So....reports to follow. Pics, videos, commentary - stay tuned!
The truck is nearly packed, and soon Sue and I will be on our way to help Lori, Brian and other wonderful volunteers set up for the tomato tasting. I've got my Flip Video cam packed, Sue has her digital camera. A few friends are coming from afar (truly, the cavalry!) with some of their tomatoes, which will ease what could be a less-than-typical selection, due to the challenging weather.
So....reports to follow. Pics, videos, commentary - stay tuned!
It's been quite some time since I blogged about the Dwarf Tomato Project, but I've decided this is a good time for an update. In this most challenging of growing seasons, some of the dwarf works-in-progress are doing quite well - in fact, better than many of my typically reliable indeterminate varieties. Plus, Tomatopalooza 8 is tomorrow, and I will have a fairly good selection of the tomatoes from the project for people to taste and comment upon.
Let's follow the "lineage" of one of the more promising varieties, one that I selected for an named for my wife - "Dwarf Sweet Sue". So back in 2006, my friend Patrina, in Australia, decided to cross a relatively new, delicious heirloom type - Green Giant - with a historic dwarf variety, Golden Dwarf Champion. The cross took, creating a hybrid that Patrina named Sneezy. She sent seeds of Sneezy to me in early 2006, allowing me to grow it out that summer.
Sneezy was a nice hybrid - very vigorous, regular leaf indeterminate (as expected), producing medium sized, round bright yellow fruit with a delicious flavor. As expected, the hybrid showed the various dominant traits that should show up in a hybrid - regular leaf foliage (Green Giant is potato leaf), indeterminate growth, and yellow fruit midway in size between the two parents. I saved plenty of seed (considered the F2 generation) and sent them back to Patrina so she could distribute them and grow them out.
David Lockwood, one of Patrina's Dwarf Project volunteers, grew out a number of plants from the Sneezy F2 generation seed I sent during their summer of 2006/2007, and one of them he named Summertime Gold 3. His description was a dwarf growing, potato leaf plant producing "large pale yellow oblate fruit with a pink blush and good flavor". Patrina gathered seeds, now F3 generation, from all of her volunteers and sent them to me.
In the summer of 2007, I grew out many different Sneezy offspring from both Patrina and David - and one of them, from David's Summertime Gold 3 seed, was a winner. The fruit from the particular potato leaf dwarf plant was slightly variable in shape, from round to oblate, pale yellow with a pink blush on the bottom, in the 8 ounce range, with an outstanding sweet but complex flavor. I christened it Dwarf Sweet Sue (named after my wife - who, though not dwarf in stature, is very sweet!), saved seeds, now at the F4 generation, and sent them off to Patrina for further testing -I also sent it to a Tomatoville friend, Michael, in Texas, whose growing season essentially echoes the timing of the Australian grow outs.
David and Michael both had good luck with Dwarf Sweet Sue, liked it very much and had results consistent with my selection criteria in 2007. Seed was returned to me, but I now had two different seed lots to choose from and test out, to check how consistent the newly emerging variety was becoming.
In the summer of 2008, I grew two plants of each - from David's saved seed, and Michael's saved seed. I was now growing out the F5 generation, meaning that there should be more consistency, less variation, as stability of this new variety was approaching. I was delighted to find that all four plants yielded very similar results - all potato leaf dwarfs, all producing slightly variably shaped bright yellow fruits with the pink blush, all in the 6-10 ounce range, with exceptional flavor.
So seeds (now F6 generation) were saved and sent back to Patrina, who got them back to David. He grew them out, they met the description criteria we set for Dwarf Sweet Sue, and they were returned to me as F7 generation seeds. Last summer, 2009, I grew them out and found them to grow as I hoped, and my saved seed from those fruit were now at the F8 generation. At this point, Dwarf Sweet Sue can be considered as a new variety.
So, this is a good little "case history" of how we are developing new varieties in the Dwarf Project. This is one of the varieties we hope to have in seed catalogs soon!
A few pictures of Dwarf Sweet Sue
July 17 was a good day for doing video updates - you've seen the overall, taken during a storm version, as well as the Indeterminate tomatoes. Here are the other individual crop types....starting with the hot peppers.
And here are the sweet peppers.
And, now on to the eggplant
next, the dwarf tomatoes (it was getting pretty hot and humid, so it is not as detailed as I would have liked)
You will notice that the news, in general, is typical - a mixture of good news and bad news, successes and some failures. That's gardening for you!....
I can't believe that I am using the word "enjoyable" to describe a weekend where the daytime temps hit over 100 degrees and there was a perceptive shortage of breathable air outside! And part of the weekend was even spent out in that sultry air....
But on Saturday, after a wonderful meal with my daughter Caitlin at our favorite local Italian restaurant (Bella Monica), she and I saw an iconic North Carolina band - the Red Clay Ramblers - at the North Carolina Museum of Art. With my wife Sue having a blast in Hershey, PA with her "quilt chicks", it was a great opportunity to spend some time with Caitlin (and gave her a wonderful opportunity to tell me all of the things that drive her crazy about her boyfriend! What are fathers for, anyway??). After eating outdoors, then attending the outdoor concert, we returned home somewhat melted but quite satisfied for having a memorable evening together.
Sunday was very cool indeed (well, it was as hot as hell, to tell the truth). But in the morning I got to spend half an hour on the air with a Halifax Nova Scotia radio station, talking tomatoes and answering questions during Niki Jabbour's Sunday show. It's amazing to experience 30 minutes in what seems to be about 5 seconds!
Then I got to do another of my favorite activities - participate in a cooking class at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill. What a joy to be able to share my passion with an equally passionate audience, sharing information and stories with Alex Hitt (of Peregrine Farms), and Marilyn Markel (who manages the cooking school). With Sue away, I asked our friend Margie to come along, guaranteeing a friendly face in the audience (all of the faces were friendly, to tell the truth!). In an incredible coincidence, it turns out that Alex was perhaps the first grower in North Carolina to grow and sell Cherokee Purple tomatoes at the Carrboro Farmers market. So he and I knew well of each other, but didn't actually meet until just a few years ago. He and his wife are just wonderful people, and I always look forward to opportunities to work together.
Then, to cap off the weekend, Sue pulled into the driveway just behind me, home from her own enjoyable trip safe and sound. A beer and a grilled cheese with a slab of Cherokee Green later, we shared stories and reflected on our weekends....each happy doing our things, now happy to be together again
Sure, the lawn needs mowing and weeds need whacking, but today is going to be just plain silly. Even at 7 AM, when I collected the paper, it is stifling outside. Right now it is approaching 8 AM and the temperature (82) and humidity (87) are combining to make it feel like 92 degrees.
No worries - today I have my occasional spot with Niki Jabbour on a Nova Scotia gardening show (
In editing/watching these, the heat makes me sound like I am dragging myself around! Oh well...you will get the idea. I will do a series of these, starting with an overall (not very exciting, but it does have the sounds of nature) update done during storm.
Sorry folks - this is one of those frustrating, low energy periods that each gardening season endures. Incessant temperatures in the 90s, high humidity, and the result of both - blossom drop and disease spread - makes you want to just turn your back on the garden for awhile.
But....I just dragged myself out to water, and I noticed some ripening fruit here and there. There is a big Cherokee Green, a few Tiger Toms and Speckled Romans, some Green Doctors, Kimberly, Sungold and Mexico Midgets ready to pick. And we ate two just wonderful 12 ounce Cherokee Chocolate last night as an appetizer. Some of the Dwarf project plants are also nearing ripe fruit stage.
I took a few videos the other day of the state of things, and hope to edit and post a few highlights later on tonight.
There are a number of items I would like to draw your attention to.
The first, and by far most important, is about ways to help out Hamid and Holly Mohajer - Hamid is now facing a major health challenge. Please see this link -
there is much more on my News page. Anyone who has met Holly or Hamid, or who has eaten a wonderful meal at Mo's Diner will certainly want to pitch in and help in any way that they can. Sue and I hope to see you at one of the upcoming events that are scheduled.
Next - we are approaching Tomatopalooza time - the event, on Saturday, July 31, is being run a bit differently this year - we are asking people to register. Please see our website for more details. If you do plan to come, this is a plea for....TOMATOES! We always worry about running short, and with this being such a strange growing season, it is unclear what Lee and I will have ripe and ready for the event.
Then, there is the A Southern Season Cooking School this coming Sunday, July 25 - these are always wonderful events. You can get more info and register at this link
And, finally, I will once again be on a Nova Scotia, Canada garden call in show - on Sunday, July 25, from 10:30-11 EST - you can listen live at the link below.
Just kidding - one more thing! Sue and I will be at the Zely and Ritz tomato dinner tonight - link below for more info.
I think that is it (and is certainly enough!).
There are 12 months in a year. Tomato harvest begins in mid-July, then continues until the end of August (well, maybe a bit longer if it is a good year and diseases and critters doesn't wipe out the plants!).
So at best, that means it is possible to feast on the very best tomatoes imaginable for around 10% of the year. Think about that - if seeds get started in February, the plants get set out in May - nearly 50% of the year is spent pondering, planting, watering, staking, weeding and feeding....all for the incredible pleasures of those home-grown tomatoes for a period of time that hardly seems fair!
But I will choose to look at the bright side - that much-anticipated time is at hand! Instead of Sue and I fighting for the single ripe Mexico Midget or Sungold, there are numerous speckles of red and gold on those two plants - soon we will have a bowl of each of them on the counter. Joining them soon will be Green Doctors, Tiger Tom, Variegated and Kimberly. And best of all, there are two perfect, 12 ounce, ready to eat Cherokee Chocolate all ready to eat tomorrow. And I noticed that Cherokee Green is starting to blush, along with Speckled Roman.
So, for the next few months, we will pick, eat, assess, discuss - it will be all about oven roasted sauce, Pasta Salads, and, when the counters are full, we will embark on our annual canning ritual. Because the best way to relive these great summer tomato harvesting months is to pull out a quart jar of home-canned tomatoes...and start cooking!
Some of you have been to A Southern Season cooking schools that I've been involved with over the years (they are great fun, and great value!). There is an event coming up that will focus on...TOMATOES! Marilyn Markel, who manages the school, will team up with Alex Hitt (owner of Peregrine Farms and one of the first farmers in this area to discover Cherokee Purple...this was how we met, in fact!) and me to provide a fun class with eating, tasting, information and the opportunity to ask any questions that come to mind.
The link to the event is here -
Of all of the tomato-related activities I do over the season, I think the Cooking School sessions are the most fun. And if you've not been to a class at A Southern Season, you are in for a treat - it is a state of the art facility, and the classes are run really, really well.
So, this is a plea to click the link, sign up - and I hope to see some of you there!
(ps...you can always treat it as a prelude to Tomatopalooza, which takes place the following weekend, on July 31!)