Thursday, 24 October 2013

A Visit to Tree & Twig

A few weeks ago, just before I had my little fit of incompetence, we went down to visit my father. Since we were in the neighbourhood, I arranged to visit Tree & Twig, a small farm on the edge of Wellandport run by Linda Crago, who has a finger in an awful lot of pies, both for income and her own interest in unusual and heirloom plants.

These chickens, which supply her with eggs, are Plymouth Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds. 

The garden was in the process of being cleaned up for the winter, but there were still quite a few things still growing. It's definitely warmer in the tip of the Niagara peninsula than it is up here!

This little vine is melothria scabra, known as Mexican sour gherkin, or mouse watermelons (sandia de raton). You can see one hanging by the first wire support to the right. They do look amazingly like tiny, tiny watermelons, although the flavour is of slightly sour cucumber. They are a little on the seedy side, but not bad, and apparently make good pickles.

In addition to the chickens, Linda has some geese, and a pot-bellied pig named Joey. A chorus of dogs greeted us when we arrived. Linda may be in the business of heirloom vegetables, but she is obviously also very fond of animals.

She is also very interested in unusual plants. This one is Morelle de Balbis, or Litchi Tomato. To me they look more closely related to the physalis family; tomatillos, ground cherries and the like. We sampled a couple; they were surprisingly appealing. Slightly tomatoey in flavour, but with a sweet fruity quality as well. I can see them making excellent chutneys and relishes, as an ingredient in salads, and perhaps even used in desserts. Behind them, there is a comparatively more prosaic row of Lacinato (Dinosaur) Kale.

The garden is relatively small, with about 4 acres of the 9 acre property planted. About 3 of those acres are vegetables. Plenty of work for one person, though! I don't know how she does it. The 2 of us do half of that and think it plenty. She's right on the edge of Wellandport, and the property is backed by the Welland River; a very attractive spot.

Linda runs a CSA all year - it really is milder in Niagara - although of course most of the winter vegetables are stored or grown under cover. She sells a few vegetables to restaurants. Her biggest endeavour, though, is plant sales in the spring. She grows 700 - wow! - varieties of tomatoes, as well as peppers and other vegetables.

Here is another look at the Lacinato Kale, mulched in hay. Behind them there is a row of lettuce, long gone to seed. Linda sells seeds, some of which she grows herself and some of which come from Seed Savers Exchange. She has been a member for many years, but for most of us here in Canada it can be hard to get SSE seeds, so this is a good way to access them.

Linda shows us some of her pepper plants, still producing nicely at this point. I always feel a bit bad at how closely we pack our pepper plants, but Linda's are even closer. Her soil is heavy clay, so her plants don't get that big - ours are certainly larger, and we really don't fertilise beyond a little compost or manure to start - but they looked very healthy and productive. She grows a large selection of the very hottest pepper varieties; apparently they are popular with young male customers in particular. Ghost, Carolina Reaper, Scorpion and 7-Pot Brain Strain were some of the varieties in her plot. Yikes!

In addition to her other projects, Linda is a test grower for Rodale's Organic Gardening Magazine, the only one in Canada in fact. Each year she is sent, along with their other test gardeners, a set of seeds to grow out. They are tested for their ability to grow in different parts of the continent, and rated.

I was really interested to see this plant - it's red-foliated cotton. I don't know how much cotton it would actually produce here, but it makes an excellent ornamental plant, with reddish heart-shaped leaves, big pink hibiscus-like flowers and attractive seed pods.

Here is Linda's winter hoop-house - a little bigger than ours, and much more accessible. She still has tomatoes growing down one side, along with what looks like a zucchini that doesn't want to pack it in, but the other side and been cleared out and planted with winter greens such as arugula, chard and kale.

On top of all her other projects, Linda organises Seedy Saturdays in Niagara Falls. For those of us who are too far away, though, her mail-order seed list is full of interesting things. It was really exciting and inspiring to visit Tree and Twig. Linda left a career in the city as a social worker to do what she really loves, and it was great to meet her and her amazing garden. I'm going to be sure to order seeds early this year, as I've missed a couple of items I've wanted to try for the last 2 years as they have sold out before I was ready to order. I suppose I shouldn't tell you that; now I will have to order even earlier...

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