Monday, May 14, 2012

On The Humble, Sweet Tomato

The following information was found in a Lee Valley gardening newsletter from June 2008, written by Ron Rossini, Master Gardener. I'm sharing it here in the hopes that we all enjoy it, as I have.

"Textbook definitions of heirloom plants suggest that any variety cultivated before 1940, the first year of hybrid introductions, can be declared an heirloom. However, purists contend that the only true heirloom plants are those that have been passed down through generations, not just those that date prior to 1940.

The tomato is biologically categorized as a fruit and is similar to other seed-producing garden favorites such as peppers and melons. Gardeners have historically referred to it as a vegetable, and little effort has been made to change that distinction.

Hybrids Versus Heirlooms
 A hybrid plant is the result of crossbreeding two genetically different varieties to create a new one. Heirloom plants are open-pollinated. Their seeds are true to type, meaning they produce plants with exactly the same traits as the parents.
Many hybrids have built-in disease resistance; most heirlooms do not.
Hybrids have a generally higher yield than heirlooms.
Hybrid plants and seeds are easy to find and purchase in garden centers; heirlooms are not.

 Sourcing Heirlooms
 Heirloom plants and seeds are often hard to find at garden centers simply due to low demand. Organizations such as Seed Savers Exchange ( and Seeds of Diversity ( are dedicated to saving heirlooms and are a great resource for gardeners looking to do the same. These groups provide information on companies that sell heirloom seeds and plants and many host seed exchange events.

Recommended Heirloom Varieties
'Black Krim' is a mahogany-colored variety with a true tomato taste. A very heavy producer that's prone to cracking. Second choice is 'Black Prince'.

'Mennonite Orange' is a large, bountiful tomato and truly one of the best-tasting orange varieties. Close second is 'Kellogg's Breakfast'.

'Sioux' is a productive heirloom with smaller rich deep-red colored fruits that have a full-bodied taste. Others include 'Rose de Berne' and 'Costoluto Genovese'.

'Green Zebra' is a smaller-sized milder-tasting variety, but it's a heavy producer that shows pink and yellow on its shoulders when ripe. Others include 'Aunt Ruby's German Green' and 'Green Grape'.

A tie between the 'Caspian Pink', with its mild sweet flavor and flat fruit, and the 'Pink German Tree Tomato', which has a mild but sweet low-acid taste and treelike stems.

'Jaune Negib', a moderate yielding, early-season, small tomato with clusters of golf-ball-sized fruit. Second choices are 'Dr. Wyche's Yellow' and 'Limmony'.

'Northern Lights', with its inner rays of yellow, red and pink, is one of the most beautiful tomato varieties to cultivate and is a highly productive heirloom with a rich taste. 'Big Rainbow' and 'Marvel Striped' are other notable choices.

'Giant Belgium' has a sweet-tasting fruit that can weigh up to 5 lb. The taste is so sweet that some use it to make wine. Other choices include 'Aussie' and 'Mexico'.

There are thousands of heirloom varieties available and a gardener's only limitation is the size of the garden. Cultivating a tomato that has a rich past adds historical significance to the vegetable garden and rewards the gardener with colorful, tasty culinary presentations. Once you have cultivated an array of heirloom tomatoes, you may never grow an ordinary hybrid variety again."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

An East-Coast Fence Up North

One of the things I like to mull over during my more bored moments at work is the future dilemma of fencing. I know the yard up north has visitors of the wild persuasion (the occasional bear, deer and the like), and I'd like to find a way to  protect the garden without resorting to a jarring barrier that screams "A CITY SLICKER LIVES HERE!"
I think I've found a compromise!

The picture to the left there is a fence most often seen in Newfoundland, Canada. It's called a variety of names, Riggle, Wriggle, Riddle ... and it's bloody hard to find any info on the web! The Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland & Labrador has this to say,
"The riggle rod (wriggle, riddle, lear, roddle) fence is the most unique fence type in Newfoundland and it is very rare today. It is a combination of a longer fence and a picket fence and has obvious roots in the wattle fences of Medieval England. The riggle rod fence was the most effective in creating a barrier to keep things in or out of an enclosure. This fence type was constructed using three horizontal longers with long slender branches woven alternately between the longers creating an over-and-under effect. The tops of the branches were usually left untrimmed at the top. The branches were pushed close together and once they dried, the fence formed a very strong barrier. This type of fence was economically practical because it did not require the use of nails
on the woven uprights."

While this seems to be an east-coast tool to keep out wind and wildlife, I think it will suit our yard and gardens perfectly. It not only allows me to build it as I can, but also allows me to build it cheaply with saplings from the surrounding forest. Natural, useful and inexpensive ... what more could a gardener want?

A Cup For Your Compost?

I hope I'm not the only one who finds composting fascinating. After all, any process that can take organic waste and break it down into nutrients is an awe-inspiring thing! Tonight I found out that even my morning coffee is nutritious twice!
From The Rodale Book of Composting;
"The nutrient content of coffee residues varies according to the type of residue. Grounds have up to 2% nitrogen, 0.33 % phosphoric acid and varying amounts ofpotassium. Drip coffee grounds contain more nutrients than boiled grounds, though the potassium content is still below 1%. Other substances found include sugars, carbohydrates, some vitamins, trace elements and caffeine.
Coffee processing plants sell coffee chaff, a dark material containing over 2% nitrogen and potassium. Chaff is useful either as a mulch or as a compost. Apply your coffee grounds immediately, or mix them with other organic matter. They hold moisture extremely well. Left standing, they will quickly sour, inviting acetobacters (vinegar-producing microbes) and fruit flies."

How cool is that! My coffee not only gets me going, but is healthy and helpful for my compost and plants too!