Tomatoes and Bloodgood Maples

Q. I understand that tomatoes don’t need much water. If so how often should I water them?

A. There is no simple answer as to how often to water tomato plants. There are far too many variables such as temperature, size of the plants, the soil preparation, and how quickly the soil drains. In addition, vegetables gardens are not well planned out as far as water needs; hence, gardeners tend to overwater. Tomatoes have a deeper root system than other veggies. It’s very common to find tomatoes planted with squash, cucumbers, peppers and other shallow rooted vegetables. Tomatoes need to be separated from the rest so you can water them efficiently. The shallow rooted vegetables need to be watered more frequently while tomatoes don’t like the constant moisture. It’s fair to say that we fall into a rut and water our tomato plants in August like we did in May. We know to water more when it’s warm but we fail to cut back when it cool, especially those gardens using an automatic watering system. Our summer time temperatures are not constant but vary significantly from week to week. Hence, we need to be flexible with the watering schedule. Here is one method to determine the best watering schedule for your tomatoes planted in the ground with your variables: With new plantings you need to wait a couple of weeks for them to get acclimated and longer for those planted before April 15. Now water your plants thoroughly like you normally would, and mark the date on a calendar. The plants are not watered again until they begin to wilt. The wilt date is recorded along with the average afternoon temperature. A ball park figure will do. The process is repeated two more times. The data is then combined and averaged to form a watering ‘base line’ or norm. This information then answers the question how often do I water my tomato plants? I water my plants ‘X’ (number of days before the plants wilt) minus one to two days when the temperature average is ‘Y’. ‘X’ and ‘Y’ become the norm for your yard. You then adjust the watering schedule based on the norm. When it gets hotter you shorten up the frequency or lengthen it out when it get cooler. Pick any day of the week you like to review the watering schedule for the upcoming week and adjust the frequency. Extended five to seven day forecast are available from any number of sources.  As the plant grows, you increase the volume of water to make sure the entire root system gets wet. In containers, tomatoes are watered more often than those in the ground. Depending on the size of the container, tomatoes are watered several times a week. It may be necessary to water them more often with temperatures in the 90s and above. Tomatoes and other vegetables can be watered with recycled water. You do need to keep the maturing vegetables off the ground and wash them thoroughly after harvesting.

 

Q. I have a five-foot tall Bloodgood Japanese Maple in a large container. Last summer, the hot sun burned the leaves and the tree looked terrible the rest of the year. What can I do now to avoid the brown leaves?

LeafA. You protect the foliage of Japanese Maples from tip burn and leaf scorch by applying Bonide Wilt Stop or Cloud Cover to the foliage. I like to refer to them as ‘Chap Stick’ for plants as they provide a clear protective layer that protects the leaves from excessive moisture loss. Wilt Stop or Cloud Cover are primarily thought of for cold weather protection but they’re just as effective against hot, drying winds. You make two applications about eight weeks apart. Water stress is another contributing factor to burnt leaves that also curl up. I’d suspect that the plant was going dry in between watering. Maples, Citrus, Roses as well as other container plants, suffer when the temperature warm up; hence they require more frequent watering. Many plants that wilt from water stress recover; however, when the leaves turn brown, they never turn green again. Also, older plants suffer sooner than those recently planted. As container plants grow, they displace the soil with roots. The longer a plant stays in the same container the more susceptible it is to water stress early on. I’d have the following suggestions to help water container plants more efficiently. I’d apply EZ Wet from Gro More or a similar product to help with the water penetration. EZ Wet is a soil surfactant that breaks down the surface tension around soil particles  allowing water to flow through the root ball instead of rolling down and out the sides of a container. Next, use a long screw driver and create a half a dozen or more spaces in the rootball and insert a polymer crystal such as Soil Moist. When water is applied the crystals hydrate into a clear gel. The hair roots of plants will then cling to the gel and use it as a back up or secondary water supply. With new planting, the Soil Moist crystals are mixed into the potting soil and then you plant. With Soil Moist, EZ Wet and Bonide Wilt Stop, you have the flexibility to vary your watering pattern and keep the foliage pristine all summer long.

 

 

Strawberry Daze

Some produce is so perfect in its natural state that it’s almost a shame to mess with it. Take locally-grown strawberries, for instance. Oh sure, you can boil them up for jam or jelly, or toss them with rhubarb for a rosy pie filling that tastes of spring. You can bake them into an airy soufflé or freeze them into icy sorbets. All very nice. Or you can just grab one by its little green cap and pop it into in your mouth… and the taste sensation probably won’t be any less spectacular.

Organic garden strawberry on white backgroundBut after staring at unadorned berries on your morning cereal for eight days in a row—no matter how good they are–it’s understandable that you might want to vary your intake. That’s when a show-stopping dessert comes into play.

The following recipe contains three little tweaks that make it stand out from the ordinary:

  1. The berries are combined with a splash of orange juice for both its fragrance and its subtle acidity. (If you want to get fancy-schmancy, use an orange liqueur instead of the juice.)
  2. A bit of sugar marries the orange with the natural juices from the berries to form a more perfect union. Then some of the berries are smashed to create a saucy texture.
  3. Buttermilk makes the orange-flecked biscuits exceptionally tender; and a touch of cornmeal gives them a pleasantly sandy quality to offset the richness of the whipped cream. And that is how you spell perfection.

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE L’ORANGE

4 pint-baskets (8 cups)farm-fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and halved
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice, to taste
2 cups heavy (whipping) cream, preferably NOT ultra-pasteurized
3 tablespoons powdered (confectioners’) sugar, plus extra for garnish
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 Cornmeal-Buttermilk Biscuits (recipe follows)
Optional: 8 small mint sprigs, for garnish

1. In a bowl, combine the strawberries, granulated sugar, and orange juice. Stir to mix, coarsely mashing about 1/4 of the berries with the back of a spoon. Let stand 15 minutes to dissolve the sugar and let the flavors blend. (This can be made a day in advance; just cover and refrigerate.)

2. Using an electric mixer or a large whisk, whip the cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form.

3. To assemble, use a serrated knife to carefully split each biscuit in half. Place the bottoms on 8 dessert plates. Top each with a large spoonful of the berries and their juices, and then a heaping 1/4 cup of whipped cream. Cover with biscuit tops. Place a dollop of the remaining whipped cream over each biscuit, and top with the remaining berries. Dust powdered sugar over all and garnish with mint, if desired. Serve at once. Makes 8.

Cornmeal-Buttermilk Biscuits

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 4 teaspoons for sprinkling on tops
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
3/4 cup cold, well-shaken buttermilk, plus extra to brush on the shortcakes

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a food processor, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Process briefly to blend. Add the butter and orange zest. Process, pulsingthe machine on and off, until the dough resemblesvery coarse meal. With the machine running, pour in the buttermilk, mixing only until incorporated. Bits of butter should still be visible.

2. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead once or twice until smooth. Working quickly, roll or pat the dough into a 1-inch thick disk. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter dipped in flour, cut out as many biscuits as possible. Gently gather together the dough trimmings, pat into another 1-inch thick disk, and cut more biscuits.

3. Arrange the biscuits 2-inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet; brush with  buttermilkand sprinkle with the remaining 4 teaspoons sugar. Bake until golden and firm to the touch, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. These are best served the same day they are made. Makes 8.

Savvy Cook’s Know-How

–Alternatively, the dough can of course be made by hand: In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk gently to blend. Add the pieces of cold butter and the orange zest, tossing to coat with the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender, 2 forks, or your fingertips, quickly cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the buttermilk and proceed as directed in Step 2.

–No buttermilk? No problem. Pour 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice or distilled white vinegar into a glass measuring cup; then stir in enough cold milk to make 3/4 cup. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes, until the milk has curdled. (When you reach Step 3 in the biscuit recipe, just brush the shortcakes with plain milk.)

–If you don’t have a 3-inch round cookie cutter, use the similarly-sized rim of a drinking glass, dipped in flour, to cut the biscuits.

–The first biscuits you cut from the dough will inevitably rise the most evenly and be the best looking. Take care when gathering the dough for the second batch, handling it as little as possible.Over-working biscuit dough results in tough biscuits.

–Ultra-pasteurized cream is a favorite with many supermarket managers because it has a ridiculously long shelf-life. Unfortunately it also has a vaguely plastic flavor and takes forever-and-a-day to whip. Forget the “ultra” and opt for pasteurized heavy cream—organic, if possible—and you will be much happier with the result. This is no time to cut corners.

–The simple strawberry mixture is delicious on its own, so you may want to whip up another batch to use in other ways. (That is, in ways other than eating it directly out of the refrigerator.)

For example:

–For a light and lovely dessert, spoon the berries and their juices into a martini or wine glass and top with a dollop of Greek yogurt or whipped cream.

–For a sensational sundae, top a fudgy brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and ladle strawberry sauce over the top.

–For the fat-phobic, serve it alongside angel food cake.

–Layer it in parfaits, or use as a topping for French toast, waffles, or pancakes; your favorite ice        cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet.Or, for a special breakfast, drizzle the strawberry sauce over an omelet         filled with a bit of cream cheese or soft goat cheese.

As the season moves on, mix things up by using an assorted berries, like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries for your shortcakes.
Berry Good Tips
–Did you buy more berries than you can possibly consume in one day? Here’s a storage secret from one of our growers: Line a plastic container with a layer or two of paper towels to absorb any excess moisture. Gently pile in the unwashed strawberries with their caps intact. Top with another layer of paper towel, seal with an airtight lid, and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

–Wait until just before using to wash strawberries and/or remove their green caps. Washing berries removes their shiny, naturally protective outer layer; and those caps prevent water from soaking into the strawberries and diluting their flavor and altering the texture.

–To wash, place berries in a colander or large sieve and rinse quickly under a gentle spray of cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and remove the green caps, if desired.
The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!