2014 Tomatoes

Last year I grew an assortment of heirloom tomatoes and a few hybrids in my polytunnel and it was a mixed success.  The heirlooms I got to market were early and good, people raved about them and I sold a lot.   The problem was that I composted at least 2-3 pounds of tomatoes for every tomato that made it to market.  Either they rotted on the vine, cracked and split or even split in the few hours between picking and market.  What I did learn was that while people say that they want a delicious heirloom tomato, what they really want is a tomato that looks great.  Week after week I had customers picked through the heirlooms to find the few tomatoes that looked perfect, even though I warned them that they didn’t taste as good as the others.

This year I’m primarily going with “greenhouse” tomatoes that are bred for multiple disease resistance which they need in the hot humid environment (not often we say that in the PNW…).  The seeds are expensive but I won’t need that many and if they do even slightly better they’ll be well worth the difference in price.

Here’s what I’ve settled on for this year.  From Johnny’s, Pozzano, Pink Wonder, Verona, Sunrise Bumble Bee and Olivade.  From Fedco I’m trying Jet Star which they say does well in hoophouses.  One real standout last year was Juliet, a “salad” or small roma tomato.  It would keep on the vine for a couple of weeks, heck it could fall on the ground and not rot for a week, but it still had pretty good taste and had enough solid matter to be good in salads or such while still juicy enough for good flavor.  Olivade is supposed to be a supposed to be a bigger version of Juliet so going with it this year, at least for a few plants.  Another winner was Tigerella, an heirloom red/yellow striped tomato, hence the name.  Another “salad” type tomato, mostly about an inch to two inches max, but great producer and very good flavor.  Much juicier than Juliet and better flavor but much more tender, although still one of the best heirlooms in the greenhouse.

I sold quite a few tomato starts last year so I picked up some hybrids that people were asking for, New Girl and Big Beef from Johnny’s, Yellow Pear and SuperSweet 100 from Fedco.  I’m also starting a lot of heirlooms from last year from my own seed.  These are what people were asking for last  year and I’m working on growing what people are looking for, always a problem for me in business.

I got most of them in a few days ago using heat pads to keep them warm and I’ve got almost 100 percent germination and they’re starting to put on a little size.  Last year I put transplants in the greenhouse on March 27 but I don’t think I will lose anything by being a week or two later as they didn’t start to ripen until well into June.

Curing Your Squash

Harvest is just the beginning so far as your squash are concerned.  If you take one in the house and cook it you will probably be very disappointed.  When the plant quits delivering nutrients to the squash it takes on a life of its own and starts preparing itself for the next step, replanting the next generation of squash.

What that means is that the seeds continue to ripen for some time, absorbing nutrients from the “meat” of the squash, and at the same time the flesh starts converting stored carbohydrates into sugars to make the nutrients more accessible.  Some of the water is also absorbed, making the flesh firmer and drier.

tan colored Acorn type squash

Thelma Saunders Sweet Potato, C. pepo

 

From our point of view, as time goes on the flesh gets drier, firmer and sweeter.  This process occurs at different rates in different varieties of squash.  The C.pepo squash, such as acorns and delicatas cure quickly.  Give them a couple of weeks after harvest and they’ll be great.  You can recognize them by the small stems usually with flattish sides and often sharp corners.

On the other hand, C. maxima varieties such as Hubbards, sweetmeats and other larger squash can take months to really cure and reach their best eating.  C. maxima squash have big round “corky” stems and true to their name are often large squash.

 

I understand that traditionally people would wait until Thanksgiving to open their first big squash.  It can be awfully hard to wait that long if don’t have a lot of small squash to get you through, but do try to put it off as long as possible and you’ll be rewarded with better tasting squash.  A well-grown and well-cured squash is hard to beat for delicious food, it’s always a sad day when the last delicata is gone but at least I’ve still got the big guys for the rest of the winter.

Oregon Sweetmeat Squash

Oregon Sweetmeat – C. maxima

 

Winter Squash Harvest

piles of orange squash

Sunshine Squash 2013 Harvest

I had several hits yesterday from people searching for info on when to harvest winter squash here in the Northwest.  The general rule is to let them grow as long as possible so long as the vines are still alive.  Some years we don’t get any real rain until late in October and you can leave them in the field to cure until the vines are dead.  On the other hand, here in the Northwest it’s about that time when the winter storms sometimes start coming in off the Pacific, so what to do?

My take on this is that if there’s just going to be a shower, or a day of rain, leave them if the vines still have some green in them.  If you’re looking at a real winter rain storm, like the one we’ve got coming in with several days of rain and more in the forecast, go ahead and get them in out of the wet if the vines are dying back.  Squash have a hard shell and will stand up to quite a bit of wet weather without rotting, but the spot where they lay on the ground is the most susceptible to rot.  If that stays wet after the squash is ripe they can get mold going there and spoil, so it’s a good idea to not let them lay on wet ground for long periods.

If your squash are still in the field and you don’t have too many, it might be a good idea when the weather dries up next week to harvest them if the vines are dying down, or if the vines are still green just rotate the squash so that the spot that’s been in contact with the ground is is off the ground so it can harden up with exposure to air and sun.  Sometimes I’ll take a handful of straw and put under there so they’re not lying directly on the ground.

Most years the powdery mildew solves this for us by killing off the vines as soon as it gets cool and wet.  All of my large squash were pretty well dead a couple of days ago when I harvested them, but my Delicata vines are still going strong so I left all of them in the field to keep growing for a while and did the same with my Sweet Dumpling that still have a way to go to mature.  If they’re actively growing I’ve never had a problem with them rotting, it just seems to happen to squash where the vine has died.

How to store them?  I guess opinions differ, or abilities anyway.  I know I’ve heard Carol Deppe say that she stores her squash in the house and that the warm dry air is best for them.  That may well be but I’ve never been able to devote a room to squash storage so I store mine in my shop.  It’s an unheated pole barn, but the good news is that in our climate it’s pretty much exactly the same as a refrigerator with temps in the high 30’s and 100 percent humidity all winter.  Delicata are considered to be short storage squash but last year I ate mine until early February, and my bit winter squash stored until Spring when I ate the last of them, so it seems to work pretty darned well.  I guess if you store them inside some of them will store for more than a year, but I’ve never felt the need for that.  By Spring I’m ready to eat other things.

Wheelbarrow full of orange squash

Sunshine Squash Harvest, Guatemalan Blue squash

 

Here’s a picture of my Sunshine squash with some Blue Guatemalan on top of them (and one Sweet Potato squash).  Aren’t they pretty?

 

Next post, when to eat  your squash.  Sneak peek, NOT NOW!

Time To Plant Garlic!

Even though this month is busy with harvest there’s a lot to be done to get ready for winter.

First on my priority list is to get my garlic in.  Pick a spot with loose, rich soil or as close as you can find.  Use the biggest, best cloves you have for seed and in return they’ll give you the biggest, best heads of garlic next summer.  Planting small cloves makes small heads.

I know it can be tough to take your best heads and break them up and bury them, but trust me, you’ll see the difference.  Also, only use the big cloves from each head, discard any small cloves you come across.  Plant them about 6-8″ apart with rows 8″-12″ apart.  You can fit a LOT of garlic in a small space.  Just put the cloves an inch or so deep, root side down, pointy end up.

Normally I don’t mulch over the winter but even slugs don’t eat garlic and its a lot easier to mulch if you do it before the plants come up.  Speaking of which, it may be a while before you see anything happening but the plants are forming large root systems before the top comes out of the ground.

They’ll grow slowly all winter and when the weather warms up they’ll take off, which is a good time to give them a little extra nitrogen, such as chicken compost.

Orangeglo Watermelon Strain Report

Here’s one of my three favorite melons, Orangeglo. It’s I more of a dark yellow, at least this strain, but the quality is still there. Seeds were obtained from Fedco.

It’s a very productive melon for me, setting quite a few melons an almost all of them were about the same size, approximately 8 pounds each.

The taste of the melon is excellent with good sweetness. I’m not good at describing flavor, I’d just say its good old fashioned melon flavor.

As you can see from the picture, it does have a couple of drawbacks. If you let them get too mature they get soft and stringy in the middle around the seeds. Picked earlier they’re good and solid, crisp all the easy through. Speaking of seeds, there are quite a few seeds and they’re very large. Not enough to make eating a chore but more than some other varieties such a Early Canada.

All in all, one of my favorites, both for flavor and for reliable production in warm years and cold years like 2012. It will definitely be in my garden next year.