Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The 2015 Tomato Round-Up

Here's what I grew this year!

Paul Robeson 

Laurel of Heirloom Tomato Plants believes this is "the finest tomato in existence." It does not disappoint. The flavor is just amazing--rich, earthy, and complex. Most black tomatoes seem to be very tasty, but this one is something else.  Our plant wasn't the most productive but I will definitely grow this one again.  Frequently. Seeds from TomatoFest.

Summer Cider

I really like this one. I would describe the flavor as bright and fruity.  (I wasn't sure if I would like "fruity" in a tomato, but it's quite good.)  Good grower (did have some trouble in the heat),  nice big tomatoes.  Nice texture, too.  I'll grow this one again.  Seeds from Marianna's Heirloom Seeds.

Black Yum Yum

I chose this one on the recommendation of a lady in a Facebook heirloom tomato group who had a tomato tasting party, and Black Yum Yum was by far everyone's favorite. It is super tasty. Bright and zingy, with a deep rich flavor. They're generally slightly smaller than a golf ball, but there is quite a bit of variation in size .  Our plant was in a bad spot, being the last on the west end of the row--it got the brunt of the afternoon sun as well as the hot air from the heat pump blowing on it, but we still got a pretty good harvest. I'll definitely try it again in a better spot. Seeds from Marianna's Heirloom Seeds

Pruden's Purple

There's a guy in the heirloom tomato group who's always talking this one up, so I had to give it a try. Great flavor, nice meaty texture. The plant was one of my most vigorous growers at first and then had a little trouble in the heat, and wasn't setting blossoms for a while. We still got some really good tomatoes. Will grow this one again.  Seeds from TomatoFest.

Chadwick Cherry

A great cherry--prolific and tasty! This one became my go-to snack on the way in and out of the house... I'd just wander over and grab a few ripe ones. It's a bit on the larger side, as cherries go, and has a great flavor. Does split in the rain. Seeds from TomatoFest.


Small yellow cherry (the name means "little blond head" in German).  This one needs a lot of space and a lot of support. It starts out as a dense, compact plant, and then it sprawls everywhere. It grows huge clusters weighed down with dozens of fruit. (I was not prepared!) The flavor was not a favorite, though. It's strong and tangy but not very sweet. (Reports vary, though.  There may be different strains, or perhaps the taste is affected by soil or other conditions.) 

Chocolate Stripes

This is another one that I picked after reading the description on Laurel's site.  (She makes everything sound so good!)   It is a tasty tomato, and gorgeous.  The skin is a bit thick.  Supposed to be indeterminate but mine behaved like a determinate plant, for some reason.  I thought I had accidentally pinched off all the growth tips, and I kept waiting for it to sprout some suckers, but it never did.  (This was also the first plant that I pulled up at the end of the season, due to blight.)

Chocolate Cherry

Pretty much everyone who tried this one really liked it.  It's got an unusual flavor--almost a grape-like note, which sounds weird but it works.  It can get a bit sour when over-ripe.  Splits heavily in the rain.  I got the seeds from a swap on Facebook.

Amazon Chocolate

Another recommendation from Laurel.  It's got the rich, earthy flavors of the black varieties, with a bit of tang to it. I didn't like it quite as well as the Paul Robeson.  The first set of seeds I got didn't germinate, so I got these from somebody on Facebook. 

Big Rainbow

I was not impressed with this one. It has a strong tang but really nothing going for it. Not a good flavor at all. I kept trying it and it never got any better. It's supposed to be striped on the outside and have red veins running through the inside, but mine were just all orange, all the way through.  (Good vigorous grower, though. Just didn't taste good.) The seeds were from a packet (Ferry-Morse) that I picked up at Lowe's.  That may have been the problem.  Maybe I just got a bad strain. It's supposed to be a really good tomato. 

Todd County Amish

This is a super-tomatoey tomato. Like someone distilled the essence of tomato flavor and injected it all right here. This ended up being my "extra" plant, and it was in the backyard in not-quite-as-ideal conditions as the others, but it grew and produced pretty well.  Tomatoes were all fairly large, and had this deep star-shaped cracking around the stem.  I probably wouldn't grow it again, but it's just a matter of taste.  (I liked the Pruden's Purple better!)  Seeds from TomatoFest.

Black Krim

(I seem to have missed getting a picture of this one.) It's a popular tomato, and ours did really well, but honestly I found it a little bland after the Paul Robeson.


This one was a bust. Flamme (or Jaune Flamme) is described as having a "rich sweet flavor." It's also supposed to be spherical. I began to suspect something was amiss when mine came out looking more elongated. Gary at TomatoFest agreed that the parent plant probably got cross-pollinated with something else. What I got was not Flamme. These were nearly flavorless, which was really too bad as the plant was incredibly vigorous and productive. If Flamme grows anything like that (and tastes better) it's a winner for sure. I'll have to try again and see if I can get the real thing.

I went a little crazy this year--thirteen plants!  I don't think we'll be able to do that again, as we'll have to practice crop rotation to keep the soil healthy.  It was fun to try out so many varieties.  Now I'll have a better idea of what I want when I have to be more selective next year. 

These were all started indoors, and transplanted outside at the end of May (in the Tacoma, Washington area).  We had a very dry, sunny summer. 

This is a great book about all things tomato!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Brahms' Lullaby Papercut

I made this for a new friend's baby shower. She's a classical cellist and music teacher, having her first baby, so I had the idea to use Brahms' Lullaby and design a papercut around it. I don't think I've ever done anything with this many thin lines. It was a little tricky!

I spent about a day messing around with the design--deciding what I wanted to use and how to fit everything together. This is an early thumbnail sketch (about 2" wide in real life!).  I usually end up doing this sort of thing at my computer desk, so I can look things up easily, but then of course I keep bouncing back and forth between my project and other distractions. That's why it took all day.  (Ah, the internet... such a fabulous help and such a deep sucking pit of hindrance!)

This is nearly how I want it but still pretty loose. I scanned this and put a straighter frame on it in Photoshop, then printed it out again (lowering the opacity to make it light gray) and then went back over everything more more precisely, finalizing things like the spacing of the notes.  Then I printed that backwards (flipped horizontally) and did a graphite transfer to trace it onto white cardstock. 

I started cutting Friday night (after we got back from the fair) and had about three hours to finish it up this morning. I finished ten minutes before the shower started.  Whew! (My fingers are still feeling it!)

I'm going to re-create this one in Illustrator and make a cutting file.  That will be some good Illustrator practice!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Versatex ink (and Gelli Plate stamping)

I've been playing with Versatex Printing Inks (made by Jacquard). I got these after running across a mention on the Gelli Arts blog. (See? They're costing me money!) I was looking for a good fabric paint that I could print with that wouldn't make the fabric stiff. I've seen some very cool things done with gelli printing on fabric, and wanted to try it out myself. I got some white skirts (from Dharma Trading Co.) for myself and Kate, not long ago. I have big plans for these skirts, but I'm too nervous to just jump in and see how they turn out. So I've been experimenting.

These colors are super bright. I used them on the kids' shirts at full strength, but wanted to see what would happen when I tried mixing them. And I wanted to try using a small gelli plate upside-down like a stamp, so I could be more precise about placing the image. (I recently got a 5x7 gelli plate and an acrylic block for just that purpose.)

I got a piece of test fabric, and some little screw-top jars for mixing and storing colors.  I started out with some purple with a little complementary yellow added, to brown it down a bit.   (I was going for something earthy and dusky.) 

First I tried the big plate (on plexiglass), turning the whole thing upside-down on the fabric.  It didn't really work.  You can see the design around the edges, but the middle didn't really print.

I sprayed some water on the plate and then laid the fabric on top, and rubbed it all over.  That was an interesting effect.  I'll bet I can use this.

Other attempts yielded different results--too dark, too light, too contrasty--using more or less ink, and adding water or colorless extender.  This one turned out pretty close to what I was going for.  Just depends on what look you want.  Play around with it!

(You can iron freezer paper to fabric to stabilize it, and to keep the paint from soaking through, which works great if you're able to keep the fabric flat.  If you're working with a big piece that you have to pick up and flop around to lay on your gelli plate the freezer paper just doesn't stay on. Oh well.)

The next day I tried some stamping with my 5x7 plate.  I really wanted to be able to use it upside-down on the fabric.   

It worked, but not as well as I'd like.  I keep getting one spot in the middle that's not printing completely.  I'm still working on that.  I may try just sliding my hand underneath and rubbing the fabric from the bottom.  The fabric does seem to stick to the wet plate pretty well, so it might stay in place well enough to do that.

I was going for a patchwork collage sort of look.  I like how it turned out, except there are a few spots that I think are kind of ugly, and I wasn't able to be really precise with some of my positioning.

After I finished experimenting with my fabric I made myself a color sampler card.  These are full strength and then mixed with the colorless extender and with opaque white.  The last two pretty much just look the same, especially on white paper.  (Colors may look different on your screen!)

Next I made some color mixing samples.  I think this will be useful; some of these colors have undertones that react in unexpected ways.  (These aren't all 1:1 ratio mixes--I went heavier on the yellows.)

My verdict on mixing colors--yes it works, but test your colors first. Make sure they look good together.

I'm excited now about working on these skirts.  I'll probably use a combination of gelli printing and direct stamping.   

Generally I'm pretty happy with the inks.  They're a nice texture to work with, smooth and creamy (except for the opaque white, which has more of a pasty consistency).  They probably don't stay workable for as long as the Golden Open acrylics.  I haven't really tested that.   They don't make the fabric stiff, though it does have a slight plasticky feel to it. Like a silk-screened T-shirt. 

The inks do need to be heat-set after they dry.  You can put some aluminum foil on an ironing board, place the fabric on it painted side down,  and press with a hot iron from the reverse side.  I washed the kids' shirts with the regular laundry after heat setting them, and they look fine.  Seems like good stuff!

Versatex Printing Inks are available in individual colors or in eight-pack starter sets.  (I got both of these... just couldn't resist!)  Here are the Amazon links for the starter packs and the colorless extender:

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

First Grade and Fifth Grade

It's back to school time again! We're starting later than last year, but it still feels like the summer just whizzed by. Kate is in Intermediate School this year (5-7 grade... I know, weird system!). She starts about half an hour later than Andy, but we managed to get them both ready so we could get a picture together.

Andy was so excited. When he saw the bus he started running, grinning and making happy noises. He's in the Spectrum Support program, so he has the same teacher and same classroom as last year. They love him.

We put some new panels on Kate's lunch box--kind of a last-minute thing the night before, but they turned out cute. I cut up a spare gelli print and she drew on top of them.

Kate at her desk. She's been in the Challenge Program for the past two years, but it was just not a good fit (lots of stress and anxiety, not helped by her tendency toward flights of fancy and woolgathering during math class), so we got her out of it. But she's had the same classmates and teacher for two years, so this is a big change. New school and new people. I hope she can make some friends.

Have a great year, kids!

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Nineteen years

We've been married nineteen years today! Our neighbor Steve was on the spot to take some pictures for us when we got home from church.

(I like this one, aside from Kate not smiling.) We had pancakes for dinner (thanks Doug!) and banana muffins, and played Dixit with our neighbor Tavah. The kids have one more day before school starts. I am not ready!

Friday, September 04, 2015

Dragon Kite at Ocean Shores

This is one of my favorite photos from our day at Ocean Shores. We've been wanting to go do something before the kids go back to school, and since Doug was officially no longer on call for jury duty, we decided to make the drive out to the coast. Usually when we go to the beach it's on Puget Sound, which is much more sheltered. This is the real ocean.

It's about a two-hour drive. We've had a very rainy week and we were expecting some cloud cover, but when we got out there it was sunny. Surprise! I was the only one who got sunburned.

We brought along our kites. Doug picked up a big dragon kite just a couple of weeks ago, and we hadn't been able to really fly it yet.  (We took it out to the Chambers Creek Properties on Monday, but weren't able to get it to stay up for more than thirty seconds or so.)

We got the little ladybug kite up in the air first. That one's easy.

Going up...

Success! It's a heavy kite and takes a good steady wind. (We've never tried to fly anything bigger than this--we saw some really cool kites out there!)

Kate has named the dragon Breeze Cutter.

Kite high in the sky, with the string payed all the way out.

Ocean Shores is one of the few places where you can drive on the beach. People do get stuck.

We spotted this behemoth kite wallowing through the sky in the distance and decided to walk down the beach and check it out.

Walking down the beach involved walking next to the water. And then in the water. We put the kite in the car and got the kids' water shoes.

Each wave was topped with a line of this brown foamy scum. It was really kind of gross. I don't know if it's always like that or if we were just there on a particularly scummy day. I told Kate I was proud of her for getting in it at all. Her disgust threshold is normally pretty low. (She was jumping in and out of the water, hollering, "It's so gross! It's so gross!")

Andy seemed to really enjoy the sensation of the waves moving past, and the sand shifting under his feet.

In spite of brown scum, Kate had a great time. At one point she ran over and hugged me and said, "Thanks for bringing us here!"


We finally made it down to where the big kite was. It was anchored to the bumper of an RV. The thing was enormous. It looked longer than the RV. (It's advertising


Both kids ended up looking like this. We did bring dry clothes, just in case! Pants were needed.

We made it back over to where we were parked, and then the kids and I took a detour through the dunes to the public restrooms while Doug brought the car around. Kate thought the dunes were very cool.

It turns out a shutter speed of 125 is not fast enough to capture active kids!

There was no foot-washing station, that we could see, but we managed to get everyone de-scummed and de-sanded by filling up a water bottle repeatedly in the bathroom and pouring it over people's feet. Beach logistics can be complicated.

We made it back to Tacoma at about 6:00, and went to El Sabor for dinner. Yum!