Well, it took us five years to get around to attending the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello but I’m happy we made it there yesterday. We didn’t know quite what to expect, but it was something like a cross between a county fair and farmer’s market or craft festival. Central Virginia is rich in local farms and businesses producing high quality food and other agricultural products, and the Heritage Harvest Festival attracted a good many of them to exhibit their wares.
Some of the vendors/exhibitors were already well-known to us, so we concentrated on some we had not done business with before. But first we stopped at the Tasting Tent set up by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, the driving force behind the festival. Can you believe that I’m actually a little tired of fresh tomatoes just now? It’s true – the garden has been good to us this year – but I saw some on display that I wanted to sample. ‘Long Tom‘ is now on my list for next year. And due to a lot of pickle-making this summer my garlic harvest is already dwindling, so I bought some ‘French Red’ to supplement what I grew. Huge cloves on this one. I’m not sure if it’s the same as the one listed as ‘Mild French’ on their website, but it looked interesting.
The spouse and I went our separate ways for lunch. I had a bratwurst from The Rock Barn, a caterer and farmer’s market vendor, and the spouse had a pizza from Primo Tuscan Wood Oven Pizza. We would happily eat either one again.
Hard cider seems to the trendy new thing. Albemarle Cider Works is the local veteran, having produced several vintages now (if that’s the right word when talking about cider), but we noticed a booth from a newcomer so stepped up for a tasting at Castle Hill Cider. We liked what we tasted, and especially enjoyed the stories behind the names of their ciders. Although we didn’t buy any bottles, we plan to visit their beautiful tasting room sometime and buy then.
Then we headed over to the Edible Landscaping booth for a talk by owner Michael McConkey about growing figs. You know, I hadn’t really considered growing figs before, but now I’m totally sold on the idea. He made it sound fun, but the bullet points were that the hardiest varieties (i.e. best chance of success locally) are ‘Chicago Hardy’ and ‘Celeste’, and they’d probably be happier if we sweetened up our acid soil for them with some lime.
Although the Heritage Harvest Festival would be worth attending at any location, it was not in just any location. We’ve toured Monticello a couple of times, but never during the growing season. So on our previous visits, at the end of the house tour, we’d just walk through the bare gardens and imagine what they’d be like in summer. Now we don’t have to imagine. I wish I had taken a picture of the lantanas trained as standards. One of them had a trunk about 2 or more inches in diameter. I’d love to start one, but don’t have a good place to keep it in the winter. Someday, when I get my greenhouse………but then again, how long would it take to grow one that big?
But anyhow, one of the neat things about touring gardens is discovering new plants. How many of you reading this know this plant?
I now know what it is because it was labeled, but if it hadn’t been labeled I’d still be in the dark. If you recognize it, please leave a comment. I’ll update this post with the name later. (Update: it’s Scarlet Pentapetes, Pentapetes phoenicia)
The vegetable garden at Monticello was mostly green in an end-of-the-season kind of way, but a few spots had been recently replanted to fall crops. The mature pumpkins and winter squashes in the garden emphasized the harvest theme. I wonder if the Monticello gardeners resort to 21st century methods to keep the squash vine borers away, or do they know some 18th century secret?
All in all, a very pleasant and informative experience, but as I was writing this I thought of an improvement I’d really like to see. Where I’m from in the Midwest, county fairs have extensive horticulture competitions where the gardening public raises and enters their best tomatoes, dahlias and just about anything else you can think of. I’ve written before about the Sandwich Fair in my home county, but if you missed those posts, here’s one photo from 2009. Sandwich is the name of the town, by the way. There’s no sandwich competition that I’m aware of, but hey, maybe they should have one.
|Mixed Vegetable Competition, Sandwich Fair, 2009|
In fact, here’s all the photos I took in 2009. (That’s why I didn’t attend the Heritage Harvest Festival in 2009 – I was back in Illinois to see the Sandwich Fair.)
To my knowledge there are no agricultural exhibits from members of the gardening public on this scale anywhere in Virginia. The county fairs have a very few poor exhibits, most from 4-H kids. Maybe the state fair (which I haven’t been to) has something good, but not any of the county fairs I’ve attended here. I’d love to see something like that added to the Heritage Harvest Festival. It wouldn’t even have to be a competition, just a tent or two where gardeners could show off their harvests.