Friday, November 30, 2007

Choosing Tomato Varieties

What a stressful time for us here at the Tasteful Garden. We have to evaluate our selections of tomato varieties and choose which ones have to go to make room for the new. We try to offer a comprehensive selection of colors, sizes and time to maturity so that you can choose the tomatoes you want to grow. Even tougher is to narrow down our choices for the new varieties! Some varieties look good and may taste great but the names may be either unpronounceable or just plain weird.

Although varieties such as Momotaro and Rutgers are fantastic tomatoes and are well known, after offering them for so many years, we are putting them aside for a while to grow some newer ones. Kellogg's Breakfast has been on a lot of favorites list for years but this is the first year we have grown it. We are assured that the production is high and the flavor is fantaaastic. Marianna's Peace was a variety that had a burst of popularity a couple of years ago and then dropped like a hot potato. We are now bringing it back because it really was a good tomato and deserves another chance at fame.

Since weather problems made so many tomatoes just give up this year, we decided to come up with a rating system which will indicate which tomatoes will grow no matter what you do and which ones need a little more care. So many of our customers grow in containers or have limited space and cannot grow 16 tomato varieties so we have indicated which ones we would grow if we wanted to get lots of fruit under those conditions and still get great flavor.

Of course I hope everyone is enlarging their garden space this spring...get the compost in now!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Fall is the best time of year!

I absolutely love fall. No question, hands down it is really the best for weather, for reorganizing and planning, for relaxing, for exercise and even for eating!

Nothing beats a walk in the woods for reflection as well as exercise. Doing it with other people is just as much fun as being alone. Not many things you can say that about! Fall always brings me into quiet reflective moods and helps me really focus on what I want to get done. I can sit and read by a fire and catch up on great books which really need the time I have available once our busy season is over and before the Holidays really kick in. My birthday is November 17th and even though I don't like to think about that much, it does give me even more to think about such as measuring my success to date.

Mostly I love making soup. It is really the one task that everyone appreciates so much and brings such comfort and joy. My favorites are Shrimp or Lobster Bisque, Chicken Corn Chowder, Clam Chowder, and Minestrone Soup. Here is a recipe for my Minestrone...try it out on your family and friends!

Vegetable Minestrone Soup

2 tbsp. Olive oil
2 oz. pancetta or bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 medium celery with leaves, chopped
1 fresh sprig Rosemary about 4"
1/4 cup fresh basil (you can also add marjoram, oregano, or thyme leaves) chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large can chopped Tomatoes
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 oz. orzo pasta, (or any small type pasta such as shells or macaroni)
1/4 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
fresh Italian parsley, chopped for garnish

Saute the pancetta in a skillet until crisp. Add the onions, celery, carrots & garlic and saute until the onions are almost clear. Add next 6 ingredients to a large stock pot and simmer soup 30 minutes. Remove the Rosemary sprig, add the pasta and cook 15-20 minutes more until pasta is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and crusty bread for soaking up the broth.

Growing Herbs Indoors

Growing Herbs Indoors

This time of year, we get lots of questions about growing herbs indoors. Growing herbs is easy and fun to do but it can be a challenge to do indoors. You may not be successful growing all of the herbs during the entire winter season but try to think of it as a short term extension of the garden and see what works well in your indoor climate. Most kitchens will have enough light but there are a few that just cannot grow anything but African Violets, don't try to grow herbs under very low light conditions without a bright growing fluorescent light fixture. Special bulbs are available which give off the full spectrum light and helps with the overall quantity of light. These are not enough on their own but a window even one shaded by trees can still be bright enough when supplemented by the grow light. Find a window located on the south or west side that captures the most light possible. Sunrooms and Greenhouse type windows are other alternatives which work great.

Keep in mind that in order for the herbs to actually grow, as opposed to going dormant, you will need to keep them warm as well as sunny. Don’t worry about trying to grow Sweet Basil during the middle of January but you can have it last into December and then start again early in March. Make sure you do not place the herbs near heating ducts or fireplaces as they can really dry out the leaves even though you water them frequently.

Large pots are crucial, 8-10" pots seem to do best for long term growth. Those cute little pots marked with the name of the herbs are very short term. Drainage is also important so watch for trays that catch water and keep the roots wet all the time. Your plants will not appreciate the wet feet. Rosemary, Thyme, Sage and Oregano must have a period of dry soil before they are watered again so make sure the soil gets dry most of the way down by only watering when the soil is very dry to the touch. Overwatering is the number 1 killer of indoor herbs. You can add gravel to trays or saucers and fill them with water for humidity, or mist the leaves of the plant once a week with a spray bottle. Pick your herbs frequently as it stimulates new growth but limit your cuttings to very small amounts, you don't want to cut too much of the plant away at one time.

There are a few indoor pests that bother herbs in wintertime, mostly fungus gnats and whiteflies which need to be treated with soapy water. Fungus gnats can be a problem since they live in the soil. The best thing to do is to try to remove the top 1/2" or so of soil and replace it with fresh. If you still have a problem, drench the pot with soapy dishwater. That should get rid of them but if not, you can purchase Safer soap or some of our Neem II and spray the soil with that. It may take a couple of treatments with the soap. Also, let the soil dry out almost completely before watering again, that seems to discourage them. Whiteflies should be sprayed with Neem II or sprayed with soapy water making sure to get the soap actually on the flies to kill them.

Fertilizer is hardly needed at all during the winter, only use some good compost or Worm Castings in the soil mix when you plant and add it again to the top of the soil about half way through the season. Good luck!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hornworm Help

Here at the farm, we have had a taste of fall but the humidity being kicked up by the tropical storms has us still running air conditioning most days and nights. I will be so relieved when this summer is officially over. Our fall colors will be minimal due to the drought here, many trees have already turned almost completely brown.

We are picking the last of the "fall" (July planted) tomatoes and lost only a few plants due to the drought. Even though we had used drip irrigation regularly and mulched well, the plants get stressed and cannot fight diseases very well. Our Ozarks, Big Girl, Carmello, and Rose de Berne did very well in the 100+ heat as well as the Juliets being prolific which was expected. Juliets are a small roma type, salad tomato that is larger than the cherry types and very meaty. They are best for cooking because of this and we enjoyed them most sauteed with a little olive oil and basil or roasted in the oven with a little cheese. They would also be great as dried tomatoes!

Ozark was a shining example of a tomato, the flavor was fantastic. We did have some cracking at the tops due to the drought but the fruits were just delicious. Rose de Berne was definitely the best flavor with a richness that you just can't get from most red tomatoes. Carmello and Big Girl had nice size and good solid meat which was perfect for sandwiches. Cherokee purple succumbed to the weather as it does sometimes. With the extra heat, they just couldn't take the extra watering required to keep them going. Oh well, we just keep trying with that tomato as it has such great acidity and flavor. We are working on the survey of everyone's favorite tomatoes and should have the results in this month's newsletter.

George discovered several tomato hornworms in the garden and since we had just read about them, he looked for white egg sacks attached to their back. These egg sacks are from a tiny wasp that uses the hornworms as host and lives off of them for a little while until eventually killing them. I know it is kind of gross but the benefit to the garden is fantastic! So don't remove them from your garden, it won't be long before this ugly worm is dead and you will have lots of baby wasps to continue the work. Read more about this here:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Going Green in the garden

A fantastic program on the Sundance Channel called "It's not easy being green" has a family that moves to Cornwall, England to set up a farm that is completely self sufficient. Raising their own vegetables, pigs, chickens, creating their own electricity, composting toilet etc. George and I have enjoyed watching the show and have learned a few things too. We are hoping to eventually go green a little bit around here with solar panels.

One of the things shown in the vegetable garden is using rolls of heavy kraft paper as a mulch to cover the soil and prevent weeds. It is easy to layout, easy to cut through for planting, and it breaks down over the season to allow for a fresh bed to plant. Most folks around here use newspapers to block weeds but I really like the kraft paper rolls for long rows and ease of use. We generally rototill and cultivate to fight the weeds which are monsters in the garden. Rototilling just brings new seeds up from below ground and makes the problem worse.

Lasagna gardening creates new layers and each layer covers up the previous one which blocks the weeds from the sunlight and prevents germination. Read more about Lasagna gardening in the book which is for sale in our Video & Bookstore.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Welcome to The Tasteful Garden Blog

Hello, welcome to our new blog. Since everyone else has one, we thought it would be helpful and fun to have our own blog. Post your questions, comments, photos and whatever else you are interested in and we will all be able to share the fun.

Feel free to post your favorite tomatoes, your experiences with vegetable gardening, tips, tricks and helpful information for other gardeners.