It’s barely spring here at The Chef’s Garden, but we’re already hard at work sowing the seeds of summer crops. Because, even though it’s a mere 24 cold degrees outside, our first crops of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are well underway.
At the moment, an entire field’s worth of tomatoes fits onto a table top in our seeding house. Nestled into their many-celled seeding trays, for now our multiple tomato varieties are indistinguishable from one another. Red, yellow and orange plastic markers are the only clues to what lies beneath the surface of the soil: Cherokee Purple, Orange Paruche, Momotaro, Rainbow Jazz Heart and many, many more.
We’ll complete six plantings of tomatoes throughout the summer season. The first plants got their start in early February and are already a towering two inches tall. In a week or two, we’ll transplant them in their final destination, the rich and ready soil of our tomato houses. More recent plantings are mere sprouts, with leaves smaller than a newborn’s fingernail on stems as fine as spun silk, while some are on the very brink of germination, barely peeking through the thin cracks of their opening seed coats.
Plant a Peck of Perfect Peppers
On this day in early March, three members of our team are quietly at work. Danielle, Deanna and Sarah are counting pepper seeds shaken from tiny brown envelopes. With tweezers, they gently tuck the flat, flake-shaped seeds into the soil-filled compartments of 72-celled trays. They work in silence, the hum of a fan circulating warmed air being the only sound as they work, delicately burying one seed a time into every two-inch cell.
They’re planting jalapeno peppers ─ lemon spice, orange spice, pumpkin spice and green. They’re planting Aji Amarillo, Aji Lemon Drop, Mango and Crystal. They’re planting traditional hot peppers like Padrons, Poblanos, Habaneros, Yellow Chilis and Espelettes. On the sweeter side, they’re planting Habanadas, Baby Bells, Shisihitos and a Lunchbox Mix of snacking peppers.
They’ll also plant some new arrivals to the farm. From the Republic of Georgia comes the Georgia Flame pepper and, from Korea, the Korean Dark Green pepper and the Amazing 2, a pepper that is particularly well suited to drying.
Coming Soon to a Menu Near You
Our earliest tomatoes, such as currants and huckleberries, should be ripening in late May, followed closely by our specialty tomatoes in early June. Our Toy Box tomatoes should be ready in mid-June, followed by ten show-stopping heirloom varieties coming onto the scene by July.
Six varieties of eggplant are getting a head start. We’re cultivating an assortment of sizes, multiple colors, mild sweet flavors and a variety of textures, from firm to tender, delicate to meaty. Look for eggplants in late June or early July, and peppers by mid-to late July.
The summer season will be here before we know it and, along with it, our chefs’ summer menus. That’s why we’re planting now, to give Mother Nature the time she needs to fully develop the unique characteristics, varieties, complex flavors and quality that our chefs deserve.
Keeping it Real
You already know that we hand-harvest our fresh vegetables to order. This is a reminder that we also hand-plant them. More and more, people want to know where their food comes from. And we hope you’ll tell them.
This summer, when your guests are gushing over the flavor of a ripe heirloom tomato, a mild meaty eggplant, a sweet Habanada or a hot Habanero pepper, tell them about that vegetable’s journey. Tell them it all started on a real Ohio farm along the shores of Lake Erie on a cold 24-degree morning inside an unassuming greenhouse where every tomato, eggplant and pepper on their plate began as a single seed pressed gently into the soil by a real person with a real name ─ soft-spoken Danielle, Deanna in her black-rimmed hipster glasses, or Sarah who makes a hoodie, black skirt and mud boots look impossibly cool.
Or just tell them it came from The Chef’s Garden, a place committed to growing the vegetables our chefs need, according to the values they uphold.
We’re good with that.