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.