First, here is what the main garden is looking like. (The video is uploaded but still being processed by YouTube as of 5:45)
Off to weed the garden!
The garden is growing like crazy, so it feels like a good time to go a walkaround update video...I decided to chop it up into pieces focusing upon different gardens or crops.
First, here is what the main garden is looking like. (The video is uploaded but still being processed by YouTube as of 5:45)
Next, a few interesting flowers blooming around the yard.
Now, on to the driveway garden, starting with the border Indeterminate tomatoes.
Now, onto the eggplant and peppers in large pots also growing along the border, near the Indeterminate tomatoes.
Now, on to the double row of hot and sweet peppers in the middle of the driveway - including the various Islander dehybridization plants. (The video is uploaded but is still being processed by YouTube as of 5:30 PM)
And, finally....here is the rest - a double row of experimental hot peppers, and the various Dwarf varieties in grow bags in the driveway. (This one has been uploaded but is being processed by YouTube, so will take a bit more time to go live)
That's a lot of updating....if you have any questions, post a comment or send an email!
Off to weed the garden!
So, right now it is 97 degrees, the heat index is approaching 110. I just came in from putting the finishing touches on my main garden....imagine that, still planting on June 28! That must be a record for me. Out went the scraggly, Japanese Beetle-eaten, wilted Asian greens, in went the last of the indeterminate tomatoes. Then I pounded in stakes...then tied...mulched...and watered.
Now, recovering with a nice bowl of watermelon and cantaloupe, it's a good time to summarize what's growing "out there". In the main garden: Front row of Dwarf project plants (12). Next row back - half row of basil (needing blossom cluster removal - and ready for the first Pesto batch of the year), two blueberry bushes (in the middle of harvest), and half a row of beans, where the last garlic was dug the other day.
Behind that - half row of beans that is now providing some harvest, two more blueberry bushes, and another half row of beans that germinated a week or so ago.
Next back, nine hills of summer squash and two of cucumbers. The two rows back from that are planted with potatoes, with healthy vines, some in blossom. Then, finally, the last two rows have indeterminate tomatoes.
The driveway is all tomatoes (both indeterminate around the edge, and dwarfs in the center), peppers (hot and sweet), and eggplant. With everything now planted, it is all about maintenance - tying, watering, mulching, feeding and harvesting. And, of course, documentation - meaning videos, pictures and notes.
Time for a nap!
Below are a few pictures of developing tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and eggplant, since things are starting to look pretty interesting in the driveway garden. Yesterday I harvested the rest of the garlic (the white porcelain German variety), which clears the way for more bush beans. We actually ate a small but delicious first picking of beans yesterday! Just simple preparation - blanch for 4 minutes, then a bit of butter and chives. (this is a big day, actually - our daughter Sara is off to Madagascar to work for the Peace Corps for 6 months. My wife and I hope to visit her while she is there!).
First row, above, left to right - Casper (a cross - dark fruited variant), Casper, and New York Improved.
Second row - one of my Islander selection project peppers, Lipstick, and Jimmy Nardello.
Third row - Cherokee chocolate, Sungold, and Tiger Tom.
And last but not least, the new addition to our family, Kip!
This makes four 4-legged creatures on our house. Moby, our 10 year old orange Tabby, is not thrilled with Kip at all (but Kip is just fascinated and wonders why Moby hisses instead of playing!). Buddy, our 6 year old Chocolate lab, is rather curious but dismissive. Mocha, our 5 year old Chocolate, initially thought Kip was a toy we brought home for her to play with (she kept pawing Kip and turning her over)...but when Kip started to chase Mocha around and demonstrate his claws, that was another story....what fun watching them all interact!
Another day, another run at triple digits, another day when it's hard to even think about doing gardening. But, tonight, water we did - just before our evening dog walk. I am very encouraged by what I see with the indeterminate tomatoes, for the most part. It looks like the first casualty is Stick - something nasty took it down, probably bacterial wilt. It is now a green stick with brown, dead foliage clumps.
The hot and sweet peppers and eggplant look great - I've got fruit set on most peppers and can start to make some good observations on my Islander sweet pepper de-hybridization project.
The dwarf tomatoes are another story. It is not possible to go through a season when everything goes perfectly - and amongst the 108 dwarf plants in grow bags in the driveway, a few problems are showing up. Still, for the most part, things look good, and most plants have open flowers or small fruit. The dozen in the front garden row are in perfect shape.
It won't be long before the first ripe tomatoes arrive - at this point, likely to be Mexico Midget, Green Doctors, Sungold, Variegated and Tiger Tom....with Cherokee chocolate and Speckled Roman the most advanced of the non-cherry types.
With the onset of summer - and attention moving from spring to summer harvests - it's a good time to reflect on successes and failures or disappointments to date...
Main garden preparation - I wish I had dug up and prepared the back (lettuce/greens) rows earlier, to get more harvest in before the heat and inevitable bolting.
Early garden layout - mixing beets, greens and lettuce in wide rows worked great. As usual, weeds come in quickly and I am not disciplined enough to keep up with them. Slugs were a bit of a problem as well.
Lettuce - I should have started the seeds earlier, but it was a good lettuce harvest, and I liked the mix of different varieties.
Beets - starting them inside then transplanting into plug flats worked spectacularly! We were delighted with an excellent harvest, and in fact, enjoyed the beet greens just as much as the beets themselves. I think I will skip Chioggia next year.
Red Russian Kale - it is easy and productive, but we just don't eat much of it, so this will be a pass for next year.
Swiss Chard Bright Lights - we ended up with 9 plants, which is about right - but it got a late start, so I will grow it in containers in the back yard next year. We love that first Chart Tart of the spring!
Radishes - spectacular failure for the second year. We end up with lovely tops, but only about 10% actually form decent radishes. I give up!
Asian Greens - just wonderful, but I over-planted. Broccoli Rabe (Italian, not Asian, of course) was a winner and I will plant more next year. Red Choi, Kotsume, Savoy and the Red and Purple Mustards worked great, and transplanted well. We ate lots of great sauteed greens. The only one I would skip is Magenta Spreen - took a long time to germinate and grew very slowly - and Upland Cress, which we didn't care that much for.
Garlic - planting it in the late fall and harvesting it in late spring/early summer the following year worked great - it was an easy, productive and trouble free crop. Ajo Rojo wasn't as vigorous, and the bulbs not quite as big, as German White....which we will focus on next year. A winner of a crop! Here it is in late June and we have lots of the German one to dig yet - they are nice and tall with great looking scapes.
Potatoes - They were easy to plant, and since they are just blossoming and still in vigorous top growth, I have no idea how they will turn out.
The next update will involve Summer Squash, Cucumbers, Basil, Bush Beans, and Tomatoes.....
It's so hot. It's been hot, and it looks like it is going to continue to be hot. This spells bad news, typically, for tomato plants...especially when heat and humidity are combined.
A few days ago I photo-documented all of my dwarf plants - they looked just great. Just about overnight, things started looking a bit more iffy. I can't say for sure, but there is clearly an instance of bacterial wilt, a bit of Fusarium wilt, and even worse, the tell tale sign of Tomato Spotted Wilt showing up here and there.
So, I guess things like that are inevitable...but always disappointing. Good thing I've got lots of plants! On the plus side....I've got really good fruit set on quite a few varieties, such as Speckled Roman and Cherokee Chocolate. The sweet and hot peppers and eggplant look great...and we are close to picking snap beans!
Today, as I work in the garden, my dad, Wilfred (represented in my driveway as Dwarf Wild Fred, a new Dwarf tomato variety), will be on my mind. My deep interest in gardening can be traced back to the many walks through various parks in Rhode Island with him when I was very young. He made sure to point out and name all sorts of flowers. He made sure that, even when we rented our apartments or houses, there was always some sort of garden, or at least a patch of flowers.
Later in life, I had the opportunity to give back to him in the form of heirloom tomato seeds and plants. He always had a small garden, but once he tasted ripe Cherokee Purples and Lucky Crosses, he made the same sort of conversion that I did, saying farewell to Better Boys, when in his 70s. His tomatoes were the talk of Sweet Avenue and Pawtucket Congregational Church. Just after he passed away in 2007, I found his garden diary, and was delighted in his record keeping, as well as the daily musings of someone who clearly loved what he was doing. He was a special man - a great father and husband, a gentle person with a wonderful sense of humor. Whenever I am out in the garden, or reading, or blogging, he is with me.
But that's only half of the story. I can sense the impact of good, healthy food and gardening on my own two daughters, Sara and Caitlin. Just as in my case, when the seeds my dad planted went dormant as I got on with my life (only to rediscover them after I was married), I can sense the same sort of reawakening in my girls. Sara and I did lots of digging and planting in the garden together this year. She made many wonderful meals with the bountiful beets and greens and squash, and is going to take some seeds with her to Madagascar, as she embarks on another 6 month Peace Corps assignment next week. Caitlin has some of my seedlings growing in pots at her house, and always looks forward to stealing my Sungolds and Mexico Midgets. She was, in fact, my first tomato taste tester (along with my wife).
So I am feeling very blessed, very fortunate, and very happy, with memories of a wonderful childhood, great parents, and, because of that, a special family of my own....with a lifetime passion that will keep me busy for the rest of my life.
Finally, I found the energy to dig holes and plant more tomatoes - these are toward the rear of the big garden, where the lettuce and beets grew early in the spring.
Here is what was planted today:
Ozark Cherry, Green Zebra Cherry, Tommy Toe, Red Zebra, Purple Haze, Reinhart's Red Heart, Malschor Isura, Kosovo, Isis, Large Lucky Red, Yellow Bell, Dr. Carolyn's Pink, Randy's Rusty, Caitlin's Lucky Stripe, odd string like foliage (a trait that pops up now and then in the Lucky Cross line), Randy's Brandy, Lillian's Yellow Heirloom
Just in front of that (it is a kind of double row)
Sungold, Yellow Pear, Caitlin's Lucky Stripe, Japanese Trifele Black, Stokes County Pink, Eva Purple Ball, White Queen, German Johnson, Striped Sweetheart, Amazon Chocolate, 1884 Purple, Green Giant, Hege German Pink, Randy's GRBL Cross, and Randy's Crimson
And a row in front of that:
Angora Orange, Reinhard's Green Heart, Portuguese Paste, Harmony Cherokee purple, Portuguese Heart, Reinhard's Chocolate Heart, Portuguese Beef, and Reinhard's Purple Heart. Once we are done with some greens and radiccio on that row, in will go Reinhard's Yellow Heart, Meme de Beauce, Irish Pink, Brad's Black Heart, Fish Lake Oxheart, Hay's, St. Colombe.
For the most part, the tomatoes are above are either for fresh seed or evaluation (new varieties to me, quite rare - or the result of recent breeding work by others). I am not going to be fussy with them or baby them, though I did fill the holes I dug with "good stuff" (Miracle Gro potting mix plus Composted cow manure). After that, it is mulch, stake, tie and water...and crossed fingers that the inevitable diseases stay away until I can get some fruit from each.
Today I also mulched two grow bags of potatoes (an experiment) - a few days ago I dug the rest of the Ajo Rojo garlic and planted a double row of bush beans. So, all in all, the garden is 90 plus % planted, and it is all about maintaining, documenting and picking.
We are now harvesting blueberries, garlic, squash, and cucumbers. The potatoes are flowering, as are the first row of beans. Basil is OK to pick. The tomatoes in the driveway are setting fruit, as are the sweet and hot peppers, and eggplant are blossoming. I've replaced a few Dwarf seedlings that didn't look happy, but all in all, a good start to the season, despite too many days in the 90s!
Since the summer of 2006, I've been immersed in one of the most enjoyable and interesting garden "projects" of my entire gardening experience. That was the year that an Australian friend, Patrina Nuske-Small, sent me seeds of some crosses she made based on a few conversations we had over the Garden Web site. When Patrina made the crosses, the International Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project was born (and little did we know how "big" it would get!).
But that's getting ahead of things. The "seed" of the project started when two of my ideas came together and then were shared with Patrina, who turned out to be really good at crossing tomatoes. Idea #1 - repeating the type of work that the Isbell seed company carried out in 1915 when they created a new variety called New Big Dwarf. Idea #2 - developing new, interesting tomatoes for people who were space challenged to grow - essentially bringing the variety of heirlooms to easier to grow, shorter, more compact plants.
First, a little background is needed. Most heirloom varieties with superb flavor and interesting colors are what are called indeterminate varieties - the vines grow until killed by disease or frost, which makes for monsters of plants. I've grown indeterminate tomatoes that exceed 15-20 feet tall. Sure, they are wonderful, but if someone wants to grow them on a deck or patio or driveway, dealing with the long vines are a real challenge.
A very few varieties came to prominence in the late 1800s that are very different - the so-called "dwarf" tomato varieties. They are clearly different looking from the very start, being much more compact and having dark green, crinkly (so called "rugose") foliage. The central stem is very stout and thick. The plants tend to top out at 3-4 feet tall, yet grow and bear fruit until frost, so only need a short stake or cage for control. But, unfortunately, the fruit size tends to be small, though the flavor is quite good. There were three varieties in existence back then - Golden Dwarf Champion (2-4 ounce yellow fruit), Dwarf Stone (4-8 ounce red fruit), and Dwarf Champion (2-4 ounce pink fruit), which had limited popularity due to the small fruit size.
Then, in 1915, Isbell did some work to get a better sized dwarf. They crossed Dwarf Champion with the largest indeterminate tomato known at the time, Ponderosa. Subsequent growing out of the cross, then selecting to get a stable non-hybrid variety led to New Big Dwarf - which I found located in the USDA seed collection. I requested a seed sample, grew it out, and was delighted to find that the fruit size approached 12 ounces, and the pink fruits were quite delicious.
So - what if we repeated that sort of project using some of the other large fruited indeterminates of various colors - thus hopefully finding a way to produce (eventually!) new varieties of good size and interesting colors and great flavor on nice, tidy short dwarf plants. This, then, was our goal - short plants that bear all season yet can be easily grown in medium sized containers with short stakes or cages, on patios or driveways or decks - in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes - but with great flavor an essential trait.
That's the back story of the project. In Part 2, I will tell you about the first set of crosses - how Patrina named them, what I found when I grew them out, and how we managed to involve so many people in the effort.
I have to admit to being concerned about the impact of so, so many 90 degree plus days on the health of the tomato plants this season. Excess heat seems to really bring on foliage diseases. Here's hoping the heat breaks (but the long term forecast doesn't say so, unfortunately).
Everything is looking good - I've still not gotten the rear garden indeterminates planted yet (maybe tomorrow, but it is too hot to work in the garden after I get home from work). Sara picked the rest of the beets today - it was a stellar harvest.
Most tomatoes, eggplant and peppers have blossoms, and some are setting fruit. A few plants look unhappy - a Snowy Dwarf F2 plant and a Wherokowhai F4 Dwarf plant look like they may be starting to battle Fusarium wilt...I have back ups ready to go. We could pick Bulgarian Carrot and Golden Cayenne hot peppers (in the green state) if we wanted to, but will let them ripen first. I also noticed that some of our potato plants are blossoming, so I may have to peek to see what is developing under the surface!