Hello Fellow Fearless Urban Farmers,
Oy! What a couple of month we have had. The weather just has not cooperated this year at all. Unfortunately this calls for some real garden fortitude and some planning for next year.
As noted in past Garden exchange blogs, March is a dangerous month to plant tomatoes, the weather is too variable and I always suggest to friends to be patient and wait until early April. Well, that advice was as worthwhile as a politicians promise this year. I prepped my beds, went merrily out to Green Thumb in San Marcos and purchased 10 plants and got ready to plant them. I found one plant dead the next day , but planted the other nine ( this was in the first week of April). The weather immediately decided to chill out, with night time temps dipping into the 40’s up on top of the hill here on Fire Mountain. The tomatoes did nothing good. They withered and developed black patches on the laterals and main stems. I yanked 8 of 9 out and waited until May to replant. There are two thing to take away from this, one is that once a plant fails to go into a major growth mode you should trash it immediately and replace it. I learned this long ago when I was a budding Rosarian, the experienced growers from around the country were unanimous about discarding failed plants. They may come back, but they will be pale shadows of productive plants. The second thought is to consider your source of plants. Most nurseries are now carrying exotic heirloom varieties of all sorts of plants, but I am I am thinking they are raising them in the usual industrial manner. I think even your weirdo tomatoes are being force fed and light tortured to produce a salable plant, which will inevitably succumb to the shock of over stimulation. I am pretty sure that that made my tomatoes more susceptible to weather variations. My plan for next year is to use my own seeds and make starters.
This is really simple to do, you need a couple of nursery flats and a bag of potting mix. Myfavorite way is to cut the tray in half with a table saw, band saw or knife and slide one half over the other making a 6 ” x 12″ mini flat, hold it together with a couple of plastic wire ties or string and put a piece of newspaper in the bottom to keep the potting soil in. Fill with soil and add seeds of whatever you want. I do beets, cukes, lettuce, radishes, tomatoes and egg plants this way with great success. Go on the web and buy seeds from one of the myriad killer seed suppliers like Victory ( I personally eschew majors like Burpee, or buying seeds at Home Depot or Lowe’s just because these small guys are out on the margin protecting out vegetable heritage and they aren’t in bed with Monsanto and the like making non reproducible seeds), just type in Heirloom or heritage seeds in your search engine and you will find years of reading and such cool stuff. The seed packs always have more seed than we need, so I share and exchange. You could get together with a few friends and preplan your purchase and divvy everything up.
That being said, my property is on the east side of the ridge just past Yucca off FMD so I am protected from much of the coastal wind. This yearI tried a couple of new winter plants, a purple broccoli which failed to produce heads, but did produce a plethora of small little edible florets. The plants were magnificent, huge leafy things, but essentially I was growing compost. I also grew Brussels Sprouts for the first time. They work! We have dined on ‘just as good as Trader Joe’s’ Brussels Sprouts frequently this spring. These too are huge plants, but they had a lot of sprouts, they need food, water, and room. It was fun for us to eat our ‘home grown’ for the first time.
So now the garden is coming along, once again I planted about 16 Kentucky Wonder green beans on climbing trellis’ , I should know better after the bounty of last year (check out the Garden Exchange blog archive), but I love them fresh, steamed and pickled. I love sharing them with friends who don’t have the space I have. It is so much fun to be able to drop off a head of lettuce or a bag of beans or tomatoes to our neighbors old and young. It’s neat to have your friends with little kids come over and see a tomato on the vine and let them pick it and eat it in the garden. So I over plant, but I never waste it. The second crop of tomatoes is in and apparently thriving, I have egg plants, a summer lettuce crop under shade cloth, and cukes from my own seeds just starting. While it may be a little late to start seeds for some crops now (again check the Garden Blog and Charles Ledgerwood’s advice for us) think about next year. If you go to a nursery or store, don’t be shy about pulling a plant out of it pot to check the roots, if there are a ton of roots bound up that plant is a poor prospect for a producer, pick another.
Since this is now just an occasional rant, let me remind you that soil improvement = production. The no effort way is to buy stuff from Home Depot and mix it in with your soil, but as you read on my blog last year there are many better alternatives, the best being composting your own kitchen and yard waste. I have been planting all of my new veggies in a shovel full of our own compost. I built a small two bin compost box two years ago and I fill one side then the other, the first side is now yielding some of the best compost I could imagine, I could wax poetic, but I shall keep that to myself.
Get out there, there is nothing like your own fresh,clean veggies.