I am seriously considering a few significant changes for the upcoming garden season with regard to our Farmers Market seedling sales. For one thing, I would like to either change to no (as in zero) days at the market, or, at the most, one (1) weekend (a Friday/Saturday when the seedlings are optimally sized). Next, I need to significantly pare down the offerings, with an aim to growing as close to what my customers want or need as possible.
There are a number of reasons for the proposed changes, the most significant being a wish to simplify things (and allow more flexibility to actually do some travelling in the spring), and reduce costs; materials are increasing in time, but I don't wish to raise our prices. Aiming for less waste (not that donated plants are wasted, but even donations didn't take all of our overage; hundreds of plants still ended up on the compost heap).
All of my customers for whom I have email addresses will be receiving from me a request sheet for types and numbers of seedlings that they anticipate for their 2014 garden. This won't be a contract, or a pay in advance type of structure; I would just like to better be able to aim properly both in the varieties and numbers for next year. I will probably limit the list to the most popular types by color, size and use and allow for any suggestions that are not on the list. I will take input up until mid to late January, after which I will need to get things growing.
Instead of the market, I would like to continue with the way things have evolved in the past few years, with more and more of you coming out to get the seedlings directly from us at a prearranged time that fits both our schedules. The main reason for a weekend at the market would then be for those cases where the geography makes the most sense for a market pick up.
As I said, these are early thoughts and will likely evolve over time. What will be helpful to me would be getting a sense for what you think of this, and rather than doing it in comments to this blog post, send me a direct email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This gardening blog will now take a time out to report on a bit of sports news. The Boston Red Sox are 2013 Worlds Series Champions. Worst to first. A team of beards, character, personality, grit and perseverance. And a team that really has been such a part of my life, with its big moments echoing some of my own significant events.
I became a Red Sox fan in 1967, at the age of 11. When I think of my introduction to baseball, I am reminded of my grandfathers; it is with them that I sat in front of flickering black and white TVs, learning from their stories, as they shared impressions of their own lives of being a fan. I learned that my grandfather Walter enjoyed complaining about Yaz, and even Ted Williams, though I have no idea why (he was a rather colorful, contrary sort, but I loved him so much for the time he spent with me, playing cards, picking blueberries or walking through his garden). I remember less about my grandfather Arthur, but my first Red Sox game was watched at his beach house, and John Wyatt (a most obscure Red Sox member) was pitching that day.
There were many moments of joy and suffering between the eventual 7 game loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1967 and the most improbable victory in 2004, coming back from the dead, being down 3 games to none against the hated Yankees. I actually missed the first of the miracle comebacks, as my wife and I were shivering in a cold, windy October stretch at her sister's beach house on Cape Cod. But then, as we made the rounds in family visits, I got a real treat - opportunities to watch play off and worlds series games with both of our dads. That was something I never imagined could happen.
In 2007, the Sox did it again - but it was a very difficult year, as we lost my dad to a stroke in March, just as spring training was getting underway. We then lost Susan's dad later in the season, as the Sox were asserting their dominance over the American League; in fact, it was a during a Red Sox game that I got to chat with Harry for the very last time.
One more personal connection colored this year's Worlds Series run. Last week my wife and I were in Dracut Massachusetts, Sue's mom under hospice care. Just following another Red Sox victory, I spent the next 5 hours with Ann, ensuring her comfort and watching vigil while Sue and her brother David could finally get some much needed sleep. It is a night none of us will ever forget, as Ann passed away just a few hours later. Joy and sorrow, experience within hours of each other; a microcosm of what it is to be human.
And there I was, last night, October 30, 2013, me all alone (the games last too long for my wife Susan to endure, so she was long in bed) jumping up and down in front of the TV, texting with a friend and my brother Kent, my dogs and cats eyeing me suspiciously. Why we create allegiances with sports teams, why we spend so much time concerned with their winning and losing - it is a mystery to me. But we do become involved, our hearts race, or our moods fall, we move up and down with the successes and failures. Last night was particularly special because of the way that the Red Sox carried themselves through the season. I love the team concept, and I love rooting for underdogs. Both boxes were amply checked in this season.
So now we get our evenings back; the TV can once again be used for watching our Netflix movies. The 2013 Red Sox season will take its place in my collective baseball memories, right up there with 1967, 2004 and 2007. I will always remember sitting in my living room in Raleigh, surrounded by two dogs and three cats, too excited to sleep, hungrily devouring any post-game article I could find on the internet. Such fun!
We will now return to gardening.....(until and unless the Patriots decide to win the Super Bowl!)
Susan and I are not unhappy to see October coming to an end. Starting with 2 lovely weeks at Ocracoke island for our annual escape, it ended with the rapidly declining health, and passing, of Sue's mom, and continued health challenges for my mom in Florida (likely heading for nursing home, from assisted living), providing a challenge for my brother and his wife, who are handling things so well.
But that's life, isn't it? Life is a patchwork of ups and downs, joys, tears, calm stretches followed by unexpected crises. We can't enjoy the good times if we don't experience the emotional challenges. Still, a November without quite so much t
As for what's next with regard to gardening....I've heard from Storey (my book publisher), and the editing process should start soon. There are a very few eggplant and peppers pending seed saving, but the garden is essentially kaput. I've got some tender perennials to bring indoors. If I can get my act together, I hope to seed some pots of lettuce and greens for growing over the winter (for both us, and my daughter Caitlin, whose tomato plants live on!). Then comes assessing the 2013 garden season (including the Dwarf tomato, ornamental hot pepper and Islander derived sweet pepper projects), and planning for 2014 - for my own gardening, the Dwarf project, and our seedling sales.
And so, as the holidays and cooler weather approaches, I am once again reminded that gardening is a full year pursuit; when not actively growing or digging or weeding or harvesting, there is plenty to do in the reflection and planning areas. I will share progress with you as it happens.
Last night I had the privilege of participating in an informative, fun and delicious event at the cooking school at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill. I've been involved in classes focused on tomatoes many times in recent years, but this was something new for me....and since I love change, and new things, it was a real treat.
The class was ably led by Caitlin Burke, and I was pleased to collaborate once again with Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farms, Alamance County. Alex (and his wonderful wife Betsy) should be very proud of their operation; he started selling Cherokee Purple tomatoes not long after they were introduced by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (which happened a year after I sent Jeff McCormack the seeds to try), and Peregrine Farms is well known in the area for their superb produce.
The class began with Alex demonstrating his chili roasting technique (there is an outside deck adjacent to the classroom, where Alex had the gas flame-heated roasting screen mechanism all set up). The aroma emanating from the roasting peppers had the class of over 20 eager (and hungry) attendees swooning. We then came back indoors, and Alex and I took turns talking about peppers, alternating with Caitlin preparing the selected recipes, which were distributed to the class members by the remarkable Cooking School staff. What worked very well was the dual focus; Alex shared his experience with growing a variety of peppers commercially for sale to restaurants and shoppers at the Carrboro Farmers Market, and I discussed growing peppers from a home gardener perspective. The fact that peppers - both hot and sweet - thrive so well when grown in containers provides the potential for everyone to enjoy the colors and varieties for themselves.
Here is the menu of dishes that Caitlin prepared:
Roasted Pepper Salsa with blue corn chips
Roasted Pepper Soup
Stuffed Poblano Chilis (Relleno style) in Walnut Sauce
Mexican Chili Chocolate Brownies with Cinnamon Crema
Yes, it was as delicious as it sounds....the salsa was complex and savory, enhanced by using roasted tomatoes, sweet peppers, jalapenos and garlic and spiked with fresh lime juice. The soup was one of the best my wife Susan and I ever tasted, with a sweetness and complexity stemming from the use of carrots, apples and apple cider. The Rellenos were simply incredible, stuffed with a mixture that included pork, peaches, apples, pears and plantain, and topped with a sauce made primarily of pureed walnuts that matched perfectly with the . Finally, how can you not love a dessert that includes the texture of a chewy, rich brownie with the flavors of cinnamon and ancho chili?
Susan and I now have the memories of an exciting collaboration, the energy of an interested classroom of attendees who asked great questions and clearly loved the food, and a set of recipes that we can't wait to try for ourselves.
We are already making plans for next year's classes - both for tomatoes, and peppers. Be sure to watch for them; I will certainly let you know when they are scheduled.
Thanks, Caitlin and Alex, and the great cooking school staff!
Hello, all - I've not been tele-transported to another planet! Here's what going on...
We just returned from two weeks at our favorite place in North Carolina (if not the entire world), Ocracoke island, part of the NC Outer Banks. I typically use this break to assess the garden season, plan the following season and think about the various gardening projects that are underway. Last year I started my book; this year the weather was so spectacular early on that I didn't sit down and do my typical pondering until well into the second week. I did manage to fully assess status of the Islander hybrid pepper dehybridization project (subject of a future blog post) and get my slides ready for tomorrow night's Southern Season cooking school on Chile peppers. More on that below...
On Sunday I was delighted, as always, to be invited to spend 30 minutes speaking with Niki Jabbour on her radio show, the Weekend Gardener. Here
is a link to the podcast. We covered the 2013 season in review, my take on tomato grafting and a few seed saving pointers.
At 6 PM tomorrow evening, I will be collaborating once again with Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farms for a Southern Season cooking school - this time on something completely new for me, a class focused on Chile peppers. Here
is the class info. This should be a really fun event - if you have the time, click on the link, register, and join us!
I actually still have all of my pepper and eggplant plants growing in my driveway, despite weeks of neglect. I have a bit of seed saving left to do, and whatever the deer left me (they love pepper plants, if not the fruit) will be harvested and frozen. Once those are gone, the 2013 season will be a wrap. Thank goodness...it is a long season here in NC!
There is a great deal of work for me to do between now and next spring; assessing the Dwarf project, determining what to plant next year for seedling sales as well as my own garden, ensuring I've assessed that which went well and not so well and incorporating changes into my plans for next season, and - probably quite soon - addressing requests for book edits coming from Storey. All of this will keep me quite busy, and I will be blogging - perhaps not quite as often as during the growing season - about all of these.
I will also do a blog post with a few of the best pictures taken while on our Ocracoke escape.
See you again soon.....I do have to admit that the Red Sox and, now, Patriots are keeping me busy and happily (if not nervously) entertained as well!
The success of gardens can be measured in many ways - typically a combination of data (numbers) and text (words, impressions, descriptions). I will go into the wordy part of the season in future blog posts, but I thought it would be interesting to look at a few numbers.
Indeterminate tomatoes planted in the driveway - large pot: 30
Seed saved from: 26
4 total plant failures due to disease - no fruit harvested or seed saved
Indeterminate tomatoes planted in the driveway - small pot: 40
Seeds saved from: 30
10 total plant failures due to disease - no fruit harvested, seeds saved
Indeterminate tomatoes planted in the dirt, big side garden: 30
Seeds saved from: 12
18 total plant failures due to disease and no fruit set (insufficient sun, it seems)
Total indeterminate tomatoes planted: 100
Total indeterminate tomatoes that yielded fruit, seed saved: 68
Total indeterminate plant failures: 32
Dwarf tomatoes planted in driveway grow bags: 100
Seeds saved from: 84
16 failures due to disease
Dwarf tomatoes planted in the dirt, side garden: 17
Seeds saved from: 6
Failures due to disease or no fruit set (insufficient sun): 11
Total dwarf tomatoes planted: 117
Total dwarfs that yielded fruit seed saved: 90
Total dwarf plant failures: 27
Total tomatoes planted: 217
Total tomatoes yielded fruit, seed saved: 158
Total tomatoes that failed: 59
Eggplant planted in driveway grow bags: 16
Eggplant with seed saved: 12
Eggplant still living, pending fruit ripening for seed saving: 4
Total eggplant failures: 0
Peppers planted in driveway grow bags or pots: 102
Peppers with seed saved: 99
Peppers still living pending fruit ripening for seed saving: 3
Total pepper failures: 0
Grand total -
Total planted planted (tomato, pepper, eggplant) all locations - 335
Total plants with successful seed save - 269
Total plants pending seed save - 7
Total plant seed saving/harvest failures - 59
Wow, that's a lot of seed saving and data collecting!
Future blog posts will focus on what worked well, what excelled, what failed, why - for each crop.
Though it seemed like a challenging year (it was!), it was also a reasonably successful one, it seems. In a future blog post, I will get into some details - including why there were likely so many failures in the tomato category.
If you are like me, you can't wait to find interested pairs of ears as audiences for the delights and sob stories (and in between) of your gardening experiences. This coming Saturday, September 14, at 10 AM at West Point on the Eno in Durham I am leading a workshop to do just this. We will have an opportunity to share how things went in 2013 - what did well, what didn't - and why, so that we can plan accordingly for 2014. I will share my favorite tomatoes of the year, as well as those that disappointed. We will discuss seed saving (beyond tomatoes), preserving, best recipes, and anything else that the energy of the group leads to.
The information for the workshop can be found here
. My daughter Caitlin will be joining me so that she can brag about how her tomatoes are still thriving, while mine are long gone! If weather and time permits, we can walk through the garden and see how things are growing. I really enjoy these Eno workshops; they are informal, create lots of energy, and provide a great forum for sharing ideas.
We hope to see you there - and thanks to Jessica Leff as always for the opportunities to present at that most wonderful location!
It is always nice to return home after a trip....but what a trip it was. From the inspiring surroundings, perfect weather and plethora of enthusiastic gardeners to the excitement of sharing my passion with like-minded folks, it was a wonderful experience. An added bonus was the productive, interesting day spent with regional Seed Savers Exchange members at an off-site exploratory meeting yesterday morning at Louisa House yesterday morning.
First, Monticello....it was so gratifying to have been able to share my tomato experiences in 2 workshops chock full of attentive, interested attendees; my sessions were Friday late afternoon, and first thing Saturday morning. It is a very interesting experience to climb the emotional mountain twice, in such close proximity; I always have a bit of an emotional "crash" after giving a seminar, but I found it really easy to get recharged quickly for the morning following the evening session. It didn't hurt to have the opportunity to speak in such a wonderful setting as the Woodland Pavilion (see pics below).
After my talk, the rest of the day was spent shuttling between the event seed swap (so ably hosted by Rodger Winn and his wife, Karen) and the tomato tasting tent. It was really fun helping Ira Wallace sort out which tomatoes were which from the boxes of mixed heirlooms donated by various farms and growers for the event. At one point, I channeled our Tomatopalooza events and donned gloves and sliced and sliced and sliced. Judging from the long lines at the tasting tent that persisted throughout the day, the interest in heirloom tomatoes has yet to peak, and is sky high at this point in time.
I've got to gather my thoughts following Sunday's first Southeast regional gathering of Seed Savers and SSE members. The ideas were flying around the room at the speed of light. The event took place at Louisa House, about 40 minutes from Monticello, and was attended by up to 100 people, which far exceeded our expectations. Ira Wallace, Grant Olson (from the SSE) and I led the group through the day...more on that in my next blog.
But as promised, some pics from Monticello - there are never enough, but I actually had little time to use my camera!
Top row - various views of Jefferson's Garden adjacent to Monticello
second row - another garden view, Love Lies Bleeding, and Monticello
third row - vineyard below the garden, my lecture prep spot in the Woodland Pavilion, and view from the back well before the event (I just kind of sat and relaxed for an hour before people arrived to gather my thoughts)
Last row - Peter Hatch giving the Jefferson Garden lecture, and Woodland Pavilion exterior, my Sat AM talk location
It was a beautiful day in Charlottesville - truly a perfect late summer day with a tinge of autumn in the air. I am attending the Heritage Harvest Festival, and day 1 is now complete. My day there ended with a talk on tomatoes to a large and enthusiastic audience; it seemed to go very well, and I look forward to my encore tomorrow morning at 9. The energy that passes between an involved audience and me when I get to share my passion and knowledge is quite amazing....it makes me want to get home and start planning next year's garden!
Fridays at the festival are a more relaxed, slower day than Saturdays, and I found lots of time to wander the magnificent grounds and gardens. Unfortunately, there are no pictures to post tonight, because I forgot to bring the proper camera/laptop coupling cord. Stay tuned for those...maybe early next week.
Early this afternoon I attended a walking tour of Jefferson's garden (adjacent to Monticello) led by Peter Hatch. Peter talked about Jefferson's garden diary and how he was as transparent with his failures as his successes (kind of reminds me of my garden blog!)....it was actually comforting to realize that Jefferson treated his garden as series of projects, with lots of data collection and experimentation. I've always felt that way about my gardens - they are my own personal laboratories.
Tomorrow will consist of my tomato talk, followed by time spent shuttling between the Seed Swap and Tomato Tasting tents. On Sunday I will participate in a regional gathering of Seed Savers Exchange members, where we will discuss all matters particular to the goals and needs of seed savers in the South East region. Then it will be a return to home, and I am already looking forward to that, since I always miss my wife and pets when I am away.
Pictures to come soon!
I will be heading to Charlottesville to speak at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello on Sept. 6 and 7. It would be so wonderful if I could bring some of the released new Dwarf tomatoes from our project so we could include them in the tomato tasting (sadly, all of my tomatoes are long gone!). If anyone nearby thinks they may have any ripe Dwarf tomatoes available around Sept 4 or 5, please email me - I'd love to find a way to get some from you!
Not much else to report - we continue to enjoy eggplant and hot and sweet peppers, and badly miss our tomatoes. In addition to prepping for Monticello, I am wrapping up the season - finishing up documentation, labeling pictures, and packaging up saved seeds (of which I have an awful lot!).
Work on final edits for the book will probably begin soon....I am ready for email requests for changes and additions from Storey.
Final note - I am sad to report that Zely and Ritz, the wonderful Glenwood Avenue restaurant that hosted superb tomato dinners for the last 6 years, decided to close its doors. My fond memories of those dinners, as well as my friendship with Sarig and Nancy, will last forever.