Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fresh Eyes Can Spot Overlooked Tasty Garden Treats

Bringing in fresh eyes to explore your backyard handiwork usually results in some pleasant surprises. A visitor to our vegetable garden area last week uncovered a few happy circumstances that we had overlooked.

First, she spotted some edible broccoli (in late spring!), hidden under a mass of flowering sweet peas and nicotiana. The florets were still green, tight and tasty, despite the late date. 
Normally,  this winter vegetable has bolted and turned bitter by mid-May here in the Central Valley of California. 

Even bolted broccoli has important side benefits: the bees will have a heyday with the resulting flowers.

This visitor also spied the colorful flower heads on the Stockton Red and Stockton Yellow onion crops. Garden traditionalists are not happy when their onions bolt. According to Texas A&M University, bolting onions occur due to fluctuating temperatures...a very common occurrence here this spring. Once they have bolted, there isn't much you can do to send energy back to the bulb. As a result, the flowering onion's bulb is usually smaller than the bulb of an onion plant where the flowering stalk is snipped off as soon as it appears. 

What to do about those flowering onions? Texas A&M advises: "Use these onions as soon as possible because the green flower stalk which emerges through the center of the bulb will make storage almost impossible."

The visitor to our garden noticed another use for those flowering onions. "Are these edible?", she asked. It should be mentioned  that she said this as she was munching on a few of the florets of the onion flower. 

Garden munchers please note: it's always a good idea to get some information BEFORE popping any flower in your mouth. A good list of tasty (and dangerous) garden flowers can be found at the Colorado State University web page, "Edible Flowers"

Following her lead, I grabbed a couple of the florets and popped them in my mouth (yeah, I know, I know...).


And what a pleasant surprise! onion flowers - in small quantities - are quite tasty, but pungent. And as we found out at dinner, sprinkling a few of the florets in a salad adds a nice, spicy touch. But go easy. Adding too many onion florets could overwhelm the taste of the other garden goodies in that salad.

So, don't go into a funk if suddenly you spot flowering onions in your garden now. Just use the bulbs soon after harvest. In the meantime, enjoy the flowers. The bees will!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Vinegar + Garden = Waste of Time and Money

Prof. Jeff Gillman has it right: using vinegar as a weed killer, plant disease control, fertilizer or soil acidifier is basically useless. And, potentially dangerous. To summarize the information in his posting at The Garden Professors:

• Vinegar only kills the top of the weed, not the root.
• That 20% acetic acid vinegar sold as a weed killer? Very you, not your weeds.
• Vinegar not only does not thwart diseases, it could kill your plant!
• Vinegar as a soil acidifier or fertilizer is useless.

But it is tasty on a salad!

Home Garden Salad this week: Blackberries, Mascara Lettuce, Flame Lettuce, Swiss Chard, Nasturtium

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Our 2011 Tomato Garden

It may be June, but the abnormally cool, wet weather lately here in Northern California has slowed down growth in the summer vegetable garden. That may be a blessing for garden procrastinators. Because of the prolonged March-like weather, it's not too late to plant tomatoes! And if you don't mind a delayed harvest, you could put in tomato plants throughout this month.

The choice of tomatoes is yours; here is what has worked for us in the past, and what we are trying this year in our garden in Sacramento County.

First, the 2010 Tomato Report Card...


Lemon Boy A  excellent. long production cycle, good flavor



Dr. Wyche A  Best heirloom of 2010

First Prize B+ Good producer early on

Sweet Gold B+ - Dependable yellow cherry tomato 

Early Wonder B  Did better than Early Girl


Beefmaster B-  erratic production but good size

 Big Beef  B- Dependable slicer.

Poti Cuote Bue-1  C+  produced early, nothing to write home about.

Pomodoro Canestrino  C+ Juicy but went bad quick

Poti Cuote Bue-2 C  less productive than 1   
Viva Italia C  Sunburn, produced late.

Djena Lee’s Golden Girl  C disappointed with little production

Pomodoro Canestrino Red Pear ‘Claudia’
C  firmer, pretty good

Bloody Butcher C-  not as productive as 2009

Early Girl C- didn't produce until August

Marianna’s Peace
D Little production but tasty. Went bad quick.


Celebrity? I think not.
Celebrity F - I swear, it was NOT a Celebrity. Ping Pong Ball size. 
Gangly vine, little production

And now, our 2011 tomato garden!
Information about these varieties (in quotes) come from many sources, including: Totally Tomatoes, Tomato Growers Supply Company, TomatoFest, Reimer Seeds, Burpee Seeds, Harris Seeds.

Listed in alphabetical order, here is what we have in the ground now, including 15 varieties we have never tried before. Past report cards (pre-2010) of the varieties we have grown before are included here.

Heirloom -  "6 to 10 ounce round red tomatoes. Indeterminate. 77 days." New for us.

Big Beef
"Big Beef is generally ready for harvest 80 to 85 days after sowing. Vigorous, indeterminate plants produce 4 to 6 inch tomatoes which are crack resistant. Sweet, slightly acidic flavor. An All-America Selections Award Winner. Resistant to V, F1, F2, N, TMV, and ASC (Alternaria Stem Canker)."

Sept. 2008 report card: Needed tomato plants in a hurry in early March, for a TV shoot. Grabbed a six pack of these from a big box store, a store that has no qualms about selling tomato plants in late winter to overanxious gardeners. TV shot canceled. Might as well plant them and see! Result: Probably the best overall tomato in our garden in 2008. Big Beef was excellent either sliced or for canning. Easy to peel for canning. Productive early and often! A

: Produced all season. Not that "big",though. Medium sized. Cracking, some blossom end rot. B+ 

Blue Fruit  - Heirloom.
New for us.

Burbank  - Heirloom.
New for us.

Chianti Rose  - Heirloom.
New for us.

Cream Sausage  - Heirloom.
New for us.

Dr. Wyche's Yellow  - Heirloom

"This is undoubtedly one of the best tasting yellow tomatoes to be found, combining luscious sweetness with plenty of tangy tomato flavor. Golden-yellow fruit is beautiful, unblemished and smooth, and varies from 10 ozs. to 1 lb. The shape is that of a typical beefsteak with very meaty interiors. Huge, vigorous plants produce well, but it is the rich, excellent flavor and large fruit size that really set this one apart. Indeterminate. 80 days."

  SEPTEMBER 2009 REPORT CARD: Very prolific for a large yellow tomato! Big and juicy, with a great, sweet flavor. Some blossom end rot, but tolerable.

Green Zebra
  "A unique and delicious salad tomato, three ounce green fruits ripen to amber-green with darker green stripes. The light green flesh is very flavorful, sweet yet zingy. Indeterminate. 75 days." A freebie from the California State Garden Show. We've only grown it once before, in 2002. Unmemorable then.
New for us.
Lemon Boy

Lemon Boy VFN Hybrid. "The first lemon yellow, not golden, tomato variety, and still one of the best. Extremely vigorous plants produce large harvests of attractive fruit that weighs 8 ozs. or more. Flavor is outstanding, mild and sweet yet tangy and definitely not bland. This one is easy to grow and understandably one of our most popular yellow tomatoes. Indeterminate. 72 days."

2008 Report Card: Lemon Boy was very prolific, tasty and disease free in 2008, so it gets planted again! A

2009 REPORT CARD: Very productive. Extremely flavorful. Great in salads. Started harvesting in late May! Some cracking, but tolerable.  


  New for us.

Old German  - Heirloom.
New for us.

Oregon Spring

Snow White
New for us.

Solid Gold  
New for us.

Indeterminate, 57 days. "Very sweet, bright orange cherry tomatoes taste not just sugary but also fruity and delicious. Vigorous growers, these tall plants bear long clusters of fruit." 

2007 Report Card: A taste test winner at Rose Loveall's Morningsun Herb Farm. Tried it in 2003...and it turned out to be a winner in the August trials here! Outclassed in 2007 by Sweet Gold, but still a good cherry tomato. B+

Sept 2008 report card: pretty good production and taste, a runner-up to Sweet Gold. B

Super Bush New for us.

Sweet Million

Early maturing hybrid cherry type tomato. Clusters of tiny fruit are well rounded, deep red in color with a delicious sweet flavor. Tolerance to cracking and good holding qualities. Tall Indeterminate plants grow tall and require support. Maturity is 60 days from transplanting. 
2001 Report Card: This is a productive cherry tomato, with tons of fruit on an indeterminate vine that tops out at six feet tall. And sweet! The small (one inch) fruit are great for snacking, straight from the vine. I added this variety to my chili instead of sugar. If I was forced to only grow one tomato plant, this would be it.  A

2002 Report Card:  I grow this variety each year for a number of reasons; not the least of which: my dentist requests a plant for himself each spring. I trade him for toothpaste and floss. A

2003 Report Card: And the camera crews from HGTV love it, too! A

2008 Report Card: Sweet Million was gangly this year. Although tasty, it was outperformed by the Sweet Gold. B-

Sweet Seedless
New for us.
New for us.

Transparent  New for us. Trade Winds Fruit Store description: "An intensely juicy and sweet tomato bearing golf-ball sized fruits with a muted yellow-white color. Flesh is white, with lots of juice and a very good quality sweet flavor. Fruits are born in small clusters and plants are high yielders. Indeterminate. 70-75 days."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Good Bug Hotel

This started as an accident. "Temporarily" using one of the six valuable raised beds as a holding area for various ornamental plants until we could come up with a permanent garden home for them.


Well, before you know it, the ornamentals started taking over, leaving little room at the other end of the bed for the vegetables. 

It's not just vegetables that like raised beds. All that high quality, easy draining soil, sunlight and regular watering is nirvana for just about any plant, including the perennials, small shrubs and self-sowing annuals that are filling that 4'x20' box.

 And we didn't have the heart to move least not while they were thriving and looking good. The problem was...they always looked good!

But something happened on the way to the garden shed to get the spading fork to move those offenders of vegetable space.

A closer look showed that these plants had become good bug hotels: attractive flowers for pollinating insects (all sorts of different bees), bigger pollinators (birds, hummingbirds) and beneficial insects (lacewings, ladybugs, syrphid flies and more).

And since most garden fruits and vegetables rely on insects for pollination and bad bug control, who was I to kick these laborers out of their residence? After all, the only payment they asked for was a little food and shelter, along with some nearby water.

There is still a bit of room in that bed for winter vegetables (letting the broccoli and cilantro go to flower in spring is attracting all manner of bees, as well). 

But the showy flowers in that bed - including the scabiosa, nicotiana, salvia, sweet peas, cilantro, sunflowers and butterfly bush - will always be a place for the good guys to live, year round.