Friday, August 21, 2009

Demo Garden gets compost bin!

The demo garden now has a compost bin!

We constructed a three bin compost pile out of chicken wire and small metal posts, but there are different sizes and designs of bins out there. You can make your own or there are many pre made ones ready to buy.

Making compost is simply helping to facilitate the natural cycles of growth and decay. If you’ve taken a walk in the woods you have seen compost in its most basic setting. Plants and animals that die over the course of a season decompose on the forest floor. This creates a rich soil on the forest floor.

Your garden soil can be greatly improved by adding your own compost. Compost releases the nutrients that were once found in the decomposing materials into your garden. It is a great organic alternative to adding chemical fertilizers. When applying synthetic fertilizers you are usually just applying nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Compost supplies those elements as well as many others such as boron, copper, zinc, iodine, and iron.

The organic matter in compost binds to soil particles, which helps sandy soil retain water and clay soil drain better. This action also allows for more air space in the soil, which helps roots to grow.

Compost can also provide nutrients, moisture, and habitat for beneficial organisms living in your soil.

You can put your kitchen scraps, grass clippings, weeds, dead leaves, straw, livestock manure, & some paper into your compost pile. By composting these materials you can save up to 20% of your trash from going into the landfill!

For more information about composting, including a step-by-step tutorial, compost bin designs, a list of do’s and don’ts, and more visit

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Symbols of Summer in the Demo Garden

A sunflower is blooming in the demo garden! I love sunflowers. They are a symbol of summer, are beautiful and have a nice smell to them. I like them so much that earlier this summer I camped out in our patch at home!

The big, beautiful acorn squash plant in the demo garden doesn’t look so pretty anymore. It has developed powdery mildew, a fungal disease. This disease affects many different plants, but squash is one of the species that are especially susceptible. Each species contracts a different type of powdery mildew, so this fungus should not transfer onto any other plants in our garden. Powdery mildew is whitish gray covering over leaf surfaces and other parts of plants. It is usually caused by high humidity, which plantings in the shade, lots of dew, and close plantings can contribute to. This fungus can impair photosynthesis and extract nutrients from plant, causing a decline in the health of the plant. Leaves will probably turn yellow. If powdery mildew is really severe it can prevent buds from forming into fruit on the plants. Our Acorn squash already has many large squashes on it, so we will have to wait and see how they ripen.

Over the past couple of weeks the garden has been filled with signs of summer as we harvested the rest of the pole beans, quite a few
cucumbers, an eggplant, a kohlrabi, a couple of habanero peppers, more turnips and more herbs. The marigolds are blooming around one of the beds, making a pretty border around the tomatoes and peppers. I cut down the rest of the buckwheat and turned the entire plot under last week.

Since we got the demo garden planting pretty late and this summer hasbeen pretty cool we are still waiting on our first tomato, but they are turning! Nonetheless, tomatoes are now abundant at the farmers market and in our home gardens. I love the wonderful smell that tomato plants possess. I enjoy caring for tomatoes, transplanting, suckering (even if it does stain your hands black), stringing, and picking them. I like seeing the different varieties, in all their different shapes and colors. The only thing I do not like about tomatoes is eating them. I’ll admit this is pretty abnormal (especially for someone that has 800+ tomato plants at home)! I simply do not enjoy the taste of tomatoes.

However, I have found a salsa recipe that I believe is delicious. It is a verysimple recipe for making fresh garden salsa. Even though it takes a little while because you have to let the tomatoes sit and drain, it is easy to make, so try it out!

Garden Salsa
5 medium tomatoes
½ tsp. Salt
2 small onions
2 hot peppers
1 small clove garlic
2 tsp. Balsamic vinegar (rice, wine, cider)
2 tsp. Olive Oil
salt & pepper to taste

Core and dice tomatoes in medium bowl. Add salt and let drain for about an hour. Pour off juice. Add the rest of the ingredients. Chill one hour. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wishing for thyme in the demo garden

Every time I visit the demo garden I am struck by how wonderfully it is growing. I really enjoy visting and working in the garden because there is always something new to observe. Last week the demo garden changed its look slightly. The Haricot vertical bush beans and the Goldrush bush wax beans were harvested and the plants pulled out. The beans were so pretty that I just had to eat one of the yellow wax beans before the volunteers took the pile of beans home.

The acorn squash plant is huge! We pulled the bean plants out as soon as we harvested the beans to make room for the monstrous plant. The plant has many small squashes on it. The plant and the weird shaped (acorn looking) squashes are provoking many comments from all of the volunteers, as well as one of the park employees who is looking forward to trying one as soon as they are ready to harvest.

I also chopped down half of the buckwheat and am going to turn it under with a shovel this week. This will allow the plant to decompose in the soil and release its nutrients for our next planting. The buckwheat has grown so much (it comes up to my waist now) and is covered in small, attractive, white flowers. The bees are enjoying the buckwheat flowers even more than I am! Every time I go to the garden the flowers are covered in bees of all sizes, which isn’t too much of a surprise since buckwheat honey seems to be popular. It is a wonderful sight! For more information about buckwheat and cover crops check out my post from a few weeks ago.

Herbs take up a section of the demo garden with Sweet Marjoram, Basil, Dill, Coriander, and two kinds of Parsley growing. These are a nice addition to the garden because they can be harvested almost constantly throughout the summer and add a really nice touch to dishes. My family planted an herb garden along the back of our house this year and I am trying to remember to utilize them as possible this summer.
Herbs always seem a little tricky to me. I am never quite sure how you are supposed to pick each herb, when to cut, if I am supposed to pick the flowers off, how much water they need, how to preserve them, etc. For help with these questions and others, visit the West Virginia Extension Service’s site about growing herbs in the home garden.
Herbs not only add great flavor to recipes, but they also prove their worth as good sources of vitamins and minerals. Marjoram contains calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A and C. Basil is rich in magnesium, manganese, and vitamins A, C, and K. Dill contains calcium, iron, manganese, and Vitamins A and C. Coriander is full of Vitamins A, K, B, C, E as well as calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Parsley is the stand out herb, as far as nutrition is concerned, being a great source of Vitamins A, K and many B vitamins. I’ve even heard that it contains more Vitamin C than some citrus fruits! Parsley also has iron, calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, and iodine.
This is enough to convince me that I need to make an effort to add some spice to my cooking. Not only will my taste buds benefit, but my body will as well!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Late Blight: A Lesson in Buying Local?

If you have kept up with news in the Northeast, or the vegetable blogosphere, you may have noticed the term "late blight" cropping up in articles with overtones of desperation. My first exposure was an article by the New York Times entitled “Outbreak of Fungus Threatens Tomato Crop,” accompanied by a picture of some seriously sickly tomatoes (picture from NYT shown at left). Being the professed tomato enthusiast that I am, this headline immediately caught my eye as I scanned the homepage a few weeks ago. And it has only continued to infiltrate the news.

The fungus, called late blight, acts according to its name—it typically strikes tomato plants late in the season (around August or September) when conditions are cooler. The spores of this pathogen, officially titled Phytophthora infestans, are found in the soil and are incredible contagious, meaning that small outbreaks, while not uncommon, can be devastating. But this year the Northeast region, New York in particular, is experiencing a particularly wet June, which has caused a widespread outbreak that is both unprecedented and economically devastating.

In an area that typically sold locally-grown tomatoes at or below $20 a box (wholesale), consumers may soon be paying up to $40 a box. Doubling the price could be extremely harmful to area growers, and the farmers markets that display their wares. And with cases being reported as far west as Ohio, it is important that even mid-west growers are wary of this disease and its implications as the spread continues.

And beyond the statement of caution, what else can be taken from this article? Another reason to buy locally grown vegetables. Following is a quote from the original NYT article:

“Professor Fry, who is genetically tracking the blight, said the outbreak spread in part from the hundreds of thousands of tomato plants bought by home gardeners at Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Kmart stores starting in April. The wholesale gardening company Bonnie Plants, based in Alabama, had supplied most of the seedlings and recalled all remaining plants starting on June 26."

Now, it is important to remember that big-box stores like those listed above, and even Bonnie Plants, are not responsible for the outbreak. This fungus has been around for years and the weather conditions have abetted its spread tremendously. But, the very nature of these larger stores makes it easier for pathogens, such as late blight, to spread more easily. Because, to echo the statements of Mr. John Mishanec (a pest management specialist at Cornell also quoted in the article) these garden centers are not required to undergo inspection by the Department of Agriculture, and their employees are not often trained to spot harmful diseases.

Having worked in my family’s greenhouses for over six years I can fully appreciate this statement. Each spring, John Day, who works for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, stops in to check out our Garden Center. Because he comes in every year he knows his way around, and usually just gives one of us the heads-up before meandering about the facilities. This visit results in a quick report and oftentimes a few updates concerning common “ailments” for the region (some years we are on the lookout for spider-mite on roses, some years its blossom end-rot, and some years it is simply aphids). His inspection, along with my Uncle Gerry’s degree in Horticulture, makes it possible for us to spot diseases/pests early on and treat them accordingly. This essential responsibility, to us, is simply another "given" when buying from local growers.

Unfortunately, this is the guarantee you won’t always get at a big-box store.

Now, I have done some checking around to see if late blight is something we ought to be worrying about in our region. After speaking with Tony Nye, OSU Extension Educator in Agriculture, and John Day, our Department of Agriculture inspector, it doesn’t look like late blight is cause for concern in our region just yet. This was reiterated by area farmer Brad Bergefurd, who reported similar symptoms in a few plants, but nothing that has been confirmed. (All three mentioned Blossom-End Rot as the larger concern for our region, for more information check out my earlier blog entry HERE).

To be safe, however, be on the lookout for symptoms of late blight, which include brown spots on leaves, fungal growth on underside of leaf (sometimes white), black spots on stem, and firm brown spots on tomato fruit.

For another grower’s perspective, and a personal account from the Northeast, check out the article Tomato Disappointment: A Farmer’s Perspective on Late Blight in the Northeast.

For a profile of the pathogen itself, check out this Science Daily article HERE.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Demo Garden Workshop Kit Available

As Maggie mentions below, Last Friday (7/24) the ECC Demo Garden was bustling with young YMCA campers who were visiting for a workshop on the importance and value of local foods, gardening, and sustainable growth. ECC’s Maggie Ashmore worked with Eric Guindon of Wilmington College’s Grow Food, Grow Hope initiative and Phil Swindler of Swindler and Sons to plan the programs.

The demonstration garden was established this past spring by Energize Clinton County to illustrate both the nutritional and economical benefits of having a small-plot garden. The demonstration garden serves as a way to increase public awareness and provide a valuable educational tool for people of all ages.

For Energize Clinton County, supporting local growth is critical to its mission to promote sustainable development. Along with the demonstration garden, ECC facilitates the Clinton County Farmers Market and the Buy Local First campaign in order to further stimulate the growth of the local economic foundation in Clinton County.
Also, please check out GFGH’s John Cropper’s excellent piece in the 7/28 Wilmington News Journal on Friday’s activities.
ECC has published a document with the Grow Food Grow Hope (GFGH) initiative detailing the recent youth education program held last Friday at the ECC Demonstration Garden in J.W. Denver Williams Memorial Park.

The document is available for download by clicking on the picture to the right.
To learn more about Grow Food, Grow Hope, visit:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Demo garden hosts program for YMCA Day Camp

Last Friday Eric Guindon, Mariah Fulton, Phil Swindler, Kelsey Swindler, and I led a program about gardening for 32 YMCA day campers at the demonstration garden. I was impressed by the knowledge that the campers already possessed about gardening and food issues. I was also amazed by their enthusiasm to participate in each activity. I think the program went well and I hope the kids had as much fun as I did.

For more information about last Friday’s program please read John Cropper’s blog post about it on the Grow Food Grow Hope site or his article in the Wilmington News Journal!

CSA Week 7

Now is the time that locals starting feeling that sweet tooth craving for some sweet corn. For the CSA in Week 7 we got our first batch. The tomatoes have been enormous and super juicy and meaty, reminding us of that fresh summer taste.

For this week we had:

Sweet Corn-6 ears
Yellow Squash-3
Greenbeans- 2 Large bags
Peas- 1 Large bag
Eggs-1/2 dozen

This CSA is for 25 weeks from Bergefurd's Family Farm.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Demo Garden Thrives!

It amazes me how much the demo garden grows every week! Last week I thought all of the plants looked pretty large, but this week they have really filled out. The plants are spilling over the edges of the beds. The garden looks really full and productive! We have small green beans, peppers, squash and tomatoes forming!

Some of our white radishes bolted and so we pulled them out of the garden. I made a mistake and pulled the rest of the white radishes out because I thought they were bolted as well. Afterwards, one of the volunteers informed me that is just the way white radishes grow. It just goes to show that you can learn something new about gardening every day.

We also discovered that the turnips are big enough to eat. When I announced that the turnips are ready to be pulled in the ECC office I created a problem. Where are we going to give all of our turnips? Taylor said that he is ‘turnipped out’. His comment made me think about the way you eat when you have a garden.

When spinach is ready you eat spinach, when peas are ready you eat peas, when zucchini is ready you eat zucchini, etc. This summer I have looked through my family’s cookbooks multiple times (with the arrival every new abundant veggie) for new ways to prepare our garden harvest. I actually find it quite exciting to flip through the pages of a cookbook in an effort to prevent myself from becoming sick of a particular food.

I love that gardening can lead to creativity in the kitchen! Besides trying many recipes out, I also enjoy doing taste tests with different varieties of zucchini, potatoes, lettuce, peas, etc. I encourage you to pick something out of your garden, grab a cookbook, and start cooking. There is also a wealth of recipes on the internet! If you do not have your own garden, I would push you to go to the farmers market and buy veggies with out worrying about what you will do with them, until you get home. This is a chance to be resourceful and creative!

Some delicious recipes for what is in season right now include:

Zucchini Hot Cakes
2 cups grated zucchini (pressed dry between paper towels)
2 T chopped onion
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
¼ cup flour
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 T mayonnaise
¼ t oregano
Salt & pepper to taste

Stir together all ingredients. Melt 1 T butter in skillet. Spoon 2 T batter into skillet and press down with spatula. Cook until both sides are browned. Repeat until all batter is used. Serve plain or with tomato sauce or grated cheese or sour cream.

Garlic Friendship Dip
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup Parmesan cheese
a little Parsley

Blend together & let chill. Serve with veggies or chips.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Local CSA Week 6

As our CSA continues we are able to eat with the seasons, and since it's July, blueberries arrived. Along with blueberries are everyone's favorite, tomatoes, and lots of green beans, squash, cucumbers, and more.

For this week we had:

Yellow Squash-3

Yellow Squash-3
Blueberries-1 pint
Greenbeans-Large bag
Eggs-1/2 dozen

This CSA is for 25 weeks from Bergefurd's Family Farm.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gardening As a Movement

For the last six months, there's been an undeniable buzz in the Clinton County air that would otherwise have seemed foreign. Issues of sustainability and green development have appeared above the fold in the Wilmington News Journal almost as often as ribbon-cutting ceremonies and little-league victories. People are more conscious of their daily habits now than they ever have been, and they're thinking community-first. It can best be described as a new, community driven energy, and Wilmington has started to move.

One aspect of this movement is a focus on gardening and sustainable food production. Mark and Taylor have done a remarkable job marketing the benefits of gardening, whether backyard or in a community setting, and their support has been instrumental in the last few months. I suppose now would be a good time to introduce myself: I'm John Cropper, a Wilmington native, friend of Mark and Taylor and recent transplant who now serves as an AmeriCorps* VISTA volunteer at Wilmington College. I can honestly say that I am back in Wilmington, moved from Columbus, because of this fresh thinking: our project as VISTA volunteers is a community gardening and local food movement called Grow Food, Grow Hope. Sustainable food policy and production is enjoying a national media frenzy right now: whether in the White House kitchen garden or in movie theaters, where two new food documentaries, "Food, Inc." and "Fresh" are gaining widespread acclaim. And we can't help but think that Wilmington is already a leg-up.

Already, there is a laundry list of gardening projects happening around the city. There is the ECC demonstration garden at Denver Park; there is the Grow Food, Grow Hope community garden on the Wilmington College campus, where families come every week to harvest fresh vegetables and learn how to prepare them on site; there is the Wilmington College farm on Fife Avenue, where we are growing a number of different crops to be donated to local food pantries, and later this year, we are hoping to establish upwards of 30 backyard gardens at the homes of Clinton County residents, using our capacity to help build and facilitate the gardens. It can be confusing at times describing the various gardens to people who aren't familiar with our project. But that's not a bad thing. That there are enough gardening projects happening to make somebody confused is only a sign that we are doing something right.

It is our hope, at Wilmington College, at ECC, and throughout the community, that we can all come together to utilize whatever resources we have available. I will be blogging on the ECC garden blog as time progresses, and I would hope you would follow the Grow Food, Grow Hope blog as well, at

Friday, July 10, 2009

Demo Garden Blooms!

The Demonstration garden has really blossomed this week. The bush beans, Russet potatoes, and Acorn squash are covered in pretty blooms. The tomatoes and peppers are beginning to produce small fruits and the Kentucky Wonder Pole beans have reached the top of their trellis.

This week we harvested some Dill, Basil, and the remainder of the Cherry Belle radishes. I added some compost to the soil and planted 4 head lettuce in their place.

There are barely any weeds to be seen in the garden now, and no insect pests. The eggplants look better than any I have ever grown, not a flea beetle in sight. Their foliage is a beautiful purple and green.

The buckwheat is looking nice as well. It is anywhere from 3-7 inches tall now. I know a farmer that grows buckwheat, and he recommends cutting buckwheat when it is about 7 inches tall, and eating it in your salad. Today I tried eating some plain, and it was pretty good. I am excited to try some in my salad!

While you can eat buckwheat plants when they are young and tender in salad, or harvest their seeds and make flour out of them, we did not plant the buckwheat as a food crop. We planted Buckwheat as a green manure crop.

A green manure is a crop that is grown during the summer months
and plowed back into the soil while still green or right after it flowers. The purpose of doing this is to improve the soil quality in your garden or field. They can help retain water, loosen and aerate the soil (helps to suppress weeds that thrive in highly compacted soil), prevent weeds from growing and seeding, provide food for beneficial insects, and help reduce plant diseases and pests. When the crop is tilled back into the soil it releases nutrients as it breaks down and improves the tilth (fluffiness) of the soil.

Many plants that are used as green manures are legumes, which make them useful for fixing nitrogen in the soil. Some plants also help replenish Potassium, Phosphorus, Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulfur in the soil as they decompose.

For more information on the benefits and limitations of green manures visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service for an overview of cover crops and green manures. You can also visit for a list of green manure crops, as well as information on when to plant and turn them under.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Local CSA Week 5

This weeks CSA had some of the summer usuals. We're starting to get the red tomatoes, green beans, and large cucumbers.

Yellow Squash-3
Black Raspberries-1 pint
Greenbeans-Extra Large bag of yellow and green
Eggs-1/2 dozen

This CSA is for 25 weeks from Bergefurd's Family Farm.

The numbers on fuel usage, CO2 emissions, and food miles

I have grown up on a farm and have been selling at farmers markets since I was 8, so it is only natural for me to try to eat locally. I can get pretty frustrated when I notice people that are not thinking twice about where their food comes from. I can think of an almost endless list of reasons to eat locally, but one reason that has gotten a lot of press is the number 1,500. Our produce travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to consumer.

I have heard this number tossed around quite a bit, and have recently wondered where that number came from. Maybe it is the science major in me that needs studies and numbers, but I felt the need to find out where that number came from. I started searching on the Internet, and found a study conducted by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture entitled “Food, Fuel, and Freeways”. This study is an Iowa perspective on how far food travels, fuel usage, and CO2 emissions carried out in 2001.

First, the center calculated how many miles produce traveled to reach Chicago using data from the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service in 1998. They found that produce traveled an average of 1,518 miles to Chicago. The Capital Area Food Bank also found that produce traveled and average of 1, 685 miles to Jessup, Maryland.

Next, the center calculated the number of miles food traveled from three local, Iowa, food systems where farmers were selling to restaurants, hospitals, and conference centers. They discovered that the food in these systems traveled an average of 44.6 miles instead of the 1, 546 miles it would have traveled via the conventional system. When they only regarded produce the numbers were 37.9 miles vs. 1, 638 miles.

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture also
calculated fuel use and CO2 emissions to transport 10% of the Iowa estimated consumption of 28 fresh produce items for three different food systems. The conventional system represented a retail/wholesale supply system where domestic sources supply Iowa with produce using semi trailer trucks. The Iowa based-regional system was a hypothetical scenario based on existing Iowa based distribution infrastructure. In this scenario, a cooperative of small and mid-sized farms would supply Iowa retailers/wholesalers using semi trailers and mid size trucks. The local system represented farmers who sell directly to consumers through CSAs, farmers markets, restaurants, hospitals, and conference centers using trucks with light gasoline usage.

The conventional system used 4 to 17 more fuel than the Iowa based regional system or the local system. The conventional system also released 5 to 17 times more CO2 from the burning of fuel than Iowa based regional systems or local systems. The range in these numbers is dependent on the type of truck and system used to transport the produce.

Those are some numbers to think about! I hope this gives you one more reason to consider buying locally grown/raised food or even grow your own!

By the way, the number 1,500 comes from an article written by John Hendrickson in 1996, using data from 1980. His summary is quite informative and raises even more issues about energy usage in the U.S. food system, including ways to conserve energy.

Friday, July 3, 2009

First demo garden harvest!

The demonstration garden is growing wonderfully! The Kentucky Wonder Pole beans are starting to grow on the trellis and the Acorn squash is going to bloom in the next couple of days! All of the herbs are thriving and need to be used!

This week the tomatoes were suckered and the garden was weeded and watered. One volunteer has worked in the garden each day for about ½ hour. There have been relatively few weeds in our plot, mostly just a creeping vine.

The buckwheat has germinated and is now about ¾ inch tall. The germination was pretty spotty, but there is still a fair stand.

I pulled 10 more Cherry Belle radishes today. I ate one that was slightly larger than a golf ball. It was nice inside, not pithy, but it sure was spicy. There were a couple of ladies eating lunch in the park that were happy to eat the rest of the radishes!

Radishes are actually really good for us. They are high in fiber, Copper, Manganese and Potassium. They are also a good source of Vitamins C and K. Radishes are a member of the mustard family, which helps explain why they have a bite to them.

We are most used to seeing red, round radishes, like the Cherry Belles in the demo garden. However, they can be found in a variety of shapes and colors. French breakfast radishes are red and white in color and can hold up slightly better in the heat. I enjoy eating them because I believe that they pack less of a punch than Cherry Belles. It could be argued that the prettiest radishes are the Easter egg variety. They are perfectly round and come in a colorful mix of white, pink and purple!

Radishes are a great crop to start out gardening with because they do not take up much space, are easy to grow, are nutritious, are frost tolerant, and are ready to eat in as early as 21 days. If you would like any more information about Radish varieties or growing tips click HERE.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

It's Zucchini Time!

If you have your own garden or have been to the farmer’s market lately, you have surely noticed the influx of zucchini that has recently arrived. I have been waiting for this time of year for quite awhile. Growing up, I disliked zucchini for some reason, but it is now one of my favorite foods.

I enjoy all the different varieties of zucchini that are out there. From dark to pale green, yellow, green and yellow, long and skinny and even round. My favorite variety of zucchini is Costata Romanesco. It is a paler green/gray in color, with green flecks and it is ribbed. It is an heirloom variety that does not yield as well as most of the hybrids do, but it sure is delicious!

I love zucchini and yellow squash sautéed, grilled and in bread. My favorite zucchini recipe is Zucchini and Yellow Squash Gratin. I cook it as much as possible. I could eat the entire dish by myself. In fact one of my friends and I regularly split it between the two of us, despite the fact it is supposed to feed four people. I even made it for the family I stayed with in New Zealand (where they call zucchini ‘courgettes’) and the kids actually begged their mother to make it for them the next week! It has the stamp of approval from some of the pickiest eaters I know. Click HERE for the Everyday Food recipe.

Zucchini and Yellow Squash Gratin

2 tablespoons butter
2 medium zucchini (about 7 oz each) sliced crosswise ½ in thick
2 medium yellow squash (can use zucchini instead) sliced ½ in thick
2 shallots (or small onions) minced
2 garlic cloves minced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
½ cup heavy cream
1cup panko (or breadcrumbs)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450 F. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat; add zucchini, yellow squash, shallots and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until zucchini and squash are crisp tender, 4-6 minutes.
2. Add cream and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat; stir in ½ cup panko and ½ cup Parmesan
3. Spoon mixture into a shallow, 2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining panko and Parmesan; season with salt and pepper. Bake until top is golden brown, 8-10 minutes.
4. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Follow our local CSA

With any initiative comes jargon, and as our blogger Kelsey noted in a recent post about the acronym CSA's, local food is no exception.

In addition to Kelsey's post there is plenty of information out there on this quickly-growing trend. Her subsequent post discussed a CSA that is available here, locally, in Clinton County--and also mentioned, is that both Mark and I are participating this year to demonstrate an easy way of supporting local farmers and locally-grown, nutritious food.

The CSA is being done by Wilmington's Bergefurd's Family Farm Market. We have a full share which is broken into 25 weeks at $20 each ($500 for the season). We are going to keep a post updated with the progress of our CSA--i.e. what we are getting from week-to-week.

A worthy note--CSA's work with the growing cycle, and so the initial shares will be lighter and build up as the season treks on.

So refer to the link at the top of the page to follow, or just check back for updates in the middle of the week.

Week 1 -- 6/10/09
1/2 dozen eggs
Radishes-Small Batch
Garlic Scapes-Small Batch
Lettuce--Medium Bag

Week 2 -- 6/17/09
1/2 dozen eggs
Radishes-Small Batch
Garlic Scapes-Small Batch
Lettuce-Medium Bag

Week 3 -- 6/24/09
1/2 dozen eggs
Yellow Summer Squash-2
Green Tomatoes-2

Week 4 -- 7/1/09
1/2 dozen eggs
Lettuce-Large Bag
Yellow Summer Squash-2
Green Tomatoes-3
Garlic-1 clove

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Blossom-End Rot and Synthetic Fertilizers: Back to the Basics

I received this question via email late last week, and after doing some research, think that it will be very useful to those who have planted tomatoes and/or peppers, especially at this point in the season. Wanted to pass along what I found!

Brad Guindon writes:

Hi, I am a friend and follower of ECC and the garden blog. I started a mini patio garden this summer at my apartment west of St. Louis where I live. I have red peppers, zucchini and basil growing in one large container, and an upside-down tomato plant hanging by my front door. Everything has been growing great until recently. The pepper, which is green and about the size of a golf ball, probably a little bigger, has recently had a soft brown spot appear on a decent sized area of the pepper. I have been making sure to keep then well watered, especially recently with the high temperatures here. I have attached a blurry picture to help with your diagnosis. If you can, please help save my pepper!

Hi Brad!

Thanks for your question, and for following the blog! I did some research based on your description and ran the picture by my dad, and it looks like you are dealing with blossom-end rot. This is a calcium deficiency that causes the dry, sunken spots that you noticed. It is typically found on the first few fruits, and is evidence of fluctuations in the soil saturation and an irregular uptake of nutrients. It is likely that despite your noble efforts to keep the vegetables well-watered, that the high temperatures caused some inconsistencies.

Most of my suggestions are more preventive than anything:
  • First off, next year I wouldn't put too many different vegetables in one pot. It often surprises people to learn just how much soil you need even for one plant, and with too many different varieties you will find that they compete for nutrients in the soil.
  • Also, avoid using water soluble fertilizers (like Miracle Grow). These do not stay in the soil profile long and usually contain a higher concentration of synthetic nitrogen (synthetic releases too quickly to regulate the uptake of nutrients and leaches out of the soil--abetting nutrient deficiencies and thus problems like blossom-end rot). I would steer you more toward granular/organic fertilizers to help regulate the nutrient uptake. For more information on synthetic nitrogen, check out the Northeast Organic Farming Association article HERE. For general information on organic vs. inorganic check out a post from the Vegetable Gardener HERE. And if you need any help in selecting an organic fertilizer, just stop in to Swindlers and check out our selection of Espoma organic fertilizers and plant food!
  • Make sure your pot has good drainage, and maintain a very consistent watering schedule.
  • And to ward off blossom end rot in future gardens, you might try putting down some calcium nitrate about the time the plants start to blossom. The guys over at Wilmington College used calcium nitrate this year for this very purpose.
And for this year's garden there is good news. Discard the affected fruit and try out some of the above suggestions! Let me know if you are successful in saving the peppers!

Oh, and HERE is a link to an OSU extension fact sheet that I found useful (don't get too freaked though, they make it sound pretty ominous).

In fact, here is a sample picture they have included of a pepper affected by blossom-end rot:

Hope this information is useful to you as the season continues!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Demo Garden Grows!

The demo garden has grown beautifully over the last two weeks! The muskmelon, nasturtiums, and even the sweet peas are up! There is a wonderful stand of each. We were a little worried about our chance of germinating sweet peas in this hot weather, but the lure of gorgeous looking and delightful smelling blossoms prompted their planting anyway.

One of the local Girl Scout troops made superb vegetable signs to adorn the garden, which pleased the demo garden volunteers. Our favorite is one that says “sweet pepper” on one side and “sour pepper” on the other.

I finally was able to plant Buckwheat seed this week for our cover crop! It should germinate within 4-5 days, so hopefully I will see little seedlings popping up by the beginning of next week.

While I was planting the Buckwheat, I took a look at all of the other plants in the garden and discovered that a few of our radishes are ready to eat! I pulled one and ate it, yum! Due to the heat the radish was a little spicy, although I always think that Cherry Belle radishes are a little on the spicy side.

The beets, turnips, and radishes were thinned early in the week to allow each plant enough room to grow. While the demo garden beets are a long way from mature, I am now starting to eat the beets out of my families’ garden.

I love beets.

I even have a shirt that says “I dig beets” on it. The greens make an attractive addition to salad mix when they are small and tender and raw beets are good chopped up in salad. I spent the last 4 months in New Zealand, and during my time there I even acquired a taste for pickled beets. Even if you aren’t beet crazy, you will probably still enjoy roasted beets.

I think that roasted beets taste exactly like sweet corn. While I am going to have to wait a few weeks for some fresh sweet corn from the farmers market, and probably until August in order to eat corn from my garden, I can eat beets now. Plus they make a brilliantly purple dish on your plate!

To roast beets just cut the greens off about 1 inch above the root and cut off the skinny root.
Toss the beets in olive oil
Roast at 400 F for about 1 hour
Put some butter and salt on the beets and enjoy!
I eat the skin and it tastes just fine if the beets are fresh. If you are opposed to eating the skin, it pulls away easily after roasting.

Kelsey wrote about beets already, so sorry for another post about beets. But please try them if you haven’t already!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Local CSA

So all this talk of CSA had me asking around. Luckily, I didn’t have to go far to find out more. As I was sitting around the ECC office writing up my last post, Mark filled me in on a local CSA he and Taylor belong to: the Bergefurds family owned and operated farm. For $500 up-front they became a member for 25 weeks, receiving a bushel/basket of vegetables (or other specifically requested products) worth around $20 each week. I checked out their website (you should too) and the variety of produce available through membership is astounding! Just go to Bergefurd’s Farm Market to learn about membership, availability, and pick-up locations.

Because honestly, buying local produce is at the heart of a more sustainable economy, and besides that—it just tastes so much better.

Food for Thought

It wasn’t until a Wednesday lunch at Sugartree Ministries that I began to think more critically about sustainable food production. I met up with a good friend, Mike Snarr (professor at Wilmington College and rookie backyard gardener), to talk about his latest project. Along with his wife Melissa, Noah Campbell (pastor at the First Baptist Church) and his wife Allyson, and Don Troike and his wife Carol, Mike is experimenting with the economic benefits (and drawbacks) of small-plot gardens. By tracking the money/time spent from planting through harvest, and the relative sale cost of produce at the local Kroger, they hope to determine which plants are cost effective to grow, and which, surprisingly, may not be.

Their experiment stems from the emerging CSA practice. If you are like me when you hear an acronym you typically just nod along, hoping to eventually piece together its meaning through context. Now CSA is something that I have heard thrown around quite a bit lately, so as we sat munching on salads and watching the come-and-go of people in the kitchen, I finally admitted my own ignorance and asked what CSA meant to backyard gardeners. As it turns out it stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s actually not a new concept at all. Mike explained the idea behind a CSA; essentially it involves a farmer who, by selling “shares” of his crop, includes several families in his harvest.

He gave this example: Say you have ten extra acres. You pool money from a few supporters (perhaps 2-10 families). Their money early in the season contributes to your planting expenses, and in return they receive part of your harvest. You may pull a few bucks in profit, they receive fresh, locally grown produce, and together, you share the risk inherent to farming. Sounds pretty ideal, right?

Well that’s the goal for this project. Eventually. Right now the goal? Determine whether or not families benefit from growing their own vegetables. But this is where it gets tricky (and where I start to ask more questions). What does it mean for food to be “cheap?” Cheap is an artificial term really, as it does not factor in the production time, mileage, or entangled tax dollars for each vegetable. As Mike suggests, food is artificially inexpensive. There is a hidden cost to food production—oil, transportation obstacles, conflict, etc. But these costs are covered in taxes, so they are not typically associated with the food we eat. So really, it may not be at all cost-effective for you to grow your own onions. And I mean that honestly. Sometimes it is just cheaper and quicker to buy a few onions on sale at Kroger than it is to buy the sets, plant them, harvest them, prepare them, etc. But by doing so, you only continue to be a link in an unsustainable cycle of food production.

He then offered up this statistic, just think: the average bite of food has traveled 1500 miles. And do you think that when they charge you a few bucks for “fresh” tomatoes they have factored in the costs of transportation, pollution, etc. Nope.

This is where a CSA comes in. It is, once again, a way to be self-sufficient. To remove yourself from a production cycle that has lost its credibility. Now that sounds pretty cost-effective to me.

Just some food for thought.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

June 19th: Food Preservation "Know-How"

If you are like me, you are getting to the point in the season where the reality of having an abundance of home-grown vegetables is starting to really kick in. Meaning: you are going to have to DO something with all of these veggies. Now cooking has never really been my forte, and after a year spent living in a university dorm my skills are limited to microwavable items and all things non-perishable. And freezing, canning, etc.? Now that is really out of my league.

I think that this mindset is true for many of us, regardless of our experience in the kitchen. My grandparents’ generation had it down—vegetable gardens supplied a family the whole year, not just for a few short summer months, and home-made goods (jams, jellies, etc.) were a staple. And in these times it is so important that we reclaim these skills, not just because it is another step in being self-sufficient, but simply because the quality of home-grown goods is unmatched. Just think back over the many tasteless tomatoes and bitter strawberries you have purchased in the off-season, picked out of a sparse selection of less-than-quality fruits available at a 24-hour grocery. There has to be a better way.

And this Friday, June 19th, you can learn the alternative. The Clinton County Extension Homemakers present: Food Preservation “Know-How.” Here they will cover the basic techniques of pressure canning, food safety, freezing techniques, and jam and jelly preparation. These demonstrations, held repeatedly throughout the day, will be supplemented by kitchen-tested recipes and confidence-building written instructions. Canner lids will be tested as well.
The event will be held in the Ohio State Extension Community Room on 111 S. Nelson Ave. in Wilmington. It is only $2.00 per person for the entire day.

And at $2.00 per person, you really can’t afford to miss out. Because to be informed and self-sufficient is priceless.

Hope to see you there!

Demo Garden Planted!

The Demo garden has transformed from a grassy patch of grass in the veterans memorial area of the park to a growing garden! The Banana Split Festival marked the kick off of the J.W. Williams Memorial Park Demonstration garden.

The garden is split into four 6’ x 6’ blocks to allow for easy rotation in the future. In bed 1 we have planted an assortment of beans, with a few melons, nasturtiums, cucumbers and squash thrown in.

Bed 2 holds garlic, turnips, radishes, carrots, salsify, kohlrabi, onions, and a variety of herbs.

Bed 3 awaits planting until the seed arrives, but will be sown in Buckwheat for the purpose of being plowed back into the soil as a green manure.

Bed 4 contains a variety of tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant, as well as some sunflowers, nasturtiums, and marigolds that will provide even more beauty to our plot in the weeks to come. Maybe the marigolds and nasturtiums will also help deter some pests, as has been described in previous posts…

The raised bed (bed 2) has been planted using the square foot gardening technique. I was pretty amazed to see how many plants could fit into the bed when using the square foot technique! I cannot wait to see how they do as the summer progresses. I have almost always grown vegetables in straight rows, but the demonstration garden’s mix of square foot design, rows, and free form arrangements reminded me that plants don’t mind not growing in rows. Gardening is quite a creative endeavor.

Now that the garden is planted and starting to really take off, my mind is turning from garden logistics to wondering how this garden can be used as a demonstration. We are hoping that this blog will help us get the word out about the garden, and the banner hanging on the garden fence will hopefully attract the attention of people passing by.

ECC will also be forming educational programs about gardening, food, and nutrition throughout the summer. While these programs will be aimed at the younger generation, we welcome kids of all ages to participate.

If you are interested contact me at

Monday, June 15, 2009

Beets: A Versatile Vegetable

So I must admit that despite my Garden Center upbringing and vegetarian lifestyle, it wasn’t until an afternoon working the ECC booth at the Banana Split Festival that I actually tasted a beet. Random, I know. As we sat around the table Taylor began to hand off raw veggies he had recently harvested from the garden; he had a selection of turnips, beets (even beet tops), and fruit covered in a delicious basil pesto (also made fresh using herbs from the Denver Memorial Garden, recipe to follow). And it was surprisingly good!

I have to confess I was skeptical. I remember when my dad first started in on his Superfood health kick and began bringing home a random assortment of obscure foods from each grocery store excursion; the pomegranate juice, almonds, and flax seed were just a start, soon he had progressed to raw vegetables that neither my mom nor I had any clue how to cook. And this led to the raw beets. My father, at the time, knew only four recipes, and none of them included beets. So he simply ate them raw, and by this I mean he walked around holding them by the leafy tops and munching off the bulb.

My Dad, Phil Swindler, with fresh beets from our Garden

I have since learned that there is some real value to my dad’s actions, which at the time I considered absurd. Beets are in fact a “superfood,” meaning simply that they are high in fiber, antioxidants, and other “phytochemicals” (non-nutritive plant chemicals in plants that can prevent cancerous changes in cells and other forms of disease). And you can eat, literally, the whole plant. The leafy tops can be cut anytime (limit one to two snips per plant however), and chopped up for salads, sandwiches, etc. The tops are best when they are tender (which is before the root is ready to be pulled).The actual root can be pulled at about the time that it is the size of a ping-pong ball (this is about its half size, and the time when it is its most tender). If you are not sure how large it is, simply uncover the top with your finger (they grow relatively close to the surface). The roots, high in iron and B vitamins, can be baked, boiled, steamed, or eaten raw.

Leafy Beet Tops

Beets are incredibly easy to grow as well. They don’t transplant well so you will grow them from seed. Because they are a compound seed you can expect two to three shoots from each seed (meaning that you may eventually have to “thin” the plant). Simply plant the presoaked seed about ½ inch deep (your first planting can be as early as 2-4 weeks before the last spring frost). To keep up a continuous supply simply plant a new plot/square every three weeks. From seed to harvest it is about 8 weeks. They can be grown in the summer and fall as well (if possible, avoid the hottest part of summer around the middle to the end of July).

And, as promised, here is a quick and easy basil pesto recipe to start you off. Simply wash and cut up a selection of fresh beets, turnips, etc. and cover in this delicious topping (recipe taken from Simply Recipes: click HERE for full article).

Fresh Basil Pesto Recipe
• 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
• 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
• 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
• 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• Special equipment needed: A food processor
1 Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.
2 Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Makes 1 cup.

Enjoy! And of course, you can always eat them raw like Dad!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Turnips, spinach, et al.

There's nothing like enjoying fresh greens and vegetables, and it has been quite enjoyable so far. Out of the square foot so far has come a sizable yield of lettuce, spinach, turnips, green onions, and beets. With that some basic toppings, traditional to experimental salads (pesto ranch is awesome), and some attempts at new recipes for veggies typically not grown in my backyard.

Some freshly picked turnips.

The purple top turnips came out really nice, and since there was a significant amount of spinach to consume, we decided to try a combo recipe. I found this spinach/turnip recipe on . It's pretty basic, but really delicious and high recommended.

The simple list of ingredients:

  • ½ pounds spinach, washed
  • 5 turnips, peeled, sliced
  • ½ cup cream, boiled
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Seasonings to taste


  1. Boil separately the spinach and turnips in salted water for about 20 minutes.
  2. Drain off water.
  3. Mix together.
  4. Add the cream, butter and seasonings.
  5. Mix well with a fork, and let cook together for about 2 minutes.
  6. Then serve.
That recipe can be found by clicking HERE . Explore other recipes as there are tons of different ways to mix, match, and prepare the foods you grow.
Purple-top Turnip

The Heat of Summer Approaching

The past couple of weeks have been very busy in the home garden—the start of summer plantings; the harvesting of the spring veggies; and the battle with weeds and pests.

It's safe to say that we will have an enough tomatoes and quite an excess of hot peppers—which isn't a problem for us, and will provide spicy meals for months to come. Just in a day we planted: 14 poblano peppers (called ancho when dried); 4 hot lemon peppers; 2 golden summer peppers; 2 habinero peppers; 2 jalapeno peppers; 3 red beauty's; 2 of the "world hottest,” which I'm assuming to be the Bhut Jolokia.

Jalapenos ; habaneros ; and bell peppers 
On the tomato side we added 7 beefsteak tomatoes to our dozen 4th of July tomatoes, which we planted a couple weeks earlier.

Like many of those to whom Kelsey referred in her previous article , I too plant Marigolds for their nematode-repellent-power. I planted six Marigolds in various, or as I might say, strategic spots throughout the garden. Besides their potential deterring factor, I think Marigolds, along with other flowers, provide a nice touch to the garden, and recommend planting for aesthetics as well.

Friday, June 5, 2009

VHS Tapes: the new Scarecrow?

Another great question this week:

Dear Kelsey,

Thank you for your Garden Blog--such a great idea. I plan to check it often. My question--how do you protect corn seedlings from critters? I planted some seeds and they actually sprouted. A few days later, all the little sprouts were lying flat in the dirt and little holes had been dug exactly where the seeds were planted--I suspect squirrels. I would like to plant some more seeds, but want to protect them. Any thoughts?

Thanks again for your help,

First of all: the best advice I can give you is to plant twice as much. It may be squirrels that are digging up your seed, but it may also be birds. We have seen it many times before—birds will even dig up pepper plants just to pick at them. They don't eat the seed or the plant, they just dig it up (spiteful, I know). There aren't a lot of ways that you can protect seedlings from birds, usually we just have to replant. As my Uncle Gerry says, there is safety in numbers. Plan on having a few taken by the birds/squirrels/etc. and make sure that you will still have what you need if this is the case.

Because your corn seeds should germinate in as little as four days (meaning you will see the small seedlings you mentioned before), it will not put you behind in your gardening to replace what hasn't germinated. Even if it is 10-12 days after planting, just pop in more seeds.

But, there is another option, if you are up for it. You can protect your vegetables AND put those old VHS tapes to good use. I know that in the ECC garden we have surrounded the vegetables with video cassette tape, held up off the ground by stakes. The sound that the film makes as the wind blows is similar to that of a humming bird and can be disturbing to potential critters; also, the tape is reflective and will be startling to any incoming birds (because a bird’s brain is dominated by sensory perception even slight reflection/movement can be overwhelming). Traditionally people have used the tape from cassettes, but VHS tape—because it is thicker—is more effective.

I have also read that aluminum pie plates can be used! String them up in surrounding trees or from tall stakes; again, the movement and reflection will disturb the birds. They will, however, begin to ignore stationary objects (like scarecrows), so make sure there is sound/movement.

As always, let us know if you have any success!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Marigolds: Do they keep the critters away?

A question came to me the other day, and I wanted to share it with you all:

Hello Kelsey,

Love your blog on Energize Clinton County!!

I have a garden question - I've heard that marigolds help keep insects from vegetable garden plants. Really?

Sardinia, OH

Okay, so this is a really good question. Good, but tricky. Every year we have customers that come in to buy marigolds, specifically to keep insects/rabbit/deer away from their vegetable garden. They come year after year, always requesting a flat of this age-old, yet pungent, plant.

The evidence that these plants ward off insects isn’t firm, however. French marigolds (the variety commonly sold) are said to release a nematode repellent into the soil. Nematodes, worm-like creatures, destroy plant root-systems. There is research suggesting that certain species find the compound released by marigolds to be toxic. And in this respect, having marigolds can be helpful.

I also spoke with Tony Nye at the OSU Extension Office in Clinton County and was told that marigolds may be useful for keeping beetles away from bean plants. However, there is not a lot of evidence saying that marigolds are effective for other insects. Aphids, for example, are sometimes even attracted to marigolds. (Tony Nye did, however, mention another plant, Nasturtiums, that is said to deter not only beetles, but aphids and squash bugs as well.)

In regard to marigolds, I would say that their scent is a distinguishing characteristic. Many say that their odor disguises the scent of vegetables, either confusing insects or preventing them (and possibly rabbits/deer) from perusing around your garden.

Honestly though, despite conflicting evidence, marigolds are a cheap experiment. They are inexpensive (we are now selling them at Swindlers for only 49 cents apiece), hardy, and easy to find. We are trying them out in the ECC vegetable garden, and will have a better idea of their effectiveness as the season continues. My advice, try them out. No promises, but they certainly are cheap and easy. And as always, let us know if you have any success!

Some sites I found helpful while researching this question:
(Fellow blogger, appears to be a well-researched post)
(Alabama Cooperative Extension System—article written by horticulture student and associate)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Some Insight into Buying and Planting Tomatoes

Tomatoes are by far our most popular vegetable in the Garden Center. And I certainly understand why. Tomatoes are (and you can even confirm this on my Facebook profile) one of my all-time favorite foods; I eat them like candy. Whether you are slicing them for a sandwich, using them in Spaghetti sauce, or simply eating them like you would an apple (believe me, it’s good), tomatoes are an easy source of nutrition. And considering the price of growing your own, an invaluable vegetable. At Swindlers we sell a four-pack of tomatoes for $1.79. Considering that each plant will produce (on average) about fifteen to twenty pounds of fruit throughout the summer, you will have an abundance of fresh, home-grown tomatoes for less than two dollars. Now think back to that sale at Kroger’s; $1.99 per pound (and a four pack for over two dollars) is starting to look a little pricey. And honestly, the quality (and taste) of a home-grown (and locally bought) tomato is hard to beat. It is by far a more reliable fruit.

The first thing to consider when buying a tomato plant is—which one? Usually when a customer comes into the Garden Center I ask them what they want from their tomatoes. Do you want something you can slice up for a sandwich? Or do you want an Italian-style tomato for sauces and salsa? Are you canning your harvest? When we refer a tomato we usually go by five different groups: standard, beefsteak, cherry, plum, and heirloom.

A standard tomato is your typical slicing tomato. The fruits are usually between 8 and 12 oz. (except in the case of Early Girl, in which case you should expect about a 4-6 oz. fruit) and can be red, orange, or striped (the common variety for this type is Mr. Stripey). These are our biggest sellers because they are the most common. As with all tomatoes you can get a determinate or indeterminate tomato, which, contrary to popular belief, does not indicate the height of the stem. Determinate means simply that the plant will reach maturation and the fruits will be produced at about the same time in the season (so that they can be mechanically harvested). Indeterminate will provide fruit all throughout the season. If you are looking for the height of the stem you should ask whether it has a restricted or unrestricted growth pattern. Common varieties of standard tomatoes are:

  • Better Boy (indeterminate hybrid, more disease resistant than its predecessor Big Boy)
  • Heartland (indeterminate, bush—restricted growth)
  • Jet Star (indeterminate)
  • Mr. Stripey (indeterminate)
  • Early Girl (indeterminate)
  • Celebrity (determinate)
  • Golden Jubilee (indeterminate, orange fruit)
A beefsteak tomato can also be used for slicing, but is known for its “meaty” thick fruit. It typically has a large core and can reach 1-2 lbs. These have a great flavor, and are usually requested specifically by those who want a bigger fruit. Common varieties are:
  • Beefmaster (indeterminate)
  • Ponderosa Pink (indeterminate, heirloom)
  • Supersteak (indeterminate)
  • A cherry tomato has, as you can assume, a small fruit that is comparable in size to a large cherry. Fruits are typically only 1-2 in. in diameter. Common varieties are:
  • Sun Gold (indeterminate)
  • Sweet 100 (indeterminate)
  • Yellow Pear (indeterminate, heirloom, yellow fruit)
  • Tumbling Tom Red/Yellow (indeterminate)
A plum tomato is also known as an Italian tomato. These aren’t your typical round tomato—they are typically longer and more oval shaped. Plum tomatoes are usually used in salsa and in Italian-style sauces. Common varieties are:
  • La Roma (determinate)
  • Italian Gold (determinate, yellow fruit)
Heirlooms are an over-arching category. You probably noticed that some of the varieties listed above are described as being “heirloom” tomatoes. This simply means that they are older (some sources require they be in circulation over 50 years) and less disease-resistant than their hybrid counterparts. Based on this description you might wonder why we bother with them at all. The answer—they are delicious. These fruits have been around a while, just ask your grandmother, and are often requested specifically by name. Common varieties are:
  • Brandywine (indeterminate)
  • Yellow Pear (indeterminate)
  • Ponderosa (indeterminate)
  • Champion (indeterminate, often requested for canning)
  • Marglobe (indeterminate)
  • Mr. Stripey (indeterminate)
  • Valencia (indeterminate, orange fruit)
After choosing a tomato plant the rest is pretty easy (I promise). Plan on planting your tomato so that half of the existing plant is underground (the ground level should be around the first set of true leaves). Believe it or not, tomatoes will root all along the buried stem, so this will help stabilize your plant and will give it a wider root system.

Caged and staked tomatoes in our personal garden at Swindlers

Now for stakes and cages (sounds intense, I know). It is often tricky for those new to tomato plants to tell when/if a stake or cage is necessary. You typically stake tomato plants with indeterminate growth. This helps keep them upright and gives them some more stability. Simply buy a four to six foot stake, stick it in next to the plant, and (now this is optional) tie the plant, carefully, to the stake. For cages, just simply buy a metal cage that can surround the plant (it will have long stakes at the bottom to keep it firmly in place). This keeps your tomato within the cage and controls it a bit (tomato plants can get pretty crazy).

Now, for truth about the acclaimed upside-down tomato pots. You have probably seen the commercials: brands like Topsy Turvy advertise up to 30 lbs of fruit and claim that the pots funnel water and nutrients straight to the plant because, of couse, they grow down out of the pot and not up. All the hype surrounding these cool infomercial pots inspired many avid customers to scramble into the Garden Center looking for such pots. So, of course, we tried it out. And my own personal advice—don’t do it to yourself. And I say this for several reasons. First of all, as my Uncle Gerry says, you can’t trick Mother Nature. A plant’s natural instinct is to grow toward sunlight, meaning that although the plant originally grows down out of the pot, it will vine back up toward the sun (creating a plant that is nearly impossible to move, as its weight increases exponentially throughout the season). And then, to keep up with the growth you will be watering two to three times a day. A third pointer—these pots typically do not have enough soil to support a healthy plant. And finally, the idea that hanging pots keep tomatoes away from ground insects is misleading. The insects that usually go after tomatoes, aphids for example, are airborne. Honestly, at close to fifty dollars a pot, it’s just not worth it. Porch pots are great—the ground is free—but be wary of upside-down hangers.

I hope that this quick buyers’ guide will help you not only as you select your tomatoes this year, but as you plan your garden in future years. As always, let me know if you have any further questions!

Monday, May 25, 2009

A New Voice in the ECC Garden Project

My name is Kelsey Swindler, and you will be hearing a lot from me as we continue to follow the ECC vegetable garden. I am (as many from my small town know) a lifelong resident of Wilmington. Usually when I introduce myself, the first question I get is “so which one do you belong to?”—referring, of course, to any of the (many) Swindler men and women that have lived and worked in Wilmington for generations. When I answer that I am, in fact, Phil’s daughter, I usually get a knowing nod, a couple of stories, and a question about how deep to plant a Beefsteak tomato plant.

I am the first to admit I don’t have all the answers. But, having grown up under the umbrella of the Swindler and Sons Florists and Greenhouse, I have naturally picked up some useful knowledge along the way. While still an “amateur” by family standards, many May days toiling in the greenhouses have taught me not only the basics of planting, maintaining, and harvesting vegetables, but also the many benefits that can be reaped from having a personal garden. My grandparents’ generation knew it all along—vegetable gardening is not only practical, but fulfilling. To see a plant from its seedling days to its fruition is remarkable, and guarantees the grower a vegetable that is safe, fresh, and cheap.

By continuing to follow the ECC vegetable garden, and the many others cropping up around town, I hope to learn more about the art to keeping a successful vegetable garden. And by passing along what I have learned, I hope you are inspired to try it out yourself.

As you start your own backyard garden, whether it is your first time or fiftieth, feel free to email any questions you may have to I will research your questions (running them through the Swindler family and other local resources) so that you get a knowledgeable response, and will post useful questions/answers here. And of course, let us know how your own vegetable garden is doing! This is your chance to contribute to the project—whether it is a few tricks you have learned throughout your years of gardening, or pictures of your own harvest.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Garden Update

Except for that near frost on the 17th the weather has been very favorable this week. With the spring crops nearing their harvest time the garden has been getting updated with some warmer weather plants.

Below is an updated picture of the garden with the spring crops. This is the first time I’ve tried using the ‘square foot garden’ approach. All in all I like the layout of the square foot method and think for the small, backyard garden it’s a great way to pack in many different plants into smaller space.

I have planted a dozen ‘4th of July’ tomatoes, an early bloomer, and a load of more basil, of which I cannot get enough.
More Basil...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ground Broken for Denver Park Demonstration Garden

This past Thursday, May 7th, a group of nine Clinton County residents broke ground on a demonstration garden planned for the memorial site at J.W. Denver Williams Memorial Park. The group included: Guy, Sandy, Maggie, and Nellie Ashmore, Cynthia Hannah, Ceel Wathen, Dana Williams, Angela Simonson, and Taylor Stuckert.
The proposal for the demonstration garden was approved by the Parks Board on April 13th. The total area for the plot is 12’x14’ and will feature a rotation of four beds, which includes one raised-bed plot.  
The demonstration garden is in conjunction with the greater community gardens initiative partnered by Energize Clinton County and Wilmington College.
The garden will be a way of illustrating both the nutritional and economical benefits of having a small-plot garden. The demonstration garden serves as a way to increase public awareness and provide a valuable educational tool for people of all ages.
The goal is to have a place for teachers to bring students or public workshops to be given that provide a hands-on experience throughout various stages of the process.
The public is encouraged to visit the garden site which will continue to develop over the coming months. The garden is located in the memorial square (with the flag pole) by the volleyball courts.

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