Tomato Panic or Red Alert [or yellow, purple, white, pink or maybe, striped alert]

flats of tomatoes, labeled and ready to grow


Last week I had a tomato panic. I found out that Doris Giardino, who grew my beautiful heritage tomato seedlings for my rooftop garden, was not growing them again this year. What would become of the annual tomato tasting? Realizing that I would have to grow the seedlings myself, I went from window to window in my home placing tables, stools from Zambia, offering platforms from Bali, and whatever else I could find to support and provide enough sunlight for the trays of seedlings I now had to grow myself.          

The real panic was, where was I going to find seeds in a hurry? Catalogues are available online but it takes almost 3 weeks for seeds to reach to reach Toronto from the U.S. and by then it would be a little too late to start seedlings. Doris generously agreed to start me off with seeds of some of the favorites of last summer from her dwindling supply. Anna Russian, Paul Robeson, Wapiscon and Speckled Peach and 15 others were found. Alas, one of my personal favorites Giant Belgium would have to wait for next year. New opportunities for different tomatoes were to be found. At” Seedy Sunday,” a community event, I found at least 20 more varieties I wanted to grow. At one booth I found N.J. Standard, a tomato I hope will bring back my tastes of youth spent at Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey. It was there I was introduced to the famous New Jersey Beefsteak and gardening.

Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey: my wheelbarrow and me, age 4 

I pulled out an envelope of seeds that I had bought in Hungary at Tesco [a Walmart-type chain] when we went on a memory tour there in 2005. Would they still be viable and what kind of memories would they invoke if they indeed did grow? [they were viable] I searched through the library of seeds that I keep in 1960′s sand buckets and found some I had grown in previous years. “Red Fig” is a variety that was dried for the winter and used as a fig substitute in the 18th century. When I had previously  grown it in my garden, in no way did it conjure up that sweet taste and slightly gritty texture of dried figs. I was willing to give them another chance. Maybe if I grew and dried them in the sun of the hot roof they would more figlike. Stupice, a heritage tomato I grew with great success, yielded a bountiful crop of round medium size red tomatoes of perfect complexion and taste. Regretfully their seeds were not available to me this year. As substitute,  I bit into a greenhouse “Campari” tomato from Leamington Ontario, and smeared some seeds in the soil in a peat pot. [ they germinated] I also planted a squeeze of seeds of a perfect red black tomato grown in Mexico, the” Kumari.” Before you disparage such a tomato, remember heritage tomatoes were once new varieties and if you have ever tried to grow heirloom black tomato varieties and waited for them to be perfectly vine ripe, only to have them go from almost ripe to bloated mush from one day to the next or crack and mold just as you were whetting your appetite for some, one would realize that perfectly reliable modern tomatoes have their purpose as well. I was wondering if the Kumari’s seeds would germinate as most food products from Mexico are irridated.[they did] 

In celebration of the new growing season to come, I decided to use up the last of last year’s bounty of tomatoes in my freezer and shell the beans from the roof that had been drying all winter to make baked beans that would be served in the lobby of 124 Merton for all to enjoy.  

Shelled beans from the roof 

Baked beans from local products: 

14 cups dried beans: that was the total crop of these unidentified variety of beans from the roof. I had grown them the previous year as well and as fresh string beans they where not very delicious. Since there were seeds aplenty as they weren’t consumed raw, I planted them again with the result that there were many more unconsumed pods at the end of this season but the name of the variety was never recorded. 

3 cups maple syrup, 3 tsps salt, 4 bay leaves, 3/4 cup ketchup, [ recipe from blog "Let's play ketchup"] dried rosemary and thyme to taste, 10 cup tomatoes,[ I had pureed them in the blender and then froze them] 

My challenge was to use ingredients that came from my home garden and the rooftop garden but feel free to substitute ingredients and quantities. This recipe is only a guideline.   

Soak the beans in water to cover overnight. Drain and put all the ingredients in a covered baking pan with boiling water to cover the beans. Bake at 450 F for 20 minutes ,then lower the temperature to 300 F. Bake for approximately 8 hours , occasionally adding more water to cover. The baking time will depend on the variety and dryness of the beans. Keep an eye on them and taste for softness and flavor.When done serve the quantity of this recipe to a crowd. 

 I had also tried to cook the beans by cooking them on the stove instead of baking them. I found they cooked substantially faster with no loss of taste or texture but of course you can no longer call them baked beans! 

Beans, dried and cooked 



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New Art and Artifacts in the Hallways 124 Merton Street

Phad from Rajastan is now installed on the 5th Floor

The Empress Building at 124 Merton Street is known for its art and artifacts throughout the building. As we were putting up this beautiful painting from Rajasthan one of our tenants remarked, “This is the most humane office building in Toronto.” We love to be surrounded by beautiful things and share them in the daily work atmosphere. Visitors and customers to the many types of businesses are always telling me how much they love to come to the building and are stimulated by new ideas when they visit.  

A detail from the phad

Phad painting is a popular style of folk painting, practiced in Rajasthan state of India. This style of painting is traditionally done on a long piece of cloth, known as phad. The narratives of the folk deities of Rajasthan, mostly of Pabuji and Devnarayan are depicted on the phads. The Bhopas, the priest-singers traditionally carry the painted phars along with them and use these as the mobile temples of the folk deities. The phads of Pabuji are normally about 15 feet in length, while the phads of Devnarayan are normally about 30 feet long. Traditionally the phads are painted with vegetable color. [ from wikipedia]  

The textile curator of the Royal Ontario Museum spent a week researching this piece as part of a tour for the Rom Patron Circle. The bhopas or priests would take this long painting from town to town, unravel and set it up on two poles by the rope sewn along the top of the phad. In putting the painting in a showcase I made use of and prominently displayed the worn ropes as I thought they were integral to the history of the piece. The painting tells a story of kings and the intinerant priest would move back and forth in front of the images to tell a story. These ceremonies always took place at night and would end by dawn.In fact the curator and I hatched a plan to set it up in my backyard at night and have a party  to enjoy the painting by fire light. She got married that Summer and in all the wedding planning the phad party never happened.       

As the phad fades from constant use the priests dunk it in the river to ceremonially end its use. Even though our phad is faded on the bottom and looks like it might have survived many monsoons, I am glad that the river burial was not part of the history of our piece. After 1950 they were no longer made. 

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Our rooftop garden expands this Spring

Even though it is still quite cold, it is time to start the cold weather crops such as lettuce. In a month or so bunches of our beautiful organic lettuce will appear in the lobby of 124 Merton Street for the tenants to take home for dinner.

These giant urns will line the parapet seen from the 2nd floor courtyard. From the roof they will form the background for the new boxes filled with columnar “Maypole” apple trees.

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National Post article about 124 Merton St rooftop vegetable garden


Work perks: A roof-top garden can suddenly make the office a preferred option

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Beautiful Office Suite Available

Here is a photo of one of our beautiful office suites available.

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Today on my office rooftop garden  at there were at least 22 varieties of tomatoes ripening.


To put in perspective a Watermelon Beefsteak Tomato
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Second floor patio blooming

Our second floor patio, with service berry trees and flowering plants is doing great this summer.

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124 Merton St, Affordable Upscale Office Space

Welcome to the Empress Building, 124 Merton St. Toronto.  We offer upscale, affordable office space in midtwon Toronto.  Please visit our website 124 Merton St Office Space for Lease Toronto for more photos and information.  On this blog you can see the progress of our rooftop greenroof vegetable garden and other news from the building.

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fruit on the rooftop greenroof garden at 124 Merton St

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