Isn't this ridiculous? Really - 105 degrees - and several days in a row? It makes you never want to pick up a hose again, following the all-out efforts to keep the plants happy in this horrendous, baking, over the top heat. Then the news starts talking about severe thunderstorms and the radar becomes ominous as the warnings issue.
But - no! The storms start to fall apart, and after the Red Sox game, a good night's sleep borne of the relief of no violent rain or hail or big wind gusts to make a mess out of everything.....
....Or was it a clean escape? This morning's trip down the driveway to collect the paper was depressing following the realization that though we received no benefit of rain, some distant storm-producing gusts of wind turned a few rows of my driveway garden into random stackings of green fruit-laden tomato plants. What a mess!
So instead of my planned Saturday - leisurely breakfast with Sue and the newspaper followed by an early hour of soaking all of the gardens - it was a full morning - 3.5 hour marathon of untangling the tipped plants, figuring out a way to get things at least stable enough to water, and concern of what I would find as I picked those plants up. This does eventually happen every year - I bite off too much, find myself overwhelmed and start ignoring - or at least delaying - some tasks that are really critical to keeping order in the driveway - tying when needed, topping and pruning to avoid plants that become too top heavy and kite-like in the winds.
But all will be well - it always is, even if harvesting tomatoes is complicated by a sort of wiring diagram - following stems to the ripe fruit to ensure I know what varieties I am picking! And of course, I am just one windy gust away from having to do it - or something similar, because no two pick up stick events are alike - all over again!
Well, it is nearly dinner time - and I don't think there is any escaping the need to top up the tomato plants with water this evening - it's another scorcher out there. And, yes, after a shopping errand, I already noticed that section of the driveway array that held on last night decided to tip this afternoon.....but that may have to wait until morning to be untangled!
See what I share with you - not only the successes, but the challenges, failures and frustrations! Why? Because I want you to know what gardening is really like - not some romanticized story of everything being wonderful all the time! And to let you know that even experienced gardeners feel like pulling their hair out often throughout any given season!
...as you can imagine, with the rather insane size of my garden (mostly in there being too many pots!), I am pretty much at it non-stop, which creates a lack of opportunity to do really useful blogging (sorry about that!). But there are some events coming along - so I wanted to share those....as well as what I am doing (briefly) - and a bit of info about the incredibly hot temps that are forecast for the Raleigh area the next few days.
First - events:
Sunday July 1 - I will be on Niki Jabbour's radio show The Weekend Gardener
(from Nova Scotia) answering tomato questions between 11-11:30. You can listen live at the link.
Sunday July 8 - I will be participating in A Southern Season cooking school
focusing on tomatoes, with Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farms and Marilyn Markel. These are really fun events and you can find more info and register here
_________________________________Zely and Ritz tomato dinners
- Here is the info circulated in a recent email
As we are now reaching the heat of the summer we are beginning to harvest TOMATOES
Take out your calendars, look at these dates and then let us know which dinners you wish to attend. If you are a relatively new diner at Zely & Ritz
, then you should know that the Tomato Dinners we serve each summer are generally sold out and are spectaculary delicious, informatinve and great fun for everyone.Tomato Dinner # 1 - Wednesday, July 18thTomato Dinner # 2 - Tuesday, July 24thTomato Dinner # 3 - Thursday, July 26thTomato Dinner # 4 - Wednesday, August 1stTomato Dinner # 5 - Tuesday, August 7thTomato Dinner # 6 - Thursday, August 9th
Finally - Tomatopalooza - the 10th Anniversary event!
We are having a planning meeting this coming weekend, and will be communicating much more info/details about the event, which will be held on Saturday, July 28 in Efland, NC. Watch this space for more!
OK - the heat! Wow - I don't think I've ever seen a forecast like the one that describes the upcoming week. For gardeners, it means taking some extra attention and care, but is not as dire as it sounds (unless you are not around for the week and your garden is not being tended!). It really is all about water. And if you got a late start and your tomatoes have yet to set fruit, the coming period will not be good for fruit set.
Here's what I am doing - watering each morning at around 8-9 AM - watering deeply (each container gets water to the point that it starts to come out the bottom) - and watering at the base of the plant. I water everything - all of my flowers, the big garden - paying close attention to beets and greens and beans in addition to the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Then around 1-2 PM, I will venture out and see how things are going - if the soil seems to be getting dry and the plants beginning to show real stress (wilting), I am spot watering the pots - and not lingering long to see what may be ripening....just a dash out there to make the rounds with the hose. When the sun starts to go down and some shade starts appearing, I do another check to see if the plants have sufficient moisture to make it to the next morning....if not, a bit more spot watering.
What you probably should avoid is getting the foliage on tomatoes, peppers and eggplant wet - hence the bottom watering. The problem with fruit-laden tomatoes suffering long dry spells (severe wilting) is the promotion of blossom end rot on the unripe fruit - the black, sunken region that really does render the fruit inedible (though OK for seed saving).
What this coming hot spell may also promote in some of your gardens is the onset of more systemic disease such as Fusarium and Bacterial Wilt (whole branches of the plant going bright yellow - Fusarium - or brown - Bacterial - and wilting). Fusarium isn't necessarily a death knell for the plant - I've had a few this year with only one stem affected, and the rest of the plant fine. Bacterial Wilt is death for the plant, though - and any plants that are infected should be removed (and the foliage NOT composted).
If anyone has concerns and questions, email me
and I will get you an answer as quickly as I can.
Whew....off to the Raleigh Farmers market to seek out melons and berries!
...by the way, we are just starting to pick some ripe tomatoes...the really big fellas will probably start coming by July 10 or so. But we should be awash in Mexico Midgets and Sungolds within the week!
AND.....Tomatoville was down for about 24 hours - it is back up and working fine.
Tomatoes are starting to trickle in.....keeping things healthy/well watered is a challenge and it is about to get worse as we ger ready for a block of 100 plus degree days! Anyway - keep cool and watch the vids below!
All of that hard work - seeding, transplanting, digging, bleaching, purchasing (hard on the wallet!), planting, lugging, tying, weeding, fretting, watering, feeding, spraying (some of us, anyway)......and for much of these steps they are never really done - many of them are repeated, some quite often.
But - we are in late June, approaching July. The plants are loaded with flowers, and many of those flowers already set fruit - so the plants could also be loaded with tomatoes, or peppers, or eggplant that are rapidly getting bigger. We are nearly at the time of the garden cycle when we reduce our dependency on trips to the Farmers Market and start picking our own. This is why we put ourselves through this - we are nearly there!
Just a quick report - the lettuce is now gone (whatever hadn't bolted was consumed by the groundhog, it seems). We are harvesting beets (and beet greens, of course, which we like even better than the beets themselves)...summer squash/zucchini, blueberries and a very few early cherry tomatoes (Mexico Midget, Sungold Select II - which seems to be red, not gold - indicative of remaining instability; Sungold, Ambrosia Orange), eggplant (from the plant we kept alive over the winter in the garage), basil, chard, and kale. There are also some small hot peppers which are perfectly usable, though they are not yet full sized. I've noticed fruit set on Spaghetti Squash and, perhaps, a cantaloupe. The beans that were not damaged by the groundhog are getting ready to flower. Pretty much all pepper, eggplant and tomato plants are flowering and most have set fruit. My bet for the first large size ripe tomatoes - Giant Syrian (already coloring up - and it is a one pounder at least), Hege's German Pink and German Johnson.
My tomato plant losses are holding at around 10 plants - a few with Fusarium wilt, a few with Tomato Spotted Wilt, a few with Bacterial Wilt. The spread of Septoria and/or Early Blight seems to have slowed down considerably. I went out this morning with my big ball of twine and tied up eggplant and peppers and a few about-to-flop tomatoes.
On tonight's menu - Chard (and Beet Greens and Kale) Tart with steamed summer squash. From the garden!
Another good day....weeding the beans, watering everything, taking pictures of all of the dwarf tomatoes - then later this afternoon, spot watering the tomatoes that seemed to be drying out the most quickly. One really unusual thing that's been going on for a week or so - Honeybees swarming and gathering near the drainage holes in some of my pots. I guess they are thirsty! It is good to see them, and we keep out of each others' way just fine.
Overall - the lettuce is about done, the chard and kale and beets and blueberries are in their prime, the squash is coming in, the beans are starting to blossom....and we are just a few weeks away from the tomato onslaught! After that will be peppers and eggplant. We are starting to gather our summer garden cooking recipes in preparation!
Here's just a few pics - the state of the driveway garden, the thirsty bees, and some of the dwarf tomatoes that are soon to ripen.
Sometimes you just need to accept that you are going to get sweaty and dirty and hot and go with it - and that is just what I did today. Tasks tackled - weeded one row of beans (hope to do a few more tomorrow - slow and steady is the key!), watered and fed everything in the driveway, sprayed a bit of dilute Sevin on eggplant and pepper plants that were getting chewed, replaced a hot pepper that wasn't doing well, and tied up all of the dwarfs to the stakes (they were starting to flop a bit). I also did some tomato plant height measurements (I am collecting data on growth rate of indeterminate, determinate and dwarf varieties for comparison), and did detailed observations (spoken into my recorder) on all pepper and eggplant plants.
Like I said....Whew!
I was joined throughout the day by a variety of buzzing things - different types of dragonflies, moths, butterflies - and, most unusually, by loose swarms of honeybees, congregating around the drainage holes of some of my driveway pots.
Overall I have to say I am delighted with how things are growing....nearly everything has at least buds, most have open blossoms, and there are developing fruit everywhere - most tomato plants have little (some pretty big!) tomatoes, the hot peppers are forming - even a few small eggplant are peeping through the calyx.
and.....the first ripe tomato! Mexico Midget. As usual....yum!
Tomorrow - watering (of course), maybe a few tomatoes sprayed with some dilute Daconil (to stave off fungal diseases like Early Blight and Septoria), a bit more weeding of the bean rows. That should keep me good and busy - and hot and dirty!
The word of the rest of the season is WATER! Particularly for those who are growing tomatoes in containers, it is really important to ensure that you pay attention to your plants and ensure that they have sufficient water. It is natural - and inescapable - that plants will wilt a bit during hot afternoons when they are getting beaten on by the sun (unless you have a good drip irrigation system). But....it isn't enough to water weekly, or assume that a passing shower does the trick. Vigorously growing tomato plants are thirsty beasts - and if there are green developing fruit on the plant, insufficient watering can lead quickly to blossom end rot - black spots on the blossom end - which of course ruins the tomatoes.
My plan for this season is to water deeply in mid afternoon daily. For example, I watered yesterday at around 3 PM. It is just a bit after 3 today, and sun is shining, the temps are in the mid 80s - and the tops of the plants are starting to droop a bit. So after I dash off this blog entry, I am off to pick up the hose and get to work and provide the necessary drink for the plants.
If you have plants growing in good garden soil, daily watering will likely not be necessary due to the far greater water holding capacity of a large garden. Let the plants tell you when they are thirsty - look at them a few times during the day and watch for the wilting tops of the plants.
As far as overwatering - if you are growing in containers using good loose potting mix amended with compost and have drainage holes, it is literally impossible to overwater a tomato. If, however, you are planting in garden dirt that is very rich in clay and the drainage is poor, you can easily suffocate (drown) a plant. In that case, during a season with normal rainfall, weekly may indeed be sufficient.
Off I go to work the driveway with the hose!
There are always two trains of thought on Fathers Day - my experiences as a son, and of a father. My dad has been gone for 5 years, but still lives close within me for the many things he taught me, shared with me and gave to me. When I step out in a few minutes to water my garden, I will be sure to check the tomato he named Big Willy (I assume after himself)....it was in a seed packet my wife found when we prepared their house to sell in 2008. Last I looked, it was just setting fruit. Whenever I work in the garden, my dad is never very far away.
Today's been a splendid day - after sharing a blueberry/blackberry Dutch Baby with Sue, I set out to Kayak on Falls Lake with my daughter Caitlin. It was a perfect kayaking day and there was much to see.
Later on, my other daughter Sara will arrive - we are going to work on the table of contents for my book, then she will cook us dinner. I am not sure what it will be (though will likely involve seafood - and there will be a Blueberry Betty for dessert with homemade vanilla frozen yogurt). And a nice bottle of wine.....
I am very fortunate to have had such a great father, and to have such great girls. Happy Fathers' Day to all dads out there!
Yesterday's blog entry was pretty wonky and wordy - and really not all that easy to understand without some pictures. So here we go - it was a good morning to take some pics to show what I was referring to....and these different characters are quite variety specific - for seed savers, if you know what it should be, you can spot when it isn't!
Stem color variation in eggplant - varies from green, to variable shading with brown or lavender to shades of purple or brown.
Leaf color variation in eggplant - different shades of green, different shapes, shadings of purple that vary - and note the leaf veins - pale nearly white, shades of green, shadings of brown or lavender to dark purple throughout.
Flower variations - the calyx can be green, shaded with variable levels of brown or lavender, to dark purple - and be smooth or spiny!