End of Season Tomato Review

Homegrown Evolution had ambitious plans to review each and every tomato variety out of the garden this year, but alas, we fell behind in our bloggulating duties and planted way too many tomatoes. So here, as “winter” appears in Southern California (it’s raining, that’s how you tell), we’ll review what worked and what didn’t work.

The tastiest tomato award goes to the Pineapple variety pictured above. Not only did this heirloom tomato have the best flavor, it was also the prettiest tomato we’ve ever grown, a brilliant yellow with streaks of red in the middle of the fruit when you slice it. And they’re just about as big as a Cadillac Escalade. We saved some seeds and will definitely be growing these again next year.


The most productive, trouble free and productive tomatoes this year were plain old Romas and San Marzanos, both of which provided a summer of tomato sauce and enough extra fruit to do some canning. Two hybrid cherry tomatoes we grew in self watering containers, Sun Gold and Sweet 100 also did well. The Romas have the additional benefit of being fusarium wilt and verticillium resistant. It may be organic gardening heresy to say this, but hybrid tomatoes such as Roma are the best varieties for beginning gardeners to grow due to their trouble free and disease resistant qualities. The down side is that you can’t save the seeds.

We also grew Syrian Giants, but unfortunately our Doberman Pincher ate most of them on late night raids. Perhaps because the Syrians grew in less than ideal partial shade conditions, they weren’t that tasty. See also our earlier reviews of Banana Leg and Red Currant varieties.

Most of the tomatoes were grown in cages made from concrete reinforcing wire (instructions on making tomato cages here) in raised beds with a drip irrigation system as pictured above. As an experiment for folks in apartments or with limited space, we grew a bunch of tomatoes in self watering containers on a strip of concrete next to the back wall of our garage (note crappy picture below). You’ll see that we were too lazy to put the container tomatoes in cages–don’t do this as you’ll have a sprawling ugly mess! Nevertheless, the containers worked.

So readers, leave some comments! Tell us your favorite tomatoes this season. Weigh in on the heirloom vs. hybrid issue. We’re sure that forward thinking folks planning seed purchases for the spring would appreciate the advice.

A Used Tire Compost Bin

There’s so many damn used tires littering the sidewalks of this grungy town, Los Angeles should incorporate them into the city seal. Thankfully tires make a fine raw material for building projects and Homegrown Evolution has been experimenting with their many uses over the past year. This week we built a compost bin.

Step one is to cut out the sidewalls. You might be able to do this with a sharp knife, but it’s much easier with an electric saber saw. We used a knife to cut a slit to get the saber saw started. Once both sidewalls are cut out you just stack your modified tires up, fill it with compost, put a cover on it (we used a piece of scrap aluminum), and fetch a beer.

We’ll post another tire project soon.

Action!

To those frustrated with national or even local politics, I say just get out there and do something. In the words of London’s guerrilla gardener and author Richard Reynolds, “The point at which I became a guerrilla gardener is when I realized that I would get a lot more accomplished by just getting out there and doing it than phoning up the council and complaining about the landscape all around me.” So skip those endless returns and watch a mini-doc of one of Reynold’s actions:

Via City Farmer News.

Garden Swap

Growing your own vegetables is a great way to add flavor, nutrition and, if done carefully, save money in our uncertain economic times. But what if you live in an apartment and don’t have any land to call your own? Homegrown Evolution’s in-box contained an answer to that problem for folks in the Los Angeles area. We love this idea:

Cultivating Sustainable Communities (CSC) is launching its newest project. GardenSwap is an opportunity to pair up urban gardeners with their neighbors who have yard space in order to grow and share in the profits of urban food gardens.

Urban gardens are not only fun; they support low-carbon food production, create economic development, inspire healthful eating, build community, create opporunities for education, address watershed health concerns, create productive green open space, and beautify communities.

CSC is currently taking requests for participation in this program. If you’d like to participate either as a gardener or a land owner who is willing to share yard space (and some garden profits!) with a neighbor (we’ll help you find a neighbor), please contact me at [email protected]

Full contact info:

Gabriela Worrel, Executive Director
Cultivating Sustainable Communities
117 Bimini Pl. #110 Los Angeles, Ca 90004
(310) 452-5356
[email protected]

Fruitacular!

Noel Ramos, writing to correct an inaccuracy in my guava post (“Guayabas” is the word used all over Latin America for guava not “guyabas”) was nice enough to include this amazing photograph of some of the many kinds of fruit that you can grow in Florida: red bananas, sugar-apple, canistel, pink guayaba, dragon fruit and orange-flesh lemon.

Noel is the director of communications for Slow Food Miami, “an eco-gastronomic organization that supports a bio-diverse, sustainable food supply, local producers, heritage foodways and rediscovery of the pleasures of the table.” I hope the photo above will encourage readers in the Florida area to get involved with this organization which is working worldwide to fight the industrialization and fast foodization of what we eat. Not in Miami? Look for a local chapter via Slow Food USA.

Noel also has contributed articles to another remarkable group, the California Rare Fruit Growers which strives to preserve and explore the mind boggling biodiversity of fruit trees. And speaking of biodiversity take a look at Noel holding a Rollinia or Biriba, a fruit tree native to the Amazon region that also grows in Florida.

Some have described the taste of this fruit as like that of a lemon meringue pie.

Guyaba Guayabas (Psidium guajava)

Just last week I was spotting L.A. river blogger creekfreak while he bench pressed a whole bunch of weights (was it 300 pounds?) at our local YMCA. Between hefting all that poundage (we’re both getting ready for the inaugural L.A. River Adventure Race), the conversation turned to a productive guyaba fruit tree on the grounds of the L.A. Eco-village, where the creekmesiter’s crib is located.

Guyaba (Psidium guajava–”guyaba” is the Spanish Dutch word for “white guava”) is a small tree native to Central America. It’s one of around 60 species of guava and is also known as “apple guava” and “yellow guava”. According to the California Rare Fruit Growers, it can be propagated by seed or by air layering. The apple guava has a delicate tropical flavor, and according to creekfreak, some varieties have edible seeds. The fruit off creekfreak’s tree rots really quickly, so don’t look for him to be opening a booth at your local farmer’s market. The tree seems fairly drought tolerant, but more productive with water. Guava expert Leslie Landrum notes that the guava is a “weedy tree, a tree that likes disturbance. It likes to grow along roads and in pastures. Animals eat the fruit and spread the seeds around.”

It’s also a fruit so tasty that creekfreak occasionally has to chase off guyaba rustlers poaching specimens off his tree.

Urban Farming in Oakland

Public radio station KCRW has an excellent interview with urban farmer and writer Novella Carpenter. Carpenter has pigs, goats, ducks, chickens and more all on a small lot in Oakland, California. You can listen to the radio interview here (along with some other interesting segments on hunting caribou, cooking pasta, roasting peppers, and more) on chef Evan Kleiman’s show Good Food. You can also check out Carpenter’s blog, meaningfulpursuit.com. We especially like Carpenter’s advice to take small steps towards your urban farming goal rather than trying to do too much all at once.

Growing Watermelons

This watermelon sums up why we grow as many of our own foods as our small yard will allow. Damn it was good! Just about the sweetest, most perfect watermelon I’ve ever tasted. Was it worth it from an economical perspective? Probably not since, due to a combination of not so great soil and an improperly installed drip irrigation system, I only got two melons from one vine. But, learning from these twin mistakes, I suspect that next year’s watermelon harvest will be larger, and two other watermelon vines I have going (in a better location) already have a few fruits developing on them. Some things I’ve learned about watermelons:

1. Fighting powdery mildew. Our inland coastal climate, with its hot summer days and cool evenings, is not the best place for melons as we tend to get powdery mildew, a white fungal growth that covers the leaves. However, our watermelon vines seem to be resistant to this problem, unlike the cantaloupes that we’ve tried to grow in the past. Lesson: watermelon is happier in our climate than cantaloupes and cucumbers.

2. Plant early varieties. While producing smaller fruit, early watermelon varieties get you to harvest faster. This means less time for pest and disease problems to develop. While we’ve got a very long season here in Southern California for summer vegetables, with almost no chance of a fall freeze, I’ve begun in the past year to plant early varieties of most vegetables simply because there is less time for bad things to happen.

3. Watermelon is a living mulch. Watermelon, an enormous vine, makes an excellent living mulch, snaking, as it does, amongst our tomatoes and okra. I’ve laid down a layer of straw as mulch, but the watermelon adds a little more to the shade and water retention effort.

4. Irrigating watermelons. Watermelons have large root systems and if you use drip irrigation make sure that the emitters extend in a ring around the roots. Putting an emitter at the stem of the plant, as we did, does not adequately water the roots. We’ll get into the topic of drip irrigation in detail later this year.

5. It ain’t easy picking the world’s largest watermelon. See for yourself via youtube.

For more information on growing watermelon (including the tricky issue of learning when to harvest them) see the University of Illinois Extension’s How to Grow Watermelons.

Tuesday Morning Fruit Linkages

We’ve been reading Adam Leith Gollner’s entertaining book The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce, and Obsession and Gollner mentions a number of intreguing internet resources, perfect for a little post holiday weekend surfing:

More than you ever wanted to know about the world’s smelliest fruit: Durian (Durian Palace)

The California Rare Fruit Growers, “Pushing the Limits of Fruit Growing, Worldwide” (CRFG)

The world’s largest fig database (figs4fun)

The strange and obsene Coco de Mer, a fruit denintely NSFW (Earth Science Picture of the Day)

What to do with all those hot peppers: Harissa!

Lyn, a reader in Canada with way too many hot peppers on hand, asked us what we thought we should do with them. We have the same problem here this year, an overabundance of very large, hot Italian Long Peppers. Thumbing through some recipe books we realized that we had all the ingredients to make Harissa, a spicy Moroccan condiment. The recipe is simple and quick. We cut open five of our hot peppers, discarded the seeds, and combined them in a food processor with:

1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp caraway seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fresh mint
3 garlic cloves

Turn on the food processor and add enough olive oil to form a paste. That’s it. Harissa will last several weeks in the fridge or you can freeze it. You could also can it, but you’ll need a pressure canner as this is a low-acid food (even though it’s fiery).

And speaking of fiery, though we should know better (having once accidentally inhaled hot pepper seeds), we disregarded warnings about wearing rubber gloves when slicing the peppers. At the risk of providing too much information, a post Harissa making trip to the bathroom led to, shall we say, burning sensations for Señor Homegrown Evolution!

Burning sensations aside, Harissa is a very tasty and spicy addition to almost any meal, not just Moroccan dishes. We still have peppers to deal with, so our next project will be to experiment with pickling them. Readers–what’s your favorite way to deal with hot peppers?