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 Pike Place Market Urban Garden

Don’t we all love little secret destinations? Spots that aren’t well known but have an abundance of charm? Little places that speak volumes but haven’t been discovered by the masses?

Well, that’s how I felt when I visited the Pike Place Market Urban Garden this morning. Admittedly, this 2,000 square foot garden sits in one of the city’s busiest tourist attractions–the Pike Place Market–but it is deliciously removed from the hub bub.

In 2013, the Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority and Seattle Urban Farm Company  teamed up in order to revitalize and essentially energize an underutilized patio in the market. Indeed, their efforts have created a wonderful haven amidst the hub bub of urban life.

Tucked away near Maximilien Restaurant and Market Spice, this community garden is completely run by volunteers and all of the produce is donated to the local food bank and the market senior center. Peppered with raised beds, benches, pole bean teepees, trellised gourds, cucumbers and tomatoes, this garden simultaneously oozes charm and local food! Plus the spectacular views make it a great place to sit and take a breather from the crowds at hand.

Next time you are at Seattle’s iconic and world renowned tourist attraction, visit the garden and take a few minutes to smell the herbs and savor the scenery.

Growing Micro Greens at Home

Have any of you spotted that restaurant trend that features mini greens as a final garnish on a special dish? Have you noticed petite little sprigs of greens sprinkled into salads and tucked into sandwiches? If so, then you’ve noticed micro greens. A nifty specialty item that sits between sprouts and full grown greens, micro greens have been gaining traction lately.  Highly nutritious, they are easy to grow and delicious to eat.

I’ve been a fan of micro greens for some time. Many years ago when we vacationed on Vancouver Island, I’d always reach for the sunflower sprouts at the local grocery store. Locally grown and displayed in messy tangles, the sunflower sprouts were only few inches long but they packed a bright and succulent crunch when tucked into our hearty whole grain sandwiches.  Even though I hunted for sunflower sprouts here in the Seattle area for years, I’ve always been hard pressed to find them in grocery stores around here.

This spring, while perusing the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog. I noticed that they had a massive selection of micro green seeds—everything from basil and kale to a sorrel and shiso. Distracted by planting my regular garden at the time, I put “Grow Micro Greens” on my garden to do list and a couple weeks ago I finally circled back to the task. I surveyed the garden for a suitable spot and mail ordered an array of seeds from Johnny’s (arugula, basil, spicy and mild micro mix, cress, sunflowers and kales).  Simple to grow, I’ve been amazed at how lovely these little greens are. We’ve been tucking the powerhouses into sandwiches and sprinkling them on top of sliced tomatoes.

Right now my micro green adventure has been pretty easy because I have been growing them in seed trays in a little greenhouse that I purchased from Amazon in February. This method has been great because the trays are at eye level and I have positioned the greenhouse in a protected area where the greens won’t get fried by the sun. I check them each morning to make sure they are sufficiently moist and I spritz or water as need.  I’m still pondering how I will grow these during the cooler months but for now, I’m happy with the operation at hand.

Freshly snipped sunflower and red kale micro greens carried in a lettuce cup.
Freshly snipped sunflower and red kale micro greens carried in a lettuce cup.

So, here are some quick tips for growing microgreens.

  • Check out the selection at Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine. They offer great tips in both the catalog and online. I asked an array of questions when I ordered and was pleased with the informative answers I received. If you are just getting started consider ordering their “5 Top Micro Greens Varieties for Beginners.”
  • Buy some seed starting trays and good top quality potting soil. I used those basic seed starting trays that you can get at Fred Meyer or Home Depot. I sprinkled in high quality potting soil and opted NOT to use the seed starting mixes because I thought they would be too light. The potting soil works great.
  • Sprinkle the seeds generously but not too densely and water. In my first tray I visualized three different sections and grew three different varieties. This worked pretty well but in my next trays I kept to one variety for each tray simply because the growing times and heights were different.
  • Keep the trays in an area where they get some sunlight but avoid full sunlight all day if possible. Seedlings are fragile and I find that partial sun/shade prevents them from getting fried by the midday sun. My greenhouse is on the southeast side of the house and gets shade by mid afternoon.
  • Keep the trays moist and check frequently or the seeds might not germinate. When watering, use a spray bottle or a light spritz from the hose but avoid watering too hard or heavily because the potting soil will splash all over the greens and make them more difficult to wash.
  • Once the micro greens get their first two seeds, watch them carefully, let them grow to a couple inches and snip them with culinary scissors for use in the kitchen. Rinse before using.