Grafted Tomatoes Offer Impressive Advantages

Heirloom varieties offer great flavor but have more disease problems than hybrids.

In recent years heirloom tomatoes varieties have made a big comeback. The buying public has grown increasingly weary of store-bought tomatoes which have no flavor. More gardeners have turned to growing heirloom tomatoes, which have outstanding tomato flavor. But many heirloom tomatoes are prone to virus problems (which is one of the reasons tomatoes were hybridized, to avoid some of the disease problems).

According to several garden forums and blogs, the top-rated tomato for flavor is the ‘Brandywine,’ followed by ‘Cherokee Purple’ ‘Sun Gold’ and ‘Beefmaster.’ Of course, each gardener has their own tastes and preferences.
The graft of this recently planted tomato is between my outstretched fingers.

Log House Plants in Cottage Grove, OR has been testing grafted tomatoes for several years, attaching such varieties as ‘Big Beef,’ ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Sun Gold’ to the roots of reliably stronger, disease resistant root stock. Their testing has shown an average of 30% increased tomato production, without the disease problems.
Grafted and non-grafted field trials at Bear Creek Farm in Missouri.

In their growing trials, Log House Plants planted grafted and non-grafted tomatoes of the same varieties side by side, in exactly the same growing conditions. The results were dramatic. The grafteds produced larger, healthier plants with more pounds of tomatoes per plant than the non-grafted ones. Additionally, near the end of the season when the non-grafted tomatoes had ceased producing, the grated tomatoes continued producing fruit right up to frost.
Notice how small the tomatoes are when grafted, and the little grafting clips at the base of the plant.

Grafting tomatoes isn’t new, it’s been done commercially in New Zealand and Japan for many years. What is new is growers, like Territorial Seed, are making the grafted tomatoes available to home gardeners. There’s considerable labor involved in the grafting process, making the tomato plants more expensive, but tests have shown the stronger plants and longer production make it a good investment.
This is Lonnie at Bear Creek Farm, with a flat of recently grafted tomatoes, ready for the field.

I visited Bear Creek Farm, a certified organic commercial farm in central Missouri recently, where friends grow for both farmers markets and Whole Foods stores. They are conducting their own trials with grafted tomatoes to see if the claims about production yields are true. They’ve planted 4,000 non-grafted tomatoes, beside 2,000 grafted ones and are keeping detailed records. If the grafted tomatoes live up to their reputation, these folks will move to using all grafted tomatoes next season.
Air roots try to form above the graft and must be removed during the growing period.

What’s this mean for us little gardeners? It means if you like the flavor of heirloom tomatoes but are tired of the virus problems that often come with them, you may want to consider ordering some grafted tomatoes next year. I’ll be reporting more about my own small trials with Territorial Seed grafted tomatoes as the season progresses, along with the trials of the friends who have the 2,000 grafted tomatoes. Happy gardening!


Long Creek Herb Farm Open House

People came and wandered through the garden, some took pictures, some made notes.

It was fun having lots of blog followers and readers of my newspaper and magazine columns come to visit for our annual Long Creek Herb Farm open house, June 18. People came with questions about something I'd written, some with questions about a plant they were having difficulty with, others just to see what we're growing this year.
The new interior is refreshing. It's not finished, more work to do, but ready for the day, at least!

We had worked right up to the hour, trying to get all the construction debris moved away, and we nearly wore out our good friend and carpenter, George, getting ready. In early April we decided this would be the year to give the Herb Shop a complete, and badly needed overhaul. It seemed like plenty of time, but it wasn't. When George and I built the shop 20 some years ago, I couldn't afford insulation in the walls, nor a ceiling, so it was just sheet rock (with wall paper) and open beams overhead. Hard to heat in winter, hard to cool in summer. So it has received a total make-over inside and in spite of the 90+ degree heat, it was c-o-o-l inside!
Everything's neat and clean, and old. We found a few antiques to round out the interior. I like the changes.
Some folks came from long distances. I think the ones from the farthest was the couple from just outside Dallas, TX.
Adam offered fresh produce on the Herb Shop porch and several folks took away fresh things from the garden.
Something new this year for visitors to see, is the change in our gardens from smaller plantings, to Adam's project of using the entire garden for larger production. He sells at two area farmers' markets, along with an occasional restaurant (plus feeds us very well and even the chickens have plenty). I've never done production gardening before, so I'm learning new things. Adam, you may recall, was our WWOOFer three seasons ago, and came last year for a month to help me get the garden underway before he went off to Santa Fe to work a production garden there. Instead of a row of carrots, like I grew, or 50 onions, Adam grows entire beds of both. I have no idea how many pounds of salad greens he's sold, and many bushels of carrots and onions It's impressive, and exciting.
Adam, a very talented gardener and cook.

I know I've mentioned in the past how inspiring it is for me to see younger people as excited about edible plants as I am. And having new, younger eyes look at what I've built over the past 32 years here, at my raised beds and arbors and trellises, is quite interesting, as well. As we get older, we can get stuck in our habits, we assume we know "the way" things should be. But of course, we experimented and learned when we were Adam's age, we developed skills that have served us well. That doesn't mean our way is the only way. This season, I've turned the garden over to Adam. He decides what to grow, and where, as well as when to plant and how much he will need for sales. I'm the occasional helper since I'm traveling for lectures a lot this season. It's very exciting for me to see what he's doing.

Lots of the early crops, like carrots, peas, lettuce, spinach, onions and beets, have been pulled, washed and sold. Some of the beds are getting fluffed up with the tiller, more compost and mulch, and Adam is planting the late summer crops already. Harvest is just beginning on squash, cucumbers, blackberries, bulb fennel, and tomatoes and basil will be ready in about a week. (He has over 100 tomato plants, probably 80-90 basils, beds and beds of potatoes and has made space in areas where garden has never been before in order to squeeze it all in).
These are new beds this year in what was pasture land before. The beds are being replanted this week.

What you can't see are the many beds in the orchard, behind the barn in the old chicken yard, down in the pasture,
every nook and cranny has garden plants growing this year!

Some of the visitors checked the viewing area beneath the bell tower to see the garden from above.
Looking down from the bell tower deck, you get a nice view of the herb beds and edible & medicinal herb beds.
In the lower left of the photo you may see some of our experimental fava beans. They're quite tasty!
Molly greeted each and every carload and gave attention to every visitor. By the end of the day she was hot and worn out, but happy. So were we!


Don't Kill That Caterpillar!

Black Swallowtail on Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterflies look so slow and docile, gently flitting about the garden. Just get our your camera and try to catch them in their daily duties of sipping nectar out of flowers; you'll quickly see they are shy, move fast and don't like being photographed.

I doubt their eyesight is so great they can see me, but maybe they can. I guess if you're an inch tall and a looming giant, 500 times bigger than you are and carrying a menacing black box with a big moving eye-lens, you might run, too.
Weak, tired and with much of her color worn down, she drank nectar for a day before laying eggs.

Maybe they simply sense a person following them in the garden. After all, their senses must be impeccable, or else they couldn't travel great distances. This Monarch butterfly, above, on the white flowered chives, showed up just as the chives were blooming. As you know, Monarchs spend their winter in South America and manage to navigate northward as the weather warms in spring. This one was worn to a frazzle, weak, but sipping nectar in order to regain her strength for laying eggs for another generation of Monarchs.

A Tiger Swallowtail, dishing up breakfast from dianthus in my edible flower garden.
Most people seem to like butterflies, but many of those same folks have no hesitation for stomping caterpillars. This time of year you'll notice what we always called "dill worms" when I was growing up.
The caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly on a fennel leaf.
Black Swallowtail butterflies lay eggs on: fennel, dill, parsley and related plants. Those hatch into the caterpillar you see above. The caterpillar hangs around on one leaf and eats most of it, then pupates, building a little cocoon around itself and hanging there in a little hammock until it has grown. The cocoon splits and out comes the adult Black Swallowtail.
The majestic Black Swallowtail, newly hatched.
An older Black Swallowtail, on oregano.
The list of herbs that attract butterflies is long and extensive. A few you might want to plant if you wish to attract butterflies: Mint, oregano, butterfly weed, Mexican butterfly weed, rue, dill, fennel, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, lemon balm, roses, sweet marjoram, hyssop, chives, monarda, yarrow - the list really is quite long.
Monarch caterpillar, see how different they look from the Swallowtail caterpillar?
Monarch caterpillars, however, hang out, sip nectar and lay eggs on butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) which is in bloom right at the time Monarchs are looking for food and home. In case you don't recognize butterfly weed, here's a picture, below. Note that lots of butterflies like the nectar from this plant but it's the Monarch that likes to hang its hat there.

Fritillary butterflies on butterfly weed.
Here in the Ozarks, the butterfly weed is a common roadside plant, starting its bloom around the end of May. This is an old-time medicinal plant, sometimes called, "pleurisy root" because of its use in treating that ailment.

So, if you see, "worms" in your herb plants, let them be, they turn into butterflies or moths and they're not going to ruin your plants. You'll be glad you left them alone when they turn into butterflies! And if you're going to photograph them, well, give yourself more time than you think you will need, they can run faster than you can.


Cicadas, What's That Noise?

Cicadas have emerged in about 17 states, including Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Mississippi and south.

What’s That Noise?

About 10 days ago I was traveling through central Mississippi for a State Master Gardeners Conference. All along the highways as I drove, I could hear the songs of cicadas. I knew ours at home would be emerging in a few days, as the great cicada hatch of 2011 moved northward.

We’re currently in the middle of the emergence of the 13 year cicada or periodic cicada (known as the Magicada). Cicada burrow upward out of the ground and the nymphs climb onto trees, bushes, even tires, where they fasten their claws and the cicadas emerge, leaving behind the old skin.

Cicadas don’t harm trees or shrubbery, and they don’t eat leaves of plants like locust or grasshoppers. The larger portion of the cicada’s 13 year life cycle (or 17, in the instance of the 17 year cicada) is spent underground, feeding on the sap of tree roots. Once they emerge, they are only alive for about 6 weeks to breed, then they die.
All that's left is the "shell" once the cicada has emerged and grown wings.

Cicada “nymphs” once out of the ground and having shed their old skin, climb upward, then fly off. The males are the ones making the noise, trying to attract a mate. Once they have mated, the female flies onto a limb tip of a tree and insert an egg into a tender twig. The egg grows, becoming a small grub which falls to the ground. Once on the ground, it burrows downward to tree roots where it will live and grow for another 13 year cycle. Tender limb tips near the outer edge of trees may fall off, but the pruning is generally helpful, and doesn’t harm the tree.
This one's been out of the ground for a few hours and its wings have matured so it can fly.

There’s no control for these insects, nor is there any need to control them. True, they can be irritating, but even if you sprayed them with insecticide, more would fly in from next door - plus the insecticide would kill off songbirds, cats, dogs and other things that find cicadas to be a delicacy. Be patient, they will be gone in a few short weeks and won’t return for another 13 years.
Cicada killer wasp.

A natural predator of cicadas (besides dogs, cats, birds and humans) is the cicada killer wasp, a flying insect that looks very much like a hornet. Unlike hornets, this wasp lives in a single hole in the ground with just a male and female. While cicada killer wasps can sting if seriously provoked, even then would rather fly away then sting. These wasps are harmless and do a service to homeowners by controlling cicadas.

Cicadas are quite edible and you’ll find plenty of recipes on the internet. (And for those readers who think they look awful and inedible, think of shrimp. A truly ugly little critter, but does a cicada really look worse than a shrimp?
Does a shrimp REALLY look that much better than a cicada?

We cooked up a batch of fresh cicadas for supper this week, stir-frying them with garlic, ginger and shallots, then adding Chinese noodles and cilantro. Next I’m going to try the German chocolate cicada cake recipe I found.

Some sources suggest par-boiling the cicadas first (they're also known as "sky prawn" due to the fact that in some regions of the world, they are collected in large nets and meals made from this free protein source).

I fried these in a hot skillet, right after stir-frying some garlic, shallot and ginger. When that was ready, I added some soy sauce - actually Tamari - then added the noodles and some sugar snap peas, with another quick-fry, adding fresh cilantro from the garden just before serving.
Here are some other recipes for you to try.

Chocolate Covered Cicadas
Anything coated in chocolate can be tasty!

8 squares (about 4 oz.)  dark chocolate
30 *dry roasted cicadas

*Roast young cicadas in the oven for 15 minutes at 225F.
Melt chocolate in a double-boiler over low heat. Dip insects in chocolate, place on wax paper let the chocolate harden. Sprinkle with coarse-ground sea salt.

Cicada Wontons

4 oz. package cream cheese, room temperature
30 freshly hot water boiled cicadas (boil for 3 minutes and drain)
1 Tablespoon freshly chopped chives
1 package Wonton wrappers

Drop approximately 1 teaspoon of cream cheese on each of the wonton wrapper, add a pinch of fresh chives, then place 1 cicada on each of the wrapper. Fold in corners and seal with egg white. Fry in hot oil until crispy and brown. Serve with sweet and sour sauce.

 (And yes, for those who asked, all 4 of us ate the Chinese Cicada Stir-Fry and it was quite tasty. Cicadas are kind of crunchy with a mild flavor).

For recipes of herbal things that don't involve cicadas, visit my website for my Homemade Crackers, Dips, Salsas books, and other foods, which all include herbs.

Happy Gardening!


A Garden of Soap

These festive scarecrows guide visitors to the Soaphouse.
If possible we always attend the Herb Day Festival at Evening Shade Farm. Our late friend, Gayl Bousman, began Herb Day in May 10 years ago at her farm near Osceola, Missouri. (I grew up just 20 miles from there, in the western part of Missouri, so it's somewhat returning to my roots each year).
The festival isn't just about buying and selling, people come and spend hours, visit, make friends, eat and shop.

Herb Day attracts a variety of vendors, plant people and crafters, all coming for 2 days of visiting, selling and eating. This year, the parking lots were filled to the brim and they had the biggest attendance ever. Some came as a tribute to Gayl, who made friends and customers in many states with her kind ways and excellent soaps (some made from the herbs in her garden and the goats milk from her herd of goats on her farm).
There were a variety of plant vendors, trug makers, photographers, wood turners and potters.
We know him as the "Iron Guy" and he makes hand-forged garden pieces.
The iron pieces are organic and graceful as well as functional.
Steve Hassell, Gayl's brother.
Gayl's brother, Steve, has been working with her for the past 2 or 3 years and since her passing, he and her daughter, Cindy Parker, have taken over the soap business.

One of the things people look forward to each year is having a piece (or a whole cake to take home) of Gayl's lemon verbena cake. I remember last year Gayl saying she'd made something like 30 cakes for the 2 days and sold out!

The famous lemon verbena cake, delightfully lemony.

There are always musicians playing on the Soaphouse porch. People sit under the old mulberry tree in chairs and visit, listening to the local musicians playing. Homemade rootbeer is always on hand, as well.
Handmade soaps, with enchanting fragrances and flavors.

But soap is the real reason for the festival, soap made on the farm, from herbs and flowers from Gayl's garden.
My personal favorite soap is the spicy caravan soap.
In memory of our friend Gayl Bousman. Your tradition of the Friday night potluck, lemon verbena cake and Herb Day Festival at the Soaphouse, continues and you were with us all, the entire time.

Visit their website to learn more about their organic, hand-crafted soaps from the farm.