Sunday, January 26, 2014

I See the Sun

Sunflowers that is.

The crescent garden behind the garage was intended to become a perennial flower bed.  Best laid plans and all that...  I haven't managed to put a single perennial in this bed since it was created three years ago.  Instead it has become an annual flower bed.  Dahlias, cosmos and sunflowers filled the space this year. 

Dahlias bookend a bed filled with orange cosmos and bright sunflowers
Prior to this garden I have never successfully grown a sunflower.  Too much shade in previous gardens.  Now that I have bright wide open spaces it is no longer an issue for me and I'm not content to grow just one.  I want a dozen.  A dozen different varieties that is.

I decided to spice things up this year by growing a variety of sunny blooms.  In early summer the first flowers to emerge were Ruby Eclipse. 

These pretty blooms feature red centers fringed with yellow.  The plants stand approximately 5 feet tall.  I found the actual stalk and leaves on this plant to be rather sparse.  Not so pretty in the garden then but perfect for cutting.  I had a similar issue with Chianti.

These were also early blooming and stood around 5 feet tall.  The plants were rather skimpy looking but the dark red blooms would be stunning in a bouquet. 

Once the cosmos began to bloom the bed became a sea of orange and yellow.  I wasn't paying close attention and almost missed these.

Teddybear sunflowers have very large blooms on a very tiny plant.  Mine only grew about a foot tall.  I had no idea they would be so small which explains why I almost missed them.

The teddybear in the photo above is standing off to the side so he was easy to spot but many of the teddybears got mixed in with the cosmos and became completely hidden from view.  Maybe the cosmos are just too tall?

From the shortest we go to the tallest.  The big blooms come right at the end of the summer season.

Giant sunflowers and dahlias decorate the far field in late summer
I have grown Giganteus for a couple seasons now with good results.  It's just an outrageously beautiful plant and flower.  I love how big and plentiful the leaves are and the blooms at 8 - 10 inches across never disappoint.

A new addition this season was Mammoth Grey Stripe.  At 10 - 12 feet high these are some of the biggest flowers I have ever grown.

I had to hold my camera up as high as I could and shoot blind to get this photo. 

Of all the varieties I have grown the giants are my favourite.  They are the classic sunflower.  Tall plants with big smiley flowers that I can see from my kitchen window, an acre away.  In the fall I love watching bluejays arrive to pick the flowers clean of seeds.  

Do you grow sunflowers?  What's your favourite variety?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How's the Weather eh?

Canadians are often accused of talking incessantly about the weather.  But when it changes so often and so drastically how can we not?

In early December we had storm after storm which left us several feet deep in that white stuff they call snow.

It was a winter wonderland out there.  Very pretty and very cold.  Snow isn't all fun.  My arms ached from the constant shoveling.

There's a path down there...
 I dug a trench from the house to the compost pile so we could continue to dump compost and ashes from the woodstove.  Then I dug a path to the woodpile.  and cleared the porch and walk.  

Over and over and over again.

We worried about how much more snow would come.  The snowbanks were so high it was becoming increasingly  hard to find places to pile the snow. The ice was an inch thick on the roof.  The house was making odd banging sounds that we were told was a result of shifting in the severe cold.  The woodpile was diminishing at an alarming rate.

Then a sigh of relief.

Almost all the snow melted in my path to the compost
The temperature increased from -20 celcius to +10.  It rained.  The January thaw made the grass visible again.  The snowbanks started to disappear.  It felt like spring.

But it wasn't.

We had a blizzard today.  There's supposed to be 30cm of snow by the time it's all said and done.

I spent the day cutting up pumpkins from last fall's harvest.  Cleaning the seed and cooking the flesh for freezing.  Contemplating my seed orders for spring.

The weatherman mentioned another 'system' headed this way for Saturday.  Then again on Monday.  Maybe instead of seeds I should contemplate a trip South?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2013 Tomato Review

I am so happy.  As you may remember my macbook took a sudden fit and decided to stop working and of course I hadn't backed up any recent photos.  While we debate its replacement I have been left devoid of garden photos.  Until now.  It only worked for a few more hours but we got it up and running and I managed to retrieve these..... my tomato harvest from the 2013 veggie garden.

From the tiniest tomato to the largest
I planted approximately 25 plants this year, of 11 different varieties, so we were pretty much overwhelmed with tomato goodness.  Which also means this is going to be a LONG post!  The tomatoes did not begin to ripen until the very last week of August and we ended up picking many green in September and October as the temperatures began to dip.

I have been growing an array of heritage tomatoes for the last couple years.  Each year I test out new varieties to see what works best in our growing conditions, and what tastes best on our tongues.  This post is the result of this year's trials.

Let's start with the smallest contender.  I grew Mexico Midget for the first time last year and loved it. 

 It's a tiny tomato approximately the size of a large blueberry.  You can just see it in the foreground of the above photo.  I didn't have great germination rates last year and this year was much worse.  I replanted seed three times over without a single seed taking hold.  I tried again one last time, soaking the seeds in willow water before planting and was finally granted a single plant.  I babied that little plant along and then began the long process of hardening it off to bring out of doors.  At which time I promptly broke the plant in two. 

Thank goodness these are tough customers.  The stem and a couple leaves remained and by August that little broken plant had taken over a four foot square garden plot.  This plant is extremely prolific once it gets going and baskets upon baskets of little tomatoes are to be had.  We, and everyone we know, love this tomato so it gets another pass for next year.  I made sure the seeds I collected got some extra fermenting this year to wear off the seed coat so hopefully next year's germination will go a little more smoothly.

The next size up was the Principe Borghese tomato.  These are a cherry sized tomato and one of the first to begin producing.  Jody, aka the head taste tester, decided very quickly these were poor tasting and was not impressed.  I had read this variety was good for drying so we decided we would give sun dried tomatoes a try.

Following a recipe online I attempted to dry them in the oven and promptly burnt the lot. 

Luckily we grew A LOT of tomatoes this year - I mentioned that right?  Instead of being dissuaded we then attempted drying tomatoes in the kiln.  Now, the kiln was originally built to dry wood for Jody's workshop but has since devolved into a fruit dryer.  A couple years ago we successfully dried apple slices so why not tomatoes?

A variety of tomato slices were placed on large plastic screens and then popped into the dryer overnight.  It worked!

Successfully dried tomatoes!
However, the Principe Borghese tomatoes still weren't that tasty.  So we're not growing them again. 

Going up a size we have another favourite from last year.  Black Plum has reigned supreme two years in a row for ease of germination, good plant growth, fantastic taste and multiple uses.  

Black Plum are easily recognized by their green and purple colour tones
They have a really strong smokey flavour that works well in salads, salsas, tomato sauce, soups and as a dried tomato.  Will definitely grow these again.

Martino's Roma tomatoes are pictured on the far right hand side of the above photo.   We grew these last year as well and this tomato has been a consistent performer for us, growing reliably well and producing copious amounts of fruit for such small plants.  While they are prolific they are rather bland.  Jody keeps asking why I bother with these and the answer is I like having surplus tomatoes on hand for making large batches of soup......or burning in the oven.... whichever.

A newcomer this year was Debarao.  While the seeds germinated well I had some pretty weak looking seedlings which had to be culled.  In the end I grew only one plant.  It was the tallest tomato this year but it was also the last plant to flower and set fruit.

Late set was only one issue, it also produced very few tomatoes and caught early blight.  For the trouble I don't know I would bother with this one again but Jody feels the taste was worth it so perhaps another year we will give this one a try.

Unfortunately early blight made a real mess of things this year.  Two varieties, Ace 55 and Nepal, didn't stand a chance with this disease.  I gathered a few tomatoes from each variety but generally the whole crop was a loss.  Unfortunately I wasn't very good about keeping things organized when picking and the couple tomatoes I harvested got mixed up with other varieties so I can't even verify what these tomatoes looked or tasted like.  I know they both had about 50% germination rate and were mid-season producers.  Both are mid-size perfectly round tomatoes but whether they were something to grow again remains a mystery.

Another mid-season producer with a mid-size tomato was Starfire.  I was able to recognize these because the majority of the tomatoes turned to sludge once the early blight got hold of them.  While the disease affected the plants by killing the leaves and stems much of the fruit from other varieties was still able to be picked.  However, early blight made Starfire completely unusable.   They developed yellow spots that turned to goo and we threw out more tomatoes than I care to remember.  These will not be making a return to the garden.

The final category are the biggies.  Woodle Orange is an indeterminate tomato that took its sweet time developing flowers and fruit.  I don't like a late plant but I have to admit these were a nice tomato.

Big perfectly round yellow fruit, very little seed and lots of meat.  They were a joy to cut into.  I love yellow tomatoes for a variety of soups and chili.  There's a particular flavour that is a great accent in certain recipes.  This was a healthy plant producing plenty of nice fruit and my only complaint is how long it took to grow.  Encroaching cold temperatures is always a concern so I think I'll continue my hunt for an early producing yellow.  But I won't forget about these.

Yet another tomato recycled from last year was the Rosella Purple.

These short sturdy plants always germinate well and produce a reasonable amount of very large smokey flavoured tomatoes.  If there is a single negative it is that the uneven rippled shape of these tomatoes makes slicing a bit tricky.  A fairly minor defect I think.

That leaves only one.  The final variety was the classic heritage Mortgage Lifter tomato.  This is possibly the largest beefsteak tomato you can grow.

In comparison to the tiny Mexico Midget
Seeds had about 50% germination rate and produced large indeterminate plants.  I was pleasantly surprised at how early these plants started to produce as the beefsteaks tend to take longer to come around.  However, these were among the first fruits we gathered this year.  A big complaint is how heavy these are.  While a big tomato is a sight to behold they also weigh down the plants, bending branches and dragging on the ground where slugs, mice, insects and other critters snack on them.  I haven't got the time, nor patience, to fiddle with cages and stakes trying to hold up excessively heavy tomatoes and Jody wasn't floored by their taste so this may not make a come back either.

Despite the early blight this was a pretty fantastic year for tomatoes and we still have bags and bags of vacuum sealed tomatoes in the freezer, along with soup and sauce to carry us through winter.  Now I'm off to ponder what varieties I'll be growing in the next garden season...