2014 Tomatoes Part Two

As you might remember, a few weeks ago I harvested almost all of my tomatoes and brought them inside due to a summer snow storm in the forecast – the tomatoes that remained outside were in pots that were moved to my unheated greenhouse, where they were just fine. And although the bulk of the tomatoes I brought indoors were green, they have been steadily ripening inside of cardboard boxes in my dining room. Today I wanted to share some of the medium sized tomatoes which are the most colorful of them all and let you know my thoughts on growing and eating them: Taxi, Green Zebra and Indigo Rose.

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Clockwise from top – Taxi, Indigo Rose, Green Zebra

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Taxi

This was my second time growing this determine variety. I originally purchased the seeds because I was looking for a non-cherry yellow determine tomato. I’m going to be honest and say that this tomato was a bit of a flop this year – it only produced one tomato. One. The plant itself also did not do very well – the foliage was unhealthy looking for most of the year. I have no real explanation for this except that perhaps I did not provide it with enough fertilizer throughout the growing season – or it just wasn’t impressed with the location I placed it (although this is not a strong argument as I had other tomatoes growing in the same location that did exceptionally well). As for the taste, that is definitely something worth mentioning: it isn’t anything very exciting. If you like a mild tomato with a very delicate flavor, little-to-no acidity, and a mushy texture, then this is the tomato for you (and maybe that is yellow tomatoes in general). I have to admit that I like a bit more punch with my homegrown tomatoes, although this one balances out strong flavors if I’m making fresh salsa with a few different varieties of tomatoes thrown in together. So would I grow it again? Probably not. Putting aside the fact that I only got one tomato from my plant, it just isn’t a very exciting tomato and I would rather use the space to grow a tomato that wasn’t this boring. Sorry Taxi.

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Green Zebra

Green Zebra is one of my favorite indeterminate varieties ever. I’ve grown it for about 4 years now and it has never failed me, always producing a ton of medium sized tomatoes on very healthy plants. The tomatoes ripen to a yellow/green color and you know they’re ready to eat when the skin has a little give when squeezed. My partner and I have differing opinions when it comes to the taste of this one – he found it too tart and acidity, but I thought it had just the right amount of tartness with a bit of sweetness. And I love the texture of this one. This tomato is going to remain on my “must grow” list.

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Indigo Rose

This was my first time successfully growing this indeterminate variety (I’d attempted last year, but squirrels). I purchased it because who wouldn’t want to try growing a blue tomato? I would describe the coloring as a dark purple (almost black in places) with dark red blushing – extremely beautiful. They were also very easy to grow, produced many tomatoes, and the plants remained very healthy all year – the ideal tomato plant in my opinion. The other thing to point out is that although they are an indeterminate variety, they are quite compact plants – not as compact as a determinate, but somewhere in between an indeterminate and determinate variety, which worked very well in my small space garden. I was skeptical that such a pretty tomato would have a forgettable taste but the taste is wonderful. They are very sweet with low acidity and have somewhat of a plum flavor and texture. Indigo Rose is absolutely in my top 3 tomatoes this year.

I’d love to hear about the tomatoes that you grew this year and I’d also love to hear any of your suggestions for a yellow variety.

Indigo Rose and Green Zebra seeds purchased from Urban Harvest, Taxi purchase from West Coast Seeds.

Pasilla Bajio Pepper

I had thought that in September I would be writing about and posting pictures of my green and lush garden winding down. But I was wrong. Instead, I’m talking about snow and freezing temperatures. Calgary was hit with a winter storm in the summer. It sounds ridiculous saying it, but snow is not unheard of at this time of year in Alberta, but a storm like this is fairly uncommon. The snow started falling in parts of the city on Monday morning but didn’t hit my area until early Monday afternoon. And it wasn’t bad – there were a few moans around the office about snowflakes but nothing was sticking. Then Monday night things started to stick. See my last post here. On Tuesday morning there was a bit of snow on the ground, but it wasn’t piling up on the roads or sidewalks. But it didn’t stop and by Wednesday morning, it was wet and heavy and still coming down. On my drive to work, I saw large mature trees splitting down the middle and limbs falling off from the weight of the snow and landing on the sidewalks and streets. Several street lights were out and many people were without power and/or water. We were fortunate that we only lost power for a couple of brief periods at home and we don’t have any mature leafy trees on or near our property (there are some old spruce trees on the street but those were not affected). Apparently the total snowfall tally in the city over the last few days was 35cm. It was the perfect weather to start knitting again and we did pull out the wool blankets which I love so so much. And apparently the weather is supposed to go back to normal September weather starting this weekend and early next week, so I’ll be able to not complain about snow for hopefully a few weeks.

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The aftermath in my garden, September 11, 2014 – snow has already fallen from my neighbor’s tree and melted off the shed roof and fence

And now to pretend that the snow didn’t happen and I’m happily harvesting vegetables from the garden.

I don’t remember what the deciding factors of purchasing pepper seeds were for me a few years ago (I’ve said it before – goldfish brain). Now that I have a few varieties of peppers under my belt I know it will be heat. But I’m not so convinced that this was a factor before. Looking back on my old stash of seeds, it seems the hottest seeds I’d purchased were jalapeno – weaklings in the hot pepper world. I’m going to assume that I chose the pasilla bajio based on the look of it on the package because I certainly didn’t buy it for the heat. The pasilla bajio is a really beautiful pepper – about 6 or so inches long and very dark green/slightly brown. I would be interested in drying some of these because they are supposed to be a lovely dark brown when dried and apparently make a really tasty powder, which is typically used for mole sauce.

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And it was one of the earlier peppers to appear in my greenhouse, which is a plus in my books. I started all of my pepper plants inside the house in February. I’m actually thinking I will start them earlier this coming year. They seemed to do really well under the lights indoors and did not grow big or leggy like a lot of other plants do when started indoors. The only reason for starting them earlier than February would be to get peppers harvested sooner. Some of my peppers were ready in early August, but most have been ripening late August and into September. And I even have a feeling that some varieties may even hold out until later, like my habanero.

The taste was very mild and flavorful with a hint of smokiness. I would actually argue that I didn’t find there to be any heat at all and that makes sense since this pepper is rated 1,000 – 2,000 on the scoville scale. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t good though – you just need to know going in that it isn’t a pepper you grow for heat. Since I only had 3 peppers, I made spiced chicken and pepper rajas, recipe from Bon Appetit. It was good, but next time I would actually add in a little hot pepper for some heat and serve it with some sour cream and shredded cheese (basically just a fajita without the soft tortilla). The recipe calls for pablano peppers but they are on the same level heat-wise as the pasillo bajio so I didn’t think the recipe police would mind too much.

Because I would like to experiment with making my own powdered spices, I will grow this pepper again. Plus, it is just so pretty.

Seeds purchased from Botanical Interests.

 

 

Filius Blue Hot Pepper

I used to be a picky eater. I used to hate peppers. I used to carefully extract peppers, mushrooms and onions from dishes and throw them in the garbage. I feel ashamed to admit this.

I don’t know exactly when I started eating the things I used to hate. I don’t know exactly when I started loving the things I used to hate eating. But it happened. I know it definitely happened some time in my early adult life. I don’t know how it happened – did I all of a sudden just shove these things into my mouth and declare them amazing? Or did it happen gradually over time? I have no idea. I have goldfish brain.

I know that hot peppers were a more recent addition to my life and I think it was inspired a lot by my love of East Indian and Mexican food, as well as my somewhat recent introduction to Sriracha and other hot sauces (I don’t mean recent as in yesterday, but like the last 5 or so years). Hot peppers intrigue me and I want to grow and eat them all.

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I’ve mentioned before that I’m a bit of a weakling when it comes to heat. I can handle a bit, but nothing extreme. I like to burn my face off just a little bit, mainly in the privacy of my own home. The filius blue is pretty mild when it comes to hot peppers. It has a little bit of heat, but not much. Dare I say, not enough heat for me. I had some pretty high expectations for it as it is rated the same heat level on the scoville scale (30,000 – 50,000) as the Chinese 5 Color that I wrote about last time. For me, this had about half of that amount of heat. Eating them whole raw (seeds and all) and in multiples was no problem.IMG_3548

I think the best part of the filius blue is the plant itself. It is extremely compact, growing about 6 inches tall and about 8 inches wide in a terra cotta pot. The leaves are a lovely green with a purple tinge on the edges and purple veining. The flowers are white and purple. And the peppers themselves are very small, medium/dark purple and ripening to a bright red. Unlike the Chinese 5 Color, these peppers start out purple, turn a little orange and then directly ripen to red. And the peppers are abundant. I threw them into tacos (it should be mentioned that they lost any traces of heat after being cooked) and into fresh salsa.

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I grew two of these plants this year but next year I will limit it to one plant – greenhouse space is valuable real estate! I liked the mild heat of the fresh peppers, but I wasn’t entirely blown away. If you’re looking for a really compact mild hot pepper that easily grows in a pot and looks beautiful, this is the one for you. If you want something really unpleasant and face burn-y, stayed tuned for next year’s harvest.

 Filius Blue Pepper seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Chinese Five Color Hot Pepper

I have never successfully grown a pepper from seed until very recently. A few years ago, I bought a jalapeno plant from the local nursery and was able to harvest one pepper from it. Somehow that tiny little bit of pathetic success went to my head. The next year I started a few pepper plants in the house from seed in the late winter and planted them in my raised bed in the spring. And I got nothing. You would think that would deter me from trying again. Last year – same story except I moved them out into my newly built greenhouse, planting them in the greenhouse’s raised bed. And NOTHING HAPPENED. Even the plants themselves didn’t get much taller than 5 inches and I had no flowers at all. I decided to try digging a few plants out in the fall, plopping them in some plastic pots and bringing them in the house to overwinter. Then some time in February, I decided to start a bunch more little peppers under lights. For some strange reason, those little plants lived for months in the house and even survived a renovation – by the time they went outside, they were covered in a layer of who-knows-what renovation dust. I transplanted them all into their own individual 8″ terra cotta pots and stuck them in the greenhouse. And I guess the pepper gods were shining down on me because I have a million peppers, including a ton of Chinese Five Color hot peppers.

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I purchased these seeds from Urban Harvest a few years ago. They are a rare hot pepper variety, although I have seen them popping up a bit more online in the last two years. Although they look very similar to the ornamental pepper plants that you see occasionally in the houseplant section at the grocery store and Home Depot, these are actually very different taste-wise. It is a very beautiful plant – medium sized, green foliage with purple veins and loaded with stunning rainbow colored peppers. The name is a bit obvious but in various stages of development, this pepper will be purple, yellow, pink, orange and red. The purple stage is the longest – it starts out as purple and matures to bright red. The peppers themselves are fairly small, about an inch long and 1/2 inch diameter but make up for their size in taste.

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I always make a point to read the reviews of hot peppers before I try growing them and I’d read mixed reviews of this one. Some people described it as weak and bland, while others said it is flavorful and very hot. I guess, like anything, it depends on your climate and growing conditions – and I’m sure it might even vary in taste from season to season. Like I mentioned, mine were grown in terra cotta pots in a hot greenhouse. My experience was good – I should mention that I am somewhat of a wimp when it comes to spicy food. I’m not a total baby and it is mostly due to a weak stomach, but I am nothing like my husband who loves burning his face off with spicy food. But yeah, these little guys pack a bit of punch. On the scoville scale that I viewed, this one is 30,000-50,000 which I interpreted as “sort of hot”, but I was a bit wrong after tasting it and have changed my interpretation to “hot but I’m not dying”. I also popped the whole thing in my mouth, seeds and all, in order to get the whole affect and flavor. It was good though and I would actually recommend pepper lovers to try this one out – it was easy to grow, the first hot pepper to ripen out of all of my peppers, and has a good amount of hot flavor.

I’m really glad that I stuck it out and kept trying to grow hot peppers. I know it’s different for everyone but what worked for me was the terra cotta pots – it allowed the soil in the pots to warm up really quickly and they seem to respond really well to that. Success! Oh and I mentioned above that I had overwintered a few of last year’s pepper plants in the house. And I will report that this made no difference whatsoever to crop timing. I was able to keep these alive throughout the winter and they even survived the move out to the greenhouse, but they ended up flowering and fruiting the same time as the peppers that I’d started indoors in February. And the yields were about the same. The only real difference is that last year’s plants are a little taller than this years. So I probably won’t bother with overwintering again.

I have a handful of other hot pepper varieties that I will feature in the next few weeks – including the Filius Blue hot pepper next week. And I’ve got a really exciting project in the upcoming year that involves a video camera, my partner in crime, and some scotch bonnet and ghost peppers.

 

Bush Beans

My plan was to complain about how many sour cherries I had and all the work I put into picking, freezing, canning and baking them. But then this morning I decided I would head on over to the community garden and harvest the first of the bush beans. Good idea. I’ll come back to the sour cherries later on, I still have a bit of resentment towards them if you hadn’t picked up on that. 

I’ve almost always had great luck with bush beans, except once. Beans need to be planted after all danger of frost has passed and when the soil has warmed up a bit – they do not like cold and damp weather. So I’ve learned that planting them in May is pretty much out of the question, so I usually end up putting mine in the first week of June. The reason why they failed that one year is because I planted them the May long weekend with everything else. That was also the year it snowed the first week of June. So the moral of the story is wait until June to plant them, but be prepared for disappointment because it might snow in June anyway. 

So here is the haul from this morning – a 4L pail full of bush beans, every color of the rainbow. 

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Almost half of my plot this year at the community garden was bush beans – about 15 or so plants. I usually disregard the rules and sow the seeds closer than the packages instruct – real estate is valuable when you garden in small spaces! It doesn’t seem to affect the harvest though because I always get more beans than I know what to do with. For some reason no one has ever tried to steal my beans from the community garden – maybe it is because they are a little bit hidden underneath the leaves, or maybe because the unusual colors weird people out. My sister and I used to add food coloring to pancakes when we were younger and left to our own cooking devices and I remember once a family friend being completely turned off by eating green and purple pancakes upon offering, even though they still tasted exactly the same. Maybe it’s like that. Regardless, I am pretty attracted to vegetables that are not “normal” colors. Unfortunately all the colored beans, except the yellow ones, turn green upon cooking. 

The other great thing to point out about beans is that while most other vegetables suck the nutrients out of the soil like little green vampires, beans enrich the soil with nitrogen. It is debatable how much nitrogen they actually add back into the soil – I’m not a scientist and I’ve never bother to do soil testing before and after planting beans. But if there is even a slight chance that they are good for the soil, it’s an added bonus in my books. I am really good about amending my soil at home with compost and manure, but at the community garden I am a horrible, neglectful gardener who fails to amend my soil. Shame on me. But if the beans help in any way, thank you little friends. 

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Here is a list of all the bush beans I planted and where they were purchased incase you were interested:

Blue Lake 274 (green) – Botanical Interests
Pencil Pod (yellow) – Botanical Interests
Royal Burgundy (dark purple) – Botanical Interests
Red Swan (red/light purple) – Seed Savers Exchange
Tongue of Fire (green/red striped) – Urban Harvest

So what did I end up doing with this haul? I made a few cans of mustardy bean pickles (photo below) using a recipe from my Mom. And I saved the rest for eating fresh this week. I expect to have another significant harvest next week so I’ll be making some more (different) pickles from a recipe made up by myself, although not completely original (I had a habit last year buying expensive jars of pickled beans, cauliflower and carrots on a weekly basis from the local farmer’s market and ended up forcing myself to figure out how to replicate the recipe). I will share that recipe at a later date so that you too can become addicted to what I refer to as “crack pickles”. 

IMG_3464Mustardy pickled beans featuring onions, green peppers and turmeric

I don’t think that there will ever be a year that I do not plant bush beans. They are one of the easiest crops to grow anywhere (even in containers), don’t mind neglect and a little bit of drought, and are always prolific producers. Plus you can pick them, steam them, and be eating them in 10 minutes. What’s not to love?