Monday, January 30, 2012

Tomatoes! Tomatoes!

I have a hard time deciding what tomatoes to grow each time I browse a seed catalog. The choices are overwhelming and I have to limit myself to three cultivars. Otherwise, I tend to lose track of what I've planted.

I'm one of the few people in Seattle who has successfully grown tasty tomatoes despite our mild summers. My trick is planting them in the front yard where I get maximum southern exposure. I don't worry about making a raised bed for them. They're planted right next to the shrubs and perennials.

When selecting a cultivar, I chose those that have short maturity rates; keeping it close to 75 days. Anything that takes 80 days or longer is not worth it. They will never ripen in time for those summer salads and you'll be seeking tomatoes out at the farmers' market instead (not a bad alternative, but still!). I also grow smaller fruited types since there's less tomato to ripen. I tried Purple Cherokees and others that were large heirlooms and they never ripened causing major disappointment.

Here are the ones that have caught my eye for this year:

From Adaptive Seeds: Wheatly's Frost Resistant. First off, who could go wrong with a name like that?! It definitely sounds like it's meant for our climate. Sixty days to maturity and although not exactly frost resistant, it does fine in cool weather. It's also a grape/cherry type fruit.

Also from Adaptive is Grappoli d'Inverno. It's not meant for fresh-off-the-vine eating, but is claimed to be a good roasting tomato. Up to 70 days until maturity, the vines are semi-determinate which means they are less rangy than their indeterminate counterparts. They claim that they are good for cold storage and are tied in bundles called ristras for the winter. I want to try this tomato just so I can make the ristras! We'll many to choose from.

The other seed company I would like to order from is Osbourne Seed in Mt Vernon. I'm not sure if I'll go with them since it seems like they cater more to farmers (understandably) and less to those with small city lots. I may just do it anyway and share seed with friends.

There are three tomatoes that I would like to try from Osbourne. Sweet Hearts because they claim to be the best tasting cherry tomato they have trialed. The ripe fruit isn't dropped (I can't say that about the Black Cherry I had last year) and they're crack resistant. Also 65-68 days to maturity. Sounds good to me!

Solid Gold was suggested as a good pairing with Sweet Hearts and I like a contrasting yellow cherry to mix in salads. Seventy days to maturity and are claimed to be vigorous plants with a heavy yield. Plus, who doesn't want to be a Solid Gold dancer?

Viva Italia is my last tomato I will have to decide on. It takes 76 days to mature so pushing the upper limit there for me. But, I love a Roma tomatos and have tried them in the past with not so much success. These are determinate plants and are described as being compact and yielding more fruit. I may just have to take on the challenge!

So much to think about, but I'll need to figure it out quick. It's almost February and I'm feeling the pressure to get my orders in!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The dangerous seed catalogue

Some may say their eyes are bigger than their stomachs. Well, my eyes are bigger than my garden.

I just discovered Adaptive Seeds through another fantastic blog Greensparrow Gardens. Joseph mentioned this seed company as a "crazy source for crazy cool veggies." That's a description that's right up my alley.

Although I've been partial to Fedco Seeds for several years now, I'm leaning towards Adaptive Seeds for a majority of what I would like to try this year. First, they are practically next door in Sweet Home, OR compared to Waterville, ME. Don't get me wrong. I have liked Fedco since they are in Maine which has a similar growing season as we do. And I have enjoyed their range of cultivars that I haven't seen anywhere else. But, it's time to branch out and give someone else a try.

Reviewing my initial wish list, I think I may have to make some major edits. I've decided this year I'm going to try growing my own lettuce. While I love supporting Let Us Farm at the Columbia City Farmers' Market, I'd like to harvest my own straight from the garden, minutes before I'm ready to assemble a summertime salad. Adaptive Seeds have so many to choose from and are organized by romaine, leaf, and head. I want to try at least one of each.

There's a romaine type called 'Red Flamingo' which I will try this season for several reasons. First, I love any purple-tinged edible for my garden. Second, my son loves flamingos--his favorite animal at the zoo. He even has a small flamingo stuffed animal that goes everywhere with him. My third reason also involves my son who dislikes eating anything green He's willing to eat purple lettuce so I'm hoping this will do the trick of getting him to eat more vegetables.

Of the leaf selections, I chose 'White Seeded Samara' purely on its looks. It looks like a butterhead with a lovely-shaped rosette, bright green with hints of pink. It's described to stand up in cold, wet weather and probably originated in Samara along the Volga River in Russia.

I was wooed by the butterhead 'Rolando' for it's bright green leaves to contrast the other two lettuces, and because all my edibles can't be purple. It's recommended for early spring harvest and seems like I won't need to put out row covers. I'm just too lazy for such a task.

The other lettuce I would like to try, but fear my eyes are getting bigger than my garden at this point is another green romaine called 'Winter Density'. It's described as a serious lettuce classic and a cross between a romaine and a butterhead. Who can pass up that description? Adaptive seeds says they don't carry common varieties, but when they do it's because they really love it. It's also cold and heat tolerant. It may be a good idea just to have some seed on hand in case one of the others I try fail. Another good reason is it came from Abundant Life Seed Company in Port Townsend, WA who's offices and seed collection were destroyed in a fire back in 2003.

Whew! I think I've narrowed down the lettuces. Next group to tackle: tomatoes!

Friday, January 6, 2012


Who says there's nothing growing or edible in the garden at this time of year?

True, we may not have tomatoes ripening on the vine, but we can still harvest fresh herbs. My three parsley plants are still going strong. And I have sage, rosemary, and oregano to chop up and throw into various dishes like roasted squash and marinara sauce.

I made lamb kefta last week and the recipe calls for a lot of parsley and cilantro. While I had cilantro in the fridge, I briefly panicked because I forgot parsley on my shopping list. Then I realized the three plants still going in the back yard. Freshly chopped, straight-from-the-garden sure beats expensive store-bought herbs. And if you're opting for organic, it's even more pricey.

What a beautiful green bouquet!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Armchair Gardening

I'm feeling only half guilty about doing a little armchair gardening when it's so nice outside. The sun is pouring into my south and west-facing windows so I am taking advantage of it...just not fully outside in the thick of it.

I had to finish Monty Don's Extraordinary Gardens of the World today--or face an overdue charge! This is the companion book to his BBC series Around the World in 80 Gardens. I feel like I had a mini vacation in just a couple of hours of pouring over these great places. Plus, he has a great voice throughout his descriptions. Each garden's unique characteristics come through without getting tired at the end.

I have been lucky enough to visit a handful of the gardens featured in his book: the Huntington Botanical Garden, The City in a Garden in Singapore, Pura Taman Ayun in Bali, and most recently, The Majorelle Gardens in Marrakesh, Morocco.

The gardens in India seem especially amazing. One in particular called The Rock Garden started as someone's hobby and built illegally has evolved into a landscape of mosaic sculptures. And if I ever do get to India, I hope it's during the February flower show so I can see The Old Railway Garden which is on an old railway and described an idea of colonialism as most of the garden staff have never been to Britain. They are only open to the public during the flower show and are known to have won the contest several times.

I appreciated a chapter on edible gardens from Vivero Organoponico Alamar in Havana, Cuba to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Virginia. I'm hoping soon I'll be on the East Coast and be close enough to make a stop at Monticello. I would also like to make another visit to Singapore and see Wilson Wong's community garden. This opened in 2006, a year after I was there. He has started a forum about gardening in Singapore and beyond.

Oh, and this is when seed catalogs start arriving en force. More armchair gardening and planning to come!