Easy 1-2-3-4 Old Fashioned Kosher Dill Pickles

A good trellis makes the cucumber vines more productive and keeps your cukes off the ground.

A good trellis makes the cucumber vines more productive and keeps your cukes off the ground.

These are the easiest pickles, and they are utterly delicious. I have a lot of cucumbers growing, so I try to pick every day. There are always some hiding. For pickling you want to use smaller cukes. They stay firm better. I like them 3-5 inches, no ore than 6. I only grow the pickling cukes- those are the little grayish green warty ones; the Kirby types. You can use them for salad and gazpacho, so what else do you want? There are lots of fun cukes to grow, but I like to save seeds so I mostly grow one at a time.

OK, here is where I originally got the recipe. Thanks, Glora. I added something and I also can (groans) elaborate, since I do, snort, have a degree in English…..

Wash your cukes, trim off the blossom ends by about a 16th of an inch with a paring knife (removes possible bacteria),

remove 1/16th inch of blossom end to avoid bacterial contamination

pare off blossom end of cuke

004  and soak for 30 minutes in a bowl of ice water.Get a crock or big glass jar that will accommodate your pickles. Actually, get a pickle jar. Clean it well. On the bottom, put a 1 layer of grape leaves, 2 sprigs of dill, and 3 big garlic cloves. Trim the bottom end off of your garlic cloves. Pack in the cukes tightly. then repeat the stuff you put on the bottom on the top, finishing with the grape leaves.

dill, garlic, and grape leaves

dill, garlic, and grape leaves

Mix water in the following proportions: 3 c. water, 2 tbsp vinegar. 1 tbsp kosher salt. One two three. Fill your pickle jar to the top, put on the lid, and set outside for 4 days. One two three four. Little white flakes will form on top. You can skim this off or simply wash the top grape leaf. This is the old-fashioned lactic fermentation, same as kimchee and sauerkraut. It is really magical, and very good for you as well.

After 4 days I put them in the fridge to cool. They will get more sour over time and eventually you will start getting soft ones. They still taste fantastic, and you can use the brine to inoculate other batches.

The grape leaves were my addition. They help the pickles stay crisp. Who needs pickling lime!

I fill the fridge with these. I really need a cold European cellar and some barrels. They are so addictive. I am going to go make some right now!

Great gardening tools: Rogue hoes and others

Rogue Hand Cultivator

My fave hand cultivator is a Rogue.

Good sharp tools that are the right weight make a gardener’s life much easier.  I would put them under the categories of hoes, rakes, shovels and trowels, forks, and clippers and loppers. Tools should be cared for so the handles will stay tight and not rot, and metal should be occasionally cleaned and sharpened.

My hoes are probably the most often in my hand. My husband bought some very high quality hoes from Rogue, which continue to be my favorites.( I see they are listed as Prohoe.)

Heavy Rogue hoe

If you need to power through some ground, use a heavy hoe.

I have a heavy field hoe which is strongly built and easy to sharpen, with enough weight that you are basically lifting and dropping it, using the weight to power through tough root clumps.

Medium weight Rogue hoe

I have to grind that chip out. I just hilled the leeks with this.

I have a long handled hoe with a small shallow blade which is great for hilling up soil and fine work around plants. But my all time favorite is the hand hoe, pictured at the top. This is the tool I would be lost without. It is sharpened on three sides so you can work like a surgeon amongst the plants. It has the perfect weight and balance so you just get the chopping rhythm going and move along effortlessly. It almost works by itself. I just cultivated a badly weedy 10 foot rhubarb bed and 60 feet of okra in less than an hour. There are many exotic hand hoes and cultivators but this is the one that I know makes my life easier.

Another great tool is the weeder wedge. Mine is a Rogue as well. It is sharpened on all sides so you cut on the push and the pull, and you just sort of mop the garden with it. It is a bit dangerous. An intern at Colchester Farms told me she kept sliding through plants so she eats the evidence. It doesn’t get things like Canada Thistle which come straight up from Hell so you’re just giving it a haircut, but it cuts through shallow roots and Morning Glories and creates a sort of shallow “dust mulch” which prevents other weeds from germinating until the next rain. It’s great for keeping ahead of weeds, but only if you stay on it. It’s less good with established weeds. I also have a stirrup hoe that works the same way but I like the wedge better. It is a finer shape for cutting where I want to cut with minimal effort.

Weeding Hoe

Weding Hoes actually are rakes

The weeding hoe is actually a small 4 tine rake. Now, this may be the wrong name, but this is what I was told it was called. It can be used to comb through hoed soil and remove weeds so they don’t reroot, it can be used to loosen weeds so they are easier to pull, it’s great for mellowing soil in preparation for seeding, and I love it for pulling out ground ivy. Mine belonged to my grandmother.

A spading fork is very useful for turning over new soil when amending by hand, and I like it for digging leeks, carrots, garlic and potatoes. Just step on the fork and lean back. Easy. Handles tend to rot because I leave them in the soil too often,and then when I lever back it cracks or the fork falls out. I need a better quality fork, or I need to take better care of my cheap forks.

Hand trowels have many purposes. I have one with a cutting edge for dandelion roots, but my favorite is my grandmother’s, which is large and has a heavy wooden handle. I use it mostly for transplanting. It is deep enough to get under the plant and get more of the root system. There are so many cheap ones for sale at big box hardware stores. If you use a cheap one enough to bend it, you’re ready to get a decent one.

garden clippers

Plain old Gilmour clippers from the hardware store

Clippers and loppers are indispensable to me. With the clippers, or secateurs as the British say, I can do quick trimming and minor surgery. I have some stem borers in the raspberries so I need to carry them with me tomorrow and cut below the wilt until I believe I got the critter. This is why smart people unlike myself have clipper holsters.



Loppers are great for anything too small to bother sawing and too big for the clippers. For me I feel it is important to get loppers with leveraging action. I am not a weakling but but I do a lot of lopping and I have less upper body strength than a man. Maintain your cutters with a lubricating oil- I have always liked 3 in 1 oil because I want to drip it in place rather than spray it. Notice that you can tighten them with the screws that hold them together. They do loosen, and then they don’t cut well. They can be sharpened, either professionally or by you but whatever you do only sharpen the OUTER edge of the blade or you will ruin the clippers by creating a permanent gap between the closed blades. I use my Dremel tool with a rotating sharpening stone. Makes life easier.

I should mention a hand cultivator with tines. I had one from my grandmother that finally came out of its handle. It did a great job going into tight spots and with the raking action you wouldn’t accidentally cut a plant. I loved it for getting ground ivy out of the flower beds because it both dug and raked, and it combed the ivy and grass out of the flowers without injuring their roots much. It had a nice springy action. Maybe I’ll fix it.

A shovel is such an important tool for everyday life. I used one a lot this spring digging big holes for new shrubs and fruit trees, and for digging up saplings that came up where I didn’t want them. Girls should understand that digging a hole is just a matter of shovelfuls. You can do much more than you have been told you can. I dug a hole 3 feet deep and five feet long when my dear old Labrador died. It was good to dig at that point.I understand that as a flower of the South I should have a man dig holes for me that so my little hands don’t get callused, but when the man is on the road or isn’t properly educated in these matters, I can drop that act and do it myself.

Take care of your tools. Don’t leave them lying in the garden. Hang them in in a dry place. In winter, give them a going over. Organize. Clean and sharpen blades. Make sure handles are in good condition; you can buy replacements at the hardware store for most decent tools. I have applied homemade beeswax/turpentine polish to my handles, but something ate it- you can see the grooves-, but perhaps maintenance with linseed/turpentine oil might work. I admit I don’t oil my handles; maybe I should. Tools that are taken care of last forever, and can be passed on. They develop a sort of well-loved feeling in the handle. I like to think  my grandmother and our friend Steve Moaney would be tickled to see me using their tools today.

By the sweat of thy brow pt 2- and Tomatoes!

When I lived in the city I had a neighbor who did a lot of stoop sitting. One hot day as I was passing by he commented,”I can take the heat. It’s the damn humility I can’t stand.”

Well, I guess I’ll work indoors for a while until the steam bath that passes for a sunny day in June around here passes off a bit.

Bolting spinach

Bolting spinach

I have the honor to be acquainted with beet seed warrior John Navazio, (that’s actually a link to an organic seed event his band performed at, for yuks) and he gave me some spinach seed; beta seed as it were. It is delicious, even bolted, and I will probably save seed and grow it again. Spinach is a real cold weather crop. You want to get it in early. I planted mine in early March and it was too late for the good crop we could have had.  I would say as soon as the soil can be worked by hand. Just scratch it up and plant. Some spinaches are best for spring and some are for fall. Here it would be good to get them seeded in July, but generally July is hot and dry and the garden is full of insects thirsting for baby spinach. Spinach is not super transplant friendly, but I could try starting them in the house. Probably better either to just plant when it gets a little cooler in September and shrug your shoulders or maybe try shade cloth over hoops. Tyee and Malabar are good spinach substitutes for summer. Chard holds up better than anything though.

Rocky Top seed mix from baker's creek

Nice heirloom mix from Baker Creek

I have really enjoyed the Rocky Top lettuce blend from Baker Creek. I actually planted it last winter, and it made small rosettes and waited for spring. The varieties included are not only delicious and pretty but they are intellectually stimulating- Amish Deer Tongue, Merveille des Quatres Saisons, Lolla Rossa….Lettuce, like spinach, does well in cold weather. The more headed it is the more it likes cold. The most heat tolerant I know is the open leaf lettuce Oak Leaf.  Long after Bibb and Romaine have gone to seed the Oak Leaf is still standing. It is not as sweet, of course, but by then you can mix it with sweet tomatoes.

OK, tomatoes. I know they say broccoli is the garden devi, but tomato is the love apple deva. I put a lot of time and thought into them. I plant all the solanaceae together, alternating rows of tomatoes with rows of peppers, eggplants, tomatillos and tamates. I space the tomatoes 3 feet apart, and more for giants like Brandywine. Peppers I space according to size. Anchos, pasillas, and Anaheims get 3 feet. Chiltepins and other teensies get a foot. One of the painful tasks I had to ask my DH to interrupt his train of thought for was pounding in the stakes, because it takes me so long with my lesser upper body strength.

pounding in tomato stakes easily

This gizmo let me pound in all my stakes in an hour.

Until the pounding gizmo came along. I really don’t know what it is called but it is genius. I did the whole solanum area by myself in no time. Anybody know what the name is? I put my longest, heaviest stakes at each end- recycled metal fence posts, stakes bought over the years, and the next strongest at the midpoints. The least sturdy go in between those. I walk through the garden and determine what goes where, put the stakes where I will be working, and stand on a folding chair for the taller ones. The flanges for the outermost ones should be perpendicular to the row, because of the weight of the tomatoes pulling them inwards. The inner ones should be in line with the row, because they tend to sag over.

Tomato stakes

Line them up exactly with the tomato stems.

Make sure you line the stakes up with the tomato stems. Next tie them up. This is easiest if you have been removing lower leaves and suckers from the tomatoes, and if the tomatoes haven’t gotten big and rolled over. I didn’t mention that? I’ve been busy. I like to remove lower leaves because those will catch the soil born diseases first, and suckers because I don’t want too thick a tangle of stems. You want to have good air flow and you want to see your fruit as it ripens. Anyway, I like to tie them with jute twine because it is cheap and in the fall you can just burn it all. You can get a big roll of jute twine at the hardware store for about $13. It comes in a paper sheath which helps it to stay together. This is good towards the end of the  roll, when it starts getting tanglesome. Tie one end to the end stake about a foot off the ground- it will stretch in the rain- and run it along the row, tucking it under the plants as you go. At each stake you see loop the twine, being careful to keep it taut. Go down to the end, come around the other side, and come back, tying the cut end of the twine to the same stake. Your plants are trapped between two pieces of twine and can’t lie down in the mud.

tying up tomatoes

If you do it early when the plants are small you can train them better.

Go along and pull and tuck everything into place. Be gentle- damage can allow the entrance of disease. You will need to add another layer soon. Eventually the whole thing will look like a tomato hedge. Don’t be afraid to prune, but do so on a dry day, and only one plant at a time, or you could spread disease with your cutting tool.

For now I am skimming up and down the rows with a weeder wedge. This handy tool slides along just below the surface and lops off weeds. It also skims under grass roots. So while it doesn’t kill everything, the easy action is like mopping the floor, and as long as you are careful not to hit your plants, it’s a big help. This really works best when the ground is not wet. It is really best to stay out of the garden when it is wet, because you compact the soil. Also if you work with the tomatoes when they are wet you can spread spores.

Once everything is planted and I have a moment to breathe, my husband and I will lay strips of old carpet down the rows. This smothers weeds, keeps down soil splash, and even retains moisture. Good carpet will last a long time. I have some that’s been out here 7 years. It’s a great use for stained carpet. Get a cheap serrated bread knife and saw the carpet into strips. It is easy. The strips should be as long as possible and as wide as your rows, which is generally 2 1/2-3 feet if you have a lot of space, but at least wide enough to sit down and do some hand weeding. You can also lay these strips over something you want to compost by dragging it sideways, and voila, you have some clean bare ground where the carpet was. Of course it might be a bit compacted from being a walkway, but you can easily work it up.

That’s all for today!

By the sweat of thy brow

Michihli (Napa)Asian heading cabbage

Michihli (Napa) Asian heading cabbage

I love working in the garden- I think I just love work in general. Not so much paperwork and organizing, but real work; swinging a maul, cutting wood, hoeing weeds. I used to work in the garden at high noon when my children were small, because that’s when they were down for their naps. On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which absolutely counts as the South, no lady stays in her garden after 9. Mad dogs and Englishmen.

One of the main reasons I got started on this blog was because of a friend’s excitement over digging sweet potatoes in my garden. She was raised in an affluent New Jersey town by parents who were one generation from the Georgia clay, and considered it good riddance, but she remembered the wonderful things her grandparents did, and felt robbed of an important heritage. I think so many people are, and more and more they know it and are doing something about it. But the ignorance is incredible. I met a girl who was at our farm a few weeks ago who looked at the shining bok choy heads in my arms and asked wonderingly “Did you grow that in the dirt?” She was a very nice person; she just hadn’t ever seen a vegetable outside of the context of buying it, and dirt was something to clean. I understood- I lived in a city for 12 years. The dirt there is

seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;.

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil.

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins, God’s Grandeur.

As Joel Salatin would say, folks, it ain’t normal.

So here’s what we’re up to. Because of the cool spring, our cold season crops- lettuce, spinach, radishes, endives- lasted longer than usual. As a matter of fact I actually have beautiful cabbages which were planted later than they should have been in our area.

Napa and Red cabbages

Notice the handy carpet strip? Keeps down weeds as well.

The Michihli (Napa)B.rapa are almost ready to turn into kimchee and stir fries, but I am not sure that the red cabbage or cauliflower will make it. In the dry heat they become really attractive to harlequin beetles, and I’m not sure what to do about that except cuss, pick them off and squash them, and try to seduce them with other sacrificial brassicas, like the bok choy that is flowering.

Harlequin beetles on Kale! the worst!

Harlequin beetles on Kale! the worst!

They are not affected by Neem or Safer’s Insecticidal Soap. As far as I can tell they are down there happily brushing their nasty little teeth and scrubbing their gaudy carapaces with those products. I had a friend who always took her cordless Dustbuster to the garden to suck up squash bugs. But since the dry heat, which concentrates the sugars in plant sap and makes it even more delicious, is conspicuously absent this year, the beetles have been controllable by hand. So far.

onions and leeks

the leeks are on the left by the beans

I have high hopes for the onions this year. Not only did I educate myself about the different between short-day and long-day onions so I could stop trying to grow onions that don’t do well in my zone, but the constant moisture that onions love has been provided by God. Onions are pretty high maintenance that way. They absolutely will not get big if you are hit or miss with the watering, which I have to say I am. They need careful weeding because they can not tolerate competition. You have to be very strict about crop rotation because onion maggots can reduce your pretty bulbs to a stinking mess, and they have multiple generations in a growing season. Never plant onions where there have been any alliums in the last three years. Onion maggots are very legalistic about this. Two years won’t do. I have my garden mentally divided into 6 sections, and I can remember where they were. Since I grow garlic as well, but in the fall, it’s tricky. I have leeks growing next to the onions. I used onion starts this year, because I was late seeding the ones I grew last year that did well- the lovely white cipollini Bianca di  Maggio, and the all purpose old French Jaune des Vertus.  I recommend the bundled green onions starts over the bulblets because the bulbs sometimes believe it’s time to go to seed. I planted Walla Walla because some onions growers in our area said they were the correct day length. They seem good so far. I also got some red onion starts from a farmer at our farmer’s market who is growing in Bivalve. He advised me that my starts would grow better next time I sprout onions from seed if I trim them back with scissors. Since each new leaf adds to the size of the bulb, that makes sense, since cutting would stimulate leaf production. Unfortunately that leaves me without a good storage onion. The big sweet onions don’t keep well and I forgot the names of the ones the guy from Bivalve had. Stuttgart and Ebenezer are great keepers, but usually don’t get bigger than an egg for me- doubtless my watering neglect again.

planting leeks

They seem threadlike, but they will grow.

push small leek root end into soil leek seedlingLeeks are a wonderful crop in Maryland, because the winters are just right. Cold enough that they sweeten, but mild enough that they are undamaged. They are labor intensive when they are small. I start them in January- February in flats, in the house, so they will germinate, and then set them in the cold greenhouse, where they slowly develop. By the time I am ready to plant them they are still tiny, but they have a tough root system. I plant them in a trench, lay them along the wall of it, and then push soil down around their roots so they stand up. As they grow, I hill them up. This helps them to grow straight, fat, white shanks, and keeps their roots more constantly damp. In winter they stand in a military row, glaucous blue, and I leave a spading fork right there to dig them up for delicious leek and potato soup, braised leeks, yum. I cut the root system and the long leafy tops right into the compost bin, unless I’m making vegetable stock. In spring any uneaten leeks send up giant mauve pom poms that bees adore, a rival to any drumstick Allium in a flower catalog. From this I save seeds. The circle completes!

Garlic will be ready soon. I have been enjoying garlic scapes, the flower top which loops out of the top of the garlic plant in May. You snap them off and steam, boil, or grill them, and they become sweet and surprisingly starchy in texture. I made a garlic scape and potato soup that was as nice a hot vichyssoise as I’ve had, and a bowl of boiled scapes with butter is a fine treat for hungry gardeners. You have to snap them off anyway so they won’t waste energy on seeds. A handful of them tied with twine is cool looking, because they all loop the same way.

sugar snap peas

Sugar snaps coming on

Sugar snaps and snow peas are about done- past their glory anyway. The picture is from a few weeks back- ephemeral delight!  I tried a nice tall French heirloom, Carouby de Maussane, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, bless them. It has bi-colored flowers prettier than some sweet peas I have, and the pods are 5 inches long. You really do have to string them though, both sides; pull the strings off that have been bred out of many modern peas, along with the flavor. I planted them in March. We say plant peas and potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day, the 17th. Easy to remember, with some wiggle room for the moon and the weather. The 3 1/2 foot tall pea fence is fine for most sugar snaps and English peas but snow peas need about 4 feet of support and maybe a bit wider spacing. Vegetable candy!

bamboo trellis for cucumbers

bamboo trellis for cucumbers

Next to them I built a bamboo trellis for my pickling cucumbers, about the same height. I didn’t see the need to grow slicers because picklers are like Kirby cukes anyway; smaller, sweeter, and all purpose. That way I can save seed as well if they do well. The jury is still out on how high to go with cukes- Some people let them rambler on the ground, others hang them high. I have a lot of bamboo which is easy to tie together with twine, and I like the way it looks. I do make a lot of kosher dills though, so if another way works better, I’m interested.

In this picture you can also see that we have a ton of kale, which I transplanted out of the greenhouse salad bed at the end of March. The seeds were saved, a bit mixed, yet the Russian Red Kale, or Ragged Jack and Scotch Vates curly type seem to have retained their separate characteristics. The Vates hasn’t gone to seed yet, whereas some of the Russian has, and is a magnet for harlequin beetles, so I go straight to them to pick them off, while the Vates is staying relatively unblemished. I direct seeded some Lacinato kale- what we call dinosaur kale because of its weird frosted dark blue pebbly leaves, and it is now doing well. My friend in Ecuador has some plants that have not gone to seed in  years. I saw them myself, still producing. Perhaps the unchanging day length confuses them.

This is getting a bit long and work calls so, to be continued


Fungal Blights and Organic Sprays

blog etsy and spring 2013 185 Hi folks- I have been, and am, really busy with the spring garden as well as life so I have a lot backed up to write about!

What was really urgent for me today was saving the plums. If you follow me you know this tree, because I wrote about pruning it earlier. I went ahead and cut down the Santa Rosa, by the way, after it finished blooming. I have planted another plum which should be big enough to pollinate the Methley next spring.

We have had the coldest, wettest spring anyone remembers, – I still have radishes and the first ever Michili (Napa) cabbages! Now that it is warming up, and continuing to rain, the brown rot is hitting my plums hard. Actually, it loves warm humidity even more, but since it is now endemic, it just attacks when the fruit starts to ripen. Brown rot is pretty self descriptive. First you see a small dark bruise on the fruit, then it becomes a brown spot, then the spot spreads, and finally it creates little powdery bumps all over the rotten fruit. That’s when it is sporulating and contaminating more fruit.

signs of brown rot in fruit

Brown rot spreads through affected fruit

Plums often grow in clusters so it spreads that way too. It creates a stickiness so that it can stay in the tree and mess up your crop next year too. Diabolical! I do collect the damaged fruit as much as I can, but so much is hiding in the grass that I can’t get it all. Of course the sprays do drip on the fallen fruit. Still, it stands to reason that if I see brown rot spreading from one fruit to another, if I remove any plums I see with signs of rot, that may save some fruit. It seems to work.

Surround crop protectant

25 lb bag of Surround

I have two chemical free weapons for this; Serenade and Surround. Serenade is a bacillus subtilis product which seems to stop the brown rot enough to save the crop. I mix 1/3 c. per gallon in my backpack sprayer. It smells a bit yeasty and looks like brown slime. The package says to cover up, use safety glasses and a mask. I tend to think that’s because that’s what people do when they spray chemicals. Perhaps it would be bad to breathe in b.subtilis. I cover up anyway, but I can tell you that I feel a whole lot less nervous getting Serenade on me than Captan or some such toxin.

Other great things to use for fungus are wettable sulfur, or Bordeaux mixture. Bordeaux mixture is best used as a preventative, so it is applied once a year in winter. It is not good to use too much copper as it will eventually build to toxic levels. Sulfur is safer, but not as strong. Neem is good too, although I generally sing its praises as a preventative for plum curculio, the evil beetle that makes those little crescent shaped scars at the top or base of the plum which usually make them drop off prematurely. However it is also reportedly a fungicide, and it is made from a tree in India which also is used in toothpaste.

Surround is completely inert and safe to use

Surround is completely inert and safe to use

When you spray, make sure you are getting under the leaves as well and are spraying until the leaves drip. The best cheap sprayer I have had so far is a 4 gallon plastic backpack sprayer. I honestly forget the brand, and the label fell off last year. I think it is a Chapin or a Hudson.

4 gal backpack sprayer
I’m not sure what brand this is; maybe Chapin or Hudson.

 They don’t generally last. Make sure you flush them out after every use.


You sling it onto your back and pressurize it with a handy lever arm on the left side. You have to keep pumping to keep the pressure up while you are spraying though. (There are battery powered ones. )To get up high the best sprayer is a trombone sprayer. Low tech and works. You mix up your product in a pail and put the sucker end in, then start sliding the tube up and down like a trombone. You can get up 30 feet. They are well made, but you will have to take the tip off a lot because if something falls in your bucket it will clog the sprayer tip.

Surround on plums

Surround on plums

I love Surround. It is totally inert; made of finely milled (15 microns) kaolin clay. You could eat it. It works as a particle film barrier to control both pests and fungal diseases. You mix up 3 cups to a gallon of water and pour it through a strainer into your sprayer. For me 2 gallons is enough for a big fruit tree. You can combine Neem with it. The nice folks at Bayer (hiss) don’t recommend mixing Serenade with it, although the guy who sold it to me in Floyd County, VA said he didn’t see why not. (At the time, Seven Springs Farm had the best price for Surround.) Anyway, when you spray a tree or plant with Surround, it looks like it has been slightly whitewashed, although this does not prevent photosynthesis. It confuses flying pests, and chokes the mouth parts and other apertures on crawling insects. It prevents sunscald. I am not sure how it prevents fungus, but it does. Perhaps the pH does it, or it makes the leaves dry faster. A man I heard at one of our MOFFA meetings said it prevents early blight on his Yellow Brandywine Tomatoes. That made me sit up- Yellow Brandywine is my absolute favorite tomato, as you will know if you follow this blog, but she is a bit finicky about dampness and I am always clipping off her bottom leaves. Of course the thing is you have to stay on it. Spray every 10 days is the norm, but if it rains you might have to respray, depending on how well the tree got washed. The gully washer we had last night was definitely a reason. The Surround does cling pretty well though.


Just give up and eat mulberries

Deciding whether I am going to grow something difficult is an emotional choice, and it probably shouldn’t be. Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a paradise, but our warm, humid climate does make growing many fruit trees a challenge. Our winters don’t really freeze the bugs, and fungus thrives. Southern fruits like figs, which enjoy moisture, do very well, especially Brown Turkey and Celeste. Many old houses have nameless ancient fig trees that people try to propagate from, because they are historical as well as trouble free. The solution, really, is to grow what does well in your climate, and to look for disease resistant cultivars, like the Freedom apples that came out in the 80’s- Jonafree, Macfree, Liberty and Freedom, to name a few. My Liberty apple produces large red blemish free fruit with zero spraying so far. And it is very tart and tasty.  But gardeners long to grow the fantasy- a wonderful antique apple, a tender plum. I long for the crisp, silvery, magical Albemarle Pippin of my childhood. Our 2 Albemarle Pippins have not produced one decent apple in 18 years- they are longing for the Blue Ridge Mountains and have fireblight. I need to get on them with copper sulfate this winter. The moral of the story is, decide how much you want to twist yourself into knots to grow something, and know when you are not getting a good return on your investment.

In the meantime, I spray the safe stuff.

Abandon the Pernicious Use of Paper Products!

hanging laundry How much money do you spend on paper products every month? How much paper do you throw away, after it has been through the energy consuming process of production, transportation to a store, etc.? Trees may be a renewable resource, but the environmental impact of paper products is huge. You don’t have to use that much paper every day. There are easy, convenient, reusable substitutes right in front of you.

Paper napkins:

cloth napkinsMy sister and I have used cloth napkins for many years, and if you look at the time and money we would spend buying, storing, laying out and throwing away paper napkins, I’m sure it’s less than we spend tossing them in the wash, hanging out, and folding with the laundry we already do. Also, cloth napkins are more attractive. Mine don’t all match, but for daily use, it actually makes sense to know which one you used at breakfast.

cleaning cloths, napkins, placemats sanitizing in the sun

cleaning cloths, napkins, placemats sanitizing in the sun

Paper Towels

I keep a roll in my kitchen because visitors are so lost and confused if I don’t, and once in a while there is something truly horrible on the floor- dog vomit or something- that I just want sent to the landfill. But basically I have a bucket of cloth squares under my sink; clean, dry, and folded, ready for use. Many of them are old washcloths, but you can actually buy reusable cleaning cloths. They clean better than paper towels, and don’t take up much space in the wash.


Newspaper works well, but I read the news on the Net, whenever I yank my head out of the sand, so there isn’t much at our house. When sheets get too worn I keep them for cleaning, straining fruit juice, or even a drop cloth, and they work well for windows, using a vinegar solution. I do use one piece of paper towel to buff away the little bits of lint on bathroom mirrors. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…”- Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Swiffer Nonsense

When I had a linoleum floor that needed wiping after mopping, I sewed a pocket out of a piece of worn out bath towel, fit that over my long handled floor brush, and wiped everything spotless without opening a plastic package or squirting a chemical. Now that I have saltillo tiles, I just scrub and mop, but I do keep old towels for big spills.

drying socks

lonely socks can be used to dust household surfaces

I also have a bag that is like a singles bar for socks. Sometimes they are reunited with their partners; sometimes not, but if I am on the phone, or walking through the house doing something that doesn’t require one of my hands, I slip on a clean stray sock and run it over things I pass. Makes me look a little like Vanna White (what ever happened to her?) but it picks up dust and dirt easily, and then I toss it in the wash. Things with more complicated profiles are best flicked at with a feather duster- yes, those antiquated things work great.

A note not for the faint of heart:

People cleaned before the invention of disposable paper products. They also answered the various calls of nature. Men, close your eyes. Women, you can save a lot of waste and money by using a menstrual cup, also sold as a moon cup or diva cup. It is actually easier and less messy than tampons or pads. OK men, you can open your eyes; it’s over.

Now, you may not want to hear this, but if you are a hard core prepper, tremble as you imagine a time without toilet paper. I remember someone told me once some 17th century French writer said there was “nothing so nice as the neck of a goose.”  People talk about using Mullein leaves, moss, etc., but it’s really not so crazy to use a wash cloth if you have running water to rinse it with afterwards. Most of us have wiped babies’ behinds, and that is a lot messier. OK, honestly, I’m not there yet. I may be comfortable knee deep in deer guts but…butt rags, not so much. And in a post-apocalyptic world, I’m sure I’d be the one trading a basket of radioactive chestnuts for a roll of toilet paper. OK, never mind, I’ll go take a picture of a Mullein plant.


My Grandmother’s Easy Authentic Texas Chili con Carne (with deer meat)

Venison chili

Greenhouse broccoli with venison chili on turmeric rice

My grandmother, born Crystal Ray Ross, grew up in Lockhart, Texas, but spent a lot of time on a ranch in New Mexico. I don’t think she ever told me the name of whoever taught her to cook chili, but she did say she was allowed to go on roundups, because, as she proudly said, the hands said she knew how to keep out of the way. She had 3 horses; Poindexter, a tall Eastern horse she didn’t like, Negro, a black Mexican cow pony trained to rear and gallop off madly the minute you put your foot in the stirrup, and Old Blue, a gentle grey horse the cowboys called Old Glue because of his age. It was Old Blue she rode on cattle drives, and perhaps that is where she learned to make this chili.

I have changed it a little of course- I use deer meat, and I add more tomatoes and beans than she did. She served beans separately. She served her chili with grits, to which she added garlic, canned milk, and butter.

CRD’s Chili

2 onions, chopped

2 tablespoons healthy oil -or bacon grease, which was on hand….

1 quart bag defrosted ground venison

3-4 tablespoons chili powder

4-6 cloves garlic,chopped

1 tsp. dried oregano

11/2 tablespoons cumin seeds

1 quart canned tomatoes (mason jar)

1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (a can)

salt to taste

Brown the onions and meat well in a big heavy pot, add garlic, oregano, cumin seeds and chili powder. 3-4 tablespoons of chili powder just means a whole bunch. Brown it a bit more to bring out the flavor, then add your tomatoes and beans. Simmer on medium until well combined, salt to taste, then leave it on very low heat until ready to serve, or set it somewhere for the flavors to develop.  It is better every day and freezes well. I have sometimes added beer, but that’s not what Granny did. I also have my own home raised and toasted chili powders, with which I can crank up the heat in this otherwise mellow and savory chili.

It is delicious with grits or rice, some guacamole, a salad and some warm hand patted corn tortillas. A splash of hot sauce and a few bottles of cold beer pair nicely.

@Glory Garden



Peppers Hot and Sweet: Growing food and medicine from Chile Agua to Bhut Jolokia

Jimmy Nardello pepper plant

Jimmy Nardello is a sweet Italian pepper that is pretty and prolific.

Of all the Solanaceae, Capsicums (the pepper family) are are neck in neck with Tomatoes for my affection.There are SO many peppers! Peppers of every flavor, every color,every shape and size, they are pretty plants, and they are generally really easy to grow, given a bit of warmth and sunshine, even in containers. They produce generously, and they are both delicious and very medicinal. You couldn’t ask for a better plant friend.


The heat of capsicums doesn’t register on a thermometer, but it isn’t just a flavor either. The “heat” comes from a rubefacient (reddening) effect on the tissues. It causes your capillary veins to open, pulling extra blood through the affected area, because your surface nerves think you are in contact with something chemically hot that needs to be repaired, although it isn’t actually damaging you.The combination of heat sensation and flavor creates synergy that is addictive to so-called chiliheads! But peppers are a medicinal herb as well: Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chile heat, doesn’t  just affect your tongue and other mucus membranes(do NOT touch your eye!), but your external skin as well. This can be great for sore muscles, -and literally a life saver.

Medicinal Use: For Aches and Pains, wear it:

Even if you don’t eat hot peppers, you should grow them to make liniments and creams for sore muscles and stiff joints. If you can tolerate eating a little, it’s good for your heart! Some people even carry hot sauce or cayenne tincture with them in case of a heart attack. (I’m not a doctor; just a gardener who reads).

Make your own pain relief:  

For sore muscles, you can tincture peppers in alcohol to make a liniment rub, or make an oil infusion as a heating massage oil.

To tincture in alcohol, fill a glass jar with dried cayenne peppers and top with cheap vodka or other 80 proof alcohol. In a few days you will find that the alcohol has turned orange and is very spicy. Rub it on stiff muscles and painful joints, a lot of it. The drawback is that alcohol feels cold, but it does penetrate better than oil. For a post on tincturing and othe nice things like making liqueurs, click here.

To make an oil infusion, do the same thing but with oil. I have used fresh peppers as well as pepper flakes for this. It needs to stay warm for a week to ten days, which, since it doesn’t matter if it is affected by the sun, can be done in the back window of a parked car, or sitting on a radiator. You can then draw it off the top and leave the rest to get stronger if you like, or filter it. I use olive oil, but other oils, like jojoba, penetrate better, so that is my next trick. Rub it on achy muscles and cover.

Here’s what I do for back spasms, etc.: My DH hurts his back now and again, so I set up my massage table in front of the woodstove and lay out my materials. I actually combine some peppermint infused oil as well for good measure. Alcohol tinctures are great, but only if applied warm. I prepare some wet towels folded into squares, and heat them in the evil microwave (which I use for nothing else!). I have some warm quilts ready. I lay him out face down, covered with quilts except for the area I’m working on, and start rubbing spicy oils into his back, applying the oil gently all over the back and then massaging slowly from the least sore areas towards the worst. Of course my hands will get very hot, but I really hate working with gloves. If I ever get arthritis, I’ll benefit from these sessions even more. When it’s time to take a break, I put a thin cloth on the sore area, put the hot wet towel in a big ziploc bag, lay it on top, and cover with the quilts. He may well sleep by then.  I replace the hot packs as they cool and let him rest. He feels the heat on his back for hours, even after he’s up and moving around. Capsaicin is a great painkiller!

Cardiac claims: Alternative healers say that warming herbs like ginger root and hot peppers warm the body, energize the heart, and thin the secretions. I certainly find a spicy soup can fend off a cold. Hot peppers can make your nose run, which can unblock it, and help you to feel better. Spicy food gets your digestion going as well, so you may feel a lot lighter afterwards…. But to decide if you think it is good for your heart is up to you. My husband says it makes him feel better, but he is a person who shuns pharmaceuticals in general.  It is certainly part of many herbal heart remedies, and it is good for you in many ways, although a very few people are allergic. What it apparently, allegedly, (note me being careful) does for the heart is open up the capillaries, thereby helping circulation to the extremities and taking the load off the heart. Therefor some people carry cayenne tincture with them to guzzle in the event of a heart attack. My husband says should he ever keel over he wants me to dump it down his throat and into his eyes. Yee-ikes!

the only thing we didn't harvest was the quinoaCulinary Use: Eat the Heat- and the Sweet

We gauge pepper heat in terms of Scoville Units.  From Bell peppers to the deadly hot Bhut Jolokia , also known as the Naga Bhut Jolokia, there are about a million Scovilles. It’s sort of silly- Jalapenos are  about 3000, Red Caribbean Habaneros are 300,000. Please. How do they get these numbers? Somebody explain this to me. But people who love hot peppers,- I call them chiliheads, are nerdy masochists. We delight in creating evil concoctions to drip onto our food, and try to one-up each other with the latest white-hot bullet from the wilds of Borneo, brought back by an expedition of which half the explorers were eaten by cannibals. Names of chili sauces read like death metal album covers: Lethal Ingestion, Trinidad Scorpion Ghost…but as I get older, not only do I get a stomach ache from overindulging in seriously hot peppers, but I’m sort of over the heat competition, and more into interesting flavors- like the bouguet of apricot and caramel you taste when biting into a habanero in the nanoseconds before the pain hits.

Sweet No Heat:

Perhaps I was a bit giddy, saying they come in every flavor. Peppers come sweet to hot, with lots of overtones and undertones, like wine. I didn’t mean to claim they come in mint or banana, -although there are both sweet and hot banana peppers; long, yellow, and ripening in generous bunches. In Spanish, the bell pepper that most Anglos think of as safe and friendly is known as Chile Agua. Water chile. Fleshy and full of water, and at least the green ones, compared to other peppers, taste like…water. Friends, there is more to peppers than water. But common sweet peppers include the Bells, the sweet bananas, the grilling peppers like cubanelles, although not all grilling peppers are absolutely sweet, the sweet cherry peppers, which are wonderful stuffed with cheese, and some sweet pickling peppers. There are lots of sweet peppers with rich, sweet, fruity flavors.

What Wimps can Grow: Packet descriptions are clear about heat. If you are one of those wimps who just can’t associate food pleasure with mouth pain, there are still plenty of choices. I grow California Wonder for my parents, and last year I tried a Burpee mix called Carnival Bells, which included purplish black bells that cooked up green but were pretty in a salad, green bells that ripened yellow, although there were supposed to be oranges and reds as well, and a compact plant that produced ivory mini-bells that ripened pale apricot. The sweet grilling peppers are about 6-8 inches long and usually 1/2-2 inches thick. I I love Jimmy Nardello, a gorgeous Italian sweet frying pepper that ripens rapidly and dramatically. The graceful waxy green fruits, 1/2 inch thick by 8 inches long, seem to catch on fire, the deep crimson streaks flickering up the sides before the whole fruit turns lipstick red. It is very pretty and delicious. I did get a few with a touch of heat though, and I am growing them with extra care this year not to confuse any because it distinctly says Jimmy Nardello is sweet. There are peppers that play pepper roulette, but I think the error may have been mine. Usually little peppers are viciously hot, but I have a pepper from the Amazon that looks like a red Habanero but is quite fruity-sweet except at the very center. It may be a rocotillo type, as it take forever to mature. A lot of South American peppers are low heat.

Medium Heat: But live a little. Get some medium hots. Jalapenos are being bred now to milder and milder heats- even a no heat (what a yawn). And pickling peppers brings the heat down- something about the vinegar. That’s for a  summer post, but it is very easy to make semi-spicy pepper relish. But who can resist a good jalapeno popper?

A big medium Hatch pepper has just enough heat to make a thoroughly delicious relleno (pepper stuffed with potatoes and cheese. Hatch is an Anaheim type from Hatch County, New Mexico, so you can’t legally call what I grow in Maryland a Hatch pepper, but they are delicious.  In Ft.Worth when I visited my sisters in law, they were selling huge bags of hot, medium or mild fresh Hatch peppers at the Whole Foods, and outside they had a man roasting them in a big revolving cage like a lotto machine. Hot peppers are a part of Texan culture! Love it. Big Jim is a popular Hatch type you can grow.

Last year I went to Roswell, New Mexico, where the UFO museum is. I hit the hardware store and this year I will be trying Sandia, Santa Fe Improved, and Lumbre, which did not germinate well. I may give it another try as the man said they were a favorite. I am also growing Chimayo, billed as a landrace pepper, which means people just grew them and saved the seed of what grew well, not worrying too much about isolation. Check back with me in the fall of 2014 for results on those.

Ancho,which means wide in Spanish, are the big dark green triangular peppers you see in the store. They make awesome chiles rellenos! They vary in heat and size, but usually the ones in the store are milder and larger than what I grow. I love their smoky flavor, made smokier when I blister them on the stove and rub off the skins (will elaborate in another post this summer). Once semi-softened by this procedure, I can make a hole in them to rinse out the seeds, stick in some cheese and potato, dip them in egg, and fry them. So delicious. Live a little.

 Real Heat:

OK, now we get to the heart of chile love. There are reasonable chiles with reasonable heat, like a normal Jalapeno, cayenne, chile negro, chile japones, chile pasilla. By the way, I thought chipotles were smoked, red-ripened jalapenos, but Phillipe Reyes, a friend from Mexico, who grows a lot of chiles in Bristol, VA says they are not; and that they are a specialized pepper (more on this later). They are too fleshy to dry without smoking them. Chile guajillo is kind of medium, with a lot of caramelized flavor and a dark, smooth, shiny appearance when ripened and dried. Then there are chiles that hurt, like chiltepins that grow on wild perennial plants in the Southwest, chile pequins, chile arbol (not too bad). Then there are the rock ‘n roll legends: The habaneros, african bird peppers,  7 Pot (one peppers heats 7 pots of food), Bhut Jolokia the Ghost Pepper, also known as teh Naga (Bhut means ghost, Naga means deadly snake) and most recently, the Trinidad Scorpion. The Indian government is using Bhut Jolokia to make a non-lethal bomb to flush out terrorists. They also put it on food. The theory is that you break a sweat and feel cooler. Hm.

Growing the Legends:

Most of these you need to start early, and you are best off overwintering them indoors and growing them as perennials. (Phillipe Reyes suggests putting a chunk of Tilapia fish under the plant in a pot to give it the extra nutrition it will need to tolerate groing in a container. He reports people keeping chile de arbol in pots for 25 years.) We travel a lot, so I am always on the lookout for new varieties to try. When we were in the Peruvian jungle I got a few in Pucallpa, and one in upriver Yarinacocha, that I treasure, like the Mirasol Amarillo de Pucallpa, which is  neither yellow nor upward pointing, but makes sublime, perfumey, white hot ceviche. But the Aji Rojo, which just means hot red pepper, that I got from my friend Rosaura’s garden behind La Perla, a jungle B&B in Ucayali, takes forever. I start it in January and I’m lucky to get fruit by November. So now I grow some in pots. They are tiny C.Frutescens, I believe, a brilliant red pepper the size of a wren’s beak, which is dried and powdered, added to food while cooking, or crushed with salt and vinegar into a very hot, slightly citrussy paste which is spread on small flat river fish. You see the attraction?

Easy to grow hots:

Bili mirc pepper seedlings just coming up

Bili mirc pepper seedlings just coming up

Some of the peppers I met in India, such as the lal mirc, the bili mirc, and a long curving skinny pepper from Rajasthan called Ganesh, are entirely convenient and easy to grow.  One pepper I got from Assam, which is small, wrinkly,citrussy and pretty lethal, about an inch long, was presented to me as Bhut Jolokia. I think the dear man was trying to be nice. Bhut Jolokia is bigger than that, and an Indian friend told me he ate one and cried for his mother. (India is a wonderful, incredible, enormous place where everything may definitely certainly be possible, but 95% is illusion. That is also worthy of another post.) Most of the peppers I found in India are cayenne types that dry well and make excellent spices and condiments. This means you can just use a bit, if you aren’t gung ho, for a gentle warmth and to experience the subflavors. These peppers are also great for external applications to sore muscles and arthritis, and make nice gifts dried on a string.dried peppers hanging

A Trick for the Cheapsters:

Yes, we want to support our seedsmen, but here’s a secret for the flat broke or just curious you may not have thought of. When you come across dried peppers, the only reason they wouldn’t sprout just as easily as seeds in a package is if they weren’t ripe when they were dried, or if they were heated by more than the sun. I am presently trying to see if there are any survivors in some extra nice chipotles I bought at Krogers. (seeded, soaked, chopped, fried with onions, garlic and olive oil they were DIVINE on eggs) Probably not but I’m just curious how much heat destroys viability. I have also started seedlings from fresh ripe peppers. If the fruit is ripe, you’re good. Of course you may not know the variety name, but you know what you ate, so even if it was a hybrid and you get sketchy parent strains, in a pinch, you can at least get free pepper plants.

How to Start Pepper Plants

little pepper seedlings

Little pepper sprouts waving their pale leaves at the sun

Just go back to my post on how to sprout tomatoes. The same procedure works just fine for all solanaceae- that includes eggplants as well. This post will give you illustrated steps for how to start seeds using organic potting  soil and recycled pots. Plastic plant pots account for a distressing amount of landfill garbage, and they are made from oil as well, so get other people to save them for you and clean and reuse. Sometimes if you have a good relationship with your recycling center they will even save them for you there. Our  Midshore Regional Recycling Center actually called me!

Last Word

You can count on lots more pepper articles here. Recipes, condiments, varieties, yum yum. I actually have been thinking about starting a tour club for chili heads. We know so many great places where chiles grow. Wouldn’t it be fun to ride elephants through a tea plantation in Assam and then go to the pepper gardens? Let me know. We can do it. On this nasty February night, however, it’s enough for me to open up some glowing red powdered peppers from my summer garden and shake them into in my venison chili. Here is the recipe for the chili. Piquante! Hallelujah!

ps If you like that try my venison curry which has met approval from serious people- it is bahut garam and is a good easy introduction to making really authentic tasting Indian food.

Time to plant seeds: Choosing Tomatoes

Let the trumpets sound! It is the beginning of the cycle that will end in November (for us)- the sprouting of the nightshades. Yes, some of my favorite vegetables are cousins to the elegant Deadly Nightshade: Atropa Belladonna (Atropos is the third Fate; the crone that snips the thread of life, and Belladonna means pretty lady), one of many bad girls in the Solanaceae family. Tobacco, tomatoes, granadilla, chilies, ashwaghanda, potatoes, petunias- life as we know it would stop without them.

Peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants don’t cross-pollinate too easily because they have such short little flowers that self-pollinate right away. At least that’s what it looks like to me, since I have been saving seeds from these plants for years and they seem to come true (replicate their parent).  I file my seeds according to groups, and right now I’m about to take out the tomato file. Therein lie all the little packets of tomato seeds I fill during the summer. Time to choose.

I love trying different types of tomatoes, and I am cheap and believe in sustainability so I sprout my own. It’s easy. I’ll write about that next. But here is a link to an Amazon search that looked fun: tomato seeds. Basically, in choosing  I want early tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, paste tomatoes, -and exotic tomatoes that are just too cool not to grow. And of course I will try at least one new one.  I personally choose indeterminate tomatoes, which means they just go on producing dribs and drabs of fruit until frost kills them, because that suits how I live, but you might want to consider determinate tomatoes, which produce all at once, if you do big batch canning and don’t have time to do smaller batches more frequently. I grow about 65 plants, and sell my extras at the farmer’s market if they are presentable. I have a ton of room. If I could only plant 5 plants I would choose differently.

For early tomatoes: well, Early Girl, the non-hybrid, is a classic. That would be one of my five because she starts early and keeps on producing all season. But lets try a new one. The Early Clear Pink in the link looked nice and only 58 days. Check out Baker Creek Seeds– my favorite bedtime reading! And cherry tomatoes are early. sweet million tomatoI love Sweet Million, pictured here, for its graceful strings of super sweet fruit. That would be one of my five as well.  You can train it up and up. Visitors to my garden need something to snack on, there’s a bowl on the kitchen table, and I split them in the salad. It’s very rangy so give it space. If you really want feral tomatoes, try wild currant tomatoes. They are pearl-sized cute little wild things from Mexico and they volunteer. I have grown them in hanging baskets. Chocolate cherries were a bit if a yawn. Jelly Beans are so fun to dry for snacks. Isis Candy was pretty- a cool little star on each fruit. Sweet 100 is a good producer, but the flavor isn’t as intense as Sweet Million. This picture is from Country Gardens Farm. Everybody has to have one Yellow Pear. My grandmother used to make jam out of them. That is a distinctive looking plant- small, tough foliage.

Beefsteak tomatoes: The big Brandywines are a Pennsylvania Dutch heirloom everybody loves. They are my superstars- later in the season but worth the wait. Yellow Platfoot Strain BW is a monstrous dark green giant. I think that’s a hot contender for one of my five. They say that good-tasting tomatoes have a lower fruit:leaf area ratio, but with these guys, not so much. Lurking under the large, deep green, potato-like leaves (Most Brandywines have the distinctive “potato leaf”) hang the huge, glowing yellow tomatoes. You have to try this. One fully ripe Yellow Brandywine (Southern Exposure picture) can make a salad, and it is deep, sweet. apricot yellow, with a complex, meaty physical structure that you can slice into cubes if you want to.  That with a chiffonade of fresh basil, a pinch of salt, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, is all I crave. Maybe a sliver of red onion, for color.yellow brandywine

But let me compose myself and continue. The Pink Brandywine is not the fine red color you were thinking of, but it is truly a delicious tomato. There is a Red Brandywine as well, and a very prolific variation without potato leaves. Delicious is the Guinness world record tomato- seven pounds, I understand. I grew it a few times. It is a nice flavored tomato, with good acid, and somewhat pleated in shape. But one you shouldn’t miss is Black Krim, another best pick for me. Krim as in Crimean- it is a Russian tomato. Last year I planted them in a ton of manure right by the water hose, and they outdid themselves. I always thought of them as a medium to large black tomato with a fabulous, complex flavor. Last year they were as big as the Brandywines, and they are more disease resistant. By black, of course, I mean a reddish brown that is darker on top. It has crimson streaks inside it which are very pretty on a sandwich or in a salad. My favorite is to pan sear fat slices with sliced elephant garlic, olive oil, and a garnish of basil. High heat and quick, and then slide it onto the plate, or onto some toast. Slurp.

I also tried something I thought was called Martina last year. It was a big pale yellow with a pink sunburst surprise when you cut it. The sizes varied a lot. I’ll grow it again from the seeds I saved next to one from the packet somebody sent me.

Now, paste, the tomato of pizzas. What you see for sale in the store is a Roma or Roma type, and likely a hybrid. Roma is what you call a determinate tomato, because it fruits prodigiously all at the same time. This makes sense for processing, because you get a ton of fruit, process it, and you’re done. Then you can rip out the plant and go on with your life. I suppose I could put some in between the Brandywines and the cherry tomatoes, and make space for the rambling giants when the determinates are done. Gardening is about experimentation. But no, I don’t do Romas. We can do better. For canning I like Opalka, a huge, dry, oblong red paste tomato, indeterminate, with a pointy tip and a tiny, dry seed cavity. That is one good producer. It starts out looking wimpy, because it has wispy looking foliage, but it keeps on trucking until hard freeze. The foliage gets really thick and you have to dig for the fruit, but it is dry and slow to rot. Definitely feed it well or you will get blossom end rot, which looks like they sat end-down on hot iron. I put Epsom Salts in when I transplanted them and that seemed to work well, one tablespoon worked in when I transplant. There was a little Italian paste I grew last year as well which is supposed to be great for sun-dried tomatoes. But I really didn’t do much with it.

Beauty KingNow for the coolicious category. Tomatoes come in every category of color. Great White is a white beefsteak. It ripens to ivory and tastes very sub acid and sweet. I can’t grow them; Maryland’s critters eat them before I can pick a ripe one. I once saw a picture of spinach fettucine with white tomato sauce. Great idea, but it looked kind of nasty. Green Zebra is a must. It is a nice healthy medium green on green striped tomato which ripens to green stripes on yellow when very ripe. It has a nice citrussy twang and I got a lot of flack last year for making green zebra sorbet. And you can’t beat it in a salad. Brown Boar is a brown, green and red variation, and Beauty King is a yellow and green on red striped tomato that is just so flashy you have to try it. This is a localharvest.org pic that doesn’t really show the green. Lemon Boy is a medium sized, dependable yellow tomato with sweet white flesh that I haven’t grown in a few years. It is pretty but not as zippy as I like. Persimmon is a yummy medium orange similar to Amana Orange, which I grow for my mother, who can’t take the more acid tomatoes. Amana is really a pretty tomato, medium to large and deep orange. Costoluto Genovese is a really neat-looking tomato, distinctively pleated or ruffled and flat. You can get a few horizontal slices out of it which look really nice on a plate or a bruschetta. Black Prince is a tender Russian plum, on a short, bushy but thin stemmed plant, bearing heavily with smoky bronze tomatoes. My father said they looked and tasted rotten, but I thought they had an interesting and delicious flavor, kind of earthy. Tomato Growers Supply,  an excellent supplier with a huge online catalog, sells a variegated tomato. The foliage is actually green and white. It is a small plant and small, square fruits which aren’t very interesting. It’s very decorative though, for edible landscaping.

PeronBut when you get right down to it, you want tomatoes that will produce and taste good. Here’s the final word in tomatoes: Peron. If that was all I could grow, I’d pick this tomato. Dave’s Garden called it the “sprayless” tomato, although his forum gave it mixed reviews. But I’m saying what I have experienced for the past 4 years I’ve grown this and saved seed. It’s a medium sized, smooth, round, red Argentinian tomato that tolerates hot dry gardens, cold greenhouses, and Maryland’s pest and fungus-friendly climate. The bit about the cold greenhouse may be apocryphal, but I think the tomato that lived in my unheated greenhouse through 2 mild winters was a Peron. Seed cavity is average, flavor is definite tomato. As far as I’m concerned, Peron is the Toyota Corolla of tomatoes. Maybe even a Camry. Give it a test drive.

Using willow

Do you like baskets? People have been making baskets for millenia, and some are incredibly intricate. Baskets are useful, light, and pretty strong when you consider that they are made out of twigs, grass, leaves, roots, or bark. I sometimes make baskets; it’s really time-consuming but addictive. The hypnotic repeating patterns are sort of trance-forming. I will do a post on that sometime. And while you can buy basket weaving supplies all day long, I think it is more sustainable to make your own. So this post will be about using wild-crafted materials to repair a common wicker laundry basket. Repairing things is, after all, cheaper and better for the planet.

White willow (Salix alba) is what people usually use for medicine, and those long weeping branches are fun to weave with, but Black willow (Salix nigra) is a close cousin, and it’s very common here on the Eastern Shore. It grows in wet places, has a fairly short life, soft wood, and when it is dying you can often find Oyster mushrooms on it.black willow (check mushroom post) I cut two of mine back periodically so that I have usable straight young shoots. This one has spread out and leaned over in the wet ground, so I sometimes have to trim branches so our friend can mow under it.

Salix is latin for willow, and you may notice that it is the root for salicylic acid, as in aspirin and various pimple medicines. Boiled willow bark makes a nice reddish tea that smells a bit like roses. I sometimes make it when I have cramps.  Usually I make it when I am boiling willow in my big stock pot to soften it or to loosen bark to use in repairing baskets. It is like leather.willow projects (14)

Cut the straightest pieces you can find, and no thicker than your thumb or it will be hard to bend them into circles to fit in the pot. Strip off smaller twigs on the shoots you will be using before you come in the house. You can do this by just making a loose fist around it and stripping them off. They are connected very weakly. Bend the shoots by bending small sections of the branch firmly and slowly between your fingers and thumbs. You will see how you can get the pieces in the pot without breaking.  Cover with water and boil for about a half an hour. Pull out the thick end of a piece and see if the bark peels easily. If it doesn’t, boil it longer. If it does, try to get the park off whole, or in wider, neater strips. willow projects (12)If you split it in one place and then support the bark with your hand while pulling back, it will come off in relatively fat strips. It will catch at the little knotholes, so pick it loose and continue. The strips of bark are strong, flexible, and easy to wrap around basket repairs to give a tidy but natural appearance similar to leather. You should use them while they are damp or dry them and rewet them later. If you keep them in a plastic bag they will mildew. Here I have repaired a broken laundry basket handle by reinforcing it with a piece of willow lashed on with bark. While I was doing this I also boiled willow to make wreaths for Christmas gifts. and tea for me. I will do a post on that later.willow projects (19)