Eleven Tomatoes, Six Peppers

Bella, Bella Rosa

When you have nothing else to do, you tend to indulge in excess. Being rusticated for an indeterminate length of time, MJ and myself have gone narting futs with planting our veg. All these plants are just in containers: we haven’t even made it out to our garden yet. How about eleven varieties of tomatoes?

Maters, Precious

Plants in the ground–We found a great seller only about four miles away. These are all new varieties to us.

Bella Rosa–A hybrid that already has a tomato on it, and is blooming like crazy

Atkinson–Developed at Aw-burn U, the bitter rival of my Crimson Tide

Roma III–Had to buy three of these hybrid Romas, because it is Roma III

Juliet–“It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon.” A mini San Marzano! Will buy a couple more of these

Seeds in the ground–Some are our saved seeds, including a couple of chance hybrids. We have grown all of these before.

Purple Calabash–The cabernet wine of tomatoes. Ugly and exquisite

Rio Grande–Why an Italian tomato is named Rio Grande, I have no clue

Creole–From LSU, and this is one Ragin’ Cajun, for hot weather. LSU has the craziest fans in college football. They came to T-town one year, their team beat the hide off the Tide, and then one sorority stole most of the furniture out of their sorority sisters’ house on sorority row. They eventually returned it.

Black Truffle–We love dark colored tomatoes

Amish Paste–Same with the paste tomatoes

Red Cherry–Saved seed, probably Matt’s Wild Cherry, which grows wild in Texas and Mexico.

Hard Round Red Tomato-More than likely a chance hybrid, this plant has some seriously tasty tomatoes

I have two Alma Maters, and now eleven Maters. I also never apologize for a bad pun.

Peppers, Dude

Sweet Banana–We freeze these by the dozen, if they survive our devouring them fresh

Cayenne–No Southern kitchen is complete without a bottle of Cayenne pepper sauce

Ancho–The best mildly hot pepper. Dried when ripe, it makes Ancho powder

Royal Black–A new one, said to be really hot. It goes in the pepper sauce

Early Jalapeno–Early is good

Jalapeno M–A mild Jalapeno. Why did I buy these? They must have been cheap

As the great Neil Young wrote, “Homegrown is the way it should be.” Amen from this corner.

Native Rhododendrons, Part IV–Rhododendron chapmanii

Chapman’s Rhododendron

When people think of Florida, it’s either about beaches, or the trailer parks where Florida Man and Florida Woman live, although I also think about possums who drink cognac. They certainly don’t think of evergreen Rhododendrons. However, right there in the panhandle is the rarest of the rare, Rhododendron chapmanii.

Endemic to just around six counties in Florida, this plant is still sometimes listed as a variety of Rhododendron minus, the other deep South rhody. I have both, but the resemblance between the two is slight. Chapmanii is both state and federally endangered, and unfortunately lives exclusively on private timber comany property. In short, the long term survival of the species is in no way assured.

Fortunately, I was able to purchase two nursery propagated plants for my ark of a garden, and these guys are tough. My first plant is about to cross twenty years of growing out in the woodlands of Oak and Hickory. It has also made it through two of the worst droughts in memory.

The Survivor

Once again, for those in other hardiness zones, this species blooms at the same time as Vernal Iris (Iris verna). This one happens to be between my two plants.

Iris

Like the Ark of Taste, we need an Ark of Plants as well. Your local friendly bees will thank you with pollination.

Last Night I Dreamed About Tomato Sauce

I Really Did.

To quote my man Will Shakespeare, this is the “The stuff that dreams are made of,” as adapted by Bogey and John Huston in The Maltese Falcon. I woke up at six in the morning with the taste of tomato sauce in my mouth. It was then that I realized that I had been dreaming about it, possibly all night long..

It was a classic example of one part of what Dr. Freud said that dreams are made of, and this is not a particularly good translation, but it is the standard one: “the day’s residues.” For lunch the previous day I had a slice of leftover brick oven pizza, and it was still superb warmed up. It had Vidalia onion slices, Italian mozzarella, and a crust made from Caputo 00 flour from Italy. The star was still Melanie Jane’s tomato sauce. That’s what I dreamed about. Here’s her recipe, which will sauce two pizzas.

Ingredients

1 quart locally grown home canned Tomatoes–I believe these were Romas

1/2 of a diced Onion

Italian Tomato Paste in a tube–Tuscan, in this case, the brand being Tuscanini. (Aside–I had to buy this, as Toscanini is one of our favorite conductors of classical music, and his daughter married my wife’s favorite pianist, Vladimir Horowitz.)

Italian Pesto in a tube

Italian Garlic Paste in a tube–the secret weapon used by many pros

Oregano and Thyme

Salt and Pepper

This is considerably more complicated than what most Italians would make, but we aren’t Italian, at least the last time I checked. MJ then cooked it down to a concentrated strength, which gave me just enough time to get a roaring fire going in the brick oven.

Did it ever get hot. All I had was oak dead fall pieces, and they created an inferno. I didn’t burn the crust–I actually burned the sauce, as you can see from the little black line on my slice in the picture. I’ve never had that happen before.

It was still delicious. As I always tell people, don’t eat the burned part.

Native Rhododendrons, Part III–Rhododendron alabamense and Rhododendron atlanticum

Alabama Azalea

We are officially in the mid-season of the native’s bloom cycle, and the color of the day is white. Rhododendron alabamense is the showiest of these, with that prominent yellow blotch on one petal. Though said to be a small plant, I have one at 6.5′, and another at 7′.

Clouds of White and Yellow

This species was first described by the famous botanist Dr. Charles Mohr from the University of Alabama. Furthermore, he first found it in my home county of Cullman, and naturally, he mistakenly placed it as a variant of a different species. It was not until 1921 that it was recognized as a distinct species by the scientific community.

Not every plant has as dark a yellow dot. This one is faint enough that it is not visible on a photo.

A more sedate species is Rhododendron atlanticum, a native of the east coast, from Georgia to Pennsylvania. Also known as Dwarf Azalea, this is one that really is small, usually no more than 2 or 3′. It makes up for it by spreading underground, and forming colonies. It also has small flowers.

For people in different hardiness zones, these plants bloom at the same time as Trillium grandiflorum. Here’s one blooming now in my rock garden.

Alas, it is surrounded by five native Rhodys.

ISA Brown Chicks

At about Two to Three Weeks Old

I went to my local chicken purveyor with the intent of buying four Rhode Island Red chicks to add to my flock. They had a grand total of one Rhode Island Red chick. Therefore, I went with a descendant of theirs, the hybrid ISA Brown. Et Mon Dieu, the chicken turned out to have been developed in la belle France.

Technically, all chickens are hybrids anyway, though many breeds have been established for many years, and one generation looks much like the previous one. Apparently that is not true with these birds, though that could easily be just Monsanto like agit-prop disseminated by the company that owns the patent on this bird. Considering that it has been around since 1978, someone has obviously bred some of these fowl, and it would be interesting to find some stories based on first hand experience.

At any rate, the story began in 1975 with the French Ministry of Agriculture, the head of which was determined to produce a first rate bird for commercial Big Chicken. The project was headed by the firm Institut de Sélection Animale, which is where the name ISA comes from. Three years later, these birds were the result, a hybrid of many varieties, though which ones are considered a trade secret; but the most notable one is the Rhode Island Red.

As a bird designed for Big Chicken, these chicks mature quickly and lay eggs at a fast and furious rate. They are variously said to be short lived, or disease prone, but it is hard to believe that Big Chicken would fall in love with a sickly bird: disposable, yes, but sickly, no. A few small owners say they can live as long as eight years, if given proper care, instead of stuck in a battery cage. As it turns out, this variety has become a favorite with backyard chicken growers, though my chickens are actually in my front yard.

One of the best things about this bird is that it is a sex-link chicken, which means the sexes are different colors. Therefore, if the chick is brown, it is a hen; if it is white, it is a rooster. Thus, these four are definitely hens.

After a week here, they are already flying around the brooder, though there isn’t much runway space in that plastic container. I still put a lid on the insulated contraption to keep them from flying around our basement, or getting burned by the heat lamp.

The Heat is On

I have already found them on the top perch, or just cold chilling, sitting on top of the water or feed jars. This morning all four were practicing flying at the same time, which resulted in some spectacular crashes.

Chances are good that my in-laws are in line for some free eggs, as we already regularly have three dozen sitting around our kitchen. Eggs, that is, not in-laws.

Native Rhododendrons, Part II: Rhododendron austrinum

Florida Flame Azalea, or Yellow Azalea

Rhododendron austrinum can make a giant shrub, if grown in the right conditions. It has taken over a large portion of my rock garden. How big does it get? So big that I could barely fit it into the frame of my picture.

Wide and Tall

Obviously, this species will make a multi-stemmed shrub. Though the max height is usually ten feet, this one is twelve, and still growing. I have one more normal sized plant. Swallowtail butterflies love both.

Spring is Here

This is definitely not the hardiest of the natives, but it still grows like crazy here on the southern end of zone 7. I will also add, they grow equally well without any fertilizer. Neither of my two plants have ever had any.

Planting Taters, Precious

The Dutch have Invaded My Tater Patch

After almost three months of non-stop rain, it finally dried up enough for me to plant my taters. We already have had our yearly average rainfall total and it is only the end of March. At least all the moisture made it easy to dig the trenches with a real old style tool.

Scovil Pattern Hoe

That hoe is usually reserved for mixing concrete, but it will move some earth as well. I planted four varieties of taters.

Yukon Gold (Six Pounds)

Red Norland (Five pounds)

Gold Rush (A New Variety for me. One Pound)

Russet (One Pound)

That made two and a half rows. The delay in planting meant that all the taters had sprouted well, which made it easy to use the classic American method of cutting in half any tuber that had more than four eyes on it, and every Red Norland did. Every cut tater was dipped in agricultural lime.

After I aligned my trenches with my homemade garden string combo, I lined each one with crushed egg shells for calcium, and pelletized lime for more calcium and magnesium. The final touch will be to top dress them all with some composted chicken manure. That will be my only source for nitrogen, until they leaf out, and then they get some liquid Alaska fish fertilizer.

Hopefully, the taters will no longer smell of rotten fish when I dig them.