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Tomato Trellis 101

30 May

Finally!  A tomato update!  I know I haven’t written about my babies in a while.  After weeks of waiting for the weather to settle down and for excavation of the side yard to be complete, they are finally in the ground and ready to spread their roots.  And none too soon; a lot of them were becoming root bound in their tiny pots.

Here is the new tomato patch after we turned the sod over, and right before we planted

Tomato enthusiasts the world over are constantly looking for a better support system than those flimsy wire cages that always end up overpriced and useless in the face of a big healthy indeterminate tomato plant.  Two years ago we made our own cages out of stray sticks, and that seemed to work well.  They were free, looked delightfully organic, and did the trick holding up the handful of plants I had.  Last year, we learned that stick tepees were no match for my insatiable lust for a bigger tomato patch.

In preparation for this year’s crop, I shopped around.  It’s kind of disgusting how many different pre-fab tomato support systems there are out there and the prices people are apparently willing to pay for them.  Being somewhat novice DIY’ers, Eric and I weren’t up to the task of mummifying the plants in chicken wire or wire fencing, but I did find something that caught my eye on both aesthetic and do-ability levels.  I watched an excellent video of a tomato trellis system and knew that would be my next tomato forest project.  It was simple enough in design and used supplies I knew I could get a hold of cheaply and could re-use for many years, and looks to be the best solution to the rambling heirloom varieties I like to grow.

One drill, 15 cedar poles, a shovel, a hoe, a ball of cotton twine, 30 tomato plants, and several hours later…

…We have the beginnings of what I hope will grow into a successful tomato forest!  There are five rows and in each row 6-7 plants.  The far right side of the patch is reserved for basil, peppers and eggplants if I can get my hands on something more interesting than the Black Beauty variety.  Through the haze of my tired sweaty exhaustion, I am incredibly excited for this year’s garden.

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A Rose by Any Other Name…

13 May

…would smell as sweet… Unless you’re me, and in that case, you can’t smell anything, so flowers just look pretty.  It’s been an exciting spring for me; watching green leaves unfurl and being witness to the first brilliant colors of the season coming and going.  My own garden is starting to take on a more polished appearance than just a yard full of overturned sod with the first bean and pea sprouts poking their heads up into the sunlight.  But the flower that fills me with the most joy and anticipation is always the simplest and the slowest to emerge.

As they say, “fortune favors the bold” and the truth of this statement is no less evident in a region where the weather can still turn frosty after a string of 80 degree days.  This bold little plant from Russia has favored me with the first flower of the season, and the promise that a sweet, tangy, juicy tomato is not so far in my future after all.

A home gardener’s dream come true!

5 May

There’s no greater joy to a small-time gardener than seeing their first seedlings poking out of the dirt.  Unless it’s after a long period of growth and finally the fruits of your labor are recognized.  I’m not talking about actual fruits yet, that’s a ways down the line.  No, I’m talking about seeing those first tiny buds, hearing their whispered promise of a bountiful harvest.  It’s hard to see (and even harder to photograph) but these are the first tomato flower buds of the season.  My Early Wonder plant has not disappointed yet.  It’s vigorous, healthy growth has made it one of my largest plants so far, and I was thrilled to see these buds even now, several weeks before I dare put the plants into the ground.  Needless to say, I’m super excited.

The Gardenator

29 Apr

Yesterday and today I didn’t go to the gym.  Instead, I spent some serious time in our young garden.  If chopping up sod for 3 and a half hours doesn’t count as a workout, I don’t want to know what does.  That was yesterday.  Our landlord may live to rue the day he suggested we plant a garden and likewise when he gave us the go-ahead to use any part of one side yard as long as we didn’t go into the other yard.  I’m someone who follows the mantra “Go big, or go home.”  When it comes to my garden.  We’re ripping the whole thing up.

This is the fruit of yesterday’s labor.  One 2 foot by 20 foot strip is now planted with purple pole beans, shelling peas, yellow wax beans, sugar snap peas, green beans, and space for Nasturtiums at the right side.  I’m actually quite proud of the trellis system I came up with to pretty up what was once an unused and ugly clothes line.  All the sod in the foreground is where my tomato babies are going.  If you’re wondering why you haven’t seen much of them lately, it’s because they are not taking well to being hostages inside.  Most of them are SO ready to get out into the ground, and some are fading a bit.

Here we see Eric digging.  His method is a little less precise than mine, and doesn’t remove all the sod, but is quicker.  Pretend you are looking at the yard from this perspective:  If you turn to your left, you will see the view above of the peas and beans.  It’s hard work turning over a whole yard’s worth of sod, but it’s extremely satisfying.  Plus, I knew I could get away with another day away from the gym.  With a break for ice cream in the middle of the afternoon, we turned this patch near the house into this:

(From right to left) Two rows of spinach, radishes, romaine lettuce, butter head lettuce, green onions, and chamomile, dill and cilantro in squares at the end.  The next project in store for us is the 20 foot by 20 foot patch for the tomatoes, peppers, basil and possibly a few eggplant if I can jam them in.  I suspect we will combine forces as well as sod-busting styles in order to achieve this goal, since it is a big area.  But we have time, and my tomatoes need to be patient.  In the future these garden plots will be sod-free, but for now I expect to invest every spare moment in my garden, and don’t mind the prospect of having to weed it out, especially armed with my new mini-claw cultivator tool.  Now I’m looking into flower gardening as the next step.  We have a patch of lillies (I think) that I want to thin out and maybe add something else to, but I’m also looking into flowers or groundcovers that might do well underneath our maple tree.

What’s everyone else growing?  Any suggestions on flowers for me would be much appreciated since I’m pretty much only a vegetable gardener and a novice with flowers!

Several Definitions of the Word “Pergola”

25 Apr

Wikipedia defines a pergola as “…a garden feature forming a shaded walk or passageway of pillars that support crossbeams and a sturdy open lattice, upon which woody vines are trained.”

My own home-grown foodie definition of a pergola is, “A structure on which to grow hops for the next generation of home brewers.”

The construction crew from left to right: Fawn, Gwen, Eric, Kevin, Dave (not pictured, Locke)

The Anderson Family (and extensions) defines building a pergola as, “An Easter weekend activity that is a whole lot of fun, involves lashing together bamboo poles, and somehow relates to beer.”

Oh How They Grow…

20 Apr

If you think I’m waxing nostalgic for my children, you’re sort of right.  Only, my kids are green and like to stay in the dirt long after everyone else has gone to bed.

I remember looking into my makeshift nursery on a chilly day in February and finding my tomato seedlings beginning to sprout their true leaves.  My joy at this sight is doubtless something any gardener can tell you about, but most gardeners time their plantings better than I do.  Now, two months later, I’m feeling overrun.

It’s balmy a high of 58 degrees for the week, and all I can think about is when I can get the damn plants out of the house.  A few have already suffered scalding from growing up into the lights, and I can only shuffle them around so many times until they are all just too tall.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled at how big and bushy most of the plants are.  It’s definitely the best crop yet, I’m just not thrilled with the idea that I have probably one more month before I can put them outside for good.  Until then it’s a risky waiting game.  Last year should have been a learning year for me.  The fact is, tomato plants shouldn’t be three feet tall before they even make it into the garden, but mine were.

I’m impatient.  My gardening habits are a clear indication.  I can’t wait until March to start my tomatoes.  6-8 weeks before the move outdoors is merely a suggested time-line when it comes to my little ones.  Sometimes they have flowers before they go into the garden, sometimes not, but it never seems to really speed up the process much.  Put my tomatoes in the ground alongside a store bought specimen, and they most likely will fruit at the same time, but that isn’t why I start early in the first place.

I just get so eager for that first sweet taste of spring, that I want to accelerate the process.  I was all geared up to put in peas and beans a week ago and then we got slapped with a few 30 degree and rainy days.  Since moving to a warmer climate like California or Florida where I can grow produce all year round is nothing but a sweet dream at this point, I will endure this test of patience, and admire my crop, however overrun it may be.

Baby’s First Outdoor Experience…

8 Apr

When I first told my mom I had brought my tomatoes outside for their first drink of sweet natural sunlight, she asked me if I had taken them for a walk around the block.  I love that imagery.  Also, I can totally see myself putting all the plants into a little red wagon and taking them for a stroll.  Yes, I am that crazy plant lady.

Unfortunately, we do not yet have a little red wagon, so basking in the afternoon sun on our small patio had to suffice.  It was a beautiful day, very little wind and sixty degrees.  Most of the plants enjoyed their sit with a long drink of water, but some aren’t doing so well.  It’s always about this point in the growing process that I kick myself for not keeping more plants.  Ce la vie, though, right?  If I hadn’t thinned them down when I did, there would be way too many to plant out in the garden.

I have my fingers crossed that I won’t need to do another round of potting up.  Tomato babies in big 14 inch pots are heavy.