Older IS Soooo Much Better!

I am sure you have heard about or have seen Heirloom vegetables.  So, what are they?  Some would describe them as a “party in your mouth”, they are truly that much better than hybridized varieties.  A more technical definition would be: a vegetable that is an old and primarily open-pollinated variety, one which has been passed down from generation to generation while preserving the original quality of the plant.  They are either grown from
seed or propagated vegetatively but, in either case, the new plants are always true to their parent in appearance and flavor.  Their intense and distinct flavors have not been “washed away” through hybridization or hydroponic growing methods.  We, as average consumers, have become accustomed to the tomatoes we buy at our neighborhood grocery store chain. The fruits are available in about 3-4 different sizes and they ALL have the same appearance and taste.  It is no wonder that the tomato has dropped in popularity…it is boring.  Let’s all say “NO”

to these store-bought tomatoes!  Put your foot down and grow some Heirloom varieties, you will be soooo glad you did!

I digress a little, several “natural” food stores are stocking select heirloom varieties of vegetables and fruits (such as the tomato) and you can also find them at your local Farmer’s Market seasonally, but you will have much more satisfaction growing your own.  You can simply step into your yard and collect what you need for the day.

This is also a FANTASTIC project for kids because these tough plants require very little care or attention until harvest time.  A peek at them every so often and a little supplemental water when necessary (too much water produces a more diluted flavor) and their strong genes will do the rest!  It is also a fact that kids are much more likely to eat the produce that they, themselves, have tended and nurtured.  This would be a great learning experience, as well as, a life lesson.  Quite possibly they could even turn it into a summer business selling their harvest overflow to friends and neighbors.  Who needs a lemonade stand?  Set up an Heirloom stand!

Each year, Suburban Lawn & Garden stocks MANY different heirloom varieties of plants for your garden.  I, myself, try a couple of new (to me) tomatoes per year.  There are so many to consider, and the options change every year.

Imagine carrots in nearly every color of the rainbow!  What a treat!  In actuality, these vegetables aren’t simply different in appearance and taste, they also contain different nutrients.  Dark purple pigment indicates the presence of anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidents
and are not found in a great number of “readily available” items in our produce section.  Anthocyanins are linked to immune support, heart health, cancer prevention, and even weight loss. The darker the better when it comes to purple veggies.

We are very familiar with purple/blue fruits such as plums, blueberries or grapes, but the following vegetables and fruits also have black/purple varieties:  eggplant, bell peppers, potatoes, corn, cauliflower, kale, asparagus, onions, tomatoes, beans/legumes, rice and wheat.  The list is actually much longer than this, but you get the idea.  These fun and extraordinarily good for you foods are definitely worth growing.

So, what can you do now to prepare for growing some of these fantastic plants next spring?  First, run out to your local farmer’s market and try to find some of these delicacies, you will be amazed to actually eat a tomato with flavor.  The next thing you will want to do is prepare a bed in full sun.  A raised bed is best for most plants and easier to harvest from and work with, too.   Adding organic fertilizers such as our Summer Field Farms Organic Soil Conditioner, worm castings or composted cow manure to clay soil now will ready it for spring use.  If you prepare the bed this year, it will be available to host all of your selections next year without risking procrastination of creation (so easy to do, too).

I sincerely hope you try a few of these decades, if not centuries, old varieties of veggies.  You will have fun, save lots of money and be healthier, too!

The Garden that is Finished is Dead

Chestnuts Roasting…Stoke the Fire!

The fantastic American Chestnut is back?  Well, maybe not just yet…BUT, after more than a half a century of absence, they WILL RETURN to the American landscape, maybe sooner than you think!

Cryphonectria parasitica, better known as Chestnut Blight, was accidentally introduced to our native population of the American Chestnut tree (Castanea dentata) in 1904. The Japanese Chestnut carrying the deadly pathogen was available via mail-order and became quickly distributed across the area.  This fungus works swiftly, using the trees own defenses to essentially girdle itself from the inside.  By the time the tree is dead, the fungus has spread to all surrounding trees.  Amazingly the…

roots remain alive to continue sending up suckers in a desperate attempt to survive.  Unfortunately, by the time the suckers are 10-12 feet high, the fungus has found its way back.  By 1950, in an area stretching from Maine to Alabama, 3.5 billion trees were annihilated. This biological disaster has kept scientists on their toes during the 20th century as they realize how easily a similar situation could occur.  The Oak, which has been found to be susceptible to a similar pathogen, could very easily realize the same fate as the Chestnut.

As one might imagine, attempts at possible reintroduction of this tree seemed futile.  The American Chestnut had been an invaluable resource in early America, providing both hardwood and nut meat.  It has been fairly unanimous that this tree is definitely worth committing some time and energy to.  The USDA designated a few decades of research attempting to cross it with the immune Chinese Chestnut but ceased to fund the program in 1960.  Luckily, an independent researcher by the name of Dr. Arthur Graves had already been conducting his own backcross breeding studies.  The idea was simple, but required much patience.  The process involves cross breeding the Chinese Chestnut with our American Chestnut and continue to backcross until a tree which has the physical qualities of the American Chestnut, but also carries the blight resistant qualities of the Chinese specimen.  Each cross required 6-7 years of growth before it would flower, fruit and could finally be crossed.  Working closely with geneticist, Donald Jones, the first crosses were made in 1930 and we can anticipate full reintroductions of the final prodigy in the very near future…possibly next year. 

The hard work and dedication of a few will hopefully help us bring back this prized tree.  They will almost certainly re-assume their position in the Eastern American landscape as the well-deserved dominant tree of the forest.  While most of us will not live to realize the full maturity of the reforested areas, our children and grand children will benefit greatly.  Maybe, once again, the American Chestnut can be roasted over the open fire, as the song portrays.  Mmm…mmm…good!

 

 The Garden that is Finished is Dead

Mmmmm…Tomatoes!! – How To

 

If this weather will finally hold, we might still have some bumper crops of tomatoes this year. Many of you may have already planted yours and are discouraged to find slow growth as the result of the cool temperatures. Tomatoes will thrive if the minimum temperature (lows at night) are 50 degrees farrenheit or above. Below that, they will go into shock, sulk and complain and may take quite a while to regroup and begin growing steadily once again. If you have not planted yours yet, the end of this week looks promising. Keep in mind, they like warm toes and will not grow well until the temperatures stay steady. If you want to (or if they are in small pots), pot them up into larger (gallon sized) black pots to sit in the sunshine. This will warm them up a bit and keep them from going into shock.

Excellent soil preparation will greatly increase your yield of fruit. Tilling the soil and checking for proper drainage is essential for optimum plant performance. A balanced fertilizer (suitable for vegetables) and/or seasoned compost layered into the planting site will definitely be appreciated by your tomatoes.

Tomatoes love warm soil and sometimes there is quite a bit of heat loss overnight. One way to maintain more of that heat is to lay black weed fabric around the plants which will also help the soil retain a bit of moisture. Once your area is tilled, ammended and insulated/protected you can dig your holes. If your tomato plant is a foot high and the pot is 8 inches tall, you will want to did your hole 14 inches deep. This will allow you to bury about 50% of your plants into the soil. Doing so will present more stem area for roots to form. More roots will allow for larger plants bearing much more fruit. Space your plants at least 18 inches apart and water them deeply. Watering your plants often will not be beneficial and tends to give the fruit a diluted taste. Deep soakings, only when needed, will insure much tastier tomatoes. After they have been planted for a couple of weeks you can lay a bit of mulch around the plants…be careful not to allow the mulch to touch the stems of the plants.

Ok…your plants are thriving, fruit is plentiful and WHAT IS THAT eating the leaves??
Most likely your plants may have the larvae of the Carolina Sphynx Moth feeding on the leaves. Believe it or not, these Tomato/Tabacco Hornworms are highly beneficial insects in their adult form. If you have the space, try growing flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana) or other plant in the Nightshade family as an alternate host plant for these critters. When you find them on your tomatoes, simply move them to the alternate plant and they should be happy as a clam. Certain flowers are primarily pollinated by this night flying moth. Petunias, Four O’Clocks, Mandevilla, Agave and Datura are some of its favorite nectar sources.

They are fascinating little creatures, actually…with the same flight patterns as that of a hummingbird. Rarely do they land on the plants they feed from, instead they choose to hover over the flower and extend their proboscis (tongue) down to collect the nectar.  They are most visible to watch at dusk, so head outside and enjoy the show if you have some of their favorite food blooming.

We at Suburban have an excellent selection of tomatoes, both standard and heirloom (harder to find) varieties. Cherokee Purple is a favorite of many people…definitely one to try if you are looking for one that is full of flavor.  Keep trying new plants….

 The Garden that is Finished is Dead