A Garden Blog by Kevin Milaeger

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Kevin 2015 

Tasty Greens and Winter Tomatoes

February 16, 2017     
(See below for archives)

Visitors to our greenhouses often ask “What’s new?” We always have plenty to talk about. But you can understand that we can’t keep adding new varieties every year without dropping some of the old ones. Everyone wants to know what’s new, but heaven forbid that we discontinue one of their old favorites. Before we drop an old variety, much discussion takes place here. We must be as sure as possible that the new plant is better than the old. Plant breeders are quick to point out the positive features of their latest offering, but not so quick to disclose its faults. Also, we must make sure the new plant will perform well in our part of the world. Plants don’t behave the same way in all of America’s climates, not to mention the rest of the world.

I reevaluate our “Greens to Grow” offerings annually, and I like to try at least a few new greens every spring. But I am watchful of seed catalog hyperbole. Many of the seed catalogs that I look at feature mesclun. I think they like the sound of the word “mesclun.” It has that exotic, foreign touch; you often see it on pricier menus. Mesclun simply means a mixture of greens. I certainly like a salad that has a mixture of greens, but mixed seed, or an assortment of plants in a tray, is often disappointing. Seems there are always some varieties in the mix that don’t perform well. They just don’t grow well, they bolt early, maybe they are disease prone----whatever. But after all, we can’t expect a seed company to offer a salad greens mix that grows equally well in all parts of the country. I think it preferable for the home gardener to choose their own assortment of lettuce and other greens. During our Greens to Grow event, we’ll have eighteen varieties of lettuce, plus plenty of other greens for you to choose from. The lettuces mature at different rates, so if you plant a broad mix, you will always have some fresh greens ready for picking. They all have their own flavor, and they have different textures. I would think you would want to add some red or purple lettuce, just for color. (More nutritious than green lettuce, too.) Since you will be growing a mixture, you can confidently tell your friends they are indeed eating mesclun---a custom blended mesclun, no less.

To make your mesclun extra special, add a few uncommon greens such as kale, spinach, mustard, chard, or arugula. These are all easy to grow and will enhance your salad with flavors that can’t be found in lettuce. The mustard and arugula, especially, will give some zing to your greenery. Adding just a little makes for a finer salad. Here is a link to our updated “Greens to Grow” list.

Store bought tomatoes, at least in the cold months, have become something of a joke. Their lack of flavor and pithy, often unripe texture are well known. The larger tomatoes, it seems to me, are the worst. But I have finally settled on two kinds of store bought tomatoes that will do---Campari and cherry. Campari is a plum tomato, but over the winter months I have noticed some subtle differences in them. Doing a little research, it turns out that Campari is a marketing name used by one company for plum tomatoes in general. There are several varieties that are grown for Campari production, so that accounts for the differences I noticed. This also explains why I have been unable to find seed for a variety named ‘Campari’----it doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, I think they are the best thing going, until I can harvest my own. I sometimes buy cherry or grape tomatoes, especially if they are “on the vine.” They are more expensive, but I need to treat myself occasionally in the winter months.

On the bright side, maybe we won’t have to worry about this flavor problem much longer. Last month, researchers at the University of Florida published their findings regarding tomato flavor. The scientists did a “genome wide assessment study, mapping the genes that control synthesis of all the important chemicals.” They identified the chemical combinations in flavorful tomatoes, and are planning on breeding new varieties, focusing on those combinations. This is not genetic modification, just “classical genetics,” per the article published in “Science” magazine last month. All this technical genetic science is beyond me. The article states that, until now, tomato breeders “did not have the tools to routinely screen for flavor.” I can’t help but wonder, why didn’t they just breed one reliable, good tasting tomato with another? That seems like a logical place to start. That’s pretty much what researchers at Rutgers University are doing. Of course, they are going about it in a scientific manner, keeping other important characteristics in mind, such as disease resistance, yield, cracking, and other concerns. New Jersey has a long history of tomato production, and Rutgers became known for its tomato development program, as evidenced by the famous ‘Rutgers’ tomato, introduced in 1934. The current researchers recognized the lost “old fashioned tomato” flavor that is often talked about, and have set about restoring it. One of the varieties they released in that pursuit is ‘Ramapo.’ We offered it last year and will have it again this year. Frankly, I can’t remember what it tasted like, but I am planning on growing it in my home garden this year so I can monitor it. The Rutgers program is called “Rediscover the Jersey Tomato.” You can find it with a few clicks.

With so many greenhouses at Milaeger’s, it seems silly not to grow a few early tomatoes, just for fun. We’ve done this the past five years or so. They don’t taste as good as those we grow outdoors in the summer, but they are pretty good. Plus, after a long winter, the early harvest is mentally rewarding. We seeded six early varieties the last week of January, and now they are ready to transplant into 5” pots. After three weeks or so, they will be transplanted to their final size---the 15 gallon pots we like to use. First harvest will depend on how much sunlight we have for the next couple of months, but we are thinking the latter part of April.  Last year we sold them at our Farmer’s Market, and we plan to do the same this year. Stop by our booth in late April, and pick some up. Enjoy our “homegrown” tomatoes, well before the midsummer harvest.

Please email me (kevin@milaegers.com) if you have any questions or comments.



 Archives  (Click on the green text for links)


February 2017 - Tasty Greens and Winter Tomatoes
February 2017 - Green is Right Around the Corner
October 2016 - Autumn Greens, Eggplant and more
September 2016 - The Tomato Polls are Closed, the Winner is... 
September 2016 - Pity the Hornworm? Maybe not.
August 2016 - It's true!---Sometimes tomato beauty is only skin deep!
July 2016 - Summer Heat Means Fast Ripening
July 2016 - July Tomato Update---a few concerns
June 2016 - The Great Bell Pepper Challenge!
June 2016 - Super Start for 2016 Vegetables!
May 2016 - Tomato Planting Date Inches Closer!
May 2016 - Vintage Veggies Now & Disease Resistant Tomatoes!
April 2016 - A Few New Plants & Garden Updates!
April 2016 - Go Outside---It's Time for Planting!
March 2016 - Yep! ----It's Time to Plant Greens!
March 2016 - The Quest for the Perfect Tomato
March 2016 - Think Green! It's almost time to plant
February 2016 - Pepper Pointers: it's all about patience
February 2016 - I See Greens on the Horizon
January 2016 - Tomato Disease --- What can you do?
January 2016 - Tomatoes on my Mind!

November 2015 - My Late Harvest (The tomato picking continues...No Kidding!)

October 2015 - Its Mid-October---the End is Near!

September 2015 - 2015---Not the Year of the Pepper!

September 2015 - Top Varieties at Tomatomania 2015!

September 2015 - Get the most from September tomatoes!

August 2015 - Tomatomania 2015---Coming Soon!

August 2015 - Oh No!!!......Freaky Tomatoes

July 2015 - A Marvelous Community Garden

July 2015 - Finally----the first ripe tomato

July 2015 - Is it Possible to overdose on peas?

July 2015 - The Garden in July --- I'm still planting!

June 2015 - And Just When Things Were Looking So Good...

June 2015 - Tomatoes, Cukes, and a Whimsical Onion

June 2015 - Trials and Tribulations in the Veggie Garden!

May 2015 - Trouble in Tomatoland!

May 2015 - Tomatoes are Claustrophobic

May 2015 - A Little Chilly, but it's Rhubarb Time!

May 2015 - Joan's Rhubarb Torte Recipe

April 2015 - "Ketchup and Fries" plant video

April 2015 - Early May in the Vegetable Garden

April 2015 - What Vegetables Can I Plant Now?

April 2015 - Making Salad Interesting

March 2015 - Ready... set... GROW!

March 2015 - Unusual Potatoes --- Not Just for Tots Anymore!

February 2015 - Next Month is Spring!

February 2015 - Greens to Grow 2015


September 2014 - Tomatomania Review 2014!

September 2014 - Tomatomania Results by Category or Cummulative

August 2014 - Kale! Kale! The Greens are Here! Click here for Recipe

August 2014 - The August Harvest Begins

July 2014 - Greens to Grow for Fall!!!  Click here for Spreadsheet

July 2014 - My Tomatoes are Blushing

June 2014 - Some Tomato Concerns

May 2014 - Garden Update --- the Cold Weather Experiment

May 2014 - Is it Time to Plant Tomatoes?

May 2014 - Vintage Veggies #4 and Vintage Veggies List 2014

April 2014 - A Chilly Spring... What Can I Plant Now?

March 2014 - Start Growing Your Own Food Right Now

February 2014 - Greens to Grow   Click here for Spreadsheet


October 2013 - Keep Calm and Garden On!

October 2013 - Autumn Vegetables

September 2013 - Tomato Popularity Poll Results Blog

September 2013 - Tomatomania Category and Cumulative Results

September 2013 - Tomatomania 2013 Blog, Video and T-Shirt

August 2013 - Greens to Grow and Spreadsheet

July 2013 - Spaghetti Squash

July 2013 - New Tomato and Zucchini Recipe Blog
July 2013 - Tomato and Zucchini Recipe

June 2013 - Cold Spring - What it Means for Vegetables
May 2013 - Tomatoes in Containers
May 2013 - Vintage Veggies 2013
April 2013 - My Tomato Garden Preview 2013
April 2013 - Don't Forget Rosemary!
April 2013 - It's Planting Time
March 2013 - Onions
March 2013 - Vintage Veggies
March 2013 - Greens to Grow Update
February 2013 - Hot Peppers
February 2013 - Grafted Tomatoes
February 2013 - Greens to Grow

September 2012 - Tomatomania Results
July 2012 - Compass Plant
July 2012 -July 2012 - Heat Wave
June 2012 - Okra
June 2012 - Potato Onion
May 2012 - Gas Plant

May 2012 - My Tomato Garden
May 2012 -
Vintage Veggie Fest
March 2012 - Growing Raspberries in SE Wisconsin
March 2012 - Winter Tomato Project
February 2012 - Success with Sweet Peppers
February 2012 - Vegetable Cukes Miniature
January 2012 - Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2011 -Tomatomania Review 
August 2011 - Tomatomania Preview
August 2011 - Racine Vegetable Garden Tour
Summer 2011 - Vegetables in my Garden
July 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
June 2011 - Vegetables - Diseases made Simple
June 2011 - Vegetables - Container Growing
May 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
April 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Event Preview
March 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Announcement

September 2010 - Tomatomania Review 
August 2010 - Flowers Late Summer Color
July 2010 Vegetables Cukes and Tomatoes
June 2010 Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2009 - Tomatoes End of Season Review 
September 2009 - Tomatomania Review
July 2009 - Tomatoes General and Fruit Set Problems
June 2009  - Tomatoes Fertilization
June 2009  - Tomatoes Personal Experience
May 2009 - Tomatoes General
May 2009 - Tomatoes Diseases
May 2009 - Tomatoes Selecting and Growing
April 2009 - Tomatoes General

Any questions or comments, please contact us at: gardenquestions@milaegers.com