Summer Update In The Garden

We had a bit of a cool start here in Alberta – lots of rain, temperatures that did not seem to want to go up. Usually I plant out the beans at the very beginning of May, but this year even that was delayed by a few weeks.

As I write this now, we’re in the middle of an extreme heat warning issued by the weather service, but mercifully, that should only last a few days. Mostly, the weather has been excellent, especially for the tomatoes, and after planting on Victoria Day long weekend, they shot up and I have many plants now already forming very lovely and healthy looking fruit.

Of course with the cool wet spring, that brought weeds. TONS of weeds, so I’ve been battling the chickweed most of the summer thus far, just trying to keep it under control.

Tomato ‘El Nano’ – July 1, 2017

I’ve had some problems with both my ‘Green Limelight’ and ‘Sunset Runner’ beans germinating – not a single plant came up. I suspected squirrels or magpies at the beginning, but after resowing and then protecting, still nothing came up. Sometimes gardening is like that – very rarely does everything work out exactly like you had planned.

The first tomato to start flowering and setting fruit this year was ‘El Nano’, which surprised me quite a bit. I was fully expecting ‘Silvery Fir Tree’ to be the first. This variety did quite well for me on the west coast, so I was a little unsure as to how it would fair in a drier, hotter, and shorter climate. Turns out my worries were for nothing because it’s doing even better than it did for me before.

Slocan Snow Peas, flowering – July 1, 2017

Slocan Snow Peas are doing quite well for me as well, which isn’t so much a surprise because my mom had grown them in the area before and I knew they had done well for her. Within a week they had shot up, started flowering, and now producing delicious, lovely fresh snap peas (which we’ve already been snacking on). I’ll be sending a healthy amount of these seeds to the Seeds of Diversity seed library. They need a rather large helping to help ensure they’re preserved and quantity is made available to more people, and if past years are any indication, I should have a good amount come harvest time to send them.

Slocan Snow Peas, setting fruit – July 7, 2017

The next few weeks should prove to be very active in the garden – the beans are on the verge of flowering & fruiting and more and more tomatoes are setting fruit. This is the best time in the garden – I don’t have to fear the oncoming frost, but harvest is just around the corner. Stay tuned for more updates coming along in the following weeks.

Also stay tuned for the newest seeds for distribution to be released this year. I’m running a bit late – spring and the beginning of summer proved to be quite busy, but they’re coming soon, and it’ll be announced on the mailing list when that list goes live – you can be the first to know by joining using the form to your left.

Mid-Season Update

It’s been a while, but the garden has been growing like mad! After a pretty severe bump early in the spring – everything almost got burned back to the stems because we had no moisture and incredibly high heat for May in my neck of the woods – everything is humming along beautifully now! It was seriously at the point where I wasn’t sure if I would have a garden this year, and while everything is a little late because of said burning, most of the plants have bounced back beautifully. There’s lots to do every week, and as August comes on I’m just hoping for a late frost this year to really give everything time to grow and ripen.

Seriously, I had a dream about it snowing the other night, so this is obviously on my mind!

Without further ado, here’s a few snapshots of the plants this year taken between one and four weeks ago.

State of the Garden – August

It sure feels like autumn’s coming up, and I’ve even spotted some leaves starting to change. I’m not overly thrilled about that, but I am sure thrilled with the tomatoes and how amazingly well they’ve been doing this year. I’ve had the best tomato harvests and plants I’ve ever grown, and the weather has been perfect for them. It’s been a banner year, and I’ll be sad to see it go, but at the same time it makes me really excited for next year.

Yesterday I harvested about 9kg. It’s probably my biggest haul in one day, but as of right now (including yesterday) I’ve harvested 20.65 kg. And that’s not even half of what’s on the vines – I won’t be surprised if I get 100lbs easy.

I’m going to have so many seeds to share this year, I’m ecstatic! I’ve already started the seed saving, which has had to be moved to the garage, because I don’t have enough room in the house for all the cups anymore.

I’ve also been slowly updating the database – mostly with photos right now, but specific growth information is slowly going up as well.

What a great year, I’m over the moon.

This year I got two sports that don’t show the characteristics of what they’re supposed to be:
30-kimsport-smKimberley Sport – small rugose leaf (rather than potato), grows only about 1ft so it’s a dwarf. Determinate. Shiny skin with lobed fruit, no characteristics of either Tiny Tim or Siberian (Kimberley’s parent plants).

19-marysaustrian-smMary’s Austrian Sport – large 5ft indeterminate plant, produces grape shaped pink jewel toned fruit. Nice flavour, nothing like the roma-type this is supposed to be. I contacted the seed seller who received the seeds from the family, and she’s never grown a tomato like it (so it’s not cross contamination), and she confirmed it was nothing like what Mary’s Austrian is. So this one is officially a natural cross that I’ll be regrowing and stabilizing because it’s wonderful.

I’ve also got some freak tomatoes this year, which is always fun:

The first photo is Tomato ‘Sibirskiy Velikan Rozovyi’ with a hole that’s grown into it (doughnut tomato!), the second is some dirty ‘Stupice’ (because I’m immature and it made me giggle).

And here’s some more tomato eye candy for you, these varieties (and many others) will all be offered in varying quantities.

Top L-R: ‘Fargo Yellow Pear’, ‘Kootenai’, ‘Chocolate Stripes’, ‘Perestroika’
Bottom L-R: ‘Purple Prince’, ‘Green Zebra’, ‘Tangerine’

State of the Garden – July

I’m not going to lie, when I moved here I was absolutely petrified about how my garden would turn out. The past few years here in Edmonton, I’ve heard, have not proven to be good for tomatoes, and with my 40-or-so varieties that needed growing out for the seed bank this year, I really needed a banner year.

So far, my fears have proven completely unfounded, and even my husband, whose interest in my garden only extends to “what can I eat?”, has noticed how amazingly the plants are doing.

Sure, the season started a bit late this year, but the hard work I put into transforming that 300 sq ft patch of sod, has proven to really pay back in what is going to be an amazing harvest.

With sunny, high-twenties days, and then some rainfall at night, has proven to be a boon for the tomato gardens, and they’ve just been going crazy.

The clay/sand soil I was so upset with initially (on the coast it’s a curse), has proven to be a gift here in the very dry prairies, retaining moisture well without proving to get too heavy. Which the tomatoes are loving.

If crazy hail storms can stay away, and we don’t get an early frost, this is really going to be an amazing year. I think the harvests are going to be better than I ever had on the west coast, even accounting for the difference in season lengths.

All the tomatoes now have blossoms bagged, and many are setting fruit. I’m really excited for the amount of varieties I’ll be able to offer this year through the bank.

For now, here’s a few photos from the gardens.

Row 1 (L-R): Zapotec Pink Pleated, Stupice, Sibirskiy Velikan Rozovyi
Row 2 (L-R): Ireland Creek Annie, Tomato Jungle, Fargo Yellow Pear

Cotztomatl Grow Out

My first foray into growing cotztomatl in 2012 started out a little bit bumpy, but I’m pleased that this plant found its footing in my garden and not only grew, but grew really well. There were a few surprises growing this plant, and having spread the seed around a bit in 2013, I’d like to provide those attempting to grow this one themselves with a bit more information than I had to go on.

cotztomatlseedlingIt wasn’t just me growing it this year, two friends Meighan and Gayla wanted to grow this one out with me, so we all started the seeds at more or less the same time and started comparing notes.

I had a tough time initially starting this seed. I start my seeds with bottom heat, but no enclosures/domes in order to keep the air circulating. Normally this works just fine for my Solanums, but after weeks I had seen nothing from my Cotztomatl. I resowed. Nothing again. I was starting to think all was lost. Until we compared notes.

Gayla and Meighan started theirs in an actual seed enclosure – and both of them had no trouble with germination. So I resowed again, this time with miniature domes around their individual cells, and sure enough, they germinated no problem.

First lesson learned with Cotztomatl: You need bottom heat and high humidity for proper germination.

The seeds and plants themselves look much like tomatillos, although they have more of a sprawling growth habit. Tomatillos generally grow up from one central stalk, cotztomatl grows out from several at the soil level.

Second lesson learned: These guys need at least three feet of room to grow in every direction. They’re almost unstakeable/uncageable. So give them room to sprawl.

Once they were transplanted they almost needed no care at all. I planted three separate plants, to make sure they had cross-pollination (I wasn’t sure if they were like tomatillos where multiple plants are needed in order to get higher pollination rates), and just let them go.
cotztomatl-xsmallThe blooms also resemble tomatillos, although they seem to be bigger. They’re a lighter yellow on the outside with a deeper purple/black closer to the centre. They’re gorgeous flowers, and they flower profusely. The plants are gorgeous in the garden just for their flowers alone.

Fruit set was very good (again, I can’t speak for if you only have one plant), it seemed to be very close to 100%. Like tomatillos, without a good amount of heat ripening and setting can be slower. My plants had about 6 hours of direct sun a day, with about 4 additional hours of dappled sun. They did just fine.

I started harvesting the first fruit in August, but the real huge amount came around September/October. Mountains and mountains of the fruit.

So what did it taste like? It’s kind of like a mealier, earthier tomatillo with a slight fruity finish. Sounds strange, right? The fruit is small, less than 1″ in diameter, and a golden orange. It has the husk like many other Physalis species, and that needs to be removed for consumption.

The raw taste was a little… strange. I snacked on a few, it was alright, Gayla hated the flavour.

Third lesson learned: The raw flavour is alright, if a little weird. Cooking with them is awesome.

I liked throwing them into chili and random Mexican-type dishes. They add quite a nice, subtle, earthy flavour to the dish. I imagine they’d be awesome in a salsa, but unfortunately I didn’t make any salsa this year.

I let my plants go on a bit – I live in a place with a very mild winter (snow is scarce at best), so I wanted to see how long these would last for. They even survived a few light frosts without any damage. Unfortunately, a few successive hard frosts is what finally killed them off in January. However, with a cover I believe they would have survived even then.

Fourth lesson learned: It’s a very tender perennial in zone 8. Light frosts won’t kill the plants, but successive hard frosts will.


Harvesting Seed
These buggers are not easy to harvest seed from – even more finicky than saving seed from tomatillos. In my ultimate laziness I decided to let them sit outside. Seriously, I just let the fruit sit there, in little tubs outside. Now, I can get away with this because besides maybe from snow a few days a year, all we have is rain for the winter. Letting nature take it’s course to rot away the fruit, leaving just the seeds, was the absolute easiest method to allow me to get these ridiculously tiny seeds out of the dense fruit.

If you’re in an area with a lot of snow, all you’ll have is frozen fruit until the spring thaw. The image you see above is after about three months of fruit sitting outside in the chilly rainy weather here on Vancouver Island.

For colder climates, I’d suggest bringing the ripe fruit under cover (a cold room or storage shed if you have it), and keep these suckers wet. They will rot down, and all you’ll have left is some pretty cool looking skeleton husks, and a bunch of seed kept inside for you to easily slide out and bag up.

This was a great experiment for me in 2012, and I’m glad I had the chance to grow it. It will return to my garden again in future years, and it was a huge bonus that it was such an easy and care-free plant.