Hey there — hello gardeners and welcome farmers. Are you striving to become more self-sufficient with what you grow in the garden? Tubers of the vine and tomatoes get some attention today with some focus placed on storage tomatoes. Add to that a source for rooted short-season sweet potato slips from an adventurous grower and supplier of plant stock out of New Brunswick. Also, it’s always good to talk with the kindly folks at Early’s Farm & Garden Centre in the City of Bridges — Saskatoon.
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In recent issues of Grainews I’ve mentioned that it’s Canada’s 150th anniversary as a nation this year, so let’s shout it out with joy and mirth and show it. It all began July 1, 1867. May I tip my hat to everyone who celebrates their own personal birthday, anniversary or other special occasion or event this year, along with Canada in a meaningful way during 2017?
Short-season sweet potatoes
What I shall first write about this time around can be purchased from a self-described modest and adventurous gardener. His contact is as follows:
You can read for yourself why Greg refers to short-season sweet potatoes as a single word (i.e. sweet potatoes) in his 2017 seed planting stock brochure What’s in a Name?
Since 1989, Greg says: “we sell only what we grow ourselves.” Seems he runs out of a limited supply of some types of his sweet potato inventory as early as February and March. However, not to worry. His stock of two most dependable and productive varieties can extend into June and a brief description of each follows.
Japanese Yam is excellent for baking, grilling and in stir-fries. The skin is burgundy with a creamy colour textured flesh that’s very sweet and a hint of cloves. Greg says as far as he can tell Korean Purple is another dependable and productive variety that’s pretty well identical to Japanese Yam in most respects. He also has better than an additional half-dozen other cultivars including one named Tainung 65. That one has light-pink skin, a creamy interior and demonstrates large tuber potential. All “sweets” are propagated by root cuttings or slips that grow from tubers themselves and then are transplanted. Unique features of Tainung 65 are purple stems and bronze leaves that also make a decorative houseplant in hanging baskets.
If you garden in an area with 100 frost-free days, sweet potatoes are certainly worth a try. As an expression goes, the early bird gets the worm. Full planting and growing instructions for sweet potatoes are provided. Greg also has other short-season plant stock specialties such as Jerusalem and Chinese artichokes and horseradish.
A bit about Jerusalem artichoke
It’s sometimes referred to as a neglected North American native vegetable, yet one of the easiest to grow and most productive. Jerusalem artichoke is also known as sunchoke and sunroot and is a relative of sunflowers. This very hardy perennial produces chocolate-scented flowers and tasty tubers. They can be eaten raw with a crispness similar to radishes, grated as a salad ingredient, sliced into stir-fries and sautéed; yet retain their water chestnut-type texture. Prepared and cooked like potatoes is also an option.
Popularity has also spread due to some presumed health benefits due to a type of sugar that’s easier for diabetics to utilize in their diet. As is with parsnips, tuberous roots can be dug either fall or spring if mulched in extremely cold areas. Jerusalem artichoke plants mature tall and are grown as a decorative landscape hedge or as a snow fence or windbreak. Greg calls his Jerusalem artichokes Volgo 2 “a kitchen-friendly type” sort of egg-shaped tubers that are bigger and rarely show any knobbiness. They are available for planting only in spring.
Mystery keeper tomato
This one has outstanding storage capability and Greg provides some reasons. He’s tried a few long-keeper types but says none has succeeded for him like Mystery Keeper. “Storage tomatoes aren’t meant to be eaten in season and there’s no rush to get them started and set out early. They are best harvested once the outer greenest stage begins to lighten or pale a bit in colour and of course picked in advance of frost hitting.” Longkeepers gradually ripen indoors during fall and winter from the inside out. The exterior skin may still be olive, orange or pink but when cut open the inner acid-flavoured flesh is ripe red. Here’s Greg’s personal experience with Mystery Keeper. “They weren’t coddled in any way — no wrapping, cold room storage or special lighting conditions; just sitting in boxes or bowls on the kitchen counter.”
On another tomato front, Greg grew his first Italian Heirloom back in 2013 and one weighed in at 605 grams. “Nearly all the fruits I’ve harvested of this variety were over a pound each. But size isn’t the only thing going for it.” Seed Savers Exchange down in the U.S. holds an annual tomato taste competition among hundreds of varieties and Italian Heirloom was voted the winner.
More on tomatoes
Was talking with Vicky Berg at Early’s Garden Centre in Saskatoon early on this year and she says “orders are flying in already. It’s crazy. Maybe it’s the cold, snowy January weather. Gardeners seem eager to start something indoors.” Vicky told me about her personal experience growing Primo Red early beefsteak hybrid. “It’s an amazing tomato. It’s wonderful! Ninety-five per cent of them were a perfect shape, just like the flawless tomatoes you see on TV commercials.” According to Vicky, “Bobcat is a good one too and so is Tumbler; also Longkeeper. We have them all.” Vicky mentioned she’s down to her last three homegrown Longkeepers. “For storage I just put them unwrapped in a cardboard box in a cool dark basement. The outside skin is kind of orange in colour but the interior is bright red throughout.”
Early’s also has a strong selection of seed potato choices including Marilyn fingerling; a variety I wrote about in April 5, 2016. Marilyn is an attractive oval-shaped fingerling with yellow skin, shallow eyes and creamy flesh.
I also chatted with Helena at Early’s and learned that she grew Marilyn fingerling last year. “They’re very, very good. I like them. They’re perfect in potato salad and don’t fall apart. Also, it’s a good choice for boiling and roasting.” Gardeners can shop online at www.earlysgarden.com or phone Early’s at 1-800-667-1159. By the way, Early’s has a complete line of flower and vegetable seeds and get this — they specialize in turf grass seed mixtures and professional turf and special-purpose grasses.
2017 seeding date for tomatoes
Maybe you’ve experienced good timing in your life such as being at the right place at the right time. Some might call it an impulse, instinct or gut feeling. Consider that maybe your body was responding to planetary influences and energies. Likewise, maybe seeds and plants can align themselves to the moon’s energies and influence both present and future. But as always, apply common sense. If unable to seed on a recommended day, do the best you’re able under the circumstances. A general rule is: seed any annual flower or vegetable that produces above the ground in a single season such as bedding plants, salad greens, beans, peas, peppers, squash, melons and tomatoes during the first and second quarters of the moon. Such upcoming dates are February 27 through to March 12 and March 29 until April 11, 2017. Now let’s fine-tune those with the preferred dates: March 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 29, 30, April 2, 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11, 2017. Pepper seeds and other hard seeds can be soaked first for 12 to 24 hours with a few drops of H2O2 (three per cent hydrogen peroxide) stirred into each cup of water.