Saturday, December 14, 2013

Order Form: Wild Boar Farms
Uh oh. There's no hiding it now. As soon as I saw the back page of this year's Totally Tomatoes catalog, I got that sinking feeling in my gut. Tomato nerds like me know all too well what's on the back page of that catalog. Uh huh. That's right. Our little tomato secret is close to no longer being a secret. The Wild Boar series of striped tomatoes from Wild Boar Farms in Napa Valley just hit the mainstream big-time.

That's why I secretly placed my order this morning. Heh! Better get while the getting is good! There's no telling when they might run out of tomato seed for the lip-smacking Berkeley Pink Tie-Dye, or the absolutely LUSCIOUS Pork Chop. And yes, they do run out. The man behind the Wild Boar collection of fantastic tomatoes, Bradley Gates, is no longer a tomato grower's best kept secret.

Wild Boar Collection: Totally Tomatoes
Bradley doesn't just grow our favorite types of heirloom tomatoes, although he does offer a few. What he does offer, however, is somewhat better. These are his own creations: Solar Flare, Cascade Lava, Red Furry Boar, Lush Queen are all hand-crafted creations out of the Gates garden. What makes them so special is they are absolutely the best tasting tomatoes I've ever had the pleasure of tasting. And I've tasted my share, people. Trust me on this. Gates has hit on something big -- and the sky's the limit for his ever-expanding operation.

It's not just the taste of these tomatoes. Production figures into the equation just as well -- as does disease resistance. I took a chance last year and ordered four different varieties from Wild Boar Farms. Three of those selections: Lush Queen, Solar Flare and Pork Chop were among the biggest producers in last year's Bird Back 40 tomato garden. The wife that is Venus knows this all too well. Based upon last year's results? I'm doubling my order for 2014.

2013 Whole Tomato Canning Efforts (Partial)
It got to the point during last year's harvest season, where Venus could actually choose the kinds of colors she wanted in each one-quart jar of whole, canned tomatoes. Some jars were all red. Still others were all yellow. And yes, one or two or even three more went straight pink. That's because we literally had so much to choose from that we could "pick and choose" to our heart's delight.

This, by the way, has never happened during previous gardening years. In previous gardening years? Everything we harvested, no matter what the color, got added to those one-quart jars. But last year's gardening efforts produced such a payoff, that just one days worth of canning whole tomatoes provided enough jars to last us and one or two other families with enough tomatoes to last through the entire winter.

Know what that's called? That's called production, my friends. And it's why the Birds are handing out jars of salsa and special tomato sauce blends for Christmas this year. Because you haven't truly savored the flavor of tomato sauce, until you've prepared a meal with herbed sauce or a distinct Italian blend. In other words, why have a bland sauce with one type of basil, when you can spice it up with six blends of basil?

The tomato nerds over at all things tomatoes, a gathering spot called TomatoMania, have been whispering about Bradley's exploits and offerings for more than a few years. But I didn't get around to actually ordering anything from Wild Boar Farms until last winter. And it wouldn't be until late June or mid-July did I finally get to harvest some of these special offerings.

Solar Flare Tomato
I'll never forget that first taste of the very first, vine-ripened, Solar Flare. In a word? Scrumptious.

If you take the time to visit the Wild Boar Farms website, you'll find yourself in a world of striped tomatoes. There is no one, dominant color here. There's yellow streaked with white, red streaked with green and orange, orange streaked with yellow and just about every color found in a rainbow. The descriptions for each tomato are almost as entertaining as the colors. For instance? The Berkeley Tie-Dye carries the following warning: "High Acid Content May Cause Flashbacks."

It appears they have a sense of humor to go along with the ability to grow those great tasting tomatoes.

Garden Pornography
So, tomato lovers, as you gather your gardening porn together that recently arrived in the mail, and start to make those vegetable growing decisions for the 2014 garden, don't forget to pay Wild Boar Farms a visit. Because if there's room for a Brandywine or a Martha Washington in next year's tomato garden, you might also find a spot for the Pineapple Pig or the Golden Gates.

You have been warned.

Have Another Cold One!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Grapevines in Winter
It's about this time of year when Mother Nature begins to act like our favorite bartender. "Have Another Cold One," she screams as she delivers one whopper cold morning after another. It doesn't matter if you've already had enough of the frosty conditions that have blanketed the Sacramento area during the past weeks. Because Mother Nature is still in that giving mood: "Have Another Cold One!"

Notice -- I said Mother Nature begins to act like our FAVORITE bartender. This doesn't necessarily mean mean she's the MOST RESPONSIBLE barkeep. Them are two entirely different things.

Frosty Bird Back 40
As an amateur citrus grower, I've kind of come to regret the month of December in the Sacramento area. Oh sure -- the cold weather means great news for stone fruit crops like peaches, pluots and cherries because they get a nice, long winter slumber. And the longer they sleep? The happier they'll be in the morning come spring-time. But if you grow stone fruit AND citrus, this can get a little tricky.

You see -- citrus likes cold weather -- to a point. But that daily dose of "have another cold one" can get a little old. This is when cracks start to appear in the machine. All that newly emerged fall growth turns a none-too-pleasant shade of brown, which can only mean one thing. And it's not too much Brown Ale, either. It means it's time to hold a funeral for that promising growth that took place in October and November.

C-9 Christmas Lights Around Duke Avocado Tree
Responsible citrus growers, like Farmer Fred Hoffman for example, will take special precautions to protect those tender citrus babies. These responsible steps include heat-producing C-9 Christmas tree lights around the tree, an even bigger, warmer and brighter light, topped off with a special cloth covering. Isn't that nice?

By the way, this is nothing compared to the steps that the large scale citrus producers are taking. They battle the fierce cold weather with giant wind turbines, water and other measures to keep the freezing temps at bay. When a single, solitary acre of citrus plantings can produce a profit of $25K? This is nothing to laugh at, especially if you have 100-200 acres of citrus to protect. In other words, that's a lot of peel, if you get my snowdrift.

Cold Dancy Mandarin Tree
Other growers, like say yours truly, practice the hope and prayer method. This does involve stringing those warm C-9 Christmas bulbs around some citrus trees. But come on people! Covering one or two trees is one thing. When some fool decides to plant eight or nine citrus trees (me), there's just not enough C-9 lights or cloth covers to go around. Know what I'm saying?

That said, I must inform you that the time honored Bird ritual of the "hope and prayer" method isn't always 100 percent successful. And I have the blackened remains of old avocado trees and various mandarin branches to prove it. All because Mother Nature decided to announce: "Have Another Cold One!"

It gets colder than cold in the Bird Back 40. I know this to be a fact. The proof I have, as I mentioned before, are the blackened remains of four or five avocado trees that were once scattered about the yard. I also have highly sensitive thermometer equipment purchased some years back in a box of Cracker Jacks that confirms my micro-climate cold settings.

Loaded Meyer Lemon Bush
I thought it odd, however, that the equipment would yield a low of six degrees in the month of June. But if you can't trust the high quality temperature equipment yielded from a box of Cracker Jacks, what can you trust?

That said -- I must report these conditions from the Bird Back 40: So far, so good. Yes -- there's been some damage to some of the smaller mandarin trees that aren't producing citrus just yet. This includes the Clementine Mandarin and the Cara Cara orange tree. But I can also report that the Hangover citrus tree and the nearby Dancy Mandarin tree are doing just fine in this frigid "Have Another Cold One" snap.

Hangover Bearss Lime Tree
What's that you say? The Hangover Citrus Tree? Oh -- that would be the Bearss Lime tree. Which, by the way, produced a FINE crop of large and juicy limes this year. I call it the Hangover Citrus Tree for a very special reason. It's responsible for a number of weekend hangovers.

What's what you say? If I didn't mix so much tequila in that freshly squeezed lime juice, I wouldn't be suffering from hangovers? What are you? A communist? Or just my voice of reason, that I try to drown out with freshly squeezed Bearss Lime juice at every occasion possible?

There's nothing quite like freshly squeezed Bearss Lime juice. Trust me on this. I've had my share.

Murcott Mandarin
And so this holiday season, remember to follow the advice offered by Farmer Fred Hoffman. Don't follow the Bird "hope and prayer" method. For I fear that my favorite bartender is about to utter her time honored phrase: "HAVE ANOTHER COLD ONE!" And we'll get it, whether we like it or not.