Monday, January 30, 2012

Time to choose your tomato varieties for 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012
Penn State's Extension office in Chambersburg has been running variety trials focusing on tomatoes since 2000, evaluating more than 300 varieties across the complete spectrum of tomato types in that time.
Penn State's Extension office in Chambersburg has been running variety trials focusing on tomatoes since 2000, evaluating more than 300 varieties across the complete spectrum of tomato types in that time.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- It may seem early, but now is the time to pick the tomato varieties you want to grow in your garden this summer, according to an expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
You may have noticed that your seed catalogs showed up earlier than ever this winter, noted Steve Bogash, Penn State Extension horticulture educator based in Franklin County. "With the rapid growth in vegetable gardening, demand promises to be higher than ever," he said. "If there are specific varieties of vegetables that you truly want for the coming season, you may want to get your orders in early."
And Bogash knows -- perhaps better than anyone -- that there is a huge range of tomato cultivars from which to choose.
"Here at the Penn State Extension office in Chambersburg, Pa., we've been running variety trials focusing on tomatoes since 2000," he said. "We've evaluated more than 300 varieties across the complete spectrum of tomato types in that time. Every year we examine 30 to 70 varieties, looking at taste, production, disease resistance, ease of training and appearance.
"Some varieties have floated to the top of our list as great for your garden."
Following are some varieties Bogash recommends that you consider for the coming season, along with his comments about them:
Cherry/Grape types:
-- Sakura Honey. "When you examine and taste many tomatoes, it's rare for one kind to make a major impression, but this variety really stood out from the pack in 2011 with amazing flavor and beautiful, pink, grape-shaped fruit. This was easily the standout in flavor in last season's program."
-- Red Pearl. "Excellent flavor, tender skin, high production and moderate disease resistance made Red Pearl another top pick from our 2011 trial program. This variety has good red color and is highly resistant to cracking."
-- Five Star. "2011 was the year of the grape tomato in our trials program. Five Star was another great producer with good-looking, well-flavored fruit. This one has very few seeds and is highly resistant to cracking."
-- Maglia Rosa. "This is a very unusual variety, as the fruit are an elongate, cherry type that are mottled pink. Our tasters describe the flavor as ketchup-like. In both 2010 and 2011, the plants produced for only about five weeks, but they did make a lot of fruit that was well worth the garden space."
-- Sun Gold. "No tomato article is complete without a mention of Sun Gold. This yellow-orange tomato is the candy of the tomato world. Production is high, the plants are moderately resistant to disease, and the fruit taste is awesome, but the fruit crack like mad. Every gardener should have one or two of these plants, so there is something to eat while gardening."
-- BrandyBoy. "The Brandywine tomato long has been heralded as the best-tasting tomato in numerous trial programs, but each plant produces only a few fruit, which are very inconsistent in size and shape, and the plant's highly susceptible to diseases."

"BrandyBoy tomatoes were introduced several years ago, and they immediately took top honors among red, slicing types in our program. When gardeners ask what single tomato to grow, this is the one. BrandyBoy is highly productive with large, pink, great-tasting fruit that taste nearly identical to Brandywine."
-- BHN 589. "BHN are the letters used by a tomato breeder in Florida who primarily provides seeds to a commercial-grower cooperative. Don't let the letters and numbers discourage you from growing what are usually excellent varieties of hybrid tomatoes. BHN 589 has become a standard for many regional tomato growers as the plants produce copious amounts of great-tasting, good-looking, medium-sized, red tomatoes."
-- Scarlet Red. "Like BHN 589, Scarlet Red is primarily a commercial tomato, but it makes the crossover into the home garden extremely well. This is easily the deepest red tomato that we've trialed, and it has that perfect sugar/acid balance that often is referred to as 'real tomato flavor. Production hint: only remove about three suckers, or you really will reduce production."
-- Big Beef. "This variety has been around for a long time, and it still belongs on a top-tomatoes list. These are big, great-tasting fruit that run on the soft side. The plants are very robust."
-- Celebrity. "For years, Celebrity was the standard red that we compared others against in our trials program. While it has been surpassed by some of these other varieties, it is still a great producer of medium-sized, good-flavored, round, red tomatoes."
-- Pineapple. "While there really aren't any great yellow/orange/red tomatoes, Pineapple is the one that provides the most consistent production and good flavor. It's soft and cracks readily but is the best of this type that we've trialed. Pineapple makes an excellent addition to homemade tomato juice."
-- Mortgage Lifter (Radiator Charlie). "Excellent flavor and high production make Mortgage Lifter the No. 1 large, pink heirloom. I recommend it to growers. High production and moderate disease resistance separate this variety from most heirlooms."
-- Arkansas Traveler. "This variety makes relatively small fruit at 5 to 8 ounces, but the production is good and the flavor excellent."
-- Marianna's Peace. "This variety originally came into our program as one of those sample packets included with your order. The fruit are very large -- often more than a pound -- pink and very flavorful. The plants are enormous and require very tall supports. Even after every other heirloom has started to fade in the fall, Marianna's Peace will keep on producing."
-- Stupice. "A lot of tomatoes claim to be early, but most don't taste like much. Stupice is the one early tomato that tastes like a real, mid-season tomato. The fruit are small at only 3 to 6 ounces, but they will beat most other tomatoes onto your plate by two to three weeks."
Patio or Container:
-- Bush Early Girl. "Without a doubt, Bush Early Girl is the 'top of the heap' among slicing tomatoes that you can grow in a container. A single plant will produce a huge number of great-tasting fruit. Be sure your container is at least 14 inches across (bigger is better) and feed them well to get the most from these robust plants."
-- BushSteak. "Second only to Bush Early Girl is BushSteak. These plants produce heavy crops of large, meaty fruit about a week after you start to pick Bush Early Girl. Again, use large containers and feed them well."
-- Sweet 'N Neat (Red, Scarlet, and Yellow). "We've looked at a lot of container-type cherry tomatoes, and while most varieties are at least OK, the entire Sweet 'N Neat series produces copious amounts of delicious fruit on very compact plants. You can grow them as hanging baskets or in ground pots. Plant single plants in 8-inch pots or three plants in 14-inch pots."
Bogash said that consumers should be able to find some of these seeds from their favorite garden center, but some varieties will be more difficult to locate.
"We have examined so many tomatoes over the years, and these are only a few of the standouts from our program," he said. "There are many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tomato varieties. Our goal for this program has been to introduce new varieties to growers."
More information, including a list of seed companies that supply seeds to the Penn State Extension variety trials program, is available in "Tomato Report 2011: The Best of the Penn State Tomato Trials," available on the Web at

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Planning for this years garden.

Garden Journals      
Should you or shouldn't you?
Michele Koskinen   Philadelphia Master Gardener

Seed catalogs are mailed, gardeners are clipping, using stickies, dog earring pages, making list, making a new list, it is winter doldrums waiting for spring. So how many gardeners take the time
to journal about their garden? I would think the really organized and serious gardeners know the value of journals. They have learned that gardening is an adventure in trial and error. Keeping track of the plants, insects, weather and growth habits of their favorites help decision making in the future. I have taken notes, photos, drawn maps and a used a variety of other tactics. I have them all, stuffed in a notebook with a rubberband. I do go through them but since I have no times or dates it is useless.

Note the color and divide for the fall.
This year I am vowing to be more organized. To know what I need to make my garden more productive and beautiful, good note taking practices are essential. If growing from seed keep the packet and detail date of planting and how the seedling matured. Map out perennials already established and look to see if they have similar growing habits, take a photo and use in selecting new plants in the future. Record the vegetables planted and how they produced and any possible problems with insects. Detail what needs to move in the spring of the following year. Nothing too involved just enough to jog the memory next year when I am planning my garden. I bought a notebook now to work.

Your journal should contain photos of the garden and notes with dates and observations. Why? Because if you are like most we forget from month to month year to year. Another idea is to take your camera or phone with you to photograph flowers or ideas you have seen in nurseries or in other landscapes. It is another way to learn about your likes and dislikes.           

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Who Knew? Okra

Other People's Gardens----------WHO KNEW!!!!!!!!! 
 Patricia Beynan     Philadelphia Master Gardener 

As the gardens grew I saw tall green plants that were unknown to me.  They were growing to over five feet, waving in the breeze, and looking suspiciously like marijuana plants.  But nobody would dare grow that, would they?   Then they started to flower, and make pods. I finally figured out it was okra, known to me only from crossword puzzles. Used in gumbo, I think.  I asked the grower what she did with it and she told me it's part of her usual repertoire in soups and stews, and would occupy a corner of her freezer.  She pickled some, and even used the fresh leaves as a soup thickener.  Who knew?

New to Okra, try the recipe below.

Peppery Grilled Okra With Lemon-Basil Dipping Sauce
Prep: 15 min., Chill: 24 hr., Grill: 6 min., Cool: 5 min.
Photo by: Photo: Jennifer Davick; Styling: Buffy Harget
  • YIELD: Makes 8 servings
  • COURSE: Side Dishes/Vegetables


  • Cheesecloth or coffee filter
  • 1 (32-oz.) container plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground pepper, divided
  • 2 pounds fresh okra, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Garnish: freshly ground pepper


1. Line a wire-mesh strainer with 3 layers of cheesecloth or 1 (12-cup) coffee filter. Place strainer over a bowl. Spoon yogurt into strainer. Cover and chill 24 hours. Remove yogurt, discarding strained liquid.
2. Preheat grill to 400° to 450° (high) heat. Combine strained yogurt, basil, next 3 ingredients, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
3. Toss together okra, olive oil, and remaining 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper in a large bowl.
4. Grill okra, covered with grill lid, over 400° to 450° (high) heat 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until tender. Cool 5 minutes.
5. Transfer okra to a serving dish, and serve with dipping sauce. Garnish, if desired.
Southern Living JULY 2009

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Forcing paperwhites for winter flowers.

Narcissus Paperwhite
Narcissus----------A little sunshine in the winter.

My favorite flowers to brighten a dark winter day are the Paperwhite Narcissus or the Soliel D'or which is yellow with an orange cup. Below are instructions for this winter sunshine.
Paperwhites will grow happily and bloom with nothing more than water and stones or beach glass. To "plant" your bulbs in a soilless container begin by carefully placing a layer of stones or glass to a depth of about 2 inches in a small vase or about 4 inches in a larger vase. Next place a layer of bulbs close to each other, roots facing down, tips facing toward the middle. Put a few stones or pieces of beach glass around and between the bulbs to anchor them in the vase. Leave the tops of the bulbs exposed. Finally, add water until the level reaches just below the base of the bulbs, but no higher (if the bases of the bulbs sit in water, they will rot). Follow the instructions for "Rooting and care" below.

Soliel Narcissus

Bulbs in different containers

To pot the bulbs with potting mix, begin by placing the potting mix in a plastic tub. Slowly add water and stir until the mix is moist but not soggy. Add moistened mix to the accompanying container until it is about 3/4 full. Set the bulbs, pointed end up, on top of the mix. Space the bulbs very closely; they should almost touch. Then add more mix, covering the bulbs up to their necks and leaving the tips exposed. Water throughly. Follow the instructions for "Rooting and care" below.

Rooting and care: Set your container or vase in a cool (50-60°F is ideal) place away from direct sunlight. Check the bulbs frequently and water thoroughly when they potting mix is dry 1 inch below the surface (but not more than once a week until the bulbs begin active growth), or when the water level is more than an inch below the stones or glass in your vase. If your bulbs are in a bowl (a pot without a drainage hole), water with extra care: Bulbs sitting in soggy potting mix soon rot. Once a week, tug gently on the bulbs to see if they have begun to product roots. When your tug meets with firm resistance (usually about 3 weeks after potting), move the container to a sunny window. Keep a close eye on watering. Bulbs in active growth can dry out in just a day or two. When Paperwhites are forced to bloom indoors, they have a tendency to topple when in flower. Hold them upright with bulb supports or with bamboo stakes and twine (available at garden centers). 

Face the growth toward the center, my preference
Good root growth around the peebles and the water
is not covering the bulb.

The bulbs took about 2 weeks to get to the 4" height in darkness and cool climate. Moved into a bright area they grew and began to bloom within the next week. If they are kept away from heat sources and in the light they will do well.

If you don't want to start your Paperwhites right away or you want to hold some in reserve for a staggered display, store them at cool but not cold room temperature in a dark place.

After Paperwhites finish blooming, we recommend that you throw the bulbs out or toss them on the compost pile. They won't bloom again indoors. Happy forcing.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A visit to Winterthur Gardens

 Winterthur in the winter is lovely. You can still find the late bloomers:



The landscapes offer picturesque panoramic views:

It is a great place to take nature photography:

Magnolia fingers

While birds take over the tree branches
Apartment Complex!

And to watch squirrells frantically forage :
Luckily the freezing cold weather hasn't hit us yet, there's still time to enjoy the outdoors! Hope you all had a great holiday!