The National Heirloom Expo and my wonderful visit with John Marshall have inspired me to start planning all sorts of mischief. In particular, I am working on nefarious plots – garden plots, that is. And evil plans (coming soon!) – plans for tools and equipment that will enable me to weave luscious velvet!
I am, believe it or not, already late on garden planning. That’s because I live in an area with extraordinarily mild winters – the lowest temperature all year is usually around 30F, and it only frosts five or six times a year. So gardening year-round is definitely a “thing” – and September and October are the best months to start planting fall crops. That means I’m already late in planning out the garden.
My winter plans are fairly simple. I love English peas, so I’m going to plant pounds and pounds of them all over the garden and then eat peas until I sink down roots, turn green, and start sprouting tendrils. (Don’t worry – if that actually happens, I’ll post photos.) But I’m also going to plant lettuce, kale, brussels sprouts, and this weird hybrid that bears tiny mini-kales on a brussels sprouts stalk (amazing what these mad geneticists get up to in the lab!). And some tasty mustard greens. And oh yeah, didn’t someone mention getting 25 kinds of garlic in last week’s blog post?
Actually, nope. That’s twenty-six kinds of garlic, not twenty-five. Apparently someone is not so good at counting. 🙂
My foodie buddy Chris Cianci and I set out to taste-test the garlics. We decided to split the group into three parts – the softnecks to the right, the hardnecks to the middle, and the Creoles to the left. (The varieties were classified on the fly, so may not be in the right categories – look them up yourself if you want to be sure.)
Chris and I decided to start with the milder garlics, the softnecks. We separated out the eight varieties on the right of the photo, picked two cloves off each bulb, and then roasted one clove and left the other raw. For each variety, we tasted a roasted clove, then a paper-thin slice of a raw clove. In between, we cleansed our palates by chewing on bread and Italian flat-leafed parsley, which reputedly is good for cleansing garlic flavor, and rinsing down with plenty of water. We recorded our taste impressions in a shared Google spreadsheet. (Because doesn’t everyone?)
Naively, we had assumed we’d be able to taste all eight varieties in one day – especially since we started with the softneck garlics, which are generally milder than the other two types. But after just five varieties, we had to give up because we could no longer taste anything but garlic, even if we were chewing on something else (like Italian flat-leafed parsley). Truthfully, we should have stopped after three or four – especially since, 24 hours and much tooth-brushing and palate-cleansing later, I could still taste garlic on my tongue.
Clearly, this garlic-tasting is going to be a long-term project.
Garlic, in the Bay Area, gets planted in the fall – usually in October, to be harvested around July. So sometime in the next two weeks I need to figure out where to put 25 – wait, 26! – varieties of garlic such that they won’t interfere with tomato-growing. Since I’m space-limited at home, I’m thinking I may put them into a friend’s backyard. Since my buddy Chris has a nice big backyard that he is not using, clearly he needs a bunch more pots, this time containing garlic as well as tomatoes. (Fortunately, Chris loves both tomatoes and garlic. 🙂 )
Which gets me to tomato planning.
This is what the future of a tomato variety looks like:
These are tomato seeds after cleaning and drying. I’m using two different methods for cleaning seeds – the traditional way is to squeeze the juice, seeds, and gel into a small cup, then let everything ferment for a day or two. The fermentation removes the gel around the tomato seed, which contains a germination inhibitor, and also kills some seed-transmitted diseases. You can also clean the seeds chemically, using TSP (trisodium phosphate, a powerful detergent) followed by a 10% bleach bath to kill pathogens. I tried both ways, and plan to do a germination test soon to see which works better for me.
The notes on the paper plate are my field notes. Every plant has a label with a description of the variety and the number of the plant. Here is Fuzzy Mix #176, which grows upright:
And here’s Fuzzy Mix #301, which is almost flat:
When I collect tomatoes from a particular variety, I write down the plant number, the name of the variety, and any relevant notes about the plant or the fruit (good tasting, upright/flat, etc.). I also note whether the tomato grew from an isolated blossom (covered when flowering to prevent cross-pollination) or from a non-isolated blossom, which might contain an accidental cross with another tomato.
This information then follows the tomato seeds through fermentation, and eventually winds up in my database, which I affectionately call Tien’s Tomatobase. (What? You mean every gardener doesn’t have a tomato database? Scandalous!! What are they thinking??) There is an online wiki of tomato varieties called Tatiana’s Tomatobase that inventories literally thousands of tomato varieties, but mine is far more modest: so far there are only 200 plants and 72 varieties in my database. (See! Still a total piker. Lots more room to obsess.)
I won’t bore you with the details of the database structure – especially since I may be tweaking it soon. But the basic idea is to track the parentage of each plant as I start mixing varieties together. I don’t have a lot of space – I can fit maybe 100 plants in my back yard if I really squeeze – and you really want to grow out at least 25 of each variety you’re trying to create. So I’m thinking I can try creating a max of four new varieties. (Sadly, Mike will not allow me to destroy our neighbors’ houses with a flamethrowing mini-tractor so I can clear room for more tomatoes. If he weren’t the most awesome spouse ever I might get upset with him for nixing all my perfectly reasonable ideas.)
Anyway, I am considering what crosses to try now.
Meanwhile, these are lurking ominously:
There are 61 seed packets so far, each of which will have to be entered into the database. I also need to do germination tests on a couple of the more critical ones to ensure that the seeds are viable. After that I can pull out the plants and start planting peas!
(And making velvet. Lots of adventures around velvet. But this post is already too long. What’s a girl to do?? …next blog post, I promise!)
Meanwhile, tomorrow is a very special day. An anniversary! I’m not telling you of what or who, but I’m betting you can guess. Here’s a hint.