All 40 boxes of chocolates have been claimed! Thank you so much for your support over the years.
All the boxes are now claimed! Chocolates for Charity is closed. Thanks for your support over the years.
A few other tidbits:
- The chocolates are perishable, as good chocolates are wont to be. Eat them within a week or else put them in the fridge. If you put them in the fridge, my advice is to let the chocolates come to room temperature before eating them; you’ll get better flavor that way. (of course, I have never been disciplined enough to follow this advice, but maybe you have more willpower than I do!)
- You can see the chocolates (and flavor lists) for the last few years here:
A bit about my chocolatiering:
I’ve been chocolatiering for almost 30 years now, making about 90-120 pounds of bonbons every November for friends, family, and Chocolates for Charity donors. I spent one winter training with Richard Donnelly of Donnelly Chocolates (who frequently appears in Top 10 lists of American artisan chocolatiers – the most recent appearance was in National Geographic’s Top 10), so I’m pretty good at chocolatiering now. I’d put my work on par with some of the best artisan chocolatiers – though I don’t have the equipment to do some of the really fancy stuff, you won’t find better chocolates elsewhere. I also do a lot of exotic flavors that you won’t find elsewhere.
The air is warm, the flowers are blooming…but nothing really says “spring” like a dump truck full of potting soil!
This was, by Tien standards, a very modest amount of soil – three cubic yards, delivered in a cute little dump truck. (The ten cubic yards of compost that I ordered the last time I had a tomato farm made a much bigger pile, and arrived in a big-daddy dump truck.)
Nonetheless, this tiny pile of potting soil was still enough to fill twenty 31-gallon self-watering totes:
And 21 self-watering 5-gallon pots:
You’ll notice that there is still some potting soil left! Yay! I’m going to make two more of the big blue totes and fill it with the leftover soil. And plant more tomatoes in it, of course. (Because anything worth doing is worth…oh, you know the drill. 😉 )
I sorted out my seeds last week – not just the tomato seeds but all the seeds we’ve bought over the last six years. It was a monumental task to get everything straight – so of course I needed help:
After sorting through all the seeds, I planted all the tomato seeds into soil blocks on Tuesday (the 20th):
A few words of explanation:
First, soil blocks are great for growing seedlings because they’re inexpensive and the roots come out healthier than they do in small pots. Roots trapped in small plastic pots rapidly start going around and around the edges of the pot, creating a “root-bound” plant. However, in soil blocks, the roots reach the boundaries and stop naturally because they are exposed to air. Nurseries don’t use them because the soil blocks are too delicate to manage commercially, but I like them better. To make soil blocks, you take your seed starting mix, wet it down thoroughly, and (using your soil block mold) stamp out a bunch of blocks into your seedling tray.
Second, you may have noticed the unusual names on the labels in the foreground. These are the seeds that I’m growing for the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project. It’s an intriguing project to breed tomato varieties that are well-suited for small-space gardeners. Most tomatoes have one of two growth habits. Indeterminate tomatoes never stop growing, and ripen their fruit gradually over the course of the summer. They’re not well-suited to container growing because they’re huge.
Determinate tomatoes, on the other hand, stop growing partway through the season, and ripen their fruit all at once. Because their size is self-limiting, they’re often recommended for container gardening. Unfortunately, determinate tomatoes don’t generally taste as good as indeterminate tomatoes. That’s because indeterminate tomatoes have a ton of leaves and a few fruit ripening at any given time, while determinate tomatoes have less leaf surface area and ripen all their fruit at once. Since foliage is where tomato plants get the energy to make sugar and flavor compounds, a lower ratio of foliage to fruit typically produces tomatoes that are not as sweet or flavorful.
From the perspective of the home gardener, the other disadvantage of determinate tomatoes is that you get your entire tomato harvest at once. Determinate tomatoes were mostly developed for industrial tomato farmers to make harvesting more efficient. Commercially grown canning tomatoes are harvested by spraying herbicide to kill the plants once the tomatoes are starting to ripen, then coming back a week or so later with a mechanical harvester that strips the partially-ripe tomatoes off the dried-out vines and takes them off to the factory. Obviously this works much more efficiently if the entire crop ripens at once.
However, most home gardeners would rather have a few tomatoes at a time over a long growing season than a two-week avalanche, then nothing. So determinate tomatoes aren’t great for container gardeners either.
And that’s where dwarf tomatoes come in. Dwarf tomatoes are indeterminate tomatoes with a gene that makes them short. So they are container sized, but they produce their fruits over a long season. They also have a higher ratio of foliage to fruit, so the tomatoes taste better.
However, there weren’t many dwarf varieties ten years ago. So Craig LeHoullier and Patricia Nunske Small started the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project, enlisting tomato growers from around the world to help develop new varieties. This help basically consists of growing out the children of various crosses, reporting on their growth habits and fruit flavor, appearance, etc., and sending back seeds. This sounded like fun to me! so I signed up and will be growing three plants each of three breeding lines, to see what happens.
It’s been three weeks since my last gardening post. I thought it was a lot longer! Rereading it, I see that my past self was lamenting her lack of self-control because she got seeds for ten tomato varieties and a dozen or so varieties of other vegetables.
Past self: You are a total piker.
In the three weeks since my previous post, I have purchased seeds for at least fifty-seven varieties of tomatoes. Yes, I’ve bought so many that I’ve lost count! I have seeds for red tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, orange tomatoes, purple tomatoes, “black” tomatoes, green tomatoes, and pink tomatoes. I have seeds for indigo tomatoes (the tomatoes turn indigo blue where light hits them) of various flesh colors. I have striped tomatoes, bicolor tomatoes, and one variety called “Berkeley Tie-Dye” that has three colors in the flesh and multiple stripe colors in the skin. And of course I got “Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye,” which is not quite as colorful but beats some of the top-flavored heirlooms in taste tests.
Here’s a pic of Berkeley Tie-Dye. You can buy seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
And then I have currant tomatoes (tiny 1/2″ fruits), cherry tomatoes, salad tomatoes (1-3 ounces), slicer/beefsteak tomatoes, and gigantic (2-3 pound) tomatoes. I have round, oblong (paste-type), oblate, ruffled, and oxheart shaped tomatoes. (I don’t have any pear-shaped tomatoes, though – clearly an oversight that needs remedy. 🙂 )
I have tomatoes with normal green foliage, variegated foliage, and gray fuzzy foliage. I have tomatoes with normal leaves, wispy leaves, tiny delicate leaves, crinkled leaves, and potato-like leaves. I have indeterminate tomatoes, determinate tomatoes, and dwarf tomatoes.
I have joined the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project, become a member of Tomatoville, and searched Tatiana’s Tomatobase and Seed Savers Exchange’s member exchange database for rare varieties I was hunting for. I’ve created a tomato database of my own to track my seed collection and growing notes. And I discovered that the newly founded World Tomato Society is headquartered in Los Gatos – less than fifteen miles from my house. I’m headed down there next week to talk to the founders, and find out more about their plans.
I have no idea why my friends are looking at me funny. Do they think I have a problem? Of course I don’t. I can stop any time. 🙂
I’ve also read two books about tomato history, a couple books about tomato growing, and a very interesting book about breeding your own plant varieties. I’ve decided that I want to breed the excellent flavor of “Fruity Mix” (my favorite tomato from the year I grew 83 kinds of tomato) into larger-fruited tomatoes. There’s only one small problem: “Fruity Mix” seems to have disappeared. I’ve searched all the tomato databases, Googled high and low, and can’t find it. Even the original breeder doesn’t have seeds. So – assuming my ex manages to locate my original seed packet – I’ve decided that my main goal, at least for this year, is to do what I can to preserve that strain. It’s a breeding pool, so there is quite a bit of genetic variability – I’m currently researching how to maintain the gene pool. It’s not as trivial as it sounds, because tomatoes are natural inbreeders, so under normal conditions you lose a lot of genetic variation in every generation. Heirloom tomato strains – which have naturally inbred for many generations – are pretty close to genetically identical. So if I want to keep the variation, I’ll probably have to do some crosses. But I don’t know yet how many crosses I need to keep enough variety. (Life is complicated.)
In addition to that, I want to try breeding Fruity Mix into larger-fruited varieties. Fruity Mix is a currant tomato, so while it tastes delicious, the fruits are tiny – maybe half an inch across. Better for grazing than harvesting. If I can breed its flavor into a larger tomato, it would make harvesting and using them much easier.
And, I confess, I also want to breed “art” tomatoes – tomatoes that are as beautiful and distinctive as they are tasty. One of the reasons I collected tomatoes with such varied shapes, colors, etc. was to create a pool of characteristics that I could breed from.
Because I’m a sick and twisted individual, I’ve also thought of some cool “art” you could do with tomato plants. For example, I could plant 5-10 tomatoes in a circle, and weave the vines together as they grow. The tomato equivalent of “lucky bamboo” or braided ficus trees!
And did you know that you can graft tomatoes? If I graft three or four varieties to each of four or five plants, I could grow them espalier-style against the wall of the house. And I could interweave the stems into a lattice, creating a “Tree of Life” look with all kinds of tomato colors, sizes, and shapes growing from the “tree”. (Growing it up against the house might also give enough warmth to allow them to survive the winter.)
(Once upon a time, my friends once proposed a new unit of excessiveness: the milliTien. I forget what my response was, but I’m pretty sure they thought it was excessive. 🙂 )
Now, I don’t have time for this. I mean, I really don’t have time for this. I would wish that there were three of me so I could actually do it all, except that I know darn well that if there were three of me, they’d just think up even more things to do. And, knowing me, they wouldn’t just think up three times as many things as I could alone, but more like nine times more ideas, because they’d just egg each other on.
No, that way lies madness.
But the good thing about tomato growing is that once you’ve got the plants set up and on drip irrigation, there really isn’t much work to do until the tomatoes start ripening. So I just need to get them set up first.
We do, however, have one small difficulty. Our soil is infected with verticillium wilt, a fungus that kills tomato plants. It can linger in the soil for well over a decade. So if I’m growing tomatoes, I need to grow them in containers.
Did you know that twenty 31-gallon plastic totes fit into a Prius with exactly a quarter inch clearance in most dimensions? Or that filling all those containers requires a dump truck’s worth of potting soil?
But hey, anything worth doing is worth overdoing. And moderation sounds like a dreadfully unhealthy (or at least boring) lifestyle.
I’m making the 31-gallon totes into self-watering containers using the instructions here. Here’s what the innards look like:
A self-watering container has a pool of water in the bottom and soil up top. There’s a screen in between, which keeps most of the soil from contacting the water and allows any excess water to drip out, so the soil stays well-drained. A small amount of soil is allowed to contact the water, which allows water to wick slowly up into the rest of the soil, keeping the moisture even. A drainage hole removes excess water, so there’s always an air gap between the water and most of the soil.
There are various ways to do this. I had originally planned to build my containers using the instructions for building an EarthTainer. This requires two containers for every completed self-watering pot. Basically, you drill a lot of holes into the bottom of one container, and put it into the other container, with a spacer in between. You drill a hole in the outer container a little bit below the level of the inner container, so the water has someplace to drain, and you cut a hole in the bottom of the top container and use that to create the soil “wick” to bring up moisture.
That was my plan, anyway. But somewhere around the 50th variety of tomato, I realized that ten 31-gallon self-watering containers weren’t going to be enough. I’d need at least twenty. So if I were going to use that method, I’d need to go back to the hardware store, explain that yes, I was the crazy lady who bought a Prius-ful of plastic totes a few days ago, and did they by any chance happen to have another Prius-load of totes for me to buy? And then I’d have to stuff another twenty 31-gallon totes into my Prius. Which, let me tell you, was a serious adventure the first time. (Not to mention all the funny looks I got in the parking lot.)
Plus, buying that many would be really expensive. And I’d spend the rest of my life drilling holes in plastic totes. (Did I mention that I don’t have time for any of this?)
And then I discovered this ingenious design by Al Gracian III. As you can see in the photo above, it uses 4-inch perforated drain pipe (capped at both ends) to separate the soil from the water. But there are gaps between the pipes, so a small amount of soil can penetrate into the water reservoir and act as a wick. A plastic tube inserted through the side of the container and into one of the drain pipes removes excess water. The 2′ length of PVC pipe at the far end allows you to refill the reservoir.
I built two containers over the last week – an initial one figuring out how it worked, and a second one to standardize the measurements and process. I’m testing the second one at the moment, verifying that it works properly before launching into mass production.
Here’s my test container:
You’ll notice it’s not full. That’s because I only had one big sack of potting soil available. The biggest bag of potting soil that most nurseries or big hardware stores carry is about 1.5 cubic feet. Anything bigger becomes too heavy and awkward for most people to carry.
According to my calculations, two of those big sacks wouldn’t quite fill this container. To fill it to the brim, you’d need 3.27 cubic feet of soil. (You can and should fill it to the brim, by the way – you’re watering from the bottom, not the top, so you don’t need to worry about runoff or washing away your soil.)
And I’m making twenty of these containers, so I’ll need 3.27 x 20 = 65.4 cubic feet of soil.
Soooo….go down to your local nursery (or hardware store with a nursery section). Look at their biggest bags of potting soil. And then visualize packing 44 of them into the back of your Prius and trying to make it home.
But really, bagged potting soil is only for people who are doing namby-pamby, miniscule scale tomato gardening. (In other words, “people who have some trace of sense”.) Those of us who are truly enthusiastic about our sport understand that the proper way to order potting soil is to go down to your local landscape and construction supplier and order it by the cubic yard. 65.4 cubic feet of soil is only 2.4 cubic yards! Why, that’s practically nothing. Even small dump trucks can deliver that much! And it’s less than half the cost of potting soil at Home Depot! And you don’t even have to put up with the horrified stares of people watching you trying to pack a half-ton of potting soil into your Prius. Win!
(It’s a really good thing that California legalized marijuana farming a few years back. Otherwise, I might find myself explaining my purchasing habits to the police.)
That’s where I am now. In a few days, after I’ve finished testing my prototype, I’ll make the other 18 bins and place the potting soil order. I need to clear my calendar the day it gets delivered, though, because the giant mound of potting soil will get dumped in our driveway, so Mike won’t be able to park there (and charge his car) until it gets removed.
Now, of course, I need to face my next problem, which is pretty simple: I have 57+ varieties of tomatoes and the 20 containers will only fit about 40 of them. Plus there are the dwarf tomatoes I’m testing for the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project, and all the plants of Fruity Mix (if I can get the seeds and they all germinate) that I want to grow out, breed, etc. Fortunately, we also have a front yard…
I don’t have a problem. I can stop any time.
I made a major tactical error a week ago. A Seed Savers Exchange catalog arrived, addressed to Mike. Which was not so bad, until I opened it.
Let’s start with the fact that I am both obsessive and certifiably insane. (Which, by the way, has nothing to do with my having a mental illness – there are plenty of people living with mental illness who are perfectly sane and reasonable folks. I am not one of them, however, which makes me very happy. 🙂 )
I’m also a foodie – the sort who actually notices and treasures the differences between the fifteen kinds of mandarin oranges you can get at the farmer’s market. A week or two I went up to a vendor at the Mountain View farmer’s market and said, “Excuse me, but are those really Satsuma mandarins? They look like Murcotts to me.” The farmer blinked and said, “Yes, you’re right! I lost my sign and haven’t gotten to making a new one. But you know, it’s been two weeks now and you’re the only one who’s noticed.”
Yeah, that kind of foodie.
Put that together with an empty garden and the kind of personality that makes 1500 dye samples just for the fun of it, and you have a recipe for complete and utter mayhem. (Especially if your spouse is the sort to have already planted 21 fruit trees on your property, just for fun.)
Now, this combination has actually happened before, and it wasn’t pretty. (Though it did delight the local food bank.) It started in 1998 or so, when I lamented to a friend that I couldn’t grow tomatoes in my apartment, since my balcony was in deep shade. She said, “Oh, I have some space in my back yard – why not plant some tomatoes there?”
So I planted five tomato plants there, and tended them happily. My friend started making noises halfway through the summer when the tomatoes devoured one entire side of the yard and started going after the house, but hey, they’re tomatoes! These things happen.
And then my friend threw a party, and at the party, I said to one of her friends, “It’s really nice of Carolyn to let me use her back yard, but I keep wanting to try more varieties of tomatoes, and there really isn’t enough space for more than three or four.”
Carla said, “Well, we’ve got a house in Atherton, and we’ve got a half-acre back yard we aren’t using. Would you like to garden there?”
And, next thing you know, I was out there farming an 1800-square foot garden. The soil was solid clay – I actually made a coil pot out of it – so I ordered 5 cubic yards of compost, which arrived in a small dump truck. That wasn’t enough to help much, so I ordered another 5 cubic yards. When that wasn’t enough, I decided to up the ante and order 10 cubic yards. This arrived in a large dump truck, which had trouble with some overhead power lines, so it had to dump 10 cubic yards of compost at the top of their driveway. I spent the rest of the day moving, as they say, “the whole nine yards” – plus one! into the garden.
Then I got a rototiller and turned the compost under. Now I had good soil, and it was time to plant! But what to plant?
Being a foodie, of course, I wanted to grow things for flavor. And obviously the best way to find out what tasted best would be to plant one of everything. Especially tomatoes, because as we all know, “There’s only two things that money can’t buy – and that’s true love and home grown tomatoes!”
(Also covered by John Denver: )
So, in that spirit, I decided to grow a few tomato varieties. Me being me, of course, “a few” translated to “83”. (Because anything worth doing is worth overdoing.)
Sadly, this predated the days of digital cameras, so (unbelievably) I don’t have photos of Tien’s tomato farm. But it was huge, and full not only of tomatoes but other veggies – eight kinds of green beans, three kinds of lima beans, four kinds of potatoes, five kinds of garlic, and, uh, other stuff. I can’t remember all of it…but you get the idea. At the height of tomato season, I was not only canning several gallons of tomatoes every week but bringing them to work AND donating about 100 pounds of tomatoes (and about a 30-gallon bag full of green beans, plus misc. other stuff) to Second Harvest Food Bank every week. (I’m pretty sure they thought I was nuts, but they weren’t complaining!)
Eventually I started training for AIDS Lifecycle, which precluded gardening. But ever since, I’ve been careful to stay away from gardening in much the same way that alcoholics try to avoid alcohol completely – there’s just too much potential for things to get out of hand.
But dang, there I was, opening that seed catalog.
I managed to stay at least reasonably restrained, only ordering five kinds of tomatoes, three kinds of peppers (egged on by Mike, who likes peppers more than I do), and a beautiful, multicolored dwarf popcorn that we’d grown before and which popped well straight off the cob.
Okay, I lied. I also ordered three kinds of peas, three kinds of lima beans, soybeans, this thing called “strawberry spinach,” a butternut squash, an heirloom parsnip, heirloom carrots, and two kinds of melons. But still, it was more or less under control.
Then I had lunch with my friend Linda, who is married to my ex-husband, Rob. Linda and I were chatting about gardening, and we got on the subject of tomatoes. She said, “Yeah, we’ve got a LOT of tomato varieties – over 100 of them.”
I sat bolt upright and said, “OMG!! Those are MY TOMATO SEEDS!!”
Rob and I are on more or less friendly terms (though we haven’t seen each other in over a decade), and one of his hobbies is botany, so when I went off to Southeast Asia, I gave him my complete seed collection. So he and Linda had seeds to all the tomatoes I’d grown. Including my very favorite tomato, which was called “Fruity Mix” and was developed by legendary plant breeder Tim Peters. Unfortunately, Tim’s company, Peters Seed and Research, had gone out of business, and seeds were no longer available. I had searched for it and turned up nothing.
So I asked Linda if they still had the seeds for “Fruity Mix”. They did! She is bringing me some next week and I am SUPER excited to be getting them. And I will save seed from this plant, for sure!
Unfortunately, that made me wonder whether there were other tomatoes related to “Fruity Mix”, perhaps a descendant with larger fruit. “Fruity Mix” is a currant tomato, producing fruit about half an inch across. They are the most delicious tomatoes I’ve ever tasted, but also quite tedious to pick. So I did a Google search, and found that there is a variety called “Sweet Orange II” that is described as a descendant of “Fruity Mix”.
So of course I had to order that. And then I had to poke around the rest of the site to see what else they had…and I was really restrained, really! I only ordered five more tomato varieties (including one called “Dancing with Smurfs” – how could one resist!).
And the seed catalog season is only just beginning….I think I’m doomed.
I’ll leave you with this ominous harbinger of the garden avalanche to come…yes, the peach trees are already blooming! (And so will most of the other trees, in the next week or two.)
P.S. I am THE LUCKIEST KLUTZ EVER! It took ten days for the swelling in my hand to go down enough for further evaluation, but the folks at the orthopedic sports clinic examined it and told me that, astonishingly, there was no damage to bone, muscle, or tendon – it was just a giant bruise. It’s about 95% better now, and I can do most normal activities with it, including typing. Hurray!