Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Heat-tolerant Tomatoes

Here's what I'd like to see... a Sacramento tomato trial that evaluates the best-tasting, highest-yielding heat-resistant tomatoes! Since fruit set is poor at temps above 90-95 degrees F, it seems like we should be looking more closely at varieties that don't faint on a typical July or August day in Sacramento.

Several of the mid-season varieties sold by Tomato Growers Supply are said to fruit well under high heat conditions, including:

Solar Fire (New!)
Solar Set

Anybody grown these locally? How productive are they and how do they taste?

The Real Dirt on Farmer John Movie

Looks fun! Learn more about this documentary in Amy Stewart's blog entry, "Dirt: The Real Dirt on Farmer John". You'll want to queue it up on Netflix. I did.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Tomatoes-- To Pinch or Not to Pinch

Check out this article from Fine Gardening:
Pruning Tomatoes

Do you pinch?!!!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Local Heirloom Tomato Yields

From SacBee, February 2003:

They were judged for size and yield. Hmmm... wonder how they taste?

Dan Vierria: Ugly can be beautiful when it comes to tomatoes

Friday, February 24, 2006

Tomato Torment...

Oh.... what to plant this year? I need to decide ASAP because I need to order seeds from Tomato Growers Supply if I decide on a somewhat unusual variety.

Ok, here are the top 20 tomato varieties for Sacramento in 2005 according to a survey of experts by Sacramento Bee Garden Writer, Dan Vierria:

Beefy Boy
Better Boy
Big Mama
Brandy Boy
Caspian Pink
Christmas Grapes
Lemon Boy
Marianna's Peace
Pink Ping Pong
Sweet Million

Morningsun Herb Farm Top 20, 2005


Redwood Barn Nursery Recommendations (Don Shor):

Standard varieties:
Ace: "Dependable, sets in a wide range of temperatures. Heavy on tomato flavor. Beautiful fruit, great salad variety, but tough skin. Nice compact plant." Great for small spaces.

Better Boy: "Similar to Early Girl, but hasn't got the depth of flavor. Very productive." Very heavy fruit set on large vines makes it a great one for sauce production.

Celebrity: "Very reliable producer. Excellent for slicing. Moderate size plants. FAVORITE TOMATO #2!"

Champion: Very good flavor, large vine, large fruit, very productive. The largest-fruited type that produces reliably here.

Early Girl: "FAVORITE TOMATO #1!" This one routinely wins taste tests in California, and produces reliably from early summer into the winter.

Roma: "Real workhorse of a tomato. Very productive on compact plants which don't need staking. Great flavor, even used fresh. Very reliable. FAVORITE #3!" The best for sauce.

Cherry, yellow, and other varieties:
Green Zebra: "Delicious, sprightly. Unusually good flavor for a yellow tomato. Pretty." Bizarre looking fruit.

Husky Gold: "My favorite yellow tomato!"

Husky Red: "Good flavor. Beautiful little plant. Great for small spaces or containers."

Lemon Boy: "Early results impressive. Better texture than Golden Jubilee."

Patio: "Cute little plant. The best for smaller pots. Sweet, firm fruit." Surprisingly productive for an 18" plant.

SunGold: "YUMMM! My favorite cherry tomato. Dries into candy. Everyone should grow it!" One of the best tomatoes ever.

Sweet 100: "Unbelievably productive. A very good cherry tomato. Kids really love them. Great for salads (and slingshots!)--small enough to eat in one bite (unlike most cherry tomatoes)."

Heirloom and gourmet varieties--
we continue to try the many varieties available. This is by no means a definitive listing!

Brandywine: "Very popular, mild flavor. Mealy texture."

Carmello: "Thin skinned, mealy. More flavorful than Beefsteak types, with better acid/sugar balance."

Costoluto Genovese: "Impressive; similar to Marmande. Productive."

Marmande: "Very fruity; acid/sugar balance is great."

Marval Striped, and Old German (very similar varieties): "Mild, thin-skinned, mealy. Slicing tomato. Sweet."

Principe Borghese: "I love it! Wildly productive. Excellent depth of flavor. Makes great sauce, though with lots of seeds and skin (strain the sauce)."


My list, so far:

Black (heirloom, indeterminate, late season at 80-85 days)
Early Girl (early season, 52 days, indeterminate)
SunGold or SunSugar (both indeterminate, early season at 57 days & 62 days)
Celebrity (Yes, I was somewhat swayed by Don Shor's comment)(determinate, midseason, 70 days)

I think another heirloom would be fun to finish off with. I really don't have room for more plants if I want to grow any peppers or melons or squash this year.

In the past, I've gotten consistently tasty results from:

'Yellow Pear'
'Purple Calabash'
'Sweet 100'
'Caspian Pink'

Interesting to note that SunGold and Lemon Boy were the only varieties showing up on all three lists! If you like 'em sweet and dependable, you need to surrender your heart to SunGold. I'll admit to lusting in my heart for SunSugar, but I'll always be true to SunGold...

UPDATE (3:38pm, Sat., Feb 25)-- I started some seeds of 'Black' in the greenhouse today using last year's seeds. Also came across some 'Celebrity' seeds from last year and started a six-pack of them because a) I had the seeds and b) Don Shor spoke glowingly of 'Celebrity'.

UPDATE (7:51am, Tuesday, Feb 28)-- I am ordering seeds of 'Black from Tula' (Thanks, Amy!), 'Lemon Boy' and 'Costoluto Genovese' (Thanks, Don!). I'm starting to worry about where I'm going to plant this many tomatoes, but where there's a will, there's a way, right? Right? Do I feel like I'm done choosing? No. I lack a really cool bicolor tomato. I grew 'Speckled Roman' a couple years ago and it was gorgeous! Tomato Growers Supply doesn't sell seed for 'Speckled Roman' so I took that as a sign to try something else. Perhaps I should start some of last year's 'Copia' seeds so I can give it another try. I didn't get great results from it last year, but as we all know, this year could be very different, depending on the weather. Yeah, that's it... I'll blame the weather.

March 13 edit: Want to know which varieties Sunset deemed best in the West in 2001?


'Paul Robeson'
'Cherokee Purple'
'Black Prince'
'Earl of Edgecombe'
'Costoluto Genovese'
'Charlie Chaplin'


'Sun Gold'
'Sugar Snack'
'Supersweet 100'
'Sweet 100'


'San Marzano'
'Viva Italia'
'Principe Borghese' (favored for drying)

Ok, here's my final (ha ha) list:

Black (aka Black Prince)
Black from Tula
Early Girl
Lemon Boy
Costoluto Genovese
Copia or some other yellow/orange/red bicolor
Impulse Purchase (available later in the season at various nurseries around town)

Oops, my finger slipped on the keyboard when I was ordering from T.G.S. and I accidentally added 'SunSugar' as well as the above. Keyboards can be slippery.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Can-O-Worms Update

I finally feel like I've got the hang of this whole kitchen vermicomposting thing. The first few months require patience because you put your worms in their bedding (I used coir), which they slooooowly eat, and then you start feeding them their preferred diet of veggie scraps, coffee grounds, banana peels and more until you've got a layer of finished compost. Once you're up and running, you have three layers going at the same time. The top layer is for fresh scraps and the two lower layers are still full of worms, but are further along.

When you want to use the bottom layer of finished compost, you move it to the top and remove the lid. In a day or two, the light and air drives the worms into your covered "fresh" layer below so what you end up with is pure compost ready to use in the garden.

It's so great to empty out the crisper bin of the fridge knowing that unused veggies aren't a total waste. Ok, so we ignored that broccoli or that bag of mixed baby greens. All is not lost! It's compost!

One temporary nuisance was the arrival of fruit flies. Opening the bin felt like I'd been visited by a plague of very tiny locusts. Luckily, the fruit flies don't adversely affect the worms or the compost. They're just annoying little... annoyances. Rotating the bin layers helps, as does adding a layer of bedding on top of the freshest kitchen scraps. If things get desperate, Gardener's Supply sells a fruit fry trap. A much more economical solution is to make your own trap using the excellent online instructions by Dr. Vett Lloyd, Department of Biology, Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada.

(March 6 update-- I've been revisited by fruit flies and lept at the chance to make my own traps. Guess what? They work great! I put one on the counter near the bin and one in the bin. Both traps, using both designs shown in the above link, are filled with dead fruit flies in just two days! All it cost me was a little cider vinegar. I tried covering my scraps, but the flies kept hatching. Thank you, Dr. Lloyd!)

Overall, I've been very happy with my kitchen vermicomposting experience and plan to continue it indefinitely. Worms really are eating my garbage and giving me this amazing garden compost in return.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sudden Frost Takes A Toll

Saucer magnolias in my neighborhood... just reaching their pink and purple glory... look very brown today after this morning's frost. In my yard, I noticed sulking princess flower shrubs and nasturtiums. My 'Tropicanna' cannas look extra scrappy today too. I think everything but the magnolia blossoms will recover nicely. My young magnolia is budding out a little late, so it may have been spared.

Hope y'all didn't run out to the nursery during that balmy weather last week and buy all kinds of tender tropicals and subtropicals...

Select Seeds Order

I have no business ordering more seeds considering I already have a shoebox full of seeds with waning viability, but I can rationalize this Select Seeds order because I "needed" one of their plant varieties, you see, and it seems a shame to place an order for plants only when they sell so many fine seeds.

Item p4720 Coleus 'Sedona'

(Photo from Select Seeds website)
'Sedona' coleus was the gateway plant that led to ordering more seeds. I looked everywhere last summer for this plant and never found it. By the time I resorted to online ordering, it was sold out everywhere I checked. I'm very attracted to peachy-pinky colors and 'Sedona' is the coolest coleus color I've ever seen.

Item p2910 Columbine 'Clementine Rose'

(Photo from Select Seeds website)
How pretty is this?!!!

Item s231 California Poppy 'Apricot Flambeau'

(Photo from Select Seeds website)
I've failed miserably with fancy Cal. pops. I think it's because I treat them like regular Cal. pops, simply sprinkling seeds in October. The fancy ones never come up. This time, I'm going to try them in pots like Annie's Annuals does.

Item s306 Nasturtium 'Whirlybird Cherry Rose'

(Photo from Select Seeds website)
I've grown this nasturtium for the last couple years and it's gorgeous. Nasturtiums are so easy from seed, which makes them extra rewarding to grow. This one would be great for kids to try.

Item s249 Poppy - Heirloom

(Photo from Select Seeds website)
Looks like Annie's Annuals' 'Drama Queen' poppy, no?

Item s359 Purple Bell Vine

(Photo from Select Seeds website)
I'm still trying with this one. I tried it last year and had no luck. Persevere...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Starting to think about tomatoes...

Last year was a very weird tomato year for me. I planted heirlooms and hybrids and everything was late to fruit, if they fruited at all. Some of my biggest tomatoes came from a Russian heirloom called 'Azoychka', but they mostly failed to ripen until fall and were a bit tart for my taste!

I did feel like we didn't get as much heat as usual. Those mild days were pleasant, but perhaps not tomato-friendly. Lesson learned? Plant an 'Early Girl' just in case. 'Sungold' has been good to me too, though I may give 'SunSugar' a go because of its reported crack-resistance.

Last summer's best-tasting and most prolific tomato? A volunteer seedling near where I grew 'Sungold' the previous year. It resembled a large red cherry tomato and was super sweet with just a little tang. Yum... and so much for all my planning.

Another disappointment was the size of my 'Jelly Bean' grape tomatoes. I pictured tiny and sweet and got big and bland. Almost crunchy.

I'm very interested in seeing what this year brings. More to follow on what varieties I'm gambling on this year...

On a side note, summer of 05' was a great year for hot peppers in my garden.

Backyard Orchard Culture

I'm finally delving into the world of growing my own "fruit shrubs". The empty bed where I'm planting these trees is a bit undersized according to Dave Wilson Nursery's spacing suggestions, but I selected dwarf trees and will just do my best with the space I have (or don't have).

Three trees in one hole, spaced about 18 inches apart:

(Photos from Stark Bros. online catalog)

Spring Satin Plumcot Dwarf

Shiro Plum Dwarf

Redheart Plum Dwarf

And in the same bed, but in its own hole, I've planted another 'Stella' Cherry.

The trees I ordered came from Stark Bros. and they looked great upon arrival today. I cut the whips to "knee height" according to DWN instructions so branching will be lower-- and more accessible-- than your typical orchard tree. We'll see how it goes!

If you have a chance, check out the mature fruit shrub specimens at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center. Pretty impressive.