I’ve got tomatoes on the brain these days. Last weekend I had a table at Seedy Saturday at the Brickworks here in Toronto and the highlight was trading for some new tomato varieties. I walked away with at least ten new varieties feeling like a kid in a candy shop. That giddy feeling hasn’t worn off. I love tomatoes! The hard part comes next in deciding which to grow.
Later, when I got home from the event I took stock of my total tomato seed collection and was shocked to discover that I have collected over 130 varieties. I had never bothered to count before now. No wonder I have a harder and harder time narrowing down the list that will end up in the soil each year!
Last year was my best tomato season ever. By the time the hard frost hit we had harvested 110lbs of ripe fruit (NOT including cherry or currant varieties) plus another 30 or so pounds in green tomatoes. I don’t think I grew more plants than I have in the past as there were years when I was able to split the plants up between 3 gardens, and I recall one year just under a decade back when I was able to fit 16 plants into the community garden plot, plus the same on the roof. I think the windfall came down to even better, sunnier growing conditions and a really hot summer.
Last weekend while preparing a medley of roasted root vegetables for lunch, I popped outside to collect fresh herbs, as I often do, a pair of scissors in hand.
Living in a place where I can see the garden from the kitchen and simply pop outside to pick herbs on a whim was the dream I had when we were looking for our next place to live. While there was a long list of criteria that superseded this small point, it was ultimately this vision that kept popping up in my mind as an ideal.
Prior to that there was always some barrier. In the apartment there was a separation between our living quarters and the rooftop garden. I was never able to look out at it fondly from indoors and popping out for herbs wasn’t really difficult, but it wasn’t accessible in the way our garden is now. Furthermore, a good portion of my herbs were grown in-ground at the community garden plot, which meant planning ahead and cooking with fresh herbs that weren’t minutes or even seconds off of the plant as they are now. It’s one of those small differences that makes me feel happy and grateful to have found this house, regardless of its many (MANY) faults. We’ve affectionately named it “Home of the Half-Assed” for a reason.
But I digress (as always). The real reason for this post wasn’t to tell you about the garden or my small dream. It was to say that while I was outside collecting herbs, I remembered the Jerusalem artichokes that have been waiting in the ground to be harvested. These chunky tubers taste best after they’ve been touched by the cold weather, but I will admit that the real reason I had put off harvesting them was that I was afraid to face the sheer quantity of tubers that are lurking below the surface, and the work I will need to do to preserve some of them. I’m still dealing with the tomatoes, believe it or not!
This morning I took advantage of the mild weather to get some chores done in the garden. As I kneeled on the ground planting garlic I thought about my recent trip to Georgia. I arrived in Atlanta the day before the State was set to execute Troy Davis. I’d been following the case through online news outlets, but it wasn’t until the morning of my talk that I realized that the time was set to correspond with the moment I got up to speak at the botanical garden.
This threw me into a tailspin. Should I recognize the moment? In my personal life I would. Yes, people around the world die every minute of everyday, but State sanctioned murder is not the same. Here I was in the place where it was about to happen and at that very moment. Not saying anything felt like intentional avoidance or denial, yet at the same time I was a guest from another country — people had come out to hear me speak about growing food and I did not want to send them home feeling badly, or worse still, judged.
Over the last month or so there had been some online chatter about the role of garden writers. Several people said that garden writers should stick to plants and pretty things and that there is no place for politics. I have already stated my opinion on this topic and find it interesting that it was only a short time later that I was in a position in which it was tested. Where is the line between our personal and professional lives? For me it is very fuzzy and I would not have it any other way.
Besides weeds and a stronghold of goldenrod, Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) aka sunchoke was one of the few plants that we inherited when we moved into this place. At the time only dead stalks remained and I wasn’t quite sure what member of the Sunflower Family they were.
In the spring I pulled a few rogue stems up and the tell-tale tubers came out of the soil with them. My first thought was, “Yay, a surprise food!” and my second was, “Oh shit.”
For those that are unfamiliar, a bit of background. Jerusalem artichokes are a Sunflower Family plant that grow edible tubers that taste sort of like artichokes, hence their name. The tubers are often used as a “healthier” substitute for potatoes as they have a lower glycemic index. For this reason you will often see them for sale in health food stores, and if you are looking to grow the plant I would suggest going there first as a local tuber source rather than buying online. These plants are so easy to grow. If you have trouble growing potatoes, you will not have a problem with Jerusalem artichoke. They grow themselves.
I had a much larger post in mind for today, but we have to take our aging cat in for an emergency vet visit in a few minutes so I’ll have to pull it back slightly. It’s scary, facing the fact that this little animal whose life is so intertwined with mine and whose care I’ve been in charge of for so many years doesn’t have much time left. The house cat’s life expectancy is only so long, and given the health problems she has had in the past, I worry everyday that there is not much time left. She’s a royal pain in the ass, but I love her so much, probably even for it.
But I digress. Hot peppers. Most people know by now that while I love to grow hot peppers, I do not eat them. As a garden writer whose focus is primarily on food, it is important that I taste everything I write about in order to provide a personal account, but the reality is that I’ve long since lost the ability to digest hot peppers well. The gastrointestinal tract does not approve.
But there is something about hot peppers that keeps me excited about growing them, and each year I spend hours searching for new varieties to try. Even though I don’t eat them, I am always thrilled when the first fruits appear and later ripen. Hot peppers are beautiful plants, and with thousands of varieties available world wide, there is a lot to get excited about.