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Dreaming of heart shaped tomatoes on Valentine's Day

Written by Doug Oster on .

Valentines Day tomato

Today I'm dreaming of sweet, beautiful heart shaped tomatoes. The fantasy of picking fruit warmed by the sun is tantalizing to say the least. Over the years I've fell in love with many varieties, often called oxheart tomatoes.

I buy 'Heart of Italy' plants from Hahn Nursery every year, but there are lots of cool varieties out there. This one is prolific, tasty and stores well too at the end of the season.

Pink-Oxheart-Tomato-web'Pink Oxheart' from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds sell 'Pink Oxheart,' it looks a lot like the one I'm growing. It's meaty, with an old-fashioned taste. Reviews on the site show it's great tasting and disease resistant too.

FVXO 106-24 400px  45736.1310679705.1280.1280'Cour di Bue' sold by Seeds from Italy.

Seeds from Italy sells 'Cuor di Bue' (heart of bull). From the catalog-"Meaty, deep red flesh. Real tomato taste. The tomato all our Italian grandfathers grew. For fresh eating or sauce. Indeterminate. 70+ days. Indeterminate.  Very large vigorous growing plant; these are quite productive and relatively early." This one also received good reviews.

0444-tomato-hungarian-heart'Hungarian Heart' from Seed Savers Exchange is a wonderful heirloom.

'Hungarian Heart' is offered by Seed Savers Exchange. "Said to have originated in a village 20 miles from Budapest around 1900. Jerry Muller of Alabama (formerly of Tennessee) was the first SSE member to offer this variety; in 1988 he listed his seed source as Ed Simon of Pennsylvania. Huge pink oxheart fruits weigh upwards of one pound. Very few seeds and almost no cracking. One of our favorites for fresh eating, canning, and for making roasted tomato sauce."

TF-0420-2'Reif Red Heart' is one of ten heart shaped tomatoes offered by Tomatofest.

Tomatofest has an entire page devoted to heart shaped tomatoes. 'Anna Russian,' 'Mrs. Houseworth and 'Reif Red Heart' are just a few of the cool varieties.

It's too early to start seeds, but this is a great time to order some seeds. Here's a primer for planting them inside.

Happy Valentine's Day, I'm fantasizing of heart shaped tomatoes growing in the warm summer sun.

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Alternatives to roses for Valentine's Day

Written by Doug Oster on .

Blog Rose alternativesA dozen roses will last a couple weeks, supplement your gift with plants which could last for years. Photo by Pam Panchak

The price of roses skyrockets before Valentine's Day. It's all about supply and demand, mostly demand.

You'll probably have to give your significant other a dozen roses, but here are some ideas for plants which in some cases will last for years. I got them all at Chapon's Greenhouse.

This is a segment from Pittsburgh Today Live showcasing my favorite plants. Miniature roses, orchids, houseplants and more.

 

 

 

 

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Free Landscape Design Course for beginners at Mt. Lebanon Library

Written by Doug Oster on .

Mt. Lebanon Public Library Landscape Design Course
 
Penn State Master Gardener and landscape designer Claire Schuchman will teach this three week course geared to the novice.
We will use the concepts of sustainable design like right plant/right place, shading out weeds with ground covers; use of hardy natives plants; and installing rain barrels or permeable pavement.
Please bring: graph paper, pencils, ruler, package of different colored pencils, and some 18"-24" tracing paper. Students will benefit from having a plot plan or a survey of their property if available and pictures of gardens they like.

Week One
 
(2/24): Site analysis, which is simply an inventory of site features including the house, a garage,
trees, paths, driveways, easements or even a bad view. Also things like soil conditions, wind, shade and sun.
 
Week Two (3/3): the dreaming begins when the students will develop a program which includes planning for outdoor activities like children's play areas, a pool or pond, entertaining, and napping, as well as privacy, lighting and security. These ideas will go on paper and be moved around like a jigsaw puzzle until the student is happy with the placement.
 
Week Three (3/10): we take all that information and begin to put it into a realistic form using the scale of 1" = 8' on graph paper. Supportive materials covered during the three sessions will include a discussion on the five elements of good design, necessary tools toaccomplish the plan,and a time for practical questions and answers.
No advance registration is required; however, participants should plan to attend all three sessions and bring the
recommended supplies and information about their property to get the most out of this landscaping course.
 
Claire Schuchman is a local landscape designer, Master Gardener, and frequent contributor to Mt. Lebanon Magazine.
Her garden has been featured on past Mt. Lebanon Public Library Annual Garden Tours.
Course begins at 6:00 PM on the following Mondays, Feb 24, Mar 3 and Mar
10, 2014.
For more information call the library at 412-531-1912 or e-mail the Garden Tour coordinator at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
 


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Chance meeting leads to a lifetime of saving seeds

Written by Doug Oster on .

Bob-JancaBob Janca with Baylee. I had never seen anything like the shiny black seeds that covered Bob Janca's kitchen table back in 1985. They were 'Cherokee Trail of Tears' pole bean seeds, and they were my introduction to heirlooms and seed saving.

The two of us hit it off while we talked about his collection of heritage seeds, and he gave me a small packet as I left his house in Spencer, Ohio. Every season since I've grown 'Cherokee Trail of Tears' from seeds I saved the year before. The bean is prolific and beautiful. It has a wonderfully unique nutty flavor.

It started a seed-saving obsession that threatened to grow out of control. In the corner of my basement, old metal shelves were filled with an odd selection of glass jars jammed with seeds. There are big and small Mason jars, old baby food containers and even some pickle jars.

In an effort to clean house and figure out what was still good for planting, I carried every one of those jars upstairs one day recently. The entire dining room table was crowded with 30 or so jars filled with thousands of old seeds. Even though I had this stockpile of seeds in the basement, I was still ordering new and different varieties each season from a multitude of seed catalogs. It was time to get them organized and then plant as many as possible. What doesn't get planted will be given away.

There's no way to tell if seed is still viable by looking at it. One thing is for sure: Fresh seed is always the best. But there's still life left in many of these varieties.

20140207cherokee2-1When 'Cherokee Trail of Tears' gets mature, the pods turn purple. Photo by Doug OsterTo test their germination rates, I took about 10 seeds, put them on a wet paper towel and sealed them in a plastic bag. The bag goes on top of the refrigerator (where it's warm), and then in a week or so it's time to see what percentage sprouted. If it's lower than 50 percent, they go into the compost. If it's higher, they can be planted.

The stash of seeds also told a story, the history of what I found interesting to grow and save. I found thousands of tithonia 'Torch' seeds, also known as Mexican sunflower. 'Torch' can reach 10 feet or taller and is filled with deep orange 3-inch blooms that are irresistible to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

'Cherry Blossom' salvia was one of my favorite annuals for years, providing pretty pink blossoms all summer long. I guess I just forgot about it, lately falling in love with varieties like 'Wendy's Wish.'

One packet was filled with 'Hungarian Ox Heart' tomato seeds, sent from a reader a decade ago. I remember how much I loved the tomato, which was meaty, thin-skinned and delicious. There were hundreds of other packets; seeing some was like being reunited with an old friend. Others brought back no memories at all. I even found some of the original pole bean seeds I received from Mr. Janca. I never plant every seed in a packet in case of crop failure.

When I first started saving seeds, they were organized by type. One jar held tomato seeds, another peppers. I've decided to change the way I store seeds. Now they are sorted by the date they were planted. One bag is filled with inside sowed flowers, another with spring outdoor seeds and so on. I think it will allow me to get more seeds planted and avoid overlooking varieties.

The most important aspect of saving seeds is to avoid moisture. Silica gel is a powder I use to keep the seeds dry in storage. Some seed savers bring their seeds upstairs for a few days during the winter when the air is dry in the house. Then they will seal them back up and store them somewhere cool and dark.

With all my seeds in order, now in plastic bags, they'll be kept in a covered plastic bin until it's time to get them started. I'm thrilled to see many of my old favorites, and I'm looking forward to trying the forgotten varieties, too.

Over the years, I have searched for Mr. Janca on the Internet. I recently stumbled onto his obituary -- he died four years ago. I never got a chance to tell him what meeting him meant to me.

As I was getting my seeds organized, I found one small jar filled with 'Cherokee Trail of Tears' pole bean seeds. My oldest son, who was 5 then, helped me save them. I can still remember how he carefully printed his name on the label. He's now 30. Maybe he'll help me plant them this spring in honor of Janca.

Every season brings with it hope. But this one will also be filled with the memories of a lifetime saving seeds and the man who introduced me to a love of heirlooms.

blog lot of seedsThis was every jar of seeds from the basement. Now they've all been organized differently. Photo by Doug Oster



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The ice garden is beautiful, but just let it be

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog ice covered bud

As photographer I can't resist shooting the garden covered in ice. It only happens once or twice during the winter. The coated plants are beautiful. Gardeners worry though when their treasured shrubs and trees bend close to the ground under the weight of the ice. Just leave them alone and wait for a thaw, you could do more damage by trying to get free the branches from winter's grip. The plants have experienced this before and will stand straight again.

Sit back, dream of spring and enjoy the unique spectacle provided by a garden of ice.

blog ice rhodie leaf

blog ice britt

blog ice pieris

blog ice bath

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