Saturday, July 13, 2019

What I've been up to lately

I've been neglecting this blog for a while, but now that I have some time I thought I'd write a few more posts about some of the things I've got going on and then schedule them for later. But first, what's been going on in my life?

Sadly, my cat Basil passed away last year. He was the grey tabby cat you may have seen in pictures in some of my previous posts, because one of his favorite things to do was help me out in the garden. Our other cat, Lily, the black and white one, is still around but she's an indoor-only cat (by her own choice; she thinks outside is very scary). Even though it's been a little over a year since he died, I still miss him a lot. He was a very friendly cat and quite a character. It was fun having him go outside with me and follow me around.

The happier news is that I've got a baby due in September! To prepare, I decided to not sign up to teach any summer classes and instead took the summer off. That will cost me a few thousand dollars, but there are so many things to do to get ready for the baby. I've been making and freezing casseroles, soups, chili, and the like to eat once she arrives. At least by then things should be cooling down and I might actually feel like eating foods like that. And that's more fun than doing some of the other things I have to do, like filling out FMLA paperwork and finding a pediatrician and researching daycare centers. Cooking is way more fun than those things, but I need to quit procrastinating and get those things done too.

I'm spending my third trimester during the hottest time of year, July and August, which isn't really the best timing. I can't do much in the garden when it's this hot and I'm lugging around all this extra weight, but this is kind of the off season for gardens in Texas anyway.

In anticipation of this big life change, I did as much strenuous garden work as I could during the second trimester when I was feeling better (and it was cooler outside), and I didn't plant as much in spring as I normally do so I'd have less to take care of. Now that I'm being forced to slow down, I'm just trying to keep what I did plant alive without adding anything else for a while.

This will be a good test to see which varieties of plants can handle some neglect.

So I've got some drafts saved of posts to finish off and schedule to publish in the next few weeks/months, and then I might have to leave the blog alone again for a while since I'll be very busy this fall and winter. I hope at least some of them will be interesting for people.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Bountiful Gardens is Going out of Business

Heads up everyone! One of my favorite seed companies, Bountiful Gardens, is going out of business. Everything is on clearance and selling out fast. Better go there are order all the varieties you want before they sell out. They are closing December 13.

My favorite thing about this seed company has always been their wide selection of greens, especially ones that tolerate hot weather. They have heat-tolerant lettuce varieties that I don't see in any other catalogs. I just ordered a packet each of all of them, plus a few other unusual species of greens that most other catalogs don't carry.

When I first got into seed-saving, I read a lot about the problem of seed companies going out of business when they're the only one that carries a particular variety of plant, and then the variety goes extinct if home seed savers don't maintain it. Honestly, I wasn't too worried about that. I thought it was an exaggeration. I mean, come on, how many times does that actually happen? And if only one catalog was carrying that variety anyway, was it even really that great of a variety to begin with?

I don't believe that anymore after finding some varieties that did really great in my garden that really are only carried in one seed catalog. I still think that it probably doesn't happen that often, but it does happen.

So go to and if you see anything interesting or unusual, snatch it up now before it sells out! And then when you grow it, if it does well in your garden, save the seeds.

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Snag in my Zucchini Breeding Project

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans.

Here's a quick update on how the zucchini breeding project has gone. It looks like this is going to take longer than I thought.

Since summer squash usually put out male flowers before female flowers, I planted Tatume a couple of weeks earlier than Costata Romanesca this spring, since I wanted to use Tatume as the female parent. What I need for that is male flowers on CR and female flowers on Tatume at the same time.

The Tatume plants were up and growing when I planted Costata Romanesca, but as soon as the CR seeds sprouted, they started growing very fast.

By the time CR started making male flowers, Tatume just started making vines.

By the time CR started making female flowers, Tatume had just started making male flowers.

By the time CR started making fruit, Tatume was still just making male flowers. At this point I thought maybe I could try switching things, and making CR the mother and Tatume the father, so at least I'd get something. So I didn't harvest any of the zucchinis for eating (like I had planned to do), and instead left them on the plants to mature.

And then the Squash Vine Borers showed up. The CR plants started to collapse. The borers even bored into the fruits themselves and made them rot before maturing.

By June or so, the Costata Romanesca zucchini plants were all dead, without even making one good mature fruit with seeds with Tatume as their father.

Now, in early August, Tatume is still around, still growing vines, and still only making male flowers!

I don't know what its problem is. Did I plant it in a bad spot? Is it not getting enough sun or nutrients? Why won't it make fruits?

It's almost that time of year where Texans can plant more summer squash for a quick fall crop before it gets too cold. Since it looks like my Tatume squash are going to survive the summer (which is one of the great things about that variety), I'm going to try planting more zucchini to try again for a cross this fall. And I might have to be less picky about which one is the father and which one is the mother and just try to get any mature fruits at all.

See? I told you growing summer squash in Central Texas is tricky!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Introducing the Squash Vine Borer Resistant Zucchini Project

It's a new year, and I'm rethinking what I do with this blog. It had gotten boring and tedious for me, but after taking a break for a while, I thought about some things I could write about that might make things more interesting.

One of my Christmas gifts was The Tao of Vegetable Gardening by Carol Deppe. I already had Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties and The Resilient Gardener, so I was really glad to receive her newest book.

When I first started this blog, I was unemployed and gardening was a way to feel like I was doing something productive with my time. Now I have a full time job, but gardening is still very important to me for a lot of the same reasons Deppe talks about in her books.

She talks a lot about seed saving and plant breeding, and says that all gardeners should do it. I've been saving seeds for years, but I think it's finally about time I try my hand at a breeding project. If nothing else, it sounds like a lot of fun, but maybe it will also result in me getting a really useful new plant variety, or maybe even distribute to other people in my region.

A project like this should have a clear goal, so my goal is to breed a zucchini squash that can produce a good crop despite the bane of all people who attempt to grow summer squash in my area: the dreaded Squash Vine Borer.

Because of SVBs, the idea of having too much zucchini so you have to sneak some onto your neighbor's porch is a fantasy to gardeners around here. Squash Vine Borers are moths (actually really cool looking moths) that lay their eggs on squash plants. The caterpillars then bore into the squash plant’s stem and eat them out from the inside until the whole plant collapses and dies. They especially like Cucurbita pepo and Cucurbita maxima. (Cucurbita moschata and Cucurbita argyrosperma are resistant.)

Most summer squash is in the species C. pepo. Whenever I try to grow zucchini, pattypans, or yellow crooknecks, I might get a squash or two before they collapse from getting eaten from the inside by those darn borers. I haven't even tried growing any of the winter squash varieties of C. pepo like delicatas or acorns because I'm sure they won't make it to maturity.

But I have an idea for a solution! Tatume is the only C. pepo summer squash variety I’ve found so far that gives me a good crop before succumbing to the borers. I think that’s because unlike most summer squash varieties, it has long vines instead of a bushy growth habit. That allows it to outgrow the borers and root at the nodes. Borers still get into it, but I still get a decent crop of squash from it. Most other summer squashes die before I get any fruit at all because they have such short stems that the borers eat them up really fast.

People like bush squash because they take up less room, but I don't think that helps any when you don't even get any squash at all from them before the borers kill them. I know I'm kind of going backwards here, but I want more vigorous, viney summer squash varieties instead of compact bush varieties.

It also makes sense for Tatume to do well here because it’s a South Texas heirloom. Having long vines is only one of its advantages. It's also much more tolerant of heat and drought than other C. pepo squash. It probably has other useful genes that help it survive in Texas besides just the gene for a vine growth habit.

The fruits of Tatume are sort of like an oval shaped zucchini. They are green when at immature eating stages, and turn yellow when mature, looking a lot like a small spaghetti squash. They taste just fine, so if Tatume is just fine, why not just grow Tatume and that will be my one variety of summer squash I can grow?

Part of the reason is just for the heck of it, so I can try out a breeding project. But I also think it might be good to have more varieties of C. pepo I can grow here than just one. Crossing other varieties of C. pepo with Tatume could give me all kinds of different fruits on Tatume's drought tolerant, heat tolerant, squash vine borer tolerant vines.

I decided to start with crossing Tatume with a zucchini. Maybe later I can try with other varieties, but I think zucchini is a good place to start because zucchini isn't as different from Tatume as some varieties. I won’t have to deal with trying to change the fruit color that way, since Tatume is already green like a zucchini. They're also both good as summer squashes. Starting out crossing Tatume with a winter squash like a delicata might be complicated because then I'd have to select for fruits that are good as winter squash. I'll see how it goes with the Tatume/zucchini cross and then think about making other Tatume crosses.

The next step was to choose which variety of zucchini to use for the cross, since there are several. Carol Deppe and several other people consider Costata Romanesca to be the best zucchini, so last year I tried it out. I got the seeds from Bountiful Gardens. I planted six plants, and got three fruits, one on one plant and two on another plant. The other three plants all died from borers before producing fruits, though they did make some male flowers that may have contributed pollen. I ate one fruit off the plant that had two to see if it really did taste as good as people say, and it did. I let the other two fruits mature to see if that was even possible, and they did manage to mature before the plants died of borers, but just barely. I saved the seeds from the survivors, and I also have 16 of the original seeds left in the packet.

Costata Romanesca seems like a good zucchini, so now I have the parents for my new squash variety picked out. Next comes deciding which will be the mother (to get fruits and seeds from) and which will be the father (to get pollen from). The choice here is obvious. Tatume needs to be the mom and CR will be the dad. It’s easier for a plant to make male flowers and pollen than a fruit with mature seeds, so the mom should always be the better survivor of the two. I just barely got any fruits when I grew CR, so it makes a lot more sense to get pollen from CR and have Tatume make the fruits.

That means this year I should make my cross. I will need to grow both varieties, and get some female Tatume flowers pollinated by male Costata Romanesca flowers. Then the F1 seeds inside that Tatume fruit will have Tatume for a mom and CR for a dad.

After I get the F1 seeds is when things get tricky. Then what do I do for the next generation? Self the F1’s or cross back to one of the parents?

I want my new variety to have long vines, not bushes, so I needed to find out which is the dominant trait. I looked it up and, bad news, vines are recessive to bush. It’s a great example of how the “wild type” is not always the dominant gene. That’s going to make it harder than if vine was dominant. You’ll see why.

I don’t know what the real abbreviation for the gene for vine vs. bush, so I’ll use B and b. That means Tatume is bb and Costata Romanesca is BB. The F1 hybrid would then be Bb. That means my F1 generation will all be bushes since bush is dominant. Not good news, since bushes are the ones that are more susceptible to SVBs.

If I backcross the F1 to Tatume I’ll get more vines but also more Tatume-like fruit. If I backcross to CR I’ll get more zucchini-like fruit but also more bushes, so it looks like the best thing to do will be to self the F1’s. I’ll grow all F1’s that time around and let them cross with each other. I’ll have to give them extra pampering so I’ll get some fruits, since they’ll all be bushes being attacked by SVBs.

The seeds I get from that batch will be the F2 generation. That’s when things get interesting. When they are grown, if Gregor Mendel was right, they will be ¾ bushes and ¼ vines. Finally the vine trait will be back! In that generation, it will be easy to weed out the bush plants and only leave the vines. Carol Deppe says one way to do this is to sow the seeds thickly and then thin out the smallest plants pretty early on. The ones left will be mostly vines, since the viney plants grow faster than the bushes, long before their final growth form is obvious.

If I cull all the bushes early on I will just have F2 vines left to produce fruits, and then I can finally start selecting for fruit characteristics. The F2 vines should have a mixture of different fruit types, so I can start selecting for the most zucchini-like ones, and not saving seed from the Tatume-like ones.

Here’s my plan year by year:
Year 1: Grow Tatume and Costata Romanesca and pollinate female Tatume flowers with male CR flowers to get the F1 seeds.
Year 2: Grow out the F1 seeds, which will all be bushes with whatever fruit characteristics are dominant. Let them cross with each other.
Year 3: Grow out the F2 seeds. Pull out bush plants and leave only vines. See what kind of fruits the vines make. Save seeds from the most zucchini-like fruits.
Year 4: This depends on what the F2’s from last year were like. I might have to grow out some more F2’s, or I might try growing some F3’s. At this point space will be my main limitation. Since I can only grow out maybe a dozen plants at a time, I'll just have to see if I get lucky and find some that have the kind of fruits I want.

This means it will be at least three years before I even have a chance of having a vining zucchini like I want. However, since both Tatume and Costata Romanesca are perfectly edible summer squashes, I can still eat any of the squashes I don't want to save seeds from. There's not much to lose.

One thing that might speed things up is if I can grow two crops a year, since we really have two short growing seasons here rather than one long one. The spring summer squash crop is usually dead by July or August of either SVBs or heat and drought, but I might be able to grow a fall crop that might have time to mature before it freezes. It would be worth a try if I have enough seeds. That means I could get to the interesting F2 generation by Year 2 instead of Year 3. Then by Year 3 I'd already be at the stage where I have only vines and am selecting for fruit characteristics.

So that's the first breeding project I'm going to do. I've got some other ideas for things I'd like to try, but I'd better not get ahead of myself. This will be a good start.

Take that, Squash Vine Borers.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Garlic and Onion Harvest 2015

The heavy rain we had this spring and early summer wasn't appreciated by all of my Alliums. Some of them did all right, but others had problems with rot. That's why I'm posting about them a bit late this year because some of them had some problems during curing.

All of my garlic and onions were planted on September 21, the Autumn Equinox, last year. I planted three varieties of perennial onions: French Red Shallots, Yellow Potato Onions, and I'itois Onions, five varieties of garlic: Red Toch, Lorz Italian, Inchelium Red, Nootka Rose, and S&H Silverskin, and two varieties of leeks: Elephant Garlic and multiplier leeks.

The Yellow Potato Onions, Inchelium Red Garlic, and Nootka Rose garlic were all new varieties I got from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

French Red Shallots
Harvested June 11

I got these French Red Shallots back in 2013, I think, and this the first year I got enough to eat as well as plant (and even give some away to family members). The first year I planted them, a lot of them rotted, but they must have adapted or something because now they are doing great.

They're just like little red onions, with a sweet mild flavor. They're small, about the size of golf balls, but I'm very happy with them, especially when I see the price of shallots at the grocery store.

Yellow Potato Onions
Harvested July 2

The shallots' cousins, the Yellow Potato Onions, didn't do nearly as well. Long after all the other Alliums were harvested and cured, the YPO's and Nootka Rose garlic still looked like they weren't ready. I finally gave up and harvested them anyway, and I found out that a lot of the Yellow Potato Onions had rotted. They are supposed to be easier to grow than shallots, so I emailed Southern Exposure Seed Exchange to ask them what they thought happened. They thought it was because of the wet weather, and said onions especially don't like that.

It's like we either have to little rain or too much! The onions in the picture are the ones that weren't rotted, so I'm going to try planting them again and seeing what happens.

I also grew I'itois onions again, but don't have a picture for them. These are the ones I got back in 2009 from Native Seeds/SEARCH. They did great, as usual.

Elephant Garlic
Harvested May 11

Even though the Elephant Garlic was one of the first Alliums I harvested, apparently I was still too late. As you can see from the picture, all but two of the bulbs fell apart into individual cloves as they cured. Next year I need to remember that Elephant garlic is ready very early, and I'll try digging them up as soon as they send up scapes. This year I cut the scapes and then left them in the ground a while longer, and I guess that was a bad move.

As usual, I got lots and lots of bulbils, as you can see in the picture, but so far I haven't had much luck with growing those. You're supposed to be able to plant them and they grow into larger solid bulbs, that you then plant again to grow into full sized bulbs with cloves. When I've planted them before they didn't come up at all. If I have room I'll try again this year.

The other type of leek I grew again were the multiplier leeks I got from my SCA a few years ago. As usual, they're doing great. They're almost doing too well and are becoming almost like weeds.

Inchelium Red
Harvested May 12

This was my best garlic this year. It's an artichoke variety that I'm trying out for the first time, and I'm happy. It's very similar in appearance to its fellow artichoke, Lorz Italian. I haven't done a taste comparison yet. I got several bulbs of a good size. Don't have much else to say except this one is a keeper.

Lorz Italian
Harvested May 27

I'm still happy with Lorz too. It didn't do quite as well as Inchelium Red this year, but I still got some good sized bulbs from it. It's also a keeper.

Not pictured is Red Toch, which I harvested on May 12. I only got a few undersized bulbs of that one. It's also an artichoke, but Lorz Italian and Inchelium Red are both doing so much better, I've decided to discontinue this variety.

Nootka Rose
Harvested July 2

This is the garlic that gave me the most problems. It's a silverskin that I tried out new this year, to see if it was better than S&H Silverskin. I finally gave up and harvested it in July along with the Yellow Potato onions even though it wasn't ready, and some of these turned out to be rotten too. I'm torn about whether to replant this one or not. There were a couple of bulbs that looked like they might have produced cloves, and the biggest bulbs of this one were bigger than what I got from S&H Silverskin, but it took so long before they were ready to harvest. I like to rotate sweet potatoes after my garlic, because usually my garlic is out by May or June, just in time to plant sweet potatoes, but this year I had to make my sweet potatoes wait for Nootka Rose.

S&H Silverskin
Harvested May 12

I've planted this other silverskin before, but it's never done very well. The bulbs are always very small. I wonder if maybe silverskins just aren't a good type of garlic for me. They're supposed to be the longest keeping garlics, which sounds good, but that doesn't help much when the bulbs are so tiny they're hardly worth peeling.

Keepers - Lorz Italian garlic, Inchelium Red garlic, Elephant garlic, multiplier leek, I'itois onion, and French Red shallot
On Notice - S&H Silverskin and Nootka Rose garlic, Yellow Potato Onions - These will all get another chance, but if they don't do better next year, I'll probably discontinue them.
Discontinuing - Red Toch, due to being consistently outperformed by the other artichoke garlic varieties I have in my collection

Even with the failures, I still have plenty of Lorz Italian, Inchelium Red, and Elephant garlic to eat, plus a lot of French Red shallots.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Potato Harvest 2015

One of the things I got done over the July 4th weekend was harvest my potatoes. The tops had mostly died back, and it was getting hot out there, so it was time for them to come out.

Potatoes are difficult to grow in Central Texas. They don't like freezing temperatures, but they don't like hot temperatures either, so that leaves only a small window where they're comfortable in a Central Texas garden. They also prefer acidic soil, and my soil is around pH 7.5 - 8.0.

Therefore, for the past few years I've been on a learning curve figuring out the best way to grow them. I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of it, because this year they did well enough that I have plenty of potatoes for eating as well as saving some for replanting.

I planted six varieties of potatoes this year. Two of them, Red Pontiac and Purple Viking, are varieties I've been growing for several years now, and they continue to do well. I originally got them from Potato Garden. To try out some new varieties, I bought the Cook's Potato Mix from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which has one pound each of four varieties: Caribe, Cranberry Red, King Harry, and Rose Gold.

I planted Red Pontiac and Purple Viking on January 18. I'm still trying figure out how early is too early to plant potatoes. Most sources say I'm supposed to plant them around Valentines Day, but I have been trying to push that date earlier to make sure they have plenty of time to mature before it gets hot. If I plant them too early, they start to grow a lot, and then if we get another hard freeze, they can get badly damaged. That happened when I tried planting some in November 2013, which turned out to be way too early. Luckily I didn't plant all of them that early, so I could plant some more later in January of 2014 when the first planting froze to death.

Potatoes are heavy feeders, so another thing I tried this year was to really work the soil well and add a lot of goodies to make sure they had plenty of nutrients. I used a modified version of John Jeavons's double-digging method, but without the double part because my soil is too compacted and rocky down there. Basically I dug a trench out from the end of the raised bed, put that in a wheelbarrow, laid the seed potatoes down in the trench, sprinkled some organic fertilizer and compost on top, filled in the trench with soil from the next trench, and repeated the process until the whole bed was planted. The last trench was filled with soil from the first trench. Then I spread even more compost on top. The resulted in seed potatoes about 8-10 inches deep, with very loose fluffy soil with lots of organic matter covering them. It was a lot of physical work, but I think it turned out to be worth it.

One mistake I made was waiting until the potatoes had sprouted and grown a lot of leaves before mulching them thickly with hay. It was still pretty cold and damp when I did that, so pillbugs got under the hay and ate so many leaves off my Red Pontiac plants that they died. I would say about half of them died from that.

I received my seed potatoes from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in early March, and planted them March 7. I treated them the exact same way as the Red Pontiac and Purple Vikings, except this time I put the thick hay mulch on top right away. That way, they didn't leaf out until their stems had grown up above the mulch, and the pillbugs didn't eat them.

All of the potatoes were harvested on July 2, and here are my results.

Red Pontiac and Purple Viking

Red Pontiac and Purple Viking
I planted 20 Red Pontiac plants and 16 Purple Viking plants and they all did great. The fertilizer must have helped, because I don't think I've ever gotten potatoes this big before. I got plenty to eat as well as save some for replanting next year. Even though the Red Pontiacs were damaged by the pillbugs, you can see I still got a respectable crop from them. I planted fewer Purple Vikings, but got the biggest yield from them.

I think Purple Viking is still my favorite potato variety. Red Pontiac doesn't always do as well, but one advantage is it's earlier than Purple Viking, so I'll keep growing both.

Now for the newbies from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.


Here's the description SESE gives for Caribe: One of the earliest and prettiest potatoes you'll dig. Deep purple skin with snow white flesh. Can be quite large with good yields. Good for boiling, baking, and frying. Lovely as a new potato. Very early maturing.

Well, they turned out to be the ugliest of SESE's potatoes! They yielded the highest, but the tubers were all cracked and knobby and rough.

But I did some research online and found out it may not be all the potatoes' fault. We had a lot of rain in the spring and early summer, and this can cause some varieties of potatoes to grow this way if they get a deluge of rain while the the tubers are growing. The tubers end up taking up too much water too quickly and the outside of the tuber cracks.

I considered whether I should give this variety a second chance or discontinue it. I didn't really want to eat them because of all the deep cracks full of dirt. This variety might be too similar to Purple Viking to be worth keeping. They're both purple skinned and white fleshed, and PV has already proven itself worthy.

Finally, I decided I will use them in an experiment. I'm going to try fall-planting these for a winter harvest. I've read about how you can plant potatoes here in August or September to maybe get a harvest before our first freeze in November or December. It's cutting it close because you're trying to grow them in that small window between weather that's too hot and weather that's too cold, and sometimes potatoes planted in the hot weather of August rot, but since these tubers are messed up anyway, if they don't make it I won't be too upset about losing them.

It would be nice to get two crops of potatoes a year. I don't really have anywhere good to store potatoes over the summer. You're not supposed to store them in the fridge because that ruins the taste, so the only other place is to put them in my pantry, which is really too warm to store potatoes optimally. During the day when we're at work, the air conditioner is set to 82 degrees to save electricity. Potatoes are ideally stored at 50 degrees. There's nowhere in my house that's 50 degrees in the summer!

So I can't really use potatoes as a long-term storage like they do up north, and instead they're a seasonal treat to be eaten quickly before they sprout or rot. It would be nice to have a second harvest in December because that would be long after the summer-harvested potatoes are gone.

Cranberry Red

Cranberry Red
SESE Description: Considered the best of the red-skinned, red-fleshed varieties. Excellent for potato salad because of its low starch content. Smooth texture and high yields.

While harvesting the potatoes I accidentally cut one in half and noticed the flesh really only has a pink blush. I wouldn't really call it red. This is also the variety that gave me the smallest yields. Besides the cut one, the ones you see in the picture are all I got, and they appeared to all have come from only one plant.

But the potatoes I did get, especially that one in the foreground, were so pretty that I decided to keep all of them to try replanting next year. Why did that one plant do well while the others had nothing? If they had all done as well as that one plant, I would have gotten a lot. Maybe I can get them to do better next year.

King Harry

King Harry
SESE Description: A new firm-fleshed round white potato from Cornell University that holds its shape well when boiled. These early and productive plants have hairy leaves, thanks to a wild potato from Bolivia, which deter pests like the Colorado Potato beetle. Great for potato salads, boiling, sautes and soups.

Of all the new varieties I got from SESE to try this year, King Harry did the best. It's the only one I got enough of to eat some as well as save some for replanting. The potatoes I got where very nice-looking round potatoes with blemish-free smooth skin.

The plants were considerably more vigorous than all my other potato varieties (though I didn't notice the leaves being significantly hairier). It sent out long sprawling vines, flowered profusely, and then made two big handfuls of potato berries for me! It must be the genes from that wild Bolivian potato.

I kept the potato berries to save the true potato seeds from to try growing them in the future. I've tried growing true potato seed before from some "purple potato seeds" I got in a GardenWeb swap years ago, but they never got big tubers. Maybe since King Harry has already proven itself as a good potato variety in my garden, it's offspring will also be good.

Caribe is the only other variety that flowered this year, and it never set fruits, but it might have contributed pollen to the King Harry seeds. I hope so, because that would give even more genetic diversity. It would be interesting to grow these seeds out and see what I get.

Overall, King Harry is definitely a keeper!

Rose Gold

Rose Gold
SESE's Description: Rosy red skin with a creamy delicious deep yellow flesh. Dry flesh is perfect baked or steamed. Disease resistant.

Rose Gold was the second best of the new varieties. It's supposed to be very similar to Yukon Gold, but with with a rosy blush to the skin. It didn't give me enough to eat some, but I still kept the ones I got for replanting next year to try to increase. The tubers I did get looked very nice. I would like to have a yellow-fleshed potato in my collection.


Purple Viking - still my favorite
Red Pontiac - still good
King Harry - the best new variety; definitely a keeper
Rose Gold - giving it a second chance
Cranberry Red - giving it a second chance
Caribe - replanting in August as an experiment

I now have several pounds of Purple Viking, Red Pontiac, and King Harry to eat. The other day I roasted some chicken thighs with some of the potatoes that got impaled by the digging fork during harvest, and they were delicious. I like to roast chicken thighs and potatoes sprinkled with herbs like rosemary and sage, and stir it a bit as it cooks to let the fat that melts out of the chicken coat the potatoes and get them all nice and crispy. Mmmm!

It may be my imagination, but homegrown potatoes do taste better than store bought. And they were grown with no pesticides!

The potatoes I plan on replanting go in the spare fridge in the garage. Storing potatoes in the fridge makes them convert some of their starch to sugar, which makes them taste weird, and that's why you don't want to store potatoes you want to eat in the fridge. But if you're going to plant them, then who cares what they taste like? Keeping them in the fridge will keep them from rotting before it's time to plant them again.

Planting them in late January seems to work well. I think I had to cover them with frost blankets a time or two, and I did have that pillbug problem, but I still got a lot of nice big potatoes after doing that.

I look forward to seeing how the varieties from SESE do when planted earlier. When I planted Red Pontiac and Purple Viking in January and the SESE varieties in March, I expected the earlier planting to be ready to harvest earlier than the later planting, but that turned out to not be the case. They were all ready to harvest at around the same time.

At first I thought that earlier planting made no difference, until I dug them up and found out the earlier planting had much bigger tubers. Ah ha! I've made a discovery! The vines die in late June or early July no matter how early they were planted, probably triggered by the hot weather. But if they are planted earlier, they have more time to grow larger tubers before hot weather. So there is an advantage of planting earlier, but not the one I thought it would be.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Story of Food Waste

On Earth Day this past week, MSNBC aired Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story. I knew that a lot of food was wasted in our society, but I had no idea about the scope of the problem. According to this documentary, we waste 30%-40% of our food, and that means we also waste 30%-40% of our water, land, pesticides, fertilizers, and energy we use to grow it.

I think what most surprised me was how much fresh produce is wasted before it even gets to the grocery store. It never occurred to me to think of why exactly all those fruits and vegetables look so uniform and perfect at the grocery store, while the ones I grow are much more irregular in shape and size. I guess I assumed that the chemical fertilizers, pesticides, machines, and other industrial growing techniques had something to do with it.

I never realized it was because they just throw away all the fruits and vegetables that don't meet their beauty standards! A banana that doesn't curve just right, a carrot that's not perfectly straight, a peach with a cosmetic blemish, they all get rejected.

I knew there must be some rejects. Bruised fruit, broken vegetables, etc. I assumed they would get processed into things like jams or canned soups, but no. The peach grower said he offers his ugly peaches to jam companies, but he has so many they can only take a small fraction. Another segment had a celery farmer standing on piles of celery that was trimmed off to make the bunches of celery fit in the bags they're packaged in. He said it was perfectly good celery, but nobody wants it, so it gets plowed back under.

Speaking of fresh vegetables, they really gave me a lot of guilt over that moldy bell pepper I threw away last week! The most memorable part of the movie followed a bell pepper from a sprouting plant, to being picked over and getting past the culling stage, to being shipped in a truck cross-country, to being bought in a grocery store, to being put in the drawer of a refrigerator, and then... molding and rotting away.

All to the tune of "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds.

"When you walk on by... will you call my name? Or will you walk away?"

Yes, little bell pepper, I FORGOT ABOUT YOU! I'm so sorry!

But actually, I think I'm pretty good for the most part. One thing I wondered about watching this documentary is, "Is eating leftovers a weird thing that most people don't do?" They talk about restaurant portions, they talk about catering events where you have food left over, they talk about serving too much food at dinner parties, and I kept wondering how that wastes food, unless nobody eats leftovers.

When I take a doggy bag home from a restaurant, that's lunch for the next day. When I throw a party or host a holiday dinner, my husband and I spend the next week eating the leftovers, but they don't get wasted. I sometimes plan for leftovers on purpose by choosing foods I know reheat well or are good to incorporate into new dishes.

Maybe it's just how I was raised, but I was raised to not waste food. My mom might have gone too far with the penny-pinching so that at times it seemed the stress she went through worrying about every little cent wasn't worth the money she saved, but at least she taught me that throwing food away is the same as throwing dollar bills straight in the trash, and that isn't something anyone would do.

I also knew that the dates on containers are "sell by" or "best by" dates, and not "eat this by this date or else it will kill you" dates. I only throw away food that is noticeably spoiled. If it's moldy or has obviously rotten spots, or has a bad smell, then it goes in the compost. Otherwise, I eat it, and I have never gotten sick from eating food from home.

I'm also a compost heretic. Lots of garden books will give you these rules on what you can and can't put in compost. I don't listen to any of them, and put anything organic in the compost. Yes, including cooked foods, dairy products, meats, and moldy bread. ALL food waste goes in the compost. If it's something that smells bad, I bury it in leaves or grass clippings.

So even when I do waste food, like that poor bell pepper, it goes into my garden as compost, not into a landfill.

Speaking of landfills, one thing they didn't mention is when all those containers of food are thrown away, not only are you wasting the food, but you're wasting the containers the food is in. When that guy found that dumpster full of sealed plastic packages of hummus, I was more concerned about all that plastic going into the landfill than the hummus. All that plastic to package the hummus was wasted as well, and plastic doesn't decompose.

Another thing I wish they had covered is food waste by restaurants. When I was a student I had a part time job at Barnes and Noble, and our store had a coffee shop in it. I helped out at the coffee shop sometimes, and got to see how much food they wasted there. They had a big glass case full of all our baked goods: cookies, muffins, scones, etc. They also had panini sandwiches and had a gelato bar.

Nothing was made from scratch, of course. The baked goods came as frozen hockey pucks of dough that you just took out of the box and put in the oven. The sandwiches were pre-assembled as well and just had to be grilled, and the gelato was a liquid that was poured into the machine to churn and freeze.

Since a case brimming with baked goods looks better than having only a few of everything, they kept that case full all the way up until closing time. And then at the end of the day everything was thrown away. I remember looking at that big wheeled restaurant trash can completely full of food, mostly cookies and muffins and scones baked that day, and thought of what a waste it was. I asked if I could have a few, and I was told absolutely not! That would be considered theft, just like if I shoplifted a book off the shelf.

So then I asked if we could donate the food instead, and the manager said we'd get sued.

So it all went into the dumpster. A locking dumpster to make sure no one gets it out later.

I understand why we wouldn't want to sell day-old cookies or muffins, because they really aren't as good the next day. If you're going to spend the crazy prices we were charging for each muffin, you want one that's freshly baked. But the day-old ones weren't bad. Someone would have loved to have them.

I'm glad the documentary mentioned that you actually can't get sued for donating food. There is an actual law that says you can't, in order to encourage people to donate food without having to worry about things like that. They were talking about it in the context of grocery stores donating extra food, but it would apply to the Barnes and Noble coffee shop too.

But most people either don't know about that, or managers may even lie to their employees and say they could get sued, because they just don't want to go to the trouble of taking the muffins to a charity instead of throwing them in the dumpster.

One last thing I think would help is if people has more ideas about how to handle leftovers. Maybe the Food Network should have a show about that. It would certainly be better than most of the shows they have now. Since Good Eats ended, the only show I like on that channel anymore is Chopped, because it actually gives me ideas on how to cook with what I have on hand that needs to get used up. They sometimes have a theme show where all the mystery ingredients are leftovers.

Maybe they could have a show just about using leftovers creatively, and they could throw in information about freezing food and other ways to store it better, meal planning, shopping smart, and so on. I would totally watch that, but I guess all those food competition shows like Guy's Grocery Games and Cutthroat Kitchen are more exciting.

Well, I would say this documentary was worth watching. We're even more spoiled when it comes to food than I thought. It inspired me to clean out the fridge today and make sure I didn't have any more sad vegetables at the bottom of the crisper drawer singing, "Don't you forget about me..."