Top Tasting Tomato Varieties

Sakura Honey, image from the Master Gardeners of Frankly County

It’s the time of year to start figuring out what tomatoes to plant here in the northern hemisphere. How about using taste to decide? The Master Gardeners of Franklin County Pennsylvania do a taste test every year. Here’s the top ten from last year’s results:

1 Sakura Honey
2 Red Pearl
3 Five Star
4 Principe Borghese
5 Old Brooks
6 Arbason
7 Fabulous
8 Heritage Hybrid
9 Cherokee Green
10 SX 605

The top three (all grape varieties) are available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. See the full results of the taste test here.

Also, if you’re still looking for inspiration, review the comments on our recent giveaway post. Folks left their favorites there, and their regions–it’s a treasure trove of climate-specific information. We should make a chart out of it our something. 

Link thanks to Ken Druse’s Real Dirt Podcast

Finding an Urban Homestead on Craigslist

Backyard of the “Lee Street Homesteaders”

You know the urban homestead thing has caught on when the phrase shows up in a Craigslist rental ad:

Imagine… living at the edge of a city and at the edge of modern society. Growing your own food and medicine in your backyard. Raising poultry and harvesting your own eggs. Brewing your own beer and kombucha. Fermenting your own raw sauerkraut and pickles. And living within sight of and easy access to all the modern amenities of a chic urban wonderland. If this is your dream for your next home, look no further.

The Lee Street Organic Homestead is seeking a new partner in urban uprising. We’re looking for someone who wants a room and a little slice of the post-American dream. What we have to offer: a bright bedroom with a large walk-in closet for your personal space. A shared bathroom for your bathing needs. A large, well-stocked kitchen for your culinary pleasures. A comfortable living room with a record player instead of a television. A large garage bursting at the seams with all manner of bicycle fixin’s so that you never have to go to a shop again. And a sunny organic garden with a fire pit, compost, drip-irrigation, chickens, and fertile earth waiting for you to grow whatever you want. Other useful toys we have: a dishwasher, a washer and dryer, a clothesline, a fireplace, a bread machine, a wireless router with smoking fast internet, and a deep-fryer (one of us is a southerner).

We are not a co-op – we cook our own meals and live our own busy lives, but we all pitch in to maintain our little homestead. If you don’t mind occasionally turning the garden water on, feeding the chickens, and turning the compost, then this could be beautiful. If you like to drink Budweiser and watch teevee at 3 a.m., well, you can do that in the comfort of your room.

Your roommates will be as follows: a 31 y.o. park ranger who inhabits the upstairs and likes to identify birds by ear and spot clean the floors, a 34 y.o. medic and bike mechanic who likes to brew beer, drink it, and then go on 300-mile rides, and a 30 y.o. outdoor educator who likes to pet her cat and sew up organic undies from reclaimed t-shirts. The last two will be your downstairs co-inhabitants and bathroom buddies.

We are an organic and natural household – meaning we avoid chemical cleaners, reuse, recycle and compost adamantly, and generally try to live easy on the earth. We are looking for a roommate who does the same. You rent will be $650 + utilities, which run from $30 – $60, depending on the season. The room will be available on April 1st.

So if you’re looking to live in Santa Cruz, CA it looks like you’ll have the three “Bs” taken care of: bikes, bird watching and beer. And kudos for the imaginative ad copy, not to mention of cats and organic undies.

I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this kind of informal but intentional housing as the great recession winds on. Not a bad idea to have roommates with skills!

Some Thoughts on Mead

I’ve had mixed success with making my own mead. One batch I made was OK and a few others tasted, as Mrs. Root Simple put it, “like a desperate white wine substitute for a zombie apocalypse.” Last year I attended a mead tasting put on by America’s first homebrew club the Maltose Falcons. Somehow I neglected to blog about it, so better late than never, here’s what I learned:

  • If you want decent mead you have to brew it yourself. We tasted a lot of homebrew meads along with commercial meads.  Many of the homebrew meads were excellent. All of the commercial meads tasted like camping fuel. I was, frankly, surprised that anyone would go to the trouble of labeling, distributing and selling some of the awful store bought meads we tasted. I tried yet another horrible commercial mead at the natural foods convention I blogged about on Monday.
  • In my opinion, the best homebrew meads at the tasting were carbonated. The carbonation helps accent the aroma of the honey that can sometime get lost in a flat mead. 
  • The best meads split the difference between dry and sweet. Too dry and you get that boring white wine taste. Too sweet and you’ve got cough syrup. Choosing the right yeast can strike that balance.
  • I’ve had good luck with a Narbonne Wine Yeast called Lalvin 71B-1122 Yeast.

  • I really enjoyed the orange blossom honey based mead my friend Steve Linsley made. Perhaps I’ll prod him for the recipe and post it here one of these days.  

Have you made mead? If so, how did it go? What kind of honey did you use? Have you tried the recipe in our book Making It?

Eco Blogging, Tin Foil Hats and Convention Mania

Yesterday’s post on the Natural Products Expo West reminded me that I never published a post I did on a large “Eco” convention I attended last year. I have a secret and embarrassing fondness for conventions of any kind. So, at the risk of never being invited to a convention again, here’s that old post I failed to publish until now:

Most of the “eco” conventions I’ve attended in the past, to be honest, bring out a certain, how shall I put this, tin foil hat type crowd. At one I went to someone was zipping around the parking lot on roller skates with a gas powered fan attached to his back and promoting the idea as a serious transportation solution. So when I was invited to attend an eco convention last year as a blogger I hesitated until I realized I could score some free hemp milk swag.

Now this eco convention (which will remain nameless) was actually quite good. They had a bunch of great speakers and interesting exhibitors. Unfortunately, when I went to review my notes the next day I realized I had written down only the wacky stuff in the form of a diary. I chalk it up to the way my cynical Gen-X brain works. So, in the end, I guess I’m the one wearing the tin-foil hat. For what it’s worth, here’s what that diary contained:

10:15 AM Way overdue for a haircut I throw on my Eisenhower jacket and head down to the convention center on my bicycle. I look like a deranged bus driver crossed with German schlager singer Heino.

10:45 AM I step up to what I think is the press registration booth to get my name tag. Except that it’s the press registration booth for a girl scout convention called “Girltopia” taking place in the adjoining exhibit hall . The Girltopia registrar looks at me as if I’m some kind of pervert and directs me the right direction. I contemplate sneaking into Girltopia later.

11:00 AM Los Angeles Mayor Villaragoasa takes the stage to tepid applause. Every time I see him he seems like he’s been up late the night before (with a hot news babe?). He talks mostly about green initiatives at the port and tries to squeeze some enthusiasm out of the bored crowd saying, “You’re supposed to be green, JESUS!” I guess, by taking the lord’s name in vain, you could say that the mayor broke one of the ten commandments for sake of applause and maybe a few more the night before.

11:15 AM A Native American prayer is recited. Drumming begins and I duck out of the main stage and head over to the press tent for the press buffet (blogging has its perks). After a brief wait in the buffet line (time enough to peruse the press materials), I reach out and grab a gluten-free English muffin. The muffin is so hard, the texture of, literally, a hockey puck, that I sheepishly stick it back and grab a bagel. The buffet is sponsored by a vegan butter and cream cheese substitute concern. I spread a bunch of their cream cheese substitute on my bagel and sit down. The cream cheese substitute seems to be whipped coconut butter and tastes like, well, whipped coconut butter.

11:30 AM A panel discussion begins in the press tent. One of the panelists is the author of a book called Skinny Bitch. I make a mental note to come up with a snappier book title the next time I write one, though Emaciated Middle-Aged Blogger Dude just doesn’t have a ring to it. Another panelist resembles Udo Kier and I have flashbacks to the giant deformed baby scene in The Kingdom.

11: 35 AM The problem with a press badge is that people are constantly gauging your credibility, looking at the badge then looking at your face. I find myself doing the same thing. Someone has a media badge that says, “Fit and Fun”. Another says, “Mar Vista Patch.” The latter makes me feel like the New York fricken Times. At least I’m working for myself for no pay.

11:45 AM I step into the booth of a light bulb manufacturer. I’m more excited by the dimmable LED lights than the sales rep. Maybe he needs a lunch break? I ask where you can get the bulbs. He shoots me a bored look and mumbles, “Home Depot”.

11:50 AM I pass by a booth selling an inflatable hyperbaric chamber. Didn’t Michael Jackson have one of these things? Does Udo Kier have one?

12:00 PM I see Joe Linton holding forth on a panel about the LA River. Joe and I used to lift weights together at the YMCA. If you’re keeping score, Joe can bench press considerably more than I can. Maybe I need to spend some time in a hyperbaric chamber.

12:15 PM I step into the Inner Traditions book booth which is having a half-off sale and go nuts. I pick up a German herbalism book called Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants and Prickly Pear Cactus Medicine: Treatments for Diabetes, Cholesterol, and the Immune System to add to my collection of prickly pear cactus books.

12:30 I’m still hungry–the bagel and whipped coconut butter just didn’t fill this blogger’s groaning stomach.  I head down the food sample aisle grabbing thoughtlessly at every sliced power bar and beverage available. So many are hemp based that I’m thankful the Root Simple H.R. department does not require a regular drug test. Everything that does not contain hemp seems to be acai based.

2:00 PM Lora Hall, aka Homegrown Neighbor, takes the stage and wows the crowd with her extemporaneous speaking. She and I are both hammy when handed a microphone. Colin Bogart, with the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition, delivers a talk at the same time. I find out later that Colin got into Girltopia next door and I grill him later for details. 

4:00 PM I walk down the last aisle in the hall. There is a “Red Tent” set up for those beset by the monthly visitor. I’m so tired I consider asking if I can go in and lie down. It just so happens that I had been “thoughtstyling” with Mrs. Root Simple the night before about making a Red Tent that we could set up at our book appearances. She found the line of conversation tedious and told me to shut up.

4:30 PM I head with Colin and some bike folks to a downtown douchebag bar in the hideous Staples Center to talk bikes and get further information about Girltopia.

6:30 PM I arrive at the Root Simple Compound and collapse in a pile of swag. It takes several days to digest all those hemp and acai power bars.

Vital Farms: Pasture Raised, Organic Eggs at Whole Foods

Image from the Vital Farms blog.

Over the weekend I attended the Natural Products Expo West, a massive health food industry convention. Yes, indeed, Fabio was in attendance selling some sort of powdered supplement and I may have seen Ziggy Marley packing up his own bottles of “Coco’Mon” coconut oil. Such are the indignities one encounters on the downward arc of a career in reggae music or romance book cover modeling.

Out of the nearly 2,000 exhibitors of, frankly, health food store junk food, one stood out: Vital Farms, purveyors of eggs from pasture raised hens. The overwhelming majority of eggs in this country are laid by chickens crammed into small cages or, arguably worse, crammed into big sheds.  “Free range,” “cage free” and “organic,” mean absolutely nothing. What makes Vital Farms different is that the eggs they sell were laid by chickens who live outside, during the day, on pasture. Their spokesperson offered to let me tour the farms they contract with, something that, I doubt, any of the big egg producers would offer.

The Cornocopia Institute gives them a “five egg (exemplary)” rating, citing their rotational grazing methods, abstinence from the practice of beak trimming and year round outdoor access for the hens. Vital Farms contracts with several farms in Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia. Their eggs are available nationwide at Whole Foods and they have expanded into meat chickens.

Now, hopefully, I can recover from the spectral celebrity hallucinations induced by downing hundreds of free samples of things like pro-biotic frozen pizza (I’m not making this up) and caveman power bars. Perhaps a pasture raised egg omelet will wipe away my açaí berry hangover.

Thanks to Dale Benson for suggesting attending this event and for driving, spending a half hour finding a parking space and pointing out Ziggy Marley or someone who resembled Ziggy Marley packing up those bottles of coconut oil.