Saturday, September 17, 2016

Late Summer Update from Picofarm

This year I decided to try a bunch of different kinds of tomatoes and do an informal study.  There were 17 varieties all together.  Here I present my determinations:

Here we have the red Rutgers, the small orange Zlatava (a Russian variety) at the bottom, the big yellow on the left with the red blush is called Mr. Stripey, and the other yellow is Yellow Oxheart. After extensive study in our test kitchens, we have determined the following:

Rutgers is best used in canning. Well, duh. It was sort of developed for that purpose. It's not a bad slicing tomato, but it's not very big.  It is also fine in salads.

Although it did not perform as I expected, Zlatava makes a very nice salad tomato. Tasty and sweet but not too sweet. It's not a cherry tomato.  I would grow this one again just for salads.  Zlatava was touted as a large yellow tomato with a pink interior.  The images that accompanied the seeds showed a tomato cut in half that resembled a pink grapefruit.  Not so much.  But it's so tasty I don't really care.

Mr. Stripey really shines in a BLT. It's not as 'tomatoey' as some I've had, but it's quite tasty with the bacon.  It is reminiscent of a beefsteak but not as watery, I thought. Given my choice between Mr. Stripey and a beefsteak for my BLT, I'd choose Mr. Stripey.  For some reason, my Mr. Stripey tomatoes don't look a lot like the picture on the plant ID tag.  I'm not complaining.  They're wonderful.

The Yellow Oxheart is just good eating. It seems like it is lower acid than a run-of-the-mill red tomato, but I haven't done a side-by-side comparison or any pH testing on which to base my conclusions.
Some varieties not pictured are San Marzano and La Roma. Both are paste types that performed as expected when prepared for sauce.  I would not recommend them for eating on a salad as they are pretty dry.  But they are perfect for saucing.
Black Krim.  Never made it out of the garden.  I ate the first one on the spot and after that they were all eaten the exact same way.  Very, very tasty.
Black Prince.  I did not get a single ripe tomato from the plant I got.  It set a few fruit and then just stalled.  I keep waiting and hoping...
Pink Brandywine.  A very pretty heirloom type that the grasshoppers and birds seem to LOVE.  I've only gotten a couple of unblemished fruits.
Green Pineapple.  Very odd looking and because of the green color, I missed the first few fruits and they rotted on the vine.  Sweet and tomatoey with rather delicate and easily bruised flesh.  Really good on a plate with some salt. 

Of course we had some Beefsteaks.  Good old dependable beefsteak types are the best in sandwiches and eaten fresh.  These were no exception.

'Sun-Dried' tomatoes were a meaty, paste type that did not perform well.  Only a few fruits set before the heat of the summer took the plant out.

'Champion' set a lot of small tomatoes that taste okay.  Nothing special to me anyway.  Sized about like the Zlatava but nowhere near as good.  The plants are on the smaller side and might do well in limited space.
This year we did three varieties of 'cherry' type tomatoes.  
Super Sweet 100 is an annual favorite at our house.  One or two plants gives us way more tiny tomatoes than we can hope to eat.  They are sweet and juicy and surprisingly easy to store when dehydrated.  They make a nice topping for pizza or a mix in for casseroles, pasta, meatloaf, soap, etc. 

I had never grown Yellow Pear before this year.  I had tried a plant last year but it didn't make it to the fruit bearing stage before a blight took it out.  So this year I got seeds and started a couple dozen plants with the hope that one of them would give me some tomatoes.

Holy crap.

None of them died.  I have yellow pear tomatoes everywhere.  That might not be such a bad deal if I actually liked how they taste.  They are a very pretty little pear-shaped tomato with a lovely yellow/gold color and almost zero tomato taste.  I dried a few to see how they will perform in recipes and I made some pickled tomatoes with a few.  I hope to report back on those in a few weeks.  Unless they get a stellar review from one of those uses, I won't be growing those again.  Prolific?  Yes.  Edible?  Yes.  Desirable?  Not so much.  They made so many tomatoes that I live in fear of the multitudes of volunteer plants I'll have next year.  Yikes.

The last of the tiny tomatoes is a golden cherry that I have since lost the variety name.  I wish I hadn't.  These are easily the best cherry tomatoes I've ever eaten in my life.  Somewhere in that garden plot is the identification tag that came with the plant I bought.  I will find it.  In the meantime, I'm saving some seeds in the hope that at least one of them will be true to the variety.

In other news...

The squashes have started to come in.  This is a small selection of the varieties that I grew this year.  Two kinds of pumpkins, three kinds of summer squash (a traditional zucchini, some funny little yellow zucchinis, and a white patty pan), and I forget how many kinds of winter squash.  In the picture below we have turban, butternut, acorn, lakota, spaghetti, and delitica.  There are so many other types and many I had never grown before waiting to be harvested in the squash bed.  I hope to have a taste test completed soon so I can report my findings. 
I am super pleased with my squash crop this year.  Probably the best one I've ever had!  I have to confess:  I used some garden dust on the squash vines this year.  The squash vine borer is a menace in my part of the country. I rarely ever get more than a couple of edible fruits no matter how many vines I plant.  This year I used some judiciously applied chemical dust and had almost NO vine borer issues and the squash bugs are almost non-existent.  I know, I's not organic.  It's really a topic for another blog, but I'll just say here that it is very unlikely I will be able to grow completely organically in my plots no matter how carefully I shun the chemicals.

In the 'just for fun' section of the garden we find me and my broom corn.  Just for scale, I am about 5'9" and the tallest of the broom corn is easily double my height.  This was so much fun to watch as it grew like crazy to form the seed heads at the top.  Last week I harvested those seed heads and I hope to make some nice fall decorations with them.  I plan to make room for some broom corn every year.  It's fun to grow and the seed heads turn brown and purple in the fall.  I'll post up some pics of whatever I figure out to make with the seed heads.

A parting shot of the squash beds and the Bitch of a Ditch.  I had hoped that the squash would grow down into the ditch eliminating the need to mow it all the dang time.  It sort of did that.  Next time I'll plant right along the edge and see what it does.  Yep, that's little ol' me standing in the ditch for scale.  I told you it's one big ditch.

That's all for now.  I gotta get back out there and pick some peppers.  There are lots of those to talk about, too.  Until next time.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Year One

I've been writing this blog in my head for almost a year now...thinking about what I want to say about having endured a year of my life without my Mother in it.  I had many grand ideas and some less than rational thoughts.  Today, none of them seem to matter.  So I'm just gonna wing it.
Me & my Mom in June 1966...just me and my bestie hanging out

August 19, 2016 marks the first year anniversary of my Mom, Sharon's, death.  To tell the truth, I wasn't sure what I would find when I finally got to this day.  I was hoping to have the mystical and elusive 'closure' that so many people seem to think we need after the death of a loved one.  I've come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as closure.  After suffering through the deluge of emotion and the repeated waves of sorrow at each passing 'first without Mom,' I find myself feeling less complete than I expected.

I thought by now the almost tangible hole left in my middle when she was torn from my life (because you don't really 'lose' your Mom, do you?  She's ripped from you, isn't she?) would have healed over a bit leaving insensitive scar tissue but feeling more or less intact and solid.  That could not be further from the truth.

Truth is the hole is still there.  I imagine the edges are pink and sensitive still but more or less solid.  However, it doesn't take a lot to get them raw and bleeding again.  I don't think I'll ever be really whole again.

So, as is my habit from childhood, I decided to poke the bear.  What can I say?  I'm a little bit of a masochist, apparently.

I've spent my downtime this week going through the huge suitcase of photographs I found at Mom's house last summer when I cleared it out in preparation to sell.  I spent a lot of the time alternately laughing my ass off and bawling my eyes out.  There are a lot of really good pictures that I didn't know existed and many more that I had forgotten about.  OMG I was a skinny kid all the way through high school.  If I knew then what I know now, I never would have been sad about being 'fat'.


But I digress.

I found some corkers in there, too, of Mom.  My goal for this weekend is to get some more of them scanned and 'shopped to share for posterity.  Just a few, mind you.  I would not dilute her memory or sully her life by plastering it all over the Internet.*  My Mom was a very private person.  To put a bunch of pictures of her on the internet without her permission feels like disrespect to me. That was not her style.  I wouldn't do that to her any more than I would scatter her ashes in Nebraska.

She was a Colorado girl through and through.  That's where she'll be once I can bring myself to let go of that box of ashes.

Turns out I have a lot less to say than I thought I would.


Love you, Mom.  Love you gobs.

*More than a couple people in my life took this the wrong way.  I didn't mean to imply that I think sharing pictures of your loved ones is bad.  I don't think it is necessarily.  I just don't think my Mom would have liked it.  So now I'll just put my foot back in my mouth where it clearly belongs.  Please accept my apologies.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Running on Empty

This week has been a rough week here at The Slice.  The mower broke the drive belt, the truck broke something we haven't identified yet, and I've busted my ass all week at the home doing good works.  It's a tough old life.

Today I was off from the day job and I spent my day in a funk.  I was missing my Mom, missing my farm, and missing my freedom from before I took this job.  I was in a deep blue funk.

I should have seen this coming.  After all, it's August.  Usually by now I've either been to Colorado or I'm preparing to go see my Mom.  I have done neither this year and I don't plan to.  It kinda hit me this morning that I won't ever be planning to visit her again.

A deep, dark blue funk.

After I got done with my errands for the day, I cried in the car all the way home.  Then I cried to my husband.  Then I cried to my best friend.  Then I remembered the rabbits needed feeding and cleaning up after.

So I went to the farm and cried to my rabbits.  They were fairly indifferent to my tears as I expected.  I took the big metal pans from their cages and started cleaning them.  When I put them back, I noticed Gordon was nibbling on the weeds that were poking up through the bottom of his hutch.  It was enchanting and I left him until last to put his tray back so he could nibble some more.  In fact, I went and got some more weeds and gave them to the ladybuns so they could nibble delicately at some greenery.

With that task behind me and dusk fast approaching, I decided to do something about the general tallness of all the plant life in the 'lawn' at the farm.  I hauled all 400 feet of garden hose up to the hose racks and wound them up off the ground.  Then, I cranked up the Little Red Mower That Could and I mowed the damned bitch of a Ditch.

Have I ever blogged about the ditch?  Maybe not.  Our Ditch (I think of it as a proper noun because it's a proper bitch) is about half a block long with steep sides and a rather bumpity bottom.  For some reason the 'grass' on the bottom is pretty sparse but the 'grass' on the steep sides grows luxuriantly. Of course.  The part that is hard to mow needs mowing the most.  It's like some kind of twisted corollary to Murphy's Law...inverse relationship between 'grass' and grade?

I know, I know:  Nerd!

It's not a good picture, but that's the Ditch.  Really, it's worse than it seems.  I'll have to try for a better shot than Google street view can provide.
Anyway, I mowed that bitch and the front yard to boot.  Just as the sun started to slip beneath the horizon, the Little Red Mower That Could started running on fumes. I put the mower away and looked at what I'd accomplished.  The mowing is only about 1/5 done.  But, it's a start.

When I got back in my car, I was humming a little tune.  I forget which one because it suddenly occurred to me that I was humming a tune.  Humming.  Like I was...happy or something. 

Then I had a thought.

I spent a lot of time this week inside.  Up until a month or so ago, I was spending upwards of 10-12 hours a day outdoors in the garden or doing something outside.  Now I'm down to an hour or less some days.  I've always been the happiest working outside.  It recharges me in a way nothing else ever has.  You might say that like the mower I was running on empty.  Sometimes when my energy is that low I forget how to fix it.  It's really as simple as mowing the darn bitch of a ditch...or anything else requiring physical exertion. 

Exercise is the best anti-depressant out there.

But don't tell my husband that.  Sheesh.  He'll never mow it again!