Brookline Has a New Winter Farmers Market

Last week, Wicked Local Brookline brought word that the city was considering approval for a once-weekly Farmers Market in the Coolidge Corner Arcade, at 318 Harvard Ave,  which would run every Sunday from November 2012 to June 2013. The city had a successful trial run of the idea last year, when a one-day-only market ran on Saturday, January 28th, 2012; this year, the same woman responsible for the initial idea, Linda Plazonja, was hoping that the city was on board with a more permanent offering.

It would appear that those hopes will be realized: today, Brookline selectman Jesse Mermell tweeted that the market will officially be open for business starting on Saturday, November 11th. At least one popular local vendor, Clear Flour Bread (purveyors of probably the finest bread you can get in the area), has posted on their website that they will be there. The aforementioned Wicked Local article quoted area farmers market veteran Kate Stillman, so it stands to reason that local heavyweight Stillman’s Farm will also be in attendance.

It’s a big win for Boston area residents, who already have an excellent Saturday winter farmers market in Somerville, at the Armory on 191 Highland Ave. If you’ve never been, these markets are hardly lean: while fruit may be in short supply (it is New England, after all), basically everything else is available, from vegetables, breads, and meats; to “specialty” items like cheeses, pastas, jams, kombucha, chocolate, and beer. New England’s local food scene is beginning to come full-circle: long after the passing of the age of the root cellar, eating seasonally is, once again, basically well within reach of any city resident. It’s much easier now, though: just grab a few bags, hop on the T, and shop.

Dread not the cold: a winter’s worth of sweet potatoes, leafy kale, Taza chocolate, and local beer awaits you. Is it December yet?

Sungold Tomato Plant: 1 Month

Our lone sungold survivor, one month after potting its seed.

It’s been four weeks since I planted a dozen of last year’s sungold seeds in a soil-filled container, and 18 days since the first (and only) sprout appeared. I decided to call it Seth, because I have a soft spot for religious lore; Seth was the brother of Cain and Abel, and is the progenitor of all mankind. So, you know, appropriate. All future generations (ideally) will stem from his line. I don’t much like the name Seth though, so I tend to just call it Tomato.

It’s been two weeks of trying to ensure that the plant stays appropriately watered, properly sunned, and a little mechanically stimulated. A couple of times a day, whenever I can sneak away for a moment, I’ve been giving its leaves a bit of gentle stroking, and maybe talking to it a little bit too — breathing lots of lovely carbon dioxide on him, etc. Providing light physical stimuli to plants imitates outdoor growing conditions like wind, rain, and animal passersby; it’s called thigmomorphogenesis, and it results in hardier specimens. Still, please don’t tell Heather I caress the tomato.

Today, our sole second-generation plant is doing very well. It’s sprouted a number of true tomato plant leaves, and stands at just over two inches tall. I created a little greenhouse dome thing for it by affixing a larger plastic container to the top of a smaller one. Usually I leave him outside during the day to stay warm and sunned (though it’s been pretty gray lately), but yesterday, I left the top down, so he could feel some real New England air for the first time. Now that he’s got the warm(er) air on his leaves and the wind at his back, I’ll pull back on babying it and just enjoy watching it grow. With some luck, it’ll be ready for transplanting at the end of the month. Ish. Wish him luck!

How are your tomato plants doing?

Boston Area Farmers Markets: 2011

The always-awesome Copley Square Farmers Market. Begins May 17th, 2011; runs every Tuesday and Friday throughout the summer/fall. // Flickr/WBUR

It’s been a very rainy April this year in Boston: over 4 inches have fallen thus far, with a bit more likely before the month is over (last April we got under 2 inches). It’s what we’ve heard is supposed to happen this month. April is wet, and then, just when you can’t stand it any more, things turn beautiful. If you’ve been around the greater Boston area in the past few days, you’ve likely already noticed this phenomenon coming to pass: flowers are blooming, tree buds are blossoming, green shoots are appearing in spots which before were dominated by browns and grays. It’s official: May is upon us.

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Heir to the Throne

COMING THIS SPRING: Twelve seeds were planted. Only one survived. Dun dun dunnnnn.

Ten days ago, I planted twelve sungold seeds I’d saved from last year into a little plastic container filled with soil. After a week of fretting that nothing was happening, sometime last night, a stem emerged from the ground: the (potentially) only heir to our sungold family lineage.

I’m hoping against hope that more of them sprout up over the next 48 hours or so, that this week’s cold and rainy weather has simply made these little guys run in slow motion. I’m not sure what the odds of any given sprouted plant have of surviving, but given the fact that we’re first-time parents, I’m worried that they’re not particularly good. It’d be nice to have more than one shot at it. But if this is the only plant we’ll get, then dammit, we’ll give it all we’ve got. It’s currently got a front-row seat in the sunniest south-facing window of the house.

What you’re looking at right now is a cotyledon, essentially the first growth which shoots out from the plant’s seed. Isn’t it remarkable how much larger the sprouted plant already is than the seed itself? Tomato plants are dicots, meaning that they have two embryonic leaves, as you can see in the picture. These are not yet truly tomato plant leaves, as they are present in the seed prior to germination (as opposed to growing after the seed germinates), but they are photosynthetic, meaning that as soon as they open up, they’re in charge of supplying the growing plant with energy. That’s why it’s important that they get immediate sunlight.

It looks like there’s some sun in the forecast for tomorrow and Friday, which hopefully is the case. I don’t really feel as though it’s proper to run an indoor fluorescent light just to develop this one plant. It’s going to have to grow naturally or not grow at all. Hopefully the little guy’s hardy. Things happen quickly in the springtime, so there’ll be plenty to monitor in the coming days.

Saving Seeds

It's okay that they're a little fuzzy, right? I think it's okay.

We had a very successful go of it last summer with our crop of sungold tomatoes. We did make one mistake, though: we weren’t very good about saving our seeds. As such, our eldest plant was mostly expired when we finally thought to try and save seeds from it, and the last seed-bearing stragglers we plucked from her branches from were only half-ripe. We took them anyways, hoping that their champion pedigree would make up for our haphazard collection practices.

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Hello, Spring

As the last (we hope) snow of the winter melts, our growing garlic catches some mid-afternoon sun.

We’re officially two weeks into spring here in the Northeast, and while temperatures have been creeping upward, it’s never easy in the early going, as was evidenced by the wholly unwelcome snowfall we saw this past Friday. Luckily, such setbacks tend to be short-lived in the April sun. Snow contributes to May’s flowers just the same. It’ll also contribute to whatever’s been overwintered – like, say, this lovely hardneck garlic!

We received a beautiful-looking head of garlic late last summer from Turtle Creek Trading Co., and in the middle of October, I planted it… at 8PM on a Friday night, in the rain. The arrangement was far from ideal, but it was the only free time I had to dig and plant before temperatures were set to drop into “it’s too cold to plant things” territory. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of digging in wet, rocky soil, you’ll understand how much fun this was. Still, I got us a plot about six feet long and two feet wide, into which went twenty-two bulbs of garlic. I think I inverted the shovel, stabbed a hole into the ground, dropped the bulb in, and then covered it with dirt. Two rows of 11 bulbs each, set to overwinter.

It was our first time planting anything in the fall. After the huge amounts of snow we received began to melt in early March, we discovered that a few little green-brown shoots (it felt like a miracle) had begun to poke their heads through the soil. We were worried that they’d started to come up too soon, which I suppose is very human thing to do: could these plants possibly survive the winter? Yes, they can. Luckily, the sunlight has been a revelation for these little guys; the first to sprout are now a good four or five inches tall, and there are probably a dozen of them that have poked through the soil thus far.

In a couple of months, we’ll hopefully have a bunch of scapes to harvest. Cutting off the scapes serves two purposes: it allows the plant to send more energy to the bulb than to the scape, and it provides you with delicious scapes to eat. Then, in July or August, if all goes well, once the leaves of the plant start to look pale and tired, we’ll have almost two dozen heads of garlic to harvest. Spring is back, everyone! Here’s to a long and successful growing season.

Maraschino Cherry Factory + Rooftop Bees = Not Honey

From Brooklyn, NY: red honey. It's red because it contains Red #40, a food coloring additive used in things like Mountain Dew Code Red. It's also not honey, because the bees used High Fructose Corn Syrup instead of pollen. Yum! // Gita Nandan (oneearth.org)

Per an article in last week’s Monday edition of the New York Times, a number of beekeepers in Brooklyn were startled recently when their bees began coming home a curious shade of red — and then producing bright-red honey. While the beekeepers were initially perplexed, the mystery didn’t persist for very long.  A bit of common-sense guesswork — and a lab test of the honeycomb — pointed to a likely explanation: the bees were getting into the runoff from a local maraschino cherry factory. The maraschino cherry, for those who aren’t sure, is a fully modernized product: a cherry preserved (and de-colored) in alcohol and then soaked in a suspension of corn syrup and Red 40 (a bright red food coloring). The red coloring in the “honey?” Yep. It’s red 40.

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