Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Tomatoes Are In

On deck supply, July 29, 2012
      The success of my gardening year is totally dependent on the quality of the tomato harvest.  As long as it is a good tomato season, everything is okay.  If I could plant only one crop in my garden, it would be tomatoes.  If I could plant only two, it would be tomatoes and more tomatoes.  I know the tomato season is in when there are more tomatoes on the porch than we can currently eat.  Or when I can give away some tomatoes because there are more in line.  There are enough now to start freezing some.  So although I am complaining about the heat, I should actually be thankful for the tomatoes.

      When you want a lot of tomatoes, you have to plant a lot of plants.  This is the tomato section in the back garden with two rows of 17 plants in each row.  I have learned my lesson to stake and desucker tomato plants in order to get tomatoes that you can find.  A plant on the ground with lots of slug eaten tomatoes is not a thing of beauty.

        Same two rows of plants, but from a different angle.  The two tomatoes in front are Cherokee Purples, one of my favorites.  But so are the Brandywines, Black Krims, Chocolate Cherries, Yellow Jubilees, Marglobes, and many others in the garden.  Note the row of peppers growing in front of the tomato plants to take advantage of the sun at the base of the plants.

Closer shot of the Cherokee Purple

      We actually had rain the other night.  One point one inches in fact!  What a blessing.  These are some clumps of unripe Chocolate Cherries the morning after.

And a volunteer cherry tomato plant

      And these are the Glacier Tomatoes, an extra early tomato that is supposed to ripen in 55 to 60 days, and does.  And has a pretty good tomato flavor to boot.  They are rather prolific, and got the season off to a good early start.  Yet they are still producing heavily now, and make a very good salad tomato.  I will be saving some seed for next year.

      This tomato jungle is what results when you let the plants grow on their own.  Lots and lots of branches, and tomatoes on the ground that are hard to find.  I usually end up cutting off the first six or eight branches at the bottom of the plant, keeping only the central leader.  This is what the same plants look like just minutes after a good trim:

      The critters have done a lot of damage this year to the fruit on the vines.  In this dry summer, even hard green tomatoes are being eaten for their moisture.  And not just bird pecks.  Big chunks of tomatoes gone in short periods of time.

A now worthless Dr. Wyche tomato

Two Brandywines, lost before their prime
      So this summer I have been picking tomatoes just as they start to ripen, as they get that first tell tale color change.  I would rather have vine ripened tomatoes, but you see the results above of waiting too long to pull the tomatoes from the vine.  The very first picture shows the tomatoes ripening on the porch, and they taste just fine.  I will let the tomatoes ripen on the vine at my park plot, as there are thousands of tomatoes there to satisfy lots of critters.  I expect to get at least some vine ripened fruit there.
      But so far, so good.  The tomatoes are in!!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Potato Experiment

      I have grown potatoes for several years.  Or I should say potatoes have been growing in my garden for several years, as both a white and a purple potato come back every year from potatoes that I have missed, yet overwinter to grow on in the spring.  There have never been good yields, and the potatoes have often had small little bug holes.  Not a crop that has showered me with great harvests.  So I was a bit surprised when a gardening and fish keeping friend, Lee Harper, stated that his most successful crop was potatoes.
      That statement started me to wonder if maybe I should give potatoes one last real try before giving up on them.  Early this spring, Lee said that he was going to buy seed potatoes, and would buy some for me.  So now, I could try one last time, using magic seed potatoes.  Lee said he puts in about five pounds, so I figured, what the heck, I will try two pounds.  He proceeded to buy me two pounds, I paid him the $1.50 total cost of my purchase, and took possession of my FOUR lovely Kennebec potatoes.  Four.  Well it was only an experiment without high expectations.
      It was "too this" or "too that" for me to plant them right away, so the potatoes sat around for probably ten days before I finally cut then into pieces of about one inch square.  The mother potatoes were eyed up nicely, so each little cube potato had at least one eye.  I had read that you are supposed to let the pieces harden up the cuts before planting, so I put them aside in the shade for awhile.  And then a little while more.  Probably a little more than a little while, more like three days.  Enough time to shrivel them up, but the cut places were certainly dry.
      When I finally did get around to planting the eyed pieces, I hoed a shallow two inch deep trench down the middle of a three foot wide bed.  Put in the pieces about four inches apart from each other.  Covered them.  Then waited.  Waited some more.  Meanwhile the overwintered potatoes had done it again, and I was getting potato plants in two other parts of the garden.  Finally after a couple of weeks, I spotted a Kennebec sprout, then another and another.  I piled some leaf mold around the plants when they were about one foot tall, and had great intentions of piling on more leaf mold as the plants got bigger.  Never happened.  They did get bigger, and overran my path.  As a matter of fact, the plants looked to be about twice as big as the volunteer plants.

Kennebec potato patch,  July 19th, 2012
      A combination of factors made me decide to harvest the patch yesterday.  One, it was looking pretty scraggly.  Two, it had covered the path that you can see at the top of the photo.  Three, I did not want the voles to get more potatoes than I got.  And four, I just couldn't wait any longer to see what was down there.

      I started harvesting by just pulling up the plants.  Eureka!  Real potatoes.  Potatoes that actually look like potatoes.  In the first couple of pulls, I find three potatoes chomped by voles, but I have more than they have.  The harvest broke down like this:

Three for the voles

      These are the little potatoes that probably would have enjoyed some more growing time had I been more patient.  Looks like a nice bunch for frying in butter with some fresh sweet peppers for breakfast.

      This is the pile of potatoes that I had to work for, digging up the patch with a dull hoe while trying not to slice potatoes.  Worked up quite a sweat.  But when added to the potatoes that came up easily while pulling the plants, it resulted in a great harvest:

      Thank you Lee Harper.  I would like to put in my order now for seed potatoes for next spring.  Maybe four pounds.  And yes, the overwintered volunteer potatoes are still pretty scrawny.  Only the good seed will be allowed to grow next year.

      I moved the potatoes down to the basement where it is a little cooler and they will be out of the sunlight.  There were six more potatoes, but they have been taste tested.  And passed with flying colors.  All in all, a good return from a start of four seed potatoes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Volunteer Squash

      Most gardening literature suggests that one should not save seed from the cole family or the squash family, as the seed will probably produce some kind of undesirable cross.  I have grown volunteer squash in the past that have produced scary gourd like monster squash.  I have even suggested to fellow gardeners that they not waste the time or space on squash volunteers in their gardens.  So why did I let three plants grow on in my garden?

Volunteer squash,  July 18th, 2012
      Two of the plants came up in the area where I grew white Casper pumpkins last year.  This space is a bed between my garden and my neighbor's yard, kind of a no man's land.  I figured I could let the plants grow as a ground cover.  Should be better than weeds.  This morning I had a big harvest:

      Six beautiful patty pan squash!  I had patty pan last year in another part of the garden, so apparently one seed made it through the winter.  And came up true.  There is a second plant behind this first monster that I also allowed to grow, again hoping for pumpkins.  Turns out that plant looks like a true mesa acorn squash.  There is a third plant that I moved from the area of last year's acorn squash, hoping it too will be an acorn.  The plant suffered from the move in the 90 degree plus heat, but has survived.  Watch that one turn out to be a pumpkin!  The patty pan were too many to carry, so I put them into one of my handy do everything containers.  Looked kind of eerie.

      Will I let volunteer squash plants grow up next year?  Guess it depends on where they choose to sprout.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Week Away From Gardening

      We just had our week at the beach in Lewes, Delaware.  A total of eleven of us.  In one house.  And then a total of fourteen when my brother and his wife visited with their grand daughter.  So my early morning walks at sunrise were a pleasant way to unwind.

      It was nice to be away.  A great family tradition.  But it is nice to be home as well.  With my gardens.  Which did fine without me.  Now there is a lot to do to catch up.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Artichoke in Flower

Artichoke, July 6th, 2012
      I left the smaller chokes on the plant go to flower so I could see what it would look like.  What a beauty!   Still dangerous to touch with the thorny petals.

      There are another three smaller chokes still to perform.  Maybe this one will still be open when the others decide to bloom.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bellevue Park Community Gardens

      This will be my fourth year for working my plot at Bellevue State Park.  I am a mere newbie, as some gardeners have been there since the breaking of ground 28 to 30 years ago.  The plots are 40 feet by 20 feet, and water is available by frost free spigots every 80 feet.  There are a total of 178 plots, with another seven or eight smaller plots.  I started over at the park to be able to have a veggie garden in full sun.  On these 90 degree days, it is more pleasant to garden in my partially shaded garden in the back yard.

Bellevue Park  -   July 3, 2012
       There is a Pin Oak lined drive to the left side of the barn that separates the two groupings of garden plots.  My plot is nearly in the middle of all the plots on this section closest to Interstate 95.  That is at times a drag to have to haul soil improvements into the middle, but probably lessens the pilferage from both two legged and four legged beasties being more comfortable around the edges.

Looking north to the sign to Philadelphia
More views of the extensive gardens

My garden, on the 40 foot side

      Here is a patch of swiss chard ready for some harvesting.  Lou's nephew planted his first garden this year, and planted the chard too thickly.  These are thinnings from his bed, to go along with two smaller plantings here and a larger bed at home.  Now I am the one with too much chard.  But since the squirrels ate my Bright Lights chard starts down to nothing, more is better than none.  The glass in the picture is actually a stack of most of the glass panels for my extensive cold frames at the park.  I am very happy to be able to store them all in such a small space.

      These pepper plants are off to a good start.  Most people have difficulty with peppers at the park, as the plants usually wilt and die at some point.  So it is a challenge to see if I can get a good crop.  All of my peppers were started by seed back in January, so it is already one success so far.

      The rest of the peppers at the park.  These were all extras after I planted 16 plants at home of eight different varieties.  A few plants have not even made it into the ground yet.  Usually there are losses at planting time.  This year I have lost only two plants, and have my first volunteer pepper plant.  That is a little sweet banana pepper in the above shot.

      What is this growing between the chard bed and the north side of the compost pile?  A couple of volunteer mustards, with the rest being arugula.  Did you read that Barb?  Arugula in the heat of July.  It is doing quite fine in the shade of the compost pile.  I have not seen any arugula start from the many places I threw seed pods.  But this planting must have resulted from some seed stalks that spent too much time on top of the pile before being cut into compost size pieces.  Maybe I will try to transplant some, or I may leave the patch as is just for snitching when I am at my garden.

Volunteer sunflower

      All of these pictures were taken around 5:45 AM this morning, during my attempt to beat the heat.  Is a sunflower really a sunflower before the sun is up?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sunny Sunday, July First

Backyard garden, July 1st, 2012

Tetraploid day lily

Lily and phlox

Pink phlox

White phlox

Six foot African daisies

Volunteer sunflower

Tranquility, before the day's heat

Bicolor day lily

Rose campion


      It is the first of July and it should be hot and  humid.  The yard should be a monotone dull green fading to brown.  Well I can't control the weather, but I can throw color at the boring green palette.  Have a beautiful first of July!