Sunday, May 2, 2010


Plant Test
As promised, here's what little information I have about the seedlings that many friends of Cole Canyon Farm will be testing over the next six months, give or take. Most of the information is from the Johnny's Seed Catalog (Pumpkin/Squash) or Gary Ibsen's TomatoFest website (tomatoes) unless otherwise credited. We have not grown these here at Cole Canyon Farm and that is why we are so looking forward to hearing about the outcomes of your testing. If you need basic Squash or Tomato growing information, send an email to Cole Canyon Farm and we can discuss specific growing challenges in your garden environment.

Let's start with the Pumpkins/Squashes:

AMERICAN TONDO: An old Italian variety (then why is it called "American"?) this beautiful ornamental pumpkin has deep orange skin with green stripes between the heavy ribs. It weighs between 6 and 14 pounds when ripe. This is a long vining plant and needs room to roam. 100 days to maturity, expect two pumpkins per vine. Shelf life is 4 - 6 months.

KNUCKLE HEAD Pumpkin: A fairly new hybrid with freaky bumps and warts. Moderate vines bear pumpkins averaging 12 - 16 lbs. Expect two pumpkins per vine. Medium vine length. Lots of pictures of this wierdo on the internet.

MARINA DI CHIOGGIA Squash: 105 days. "This heirloom squash traces its roots to the coastal town of Chioggia, Italy. These large, dusty-green, bumpy, turban shaped squash average 10 pounds. The rich sweet flesh is deep yellow-orange and simply delicious in pies or baked. In Italy, it is prized for gnocchi (and fall ravioli!) and for roasting."

LONG ISLAND CHEESE Squash: Quoted from Seed Savers Exchange: "C. moschata) East Coast heirloom long remembered as a great pie squash by people in the New York and new Jersey areas. Named for its resemblance to a wheel of cheese. Flattened fruits re buff-colored with deep orange flesh, 6 - 10 pounds and a good keeper. 90 100 days." Note: Martha Stewart featured this pumpkin a couple of years ago in her October issue; great recipe for a vegetable stew served up in a hallowed out Long Island Cheese Squash. Gorgeous.

NAPLES LONG: Or Long of Naples on some sites; this is by far the biggest of all these specialty pumpkins, growing up to 25 pounds. From Johnny's: These large, peanut-shaped squash can weight 20 - 25 pounds. The skin is a deep green that turns tan in storage. The flesh is bright orange, and the flavor is superb - rich and very sweet. 125 days.

SPECKLED HOUND Squash: Quoted from The Cook's Garden: "A winter squash that's as gorgeous as a gourd, but so much more scrumptious. Beneath the randomly patterned blue-green and orange rind is a dense yellow-orange flesh bursting with marvelously concentrated sweet, nutty squash flavor. Growing to 3 - 6 pounds, it's a joy to hold and carry. Pumpkin-shaped, silky smooth and waxy with shallow furrows and a strong green stem. Easy to harvest from plants with open habit.

MUSQUE De PROVENCE: Quoted from Local Harvest: "Musquee de Provence is a French heirloom and is somewhat rare. It is also known as Fairy Tale, with deep ridges and a very sweet flesh. Good storage.

And now the tomatoes!

NEPAL: Marie at Roger Reynolds Nursery asked me to find this one for her. It's a beefsteak variety, originally grown in the Himalayan Mountains. It produces large, deep red tomatoes that weigh up to 12 oz. It does well in cooler climates and is a good keeper when picked green and allowed to ripen off the vine.

AUSTRALIA: Regular leaf plants produce fruit that are large, red, heartshaped with few seeds. 85 days, indeterminate.

BLACK ETHIOPIAN: A favorite Russian heirloom tomato from the Ukraine. Very productive plants yield copious amounts of red-mahogany-bronze, 6-oz plum-shaped fruit. Rich, fruity, tangy taste. Rare. 81 days, indeterminate.

CARMELLO: A French tomato with exceptional flavor. Produces well in cooler climates.
DONA: Both Carmello and Dona have been de-hybridized by Gary Ibsen, both are French Market tomatoes, and both are said to have excellent flavor in cooler coastal climates. We have offered Dona before to eager growers in the Aptos/Santa Cruz area. Glad it's back and I'm anxious to hear how both these plants fare.

EARLY WONDER: Free seeds from Tomato Grower Supply with all the usual hoopla about early fruit set, great flavor and best in short season climates. Let's see how it does here.

INDIAN MOON: This is a Navajo heirloom featuring good production of 'beautiful, blemish free, medium sized golden-globed meaty and flavorful tomatoes. 75 days, indeterminate, yellow/orange. The Navajo live in pretty hot and dry climates, so we shall see how this plant does here.

JAUNE COEUR DE PIGEON: Plump pear shaped tomato from France, it's actually a yellow pear. 75 days, indeterminate.

OLDE WYANDOTTE: I believe I am from Wyandotte country, but the map calls Wyandotte country nearly all of the Northeast and the word means 'those defeated by the Huron'. This tomato, though, is a late season golden/yellow beefsteak with a terrific fruity flavor. I doubt if any Wyandottes got to taste it, but we will.

I welcome any additional folklore, anecdotes, and growing notes about any and all of these unique plants. We'll blog about it in the fall.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Scented Geraniums

It isn't this lovely flower that brings the fragrance to your garden; it's the leaf. And these plants aren't geraniums - they are pelargoniums. Scented geraniums have a few things in common with geraniums; they do well without abundant water and they don't need a lot of care. In our climate, scented geraniums bloom for many months each year and most will not only survive the winter, but will thrive during most of it. Frost may burn the outer leaves and you should leave those be; they are protecting all the lush new growth coming up from below. Wait to give them a good pruning in late spring after the danger of frost has passed - about NOW! - and your plants will experience an immediate growth spurt and bloom.
I have to make a confession. I love these plants because they can survive in our world of neglect. We have so many plants to grow for sale, that we have little time left for landscaping or garden plants. If scented geraniums thrive is this brutal environment; little water, poor soil, nearly total neglect - then your plants will look terrific! (Note: When you take them out of their pot, you should see a large tap root. This is the root that enables this plant to survive drought.)
There are so many varieties and frankly, I can barely tell them apart - aromatically - after a while. The mint geraniums are obvious, the apple and nutmeg are unique, the lemon is apparent; but all the rest smell like rose to me. Most are in the rose geranium category; Attar of Rose, Capitatum, Clorinda, Velvet Rose, Rober's Lemon Rose, Little Gem, and so forth. It really doesn't mater - they all smell good! Find ones that you like the looks of. Some are very weird and, of course, those are the ones I really like. Gooseberry is chaotic and fascinating. Strawberry can be gangly and arrogant; yes, arrogant. Fingerbowl Lemon is upright and parsimonious - and one of the old Victorian types. Put the leaves in fingerbowls on your table to scent the water that refreshes greasy fingers. French Lace, great name! Not one of the prettiest but nice variegated leaf and sweet little pink flowers. Apple is nice; a satin finish to the leaf and slight, ever so slight, apple scent. Nutmeg is overwhelmed by its own little but abundant flowers. And I will always love the Peppermint Tom with its huge fuzzy leaves, tiny flowers and robust fragrance. (One of our customers told me she throws a leaf in the dryer.)
There has to be room for one, two or more scented geraniums in your garden. Bees love them; hummingbirds are interested, butterflies stop by, kids like to wallow in them and you can always crush the leaves into sugar to spice it up. Put them in containers, plant them amidst the herbs in your garden, fill a backyard slope, or keep one on your window sill. You will enjoy these plants; large or small.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Gardening in Foggy Coastal Climates

If you live along the Pacific Coast and want to grow vegetables to eat in summer, then you might want to do the following:

1) Buy or borrow a copy of Pam Peirce's book GOLDEN GATE GARDENING.

2) Think small.

3) Think fall.

GOLDEN GATE GARDENING by Pam Peirce is subtitled: A Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area and Coastal California. It's all there and is based on her real experience maintaining a garden on the western side of San Francisco, in The Avenues, not the Sun Belt of the Mission District. She knows all about fog, wind, salt spray, and cold spring and summer days.
Since most of us - including me - behave as if we are still gardening in Ohio and since most seed packets carry instructions that assume we are gardening in Ohio, then we have a skewed notion of what to plant and when to plant it in this lovely Mediterranean climate that we have here. Vegetable and herb gardening is not just a springtime activity. It is a year round activity and one that can provide you with unimaginable amounts of fresh produce. But sadly, probably not those big, luscious Brandywine tomatoes that you love.
So read her book and revise your thinking about what to plant and when to plant it. There is a great planting calendar in Chapter 3 - What You Can Grow.
By "think small" I mean think of varieties of vegetables that are smaller in size than their larger brethren. For example, you probably won't have enough sun to provide the energy that a Brandywine or Big Rainbow needs to make that big tomato. But you probably do have enough sun - or light - to power the tomato plant that sets smaller tomatoes such as Stupice, Pink Ping Pong or any of the sweet and productive cherry tomatoes. Melons can be very disappointing to the home gardener in cooler climates. But if you use a solar mulch, put a drip system under the mulch (melons need a lot of water) and select varieties that do well in cooler climates (Hale's Best cantaloupe and Crimson Sweet watermelon) you stand a good chance of harvesting sweet, albeit small, melons in late summer.
By "think fall" I mean think of the plants that grow well in early spring and late summer. The kinds of plants that people in sunnier climates plant in fall will do well for you all summer. You can grow all the cool weather lettuces, for example, and your kales, chards, collards and mustards will provide terrific salads for you while other are limited to two kinds of garden lettuce. Basil, peppers, eggplant and other heat loving plants can be tricked by planting in raised beds, planting close to a south facing wall, using plastic mulch to hold heat in the soil, and barriers to keep the foggy wind off the plants. Large containers make good homes for these plants, too, and have the added advantage of being movable if they are on wheels. Container plants need more water, especially in windy environments, but if you clump the containers together, use thick black plastic pots, and - dare I say it? - use a controlled drip system, you can be more economical in your water use. You may not have warm enough soil to plant green beans, but you can grow and harvest peas throughout the summer.

Three final points:
First - Don't complain about your fog and wind. You live in one of the most glorious locations on earth and a little fog is a small price to pay.
Second - temperatures increase dramatically for every mile you travel inland. So make friends with one of those market gardeners who come to your farmers' market from Hollister or Salinas - they can bring all the big luscious vegetables you can't grow and they are only a few miles away.
Last, you have traded a cool climate for a very long growing season. In Ohio, they have from late May to early September to fill their larders. Here, we start in February and keep our gardens going through December (if you don't count all those garlic plants, walla walla onions, beets, fava beans, cabbages, chards, sweet onions, and lettuces that are overwintering!) So enjoy your cool climate and remember, strawberries HATE 90 degree temperatures.