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Posted 8/9/2018 10:56am by Cherry Valley Organics.

Heirloom tomatoes come in just about every color of the rainbow, and the diversity of flavors and textures they bring to the table is unparalleled. Here at Cherry Valley Organics, we grow and sell many different heirloom tomato varieties, each with it's own unique look and taste.  

Mixed heirloom tomato varieties

Today, we thought it would be fun to take you on a virtual stroll through our tomato fields and tell you a bit about how we grow our heirloom tomato varieties. We'd also like to share all the juicy details about some of our favorite varieties by describing their best features and hopefully enticing you to try something new when you stop by our market stand at the Sewickley Farmer's Market. Our Farm Share/CSA customers here in Pittsburgh will also find our heirloom tomato varieties on their list of weekly delivery choices from mid-summer well into the autumn.  

How we select the heirloom tomatoes we grow  

Here at the farm, we first focus our tomato-growing efforts on selecting the best varieties for our growing conditions. Since our humid summers often mean increased pressure from fungal diseases, we try to choose heirloom tomato varieties that are more resistant to diseases. But, we put our prime focus on selecting for fantastic flavor.  

Unlike grocery store tomatoes which are chosen for their ability to be shipped long distances, to be artificially ripened, and to be of a consistent size, the heirloom tomatoes we grow are chosen because they taste phenomenal. Since all of our customers are located within 50 miles of our farm, there's no need to grow tomatoes that ship well, which means we can really hone in on providing our customers with a diversity of great-tasting tomatoes.  

heirloom tomato harvest

How we grow our heirloom tomatoes  

All of our heirloom tomato varieties are grown right here in our fields, from seed until harvest. Tim and the crew start sowing our early tomato seeds in late winter. These first sowings end up in our high tunnel, where they're protected from the elements. The high tunnel plantings provide our first tomato harvests of the season, often weeks before our field tomatoes even come into flower.  

They continue to sow more seeds every few weeks throughout the remainder of the late winter and early spring, providing us with a succession of young seedlings that can then be transplanted out into the fields when they're about 6 to 8 weeks old.  

sowing tomato seeds

We take great care to keep our tomato plants up off the soil and away from soil-borne fungal diseases. We use a unique trellising system for our tomatoes growing in the high tunnel, and out in the fields, we rely on heavy-duty wire tomato cages to keep the plants upright. These wire cages are designed to make harvesting easy, with nice, large openings we can easily stick our arms through to pull out even the biggest beefsteak tomato.  

Throughout the season, the plants are watched carefully for signs of diseases and pests, though we seldom have to treat for either. Since our plants are grown under the USDA Certified Organic standards and are healthy and naturally resistant to pathogens and pests, our heirloom tomato varieties are largely trouble-free.  

Our favorite heirloom tomato varieties  

Though each season we try to grow a different selection of heirloom tomatoes, we certainly have a list of favorites. Tim selects for a diversity of colors and fruit-sizes to please all of our customers, which means you'll find tomatoes in some pretty cool hues when you visit our market stand. Here are some of our top picks:  

Carbon: A large, flavorful tomato that's won numerous awards. It's dark pink to purple in color with a complex flavor that can't be beat!  

Carbon tomato

Taxi: This heirloom tomato variety produces tennis ball-sized tomatoes with thin, yellow skin. The fruits are consistently sized and early to mature.  

Taxi tomato

Green Zebra: The zesty-tart flavor of this tomato is amazing. And, the green striped skin makes it extra unique. It's a real stand-out in mixed heirloom tomato salads.  

Green Zebra tomato

Pruden's Purple: Each fruit of this heirloom weighs at least one pound! The dark pink skin wraps a bright red interior and the flavor is 100% classic tomato.  

Prudens Purple tomato

Jaune Flamme: With apricot-orange skin and a perfect orb shape, this heirloom tomato is the perfect blend of sweet and tart. No mealiness here!  

Jaune Flamme tomato

Cosmonaut Volkov: This tomato is adored for its incredible, rich flavor. With a traditional red color and consistent fruit size, Cosmonaut Volkov is a farm favorite.  

Cosmonaut Volkov tomato

Moskavich: An early-season heirloom with a deep red color, this selection produces fist-sized fruits with a great flavor.  

Moskavich tomato

As you can see, we select and grow our heirloom tomato varieties with great care. We hope you'll give some of these stellar selections a try. They won't disappoint!  

Oh, and in the spring, we also sell transplants of all the heirloom varieties we grow. That means you, too, can try growing an heirloom tomato plant in your home garden.  

To enjoy our fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes, stop by the Sewickley Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9:00-1:00 throughout the growing season, or sign up for our Pittsburgh Farm Share program for a weekly delivery of all of our certified organic fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, and herbs.  

For more from the farm, check out the following blog posts:  

From, 

The Cherry Valley Organics Farm Family

The best heirloom tomato varieties for farm and garden

Posted 7/19/2018 10:51am by Cherry Valley Organics.

Despite what you may think, spring isn't the only planting season here at the farm, nor should it be in your own home garden. Farmers and gardeners who want to have freshly picked produce rolling in for months on end need to employ a succession planting plan. Our own succession planting plan ensures a continual harvest throughout the entire growing season.  

fall succession carrot crop

What is succession planting?  

Succession planting means that two or more crops are grown in succession in the same space. After one crop is harvested, another is planted in its place. Succession planting means no ground is fallow during the growing season and every inch of space is productive. A successful succession planting plan can be as basic or as intricate as you need it to be, and here at the farm, Tim is constantly working to maximize our yields via a delicate balance of harvesting and planting based on which crops prefer to grow during which time of the year.  

How a succession planting plan works  

The basic building block of a good succession planting plan is the seasonality of different crops. Some vegetables, like lettuce, spinach, peas, and radish, prefer the cooler weather of spring and fall. While others, such as tomatoes, basil, peppers, and squash, grow best in the heat of summer. A succession planting plan takes those growing preferences and weaves them together to form a matrix of productive plants from early spring through early winter.

Succession planting definition and plan 

Here at the farm, cool-weather crops are planted in the very early spring, and after they're harvested, a heat-loving selection is planted in their place. For example, when the peas are pulled in late June or early July, they're replaced with a planting of cucumbers. Or, after our spring greens are cut and sold at market, the empty beds are then planted with zucchini or green beans.  

We're constantly settling new plants into our growing beds all season long. Not only does this practice maximize our production, it also limits our losses if a disease or pest strikes an earlier planting. Succession planting can be an insurance plan of sorts against crop losses.  

The importance of diversity in succession planting  

When combining crops in a succession planting plan, the possibilities are nearly endless. However, it's important to mix up plant families when succession planting. If you harvest a root crop and then plant another root crop in the same space, soil nutrient depletion may be the result. Members of the same plant family can also share similar disease and pest susceptibilities, so when devising a succession plan, it's important to diversify each generation of crops you plant. For example, follow a spring root crop with a summer vine crop or a fruiting plant, such as a tomato or pepper, rather than planting more roots like beets or turnips in that same space. Diversity is a big part of a successful succession planting plan.  

Summer succession planting basics

Fall succession planting  

Following a spring cool-season crop with a heat-loving one isn't the only way to succession plant. Here at the farm, we also do a lot of succession planting that involves fall crops. This means that just because July 4th has come and gone, doesn't mean the planting season is over. Quite the opposite, in fact. Because we want to have fresh kale, collards, broccoli, cabbage, and other cool-season veggies available to our customers in the autumn and early winter, we start a new round of planting in mid to late July. This later planting yields an incredible autumn harvest because once the cooler temperatures of fall arrive, these late plantings grow like crazy. For some of these cool-season crops we have a better harvest when planting late in the season than we do when planting in early spring.  

Depending on how long it takes each crop to mature, a succession planting plan can even include a triple planting. If you choose three fast-maturing crops, it's possible to grow three veggies in the same space. Radish, for example, mature in just 30 days, so if quick-growing baby beets or carrots are planted soon after the radish are harvested, there will be enough time to plant a fall lettuce or kale crop, too. Succession planting opens up so many possibilities and can really increase your yield.  

Fall plantings of lettuce for succession

Caring for the soil when succession planting  

When succession planting in such an intense way, it's extremely important to consider the health of the soil as well. When intensely farmed in this way, soils can become depleted of nutrients and it's important to replenish what's used by plants as the season progresses. Organic farms like ours care for the soil without using synthetic chemical fertilizers, and we take great measures to ensure our soils remain healthy and nutrient-dense. To do this, we add compost to the ground in between each and every succession crop. Home gardeners should do the same. Not only does an addition of several inches of compost help replenish nutrients, it also introduces beneficial soil micro-organisms that help our plants acquire those nutrients and fight off pests and diseases. Healthy soil means healthy plants and a productive farm or garden.  

Soil care during succession planting

We hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into how we use a succession planting plan to supply our customers and ourselves with a broad diversity of fresh, organic produce all season long.  

For more information on some of our favorite farm crops, please check out these articles:

 

From, The Cherry Valley Organics Family

Succession Planting Plan for Gardeners and Farmers

Posted 7/5/2018 8:50am by Cherry Valley Organics.

Cherry tomatoes are among our customers' favorites, which is a good thing because they're also one of our favorite crops to grow! With their prolific production and sweet flavor, there's so much to love about cherry tomatoes. We thought you might enjoy a glimpse into how we grow these tasty tomatoes, why we hand-pick them at the peak of their flavor, and how we make sure they're still farm-fresh by the time they make it to your kitchen counter.  

Cherry tomato growing and harvesting tips

The varieties of cherry tomatoes we grow  

Making sure we have the best cherry tomatoes on the block starts by carefully selecting the varieties we grow. Our Crop Manager of Produce, Fruit, and Mushrooms, Tim Gebhart, sifts through our seed sources each winter to select which varieties make the grade here at Cherry Valley Organics. Though we do grow a handful of different selections each season, we also have some standbys that make it into our fields every season.  

Mixed cherry tomato varieties

Tim chooses the cherry tomatoes we grow based on their flavor, production, fruit color and size, and the disease resistance of the plants. Some of our prime picks this season include:

  • 'Black': This cherry tomato has a unique dark skin and a prolific production. It's an heirloom variety that has an incredibly complex flavor. It's juicy and sweet, with a hint of smokiness. The 1-inch fruits are great for fresh eating and cooking.
  • 'Bing': Farmer Tim's favorite variety for its intense sweetness, 'Bing' is a classic red cherry tomato that's packed with a fruity-sweet flavor with a hint of acidity. The skin is thinner than some other varieties, so the fruits really "pop" when you bite into them.
  • 'Esterina': This canary yellow cherry tomato makes it into our fields for its sweet yet tangy flavor, its incredible production, and its disease resistance. Unlike some other yellow cherry varieties, the skin of 'Esterina' doesn't crack open. That means the fruits are reliably perfect and damage-free.
  • 'Sakura': One of the earliest producing cherries we grow, 'Sakura' is a reliable producer of bright red, yummy tomatoes. The plants are slightly more compact, too, making it easy to fit lots of these beauties in our high tunnel with ease. With a long production period, this cherry tomato produces flavorful and firm tomatoes that ship well but are still juicy and delicious.  

How we care for our cherry tomato plants  

In addition to carefully selecting each variety, we also plant and cultivate the plants in a specific way. Since we're a USDA Certified Organic farm, we do not use synthetic chemical pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides on any of our crops. Unlike many other conventional Pittsburgh farms who regularly rely on these products to grow their tomatoes, we get our plants off to a healthy start by amending the soil with compost before planting which helps them fend off diseases naturally. We then give each plant a small scoop of compost monthly once fruit production begins. Newly transplanted tomatoes are also watered in with a dilute solution of liquid fish. These natural fertilizers allow our cherry tomato plants to grow large and healthy, and produce a plethora of full-flavored fruits.  

Trellising cherry tomato plants

Our cherry tomato plants are also carefully staked to ensure the vines are fully supported and the fruits stay off the ground. The unique staking system we use also provides the plants with exceptional air circulation, which leads to a reduction in several nasty fungal diseases that tomatoes are particularly prone to.  

We're growing most of our cherries in the high tunnel where we hang two strings of twine from the roof per plant. Each plant is then pruned to have 2 leader vines. Each leader vine is twisted around the twine as it grows and all of the side suckers are pinched off. This keeps the vines perfectly upright and makes the fruits very easy to harvest. We also grow some of our cherry tomatoes in the field, where the plants are supported by jumbo-size tomato cages.  

Cherry tomato plants with string trellis

Harvesting cherry tomatoes with care  

In addition to growing our cherry tomatoes with care, we also harvest them by hand at the peak of their flavor. Unlike some other farms, who pick their tomatoes in a semi-green state and then force them to ripen by exposing them to ethylene gas, ours are always left on the plants to ripen naturally under the warm summer sun.  

While growing some of the plants in the high tunnel does encourage earlier production, we do not force-ripen our tomatoes in any way. They're left on the plants until they're bursting with sweetness; only then do we harvest them by hand, leaving those that aren't quite ripe enough on the vine to wait for the following harvest.  

Harvesting cherry tomatoes by hand

Packaging and delivery  

Our cherry tomatoes are sold in mixed pints. We blend all of the varieties we grow together so that our customers can enjoy the full flavor of each separate variety without having to purchase more tomatoes than they can eat. Selling them mixed also means a beautiful blend of colors and sizes, too.   We keep our cherry tomatoes plump and juicy (and unsquished!) by never stacking the pint boxes on top of each other. The individual boxes are packed in single layers in crates for the drive to the farmers market to ensure the tomatoes aren't damaged in transit. They're also kept cool, but never refrigerated, which can destroy the sweetness and flavor of tomatoes.  

Favorite cherry tomato recipes

Our favorite cherry tomato recipes  

While many cherry tomatoes are popped into a mouth and eaten without any preparation at all, we love using our sweet cherries in lots of different recipes. If you're looking for some new ways to enjoy our Cherry Valley Organics cherry tomatoes, here are some of our favorites:  

 

For more information about other crops we grow here at the farm, be sure to check out these posts: 

 

From, The Cherry Valley Organics Farm Family

How we grow and harvest our organic cherry tomatoes

Posted 2/8/2018 12:30pm by Cherry Valley Organics.

What is Swiss chard?

Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) is a close relative of the garden beet. Chard and beets are so close, in fact, that they're actually the same species of plant that's been selected and bred for specific traits over many years. While beets have been bred for their plump, edible roots, Swiss chard has been bred for its crunchy, delicious leaves.  

Rich in antioxidants, vitamins K, C, and A, and an excellent source of dietary fiber, Swiss chard is a real garden -- and kitchen! -- champ. The thick, succulent texture of the leaves make them excellent additions to a diversity of dishes, including the recipes you'll find below. As an added bonus, Swiss chard varieties can have many different colored stems, including red, pink, orange, yellow, white, or even striped. The plants are truly beautiful!  

What is Swiss chard? It's a delicious and beautiful garden green.

How to grow Swiss chard

Swiss chard is a surprisingly easy crop to grow; even beginner gardeners will have success. Unlike lettuce and many other garden greens, Swiss chard is both heat and cold tolerant, making it easy to grow a prolific crop that produces from spring straight through autumn here on our Pennsylvania organic farm (its long growing season is also why Swiss chard is sometimes called 'perpetual spinach'). Seeds can be sown directly into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in early spring. As long as the seeds and plants receive ample moisture, it takes about 30 days for baby greens to be ready for harvest and 55-60 for the plants to reach full size.

 Learn how to grow Swiss chard and use it in the kitchen.

When harvesting Swiss chard, it's best to cut off individual outer leaves and let the growing point remain intact. This allows for multiple harvests from the same plant. Just head out to the garden whenever you need some chard greens for a recipe, and trim off as many leaves as you need, using a sharp, clean knife and cutting each stem off at its base. Wash and pat the leaves dry before use.  

What does Swiss chard taste like?

Just because it shares a species name with beets, don't assume that Swiss chard has the same sweet, earthy flavor as beets. Cooked Swiss chard tastes much like a mixture between spinach and collard greens. Young leaves can be eaten raw in salads and on sandwiches, where they impart a slightly sweet, lettuce-like flavor but with a far meatier texture.  

While the leaves of Swiss Chard are the part most cooks focus on, the thick, crunchy stems of Swiss chard are delicious, too. They take a bit longer to cook than the leaves do, so remove the midrib and stem from the leaves and allow them to cook a few minutes longer than the leaves. Another great way to use the stems is to sauté them in a bit of olive oil or steam them briefly until they're slightly soft but not limp, then serve them as part of a crudités platter with hummus or ranch dressing.  

How to freeze Swiss chard and cook with it.

How to freeze Swiss chard

In addition to enjoying Swiss chard in the recipes we've listed below, you can also easily freeze this yummy green for later use. To freeze Swiss chard, wash the leaves, then cut off the midribs and stems, setting them aside to prepare separately. Roughly chop the leaves into pieces, then put them into a large pot of boiling water for two minutes only. When two minutes pass, scoop the chard leaves out of the boiling water and put them immediately into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Let the chard sit in the ice water until it's fully cooled, about three minutes. Remove it from the ice water and put the blanched greens into a salad spinner to remove excess water. Pack the greens into zipper-top freezer bags, label the bags, and put them into the freezer. Now you'll have plenty of Swiss chard on hand for use whenever you need it.  

Freeze the stems in a similar fashion, but allow them to remain in the boiling water for an additional minute.  

Swiss chard recipes

While you can use Swiss chard in just about any recipe that calls for spinach, including vegetable lasagnas, quiches, stir-fries, and sautés, here are a few of our favorite easy-to-make Swiss chard recipes.  

Creamed Swiss chard

Sautéed chard with onions

Chickpeas and chard

Mini frittatas with chard

Swiss chard and herb fritters  

Participants in our Pittsburgh Farm Share Program can expect to find our delicious Swiss chard in their weekly delivery boxes. Not part of our Farm Share program yet? Sign up here  

Click these links to discover: 

How to grow and eat broccoli leaves

What are ground cherries?

More about our herbal teas

From The Cherry Valley Organics Farm Family

What is Swiss chard? How to grow, harvest, and cook this delicious green.