Thursday, February 28, 2013

Heirloom Tomato Seeds - and Kids

Starting heirloom tomato seeds is like having a child.  You tend to them daily, watch them grow, caring for them ever so lovingly.  Making sure they get the right nutrients, sun, and enough time outside.  You move them ever so gently and then, let them flourish on their own outside.  You give them the room to grow and bear their own fruit.  You are proud and happy to see them do well.

Yes, this is a bit excessive, but I am obsessed with tomatoes and my children.  We got started on both about the same time, so having my children involved in the process is even more dear to my heart.  I started 4 years ago with my oldest daughter, and yesterday with my second.  I love sharing this activity with them.  It's been a joy to see them as excited and interested and also developing a pallet for the varied and gorgeous tomatoes out there.

This year I did not buy new seeds from Tomatofest.  I love the huge variety they have the 90%  or more yield from the seeds.  It is a bit more work than going and picking up plants from the nursery, but it's so worth it. 

I look forward to updating and sharing how this years crop will do.  As I mentioned in my previous post, last years heat was disheartening for the tomato crop.  There is nothing remotely OCD about me, but when it comes to my tomato seeds, I'm over the top!

This year (so far) the varieties are:
Black from Tula
Cherokee Purple
Eva Purple Ball
Black Cherry (the most popular so far)
Candy's Old Yellow
Belii Naliv
Golden Grape
Big Rainbow

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Garden Grows and Garden Woes.

For many many years I wanted a garden.  When we lived in our condo, I tried to create a "community garden" with the other occupants.  It didn't really work out too well.  When my older daughter was about 16 months we moved to the house we're in now and fell in love with the fact that our landlords said we can do whatever we like to the yard.  We had no idea that a fenced in front yard would take over our lives, and they had no idea that our "garden" would lead to boxes and boxes being put in, grass being pulled out, rose bushes replaced with blueberries, and emails requesting chicken coops and honey bees (the latter two were denied!).

I grew up mostly outside as a child, but my "gardening" was mostly making mud pies in coconut shells, and engineering landscapes and dams with straws, broken bricks, and other items from the garden.  So when we moved into the house and we decided to start our garden it was learning from the ground up (yes, pun intended).  We started with two raised 6X4 beds and with my love for tomatoes, about 40 heirloom tomato plants.  Then quickly, I wanted okra, squash, beans, corn, swiss chard,and sunflowers.  The side along the fence got ripped out, compost and manure put in, and corn stalks and sunflowers 8 feet tall greeted the neighborhood.

 Building the boxes

 Baby #1 at 18 months helping out with the gardening.

What happened was that our front yard became our refuge.  It was a place our daughter played in, got muddy, and where we grew our food.  After being part of 3 different CSA's for 4-5 years, we dropped our box and grew our own.  We had no idea we would be feeding some friends and neighbors and random folk who asked us if we'd sell them some tomatoes.  I also had not considered canning and freezing.  Quickly, I wisened and convinced my husband we needed a deep freezer for the garage.  With this came the canning, jamming, saucing, baking, broth-ing, cubing, and hording of fruit and other foods.  Yes, we turned the clock about 100 years and tried to become sustainable- in part.  I joked about the need for a cow and some chickens, but in our sub-plot shared with 20 apartment on one side, and 2 single units behind us- this is not possible.  This house was built in the 40's, the land is mostly clay, So-Cal has little to no rain, and our meager 3 bed/ 1 (airplane) size bath is beyond limiting, but what we are doing with our garden and getting out of it for our children is beyond worth it.
 Gathering supplies to make my first batch of homemade pasta sauce- Nothing will beat it!

Over the last 3 years, neighbors have become friends, and friends have become neighbors.  I share foods with some ladies around here who give me lemons and figs, and I hand out bundles of rainbow chard, kale, and tomatoes when in season.  People stop by and talk to us, they ask me for advice and for handfuls of organic fertilizer.  Grandparent bring their grandchildren by and quiz them on all the veggies through the fence.  Immigrant families with little to no English smile at me and point, and stand for a while nodding.  People stop to talk telling us stories about their childhood and how they grew up in the midwest or east coast on a farm.  They tell me about their parents and grandparents and the crops they grew and are nostalgic for.  Conversations grow and people stop to say hello.  I've even had people who come directly to the garden to ask me where to buy plants, what to do, how to cook them, when to do what.  I'm no expert, not at all.  As I said, this is all a process of learning.  Reading, trying, and trying again.

We got lucky.  We got lucky for almost 3 years.  All crops did well year after year with a few hiccups.  Last year, our luck ran dry.  The overwhelming heat of the long summer turned everything brown.  In 2011 I had my second child and by 2012 juggling two walking children, a garden, and a business venture was more than I could handle.  The garden was neglected.  I decided to let it go.  I had to let a lot of things go last year, including the failed business venture.  Finally, when the weather cooled down  we decided to start again.  With a new friend who shared my passion for growing food, and was much more of an expert in gardening, I got back out there and started all over.  Now, we're coming up on our 4th year of gardening.  I'm looking forward to expanding and planting even more new crops.  My greed for fresh tomatoes will not be stifled, and I'm not sure what to do as I should rotate them out of the larger beds.

What we have gained from this endeavor is more than growing our own food.  It has built community and we have (I hope) inspired friends and neighbors to start their own gardens.  We are somewhat on display only having a front yard to do all this.  I had someone who said "this is an exercise in futility" asking me if we've had anything stolen.  I have to say, in all these years, we've had a few eggplants and my beloved butternut squash stolen.  I have forgiven and let go, but will not stop.  Watching my kids pick peas off the vines, or crawl and eat the tomatoes right off the vine is the stuff memories are made of.  I'm not sure if this will last our lifetime, but if I can give my children the tools and the love for growing, cooking, and eating fresh food, then I feel that I have accomplished something in life, as these are children who will one day become adults who will have an influence on the society which governs our future. 

For previous gardening posts see here: gardening, and facebook.

 Heirloom Inca corn
Releasing the ladybugs

2011 Gardening event.

 Gardening event with friends

 Heirloom tomato seedlings in the kitchen window.

 French breakfast radishes
 Watermelon radishes

The order list from Baker Creek for the 2013 growing season:

Calima (beans)
Snow Cap (beans)
Beurre De Rocquencourt Bush Wax Bean
Good Mother Stallard (beans)
Hutterite Soup Bush Bean
Chioggia (Bassano) Beet
Amarillo Carrot
Chantenay Red Core Carrot
Atomic Red Carrot
May Queen Lettuce
Round Black Spanish
Purple Plum
Golden Globe
Five Color Silverbeet
Tigger Melon
Pink Senorita Zinnia
Envy - Zinnia
Evening Sun - Sunflower
Tiger Eye Mix Sunflower
Peppermint Stick Zinnia
Dwarf Queeny Mixed - Hollyhock
Giant of Sicily (radish)
Sugar Ann Snap Pea

Tomatoes will be from tomatofest.  I haven't decided what to plant yet, but need to do that ASAP.  I had to resist the urge to buy seeds this year.  I have about 50 packets that are half used.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

I've been wanting to make some dumpling soup for a while.  With it being Chinese New Year today, it really pushed me since we've been reading lot of books preparing for traditions and customs (see facebook, and library thing for references).

The 4 year old helped me make them with the little one trying to help cut cabbage at the end.

 Dumplings with pork, shrimp, green onions, rice wine, soy sauce (I use liquid aminos), ginger, and brown sugar. 

 soup with a side of cabbage with rice vinegar and pickled watermelon radishes from the garden.

Pickled watermelon radishes, see recipe from CHOW.  Since I was out of white vinegar I used a mix or apple cider and rice vinegar, and turbinado instead of white sugar.  The kids could eat the whole jar if I let them.  They are taste wonderful, but watch out when you open the jar- phew!
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