August 31, 2014

Q&A "Tomato Sex"

I just rediscovered a series of Q&A my friend and I did on the "I Love My Farmer! (Local Farmer Fan Club)" Facebook group I created years ago when I was operating an organic microfarm. I thought some of you might find them useful:


"Tomato Sex"

Dear Local Farmer,
My tomatoes are blooming big time, but no tomatoes! Same goes for by beans, cucs, and squash. I put out sugar water to attract bees, but no luck. I tried brushing my fingers lightly on the blooms....in an attempt to help them get it on.....any advice????

---Low-libido tomatoes in Austin


my response:
Dear Low-libido tomatoes,

While bees will appreciate your sugar water when they find it, there may just not be any bees near enough to your garden. Bees will only fly a certain distance from their hive to forage for food.


However, beans and tomatoes have "perfect flowers" (the flower contains both a stamen and pistil) and so self pollinate. You should be getting fruit in spite of your lack of pollinators. Good idea to brush the flowers although you don't have to try an transfer pollen between them when you do. Suzanne Ashworth in Seed to Seed says that tomatoes "will set more fruit if the flowers are agitated...this increases the amount of pollen traveling down the anther tube...daily shaking can be used to increase flower set in caged tomatoes." I met a guy who told me his grandmother went out each day and beat the crap out of her tomatoes with her cane claiming she got more fruit that way...maybe there is something to it. Other things could be at issue though.

Lets look closer: How long have the flowers been blooming? Have they had time to begin growing the fruit? Are you seeing dead flowers followed by no fruit or are the flowers still all fresh? What are your night time temperatures? Tomatoes have a hard time setting fruit if the air temperature doesn't fall below 75 deg for a number of nights. It's not impossible, but they will become distinctly less fertile. Tomatoes also need 8-10 hours of direct sunlight. Less can cause poor fruit set, although with all those flowers, they are probably getting enough light. Also, you might try spraying the plants with a solution of epsom salts... 1 tbl salts in 1 gallon of water. I'm not sure if your soils are magnesium deficient (or if the magnesium, while abundant, is inaccessible) but since that nutrient is so important to the formation of fruit, people often find epsom salts instigate fruit set.

As for the beans, how long have they been blooming? I find that fruit set on beans just takes longer than I think it does. It will seem like the plants have been blooming for a month before i see beans. Also, there are often tiny beans growing that I just don't notice for a few weeks until they're bigger so it seems like they're not setting. Look closely. Other than that, are the plants themselves looking healthy? No stunting or chlorosis (yellowing in the leaves)? If all looks well, I would say wait a bit longer and see what happens.

Cucs and squash: These guys do need insect pollinators and so the lack of bees could be an issue. They can be pollinated by hand (although it might be a pain in the case of the cucumbers since they develop so many blooms and the blooms are so small). First you need to identify the male and female flowers. The female flowers are sitting atop the ovary which is (and looks like) tiny immature fruit. The male flowers are sitting on a straight stem. In the morning, after the dew has dried, pick the male flower with the stem attached. Strip the petals and holding the stamen by the stem end rub the pollen on the stigma of the female flower. Apparently pollination is more successful if several male flowers are used to pollinate each female flower. With the cuc flowers, since they are so small, it may be easier to use a very soft bristled tiny paint brush to transfer pollen. I would try gently inserting it into male flowers and then inserting it into female flowers and see what happens.

I hope this helps!

---Local Farmer

and her follow up:

Thank you, Local Farmer!
Ah-ha! I shook them up and now have a plethora of baby tomatoes!

---Low libido tomatoes in Austin

July 7, 2014

Book Review: Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book

I have been making bread for years and some time ago I stopped using a recipe. While I can definitely make a good basic loaf by feel, at some point it started to drift away from good towards mediocre. I decided I should go back to using a recipe to shed any bad techniques I'd developed and make my loaf great again. 

Since I only cook with whole wheat flour (King Arthur white whole wheat in particular because that's what is available at my local grocery store) I opened up the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book (subtitled A Guide To Whole-Grain Breadmaking) by Laurel Robertson with Carol Fliners and Bronwen Godfrey. I've had this book for a decade but I think the only thing I baked from it was sourdough (all I remember about that is I don't like the smell of fermenting rye flour!).

I should have returned to this book long ago! The Basic Whole Wheat (page 80) is fantastic. I experimented with the suggested variations: butter, oil, and without fat- all are wonderful although butter is my favorite. Since I started making yogurt again I've been using whey instead of water and as the weather became warmer I cut the amount of yeast in half because it was rising too fast... It's a versatile bread.

The whole wheat challah is phenomenal although it always seems too wet so I reduce the eggs by one and the total liquid to 2 cups. I make the raisin version which is a delicious sandwich bread. FYI, toasting really brings out something special in challah.

January 2, 2014

The Late Winter Garden

Horseradish. The roots were tiny!

We just built a bunch of new beds and with the three we have left to build it will about triple the garden size - back to pre-baby square footage. YAY! I'm very excited about this year. Now that my son is older and we've made the section of the yard that contains the garden safe (as safe as anything can be for a toddler who has more ability to lift and climb than he has sense) I think I'll be able to garden regularly. 

Happy sigh.

Gardening makes me feel very much like me. It's who I am. I am a grower of plants. 

I transplanted a bunch of runners from last year's strawberries into a new bed. I think we'll have around 30 plants this year without having to buy more. We'll see how it goes. A few of them are already blooming (silly strawberries) and it's going to freeze tonight. Everything got heavily watered today to help prevent frost damage (except the strawberries. whoops.).


Tiny wheelbarrow
On an adorable note: To my son, all red berries are strawberries but blueberries are "blue strawberries". Also, he started digging holes and "planting" sticks and acorns and leaves. Upon observing this, my

October 18, 2013

Super Strong Vanilla Extract

As a fun extra in the shop for the holidays I'm making super strong vanilla extract. This is what we all wished normal extract from the store was but it never turned out to be. 

It's the real deal, folks and you only need a little (not tons extra like I always used) because it powerfully tastes of vanilla (as it should!). When you uncork a bottle of this you smell the vanilla, not the vodka. I'll be selling some in the shop for a limited time but if you want to make it yourself, here's how:

Chop 1/4# vanilla beans (grade B or extract grade or splits) into 1/2" pieces. Mix with 1 quart vodka (I used Texas vodka). Shake daily for 30 days. Strain or not.

Left: Extract freshly mixed day 1. Right: Fully extracted (30 + days)

I'll give you a heads up when the bottles are ready to ship. 

(P.S. It occurs to me that it might not be obvious from the picture but the lower half of the left jar is dark because you're looking at a pile of vanilla beans. The right jar has no beans in it... that's just the color when it's fully extracted. )

September 17, 2013

Tex-Mex Monte Cristo

I like the idea of jalapeno jelly (and so I always make it) but I never know what to do with it other than the classic "baked with cream cheese" dip. Here's what I came up with today and it was delicious. 

Grilled cheese and ham topped with jalapeno jelly. It's like a less complicated, Tex-Mex, Monte Cristo.
 


February 4, 2013

Spring Seed Starting

Once again I'm a little late starting seeds this year. By that I mean I could have started seeds during the past few months for earlier lettuce and greens and bigger tomatoes, peppers, etc. by planting time but it is by no means too late to start seeds!

Here's what I started this weekend:

Sweet Peppers
swiss chard and cilantro seedlings
  • Corbaci - 4
  • Coban - 2
  • Ashe County Pimento - 6
  • Tequila Sunrise - 3
  • Lipstick - 3
Hot Peppers
  • Fish - 3
  • Early Jalapeno - 1
  • Thai Red Pepper - 6
  • Serrano - 6
lettuce and beet seedlings
Tomatoes & Tomatillos
  • Rosso Sicilian - 3
  • Red Cherry - 4 
  • Cherokee Purple - 6
  • Green Velvet Tomato - 3
  • Arkansa Traveller - 3
  • Tess's Landrace - 6
  • Illini Star - 3
  • Plum Lemon - 6
  • Goldman's Italian American - 2
  • Verde Tomatillo - 5
  • Purple Tomatillo - 7
tomato plant
Eggplant
  • Thai Long Green - 6
  • Purple Pickling - 6
  • Ping Tung Long - 6
Greens
  • Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach - 26
  • Red Russian Kale - 12
  • Da Ping Pu - 8
  • Tatsoi - 8
  • Arugula - 8
  • Gailaan - 8