2016 Tomatoes

This year will potentially mark a drastic shift in philosophy for our tomatoes that will reverberate for years to come. Whether the potential shift is permanent or not will depend upon how the tomatoes grow; and for that, we will have to wait, and wait, and wait. The shift in philosophy and the corresponding change in varieties being grown, is a shift from heirloom varieties to a greater mix of hybrid varieties. I feel like Luke Skywalker would have felt had he chosen to join his father on the darkside.

I have known about the claimed benefits of hybrid tomatoes for years. I just never found that the potential benefits outweighed the whole point of growing tomatoes in the first place: TASTE! I always associated hybrid tomatoes with the near tasteless varieties at the market. I believe the poor quality of tomatoes at the market to be a primary driver of the existence of small home gardens. If market tomatoes were any good, would many home gardens exist? I doubt it, aside from a few specialty items and maybe herbs. The allure and promise of taste beyond words is the point of growing tomatoes, a gateway garden vegetable that opens the door to endless possibility, not to mention near obsessive ponderings.

Anyway, I dipped my toe into the hybrid world last summer growing two hybrid varieties with great success. They grew in great quantities, there were no disease issues, they were meatier than even the heirloom paste tomato varieties I grew, had good taste, and, they were a better size fruit. While I love the look and taste of Striped German tomatoes, who really wants a 1.5 pound tomato, let alone whole vines of them?

This year’s trial hybrids promise to mimic heirlooms in look and taste, but be heavier producers of 1/2 pound tomatoes – a far better size. I am also trying a few new hybrid cherry varieties. I am also cutting back the number of vines I plant. One row I had last year was in the way of other plants, and a row in the main garden overly shaded the beets. I am blaming poor beet production the last couple of years on the addition of that row of tomatoes and a blackberry vine that grew out of control, combining their efforts to shade the beets.

The table below has the varieties I am growing this year. Continue reading “2016 Tomatoes”

Peppers Started

Pepper Seedlings
The seed starting progression is marching onward. A few weeks ago I started the pepper seeds than I am going to start this year; many of the hot pepper plants are over-wintered in a warmer climate, pruned in the spring, then grown out again over the summer. The seedlings are getting their first taste of the great outdoors and real sunshine today. Like most of the plants we grow, we are keeping some of the varieties we have grown in the past and adding a few new varieties.

The one we will not be growing is the Carmen pepper. Although it is a fantastic tasting bulls-horn shaped red bell pepper, we just never found a compelling use for them. The primary pepper that is being substituted into its space in an Aleppo pepper. This is not a pepper I have ever tried, or even seen for sale, fresh; but, I have used dried and crushed Aleppo pepper for the last few years. If you haven’t tried it yet, try it instead of crushed red pepper and just about anywhere else that needs a flavor boost.

In other garden news, we started cleaning up the garden and getting it ready for early plantings. In fact, we transplanted some onions and planted out beets this past weekend. It has been unseasonably warm the last few weeks and that is supposed to hold for at least the next two weeks. It is hard to believe that not only am I starting seeds indoors, but actually plants things outside at the garden.

Continue reading “Peppers Started”

We’re Off and Running

garden harvest

It is hard to believe I am about to start seeds for next summer. It seems like we just pulled the garden out and turned off the water. After taking inventory of existing seeds, I placed my order, then added on, and added on again, including new equipment. There will be a few changes in the garden next summer, but it will largely be a return to what has worked and elimination of what has not. That does not preclude a bit of experimentation.

As for the changes, the only squash we will be growing is the banana squash. We roasted some of the pumpkins we grew last summer and they lacked any real flavor. The banana squash on the other hand, have great taste. We have used them in place of other winter squash and even in place of pumpkins in pumpkin bars – no one knew the difference (other than they tasted great). Another big change involves the flowers. The flowers we planted last year grew ok, but they didn’t have that WOW factor and were not good for cutting, a primary objective. We will also be returning to winterbor kale and trying Siberian kale in place of the Tuscan kale we grew last summer. The Tuscan kale was hit hard by aphids, snails and slugs where as the winterbor plant was largely unaffected by any of that.

Another big change will impact the tomatoes. We had such great success with the two hybrid varieties we grew that we are going to try a few new varieties. They are not just new to us, but new to the market. The varieties we grew last year produced great harvests, tasted good, and are reportedly disease resistant. The new varieties should have the same general characteristics as well as mimicking heirloom varieties in taste and appearance. Because we have such limited space and grow a number of nightshade plants, our ability to rotate where we plant different plants to break disease build-up is very limited.

Next week I will start a few habanero seeds, the Cupid peppers, the Siberian kale (the winterbor kale is on back order) and the Shishito peppers. I will also start a new for us pepper – Aleppo pepper. I have used dried Aleppo pepper for a few years, ever since a friend introduced us to the exotic taste. I decided, why not try growing it myself? the Aleppo will take the place of the Carmen peppers we have grown in the past. Although the Carmen is one of the best tasting bell peppers I have tried, we never found a significant use for them. Without success in growth and a significant use, a plant isn’t allowed to take up valuable space.

Stay tuned friends, we are just getting going for 2016.

Garden Wrap-up

Graph of 2015 Garden Harvests by Week

Sometimes life interferes with itself and projects get pushed around. While I have been away, much has happened in the garden. Basically, the garden became patches of dirt again. Other than the herbs and horseradish, the garden has been put to sleep for the winter. For me, next year’s garden has to be planned and started. I have started tallying the harvest totals from this summer, we have been strategizing about why some crops didn’t perform as hoped, and have started to think about what to plant for next summer. Because that last part has to be more or less finalized by the end of the year so I can start the seedlings again, there is only so much time left to make that decision.

A quick look at the data show a significant percentage of the harvest came from three crops, two tomatoes and a volunteer banana squash plant. The two crops that didn’t perform as hoped were the beets and kale. We think we determined what went wrong with the beets and the problem with the kale was the variety. Since we first started the garden and last had success with beets, we planted another row of tomatoes on one side and the blackberry vines grew much larger. These two happenings created more shade over the area we plant the beets. Between the decreased light and a switch to straw instead of pine needle mulch, which corresponds to our largest to-date problems with slugs and snails, we think we found our problems.

As for the kale, we planted dinosaur kale this year instead of the winterbor kale we grew last year. We had one winterbor kale this year and although the dinosaur kale was hit by aphids, then snails and slugs, then deer, the winterbor kale right next to the other was not hit by any of those. All that, plus that we like winterbor kale better, will compel us to grow it next year. One problem easily solved.

At home, peppers I had planted are growing great. A number of the hot peppers and a few herbs were moved to warmer winter weather are enjoying the sunshine. I still have one experimental crop growing, but I think I have a month or so before that is unveiled.

Expert Pumpkin Carving

ray villafane carving a pumpkin

This post is a long way from what I typically write about, the garden and recipes therefrom. However, those of you who know me will understand why this post is being posted. It is at least related to gardens, just not mine.

Some of the produce I grow is for very specific reasons, like cupid peppers being used to make a pickled sweet pepper like those from South Africa. Other items, like tomatoes, have lots of purposes. One thing I do not purposefully grow are giant jack-o-lantern pumpkins for carving. Aside from not having the space, I am not very good at carving pumpkins. One person who is a master is Ray Villafane.

Ray is a master carver. There really can’t be any arguing that. Once you see his pumpkins, you will go on a quest to at least elevate your own carving. I, on the other hand, will go on a quest to watch him and his group carve fantastical creatures right down the road from me. Ray and his many talented cohorts are putting on demonstrations and displays at the Carefree Enchanted Pumpkin Garden, in the Carefree, Arizona Desert Garden.

If you live in or are visiting the metro-Phoenix area the last two weeks of October 2015, and are up for a scenic drive up to Carefree stop in to see the master at work. There are all sorts of events and activities. You can learn more by clicking here.