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Today I started tomato and green pea seeds indoors. The peas will sprout and take off rapidly and probably be ready for hardening off in a couple weeks (or even a week if I feel like rushing them); peas prefer cool weather anyway so despite the late spring this year I could have started them a week ago.

The tomatoes are a new variety for me. I don’t like raw tomatoes; I much prefer them cooked into sauces and stews, so I mostly grow ‘Roma’ tomatoes. However, I’ve been a little curious about the ‘San Marzano’ ‘phenomenon’ as I tend to think of it. If you go to the grocery and look at the canned plum tomatoes, you’ll notice that the San Marzano tomatoes are considerably more expensive (sometimes leading to tomato fraud, apparently). Chefs love to wax lyrical about how wonderful this variety is and I’ve heard that many consider it the best paste tomato around. This year, I’m giving these a try. Frankly, I doubt whether or not the difference in taste will be significant once it’s been turned into sauce, but we’ll see. If nothing else, San Marzano is open-pollinated and considered an heirloom variety, so I can put on airs as a hoity hort and crow that I’m growing only heirloom tomatoes and stick my nose in air about it. *snort* As though it makes me morally superior or something.

I do usually grow a couple plants of a second, eating/slicing variety for other people in the house, but because it’s just a couple plants I buy them from a garden centre. Out of habit, they’re usually Brandywine (originally bought because I liked the name): another heirloom variety. Between these and the sauce tomatoes, that usually provides me with pretty much a year’s supply, plus enough to share with the neighbours. Starting the seeds now gives enough time to harden them off in the middle of May and plant them out at the end of May/start of June.

I’ll direct-sow some radishes tomorrow if it doesn’t rain too hard; radishes are also a cool-weather crop and can pretty much be ready to harvest in four or five weeks, at which point the carrot seeds can go in. Which reminds me that I also started a few carrot seeds today just to see if what’s left in the packet are still viable. I’ve been using that packet of carrot seeds for a few years now and I don’t know how long carrot seeds stay good for.

What else…oh yes, the dahlias. Interesting thing about tomatoes and dahlias: both are native to Mexico and while tomatoes were originally brought to Europe as an ornamental for the funny-looking red fruit, dahlias were brought to Europe as a potential food source. I suppose some explanation is in order.

Tomatoes belong to the family Solanaceae, the nightshade family, along with potatoes and eggplants. That’s right, they’re poisonous, or at least the green parts are. They contain toxins called solanines, and Europeans thought that tomatoes (plants and fruit – they’re not a vegetable!) were deadly poisonous to consume. In fact, green tomatoes do also contain the toxins, but you’d have to eat a lot of them to keel over. Those original tomatoes produced fruit that were highly ribbed/ridged and often varied in colour, more like some heirloom varieties than the more familiar smooth red thing most people know now. Anyway, it was quite some time before people in Europe started eating them.

Dahlias, on the other hand, went to Europe as a root crop. This failed, because while the tubers are edible in that they won’t sicken or kill you, they taste awful. So they languished as a sort of curiosity until someone decided the flowers were pretty and started promoting them as ornamentals.

I’ve never grown dahlias before; not only are they not native, but being tropical they won’t survive a local winter and need to be protected. For plants growing in the ground, this means digging the roots up and storing them indoors, then replanting them the following year. I couldn’t be bothered. But I was at Home Despot a few weeks ago and saw they had ‘Arabian Night’ dahlias…and, well, gardening is one of the few areas in which I’m susceptible to impulse buys. The tubers had already started to produce roots (possibly because of improper storage or possibly because they all come from one central depot or something that also supplies to warmer areas) so they went in pots the next day. Two days later they’d already sprouted and I’m already a little worried because one of them is looking rather leggy and may end up being weak and floppy. Arabian Night is supposed to grow only up to about 42” high (not one of the taller varieties), but I may have to stake this one after all. I’m not sure if it’s because of insufficient light, because the other one (they were two to the package) is much more compact still. I’ve already begun hardening them off.

Today’s weather: 15C and sunny.

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