Thursday, 26 January 2023

Foodie Freak: Getting ready for the growing season

This is the introductory column of Lake County News' new food writer, Ross A. Christensen. His columns will run on Sundays.


OK, I admit it: I’m a foodie on a freakish scale. In addition to the usual appreciation for fine foods that makes a person a “foodie,” I love heirloom vegetables, organic foods, and exotic meats. I take a keen interest in all the different aspects of food production, including fiddling about in my own garden.


I love to research how things are grown all around the world, like checking weather patterns in Southeast Asia to see if this is going to be a good year for Tellicherry pepper. I even have my own signature six-peppercorn blend, the contents of which are a strict secret. I know, I know, as my wife is always saying, “Pull UP!” So yes, I admit it, I love food to the point of obsession.


So now that you know a little about my love of gastronomy, I thought I would tell you a little about the fun time of year that we are in ... Seed Catalog Season! This is the time of year that my Lay-Z-Boy is surrounded and covered with catalogs, as I examine them in an effort to narrow down what I will be growing this year.


Every year I try to find one unique item that I’ve never grown before. This year I’m planting Mexican Sour Gherkins, a type of cucumber that grows to be the size of a teaspoon. Perfect for pickling! I’ll still have the usual tomatoes, onions, artichokes, herbs, etc.


I’m always looking out for a more flavorful and bigger tomato. This year I am going to start the process of hybridizing my own variety of tomato out of “Coustralee,” “Zogola,” and “Omar’s Lebanese” tomatoes. I’ll also have a couple of a tomato plants that I grew last year called “Quingza” just for eating. I just love to garden.


Tomatoes utterly love our climate. The warm to hot summer temperatures here are similar to the tomato’s native Central and South America, the lack of summer rains helps prevent fungal diseases, and our high altitude intensifies flavors in the fruits more than gardens at sea level.


If you’re interested in improving the flavor of your tomatoes even more, I will let you in on a little secret of my own. Don’t water your tomatoes so much. When I won “Best Tomato of Show” at a North Bay festival (with a cherry tomato called “Matt’s Wild Cherry”) a man approached me and asked for some advice. He commented that he watered his tomatoes twice, and even sometimes three times a day, and he wanted to know how many times I watered mine.


You could see the astonishment in his face when I told him, “Two or three times per year.” I explained to him how every time you water your tomatoes, you water down their flavor. How do they get enough water then? I use a very intensive method for growing tomatoes which requires a lot of preparation before the actual planting begins but which makes the plants mostly self-sufficient. If you would like to learn more, feel free to e-mail me for specifics.


I now want to make a plea with the public at large. When I lived in Santa Rosa, every couple of weeks during the growing season I would harvest all of my extra vegetables and bring them to the local battered women’s shelter. I’m a firm believer that although your next-door neighbor may LIKE getting your extra harvests, there are places out there that actually NEED them. With the recent success of the Wine and Chocolate event (which benefited the new battered women’s shelter), it renewed my belief that these types of programs need to be supported on a continuous basis. If you are a gardener who wishes to donate your extra produce, please contact me. I am willing to start a program that will deliver garden fresh fruits and vegetables to the current and new domestic violence shelters.


If you don’t have a garden and still wish to donate something, then you are also welcome to contact me. I can arrange to have your food picked up and delivered to the shelter. Together we can change our community for the better.


My personal e-mail address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.


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