Gotta love those volunteers!

There’s barely an organinzation out there that doesn’t benefit from some good volunteers; you know, the folks who come in, ask little or nothing from you, roll up their sleeves, and get to work doing what you’d have to do yourself.  Well, same goes in the garden, though here I’m not talking about the people.  Sure, they’re appreciated, but I’m referring to crops that “volunteer” or self-sow.  You plant them once, and after that they keep coming back on their own, essentially doing your work for you.

Here are four that I’m really appreciating on the roof this year:

Shiso

Red Shiso (Perilla frutescens).  This is a show-stopper, with its deep burgundy coloration and its sharply dentated leaf margins.  When it pops up in a desired location, I take full advantage of its ornamental beauty.  Shiso’s flavor is spicy and complex: is it cinnamon….clove…anise that you taste?  Try it and get back to me!

Nasturtium

Then there’s the nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), a heraldic burst of floral color ready to amaze in any salad and to pepper the tongue following the visual feast.  Now that they’ve naturalized in the roof garden, I have to fairly beat back their long, trailing stems so that they don’t utterly take over the bed where they sprout.  There are bush varieties that are a little more polite…a range of colors, too.

Purslane

Less welcome at the restaurant (too pedestrian???) but still a volunteer success in my book is Goldberger purslane (Portulaca oleracea).  It’s paddle-shaped leaves, considerably bigger than those of its garden-weed cousin, are crisp and succulent (uhhh, I guess because it’s considered a succulent!).  Although they are not very flavorful, I think they make a great textural contribution to the salad plate.  Plus they kick buttocks (both!) in the nutrition department, serving up many vitamins and the highest amounts of good-for-you Omega-3 fatty acids in the plant world.

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Finally, my newest favorite volunteer is holy basil (Ocimum sanctum).  Last year was the first year we had it in the garden, and this year I was tickled to see it coming back on its own…the only basil I have seen do this.  This basil, with the faintest touch, releases invisible clouds of its blueberry spice scent, which I find intoxicating.  I so love that it’s in the garden to stay!

So volunteers are awesome, right?  Well, if you go back to that organizational mindset,  you probably all know of one or two volunteers who talked your ear off or who were a little too overeager to achieve and  messed with something they shouldn’t have.  In the human realm, we have to gently let these people know that they may be doing us too much good, and that they have to redirect their energies or go eleswhere.  In the plant world, it’s much less complicated.  Too much shiso, basil, naturtium, or purslane?  Just pull and compost!

Garlic Rust – A Fight to the Finish

This year I have decided to take on garlic rust, a very formidable foe that levelled my rooftop garlic crop completely last year.  Funny thing about these diseases, they can have the most lyrical Latin names.  Garlic rust is alternatively called Puccinia allii and Puccinia porri, either of which I could imagine coming off the lips of Pavarotti at La Scala.  Well, the poetry all vanishes when you listen to the description of the disease from a website like the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program (http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/r584101211.html).  It says that garlic rust causes “dull orange, oval-shaped pustules to develop on the leaf blades” and then says that “reddish airborne urediospores are copiously produced within the lesions.”  Anybody see anything operatic now?  Not with a libretto full of pustules and lesions.

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Witness the awful, orange pustules of garlic rust!

 

So last year this garlic rust blasted through our rooftop garlic crop, causing leaves to yellow fast and the whole garlic stalk to just wither, leaving a bulb about the size of the initial, fall-planted clove.  In other words, nothing gained after 9 months of growth.  Needless to say, I was a little caught in my tracks by the severity of the attack, and by the time I got around to researching, it was too late.  I did get some helpful information from the popular garden blog Garden Betty (http://www.gardenbetty.com/2011/07/grrr-garlic-rust-and-how-to-deal/) , but she seems entirely too sanguine about this disease.  Whereas even her infected plants seemed to produce something, mine just withered and pretty much gave up the ghost.

 

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This is what fighting back looks like.  Garlic is definitely affected, but still standing and, hopefully, clove-forming.

 

This year I saw the symptoms coming early and, less stunned than last year, decided to punch back.  Luckily we’ve had a warm spring, with many periods of sunny weather.  I used each of those sun breaks to level a blast of dilute neem oil at the dreaded pustules.  Neem, a fast-growing tree in the mahogany family found in India, has many beneficial gardening uses, not the least of which is serving as a broad spectrum organic antifungal.  My experience is that it really did hold the rust at bay, which is not to say that it really reversed anything.  My garlic has grown, but the rust has continued to encroach until such time as  I was able to re-neem.  I have no doubt, however, that without the neem, those nascent cloves of garlic would have been lost, given the ferocity of the rust as witnessed last season, and I shudder to think that if it had been a more typical, rainy spring, I probably wouldn’t have been able to spray as frequently, with the equally probably result of premature garlic death.

More than once this season, I contemplated whether so much spraying was worth it.  Since I haven’t yet seen the cloves I am hoping for, I still can’t weigh in fully on that.  Are there any other alternatives?  Many websites recommend  a strict allium diet for the garden – no onion family members at all for three years (no leeks, no chives, no bunching onions, no bulbing onions, and, of course, no garlic), because apparently garlic rust can take lodging in other related species, even though it may not produce symptoms.  That would be a hard discipline to subject oneself to, and yet I may find myself hemmed in thus by the pernicious, persistent rust.  Fortunately there are other gardens that I tend where the spores have not fallen or blown, and where it is still possible to grow a spray-free crop.  But for how long….who knows?

 

garlic 1

My home garden garlic, where garlic rust has not yet raised its pustule-filled head nor gnashed its lesionous teeth!  May it stay away!

 

Meet, greet, nosh, drink, tour, learn!

Novak_Rooftop Growing Guide

Annie Novak is one of the hot-shots of urban agriculture, and she’s written a great new book on a subject near and dear to my heart: rooftop agriculture.  On Sunday, April 10th from 2-4 pm, if you happen to be in Portland, OR,  you should make it your aim to come to Noble Rot, the restaurant where I run the rooftop garden, and MEET Annie in person, where she will surely GREET you, because it will be a small, personal affair.  You will hear her speak, all the while NOSHING and DRINKING courtesy of the Noble Rot kitchen, which will certainly be employing some of its rooftop produce in the menu.  If weather permits you will TOUR the rooftop with me as your guide following Annie’s talk.  Finally, if you are even barely conscious, you will LEARN something important about how to grow food and how to grow it in unused spaces in our cities.  All this for $25.  And if  you opt for the slightly higher $35 ticket, you will get Annie’s new book The Rooftop Growing Guide.  The book retails for $23, so do the math to see that this option makes the meet/greet/nosh/drink/tour part cheaper!

Hope to see you there.

Get your ticket at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/your-garden-is-looking-up-how-to-grow-vegetables-on-a-roof-tickets-21002223215

Smashing Misconceptions

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With this post I start a new occasional subline within the blog, similar to Tool Drool, this one about ideas or experiments that somehow remove a mental gardening barrier and open the way for innovation, which as a gardener may mean a longer season, earlier crops, a more bountiful way of growing an old favorite…you get the idea. So many times, I find, our own ideas get in the way of really seeing what is there. Just because you read something in a gardening book DOES NOT mean it’s an immutable law of nature which your plants must obey. Consider the alterative: Maybe the book’s claim was baloney; you bought the claim, and then that became a distorting lens through which you viewed your own gardening. Clearly a large part of any human life is believing what others tell us via history, chit-chat, and news, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do some of our own truth experiments from time to time and field-test what we’ve been given.
I hope you are also picking up the intentional duplicity in the “Smashing Misconceptions” title. If you aren’t then you need to read a column by linguist Richard Lederer: http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0103/lederer012303.asp, which besides its application to this blog’s title will also help you write a recommendation for a colleague or student about whom you are not 100% enthusiastic. While it’s true that we need to smash old paradigms to create the new, it may also be equally true that some of what we think are revolutionary ideas are just unsubstantiated whoppers. So is “Smashing Misconceptions” about my stunning gardening breakthroughs or is it just a catalog of some really excellent feeble-mindedness? You be the judge.
As Lederer closes his column, so I do mine: ” For many months I’ve wanted to write this column very badly. And now I have.”

Why I Love Chefs….Follow Up to the Edible Lawn

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The other day I was discussing the edible lawn/Buckhorn Plantain with one of the Noble Rot chefs, and he was saying that the kitchen staff didn’t feel that the greens were as tasty this year as last, perhaps, he mused, for want of cold.  I wondered back to him if they had tried them cooked, and he said they hadn’t.  I returned to my planting, and he shortly disappeared down the hatch with some harvest, then not a minute later bounded back up with a plateful of sautéed lawn.  Chefs are great that way; they don’t sit around just wondering about food – they make it!

So here’s the verdict.  First of all, the plantain was sautéed in nice olive oil with garlic and lemon, so it took all of those flavors wonderfully.  It was tasty, chewy, maybe a bit fibrous, but not unpleasantly so.  My chef friend Patrick commented that it was chlorophilly, but that doesn’t mean much to my middle-school palette, so I’ll leave that one for the cognoscenti.  I do think the greens would be just perfect as a bed for a couple over-easy fried eggs, providing an appropriate bit of resistance to an otherwise too-soft egginess, and the plantain’s luscious deep green,  a delicious color counterpoint to white and yellow.

So there you have it from, not a Michelin-starred chef but from a humble tiller of the earth, who likes his greens toothy and a bit textured.  Let me  know if you find other ways you like this crop.

A Temporary, Edible Lawn

What if rather than trying to get the weeds out of your lawn, you could make a lawn out of weeds.  Well, wead on, dear weader, and you shall see how.

Besides its well-known medicinal properties, the common weed Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major) is a nutrient powerhouse, and thus gardeners everywhere should incline their eye toward it.  It apparently came to North America with the Pilgrims, and its ubiquity across the disturbed landscapes brought on by European colonization earned it the nickname “white man’s footprint.” Yet despite its generous nutrient package and non-necessity of cultivation, it is described as bitter and fibrous, and one website calls its preparation for eating “tedious”, which right there, in my opinion, is a death knell to a wider circulation among cooks (http://www.ediblewildfood.com/broadleaf-plantain.aspxi).  But what if we could take the weedy nature of broadleaf plantain, its hardy, no-help-needed attitude toward growing, and what if we could thin out and tenderize its leaves.  What if we could make, in essence, a super-nutritious grass-lookalike  which at least for part of the year could approximate a lawn.  What if nothing……it’s already out there!

 

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What is that grass doing with prongs?  IT’S NOT GRASS!

 

Last year I wrote about my delightful discovery of a culinary plantain cousin, Buckhorn Plantain (Plantago coronopus).

http://www.urban-ag-solutions.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=78&action=edit

Though new to me, the gardening community at large has prized it for centuries, especially in Italy under the name erba stella (it is also called minutina, though I do not know why, except, perhaps that its seeds are minute) .  Admittedly mild in the taste department, though neither inoffensive nor fibrous, it merits a try for its boldness in the shape department.  It’s long, shoelace-wide leaves sprout little antler prongs as it elongates, giving it strong visual appeal on the plate and earning it its common name. Watch out for these common names, though….another fibrous and bitter common cousin, the Lanceleaf Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is also called Buckhorn Plantain, despite the fact that it hasn’t even the slightest hint of a prong.  Thus we must mark a victory for the botanical Latinists, who teach us not to put much stock in common names because they often conflict.

Anyway, this past fall I decided to try a very thick, cover-crop like sowing of erba stella aka buckhorn, and I was rewarded with an edible lawn!  The sheer density of growth keeps the plants small and tender, and it’s easy to just grab some scissors and give it a haircut.  From two years of my own experience, I can say that it appears tough as nails in the NW winter, and blogs and seed catalogs indicate that it is winter hardy with a little protection across the nation.

The website below gives some wonderful culinary uses for this plantain, including as a bed for seafood, cooked vegetables, and meat medallions, as well as the following mouth-watering suggestion:

“…try pan frying a handful of Minutina leaves in a buttered frying pan with fresh snipped chives and a fresh duck egg cracked on top. ”

http://www.seedaholic.com/minuta-erba-stella.html

With a buckhorn “lawn” on some of my raised beds, mowing the “grass” never tasted so good!  Anyone out there have a duck egg?

 

Little Gem Lettuces Race Out the Gate

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Little Gems, meet your new view, the mid-winter Portland cityscape.

 

Today, under winter’s cloudy skies, but reasonably warm nonetheless (snowless, too; sorry, NY, DC, etc), I planted lettuce starts on the rooftop…the very same that I started a mere 25 days ago in my January 1st ritual seeding to augur in a good new year.  Normally I’m not too selective about what lettuces I plant for New Year’s; I just try to use up last year’s seed before the annual re-order, so it was by lucky chance that I had some extra Little Gem seed available.  Not only is this half-pint Romaine one of the cutest darn little veggies you can grow, it also happens to be one of the fastest.  Thus I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was cruising right along in my grow room last week looking ready for action outdoors, and today I was happy to oblige.

 

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I like to think of those little leaves as green hands waving good bye, telling me that they’ll be just fine.

 

Now I’m no greenhorn gardener who thinks that Nature must follow my planting whims, New Year’s ritual or not.  Rather it is I who must bend to its great dictates, and so I am totally prepared to get slapped in the face by a bracing cold, prepared to accept that my dear Little Gems might perish from my hubris to throw them premature into the soil.  I wasn’t a total egomaniac, however, and I did have some thought for their plight…I  gave them a Reemay blanket. Reemay, the lightweight polyethelene garden fabric, is good for a few degrees of frost protection should winter’s chill finger return.

 

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Reemay is a security blanket for cool-season veggies.  It lets light and water through, so you just set it and forget it.  It’s other name of floating row cover gives a clue that it won’t cramp the lettuces’ style.  They just push it up as they grow.

 

Still, I am a gambling man, and I have experienced winter shortening and gentling over the years, so I am willing to take a risk with an extra early lettuce plant out.  Plus, if they perish, I have more coming up in the grow room, and eventually they, and I, will prevail!

A Seed-Catalog Gardener’s Education

A friend and I were discussing the demerits of a college education the other night, railing on about the obscene tuition and the likelihood of getting a debt-weighted liberal arts degree only to pull coffee shots or sling pizza dough afterwards…that coupled with the irony that there has never been a an easier time to acquire the information dispensed by our institutions of higher learning.  Between the public library system and a good Wi-Fi connection, you’re pretty much in touch with “All That Is Known”.  Now  this isn’t an education reform blog, so I’ll stop there on the college thing, but I will say that something slimly analogous exists with gardening.

 

Tomato

In winter’s darkest days a light comes forth from the mailbox, yes, an actual physical piece of mail in the mailbox – the exalted SEED CATALOG! Image courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

 

Some people think that to learn gardening one should attend a class or buy a few books.  Hey, I don’t discount that such a course may help you, but there is a cheaper way to get all that knowledge and more without even the effort of stepping outside your door: the seed catalog.  Starting around Thanksgiving, I begin to receive some of the true lights of winter….those glossy little magazines brimming with photos of summer tables and bounteous crops.  These act not only to fortify my spirit around the dark winter solstice, but they are also a complete gardener’s education in themselves.  Seed catalogs are not all equal,  but generally here’s what I might hope to mine from any given catalog.

First and invaluably, there are the photos of the crop varieties.  Despite an overall lamentation that we have lost a huge percentage of vegetable varieties that were grown in the early 1900s, there still is an overwhelming amount of choice in what to grow each season. Seeing a photo or two (albeit an often sexed-up version of the crop) can help steer you in a particular direction as can the brief verbal description of the variety.   While some catalogs will promise that every variety will “taste great”, others will try to be a little more honest about the trade-offs that all varieties necessarily make.  For example, one type of sweet corn might germinate well in cool soils, making it ideal for the earliest crop, and I’d be willing to bet that this precocity was bought at the sight expense of sugar, but if you live in upper Michigan, the trade of early (meaning you actually get corn versus just growing very tall grass) versus a bit more sweetness to your corn may be one you’ll gladly make.

Of course the seed catalog is designed to make you want to buy things and is in that sense propagandistic,  so the gardener has to develop an ability to read a little between the lines and guess educatedly about what really is being said beneath all that “great tasting” rah-rah.  Watch out for words like “acceptable”, as in ” This variety ripens tomatoes when nights are 50 degrees, with acceptable taste.”  Chances are you might apply the words “mealy” or “barely better than store bought”.  Evaluative wisdom comes with experience, so try what varieties you think will be good and see if the reality lives up to the description.

Not uncommon to see in seed catalogs are cooking notes and  recipes, and I admit to having been swayed toward a particular crop by a mouth-watering side bar.  We are, for the most part, going to eat the offerings in a seed catalog, and besides herbs, which are sui generis (and so generous) in flavor, we mostly will be looking for ways to combine crops in the kitchen for better effect.  If a catalog tells me that a particular variety of summer squash has a nuttier taste and firmer flesh than its counterparts, I may be swayed toward it, thinking about its performance on the grill.  If I have grown ground cherry in the past and used it only sparingly, I may be motivated to grow it again if I see a photo of it dipped in chocolate….hmmm, never thought of that!

Beyond the particularities of variety, there are also the characteristics of the crop as a whole, as in whether your peppers are red, yellow, orange, skinny or fat, they are still peppers, Capsicum annum, with common needs and preferences.  So usually there are some notes at the head of each section about the generic crop requirements.  While some of these seemed aimed at those with a Twitter-feed attention span, other catalogs take you as a gardener very seriously and provide substantial growing information: everything from when to plant to when to harvest to how to store to what kind of pests and disease you can expect (and what to do about it).  Some catalogs are just-the-facts-ma’am plainspoken, others revel in the rich cultural histories of crops and varieties, and I won’t say that I don’t enjoy these mini-history lessons and digressions.

Finally, don’t ignore the tool and gear section.  Here you will find a parsing-out of the merits of various hoes, a bevy of season-extension equipment, special knives for harvest, non-kinking, lead-free hoses, and maybe some functional garden art.  There is usually also a book section, but if you’ve received a few catalogs in the mail, you can skip that.  You’ve got everything you need in those catalogs…for free!

As a grower, my favorite catalog is that of Johnny’s Selected Seeds, which is a virtual Harvard University of growing information.  Access it online at: http://www.johnnyseeds.com/, but I recommend the paper catalog as well.  It’s a day-brightener during the gloom of winter.

The Best Winter Tenants

I was thinking about cover crops the other day, and suddenly the property owner in me had a realization: cover crops are like tenants.  I don’t know if you’ve ever rented property out, but I’m willing to bet that at some point on the arc of your adult life you were a renter.  No matter which side of the equation you come from, it’s common sense that great tenants are ones that pay the rent on time and don’t require too much maintenance, and the very best tenants are the ones that do the maintenance for you!

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Now it may be hard to find the very best tenants: the ones who definitely change their own lightbulbs (shame on you if you call your landlord for that), paint the apartment attractive colors (not black!), and who can even take care of plumbing leaks with nary a late-night, landlord-come-hither phone call.  In the garden world, these would be something like fava beans, which not only laugh at the cold but provide a crop for the gardener (leaves and flowers are yummy and available during the winter) while also doing some heavy-lifting underground in the form of nitrogen fixation (aided, of course, by  Rhyzobium bacteria….another sign of a good tenant..nice, helpful friends).  Peas are also in this category, offering shoots and tendrils above while grabbing nitrogen below.

But, as we all know, this ain’t no perfect world, so often a good tenant is good enough.  At the rooftop garden I have been turning away from “perfect” winter tenants lately, mainly because I want a little more diversity than just legumes, and trying new approaches to cover cropping.

Let’s stop and recall a few of the main functions served by cover crops.  First, as their name implies, they cover the soil like a protective blanket.   The mere presence of vegetation slows hurtling raindrops and many a soil particle is held in place that would otherwise be winter-washed away.  From another viewpoint cover crops could just as well be called banking crops, because they hold within their insoluble tissues the nutrients that would otherwise leach out of the topsoil with winter’s rains or melting snows.  When spring comes, they are cut back into the earth and they release their deposit.  As I mentioned before, some crops, like legumes, give interest on the deposit in the form of extra nitrogen, which they are said to have “fixed” from the air.  Generally, whether nitro fixers or not, cover crops are for the garden, not for the gardener’s enjoyment.  Hands off the cover crop….it’s for the soil! Period, end of conversation…that’s sound garden doctrine.

But the astute reader will have already caught me in a little heresy.  If I’m willing to take a few shoots, leaves, and flowers from my peas and favas, supposedly a hands-off cover crop, who knows where I’ll draw the line as to my garden orthodoxy. Just so it’s all on the table, here’s my slightly iconoclastic take on cover crops.  For larger plots and certainly for farm-scale ventures, the cost of fertilizer and compost can be prohibitive (never mind the labor cost of spreading them), so it makes sense to grow cover crops that benefit the soil only and that have no marketable end.  A little restraint (as in watching a crop grow, but not getting to eat or market it) for one or two seasons gets you bountiful yields for the rest of the year  But in the small-scale urban world, every bit of garden real estate is precious, and gardeners generally want to get their teeth on all that their plot yields, not merely watch it grow untouchable produce.  Besides, in the world of small gardens, fertilizer and compost costs are not outrageous, and it may make more sense to grow the heck out of the garden year-round and just supplement with outside nutrients when necessary.

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That’s why this season, I am trying to do just that with Merida carrots, an overwintering carrot offered by our local seed company, Territorial Seed Company, out of Cottage Grove, Oregon.

http://www.territorialseed.com/product/Merida_Conventional_and_Organic_Carrot_Seed/carrot_seed

Normally no one thinks of carrots as cover crops, but at the very least, they do satisfy the minimum definition: they store nutrients in their tissues and protect the soil.  Still, I’m looking for a harvest here, so I’m running counter to my fellow gardeners’ thoughts this time of year.

Merida is a carrot that has been developed for the winter season.  It’s intended to be planted during September and October and then harvested in May or June.  Its growth window, happily, coincides with our need to keep the soil covered, so I’m calling Merida our newest cover crop.  Clearly, come spring, we will be eating some of the nutrients the crop stored, and so those little molecules will not make it back to the soil to nourish future crops, but we will compost the greens and thus recycle some nutrition back to the garden.  Plus if I eat garden-grown carrots then go back and work in the garden, it may be said that the energy of that carrot went back into the garden, right?

My September-planted Meridas  are looking on pace to size up beautifully in spring.  Last week, before a cold snap descended upon us and froze the soil, I pulled a couple nice ones out  for observation and made sure I thinned up the rest for good winter growth.

Alright, so carrots don’t fix nitrogen from the air and they do use up nutrients from the soil, but when I think of how sweet it will be to pull up nice, hefty carrots in May, and when I think of how these carrots will have protected the soil through the worst of our winter weather, I get to thinking maybe these Meridas are not just good but pretty excellent tenants after all.

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The Via Negativa of Storage Tomatoes

 

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Via negativa mystics tend to stand out among a crowd by the prominent halos that they wear!

 

Many sages and religious mystics, though their quest be union with Ultimate Reality, end up, even after a lifetime of searching, quite unable to describe the object of their desire.  They realize that the divine is so much greater than the human power to imagine it, and although that may seem like a frustrating way to end a life of effort, they do appear to have won at least one worthwhile prize from their strivings; they are usually able to say quite clearly what is not God.  This is what spirituality writers call the via negativa or the way of negation.  By negating what they know cannot be called the divine (either because it is too limited or too contradictory to what the divine has to be by its nature as Divinity), they propel themselves onward in their journey to truth.

One of the things I am questing after, besides blissful union with the divine, is a tomato that can outlast the first frost, and this year I tried a storage tomato offered by Territorial Seed Company called Golden Treasure.  I was lured on by the catalog’s promise: “One of the best storage tomatoes we’ve found, and worth keeping for its delicious flavor. When picked green the 2 1/4-2 1/2 inch fruit will be golden and ripe within 1-1 1/2 months, and then will store another 1 1/2-3 months longer!” http://www.territorialseed.com/product/Golden_Treasure_Organic_Tomato_Seed/organic-tomato-seed

I salivated over the possibility of enjoying a tasty, home-grown tomato in December, perhaps even January.  That would indeed be a divine revelation!  Well, after one season’s try I am sorry to report that this tomato is nowhere near what I would consider Storage Tomato Ultimate Reality.  It wasn’t that it didn’t have merits.  I was impressed with the yield….astonishing, actually, and I was hard-pressed to find enough room to put all the tomatoes I had picked green (in early October).  Shortly thereafter, however, over half of those tomatoes began to show signs of late blight, and soon their blackened skin and smell were unpleasant if not downright sickening.  So I culled a goodly number of the fruit and lamented that much less crop.

 

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Guess which is the blighted storage tomato…and to think that when I harvested these toms, they were both an innocent pale yellow.  It makes me wonder if the spots on the right-hand one are signs of more blight ready to destroy my built-up hope of a good-tasting January tomato.

 

When I first harvested the fruit, most of which I took not completely green but with a little yellow to the skin, I cut a few open to try.  I was amazed to find that the inside seemed completely flavorful and ripe, while the outer skin remained thick and crunchy.  I mused that as time went on, the outside would slowly soften until I had in my hand a golden, thin-skinned, perfectly ripe tomato.  Thus far my regular taste-tests have proved otherwise – the skin is still objectionably hard, not really showing any sign of moving toward tenderness.

So I think, in the tradition of the via negativa mystics, I am going to have to say that although I do not know how far one can go with storage tomatoes and whether or not they can truly match field-ripened ones, this cannot be what is meant by a good eating tomato.  Perhaps Golden Treasure is good for pickling and chutney, as green tomatoes in general are, and perhaps it is especially good for those uses.  I will try them that way if the skin doesn’t thin up any more by mid-December, but I am also prepared to move on and continue my search.  For although I do not yet know what is a good storage tomato, I do think I know what is bad.  As the via negativa mystics might say: not this, not this, not this.