The other day, before the Melon Tasting at Nichols Garden Nursery,we had a Tomato Tasting! What a fabulous day to be there!! We had a baker’s dozen of tomato varieties to taste.

The folks who tasted commented:
Larger tomatoes included:
‘Black Krim’ – the favorite; with a good balance of acid and sugar; stands alone; great on a hamburger
‘Carmello’ – bland, juicy, like a store-bought tomato
‘Crimson Carmello’ – acid with good flavor
‘Heartland’ – excellent flavor; juicy for sandwiches
‘Jaune de Flamme’ – yellow, juicy, watery flavor
‘Legend’ – meaty, but not flavorful
‘Margo’ – not at peak ripeness; crunchy
‘Marmand’ – acidic, bland, good for sauce
‘Rutgers’ – the “gold standard”, heirloom, the “Jersey tomato,” parent of many hybrid tomatoes

‘Thai Pink’ – represented the plum group, flavorful, slightly acid, good in salads
‘Sugary’ is a grape, – flavorful with a good bite (others didn’t like it at all)

Cherries included:
‘Cal Hy K9’ – red, crunchy, generally not liked
‘Orange Sunshine’ – less sweet, crispy
‘Sun Gold’ – the gold standard – fabulous, sweet
‘Sunsugar’ – hard to differentiate from ‘Sun Gold’

A group of foodie/garden writers is sitting with me now at Rose Marie’s kitchen table: Josh Young, Jim Long, Jane Whitfield, and Ros Creasy, tasting the cherry tomatoes… ‘Sun Gold’ and ‘Sunsugar’ were indistinguishable – basically we loved the orange cherries!!

If you’re in the area, come to Nichols on on Saturday the 20th from 1 to 4 pm and judge for yourself.

Looking forward to hearing what your favorites are….

Cathy Wilkinson Barash

The Des Moines Gardener at Rose Marie’s

In case you’ve been wondering what happened to the Des Moines Garden…it’s a tale to tell! Long story short, I am a renter, and despite the fact that my front-yard garden had been on local TV three times, featured in Des Moines Register twice, and photos of the garden had been included in several of my books as well as a number of lectures, my landlord didn’t get it. Not that anyone complained about the garden; in fact the neighbors loved picking ‘Snow White’ tomatoes as they walked by (and since it sprawled, dogs nibbled the sweet fruits, too) and chat about other plants. So, two years ago we had a “Divide and Conquer” weekend, and divvied up what was in the garden among friends and neighbors.

It was not until a full year later (last fall) that the landlord finally put in sod.
Of course to me, lawn is a nasty four-letter word – a waste of resources, time, and energy, and not edible, although my cat Bogart loves to nibble it (and is the only cat I know to eat grass and not get sick). Sorry, I can’t seem to get Bogart upright!

In the meantime, I have become “The Itinerant Gardener,” getting my hands in the earth whenever and where ever possible – from Des Moines to California this year. And yesterday, I landed in Portland Oregon to spend some time with Rose Marie before and after the annual Garden Writers Association symposium.

I’m so excited to have been able to see and taste what will be a new addition to Nichols’ 2009 catalog – the ‘French Horticultural’ shelling (cranberry) bean seen here. Aren’t they just gorgeous? At this point the beans are not dry, so the color of the bean inside is not completely developed.As the pods dry, the cream color yellows, and the cranberry pink deepens a bit.

At this stage, it took Rose Marie longer to shell the beans than to cook them. She put them into water in which she’d been boiling a ham bone, some sliced onions and a bay leaf. The beans were ready in less than 10 minutes, but she wanted to cook down the liquid. This is why recipes are tested several times before Rose Marie puts them up on the blog. Anyway, it was after we had licked the last of the serving bowl that it dawned on me that I should have photographed the yet unnamed dish. Perfect for a cool evening’s dinner.

Happy Gardening. Enjoy the fruits from your garden, where ever you are!

Cathy Wilkinson Barash (“The Blooming Gourmet”

Des Moines Garden 11/23/06 – Chickens Give Thanks

After my front yard garden was literally cleaned out (see post “Divide and Conquer 10/8/06”), I sowed Tyfon seeds, which Rose Marie had sent me, as a winter cover crop. I confess that I did not keep up with the watering, and we were in a drought. Some seeds sprouted and the first set (cotyledon) of leaves lightly peppered the bare ground.

Although it got quite chilly in November, the weather warmed on Thanksgiving Day—it was sunny and in the mid 60s. Ton and David (who live two houses south of me, and own Chocolaterie Stam—the best chocolate this side of Amsterdam) had been working non-stop at the local store as well opening a new franchise in Ames, IA. Their six chickens had not free ranged for well over a month (Truth be told, a few times when I was feeding them, they got loose and I had to corral them back into their coop, but they had no grazing time), so David let them out to get some exercise and find some goodies, which indeed they did. The chickens made tracks to my front yard, where they had their own very trendy Thanksgiving feast—micro greens (the young tyfon). They had a great time, and I couldn’t begrudge them their holiday meal as I get to enjoy their fresh eggs every day.

As my Thanksgiving guests arrived, they were greeted by this sight—well-fed chickens having a group dust bath.

In case you want to know who’s who, from left to right: Marjolein (an Auracana), Princess Buttercup (the White Frizzle rooster who had been named by the daughter of the family who gave him—fully grown—to Ton & David. It’s very hard to tell the sex of 2-day old chicks and the name stuck), Shaniqua (a Black Australope, partially hidden by Princess Butterrcup and the two Rhode Island Reds—Ruby and Jezebel), and rounding out the group are Cordelia and Ophelia (Silver Wyandots).

Chickens enjoy a dust bath

Des Moines Garden – The Big Dig

It takes a lot of work to clear a mature garden.

Des Moines Garden - the Big Dig

Keane – Garden help

Des Moines Garden – The Beginning

We are starting here a sequence of posts about the Des Moines garden project. Cathy Wilkinson Barash will update these posts later.  I am posting the pictures now.

Des Moines Garden Pre Dig

This shows the front yard in full growth.

Keane – Garden help.

Eggs & The Vernal Equinox

Cathy Wilkinson Barash, our friend in Des Moines, tells me that eggs will stand upright on their base for several hours around the vernal equinox. Urban myth, pagan rite, or perhaps like Cathy you’ve been astounding friends for years with this feat. She says it only works at the arrival of spring. I’ll be taking pictures of my attempt and we shall see if mine are lopsided or upright.

As you can see from the photo below it worked!

balanced egg
Eggs are the age old symbol of spring and I remember a wonderful Easter egg hunt when the children were small. All the colored eggs had been placed in clumps of wild violets and other spring flowers making such a pretty effect. Several families enjoyed a picnic and it was idyllic until two of the children went chasing down a muddy bank into a slough and had to be fished out. I was the chagrined mother of one of the miscreants.

Des Moines Garden “Winter”

I chatted with Cathy Barash for an update on the Des Moines garden today. She tells us: “Winter has finally arrived and we had two snows within a week and now have six inches on the ground. This is finally giving plants some protection and temperature consistency since in the last couple of months temperatures have ranged from highs in the 60’s and plunging to 7 below. Daffodils were up as much as much as 6” and now are under the snow and some of our fruit trees and lilacs were showing swollen buds. I expect we will have a less colorful spring. Time will tell. The neighbors free range chickens “free ranged” and on a sultry Thanksgiving day, broke loose and feasted on the newly sprouted seeds of my Tyfon covercrop ….the eggs were delicious. Fortunately, this was the perfect year to have removed most of the plants in my garden and start over.”

Cathy has been busy meeting writing deadlines and will begin making posts as spring and warmer weather allows more gardening. We look forward to news and photos of how her Des Moines neighborhood garden progresses.

Des Moines Garden

One focus of this blog is community gardening and encouraging participation in the Garden Writers Association program “Plant A Row For The Hungry”(PAR). My friend, Cathy Wilkinson Barash, author of “Edible Flowers From Garden To Palate” and other gardening books is president of The Garden Writer’s Foundation which helps to support and promote PAR.
Cathy lives in Des Moines, Iowa and is an inspired life long organic gardener with a keen eye for design. Recently her landlord requested that her front yard garden be converted to a lawn. This means many valuable perennials had to be dug and distributed. All the vegetables were harvested and shared. Fortunately, her neighbor, David Clem, convinced the landlord of the merits of a “formal” low growing edible landscape. Then her Sherman Hill neighborhood pitched in to help and in the process a plan for several new community gardens emerged.
Throughout the neighborhood, other gardeners who had loved Cathy’s garden were interested in converting their lawns to growing food, herbs and cutflowers in their front yards. Now they are creating several new organic community gardens in Des Moines. Their objective is to create a series of show-stopping,  organic edible gardens with Sherman Hill becoming the gardening hot spot of Des Moines. They also will participate in PAR by contributing surplus produce to local organizations.
I talked with Cathy on Friday, November 10; snow was falling with an inch on the ground. Earlier in the week temperatures were in the 80’s. She and her neighbors had prepared the soil of these new plots and sowed some with a cover crop of Tyfon. It went in a little late and they are nervously hoping it will establish before severe cold arrives. We’ll be checking in with this group and showing a few photos as this community garden develops.