So here we are, end of September and still the sun is shining and temperatures are warm. With 3 record-setting temperature highs in the last two weeks, farmers are busy taking off their crops, confident of higher yields and better quality than the disappointing finish of 2010. Home gardeners (or urban farmers, as I like to call them) too are enjoying a better than average yield in their fruit and veggie patches. We have heard numerous anecdotes of local gardens offering up “the biggest carrots”, the “sweetest tomatoes”, the “spiciest radishes”, the “juiciest raspberries”, and the most “loaded apple trees” that gardeners have ever seen. In accordance with a veritable movement to lessen our environmental footprint while ameliorating the nutritional content of the food we eat, the finish to the 2011 produce season couldn’t be more rewarding. I stopped by the garden of my mom-in-law (Eva Ingram) earlier in the week and was greeted at the garden gate with the most bountiful yield she has had in the last 15 years. Here are a few of the highlights of what I saw (and ate – good gardeners are often wonderful cooks to boot!) And to add legitimacy to my fact-finding mission, I tested all of the produce I sampled with a Brixx meter (an easy-to-use, handheld device that measures the natural sugar levels in produce on a scale of 0-20, with 0 being no sugar, and 20 being full of natural sugar); I further compared the Brixx readings of the produce from Eva’s garden to the produce I had in my crisper at home (purchased from a local grocery store.) Brixx ratings are commonly reported on grocery store produce signs in Europe; North America hasn’t achieved this level of nutritional specificity as of yet.
An avid gardener, Eva has always enjoyed planting both the tried-and-true and more unusual edibles in her garden. This spring she planted both the standard Detroit Red beet as well as the lesser-used Cylindrical beet. The crop of approximately 400g of seed produced over 50lb of mature yield. Robust skin and firm yet tasty inner flesh on both varieties was deep red in color with little light-colored venation. Brixx reading on both varieties was around 8; the reading from a beet I had in my fridge was a 6.
Scarlet Nantes was the primary variety grown in Eva’s garden. Growing profusely with the ample rain and warm nights in May and June, her carrot rows needed to be thinned several times. So vigorous were the plants, in fact, that when I arrived to look at them, they seemed to be bursting out of the soil of their own accord! Even with their hefty size and shape; however, the carrots were not corky or bitter whatsoever. Firm and thin-skinned, the roots were delicious and lightly flavored. I actually commented to Eva that their culinary finish was light a great wine; wonderful flavors danced on your tongue, enticing you to consume more! The Brixx reading on the carrots out of Eva’s garden was 9; the store-bought carrots in my crisper were 7. The actual ratio of seed planted to amount harvested is unclear due to the several plant thinnings, but the overall yield to an economy-sized packet of seed was clearly in excess of 40lb.
Heralding from a tomato, corn, and soybean-growing farm in Southwestern Ontario, growing superior tomatoes has always been a source of pride and a centerpiece of gardening conversation for the Ingrams. Both Eva and hubbie John (Sr) have taught me, over the years, the value of a well-grown tomato. Low in filler (i.e. that bland, light-colored meat in the centre of store-bought tomatoes) and high in taste and texture, there truly is nothing quite like a home-grown tomato. Along with being delicious prepared in soups, sauces, and salads, they are great just picked off of the vine and eaten like an apple. John and Eva grew several varieties of tomatoes, including Early Girl, Subarctic Maxi, Beefsteak, and Manitoba Bush. All were shockingly delicious, even before full maturity. The yield off of some of the specimens was substantial, with several dozen fruit produced by a single plant. The Brixx reading from the garden-grown tomatoes was between 9 (for Manitoba Bush and Beefsteak) and 11 (for Early Girl and Subarctic Maxi); the reading from a store-bought hothouse tomato in my crisper was 7.5.
Swiss Chard –
I used to hate this stuff as a kid. Mushy leaves and stringy stems were all that I remembered of the store-bought swiss chard and spinach that my parents sometimes bought. And then, 20 years ago when I first met my future husband, I tried Eva’s swiss chard fresh from her garden. What a difference! Harvested at the correct time (as opposed to before it is ready, as most commercial grocery suppliers do, in order to reduce damage in shipping), swiss chard features flavorful leaves and tender stems. Eva grew Fordhook swiss chard in her garden this year. Extra-large, deep green leaves with creamy-white stems were produced in abundance. A family-sized econo-bag of seed yielded enough produce to fill the kitchen sink dozens of times over. The Brixx reading from the garden-produced swiss chard was 6.5; the reading from grocery store spinach in a bag was 5.5.
Overall, the 2011 veggie and fruit-growing season was a wonderful success. The weather conditions of rain and more rain in the spring actually turned out to be a boon for those of us with edibles on the grow. Record yields of home-grown, super-healthy produce are gracing tables all over Southern Alberta. Growing green has never been so easy!