blue cross - no blossom end rot and medium early, an OP sungold type Cherry tomato - lots of cracking but very early, A. Grappoli - prolific, earlish and did dry well, currently experimenting with storing the whole plant indoors to see how well it dries.

I'm saving seeds of all these varieties and would love to resurrect the 3 tomato seed trade from a few years back. The rules are simple: trade three seeds of your variety for someone else's. This way we can all get more variety in our tomato salad. This year, I wasn't able to grow many black/brown tomato varieties which are my favourite so that's what I'm looking for!


Seed Trade Alert!

3 Tomato Seeds

Email me (top right) and you can receive three seeds of one my prize winners if I still have any left in exchange for three seeds of your favourite type. I can only grow short and medium season varieties and would love more brown/purple tomatoes.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Wormy apples are...

... delicious?

A slightly rain split head of San Michele X Red Rock Mammoth F1

At least they can be. Given the organic status of our acreage, all fruit are grown without any sprays. In the case of raspberries (and friends), currants, gooseberries, strawberries, haskaps, grapes, cherries (not that we've had too many yet) and blueberries this means simply harvesting them before something else does and for plums, harvesting slightly underripe to beat the brown rot, but when it comes to apples, creative measures are required.

This year and last, some trees (not the same ones) were ignored by the apple pests and could be stored whole in the cellar. Those that look especially wormy can also be harvested slightly underripe or at least processed right away. The value added activities of peeling, slicing and more are key to getting more apple goodness.

What to do with wormy* apples:

1. If crisp then invest in an apple peeler and corer - they are real time saver - then dehydrate.

Cut away the wormy bits. Some apples that have eaten cores will split in the peeler but for the most part, I find it works though I have less coddling moth here than I did at my last place and more apple maggot. You can see ours at the end of the table in the picture. We call her Suzy. I don't know why but because this implement is named, our kids have developed a real affection for it.

2. Peel (or not if you can get away with it) and cut up to make sauce.

I like to leave lots of red peels to make a lovely pink coloured sauce. After boiling with some sugar and cinnamon, I mash it through a sieve to remove the skins. You can also toss in other fruits. Dehydrating the sieved sauce makes great fruit leather or bake in pastry for tarts.

3. Make and freeze desserts like pie.

4. Make apple butter, chutney or other preserves.

5. or cider - going to get a press soon!

6. Grate with cabbage, add a touch of sugar, salt and mayonnaise to make a yummy coleslaw. Or otherwise use to make dinner

7. Feed to the deer (and then eat deer...)

Last night, we took the above and made number 6 with half the cabbage and a few tart apples - that's the San Michele x Red Rock Mammoth f1 cross heading for the second year in a row(!!)  - and used some other apples to make some turnovers for dessert.

Any other great ideas for apple preserving?

Here's a great link on preserving apples from local kitchen blog

*wormy: Obviously there are wormy apples and then there are wormy apples. Some are just too far gone. Destroy by crushing or some other mechanism wormy apples will lower populations of the pest. I get some apple maggot here or at least something that tunnels under the skin in multiple locations but less coddling moth which I used to get in the city. Maybe next year I'll try traps. Also I don't get scab but I do have some sort of core rot that is more of a problem with the pears (and the apples if I don't process fast). Obviously they might be too wormy to rescue which is why I recommend checking on them to find the right balance or ripeness and unworminess.

Monday, September 17, 2012

My no fail crop? Sweet potatoes!

Given the drought growing conditions this year, I wasn't sure how the sweets would. They were started from my own overwintered tubers, supplemented by a few slips from Mapple Farms, and set out near the end of May mostly in beds pre-warmed by plastic mulch. However I also planted some nearby in an uncovered raised bed so I could see if there were any major differences.

The first thing I noticed was that the sweets were rooting where they touched the ground rather like squash or tomatoes might. This would allow them to mine more water so would yields be higher on the bare dirt?

Sweet potatoes root easily along the stem making this an easy way to propagate them if you don't have tubers available or want to increase some long slips (sweet potato plant babies)

The first plant had an interesting collection of corkscrewed tubers directly under the plant. I have heard of this happening in pots or in pot like conditions such as putting a transplant that had been grown in friable soil in a hole of clay soil but this soil is pretty sandy so not sure. This variety seems to be prone. You may be wondering which variety and I promise to tell you. Promise once I check.

Not a bad yield but not bakers. Certainly tricky to clean! These will make a lovely mash or stew.

Next plant was Georgia Jet with adequate yield. I'm beginning to think my concerns of poor growth, given that after establishment they were watered maybe twice or three times during the two plus month drought, were well founded.

Small plant = smaller tuber development.

After harvesting many more sweets of similar quality in the bare earth bed, I moved on to those planted in plastic mulch. I planted on roughly two foot centres. The clear plastic is stretched and secured on raised beds ad sweets planted into cut Xs with dirt securing the X down.

Slightly weedy sweet potato bed in south facing circular sun trap garden.

A couple of the plants were keen to flower in this bed interesting if you had a longer season and wanted to do some breeding.

Some vines had many buds on them!

I start to peel back the plastic to get to the plants. The plants are certainly heftier and so is the harvest!

That's a nice roaster.

..and it continues!

That's a nice yield: two large roasters and several medium.

This plant had three larger and several medium. I'm thinking these sweets are living up to their reputation as being drought tolerant. It's possible that the clear plastic not only warmed the soil but retained moisture. By the way though I use plastic for season extension in polytunnels and in this application, I would like to give up the habit as much as possible hence the bare dirt experiment. Perhaps in a normal moisture year growth would be similar. Next year we'll try organic mulch and see what happens. Pot culture is another option but I tend not to do too much as I find it negatively compromises lateral root growth and therefore total growth in plants.

Um what is this sweet trying to say to me?

Most productive were predictably Georgia Jet - orange skin and flesh - and Japanese Yam - reddish skin and creamy flesh. What I think is Beauregard followed with odd shapes. Some were straight and if they had plumped up, they could be huge and trailing behind was Superior with hardly any tuber formation. I still have two varieties from other gardens to unearth so I will let you know.

The haul - A wine box full of sweets.

Now I need to cure them at high heat and humidity. There are better ways to do this but letting them hang out in the sun in a plastic bag worked for me last year.

My ad hoc curing quarters. Packed neatly in the wine box and then placed loosely in a plastic bag. Their proximity should keep the moisture high along with the plastic. They need to breath a bit hence the loosely wrapped part.

P.S.: I still have some sweet potatoes from last year. After harvesting the stragglers in the front, I'll hopefully have a comparison for you between Fraiser White last year and this year. They really do keep a long time if properly cured and stored.

Striking decorative foliage but poor tuber formation for me. Said to do well in Niagara region.

Last year's harvest
Ken Allan's Sweet Potatoes for the Home Garden is available in Ottawa Public Library but also worth the purchase price for the serious enthusiast (Mapple Farms sells it too as do others).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Big Harvests

Late summer and early fall is the time of year that I can measure harvests in wheelbarrows rather than baskets such as this one full of apples, grapes and summer squash mostly the flying saucer kind as my children would say.

Still have a whole lot of apples to harvest for a plethora of apple treats including apple grape sauce that I really like.

Also other big harvests news or what else fits in my harvest basket: Welcoming our new little boy!

Baby bunny, pumpkin and wiggly worm are some of his unofficial names.

Those of you not overwhelmed by those squishy cheeks may notice the grass or weeds that resemble lawn have regained their green tone again. Dare I say the drought is almost gone? Sending watery wishes to those with dry wells.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cool things cabbages do and...

F1 San Michele X Red Rock Mammoth Cross. Plant reheading second year.

Where the heck have I been?

Well you see, first my camera broke and then there was this drought and that put a damper on my gardening glory then there was the fact that I am in my last weeks of pregnancy. Baby expected next week by the way so that's what's been keeping me from filling you in on the plant fun.

If you must know, the recent rains reinvigorated everything :D though the forest is still looking sad. Some bushes that I thought had bit the dust have resprouted leaves and I have some late fruit appearing on the weary pumpkins. If frost holds off until October, they'll be lots of pumpkin pie come winter. The weeds which couldn't germinate because of the lack of rain are taunting me now as I lug my large belly around the garden. You are not  supposed to do much digging in dirt if you are in the family way because of various pathogens.

But I suppose what you really want to know is about the cabbage. This is the F1 Red Rock Mammoth and San Michele cross. All its brothers and sisters from last year were either winter killed or demolished by a destructive plague of flea beetles followed by their earwig accomplices. One made it. Not enough to produce F2 seeds but I figured I'd spare it and see what it did.

And look what it did! That is a huge head on a second year cabbage that had already headed last year. I'm impressed. I am growing out some more F1s from this year which are also rehearing after being partly defoliated by aforementioned earwigs. They'll stay in the ground over winter hopefully producing the much wanted flower and seedpods next year.

P.S. Earwigs have been brought under control by a troop of guinea fowl, ducks and loose laying hens added to our acreage this year.