Tomato Season 2017: Digging Those Eastern European Heirlooms

Well, I admit it. I start thinking about the upcoming tomato season in December. Seattle is ridiculously dark and rainy during the last month of the year, but without fail that’s when my tomato and garden catalogs trickle in and that’s when I leave the holiday hubbub at the door and start to plan for the spring.

This year, we are having a ridiculously cold and rainy spring and everyone is wondering when the dreary weather will hit the road. No one has any answers and the media even salts the communal wound by publishing articles saying this is the rainiest season EVER for the Emerald City.

That being said, I am still marching forth on my tomato planning but I am also preparing for what will most likely be a late and truncated tomato season. When I moved to Seattle from New York over twenty years ago, I got turned on to the Eastern European heirloom tomatoes. I was told that these varieties are naturally conducive to Seattle’s maritime climate and that they produced flavorful unique tomatoes that defy the odds. Indeed, varieties such as Black Krim, Moskvich, Gregori’s Altai, Cosmonaut Volkov, Stupice and Siberia have been the backbone of my tomato beds for year.  These varieties sit alongside the classic heirlooms such as Carmello, San Marzano, Mortgage Lifter and Brandywine.

I often push the envelope and plant my tomatoes around April 15th but NOT this year because nighttime temperatures are still dipping to 40, which is way too cold. Hence, I’m coddling my plants at the kitchen table and at locations throughout my little house until the days get warmer and brighter.

If you haven’t gotten your tomato game plan in order yet, fear not because there’s still lots of time to reach for some of the Eastern Europeans. I grow some by seed but I also rely on the plants grown by Langley Fine Gardens on Vashon Island. You can find them at  Sky Nursery in Shoreline, at Swanson’s Nursery in NW Seattle and at select farmer’s markets during spring.  Or, you can simply order live plants directly from Territorial Seed in Oregon.

 

 

The Year in Review: My P-Patch Garden

Well, it’s official. I am wrapping up a full year as a Seattle P-Patch gardener. The P-Patches here in Seattle are a network of 88 organic community gardens dotted throughout the city. Operated by the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, the gardens have a legacy that dates back to about 1973 when the first one was started at Picardo Farm.

My little one-hundred square foot garden is located at the Haller Lake P-Patch, which is in North Seattle and only  stone’s throw from I-5. Located in a quiet corner of a church parking lots, it’s been a delightful oasis and experiment for me this last year.

I’ve messed around with inter planting, growing small garden varieties, companion planting, succession planting and a whole lot more.  Inspired by some vintage  U.S. Government Victory Garden booklets that I found at an estate sale, I inter planted aggressively, pulled plants once they were totally spent, and replanted something new shortly thereafter in order to keep the produce coming. The rewards and yields were  massive considering the tight quarters.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some of the items, such as beets, peas, kales, chards and carrots were planted directly in the beds. Other things like Savoy cabbages, yellow pear tomatoes, and Red Iceberg lettuce were put in as starter plants purchased at the nursery.  In mid June some items like winter kale and Brussels sprouts were started by seed at home and when transplanted to my P-Patch, simply tucked under the tomato plants. I figured the loftier tomato plants would protect the little starts from harsh summer sun and heat.

The garden organizers at my P-Patch keep telling us that we have til October 31 to plant our beds for the winter or simply clean them up, mulch them and let them take a snooze til spring. This year, I’ve opted to plant mine with cold weather varieties such as elephant garlic, kales, chards, rutabagas, purple kale, Nordic Brussel sprouts, and winter carrots.  I wasn’t able to have a winter garden in  my plot last year simply because I got my plot too late in the season. I’ve had a winter garden at home every year for about two decades now but I am really excited to push the proverbial limit and see what I can get in a SMALL space winter garden! Now, that’s a victory!

Stay tuned…and stay warm!

Wnter Garden October 2016.JPG

January in the Garden: Community Gardening

P-Patch Community Garden Seattle
New Year’s Day 2016 at my P-Patch Community Garden. Wonders await under burlap!

2016 marks a new year and a gardening adventure revisited for me.

Twenty years ago, shortly after I moved to Seattle, I wrote an article for The New York Times on Seattle’s wonderful P-Patch Community Gardening Program.

Back then I was enchanted with the program and eventually landed a plot of my own. Located only a stone’s throw from our rental house in View Ridge, this garden, which was once an orchard, was a beautiful oasis.

Nestled on a hill overlooking Lake Washington and surrounded by heirloom fruit trees, my P-Patch plot was a blank slate for me. Gardening in the Pacific Northwest was new to me back then and I loved getting my boots wet by working in that lovely garden. I met fellow gardeners, surveyed their plots, gained inspiration and learned many tips and tricks for growing in Seattle’s temperate maritime climate. I was shocked at how easily plants grew here and I was delighted when I was told that I could grow a winter kitchen garden!

My  P-Patch participation was short lived because we eventually bought our first home, which had an enormous sunny garden suitable for growing all sorts of fruits, vegetables and berries. Sadly, that P-Patch garden itself was eventually mowed over and the land is now occupied by offices for Seattle’s Children’s Hospital.

I’ve been an active gardener since and still maintain an organic 400-square foot kitchen garden. Last spring, I spontaneously decided to visit a few community gardens around town and without a doubt the P-Patch bug bit me again…hard. I loved the diversity displayed between each of the individual plots and was fascinated with how the program has grown and expanded over the years.

With little delay, I decided to sign up for a plot. I was put on a waiting list for various gardens in my area and last fall I received an exciting email informing me that I was being offered one. Did I still want it? Yes, of course.  I replied within minutes.

With little delay, I went through P-Patch orientation on one ridiculously cold and rainy morning, paid my annual fee of about $40, and loaded up my 100-square foot plot with additional compost, numerous bags of foraged leaves, and lots of manure. Now, nestled under a cozy layer of recycled burlap, my P-Patch awaits. I’m planning, researching, gathering and plotting.

Not sure what my community garden plot will yield, but it sure feels great to come full circle.