Tomato Update 7/14/14: The harvest begins

It’s mid-July and I’m long overdue for a tomato update, so here we go!

The winner of First Ripe Tomato of 2014 goes to … Whippersnapper! The fruit are the size and shape of large grapes, deep pink and so sweet.


I’ve never had much luck with upside down planters, but this variety is a winner. They don’t seem to mind the heat and not one has cracked. I will grow these again.

Whippersnapper tomatoes

Whippersnapper tomatoes

On Whippersnapper’s heels for earliness was Orlovskie Rysaki. It’s named for Orlovskie trotters, a Russian breed of horses known for its speed. My two plants grew like mad sprinters, and dusted the other varieties in blossoming and setting fruit.

Orlovskie Rysaki tomatoes

Orlovskie Rysaki tomatoes

Orlovskie Rysaki is a true determinate: it bears its crop all at once, then dies. It’s also super early for a full-size tomato. My plants yielded a pound each of 4-6 oz red fruit before meeting an abrupt demise (the 90F+ heat probably didn’t help.)

Orlovskie Rysaki, 62 days after planting out

Orlovskie Rysaki, 62 days after planting out

I pulled the plants up and got another pound each of green tomatoes that I grilled, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette, and topped with feta cheese.

The ripe tomatoes were juicy and fairly acidic. They’re not as flavorful as some of the indeterminates, but a tomato sandwich on the 4th of July? I’ll grow these again.

Orlovskie Rysaki, sliced

Orlovskie Rysaki, sliced

Next up is ABC Potato Leaf, an indeterminate cherry. Another fast grower, it’s been very productive and shows no sign of slowing down. The fruit is bright red and slightly sweet. Unfortunately, it’s also prone to cracks. We’ll see how it fares through the season.


My latest full size tomato to ripen is Bradley. An heirloom from Arkansas, its fruit is pink, smooth, and flavorful. It doesn’t seem to mind the heat. This baby made my best tomato sandwich yet. Another one I’ll grow again.

Bradley tomato

Bradley tomato

Coming soon: peppers and watermelon!

Dyes and more: 6/14/2014

With my next show fast approaching, I’m busy creating new inventory! I’ve already got t-shirts from kids to 3XL, but what about the littlest ones? How about some baby onesies?


Earthy ice:


Rainbow “V”


Speaking of kids, when I was an artsy-fartsy kid in the 70′s, macrame was the epitome of crafty cool. I spent many a snow day making owls and plant hangers. Last summer, I dyed some hemp twine and experimented with couple of macrame necklaces. They came out cool looking, so I decided to try it again this year.

Since macrame is infinitely more fun with beads, I had the bright idea to buy some wood beads and paint them myself.

Painted beads drying

Painted beads drying

Meanwhile, I got a 400-ft roll of ordinary hemp jewelry cord at a local craft store for a few bucks. A little dye magic later, this is what I’ve got so far:

Dyed hemp cord, 6/14

Dyed hemp cord, 6/14

Up close:


Since I already have more cord than one woman can tie in a summer, I’ve decided to make some bracelet kits suitable for kids of all ages over 8 or so, and post some tutorials right here.

Here are a few of the first samples

hempmacrameComing soon: basic knots and beads!

Garden update 6/4/14, with tomatoes

It’s June 4, 2014. Summer doesn’t start for another two weeks. Here was my container garden less than three weeks ago.



Here it is today.



Remember these babies?

Tomato seedlings 4/8/2014

Tomato seedlings 4/8/2014

Look at them now!

Front: Red Peter pepper. Back tomatoes from left" Orlovskie Rysaki, Polish Dwarf, ABC Potato Leaf

Front: Red Peter pepper. Back tomatoes from left” Orlovskie Rysaki, Polish Dwarf, ABC Potato Leaf

Whippersnapper tomato in upside down planter:


Orlovskie Rysaki setting fruit:


Sweet banana pepper:


Czech Bush tomato:


It’s going to be a good season.


Tie dye spiral tutorial

The spiral fold is both traditional and ageless. rainbow3xspiral In this tutorial I’ll show you how to spin the perfect spiral and apply the dye using CMY color theory to create a rainbow. If you’re new to tie dyeing, my earlier post Fiber Reactive Dye 101 covers the prerequisites. Before you get started, you will need these supplies:

  • 100% cotton t shirt(s) (not poly-cotton blend)
  • Protective gloves
  • Large rubber bands
  • Fiber reactive dyes in primary colors (yellow, fuschia, turquoise)
  • Soda ash solution
  • Squeeze bottles for applying dye
  • Wire rack (not to be reused with food*)
  • Watertight container and/or plastic bags (recycled grocery bags are perfect)

*Thrift shops and yard sales are a great source of inexpensive utensils for dyeing projects! I’ll assume from here your shirts, soda ash, dyes and gear are prepared and ready to go.

In general, I fold and tie my shirts, soak in soda ash solution, then apply dye. This works well with patterns like the heart, which consists of only a fraction of the fabric in the shirt and uses a few tablespoons of dye for the pattern.

With a spiral, you have a lot more fabric in larger layers to cover: almost 100% of it. Spirals have to be folded tightly to make the pattern and color transitions pop. The tighter the fold and binding, the harder it is for the shirt to absorb soda ash all the way through. And if it’s not saturated with soda ash, the dye won’t stick, and you get a washed-out spiral. This was supposed to be purple and teal. Lame spiral The solution? For brilliant spirals, I hand soak the shirt in soda ash solution first, then fold and tie. THIS is purple and teal. hornetswirl

Here’s how to do it. Start with white 100% cotton t shirts. Launder on regular cycle with hot water. Do NOT skip this step, especially if the shirts are new — any sizing and/or impurities from the manufacturing process can inhibit the fiber from taking the dye evenly.

Wear waterproof gloves. Dunk a clean, damp, unfolded shirt in the soda ash solution. Swish it around to soak through and wring out by hand, letting excess drip back into soda ash container. Place on a small table, inside out and face down. shirtready Decide where you want the center of your spiral to be. We’ll be using the middle of the shirt. Now, you have two choices followed by a dance: stick a fork in it or pinch. Then walk in circles. Either direction is fine. If you use a fork, make it a dull one and stick it lightly into the center. Hold light pressure and start walking in circles around the shirt, never letting go of the fork. The shirt should start forming tight pleats like this.

spiralfork Alternately, pinch the fabric at the center with gloved fingers like this: spiralpinch … and walk around it, rolling into pleats: pinchfold Continue walking around the shirt, holding on to your pinch, until only the ends are sticking out, then fold them into the spiral. forkspiralfolded Place your first two rubber bands, dividing the fabric into quarters and nudging in the ends. pinchtie1 Now wrap two more rubber bands between the first two, dividing the fabric into eighths. Adjust so all four bands meet in the middle of the spiral on both sides. Here is the flip side: pinchtie2 To dye a spiral, always work from the lightest to the darkest color. With primaries, that means yellow first, fuschia second, and turquoise last. Start by squirting yellow dye into the center of the shirt and along the sides of the same rubber band. yellow1 Continue applying yellow all over that half of the shirt, first along the rubber band then all the way to the edges. Keep adding yellow until it soaks through the folds and out the other side. yellowdone Apply fuschia to the next wedge, working from spiral center to edges, and saturating the fabric until it drips. fuschiadone Apply turquoise last. Again, start with the center and edges: turquoise wedge Then saturate the entire turquoise wedge: rainbowside1turq Let the whole disc sit for 5-10 minutes to drain, then carefully flip over to a clean section of your draining rack. It should look like this: rainbowflipside Apply dye to the flip side just like you did above, working from the center out and saturating every bit of fabric you can see. rainbowdoneNow, carefully place the disc in an airtight bag or container and allow to “batch,” or react. The warmer it is, the less time this will take. If it’s 95F in the shade for weeks on end, welcome to North Carolina and and hour or two is fine.

Temperatures above 80F are best for tie dyeing outside; at minimum you want your dyes and soda ash in the mid 70Fs. If you have access to a car parked in the sun, you can place wrapped items in a large airtight container in the car and they will be good to go in an hour, even on a 75F day.

The shirts pictured batched for one hour in a sunny car with outside temps around 85F. In this example, I made an effort to keep the center of my spiral light in color so the original text on the shirt would still be visible. Here is the result: rainbow1front And the back: rainbow1back A word on CMY color theory — remember, we only applied three dye colors to this shirt. A quick visual review on how they work together: SubtractiveColor.svg (1) magenta (fuschia) + yellow = red
yellow + cyan (turquoise) = green
cyan (turquoise) + magenta (fuschia) = blue

In action:

rainbow1detail Let’s do one more rainbow spiral. This is the one we folded with a fork earlier. Since I was OK with a darker center, I applied the dye in thirds instead of a half and two quarters. Here it is folded and dyed, same directions as above: rainbow2dyed And the result: rainbow2finished Close up: rainbow2detail To create a two-tone spiral like the purple and teal at the top, simply use one color on each half of the shirt and apply center to edge as seen above. That’s all there is to the spiral pattern. Have fun!

Garden update 5/26/14

Quick garden check: looking good!


From left: snap peas, Orlovskie Rysaki tomato, cucumber.


The only veggies I’m harvesting right now are snap peas, which are thriving in their container. Most of them don’t make it into the house … they’re perfect right off the vine.


Orlovskie Rysaki, the early tomato named for a Russian breed of horse, continues to live up to its name. It’s over two feet tall, lush, and covered with blossoms.


Fine verde basil:


Genovese basil:


Sweet banana pepper with baby:


You can’t have a garden without bees. Here’s one lovin’ on a cucumber blossom.


It’s shaping up to be a good season. Happy gardening!

Dyeing for spring: 2014 season kickoff

First, I’m excited to announce Little Lotte Studio will be the proud occupant of Booth 216 at the Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte for the first All Arts Market of 2014. I’m a little nervous, because this is my first show and I’ve got a lot of stuff to fit in a 4′ x 8′ booth!

link here

Friday, May 23, 2014 6-11pm
511 E 36th Street, Charlotte, NC

The term “tie dye” is a misnomer for much of my work. Yes, I do traditional spirals as well as hearts, earths, and other designs. This year’s line so far is tending more toward the abstract, and I’m having fun with it!

You can read more about the dyeing process at Fiber Reactive Dye 101. There are only three must-haves: dye powder, soda ash, and warmth. Applying them in different orders results in varied effects on the finished item, even using the same fold and pigments. The traditional method is to apply dye to the folded item that has been soaked in soda ash.

Fruit Punch Spiral, 2013

Fruit Punch Spiral, 2013

Low water immersion (LWI) dyeing reverses the application of dye and soda ash. The dye solution is applied to damp fabric first and allowed to spread among the fibers. Next, soda ash solution is poured over the top. LWI is my go-to method during the cold and dark months because it needs only an hour or two to react and is slightly less messy. Here is a sampler of LWI quilting fabric from January 2014.


This year, a string of 90F days in early May inspired a new experiment: ice dyeing. Dharma Trading Company, where I purchase my dyes and blank scarves, offers this how-to. Dolly of Dolly’s Hand Dyed Fabric applies concentrated liquid dye instead of powder over the ice, as Dharma Trading suggests.

Because I am extraordinarily bad at following instructions, I read both tutorials and made up my own techniques. I skipped the draining rack because mine didn’t fit in my containers, used less ice because my freezer was acting up, and applied the dye in stripes. There are four child’s shirts under this berry salad. They sat untouched on a 95F concrete patio for 24 hours.


And the results:




Rainbow t-shirts. One ice dye, the other LWI.


The LWI shirt was okay, but the ice dyed rainbow came out spectacular!








Bandanas, traditional and ice dyed:


This LWI spiral inspired by the Carolina Panthers:


These are last night’s ice dyes ready to rinse.


Stay tuned for the results, and much more!

Garden Update 5-6-14

Spring has sprung and so has my garden! With highs approaching 90 and lows in the 60′s, it’s time to harvest spring greens and make way for peppers and tomatoes in my containers.

Mesclun ready to harvest, 5/5/14

Mesclun ready to harvest, 5/5/14

Salad time!

Salad time!

Remember my seed tape experiment? Here’s the result: red Swiss chard and kale.

Kale and red chard 5/6/14

Kale and red chard 5/6/14

Garden cress and Komatsumo mustard spinach:

Garden cress and mustard spinach

Garden cress and mustard spinach


Mustard spinach

Marigolds ready to bloom:

Marigolds 5/6/14

Marigolds 5/6/14

White habanero seedlings:

White habanero, 5/6/14

White habanero, 5/6/14

Tomatoes are thriving! I’ve sold and gifted dozens, and still have plenty.

Tomatoes 5/1/14

Tomatoes 5/1/14

Snap peas planted on St. Patrick’s Day are approaching 3 feet tall, but no blossoms. It got warm a little too fast for them! These are 64 days to harvest according to the packet, so I’m not giving up hope yet.

Snap peas 5/6/14

Snap peas 5/6/14

I’m also harvesting basil, cilantro, and parsley. So far so good!

Tomatoes 2014: Semi-determinates

Semi-determinate tomatoes have characteristics of both determinate and indeterminate varieties. A good review of all three types can be found here. Also known as compact indeterminates, they reach 3-5 feet tall and can be grown in either containers or beds. Either way, they do require staking. The plant produces a crop that gets ripe all at once, followed by fruit that continues to grow and ripen until fall.

The class of 2014 includes four semi-determinates: Bradley, Homestead, Indigo Rose and Remy Rouge. Let’s meet them.

Bradley: First time growing. This pink tomato is so beloved in Bradley County, Arkansas, a festival is held in its honor every June. Heat and humidity tolerant, 7-10 ounces, sandwich worthy. Vendors differ; some call it determinate, others indeterminate. Mine says semi and I’m going with that.

Homestead: First time growing. This is a nice old fashioned meaty red tomato averaging 8 ounces. From Florida, so it’s heat and humidity tolerant, always a plus for us Southern gardeners.

Indigo Rose: This is my favorite. I love everything about this tomato. It was bred at Oregon State University for its high level of anthocyanins, which are thought to have antioxidant properties. It’s also gorgeous, with indigo shoulders fading to deep orange heels.

Indigo Rose 2013

Indigo Rose 2013

The inside is juicy with a slight smoky flavor.

Fresh with a little sea salt

Fresh with a little sea salt

Indigo Rose is cherry-sized and grows in bunches. I grew it in a container in 2013 and it kept producing into October. Some online reviews say it lacks flavor, which is true only if it’s not fully ripe, as in the photo below — notice the green hips. No worries, they will ripen at room temperature in a few days. Pictured with Remy Rouge (left.)

Remy Rouge and Indigo Rose, 2013

Remy Rouge and Indigo Rose, 2013

Remy Rouge: My second favorite from 2013. It literally dripped with incredibly sweet red cherries that grew in clusters, and got well over 4 feet tall even in a container. Definite must-grow!

Remy Rouge, 8/3/13

Remy Rouge, 8/3/13

That covers all of this year’s heirloom tomatoes. As always, comments and questions are welcome!

Tomatoes 2014: Indeterminates

This entry will cover the nine varieties of indeterminate heirloom tomatoes I’m growing this year. If you’re not familiar with the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes, head over to TomatoGeek’s blog for more information.

Heirloom tomato seedlings 4/16/2014

Heirloom tomato seedlings 4/16/2014

Indeterminates are the pride and joy of heirloom tomato aficionados. Also known as vine tomatoes, these varieties can easily reach heights taller than you and require staking and pruning to remain healthy and productive. Once harvest begins, it continues until frost if the plants remain healthy and intact. The choice of colors, flavors, and culinary uses is almost unlimited.

Listed in no particular order, these varieties represent a mix of cherry, paste, and slicing tomatoes that happened to appeal to me this year. All of my seeds come from the Sample Seed Shop, where more vendor-specific information is available.

Black Cherry: The first heirloom tomato I ever grew. Reliable, beautiful, and delicious dark red cherries with a sweet smoky taste. Extremely productive, divine off the vine.

Olive Hill: I grew this in a container last year, and it just didn’t have enough room. It did produce a couple of sandwich worthy tomatoes, which is incentive enough to try it again this year in a more spacious location. These flavorful deep pink slicers can reach a pound or more.

Belmonte: Also grown in a container last year and limited by space and a late start. This is a medium sized paste variety, red with pretty ribbing. It made excellent fried green tomatoes when frost threatened last year. This year I’ll grow out with high hopes for sauce and salsa.

Red Pear: A few years ago, I planted three of these and literally couldn’t keep up with the harvest. The birds were happy to help! Also called fig tomatoes, they’re little bites of juicy sweetness with just a touch of acidity. Large very productive plants. Great fresh in salads, they also dehydrate beautifully. One word: tomaisins!

Snow White: These are sooo good! Unexpectedly sweet pale yellow cherries that deliver flavor and beauty to summer salads. The last time I grew this, I didn’t stake the plant well enough, and it got crazy huge, like eight feet tall. My makeshift reinforcement got knocked over in a storm and the plant never really recovered. Still a reliable favorite in my garden.

Berkeley Tie Dye: First time growing. Medium beefsteak striped from green-yellow to purple-red like its namesake. Good reviews on flavor.

Tigrovy: I grew this in a container last year. Russian in origin, it’s a medium yellow tomato with orange stripes and a tangy sweetness. Bonus for Southern gardeners, it’s also heat tolerant. I don’t think it was happy in a container and will be growing in a garden bed this year.

Tigrovy tomato 2013

Tigrovy tomato 2013

Yellow Stuffer: First time growing. This is a bit of a novelty, but there is potential for tasty and healthy work lunches. Yellow fruit shaped like a bell pepper and hollow inside.

Northern Lights: When I started my seeds, I labeled this variety a “long shot” because the packet was from 2010. A bicolor beefsteak sounded intriguing enough to give it a try, and the “old” seeds germinated at 90%. A pleasant and promising surprise.

One more entry to go: semi-determinates.