Tag: tomatoes

Cuore di Bue Tomatoes

Cuore di Bue Tomatoes

One of my new-to-me plant varieties this year has been the Cuore di Bue Tomato, a paste/sauce variety. The insides are dense, with oxheart-style lobes, and have very few seeds. As with any plant variety you attempt to grow, the fruit is a result of […]

My Garden Plan for 2018

My Garden Plan for 2018

After much deliberation, I finalized my garden plan for this year. I used the map I created using Google Maps (see how to do this yourself here), organized my seed collection, and purchased the new seeds I need. The Plants I’ll be growing many of […]

5 Plants to Get the Most Gardening Bang for your Buck

5 Plants to Get the Most Gardening Bang for your Buck

In my last post, I talked about the benefits of gardening that help outweigh the expense. Gardening takes time as well as money, in the form of equipment, soil amendments, fertilizer, and water. One of the ways I noted that makes gardening worth it anyway is the incredible plant varieties available to grow. Even at the many farmers markets we can visit in the Bay Area, there are still veggies you just can’t find for purchase, or can find, but only for unreasonable prices. I’ve compiled this list of the five plants I think provide the best ROI for the SF Bay gardener.

Fresh Shelling Beans

Dried Borlotti Beans
Dried Borlotti Beans
Have you had fresh Borlotti or Cranberry beans? Their season at the markets is very short, and they seem to sell out very fast, despite their extravagant price. Their leathery white pods are speckled with purple or red, and the beans inside are a pale peach color with red spots. Some are “true” Cranberry beans, with full purple-red color. They lose their spots and color when cooked, but their flavor is amazing. Fresh beans like these are not common–you don’t ever see “fresh” pinto beans at the market–and to be clear, these are not green beans! These are soup beans that have fabulous flavor, and are best enjoyed when ripe (you will see this listed as “shelling beans” in seed catalogs), but not dried.
The other reason growing your own beans is a money-saver is that even dry beans can be expensive, especially if they are organic. I’ve seen 1-lb bags of Racho Gordo beans go for upwards of nine dollars, and the varieties can all be found from seed companies. Buy a pack of 25 for a few dollars, get thousands when you grow them!

Growing

Because of the short season, if you (like me) can’t get enough of these beauties, I recommend growing them in staggered plantings throughout the summer. If you live in an area with enough sun, you should be able to harvest all summer. You might also consider planting more than you think you want since, like many legumes, you can plant them close together without compromising your harvest. You will need to provide a trellis or strings for the vines to climb for some Borlottis (Cranberry beans are bush bean, so will be compact). Be sure to make the trellis accessible for harvesting. These beans are surprisingly sneaky, and I guarantee you’ll find a few months later, dried in their pods.

Sources

Weird Tomatoes

Gold Medal Tomato
A Gold Medal Tomato of impressive size. One of my favorites for Caprese salad
I’ve seen interesting varieties of tomatoes at Trader Joe’s and some farmers markets, but I never see a bunch of any one really unusual variety. There’s usually an “heirloom assortment” with a few green, black, and yellow tomatoes. It feels like pandering. I want to try a tomato variety. I demand a thorough examination in sauces, salsa, fresh-eating, and maybe even canning.

Growing

Growing your own tomatoes will give you that freedom to have a lot of one variety, and to really try it out. If you like the assortments, you can grow several different varieties each year and enjoy some very colorful caprese salads. There are so many varieties of tomatoes, you will probably never find all the ones you want to try for sale, so growing is the really the only solution.

Sources

Botanical Interests: Many Varieties
Baker Creek: Many varieties (I highly recommend Gold Medal!)

Kale

Lacinto Kale
Beautiful blue Lacinto/Dinosaur/Toscano Kale
OK, I know, there’s kale at them there farmers markets. Lots of it. Different varieties. Yes. But do you know what’s better than any farmers market kale? Fresh-picked, 3-minutes-old kale. It. is. so. good. Tender, sweet, and crunchy. You will be ruined for kale that has traveled for any length of time to get to you.

Growing

What’s beautiful about kale is that it loves our weather, and just keeps growing–a “tender perennial.” I’ve found it to not be picky about soil (my best kale ever were volunteers that sprouted in an area of hard clay that I barely ever watered), and have seen some plants produce sweet leaves for two full years before flowering and going to seed. A plant that’s easy to grow, that can be harvested at your leisure, and tastes amazing? Definitely worth it.

Sources

Botanical Interests: Many Varieties (I LOVE Lacinto/Dinosaur/Toscano best)

Alpine Strawberries

Alpine Strawberry
A tiny, ripe Alpine Strawberry (fragaria vesca)
I have never even seen these little guys at a market. Picture a strawberry about the size of your baby toe. It’s less firm than a normal strawberry, but so much sweeter.  So sweet, in fact, that it almost tastes like fake strawberry flavoring. Now imagine these growing in tiny little plants that bear fruit almost all year round. Unless you are farming these, don’t expect to get more than a handful at any one time, but it’s so fun to find a sweet treat when you visit your garden. My kids love to search for them and eat them straight from the plant.

Growing

You can start these as seeds, but be very patient as they may take a month to sprout, and wintering the seeds in your freezer ahead of planting will encourage germination. I was lucky enough to discover these little beauties at a local nursery, so be sure to ask for them. Even if the nursery doesn’t carry them, they may be able to order plants for you. “Fragaria Vesca” is another name for them.
Ants love the soft little fruits, so I usually tend the plants by finding the young, white strawberries and hanging their stem over some leaves to lift them off the ground. The less they touch the ground, the less likely that ants will find them.

Sources

Amazon: Seeds Local Nurseries

Basil

Italian Genovese Basil
Italian Genovese Basil, trying to flower. Be sure to pinch back often for a bushier, longer-lasting plant.
Pesto and caprese salad are two of my family’s favorite foods, but whenever I buy basil, I feel like I never have enough. If you’re in a sunny area, you can have some very happy basil in a short period of time. Just keep it harvested by plucking any flowers right away (so it doesn’t go to seed) and get it to be bushier by picking leaves above stems where tiny leaves are forming.

Growing

Basil seeds do not stay viable for very long, so you can either purchase seeds every year or do what I do: get the BIG packet from Botanical Interests and plant a normal amount the first year, and then TONS of seeds the years after that until you run out.
Basil loves the heat, so growing in a container can help the soil warm in the sun.

Sources

Botanical Interests: Many Varieties
Is Gardening Worth it?

Is Gardening Worth it?

In his humorous memoir, The $64 Tomato, William Alexander devotes an entire book to the existential question every home gardener has to face: is the cost of my gardening worth it, in the end? Cost here is not just money (though that is a significant […]

Stop Blossom End Rot

Stop Blossom End Rot

You’ve done the dirty work. You’ve raked, dug, and planted. You’ve fertilized and watered and weeded. You’re ready to reap the (literal) fruits of your labors, and harvest some ripe, red tomatoes from your garden. But instead of plump, soft-skinned gems, you find stunted, leathery-bottomed, […]

Waste in the Garden

Waste in the Garden

Garden waste is unavoidable, but there are ways to reduce it through better planning and understanding of both your consumption and the plants you grow. I am not a farmer. My yield in the garden does not determine whether my family eats or not–we don’t rely on growing our own food. I am a gardener, and that is different. As a gardener, I do not always carefully determine what we need when I plant. I don’t stagger plantings of cauliflower and corn to get a steady yield over period of time–that’s more work in the beginning. The planning, the sowing, and the attention it requires are all too much when I have two little kids and a job and other hobbies. So when the beans are ripe, they are ALL ripe. When we want one cauliflower, we have six, which means we eat two or three and the others either get overripe or given away. I had over 50 ears of corn this year, and they ripened in the middle of a busy week. Ripe corn is a short-lived thing. Most ears went to friends, but some never even got picked.
Overripe Corn
Corn left on the stalk. This variety doesn’t make great dent (flour) corn, and it’s not heirloom, so I can’t even save the seeds.
Certain vegetables are wonderful in the way they grow, perfect for a gardener and not a farmer. Kale and Di Cicco Broccoli will keep growing and let you come back again and again for more before they go to seed. Many lettuces are like this, too. Peas and beans will keep flowering when you keep picking them, making for a prolonged, steady harvest. Even tomatoes tend to follow a steady stream like this. This year, I grew a new-to-me variety called Sungold. It was surprisingly prolific, and I had three plants when I really should have had one. They are beautiful little orange gems, but my husband and I only eat them in salads. So we’ve given baskets of them away, along with many of the “volunteer” Chadwick Cherry variety that is trying to take over my pumpkin patch. But keeping up with these is not easy. So, many rot on the vine, or fall to the ground. I’ll have many volunteers of both varieties next year, no doubt. Neither of these varieties are great for canning, either. Not that I have time for canning, either. I feel terrible about this waste of food. Because that’s what it is, Food Waste, just like when the strawberries in the bottom of the basket from the farmer’s market get moldy before we can get to them. It’s edible food, left to bake in the sun, in my yard.

What can we do about Garden Waste?

  1. Plan ahead for consumption. Try that staggering of planting I talked about, if you can, with vegetables like corn and cauliflowers. Make better decisions about foods your family will actually eat.
  2. Plant less. It’s natural to over do it, and plan for the worst by having 4 or 5 plants when the yield of 1 or 2 will do. If you know you can grow it in your climate, and know how to ensure it will survive, then plan for that. If you aren’t sure yet, then overplanting is naturally the way to go–you’re trying to see how this new plant grows for you. But when you get the hang of it, lay off the extra plants.
  3. Pick more. Check on your garden on a regular schedule, every day or every other day, with garden shears and a basket in hand. If it gets too hot during the day, plan for the morning or dusk. But keep to the schedule, and in this way you will find those tender green beans and tiny, crisp, baby zucchinis.
  4. Never plant more than one zucchini plant. No one household ever uses even half of a zucchini plant’s yield. And nobody like zoodles, so please stop pretending that’s going to somehow happen.
  5. Tackle it, head-on. When you find your tomatoes falling off the vines, pick them up and compost them. Find every. single. acceptable, ripe tomato and collect it, and find ways to either cook up a big batch of sauce to store in the freezer, or to give them away to friends and family. At the end of this, you’ll be back to a clean, productive, non-rotting garden, and you won’t fall into the depths of OGD (Overripe Garden Despair).
  6. Don’t force yourself to consume food you don’t want. Overripe food is gross, like huge, dry green beans with strings and unchewable skins–I used to not only eat those horrid things, but I would parboil and freeze them, as if I would ever actually see those and say “Yum, let’s have green cardboard with our dinner tonight!” Same thing with corn. You don’t have to suffer for your garden in this way. It will turn gardening into a chore.
  7. Accept that some waste will come, and that the natural world sees this all the time. Plants in the wild have the same problem, and they fruit decays to nourish the soil, their seeds grow more plants, and they go on. But ensure that your garden waste ends up in your compost bin or pile, so that it can returned to the earth.
An overripe Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomato that no human will ever eat.
Concerning Aphids

Concerning Aphids

One of the things that makes gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area so amazing is the lack of a “true” winter. In most areas, we don’t get those deep freezes that kill so many vegetables–and all those nasty bugs. This temperate climate lets many invasive […]