Posts Tagged ‘heirloom tomatoes’

All covered up

Salvador and Mike unroll Reemay to cover a row of heirloom tomatoes.

Salvador and Mike unroll Reemay to cover a row of heirloom tomatoes.

On Wednesday afternoon, the folks at Bee Heaven Farm were preparing for a chilly night. Farmer Margie Pikarsky asked visiting farmer Mike Libsch and farm hand Salvador to put the floating row cover, or Reemay, over the rows of heirloom tomatoes and beans. They are tender plants and do not like it when it gets too cold.

Mike and Salvador unrolled the bundles of light weight cover, and draped each row of tomatoes. They tied down the middle in sections with string, so that the cover wouldn’t billow and blow away, and the ends were knotted and secured. Reemay covered bush beans like a blanket, and clumps of straw bales held the edges down. The men worked quickly as the late afternoon sun sank in the clear sky.

Salvador ties down the cover so it doesn't fly around.

Salvador ties down the cover so it doesn’t fly around.

“Reemay keeps the temps a couple degrees warmer,” Margie told me. “It makes a difference between frying the tomato plants from the cold, or continuing on.” The weather forecasts called for temperatures to drop to 39 degrees in Redland, and that put area farmers on alert. “You could get patchy frost,” Margie explained, saying that it could be just as dangerous as a freeze. “As soon as temps drop below 40, in the mid 30s, you’re in trouble.”

Reemay draped over tomato trellis before getting tied down. Bush beans got covered too.

Reemay draped over tomato trellis before getting tied down. Bush beans got covered too.

Better to cover up than to take a chance on getting plants destroyed by cold. Overnight, temperatures dropped as low as 36 in various areas in Redland. “This morning there was a lot of frost,” Margie said. The cover stayed on until frost was completely gone, around  8 or 9 in the morning. Tomato and bean plants looked alright, but Margie explained that cold damage doesn’t become evident until a couple days later. For now, the Reemay was rolled up and put away, until the next cold snap comes.

Note: Reemay is a spun polyester fabric that breathes, and will not burn plants it comes in contact with. Plastic, on the other hand, will do that, and should be used only if there is a frame or support keeping it off plants.

Heirloom tomato plants all covered up.

Heirloom tomato plants all covered up.

Read Full Post »

It started with emails, first a trickle, then a wave, pouring in to Farmer Margie’s inbox. They all said pretty much the same thing. “I didn’t make it to GrowFest,” or “I went looking for you at the Edible Garden Festival but you weren’t there.” Avid gardeners were hungry for their annual fix of organic heirloom tomato seedlings from Bee Heaven Farm.

Ish (left) helps a buyer pick out the perfect plant.

So for those who missed out, plants left over from GrowFest! were up for grabs last Saturday at a special seedling sale. The event ran from 10 am to 2 pm. People started trickling in just before 10, making the long walk down the farm driveway. It was the perfect day for visiting Bee Heaven Farm. A crisp, cool morning drenched with dew gently warmed to tee-shirt weather by noon. The sky was clear, brilliant blue, and turkey buzzards swirled high overhead, riding thermals created by freshly tilled and bedded fields. A mockingbird twittered somewhere in the spreading branches of a large poinciana tree, beneath which tables of seedlings were set up in the dappled shade.

Reaching for the best!

Gardeners dove in, searching for the perfect plants to take home. “Do you have… ” they asked, and farm helpers Victor and Ish were quick to assist. It was a treasure hunt, this search for perfect plants. The stars of the show were heirloom tomato plants: Sun Gold, Lollipop, Beam’s Yellow Pear, Green Grape, Black Zebra, Pineapple, Black Prince, Brown Berry, Homestead 24, Lime Green Salad. Some people were partial to smaller varieties, others liked big beefsteaks. Most people said they planted in raised beds, but I spoke to a fair number of container gardeners, too.

Farm helper Victor tells it like it is about growing yuca.

Most people knew just what they wanted. One woman came with plastic printed slips of names of tomatoes that she grew from last year. Others browsed through the assortment and bought mass quantities. Buy five, get one free. Buy 15, get five free. Enough to fill up the whole back yard and share with the neighborhood. By closing time, it was estimated that about 80 people came, and almost half the plants were sold.

Barbecue master and published author Steve Raichlen also stopped by. He marveled at the tub full of smoked eggs made by Robert Barnum of Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery. Apparently smoking eggs is one thing he hasn’t yet tried to grill or smoke. He wrote about the encounter on his blog here.

Steven Raichlen, barbecue master and author of many books on grilling, with Farmer Margie.

If you missed this sale, you’ll have to wait to buy plants until December when Bee Heaven Farm will be at Pinecrest Gardens Farmers Market. The farm is not open to the public except for occasional events.

A happy shopper loaded down with tomato plants.

Choosing choy.

Farmer Margie (right) chats with customers.

Coveted organic heirloom tomato seedlings.

Read Full Post »

It’s that time of year when heirloom tomatoes are coming in thick and fast. You’ll find them in all shapes and sizes and colors at the Redland Organics tent at Pinecrest Gardens Farmers Market on Sundays.

Big ones, small ones, green, red, yellow, even orange, looking like jewels, enticing you to gather them from their wooden trays.

Eat one and you’ll know why people are crazy about heirlooms. Not only are they beautiful, but they’re just bursting with real flavor, their seed saved for generations.

Green ones tend to be a bit more tart, yellow and orange are sweet, and “black” ones have the richest flavor of all.

To serve, slice and add a little bit of good olive oil and sea salt and you’ve got locavore heaven on your plate and in your mouth.

Read Full Post »

Flats of heirloom tomato seedlings.

For several weeks, Sadie nurtured her babies. She started them from seed, but now they are getting big, and she is pushing them out into the world. She had help from Victor, the proud papa who helped pot them up, preparing them for their new homes.

Sadie is the farm manager at Bee Heaven Farm, Victor is a farm hand, and their “babies” are thousands of heirloom tomato seedlings. Not all will get planted on the farm. Many are grown for sale, and will be available at Ramble this weekend at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

Picking out the best plants.

Seedlings were also available at the recent Edible Garden Festival, also held at Fairchild. It was a sight to see! Dozens and dozens of varieties loaded down three long tables in front of the farm’s tent. There were so many seedlings it looked like a sea of small green leaves and white name tags.

Sadie (left) helps a customer choose plants.

The varieties for sale are the same ones that farmer Margie Pikarsky grows year after year. She knows which ones do best in this climate, and which will have problems. Heirloom tomatoes come in all different sizes, shapes and colors. Small tomatoes are the most prolific, and they will ripen through the season. They come in several shapes — round, grape and pear (or teardrop) — and colors — red, yellow, orange, pink, white, brown and black. Yellow and orange are sweeter, and the black and brown varieties have a stronger tomato flavor. White and pink tomatoes are very pale in color, but that doesn’t diminish their flavor. Beefsteak varieties, which are familiar to gardeners from Up North, just aren’t as prolific in this climate. They will bear about five or six fruit per plant, before they succumb to heat and bugs. All varieties are certified organic, started in clean potting medium, and grown without any chemicals.

Beth got enough plants to fill her backyard garden.

The serious gardeners came out in full force early Saturday morning. They were looking for specific varieties, and scooped up armloads of plants. It was fascinating to hear that in one garden, the yellow pear did well, but in another garden, it was a struggle. Matt’s Wild Cherry, a small Everglades tomato, did well in a lot of gardens last year, and is hardy enough to bear through May. One man said he was a teacher and bought a variety of plants for his school garden. Many people were mixing and matching plants to get a wide assortment of colors and flavors.

In an interesting trend, almost half the gardeners planned to grow their plants in pots on a patio or balcony. One man even brought his iPad and proudly showed pictures of 70-plus pots, complete with an overhead irrigation system, on his back patio. That was last season and he wanted to do something like that again. If you have pots and sunlight, you can grow vegetables just about anywhere.

A terrified Florida scorpion.

And of course, you can’t have an organic plant sale without bug drama. Sunday afternoon a small black scorpion emerged in a flat of Green Zebras. It startled two of the volunteer helpers. The scorpion looked pretty scared too, and and tried to make itself very small as people stared at it.

Cheech, the scorpion wrangler.

A young man ran over, picked up the flat, and heaved the scorpion into a nearby planting of bromeliads, thus ending the drama. The scorpion had hitched a ride from the farm. However fearsome, it is one of nature’s pest controls, and won’t sting people unless provoked.

Don’t fear, there’s no more scorpions lurking. Come to Ramble and adopt Sadie’s babies — there’s still hundreds of plants left. Come try a variety you never grew before. No matter which ones you choose, the color and flavor of a perfectly ripe tomato that you grew yourself will be incredibly better than anything you can find at the store!

Thanks to Marilyn and Buddha, who came out to pot up thousands of seedlings. Thanks to Adri, Holly, Kathy, Kristin and Marian, who helped at the Edible Garden Festival.

Gardeners shopping for heirloom tomatoes on the first morning.

Read Full Post »

Small, medium and large

If you’re heading out to the Edible Garden Festival with a hankering for heirloom tomato plants, here are some pictures to give you an idea of what their fruit will look like when they grow up. These collages are only a taste of the types of plants you will find at the Bee Heaven Farm tent. And yes, they are all tasty, and quite addictive!

L to R: Red Pear, Lollipop, Brown Berry, Podland Pink, Matt’s Wild Cherry, Sungold

L to R: Green Zebra, Speckled Roman, Taxi, Jaune Flamme, Opalka, Red Zebra

L to R: Large Red, Cherokee Purple, Italian Heirloom, Brandywine, Cherokee Chocolate (unripe), Costoluto Genovese

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »