Summer Flowers

As a seed grower, I mostly grew flowers to attract pollinators (good pollination means more viable seeds) and then, because plants grown for flowers tend to be more attractive to pollinators than vegetable flowers, plant plenty of those flower plants around the  vegetables grown for seeds so that the pollinators “dust off” their vegetable pollen and take up flower pollen instead, thus preventing crosses between the same type of vegetable.
But once we put up the farm stand, people noticed the flowers in our vegetable fields and asked if they could purchase them, too.  So, I gather the best of the day’s flowers and put them in the farm stand, like this.


I’ve been buying zinnia seed that are appropiate for cut flowers, but it’s good to see that the pollinators still enjoy the flowers we set out for them.


The farm stand is a bit zinnia-heavy as they seem to hold up best as a cut flower.  I’ve used Cosmos ‘Sensation Mix’ for years for the pollinators, but haven’t found that the stems are long enough to put in the farm stand.  (It probably doesn’t help that I’ve bought Cosmos twice in my life — once when we started the community garden [1990] and the second time when we started a full planting season here at the farm [2013].  Cosmos re-seeds prolifically and beautifully, but the variations on petal shape & color, plant height and stem length doesn’t lend itself well to putting the flowers  in a bucket at the farm stand.  The pollinators, however, love Cosmos, no matter what the year’s re-seeded variations produce, so there is always plenty of Cosmos in the field, especially around the tomatoes. )

I needed to get out of a zinnia rut and add another flower to the farm stand.  Frank loves sunflowers and a friend had tried out some of the new “cutting” sunflowers that have lovely flowers only a few feet off the ground so that one can easily harvest them as a cut flower.  My friend’s seeds grew into this scene by the Workshop:


Don’t they look nice?    I decided I liked them so much that I would let this year’s trial go to seed so that next year, we can plant “cutting” sunflowers along the smokehouse (which has zinnias this year) and the barnyard wall where everyone can enjoy them as they pass by the farm and, hopefully, will produce enough to add to next year’s farm stand.
In the meantime, enjoy the photos and if you know what type of butterfly is in the middle zinnia photo, let me know and I’ll edit this post!









Ei von Phuket: A Top-Notch Cooking Tomato

When last we were talking about the Thai tomato, Ei von Phuket, it was Frank’s birthday and I was waiting for him to come home so he could taste this tomato we’re growing out for the Roughwood Seed Collection.

The verdict?  If you’re cooking with tomatoes, especially if you’re using the broiler, you want to use this tomato.

Who thought that a Thai tomato would be so amazing in bruschetta? Or that it transforms our weekday standby, frittata, into a dish we’re now serving to company?

(I’m sure this tomato is amazing in Thai food, but Frank is allergic to rice, so I don’t cook Thai at home.  [Have to make things that everyone can eat!]  If you do cook Thai cuisine at home and are growing this tomato, do try it out at the pale greenish-white unripe stage for curries as is done in Thailand — unlike Italian tomatoes, this tomato lingers in the “just before ripe” unripe stage so that you can easily harvest enough for curries and have ripe tomatoes to broil.)

Fresh, this tomato is okay, but nothing to write a blog post about.   Add heat and you’ll see why we’re so excited about this tomato.  Here’s how we’re eating/cooking with Ei von Phukets right now:

Saute:  It’s August and we have veggies, veggies, veggies.  I usually chop up what isn’t suitable for the farm stand and toss it in to the frying pan with some diced tomatoes so that I don’t need to use as much olive oil to keep the veggies from sticking to the pan.  In the past, I just used whatever tomatoes weren’t right for the farm stand either, but now, the flavor is definately enhanced when I use the Ei von Phukets.

Frittata:  With laying hens and lots of veggies, frittata is our go-to meal when things get busy.  Coat the frying pan with a good layer of spray oil. plop in whatever veggie mix is in the frig, stir in the eggs, turn on the heat to let it set and I was ready to go.  Then, since the Ei von Phukets were so good under the broiler for bruschetta, I thought, “Why not lay them on top of the frittata before it goes into the broiler?”  So, I halfed the Ei von Phukets, took out the seeds, then halfed the halfs and dropped them in a nice pattern in the top of the frittata while it was cooking on the stovetop.  I then grated some cheese (I like Pecorino Romano) over the tomatoes and put the whole thing under the broiler.

When it comes out, it looks like this:


It looks nice (which is always a struggle for me) and it tastes fabulous!
So for 2015, it’s Zhong Shu #6 for fresh eating, Rei Umberto for sauce and Ei von Phuket for cooking (especially broiling).
Happy Tomato Season and if you’d like to try any of these tomatoes, drop me a line!


Seed Production Begins In Earnest!

Now that the tomatoes are ripe, we’re in full Seed Production Mode.  Here’s what the inside of the workshop looks like:


I’ve tried plastic containers to ferment tomato seed (which needs to be done to dissolve the gelatinous sac around each seed which contains germination inhibitors — when you plant a seed, you want it to germinate promptly!), but I always come back to glass.  It’s just easier to see what’s going on and to clean the containers afterwards.

On the table on the right are Rei Umberto (King Humbert), Ei von Phuket and Zhong Shu #6 tomato seeds fermenting in the jars.  The middle of the table contains Jaune du Poitou Leek seed heads drying on a platter.  On the far left, fermented and washed tomato seeds dry on china platters I purchased at Liberty Thrift because the seeds won’t stick to china or glass plates as they dry.

The paper bags behind the table hold more Jaune du Poitou Leek seed heads that are drying down, along with some Long Yellow Radish seeds that ripened early.

Windows in the Workshop are kept open (with screens) to keep the air moving over the drying seeds.

Only one of the bags contains Long Yellow Radish seeds, but as this photo shows, we should have bags and bags of this seed as summer wears into autumn!


The leeks and radishes put all their energy into seed production, so we don’t have any of those plants for sale.  The tomatoes produce plenty of fruit — if you’re looking for excellent sauce tomatoes, message me as we can fufill all your tomato sauce dreams!












Rei Umberto (King Humbert) Tomatoes Are Ripe

If you adore home-made tomato sauce (or if you grew up with Italians from South Philadelphia and call it “gravy” ), you should grow the Rei Umberto (also known as King Humbert) tomato.

It is just that simple.  When I was given a list of possible tomatoes to grow out in 2015 for the Roughwood Seed Collection and saw this one was on the list, it was the first one I picked.

I’ve grown this tomato before and it’s everything an Italian sauce tomato should be — full-flavored, easy to deseed, enthusiatic grower and did I mention it makes wonderful sauce?

I picked the first tomatoes about a week ago, but was too busy eating to write a blog post.  Ripe Rei Umberto tomatoes look like this:


On the plant, the green tomatoes look like this.  Italian cuisine is all about the ripe tomato, so these tomatoes don’t linger in the green stage for very long.


Here’s what William Woys Weaver has to say about this tomato from the Roughwood Seed Collection:

“​Rei Umberto otherwise known as King Humbert, was named in honor of the King of Italy when the tomato was first introduced at the Paris Expo in 1878.  It was developed in Naples by an Austrian-owned seed company and has been considered ever since THE CLASSIC Italian paste tomato.  No one has improved its shape or flavor. The irony of this story is that the King of Italy did not like Italian cooking (he was from Savoy, preferred only French cooking and Barolo wines), so the big question remains, was the tomato created to convert him to Italian-style cooking with tomato sauce, or did he just nod and mutter excellent, and return to his French menus with one eyebrow raised?”

When growing this tomato, give it lots of space and think about how you are going to support its very enthusiatic growth!  This is not one of those “all leaves and a tomato or two” heirlooms — Rei Umberto will produce lots of tomatoes so that you can fill your pantry shelves with high-quality, homemade tomato sauce, but it will do so by producing the leaves and stems needed for such a prodigious output.  Here’s how our Rei Umbertos look in the field:


You can barely see the Florida Weave on these tomatoes, but that’s only because the plants have grown up around it.  If you stake or cage your tomatoes, reserve your strongest stakes and biggest cages for this tomato — it will repay you handsomely in sauce and is worth making the effort.





Ei von Phuket Tomatoes are Ripe

It is miserable hot, but the dogs still need their relief walks.  This afternoon, I took Luke to the back field to check on the irrigation lines.

The switches for the drip tape are bright red — the same shade one expects from a tomato.  I’d been fooled before as I quickly scanned the base of the tomato plants, looking for the first ripe tomato.

Luke, however, was lingering by a smidgeon of pink — and Ei von Phuket tomatoes are pink when ripe.  I pulled back the leaves and found, as William Woys Weaver writes: “it ripens raspberry pink in clusters of 6 fruits.”

Since it’s Frank’s birthday and he loves tomatoes and cheese sandwiches, I quickly picked the ripe tomatoes and arranged them on a plate for his return from the day job.


While I waited for the tomato to ripen, Will mentioned that in the green stage, this tomato is used extensively in Thai curries and stir fries.  If you enjoy Thai cuisine and want to use it unripe, pick the tomatoes when they are greenish-white, like this:


Will says the following about the history of this tomato:

“For Americans this is perhaps an awkward mouthful, but the truth of the matter is, this is the German-tourist name for an excellent Thai tomato from the island of Phuket. The Roughwood Seed Collection acquired seed for this tomato in 2000 from a German who had been there. We are not certain what Thais call the tomato but it is one of their best: as the German name implies, it is egg-shaped, greenish-white while unripe, then it ripens raspberry pink in clusters of 6 fruits. Its flavor as a green tomato is mild, thus it is used extensively in Thais curries and stir fries; the ripe fruit is fruity so it is often used in desserts. If you cook Southeast Asian, this tomato ought to be part of your basic vegetable pantry.

One more thing: most of the local growers of Ei von Phuket were wiped out in the tsumami that struck Thailand a few years ago; this island was one of the worst hit and the salt water from the tidal wave destroyed thousands of acres of farmland. In that sense Ei von Phuket remains a fitting memorial to the people who perished and who were never found, not to mention the delicate situation in the world of heirloom foods where a cataclysmic disaster can cut us off from crops we take for granted.”

As a plant, Ei von Phuket has been an enthusiatic grower, but not so much so that the Florida Weave didn’t contain the plants.   We’ve had no disease or pest problems with it and a side-dressing of gypsum has kept blossom end rot away.  If you want green tomatoes for Thai cooking, it has many many fruits that hold on the plant for a decent interval.  We expect a bountiful harvest of ripe tomatoes, also.  I haven’t tried the tomatoes yet as it’s Frank’s birthday and I want him to be able to try them first, but I’m sure a postive review of Ei von Phuket’s flavor and ripe cooking potential will follow soon!







Long Yellow Radish or Yellow Carrot-Shaped Radish

When I used this photograph as my profile picture on Facebook, everyone assumed it was a carrot.


I wish carrots grew this well in Southeastern Pennsylvania’s heavy clay soil!  But this is a summer radish, which as its name suggested, does on first glance, look like a carrot.

This radish is very rare (I can’t give you any web links for it!), but definately worth growing.  It’s part of William Woys Weaver’s Roughwood Seed Collection.

Will says:

“This rare summer radish was developed in Central Europe during the eighteenth century. It is mentioned in Austrian garden books as early as 1770 and was once widely cultivated in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Our seed for the original strain was discovered in a village in Slovakia.

The radish is used both raw in salads as well as cooked like turnips.  It was also shredded and fermented with sauerkraut. The Hungarians stew it with peppers.  Use like Daikon in Asian-style pickles.”

I washed (the golden skin is very thin, so if you want to preserve it for eating, wash carefully) and sliced one of the radishes so you can see the crisp white intereior.  (See, it really is a radish!).  Unlike many radish varities, these greens were worth eating — they aren’t fuzzy like many of the more popular radish varieties and they have a crisp. clean flavor.


If you make your own sauerkraut, shredding these radishes and adding them to the mix should both look and taste wonderful. While I linked to Sandor Katz’ basic sauerkraut recipe, he advocates for adding as many vegetables to sauerkraut as one can find.  I’ve made cabbage-based sauerkraut with whatever else was in season and it’s always been a hit at family gatherings.

If you like Daikon pickles, the Long Yellow Radish will ripen sooner (and be nearly as large — since I’m growing for seed, I only harvested the ones that needed to be thinned!) and add a pretty yellow color to the pickles.

Roasting radishes is very popular right now and these radishes have some heft to roast with!

As a grower, I’ve found these radishes fairly typical for the species to grow — they germinate quickly, they drill through the clay soil with few problems, the deer leave them alone and except for a few flea beatle holes, insects don’t bother them.

If I was growing these to eat, I’d be harvesting right and left to make shredded radish sandwiches (shred radishes in the food processor, then bind with mayo, sprinkle with dill and place on crusty bread with your favorite greens), pickles, and of course, the sauerkraut.

However, as part of the Roughwood Seed Collection, we’re growing them for seed.  So, they will sit in the field and I’ll continue to take photos of them at the flowering and mature seed stage.  If you’re not saving them for seed, you should harvest them when they look like this:


Stay tuned for more photos as the Long Yellow Radish continues its life cycle back to a seed.  And if a large summer radish with edible greens as well as a uniquely-colored (and tasty!) root fits your gardening plans, e-mail me for details on how to purchase seed.





In her later years, Frank’s mother grew gooseberries.  She wasn’t so sure that she liked them, so she’d pass them along to us and I’d make pies and fruit crisps from them.

Once we came to the farm, I had space to grow small fruits.  At a 2013 perennial plant swap, someone brought two ‘Pixwell’ gooseberry plants.  No one else wanted them, so I managed to score both of them when my numbers came up.

‘Pixwell” is the traditional American variety used in the unripe state to make pies and jam.  It looks like this on the plant:


Contrary to what most of the plant sale sites say, ‘Pixwell” has some NASTY thorns.  Harvesting from any gooseberry plant is a careful business.

“Pixwell’ may be the old standard, but it has not held up well in the small fruit press.  The variety is almost universally panned as “overly sour” and “tasteless” by garden writers.  Lee Reich, the upstate New York fruit expert (if you like fruit and he’s speaking, you want to attend his lectures!) outlines how to grow gooseberries here and like most fruit folks, vastly prefers the newer-to-the-US Finnish and Ukrainian varieties which are mildew-resistant (the biggest disease problem in gooseberries) and sweet enough to eat out of hand when ripe in late June.

The trend is to use the American varieties (like ‘Pixwell’) unripe for pies and jam and to let the European varieties ripen to eat fresh as “dessert gooseberries.”

All fine and good, but how “ripe” should an “unripe’ gooseberry be to make pies?

We have 4 American gooseberry bushes.  Since Memorial Day, I was getting a steady stream of emails, asking to buy our gooseberries.

Unfortunately, my mother-in-law is no longer with us, so I couldn’t ask her when she had harvested her gooseberries.  It’s considered bad form to experiement on your customers.  So, to answer the question “When is an unripe gooseberry ripe enough for pie?” I would have to make an actual gooseberry pie.

Sometimes farm work is so tough!

So, I went out and harvested the Pixwells.  They looked like this:


Gooseberries must be “topped and tailed” before they are cooked.  It’s time consuming to take the stem off the top end and the blossom-end “tail” which is another reason why some people just don’t want to bother with them.  As you can see from the photo, these gooseberries are in their light green “unripe” state.  ‘Pixwell’ gooseberries will turn light pink when ripe; other varieties will turn pink, purple or yellow, depending on the type.

Next, I needed a good pie recipe.

The currently popular gooseberry varities may be from Nordic and Eastern Europe, but the pies and jams made in the US are usually from British recipes.  When I need a traditional English recipe, I check out the BBC, which once again, did not disappoint.  Their gooseberry pie recipe is here.  What was fun about the BBC’s recipe is that it took port. However, I needed a little more instruction.  The Beekmans saved me with a great recipe here.

Both the BBC and the Beekmans agreed that gooseberries should be cooked before putting in the pie shell.  The filling ingredients are put in a saucepan and simmered until the goosberries “pop” which really does happen in under 10 minutes as shown in this photo:


While the filling cools, one pre-bakes the pie’s bottom crust.  Once the bottom crust and the filling are cool, one pours the filling into the bottom pie crust, then puts rounds (Beekmans) or strips (other recipes) of pie crust on top of the filling.  One then bakes the pie with a cookie sheet under it to catch drips (which will happen even with lots of space between the pie crust rounds or strips to let the steam out.  This is one goopy filling!
If one is the Beekmans, one’s pie looks perfect regardless (the advantange of staff!).  If one is me, who is a grower, rather than a baker, one’s pie looks a bit gloppy.  But to show you that everyone here really liked it, here’s a half-finished plate:


So, how ripe should an unripe gooseberry be for pie?  Personally, I love tart flavors, so I thought the pie was great.  But Cornell Univeristy’s write-up on gooseberries here suggests mid-June for making pies.  I think another 10 days on the plant will benefit the gooseberry flavor.

So, if you’d like to buy gooseberries for pies or jams, contact me June 18!  They should be perfect then!








Seedlings Transplanted to Next Larger Pots

It poured this morning, but I was expecting that so I had already set the day aside for working with seedlings.
We don’t yet have a greenhouse, so my potting area is in the basement and the seedlings are placed under lights in what used to be the Guest Room.  On a RePotting Day like today, that means going up and down three flights of steps.  Farm work is exercise even on rainy days!
Here is the view of my potting bench:


These seedlings are Rei Umberto (or King Humbert) tomatoes.  I’ve grown them before and they are an excellent tomato for making old time South Philadelphia tomato “gravy” or to put in the dehydrator for a lovely looking (and tasting!) dried tomato.

We’re growing for this variety for seed, but there should be plenty in season to buy in bulk for making your own sauce.  We’re in talks with a local processor to make tomato sauce and maybe even ketchup from these tomatoes after we’ve removed the seeds (and using our Jaune du Poitou Leek instead of onions!) for really superior tasting tomato products.  Savoring the idea of these tomatoes simmered with the leeks inspires me to keep going up and down the stairs with trays full of seedlings (Yes, when fully hydrated, as all transplanted seedlings should be, those trays are HEAVY!)

Tomorrow, the asparagus harvest starts!





First Asparagus Coming Up!

Luke and I walked the asparagus field and this is what we found:


It’s a Purple Passion Asparagus.  Although it will turn green when cooked, it’s purple when it grows in the field.  We grow this variety because it has 20% more sugars than the green asparagus varieties and less lignin, so it tastes sweeter and doesn’t get woody and tough.  We also grow Jersey Knight, one of the best-tasting of the green asparagus varities, but it hasn’t made an appearance yet.

Meanwhile, the rhubarb continues to grow.  We weeded it today and laid the foundation for a “pollinator patch” at the corner of our property where the rhubarb row ends and our neighhbor’s property begins.  It’s right by the road, so walkers, as well as pollinators, should be able to enjoy the perennial flowers we’ll plant there.

Tried to get a photo of Luke with the asparagus, but only got Luke.  Since I haven’t shared a photo of him lately, here he is:


Enjoy this lovely Spring weather! If you’re interested in either the Purple Passion or Jersey Knight asparagus, do let me know.  We should have plenty, soon!







Rhubarb is coming up!

Still waiting on the asparagus, but today, for the first time, Luke and I found that about half of the rhubarb is sending up new shoots for Spring.


We are growing MacDonald Rhubarb,  which grows very well in Southeastern Pennsylvania and has the deep red color that people prefer for pies and compote.

In another two weeks or so, this rhubarb should be ready for your favorite recipes.  Let me know if you’d like to reserve some for pies, compote or eating straight dipped in sugar!