Visiting Birdsong Hollow Farm near Woodbury, TN is like spending an afternoon with your best gardening pal: You have such a great time that you hardly realize you’re gaining information that will change your gardening life.
Owner Angela Ott is personally interested in what you are growing in your own garden. She asks questions, listens patiently, and offers advice, suggestions and tips that will improve your gardening practices. And it’s all done without a hint of self-importance. For example, when we mentioned that we love to make pesto from basil but pine nuts (an essential ingredient) had gone up so much, she suggested substituting sunflower seeds–a much less costly choice.
Ott’s primary interest is in heirloom and open-pollinated tomatoes, though she grows almost everything on their 140 acre farm. Strange and weird produce is celebrated at Birdsong Hollow Farm. If you like specialty produce and having something that’s just a little bit different than what your neighbors planted, you will go nuts here. Pink, black, striped and purple tomatoes are the norm. Why? As Angela and her husband Chuck point out on their web site: “We hope to help preserve biodiversity by encouraging our neighbors to explore the amazing richness of choice available in the world of vegetables, herbs, and flowers.”
Heirloom plants are those plants with a history: They were grown in an earlier time. Open-pollination ensures that plants develop new generations, and hybrid plants are sometimes stronger and more disease-resistant. The heirloom tomatoes that the Otts produce include The Abraham Lincoln Tomato, Beam’s Yellow Pear Tomato, Black Prince Tomato, Cherokee Purple Tomato, and the Cream Sausage Tomato, just to name a few. Be sure to check out all the varieties online.
One necessary disclaimer: Birdsong Hollow Farm greenhouse sales have just shut down for the season, so although you can check things out online you can’t actually start shopping until mid-April of 2012. Consideration was given to holding this article until next spring, but it is so difficult to find heirloom tomato plants for sale in Middle TN that I wanted to be sure you went ahead and made a note in your calendar for where to shop early next year. And besides, Angela gave me tips that will help you in your garden right now:
- Mulch tomatoes and peppers with straw (not hay), leaving a 3 to 4 inch circle free around the base of the plants. Straw mulch conserves water and is the perfect habitat for the earthworms that you want to attract.
- Trench tomatoes for stronger plants—especially great for leggier plants. Dig a shallow trench and lay the plant down. Remove all leaves and stems except for the top three, which should remain above ground. This method makes for stronger roots and more wind resistance.
- Make red sauce by pulverizing the tomatoes with skin on in the food processor or blender. Freeze in gallon bags—no “canning” is required.
Angela speaks the language of food with a passion that makes you ridiculously hungry. Ironically, her husband does all their cooking. While you’re looking over plants in her greenhouse, she will suggest a few ways to prepare the crops that you will later harvest. And the plants are all beautifully tagged so you know exactly what you’re looking at and what to expect. She even pointed out the beneficial insects that were pupating on the plants (Ladybugs,in this case), lest you get home and worry about them.
While the heirloom and open-pollinated plant varieties available were astounding, what really separates Birdsong Hollow Farm from the pack is the hands-on personal service that you receive as a customer. Plant buying just doesn’t get any better than this!