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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Grafted Tomatoes

Tomatoes are grafted when quite small. Notice the grafting clips.
Grafted Tomatoes

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).

Heirloom tomatoes have the best flavor in taste-tests.

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.

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.

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.
A grafted tomato that is well established, the graft is between my fingers.

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.
Field trials side by side of grafted and non-grafted tomatoes.

I visited 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.
Lonnie and a flat of grafted tomatoes, ready for planting.

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, along with the trials of the friends who have the 2,000 grafted tomatoes.  Territorial Seed offers a variety of grafted tomato varieties by mail. Happy gardening!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

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. We cooked up a batch 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 will 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.

For recipes of herbal things that don't involve cicadas, visit my website for my homemade crackers, dips, salsas and other foods, which all include herbs.

Happy Gardening!