Ink, Pixel, Dirt

21 May

I’ve been keeping a garden diary in a little black and red notebook.

I find it amusing that the notebook is from Poland, and that its calendar is going to run out after this year.  I also think it’s funny that I find it easiest to keep this record in pen-and-paper form.  I spend my entire day in front of a computer.  I share my life with the world via a computer.  And yet, every week on Sunday night, I sit in the passenger’s seat of our car and scribble away as we head south, back to the city.

And that might be the reason I like it so much; it’s the antithesis of the 50-odd hours I spend chained to my desk at work each week.  Anytime I stay there past 7pm, which is everyday, I have to sign-out in a log book.  I’m often shocked at how hard I find writing after a long day of typing and conference calls.  I grab the pen and my brain pauses.  My hand feels weird curved around the pen.  And then it all comes back and the letters flow with the ink, in a halting, inelegant script.

Things are really speeding up in the garden, and the last two weeks have required two or more pages each to record all the developments.  By the end of those two measly pages, my hand is always cramped up and sore.  I can remember back in my high school days being able to write and write and write for hours on end.   I filled up notebook after notebook with my musings and stories and poems and rants.

My notebook scribblings are a little less torrid these days:

Two of the Thomas Jefferson lettuces (Brown Dutch and Paris White Cos) just aren’t doing anything.  The Spotted Aleppo started in March, however, are about cutting size now.  In fact, took out four or five heads for dinner last night.  Made a salad with them, the radishes, some dill from the porch, a few leftover cukes and pine nuts.  Served with grilled chicken marinated in lemon thyme, variegated thyme, sage and garlic chives, olive oil, sherry pepper [from Bermuda], lemon juice and rice wine vinegar.  Also made orecchiete with grilled eggplant, parsley, garlic chives and sheep’s ricotta from Dancing Ewe.  Utterly delicious!

Certainly not going to win any literary prizes, but I figured, of anything to share, that was it, because we need to talk about that pasta I so briefly alluded to in the penultimate sentence.

Pasta with eggplant, herbs and ricotta is a classic, a little bland, but a classic nonetheless.  But pasta with herbs, ricotta and eggplant grilled over real charcoal is another thing entirely.  The smokiness adds a sophisticated note that elevates the whole dish.  This is five ingredient cooking I can get behind.

And as you can imagine, a lot of ink has been spilled in my notebook about future food.  I have devoted just over two entire pages to deciding what tomatoes I want to grow.  Tomatoes are my favorite vegetable in the entire world, and perusing the catalog from Silver Heights, trying to winnow down the list of more than 300 varieties to say 10 or so, is a bit like Sophie’s Choice. But it’s necessary.  The list is there to keep me in check.

I made a chart, dividing the tomatoes into sizes and colors, early and late, tall and short, determinate and indeterminate, in an effort to get a nice mix, but in the end I think I’m just going to make my decision much as I decide which horse to bet on at the races; by going with the names I like best.

I have a hard time resisting plants called Big White Pink, Cream Sausage, Green Gage, Rose de Berne and Opalka.  I also have a hard time resisting tomatoes that promise to keep me in sundried tomatoes through the winter (Principe Borghese, which I bought yesterday and can’t wait to plant).

Last night Isaac and I went for a walk through Central Park at twilight.  The park at night, much like the park in the morning, is a completely different park.  As the sun sets and the lights come on, the sounds soften, the tourist groups disappear, the park empties out and only the locals are left.  We strolled and marveled, and yes, discussed tomatoes.

So tell me.  How do you decide on the tomatoes you’re going to grow?  Or if eggplant is more your thing, or pumpkins or dahlias or basil… What’s your method?  How many is too many?


10 Responses to “Ink, Pixel, Dirt”

  1. Pdx-r May 21, 2009 at 3:19 pm #

    After growing 3 Cherokee Purples last summer (lots of production, but not overwhelming for the 2 of us, gave enough to share without feeling robbed) I decided to repeat that and add 3 Jaunne Flamme (a variety that’s supposed to dry well, so I hear you) I’d love to add more- maybe a Green Zebra, but I don’t want to overdo it, or run out of room. So I guess that boils my method down to: plant what you can fit, and re-assess at the end of the season. It’s not like too many tomatoes is actually a bad thing!

  2. EB May 21, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    I absolutely LOVE this post. I have taken to specifically not writing notes in my Palm but in a little notebook. The connection of pen to paper just makes my brain do something different.

  3. Fern May 21, 2009 at 9:53 pm #

    My favourite tomato (back when I had a garden, and is this post ever making me miss it) was Stupice – a European variety from somewhere with cold winters. Maybe Czechoslovakia?

    Even in my zone 3A garden, where we are lucky to get a couple of weeks worth of ripe tomatoes before everything freezes, I had ripe, delicious tomatoes in July. July!

    Oh, and I have to say, I love your photos.

  4. Carla May 22, 2009 at 10:23 am #

    On tomatoes, We sepparate them into classes. Tomatoes for sandwiches, for salad and for sauce. I love German Johnsons and Cherokee purple for sanduiches, Yellow pears for salad, and San Marzano for sauce. We plant what fits into our little backyard. Of course that did not stop the husband from planting over 60 tomato plants this year…

  5. Christina May 24, 2009 at 10:41 pm #

    Are you sure the ewe’s milk ricotta pasta dish isn’t “udderly” delicious?

    Anyway, about choosing the tomatoes, I read everything I get my hands on. In particular, I read the Seedsavers Yearbook tomato section a couple times over. I combine that information with my past experiences, and make decisions from there. The growing conditions here prevent some great varieties from flourishing; for example, the Brandywine family doesn’t like Southern Californias all that much. Other tomatoes love the dry heat, so those are ones that I turn to. I’ve fallen in love with multi-use tomatoes, tomatoes that are great for sauce AND for fresh eating, so this year, I’m experimenting with more oxheart varieties than usual. And if all the fruit that has already set is an indication of what is to come, this is going to be one hell of a great tomato year. Woohoo!

    Your garden looks lovely.

  6. megan May 26, 2009 at 6:31 am #

    One year (with far more garden space), I planted over 70 tomato plants – having started a bunch of old seed I thought wouldn’t all germinate. Now, the scale is much smaller. I tend to do one or two cherries: always a sun gold, and a rotating cast for the #2 spot. This year, either a peacevine or a black cherry. Cherries and grape tomatoes both oven dry really well for freezer/winter storage. Then, a couple of slicer varieties and several paste varieties (orange hog heart and grandma mary this year). I always end up with more than I planned because I love the names – cosmonaut volkov is my recurrent favorite, both for the name and the fruit.

  7. ann May 26, 2009 at 6:32 am #

    Pdx-r — is there such a thing as too many tomatoes? The jaunne flamme were on my short list, so I’ll be curious to hear how you like them, even though we’re in such different zones!

    EB — It’s true isn’t it? It’s like by writing it down, your brain remembers it more clearly when it’s time to recall the information. I was a rabid note-taker in college during lectures, and all my friends were always amazed by how much I could remember. No clue if it was the notes or just my brain :-)

    Fern — Stupice! That was on my short list too. I’m so intrigued by all the northern tomatoes, the ones from Czechoslovakia and Siberia and places like that. I figure they must love the long days/nights of sunshine. Thanks for stopping by!

    Carla — 60!! WOW! That is so many tomatoes! I was trying to get to 10 plants, but have given up and and given in to over a dozen. Sometime you’ve just got to be a maximalist.

    Christina — I *so* thought about making that joke, but resisted :-) That’s interesting about the Brandywine family. I guess they’re too greedy with water? I’ve got your Homer Fike’s started, but they’re taking their pokey-a** time in growing big enough to transplant. I’m giving myself a bye this year on planting too many tomatoes, since its our first year.

    I’ve already killed two. No, strike that. The weather already killed two. There was a frost either Sunday or Monday, so my mom told me to put overturned terra cotta pots over the two plants, and then on Wednesday or Thursday it was over 90 both days, so they fried. They would have died either way, sadly. The frost got all my beans, including the Blue Coco and Favas you sent me. Luckily I had some more stashed away, so hopefully this second batch will make it. Fingers crossed!

  8. Will B May 27, 2009 at 7:21 am #

    Ten to twelve plants would be a manageable number for me – a few for salads and sandwiches, a few for sauces, a few for drying. Just water and sunshine and patience! I must confess, I am a bit behind in my planting this year…

  9. ann May 29, 2009 at 5:43 am #

    Megan — Cosmonaut Volkov! Wow! What a name. I wouldn’t be able to resist that either. Glad to know the affliction hits others.

    Will — That sounds about right for me too. I think I might be a *bit* over that count, but not by too much. Water and sunshine I have in profusion, now if only I could just figure out where I left my patience :-)


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    […] Red is the one tomato I decided to plant not based on its name, or because of a promise to keep me in sun-dried tomatoes through the winter, […]

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