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Singing Gardener: Ted talks about tomatoes

Plus, Butcher’s Broom, witch’s broom, and big-batch bran muffins

Welcome to the Grainews Singing Gardener˜. Seems the subject of tomatoes is never far away, so I’ll be doing some Ted Talk in that connection. We’ve all heard of Flin Flon, Manitoba, border city to immediately adjacent Creighton, Saskatchewan.

I, Ted, wrote a song called “Flin Flon’s Rock Garden” and the late Irvin Freese wrote and recorded “The Flin Flon Song” in his living room at Mafeking, Man., and I played the big bass fiddle. It was released on the Quality record label.

Flin Flon tomato is one of four heritage varieties drawn for in my tomato seeds promotion this past spring. Yet surprisingly, after speaking to a few folks from Flin Flon, each told me they had never heard about the tomato named after their city.

Well, Jennie Van Straalen grew this historical variety after she won a packet of Flin Flon tomato seeds. I’ve since heard from Jennie who lives about 15 kilometres SE of Coaldale, Alberta.

Then we’ll hop, skip and jump from Jennie’s garden to a second email. After that I’ll share a farmer wife’s bran muffin recipe. It makes a big batch and the batter keeps a full month or more in the fridge. These muffins are a quick energy picker-upper for workers in the harvest fields and for kids after school before the evening meal is ready.

Now it’s a hello with tip o’ my hat to readers in B.C., across the Prairies and into Ontario; even New Brunswick and beyond. Seems to me Grainews is read up there in the Yukon and places in Canada’s Arctic too. Hey you northerners! — If you get time to write, please do so.

An email from Wild Rose province

I, Ted, kind of think Alberta is the only province without a front licence plate on motor vehicles and yes — there is an image of a rose on the rear plate.

Hi Ted:

I would like to thank you for the Flin Flon tomato seeds. I planted a few and one I planted in my greenhouse in the ground. It is now six feet tall and still growing. My first tomato weighed 15.8 ozs., the next one 15.2 and my third one 24 ozs. Best of all is the TASTE. They are awesome.

Jennie Van Straalen who gardens near Coaldale, Alberta calls this Flin Flon tomato in hand her 24-ouncer, but later she harvested a heavier one that weighed 28.8 ounces. She describes the variety as whopper size with authentic tomato taste.

Jennie Van Straalen who gardens near Coaldale, Alberta calls this Flin Flon tomato in hand her 24-ouncer, but later she harvested a heavier one that weighed 28.8 ounces. She describes the variety as whopper size with authentic tomato taste.
photo: Jennie Van Straalen

Later, I heard from Jennie again. She wrote: Ted, I surpassed my last record of 24 ozs. and got one yesterday of 28.8 ozs. It was a whopper. I don’t know how the plant holds them up.

— Jennie from Coaldale, Alta.

Jennie goes on to say:

I had an abundance of cherries this year so I have been busy putting them up. I live about 15 km SE of Coaldale, Alberta. I am the only gardener here with the odd bit of help from my husband and son. This fall we hope to celebrate our 45th anniversary. Of all those years, only two of them I have not had a garden. As kids we always had to help Mom and Dad in the garden.

I have a small greenhouse and grow most of my veggies and flowers from seed. I usually seed about 500 impatiens plus marigolds, petunias, asters, lobelia, dusty millers, tomatoes, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, celeriac, celery and corn. The corn was two feet tall when it went outside and most of the cobs are off the stalks.

A shelterbelt of trees, a nicely maintained lawn, a meandering sidewalk, a glimpse of the garden, a sturdy wheelbarrow and a watering hose leading to the greenhouse with storage shed at the rear, are some of the attractions in the Van Straalen yard.

A shelterbelt of trees, a nicely maintained lawn, a meandering sidewalk, a glimpse of the garden, a sturdy wheelbarrow and a watering hose leading to the greenhouse with storage shed at the rear, are some of the attractions in the Van Straalen yard.
photo: Jennie Van Straalen

This is my hobby and I look forward each winter to starting all over again. I usually start to seed in early February. I hope to try the weed killer spray this week. Keep up your informative column.

— Jennie Van Straalen, Coaldale, Alta.

Ted says: Thank you so much Jennie for pictures featured on this page. They are a delight to share with Grainews readers and gardeners. The weed killer control recipe can be seen on the Grainews website here.

From Duncan, B.C.

June 28/15. Ted, Love your articles! Re oldest gardener – my father-in-law — 93 and still tilling despite health issues. Drought in our area on Vancouver Island. We recycle water and are coping so far. Do you have any remedies for broom? Hope you’re having a great summer.

— (From) Beth McKeown

Broom from another perspective

A witch’s broom or witches’ broom is a disease or deformity in a woody plant, typically a tree. It happens when the natural structure of the plant is changed by appearing as a dense cluster of twigs and short thickened stems on branches. This mass of shoots grows from a single point, with the resulting structure resembling a broom or a bird’s nest.

Witch’s broom can be caused by many different types of organisms including fungi, powdery mildew, rusts, mites and other insects, nematodes, or viruses. Broom growths can last for many years, usually for the life of the host shrub or tree. Human activity is sometimes blamed for introduction of these organisms by failing to observe hygienic practices and thereby infecting the tree with the causative organism, or by improper pruning.

Farmer wife’s bran muffins

  • 2 cups all-bran cereal
  • 4 cups bran flakes cereal (OR natural bran, OR a combo of both)
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup softened butter (OR 1/2 cup butter AND 3/4 cup apple sauce)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 free-range eggs
  • 1/2 cup fancy cooking molasses
  • 4 cups buttermilk
  • 5 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups raisins (OR a choice of other fruit such as dried cranberries, drained thawed blueberries, chopped prunes, chopped dried apricots, chopped dates OR a combo of these)

Method:

Place bran cereals in a large bowl; pour boiling water over top, stir and let stand. In a second mixing bowl cream butter and sugars together then add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add molasses then stir in buttermilk and mix well, followed by the cooled bran cereal mixture.

In a third bowl thoroughly combine the dry ingredients of flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and raisins or dried fruit of choice, then add to the prepared batter and stir, but do not overmix.

Fill oiled muffin tins 3/4 full and bake at 375 F (190 C) about 20 or a few minutes more. Store any leftover batter up to a month or longer in a covered container in the fridge. This is a recipe you can tweak or experiment with. Some bakers turn muffin tins upside down for 5 minutes after removal from oven and say it helps release the muffins.

About the author

Columnist

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.

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