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Does sprinkling tomato plants with seawater increase their nutritional value?

March 15th, 2011
by Zuhayr Mallam, founder of the UC Davis Diabetes Advocacy and Awareness Group (DAAG). For more information about this group, visit their website.

Tomatoes are among the most popular items in American gardens today and are commonly used in many types of salads and sauces. They have an especially rich history at UC Davis (see the “square tomato” and other tomato research on campus) and thrive in the Sacramento Valley, due to the prime tomato-cultivating summer climate.

Image taken from the Gillaspy Lab webpage at Virginia Tech University

 
 
Tomatoes are high in antioxidants, which are thought to help fight cancer, prevent heart disease, slow aging, and confer a host of other health benefits. And although it has been long held that salt is harmful to soil, several studies conducted worldwide have shown that spraying tomato plants with diluted – approximately 10% saline – seawater can actually increase their nutritional value and taste! The salt in seawater is thought to produce stress in tomato plants, which respond by producing more antioxidants, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and chlorogenic acid, as well as other taste-enhancing chemicals – albeit it makes the fruit somewhat smaller. Many are still concerned about salt causing soil degradation and rendering some seawater-treated tomatoes inedible, but scientists cite that plants thrive in balanced soil containing both macro– and micronutrients.

This theory is still much up in the air, but it is good food for thought. A major potential benefit of this method would be providing irrigation for crops in areas with freshwater restrictions and shortages as well as malnourishment.

Hmm… This may be an interesting opportunity for a summer science experiment! Let us know if you decide to give it a try.

As always, consult a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet!

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Fruits v. veggies: what’s the diff?

September 15th, 2010
Eggplants and tomatoes are confusing!

Our post about eggplant a few weeks ago spurred a debate around the office.  Is eggplant a fruit or veggie?  We all think of it as a vegetable, but the seeds of eggplant are surrounded by the flesh of the edible portion, like apples or watermelon.  Isn’t that what most people think makes a fruit a fruit?

Looking it up online warranted even more confusion however, as many sites referred to eggplants as vegetables (which is what most of us call them, right?) but in more formal classifications were referred to as fruit.

So we did what we do whenever we are confused – we turned to food genius (and awesome guy) Harold McGee.

According to Harold’s book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, it turns out that the distinction isn’t as clear as some people would think.  According to Harold, a vegetable is “essentially…a plant material that is neither fruit nor seed.”  Fruit, on the other hand, has both a technical and common definition.  According to botanists fruit is “the organ that develops from the flower’s ovary and surrounds the plant’s seeds.”  But for culinary or “common” purposes fruits are what we typically think of – apples, peaches, cherries – the sweet things we can eat right off the tree or put into pies.  So technically, green beans, eggplants, cucumbers, corn kernels and peppers are fruit.  But chefs consider them vegetables.  Why is this?

It turns out that this culinary distinction has to do with flavor, which is a result of the basic makeup of the plant.  Fruits are engineered to be appealing to animals because it benefits the plant if animals eat the fruits because it helps to disperse the seeds.  As Harold says, “they are one of the few things we eat that we’re meant to eat.” They usually have a high sugar content, complex aroma, and they soften themselves; all characteristics which add to their appeal.

On the other hand vegetables are not meant to be eaten, and sometimes even have chemical defenses that are meant to keep animals from consuming them. (Think of the strong flavors and aromas that raw onions and cabbage have!)  Vegetables also remain firm and have either a very mild flavor or a very strong one and usually require cooking to make them palatable.

So basically it depends on your intentions for the fruit/veggie.  If you are a botanist, a fruit is something completely different than what it is to a chef.

Still not convinced and think that one is more correct than the other?  According to On Food and Cooking, the definition was brought to the attention of the Supreme Court in the 1890s:

“A New York food importer claimed duty-free status for a shipment of tomatoes, arguing that tomatoes were fruit, and so under the regulations of the time, not subject to import fees.  The customs agent ruled that tomatoes were vegetables and imposed a duty.  A majority of the Supreme Court decided that tomatoes were ‘usually served at a dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish or meat which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits, generally as a dessert.’  Ergo tomatoes were vegetables and the importer had to pay.”  

The distinction was so difficult to make it had to go all the way to the Supreme Court!

So is eggplant a fruit or a vegetable?  It depends – are you a botanist or a chef?

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A Delicious Dining Event for Your Weekend!!

August 25th, 2010

If you haven’t made plans for the weekend yet, consider adding this wonderful event to your itinerary, but ACT FAST!  Tickets sold out quick last year!

SUPPORT THE SACRAMENTO SLOW FOOD MOVEMENT at the 
Tomato Luncheon and Heirloom Tomato Tasting

When:  THIS SUNDAY, Aug. 29 2010, 2-4 pm

Where:  Grange Restaurant & Bar (926 J Street, Sacramento, CA)
Ticket Cost: $40 per person
Enjoy a three-course sit-down lunch at The Grange, an innovative farm-to-table restaurant in Sacramento’s new boutique Citizen Hotel.  The meal will be prepared by Chef Michael Touhy, a 31-year veteran of the restaurant industry and leading proponent of the Slow Food Movement.
THEY SOLD OUT LAST YEAR, so purchase tickets now to enjoy this special lunch which is sure to be the highlight of your summer eating adventures!!

Click HERE to purchase tickets.

MENU 
Heirloom Tomato Tasting Featuring
Del Rio Botanicals / Watanabe Farm / Soil Born Farm Tomatoes
Assorted Northern California Artisan Extra Virgin Olive Oils
Assorted Sea Salts

First
Tomato Consommé / tomato noodles
Tomato Gelee / basil puree

Next
Stuffed Rosemary Focaccia
Tomatoes / peppers / caramelized onion / bitter greens / extra virgin olive oil

After
Tomato Trio:
Tomato-Plum Pop Tart
Honey-Roasted Tomato Napoleon
Fresh Sungold Tomatoes & Compressed Watermelon w/Lemon Basil Sorbet
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Tomato Staking 101

July 22nd, 2010

At the UC Davis Good Life Garden we stake our tomato plants rather than using cages to provide support.  Either way is fine, but we do get a lot of questions about how to go about training your tomato plants using the staking method as it does look pretty neat and it makes harvesting your crops a bit easier.  In order to answer these questions we have put together another “Gardening Along with Arlene” flyer on the topic which you can download here

 For more details, take a look at these demonstration videos.

http://www.youtube.com/get_player

http://www.youtube.com/get_player

http://www.youtube.com/get_player
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Tomato Troubles: BLOSSOM END ROT

July 14th, 2010


Tomato blossom end rot is annoying to say the least, but fear not! You are not the only one who has this issue!

Today’s entry is an answer for Kate, one of our beloved fans, and addresses the problem that she is having with her tomatoes. Above you will see a photo of her poor tomato. Most of her tomatoes have a hard brownness at their ends. Kate has correctly identified the issue as a lack of calcium, but wants to know what it is and how she can fix it.

First of all, it looks to me like you have a classic case of tomato blossom end rot. The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources describes the problem in detail in their free publication “Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden:”

Problem

  • Water-soaked spot on blossom end of fruit enlarges and darkens, becomes sunken and leathery. Affects both the green and ripe fruit, and is more common in sandier soils.

Probable Cause

  • Calcium nutrition and water balance in the plant, aggravated by high soil salt content and fluctuating soil moisture.

Control

  • Maintain even soil moisture
  • Amend planting area with organic matter such as compost to improve water retention.
  • Avoid heavy applications of high-nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Soils that are deficient in calcium may be amended with gypsum.

Kate, for some reason I remember that you were concerned about the sandy soil where you planted your garden. If this is the case try amending your soil with gypsum which you can obtain at most nurseries. The packaging will let you know how much to add. Also try to be sure to maintain even soil moisture. If you are concerned that the soil around your tomatoes is not evenly moist then add some compost around your plants to improve the water retention. (On a side note, what is that black and white enamel(?) background on which you took this photo? It looks so cool and vintage!)

Does anyone else have some suggestions? Have you ever added gypsum to remedy this kind of problem in your home garden? How did you do it and what were the results?

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Tomato Planting 101

June 3rd, 2010

Want your tomato plants to look they’re being grown by a pro? Follow these simple tips that Brad Gates from Wild Boar farms was nice enough to share with Arlene.

When you are ready to plant your tomato starts, remove the lowermost four branches of the plant. Dig a hole deep enough to cover the areas where the removed branches were. The small nodes leftover from where the removed branches were will become roots, and planting it deep in the soil will encourage root growth. This technique will also make your fully grown staked tomatoes look neat and less bushy.

Here is a great article about how to prune and care for tomatoes that goes into much more detail: http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/pruning-tomatoes.aspx

Pictured below are the tomato plants Wild Boar Farms gave to us. We can’t wait to taste them! Check out their website: http://www.wildboarfarms.com/index_1.html, and see our earlier blog post to learn more about them and the tomato plants they so generously donated!

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The new plants are sprouting!

June 3rd, 2010

I went out to the garden today and everything looks lovely! All of the new summer plants Arlene started from seed are beginning to sprout – the Kentucky wonder pole beans, dark star zucchini, arava and sharlyn melons, bush beans and cosmos are all taking off. The Cherokee purple tomatoes have even begun to bloom!

The hops also look very happy and the hidcote blue lavender in particular is stunning. The alyssum also looks much happier since a sprinkler head problem has been fixed. Check out the rainbow of colors we have right now. I’m so glad summer is finally here!

Kentucky wonder pole beans greet the sun

the angel red pomegranates are blooming
the purple alyssum is doing well after fixing the sprinkler head
the brilliant pink of the rosa prostrata is a bright addition to the wine aroma garden
the Cherokee purple tomato is the first to bloom

The humming of bees is audible if you visit the hidcote lavender bed
the chinook and cascade hops are thriving (apart from the one that was ripped out of the ground by vandals!)

Want to see more photos? We’ve finally updated our flickr page so check out the progress of our plants this year: http://www.flickr.com/photos/goodlifegarden/sets/ We still have a few more sets to upload too, so be sure to check back soon!

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