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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Add family, friends, and sharing stories about this connection with one another, and you have the recipe for change. Each element is of equal importance to an Earth Dinner and to the food culture — spinning yarns, savoring food, learning to truly listen. We have much to connect here, and we need each other’s wisdom to do it.
– Theresa Marquez

Guests settled in at table.

With the sun setting and appetites provoked by wood smoke, guests made their way back to the house and took their seats at table in the high ceilinged, open beamed dining room. Even Robert’s unassuming house has a story. It’s positioned on the property to make the best use of the prevailing breezes and stays cool with cross ventilation (something that contemporary house builders have forgotten to do). High ceilings, large windows and wide overhangs are part of the design to stay cool in tropical heat. Only two fans supplemented the evening breeze to keep guests comfortable.

Each dish that was served came with its own story about where the food came from. Margie and Robert took turns telling those stories, and fisherman George “Trigger” Figueroa also chimed in with his own tales of adventure. The foods were accompanied with wines from Schnebly and some of Robert’s best vintages.

Heirloom tomatoes topped with goat cheese and purple basil.

And so the dinner began, and grew to a torrent of local abundance and deliciousness. Salad featured Teena’s heirloom tomatoes, and right away I fell in love with the orange one called appropriately enough, Tangerine. It has a bright, citrusy flavor, thus the name, and is said to be loaded with lycopene. Other varieties in the salad were Pink Brandywine and Cherokee Purple. Tangy and rich tomato flavors were balanced by crumbles of mild goat cheese. The salad was paired with Schnebly’s avocado wine, which tastes surprisingly crisp and clean, similar to a pinot grigio, and not one whiff of avocado. Teena said she has been growing tomatoes and vegetables in a sustainable way for over 35 years in Redland.

Vichysoisse with multicolor potato chips.

If you attended the Potato Pandemonium dinner last year, you’ll remember the vichyssoise. The soup was light and delicate in flavor and texture, but this time was more orange than lavender in color. (The color is determined by the mix of potatoes in a particular batch.) A handful of crispy potato chips topped the soup and gave it a salty crunch. The creamy half and half used to thicken the soup came from Dakin Dairy in Myakka City. Robert explained the potatoes came from a nearby field where the State of Maine tests their seed crop of spuds every year. Many different kinds in all different colors — red, blue, golden, white — are grown. Robert has permission to forage after they plow the crop under. Potatoes were a popular crop in Redland, grown in clay-like marl soil. But in the last decade, potato fields have given way to fields of houses and paved roads.

Tempura battered betel leaf and blue crab rangoon.

Tempura battered betel leaf with crab rangoon had also gone through its evolution into a lighter dish. Robert got several pounds of local blue crabs from Card Sound Crabs Company located not too far away on rustic Card Sound Road. The crabs had been swimming just the day before. It took three people about three hours to pick out all the crab meat. (Talk about slow food!) The crab sauce was less creamy than I remembered, and that was a good thing, allowing the delicate crab flavor to come through. The crunchy fried leaf served as a deconstructed fried wonton wrapper and added smoky flavor. This dish was served with Schnebly’s coconut wine, which had a slight coconut flavor that became more pronounced as it warmed.

Wild caught cobia with broiled red grapefruit and Ponderosa lemon.

Crab rangoon was followed by another seafood dish, wild caught cobia. It’s a gamefish that migrates from the Gulf, around the coast of Florida and into the Carolinas. When this particular fish was swimming, it was about 38 inches long. Local fisherman George Figueroa speared it while free diving in about 25 feet of water off the coast of Jacksonville, and was present at the dinner to tell the tale.

Robert Barnum opens up a Ponderosa lemon.

The carambola glazed, wood grilled fillet was thick and meaty, much like cod, and its flavor reminded me of mackerel. It was served with broiled red grapefruit from David’s Organics and a huge slice of Ponderosa lemon which Robert grows. He passed one around to examine. It was bigger than a softball and had thick bumpy skin. Its taste was mildly acid (similar to Bahamas lemon which Margie grows at Bee Heaven). The dish was accompanied by one of Robert’s wines made from araça, a tart yellow fruit that also makes great ice cream, but is too sour to eat on its own. The araça wine was light in color and a bit fruity, but not quite as complex as chardonnay.

Wood smoked wild boar with tamarind-peach chutney and callaloo.

Smoked wild boar came with its own story too. The meat had been donated by chef Michael Schwartz, who shot it on a hunt in the woods near Lake Okeechobee. (Read about the hunt on Michael’s blog.) George explained to dinner guests that feral pigs roam all over Florida, and can cause a considerable amount of damage as they root for food. But this particular pig was a menace no more. Robert smoked the pork for eight hours in his outside wood fired smoker, using Florida mahogany wood. It was glazed with a tamarind-peach chutney sauce, and served with more of the same on the side. The lightly smoked roast pork was lean and had a slightly chewy texture, to be expected from an animal that got lots of exercise. Fruit for the chutney came from Robert’s grove. Red Ceylon peach has a light colored flesh with red around the pit, and its light peachy flavor makes for a good ice cream (which made an appearance at the ice cream social last summer). Robert explained that this peach is one of very few varieties that had been grown commercially in South Florida over 50 years ago but no longer, because it is susceptible to fruit fly infestation. The wild boar was served with two large dollops of callaloo (also known as Jamaican spinach) grown at Three Sisters Farm. The greens were cooked with scallions and garlic chives from Bee Heaven Farm. The dish was served with Robert’s jaboticaba wine, which was purplish, tasted a bit sweet and grape-like, and went quite well with the chutney. It seemed to be one one of the more popular wines of the night.

Grassfed beef with oyster muchrooms and roasted multicolor potatoes.

The third entree was grassfed beef raised at Deep Creek Ranch located in DeLand. (According to their web site, the cattle are raised on pasture according to organic practices but are not actually certified organic.) On my plate was a large chunk of meat with a marrow bone that appeared even larger because it was draped with sauteed oyster mushrooms from Happy Shrooms, and was accompanied by a side of smoked multicolor potatoes from the Maine testing fields, carrots and onions from Worden Farm, and parsnips and rosemary grown at Bee Heaven. Robert said the shank meat had been browned and oven braised in a blend of his homemade tropical fruit wines for about eight hours until it was tender. I was starting to get full when the beef arrived, but after one bite, couldn’t set it aside untouched. It had a rich taste and the wine reduction added to the depth of the flavor. The meat was falling off the bone, and a dollop of marrow was worth pursuing with the tip of a knife. The beef was served along with Robert’s bignay wine, which has a dark red color and tastes similar to cabernet. Some people think it’s too astringent, but it held up well to the richness of the beef.

Carambola pie with rangpur lime/sapodilla gelato and fresh Mysore raspberries.

Dessert — as if anyone could eat another bite — was Robert’s familiar square slab of carambola pie made with a whole wheat crust, accompanied by two scoops of rangpur lime/sapodilla gelato made with goat’s milk. The carambola, rangpur lime and sapodilla came from Robert’s grove,  and milk from Hani’s goat herd just down the street. The pie tasted like a tangy peach pie, and the gelato was a light dance of sweet and sour. Both were topped with a sprinkling of freshly picked Mysore raspberries from Bee Heaven. The dessert was paired with a sweet bignay wine that was as thick and strong as an elixir, almost too strong and sweet for me. Robert said he made it with twice the fruit and twice the sugar.

Weber, Mike and Sadie from Bee Heaven Farm helped with prep.

I’ve been to several dinner events at Robert’s and with this one he had outdone himself. His cooking and presentation gets better and better with each event, and it doesn’t hurt that he had excellent fresh local ingredients to work with and lots of willing helpers. Yes, there were a few minor glitches — the appetizer and soup courses didn’t come out of the kitchen in order, others weren’t paced evenly, and a few stray cobwebs lingered in a chandelier. But for the most part, the event went smoothly. Food presentation was professional and the service (by volunteers!) was very, very good. Kudos to Kathy, Karen, Sadie, Mike and Weber!

<< to be continued >>

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This coming Sunday is the last day that Bee Heaven Farm/Redland Organics is going to be at the Pinecrest Gardens Green Market. Come get the last of the heirloom tomatoes! In honor of the bumper crop we had this season, I put together a non-encyclopedic image of some of the 60+ varieties that Farmer Margie grows.

Bring your market tote! Margie is flooded with a sea of carrots, lettuce, onions, and there will be the legendary, farm-fresh Rachel’s Eggs grown by happy, pastured hens at Bee Heaven.

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