Saturday, September 27, 2014

Final Tomato Tasting of the Summer-Pineapple (Yes you read right!)

Shirley, one of our gardeners grew this variety and she stated it tasted more like a regular tomato and not much like pineapple.  The flavor is very sweet and fruity; good yields!  One taste will transport you back in time with that great old-fashioned, full bodied tomato flavor.

This indeterminate produces 1-2 pound fruit in 75-95 days.  The yellow fruit has red marbling through the flesh.  This gorgeous tomato is still bearing heavily as of September 27! 

It looks amazing and get great reviews online, I might have to try them next year.  Thank you for the photos Shirley!

1 pound fruit.

Beautiful red marbling.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How to Grow Eggplant

I (Gia) am the type of gardener who likes challenges.  If someone says "it can't be grown in the Pacific Northwest", I am just the type of gardener who tries to grow it.

There are quite a few veggies that reputedly "don't" grow well in the Greater Seattle Area.  Here is a short list:  

1.  Okra
2.  Melons
3.  Eggplant

These sun lovers usually do not fare well at our community garden but for two years in a row I've had success with eggplants and I would like to share my success with you.  

I planted six eggplants: 2 Satin Beauty, 2 Japanese long, 1 Millionaire and 1 Green Apple.  They have all done wonderfully well this year!   I bought all my eggplants from local hardware stores, they are organic and started as 4 inch potted plants.

Here is a quick "How To" tutorial on how I got such great results!

Firstly, I prepared my raised bed in April (you can also do this in May). I like raised beds or large pots for these heat lovers.  I peeled back the industrial black plastic that had been covering the plot the year before and I added fresh compost and 5 pounds of rock dust to the 3 x 15 foot row.  I then re-covered the raised bed and let the soil heat up for the next 2 months.  (See black plastic in photo below)

Secondly, I purchased my starts in mid-May and let them harden off at home for 7-10 days.  After the acclimation period, I introduced my starts to the garden.  I placed the 4 inch starts in a warm location in my plot for another week to see if they could handle being out in the wide open garden.  I watched them carefully for frost damage or cold stress during this week.  If they fared well after a week then they were ready to be planted into their permanent growing locations.  If not, I coddled then for another week until it was warm enough for them to be happy outside 24/7 at MCGA.

Thirdly,  I planted them 2-3 feet apart with a large stake next to each plant as they can get heavy when loaded with fruit.  In each planting hole I added 1 cup of organic vegetable fertilizer. Remember since these are sun loving plants, do not place them in a location in which they will be shaded whatsoever by other plants.  I watered the starts every 2-3 days until they started to flower.  After they began to flower, I watered every 3-4 days and I fed them every two weeks with an organic liquid fertilizer for vegetables.

Lastly, I staked the plants when necessary, I pruned away all dead and/or damaged leaves, I dusted with diatomaceous earth when the flea beetles started coming around and eventually the plants' growth outpaced the flea beetles.  Harvest when the eggplants reach the desired size, cut the thick stems with pruning shears and watch out for thorns!

I watched these beauties grow for almost three months and felt a certain amount of pride when I gave away my largest eggplant to a fellow gardener.

*Now onto conquer growing a proper melon!

 Satin Beauty-a very prolific plant.  Each plant has 6-8 large 2-3 pound fruits.


Satin Beauty and Japanese Long

Satin Beauty, Japanese long, Satin Beauty and Green Apple

Millionaire and Green Apple

Summer Veggie Stew aka Caponata aka Ratatouille

I do not claim to be French or Italian but love the food of both countries.  This veggie stew is so versatile because you can use almost any summer vegetable you want.  True caponata MUST have eggplant, true ratatouille MUST have zucchini, I mix in a little bit of this and a little bit of that and call it delicious.   One of my sisters, who shall not be named, loves it so much she never has only one bowl.  The recipe is super simple and makes us of all our homegrown produce.

Step 1:  Cut up all your veggies to about the same size. Use whatever you have on hand, I've included:  onions, garlic, romano beans, eggplant and summer squash.  Other add-ins are:  fresh carrots, zucchini, shallots, thicker/older green beans.  

Step 2:  Heat up a good amount of olive oil on medium heat, add veggies a little at a time until all have been added to a thick bottom pot like a dutch oven.  Season with salt and pepper, saute all the veggies together until they are brown and caramelized.  (You will see brown bits sticking to the bottom of your pan.)  Add a squeeze or a tablespoon of tomato paste to the pot and saute with all the veggies, do not let the paste burn but do let it get brown.

Step 3:  When the veggies are all browned, add 1-2  15 oz. can(s) of tomato product.  It can be tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, crushed, or stewed tomatoes.  Now the fun part,  add a bit of cider vinegar (start with a couple tablespoons) and follow the vinegar with a bit of sugar (start with a couple teaspoons).  This makes a wonderful agrodolce sauce that is lightly sweet and sour.  After the stew comes to a boil, lower heat and cover.  Simmer for 15-20 minutes then taste for seasonings.  You can always add a sprig of bay leaf, thyme or rosemary at this time.  Adjust the salt, vinegar and sugar to your taste.  When all the veggies are al dente, remove the cover and turn the heat up to medium.  Allow some of the sauce to reduce and then you are ready to eat!  Buon appetito!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tomato Tasting #4 Black Plum

Black Plum is a Russian heirloom plum tomato.  It is larger than a grape tomato but oval in shape.  I have never grown this variety before and love to try new types, especially if I have never heard of them. The plant is indeterminate and very prolific, it grew right out of its tomato cage and onto my scarlet runner beans.  They are 1-2 inches long with dark red skin and a mahogany blush. I think they look like they have been splashed with chocolate. 

When I cut the tomato open, I noticed 2 lobes with a good amount of seed pulp inside.  The flesh was a tiny bit grainy but tasty.  I read it makes a great sauce but in our house we mostly eat our tomatoes fresh in salads or with mozzarella, basil and mezza rigatoni in a fresh and cold summer pasta. I also read this tomato has a smokey flavor but I did not pick up on it.  I think for fresh eating, it hits the spot.

Tomato Tasting #3 Green Zebra

Did you know that the Green Zebra tomato was bred right here in Washington State by Tom Wagner of Everett and was first sold in 1983.  Green Zebra has been touted as an heirloom but is actually the result of four heirloom tomatoes bred together.  Nevertheless, heirloom or not, I have been growing it for three years in a row now and this year I have my best crop ever!  Our hot and dry summer have made this tomato produce like gangbusters.  I have two plants and each plant has at least 10-15 large to medium fruits on it.

The Green Zebra is a beautiful tomato, I love the chartreuse coloring and the dark green stripes. The catalogs state it is a medium-sized tomato but I picked two this evening that were larger than half a pound, 10 and 11 oz. to be exact.  When they are ripe, they blush with a light orange tinge and give into to gentle pressure.  Don't wait for them to turn red because they won't.

I sliced several in half and the larger ones had 4 lobes with few seeds in them.  I sprinkled them with a bit of sea salt and when I put them in  my mouth, I got a zing!  They were flavorful, bright and more tart than your average tomato.  Delicious!  They have a nice medium to thin skin and when I added a few drops of balsamic vinegar and olive oil to them, I devoured them up immediately.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tomato Tasting #2 Red Zebra

This adorable tomato is a hybrid from the heirloom Green Zebra and a red parent.  I have done a bit of research and have yet to find out the name of the red parent.  The fruit are medium in size ranging from red striped with green and yellow to red with only yellow stripes when fully ripe.  (They start out green.)  When my mom first saw this tomato she said it must be diseased because if its stripes.  I don't have the heart to tell her about my Green Zebra that never turns red!

The tomato has few seeds and is slightly tart.  I enjoyed the flavor and thought hard about how to describe it.  I would say it tastes like a real tomato should, it is juicy with a firm texture maybe due to its thick skin which gives it added  mouth feel.  I also think it tasted like how crushed tomato leaves smell.  I ate one last week and one this week and stand by that opinion.  Enjoy!


Tomato Tasting #1 Great White

If you "Google" Great White tomato you find a lot of information about this indeterminate beefsteak tomato that makes it stand out from the crowd.  (When I first bought my start 3 months ago, I could barely find any information on it.)  It has been hailed as the "un-tomato",  meaning is has nuanced flavors akin to pineapple, guava or melon instead of your classic tomato flavor profiles.

I bought my 4 inch start from the Master Gardner plant Sale this year on May 4th.  (I also found them at Fred Meyer in Overlake.)  I had it on the balcony for a week to harden off then I planted it in a large pot at MCGA and protected with with clear plastic stapled to a tomato cage.  After the middle of June, I removed the plastic.  With our early summer, it grew well and produced giant fruit right away.  I harvested my first tomato yesterday, from planting to first harvest was exactly 3 months and 2 days.  UPDATE:  I picked one today that was 1 pound and 3 ounces.

This heirloom tomato is ripe when slightly yellow in color and gives to gentle pressure.  The fruit are large and the plant needs strong support.  This indeterminate is stocky in nature and did not get out of control in my garden.

The Great White was amazingly free of seeds.  Its super beefy texture was not mealy at all.  It is thin skinned so must be handled carefully.  I sprinkled with it flaky Maldon sea salt and sliced 1/4 inch slices.  I kept taking small bites as tried my hardest to pretend I was a tomato sommelier.  As I closed my eyes these flavors came to mind....apricot, golden raspberry and melon.  I knew I was eating a tomato but these words came to mind...light, creamy, delicate, juicy, bright, low acid, refreshing and sunshine.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Summer's Around the Corner Garden Checklist

Summer is a beautiful time in the Pacific Northwest; it's the time our gardens leap into full production of deliciousness and beauty.  There is a lot to do in the garden as the soil is now warm enough for us to plant our "warm" crops and the ambient temperature is warm enough to grow most things out of hoop houses or cloches.

There is a laundry list of things to do in the garden and since I am a fanatic, feel free to include the bits that you can benefit from and pass over the bits that seem like a crazy garden rant.

Here goes:

  • Time to harvest your spring crops,  lettuce, spinach, broccoli, kale, chard,  spring onions, green garlic, and other greens should be ready now.  My peas are coming along but not ready to harvest yet.

  • Time to set up a regular feeding program for your summer veggies.  Make sure you water your garden before applying fertilizer to prevent 'burning" your plants.  Roots needs moisture to access those nutrients.  Follow the suggested feeding instructions on any good vegetable/tomato organic fertilizer.

  • Read more here:

  • Time to mulch your blueberries with a thick mulch of conifer needles (conifer needles because they are acidfiying).  They are very shallow rooted plants and you want to make sure that they do not dry out in July and August.  If you did not fertilize your plants in the spring, then you should take the time now to add a cup of acid fertilizer per plant.

  • Time to stake and prune your tomatoes, if you do the minimal of pruning, you should remove all the lower leaves on your tomato plants and make sure no leaves touch the surrounding soil, this helps to prevent the spread of diseases.  

  • Time to build or make supports for your vining plants like snap peas, peas, pole beans and cucumbers, this make harvesting easier and leads to straighter cucumbers.  It also keeps more of your tasty produce off the ground and away from critters like slugs.

  • Time to pinch flower tips off onions, garlic and leeks, especially if they were planted in the fall.  Do the same for basil if they have started to produce flowers.  Since we want the plants' energy to go into producing the bulb, stem or leaves NOT flowers.

  • Time to hill up your potatoes.  Gather the soil you have in your garden and mound up the soil at the base of your potato plants.  This will help more little taters form!

  • Weed, Weed, Weed and Water.   If you cannot water consistently, consider mulching with leaves to conserve moisture. Try hard not to water the foliage of your crops, if that cannot be avoided, then try not to water in the evenings.  As summer heads our way, wet leaves and high humidity around our plants leaves them very susceptible to fungal diseases like blight. 

  • Time to keep a keen eye out for pests and squash them when you see them. Top summer pests are: aphids, asparagus beetles, flea beetles, cucumber beetles and squash bugs.  Be sure to look on the undersides of leaves and squash anything that looks like these critters as well as their eggs.

  • As it gets warmer, cool season crops should not be planted as they tend to 'bolt' in hot weather. They send up a seed spike and go to seed instead of growing and producing a harvest for you, such plants are lettuce, spinach, radish and other cool season crops.  You can plant them again in the Fall.

I hope these tips are helpful, stop by my garden if you need advice and I am happy to help.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Top 10 Tips for New Gardeners

I was a new gardener once.  I was 5 when I first began to grow plants with my parents on our little sustenance farm on Guam.  We grew sugar cane, lemons, melons, guava, sweet potatoes, eggplants, Thai basil, chili peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon grass and much, much more.  Now let’s fast forward to 2007, when I rented my first garden plot at MCGA.  I did not know much about growing food crops in the Pacific Northwest but I was an eager learner.  Here are my top 10 tips for new gardeners to the PNW and to MCGA, this is a compilation of some the things I have learned and taught myself through trial and error over the past 7 years.

1.  Grass and weeds are evil, remove as much as you can as they suck vital water and nutrients from your crops.

2.  Plan out your garden.  Do you want to build raised beds?  If you do make sure the beds are not so wide that you cannot reach the middle of the bed to weed.  It might also be a good idea to make sure you can reach all parts of your garden bed from the edges as well.  Next plan out your paths, even if you do not build raised beds make sure to plan for paths as it is not wise to step into your beds.  It compacts the soil and destroys its structure. 

3.  "Make" the best soil you can.  Add the best soil amendments you can afford.  Here are the names of some great things to add to your soil, some are free, some will cost you some change. These things are NOT the same as fertilizer although they do provide some nutrients. You do not have to add them all in 1 year, also follow the application directions.

a.  Compost, make your own or buy some.  (free and $)
b.  Sustainable peat moss for your blueberries at planting time ($$), pine needs as mulch (free).
c.  Earthworm castings ($$$)
d.  Lime in the fall. ($)
e.  Manure, steer, chicken, rabbit, etc... Beware that horse and cow manure contains the highest salts, use sparingly and make sure it has been aged 6+ months. ($$)
f.  Coconut fiber or coir fiber ($$$)
g.  Coffee grounds (free) 
h.  Leaf mold (free)
i.  Perlite or horticultural vermiculite, great natural products for heavy soils, they help with aeration but provide no nutrients.  ($$)
1j.  My favorite amendments right now re-mineralize the soil:  Biochar, rock dust and glacial rock dust, AZOMITE (wear a mask when you apply powdery amendments).

4.  Start your seeds at the right time, see seed packet for information.  Make sure the soil is wet before you make your furrow to sow your seeds. Tamp down the soil around your seed; many seeds need to contact the soil before they can germinate.

5.  Learn about cold crops and hot crops:  These crops are planted at different times at the garden.

Some example of cold crops:  arugula, lettuce, mache, radish, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, spinach, turnip, carrots, beets, garlic, onions, shrubs can be planted early in the season, asparagus, snow peas, sugar snap peas, parsley just to name a few.

Some examples of hot crops (usually like day temps 55F and above and night temps about 50F and above):  tomatoes, okra, eggplants, melons, beans, potatoes, cucumbers, peppers, corn, squash, tomatillo, basil, pumpkins, just to name a few.

6.  If you wish to plant starts, make sure they are hardened off before you plant them in the garden.  Do not assume they are hardened off when you buy them from the hardware store or nursery.  Hardening off means to get them ready or accustomed to life outside the cozy comfort of your home or the greenhouse.  Remember they have never felt wind, rain, direct sun or cold nights.

Here is a quick and easy guide to hardening off your starts:

a.  7-10 days before you are ready to plant your starts at the garden you should begin to harden them off.  If you have a balcony or a terrace, this is ideal!

b.  Reduce the amount of water and place them outside in the shade for 1-2 hours on day 1 to day 3.  Bring them in at night. 

c.  Gradually move them outside more and more, adding 1-2 hours at a time, they should be able to stay outside at night after days 3-5. 

d.  By the end of the 7-10 days they should be able to stay outside day and night.  Now they are ready to plant at the garden.

7.  The best time and condition to plant your starts are early in the morning and when it is cloudy.  I DO NOT recommend planting starts out on a sunny day, doing so often causes them to wilt dangerously.

8.  When planting starts in the garden, dig a giant hole, loosen the soil, add about 1 handful to 1 cup of vegetable fertilizer, depending on the plant.  Stir the soil and the fertilizer together.  Fill the hole with water, back fill as necessary as you place your start in the hole.  Water at this time again, tamp the soil around firmly and you are done!

(Exception!  For tomatoes and tomatillos, bury 1/2 to 2/3 of the entire plant in the hole, this practice encourages root growth along the buried stems and make for a stronger plant.)

9.  As you watch your crops grow over the coming weeks; weed often and water deeply.  I only water 1-2 times a week when it is dry.  I watch the weather report and avoid watering when we expect rain.  Avoid watering overhead whenever you can, use drip hoses or water right at the base of your plants.  Deep watering encourages stronger roots.

10.  Continue weeding and watering deeply.  Now it is time to control those pests who are enjoying your lovely crops.

Enemy #1 SLUGS

The slugs that do the most damage are the tiny ones.  There are many ways to get rid of slugs and I usually employ all methods! 

a.  Iron phosphate products like Sluggo and Escargo are pelleted, read the directions and avoid sprinkling directly on plants.

b.  Beer traps-set out a small container at soil level and fill with cheap beer, slugs will be attracted to the beer and drown.  Empty the container often.

c.  Sprinkle egg shells all over, this works only on the bigger slugs.

d.  Use copper tape to protect the really special plants, this tape is expensive.

e.  AVOID salt; this is not good for your soil.

f.  Hand pick at night when they are the most active.

g.  Place a wooden board or wet cardboard in the corner of your plot, when the slugs go there to hide you can get rid of them.

Enemy #2 RABBITS

These little guys love your greens, all greens and young sprouts.  I was so frustrated last year I had to put up a metal fence after they chewed through our plastic fence.

a.  You can put up a fence. 

b.  Buy some mink, fox or predator urine/feces and sprinkle around.  Believe it or not you can buy this online but it is stinky and expensive; NEVER spill it in your car.

c.  Build a small lettuce cage to protect your tender greens or sprouts until they are big enough to withstand a nibble here and there.

Enemy #3 VOLES

Voles are also known as field mice, they are small, like a small mouse and live mostly underground.  They are herbivores and love your crops.  MOLES are carnivores and eat only grubs and worms and NOT your plants.  Here is what voles look like:

They make underground burrows all over the garden but they also eat above ground crops as well.  See some underground and above ground damage.

Here is vole damage to beets, they love beets and carrots!

This really gets me boiling; they eat all the roots of the plant from underground. If you water and water your plants and they still wilt, check for vole damage.  If you water your plants and suddenly a giant sink hole forms in your garden, it is a vole hole.  The bad news is that we cannot do much, plant extra so you have more than they can eat up!


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Antsy Gardener

 It's March 1st today, only 20 more days until spring which is marked by the vernal equinox, when the day and night length are equal.

 As an avid gardener, I've spent the past winter months perusing garden catalogs and dreaming about fresh tomatoes. With the anticipation of more light and warmer temperatures, I have begun ordering seeds to start indoors.  Here is what I was looking at today:

Recently the temperatures have been uncharacteristically NOT "spring-like" but that did not deter me from sprinkling some seeds on the ground and covering them with a row cover.  The wild arugula and other greens should sprout in a week or two and I'll have some micro-greens for salads.

When I got home I ran to the garage and pulled out my garden lights, much to the hubby's dismay because he really doesn't like to see all those little pots of dirt on our kitchen counter for the next two months.  I on the other hand, revel at the site of little seedlings poking their heads out of my peat pellets. Last year I started seeds inside for the first time.  The starts did amazingly well and I am anxious to try again this year.  See this post to read about my seed starting adventures.

 If starting seeds at home is not in your plans, then spring is the perfect time to prepare your garden for planting.  Over the next few weeks it will be time to till under cover crops that have overwintered, remove winter mulch or weed small sections of your plot in preparation for some spring planting. Compost can be added to your plot as well as organic fertilizers and mineral amendments.

After you've prepared a small section of your plot, you will be ready to plant your cool season crops such as spinach, lettuce, and many other greens.  I often remove my winter mulch in stages so that every 2 to 4 weeks I uncover more and more of my plot. During my first year at the garden I learned that preparing my entire plot too early resulted in weeds growing back in the areas that I was not ready to plant.  I learned my lesson that year and now prepare my plot for planting in stages.  

A gardener can always dream of what ahead and so I am going to leave you with some garden eye candy to brighten your day!