© 2012 Mid-Season Tomato Musings by William D. Adams

Fouth of July is a great tomato for both the spring and fall garden. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

I continue to be amused but somewhat aggravated by the tomato descriptions in catalogs and on seed packets.  For example, Royesta, a European hybrid that is described as having “wonderful flavor” was my hope this year for a tomato to replace Dona and Carmello.  It is a strong, productive plant but the tomatoes aren’t worth eating.  “Flavor Challenged” would have been a better description.  The tomatoes are big, and tempting, but they’re compost fodder in my opinion.  Now I realize that rain or overwatering could have diluted the flavor, but I’ve been eating them all season and they have been consistently lousy.  Perhaps the long summer days and milder nights in Europe improve the flavor, but I doubt it.

Royesta was a disappointment this year. While it produced big, vigorous vines the tomatoes were not worth eating. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Mountain Magic, a North Carolina variety sounded promising.  It is described as having “wonderful flavor”.  The plant is a healthy monster, with lots of Campari-size (golf ball) tomatoes that are sort of edible but a little too acid and lacking the complex tomato sweetness that makes for a good tomato.  In short they are not worth picking in this busy season.  Also tried a Campari seedling—a little better but not worth the effort.

Mountain Magic was another disappointment in the taste category. While it grew a mammoth bush and lots of tomatoes they were just too acidic. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Gregori’s Altai was my big effort this year.  I ordered the seed twice before it was shipped and I planted two plants on their own roots plus two grafted on Emperador rootstock from Johnny’s Seeds.  It is supposed to be a pink beefsteak but mine are shaped more like an Oxheart.  The flavor and texture are good and I’ve harvested quite a few but I’m suspicious of the seed.  Heirlooms can be rather variable so the seed may be a mix-up.  May have to try another seed source as a couple at one of my Arbor Gate lectures really raved about it.

Gregori’s Altai has been a great pick, however I am not 100% sure of the seed I used to produce this very nice tomato. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Kosovo is very similar and also good—maybe I mixed up the seed—not likely, I’m a professional, though I do enjoy an occasional brew.  It did produce one of the most erotic tomatoes I’ve ever seen—in fact I’m blushing now.  Think of it as something Georgia O’Keefe might have painted when she was feeling really naughty.  My wife says I can’t show anyone the pix and I’ve already consumed the fruit—slowly and sensually.

Kosovo turned out to be a pretty good tomato. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Amsterdam is a new hybrid, small plum tomato from Seminis.  It’s touted for high Brix levels (sugar indicator) but it is also rather acid, almost sour and that seems to mask most of the sweetness in my taste tests.  Amsterdam is very pretty but not sure I would plant it again.  Also have Yaqui, a flavor challenged saladette type, Caramba an Italian, green-shoulder type (haven’t tried it yet) and Poseidon 43, a pink tomato (also waiting for the taste test).

Nyagous-a black, plum-shaped tomato-suffered from a lot of fruit rot this season.  It has been a complex sweet favorite in the past but not quite as good this year.  This may just be a different seed source of a variety that isn’t very genetically uniform.

Nyagous has been a favorite in the past but suffered a lot of fruit rot this season. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Super Boy was a disappointing addition to the “Boy” series.  Apparently it is “boy” in size—a little larger than a golf ball, angular, fairly tasty (the stinkbugs love it) and hard.  Hard like almost crunchy.  Apples I like crunchy, tomatoes I like at least medium-soft, never grainy, preferably with a melting flesh.

Super Boy is a disappointing ddition to the “boy” line of tomatoes. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Sun Pride was a nice, determinate-sized plant with a few medium-size tomatoes that weren’t very tasty.

Sunpride produced a nice determinate bush but their flavor was little flat. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

My next blog entry will be more uplifting with raves for the good varieties this year.  In the meantime if you’re contemplating a fall tomato crop you should have good luck with Juliet, a small, saladette-type tomato or Burpee’s Fourth of July, a campari type with great flavor and production.  If you just have to try a slicer in your fall garden, go for the early varieties like Early Girl, Black Krim or Moskvich.

Black Krim is a very tasty addition to the fall garden. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Juliet is always a great choice for the fall garden. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

No Rest for the Weary-Summer Gardening Chores by Patty Leander

Well, is it hot enough for ya?  The sweet corn ain’t so sweet anymore, the spider mites have set up camp on the underside of my green beans, the squash vine borer has mutilated my zucchini and the mockingbirds keep beating me to the tomatoes. It’s a jungle out there and usually by late June or early July I’m ready to pull out these weary spring plantings and give most of the garden (and the gardener) a well deserved rest. Take advantage of the summer ‘dormant season’ to dream, plan and prepare for the upcoming fall season.  


A planting of buckwheat makes a good summer cover crop, the blooms also attracts pollinators. Photo by Bruce Leander

If you are not the type to hibernate in air-conditioned comfort for the next few months there is still plenty to do in the vegetable garden. Summer tasks might include removing spent crops, planting a cover crop of cowpeas or buckwheat or mulching fallow beds with leaves, hay, dried grass or compost. Organic matter burns up quickly in hot weather and a layer of mulch or compost will help add and/or conserve organic matter in the soil so it will be ready to receive your plants in the fall. Red Ripper or Iron & Clay cowpeas make vigorous summer cover crops – I get mine from Heavenly Seed (www.heavenlyseed.net). Johnny’s (www.johnnyseed.com) also carries Iron & Clay, buckwheat and a wide selection of green manures.


A compost bin located in the garden row makes for easy distribution later. Photo by Bruce Leander

Be sure to keep your compost pile going through the summer, and if you don’t have one why not start now? Composting has many benefits for the soil and is an excellent way to reduce, reuse and recycle waste from your garden, yard and kitchen. Most compost guides suggest placing the compost in an inconspicuous corner of your yard, but over the years my compost piles (yes, I have more than one) seem to inch closer and closer to the garden where they will eventually be used. Sometimes they inch so close that they end up IN the garden – I place a square or round compost bin, made of chicken wire or fencing material, right in an empty garden bed or in the row. Over the summer I fill it with kitchen scraps, grass clippings and garden trimmings, keeping it moist to encourage microbial activity (if it’s in full sun cover with an umbrella, tarp or shade cloth to help hold some of that moisture). Come fall I’ll loosen the bin and remove it, freeing up the contents for incorporation into the soil or for mulching crops.


The author using bricks to secure a layer of plastic for solarization. Photo by Bruce Leander

Another task that is well-suited to our hot days and warm nights is solarizing nematode infested soil with plastic.  Use clear plastic that is 2-4 ml thick and anchor it in place with bricks, U-pins or bury the edges with soil. Before putting the plastic in place, turn or till the soil, rake it smooth and water well. The moist soil covered with clear plastic will create a greenhouse effect that will elevate the soil temperature enough to kill nematodes. Leave the plastic in place for 4-6 weeks during the hottest part of the summer. It may get too hot for soil microbes under that plastic so after solarizing be sure to amend the area with 2-3 inches of compost, turn it under and you’ll be ready to plant for fall. To discourage nematodes even further, I’ll usually follow solarization with a nematode resistant crop, such as onions, garlic or corn.


The author’s cat reminds us that sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, water and cooler with cold washcloths will help keep us cool and safe while working in the Texas heat. Photo by Bruce Leander

I know you know this, but it is worth repeating: if you do work in the garden this summer, wear sunscreen, take breaks and drink plenty of fluids.  It is easy to fall victim to heat exhaustion this time of year. If you are going to spend some time working outside, try this tip – wet some wash cloths, roll them up and put them in a cooler with ice or a couple of ice packs. Then when you take a break, you’ll have a nice, cold cloth to wipe down your face and neck or drape over your head. Ahhhh, sweet relief.

Growing Potatoes

This weekend I had one of those experiences that remind me again why I love to garden.  My daughter Heather came out for Father’s Day.  Since she loves going into the garden with me I always make sure she has something to pick.  This weekend, I saved her a special treat; blue fingerling potatoes.

Of all of the things I harvest in the garden, potatoes are my absolute favorite.  Each time I dig them it reminds me of an Easter egg hunt.  I get so excited when I stick my fork in the ground and turn over the soil and find all of those spuds.  Since I like doing this so much, I knew she would too.  And, since they were blue, I knew it would make our dig a little more like an Easter egg hunt for her as well.

My daughter is fueling up on fresh peaches before we started digging the potatoes

I have absolutely no idea what type of potatoes we harvested.  I got them from my mentor Cynthia Mueller last fall.  I tried to grow them in my potato box and they didn’t seem to make.  However, this March, I looked in the box and I saw several little potato vines popping up so I immediately dug them up and moved them to my row garden.

Potatoes of all sorts are pretty easy to grow.  There are well over 800 varieties of potatoes in the world so there is a variety that will grow in just about any condition.  Basically, potatoes come in three maturity types; short season, mid-season and long season maturation types.  To determine which ones are best for you, pick one that will mature between a planting date of three to four weeks before your last freeze and a harvest date before temperatures get up into the 90s.  Potatoes can take some cold but they shut down completely in high heat.  Since it gets so hot so quickly where we are, the mid length maturation types seem to do best.  The two I most often grow are Kennebec whites and La Soda reds.

Digging with a shovel. I prefer to use a spading fork but this was handy and we didn’t have too many vines to dig.

The rule for planting potatoes is three to four weeks before your last frost date.  In reality, here in the Gulf South, we can plant our potatoes anytime after Christmas.  In fact, a friend of mine grew up next to an older gentleman that “planted” his potatoes on December 26 each year.  I say “planted”, because he would scatter his seed potatoes on top of the ground and then cover them in about a foot of spoiled hay.  I tell that story for two reasons.  One, it shows that you really can plant potatoes very early here and it also says something about how adaptable potatoes are.

Freshly dug!

I have heard people say that you have to plant potatoes in sandy soil.  Not true.  While sandy soil allows potatoes to grow a little bigger and makes them a whole lot easier to harvest, you can grow them in clay (or on top of the ground heavily mulched in hay).  Potatoes have just about everything they need to grow stored in that tuber so if you can figure  out a way to get them covered and watered, they are usually going to produce something for you

Last year I tried growing potatoes in a box. I constantly “hilled them up” with compost. I think the compost gave them too much nitrogen. As you can see I got great vines and exactly one potato.

For best results when you plant your potatoes, plant them in loose, well worked soil.  If your soil has a good amount of organic material in it, don’t worry about adding any supplemental fertilizer.  While they appreciate nitrogen as much as any plant, too much of it will cut your tuber production.  Too much nitrogen will result in great big healthy looking vines but very few potatoes.

Some of our “blue” potatoes in my favorite Texas Ware bowl. My wife roasted these with fresh rosemary and thyme from our garden, a little EVOO, salt and pepper. They were awesome!

When your plants get about a foot tall, you should “hill” them by pulling soil or mulch up over the base of the plant.  Cover leaves and everything but leave at least half of the plant exposed.  Continue to do this until your plant is about 2’ tall.  Hilling does a couple of things.  First, if your variety is the type that will produce potatoes all along the submerged stem then hilling will increase your yield.  This works great for some varieties and not so well for others.  However, no matter what type of tater you have, it is good to keep sunlight away from the developing tubers that try to grow at or above the surface of the soil.  If sunlight hits these developing tubers they develop a green “rind” under the skin.  This rind is full of solanine.  Solanine is a toxic substance that can give you a tummy ache in small amounts, or kill you in large amounts.  There is not enough in a potato to hurt you but it is a good idea to peel that green layer off before you eat it.  BTW, potatoes are not the only plant to produce solanine.  All members of the genus Solnum produce it.  Members of this family include potatoes, tomatoes, egg plants and the deadly Night Shade.

Very few vegetables are as productive and easy to grow as potatoes.  Plus they are incredibly good for you.  If you have a milk cow and pile of potatoes you can keep yourself and your family alive indefinitely.   With so many varieties out there, and their adaptability to soil types and pH, there is surely one out there for you to grow.

Tree Town USA Supports Relay For Life

I work for the MD Anderson Cancer Center.  It is the finest cancer hospital in the world and I am proud to work there.  However, I hope I never have to come to the campus for any reason other than work.  I just cannot imagine what it would feel like to hear someone say “You have cancer”.  Unfortunately, a whole bunch of people hear those very words each and every day.

My friend and cancer survivor Janice McBride stands with the trees donated for gifts to survivors by my friends at Tree Town USA

A few years ago one of my oldest friends (not in age, in length of time we have known each other), heard those words.  Like 226,000 other women that year, Janice had her world rocked by a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer.  Now Janice was lucky.  She was young and healthy and she caught it fairly early.  However, it was a very aggressive type of cancer and there were times when she didn’t think she would make our 30th Class Reunion.  Janice persevered.  Thanks to great treatment, a positive attitude and the support of her loving family, Janice is now a survivor.  And because she is a survivor, she is honored to be able to participate in “Relay for Life” each and every year. 

A very happy survivor and caregiver pick their tree

This year, thanks to the generosity of Tree Town USA, Janice and her husband Morgan (my botanical brother) got to do a whole lot more than walk at the Grand Praire Relay for Life event.  Tree Town USA donated a variety of very nice trees as gifts for the survivors.   Morgan and Janice had so much fun distributing the trees.  They got to meet and share experiences with several wonderful people who had all gone through cancer treatment and lived to tell the tale.  They were moved by those stories and humbled to meet people that were enduring things that no one should ever have to endure.

Go to the Relay For Life website and find out how you can help.

If you would like to take part in a fun and healthy activity that raises money to cure a disease that will eventually effect one in three of us, consider participating in a local Relay for Life event.  Relay for Life events happen all over the country in the spring.  Groups of people agree to walk all night (because cancer never sleeps) to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.  My wife does one in Brenham each year and the girls all dress up in theme costumes and have a ton of fun raising money and honoring all that have struggled with cancer.

MD Anderson has a new president.  His name is Dr. Ronald DePhino and it is his strong belief and goal that during his tenure, MD Anderson will finally be able to cure several types of cancer.  Research and science have now progressed to a point that his dream is actually possible.  However, all of that research and science costs money.  Generous donors like Tree Town USA, great organizations like Relay for Life and scores of volunteers are all helping Dr. DePhino and MD Anderson “Make Cancer History”.   Thanks to all of you that do so much to help us fight this deadly disease!

Three Easy Dinners from Dad’s Garden by Heather White

While my husband and I were away on vacation our little doggies stayed a la maison de l’Yupneck (this is what I call my Dad’s house).

When we returned we visited Brenham to collect our petit chiens. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch as well as a tour of the gardens. We were sent home to Houston with our sweet pups and a bag full of tomatoes, green beans, garlic, onion, and kale from my dad’s garden. As I made our meal plan and grocery list for the following week, I incorporated dad’s organic veggies and thus barely had to buy anything at the store. Here are the three easy and delicious recipes we enjoyed.

Whole-Grain Spaghetti With Garlicky Kale and Tomatoes

From the Garden:

  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • garlic
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves torn into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced into one inch cubes

From the Cupboard:

  •  6 ounces whole-grain spaghetti
  •  2 tablespoons olive oil
  •  1/3 cup chopped roasted almonds
  •  1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus more for serving

Sautee the onion and garlic with the olive oil, then add the kale and tomatoes and cook until tender. Toss with the cooked pasta, almonds, and 1/3 cup parmesan. Serve with more freshly grated parmesan.

 Ravioli With Sauteed Zucchini

From the Garden:

  • 3 zucchini, sliced into thin half-moons
  • garlic

From the Cupboard:

  • 1 pound cheese ravioli
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

Sautee the garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper, then add the zucchini and cook until tender. Toss with the cooked ravioli and parmesan.

Chinese Green Beans with Rice and Miso & Dumpling Soup

  From the Garden:

  • 1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 6  cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced


From the Cupboard:

  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • Miso soup, we like the carton available at Whole Foods
  • Frozen Dumplings


Sautee garlic with 1 tablespoon of sesame oil then add the green beans and cook until soft. Stir in sugar and soy sauce and continue cooking until beans reach desired tenderness. I usually remove a bean occasionally and bite into it, not the most sophisticated way to determine when they are ready, but this method always ensures perfectly cooked beans.


Sautee the garlic and onion with remaining sesame oil. Add miso soup and bring to a boil, add frozen dumplings and simmer until cooked throughout.

 Pour the sauce from the bottom of the bean pan over cooked white rice and serve.   

 These delicious meals were easy on our time and our wallet. Thanks dad for adding locally grown, organic produce to our diet. It was a wonderful week of home cooked and home grown goodness.

Borage (Borago officinalis)

When I select plants for the potager, I select on two criteria; form and function.  In my row garden, plants are always selected for function.    I grow food in those beds and I plant what I like to eat.  If I can make it look attractive, that is a bonus but it is not what I select for.  When I plant a bed or border around the house I select solely on form because I am designing something that looks good.  The potager is where my two styles come together.  I want the potager to be beautiful but I also want it to produce food.  So, a lot more thought goes into the plants for the potager.

Young borage in my potager. I planted this at the end of March and this picture was taken on May 25

One of the annuals that almost always makes its way into the spring potager is borage.  Borage is a large scale, leafy herb that produces beautiful little star shaped, corn blue flowers.  The leaves have a mild cucumber taste and can be used in salads and drinks.  As the plant matures, those cumber tasting leaves become “fuzzy”.  A lot of folks, me included, do not like the texture of the leaves when they get to this point.  However, since I don’t grow it primarily for food, I don’t really care about the stiff fuzz on the leaves.  I grow it in the potager because it makes a very lovely three foot tall cone shaped bush.  Plus I love the tiny flowers.

I love the fuzzy white flower buds

Borage is a great choice for containers, the garden and the flower bed.  It is fairly drought tolerant.  Botanists believe it originated in Syria so it is perfectly designed to take high heat and low water.  It is also fairly pest and disease resistant.  Like most herbs it prefers a loose, well draining soil.  I plant from seed in March in full sun and give it about an inch of water every five days or so.  This treatment makes it thrive.  There are some bugs that nibble on the leaves, but what plant doesn’t have a few leaf munching predators?  Borage is also a great companion plant for tomatoes, squash and strawberries.  Some say that it is actually a deterrent to hornworms.

The blue, star shaped flowers are lovely

As I mentioned earlier, the flowers are really why I grow this plant.  I love those little blue stars (the fuzzy white buds are almost as cute)!  These pretty blue flowers are edible and they also have the mild cucumber flavor of the leaves.  Add them directly to your summer salads for a quick way to liven it up.  You can also freeze the flowers in ice cubes and add those flower filled cubes to your summer drinks.