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Archive for the ‘The Farming Adventure’ Category

I’m sure it is somehow my fault, but this has been a weird year in my garden,  to wit:

I harvested my first tomatoes at the end of June, and I have yet to pick a single squash or bean.  Soooo bizarre.

Look:  Tomato:

And my beans:

Look up at the top of the image- this one is only now sending the first climbing tendril out.  What is up, beans?

Well, actually I’m pretty sure it is because my tomatoes look like this:

while my beans are lost in the weedy mire off to the right and they look like this:

At least they did.  Yesterday I spent a hot, sweaty hour doing some weeding and mulching, which is why that first bean looks so pleased.  I think they will be much happier.   At least they better be, ingrates!

And while I have yet to harvest a zucchini, I will very, very soon.  This 8-Ball looks almost ready…

I have to confess.  The weed situation is OUT OF CONTROL.  It is not easy to reclaim a garden not used for 5 years.  The tomatoes got the earliest TLC, while everything else languished.  The squash, peppers, and eggplants are in bad shape still.  And the weather has been hot, hot, hot these last few days, so I haven’t been able to spend more than half an hour out there during any given block of time.  This is the crunch time, I suppose.  When the weeding and the trellising and the pruning and the harvesting all smashes into you at once and you think WHY O WHY DO I DO THIS?!  Then you eat your first sauteed zucchini or bowl of green beans and you go “oh yeah…”

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Anyone who lives in New England remembers what last summer was like.  May was cold and wet.  June was cold and wet.  July was wet and cold.

The only thing that I grew that did well was potatoes, and several things just up and died like my eggplants and corn and lima beans and okra.  Admittedly, most of that was probably due to neglect, but the cold weather certainly didn’t help things.  It was a challenging year to grow hot-weather crops, and combined with the late blight that spread quickly and wildly all over the eastern US, it spelled disaster for a great many Solonaceae.   Our CSA had an embarrassingly small tomato crop last year, but we were luckier than some neighbors, who had to pull up their entire tomato crops.

I was certainly a little nervous to be growing primarily crops that need lots of hot, sunny weather to thrive, but I didn’t need to.  This has been a GLORIOUS spring and summer for hot crops.   Lots of days of very hot (for up this way, at least…) weather, full sun, and the occasional soaking rain.  It’s been wonderful, and my plants are very happy because of it.

ALL of my tomatoes are fruiting, the big standout being the Arkansas Travelers, who have set a truly startling amount of fruit, even so early.  And yesterday I noticed the first ones making the change from bright green to mild yellow.  I’ll be seeing red soon!

The ones that will ripen first are the Sungolds, of course.  We’re supposed to have hot, sunny days for the rest of the week.  If I get lucky, I’ll be picking the first of these by the end of the week, I bet.

The biggest tomato so far is actually on a surprising plant- one of the last ones that went in the ground.  These little guys are still quite short- just under 2 feet (the vast majority are up to about 3.5 ft high at this point!), but this Black tomato is biiiiig.  I was tempted to pick it off green, since I should be letting this plant put energy into growing, not setting big fruit, but I couldn’t help myself.  I want this one to ripen- and ripen early!

(I know, I know…I shouldn’t be touching wet tomato plants- but this was the only one that got handled and then I left the garden!)

Other things are happy, too.  Check out my Serrano Peppers!  These guys have grown like crazy over the past two weeks, and are dripping with flowers and eeny little peppers.  These are the biggest of all of them.

And my first potato flowers!  YAYYYYYY!  I cannot WAIT for fresh potatoes!  Soon, my sweets…soon…

Someone’s been gnawing on them…haven’t seen any buggies on these though- guess I need to take a closer look.

How’s about all that GREEN!?  Isn’t it glorious?  How’s the weather in your neck of the woods?

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Glad I didn’t suck it up and cram another tomato in to make an even 90, because one up and decided to kick the bucket anyway- so I would have been back to 89.

No idea what happened here- one day it was as happy as the neighbors, lots of blossoms, strong growth- one of my better plants, in fact.  And now it looks like this:

This all happened over the course of about 4 days.  On Saturday morning I noticed he was looking a little droopy, so I gave him a good watering.  Perked up, but by the end of the day was sad looking again, even though all the others next to him were happy as ever, without a drop of irrigation.   I stopped at that point- no use worrying over a plant that can’t hold it’s own.  By Tuesday morning he looked like this.  Bye bye- we hardly knew ye!  

And the strange part is- it is the only one.  The only one in the whole garden that isn’t doing well (or at least holding steady- apologies to those little guys I just threw in the ground so recently…).   The tomatoes on either side are chugging along, nary a wilted leaf or droopy flower in sight.  No idea what happened to him.  A garden mystery!  Any guesses?

(UGH.  I wrote this post last week and somehow forgot to publish it, and yesterday I found ANOTHER tomato doing the same thing- and this one with two big, lovely fruits on it!  WHAT IS HAPPENING?!  And the one picture above is now almost invisible and gone.  It is TOTALLY dead)

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Last night I did some much-need upkeep in the garden.   Unfortunately that upkeep was infanticide, as it was high time to thin my zucchinis and give the tomatoes a haircut.

I hate this task- pulling up little babies that I’ve cultivated with such care (or, you know, the ones I unceremoniously crammed into the soil and forgot about until they peeked up), especially when they seem so vigorous!  I’m growing three varieties of Zucs this year- 8 Ball (my personal fave), Cashflow, and Plato.  Never grown the second two, so we’ll see how they do.  So far I have NOT been impressed with the Cashflow, which had awful germination.  With the other two, about 85% of my seeds came up- Cashflow was about 40%.   In fact, in several of my hills (in which three seeds were planted) I didn’t have ANY germinate and I had to transplant a baby from another hill.  Transplanting squash is a big no-no, of course, especially when you are digging one out and moving it.  They don’t like to have their roots bothered.  I dug my spade in as far as it would go and dropped the whole plug o’ dirt into the hole that I made.  So far they are all doing ok, but do look a bit puny.   Hopefully they hang on…

I did end up pulling out more than half of the other two varieties, though, which was heartbreaking.  They were doing so well…AH WELL!  Culling is a necessary task of a gardener, and I know the plants I left will benefit as well.

I also did major pruning of all my tomatoes.  They’ve been in for quite a while now- long enough to grow some strong and impressive suckers.  I was cutting off branches that had flowers on them, even!  I just kept repeating my mantra of the day “it’s for the best, it’s for the best, it’s for the best…”  Trimmed plants are happy plants!  And I know what it will be like if I wait until they are bigger- I remember trimming the tomatoes at the CSA I volunteered at that hadn’t been touched (or trellised) for nearly two months- it was a nightmarish tangle of tomato vines- and all the plants were weaker.   I know I won’t have time to fiddle with these damn things in the height of summer- so they get their first haircut early!  I’m trying to train them all to two main growing branches, and I feel good about starting early.

Here are some pics!

These are the Arkansas Travelers.  They’ve set an impressive amount of fruit already!  The largest is the size of a golf ball.

Azoychka- the big, yellow Russian variety, though I can’t imagine it is large enough yet to support a big fruit.  Perhaps I should pick this one off so it focuses energy on leaf and stem growth?

And the reliable Sungold:

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So here’s my big, dark gardening secret:  I hate tomatoes.  I mean I loathe them.   I think they are the most repulsive, awful thing in the world.  And oh my, do I hate myself for it.  I want to like them so badly.  They are so beautiful, and healthy, and versatile.  They are easy to grow and a dream to cook with.  And I am so jealous of those of you who love them.  Every year I promise myself “This is the year!  This is the year I will learn to love tomatoes!”  And, alas, it never comes true.

I just think they’re gross.  The texture, the flavor- it doesn’t matter how they are prepared.  Fresh off the vine, cooked to nothingness in a sauce, sun-dried…hell, I don’t even like ketchup!  But I grow them every year, because how can you not grow tomatoes?!  Usually it’s 2 or 3 plants, but then I tell the chef at an Italian restaurant that I’ll grow a garden for him…

We have, and I finally planted the last of them yesterday, 89 tomato plants (Yes.  The unevenness of that number makes me cringe- I think I’ll have to cram an odd one in somewhere just so I can say 90).  EIGHTY NINE.  That is so many tomatoes…so many.  They are still small now, but I know in a month I’ll be out in that garden cursing and weeping as I try to keep up with the trimming and the trellising and the horn worms.  But my screams will not be heard as I am lost forever in a tomato forest!

Anyway, I’m digressing!  When Jeff asked what varieties we should grow I just wrinkled my nose and threw a Totally Tomatoes catalog at him.   He got the message.   He ordered the seeds, his stepmom started them for us, and I had not a care in the world about them until they all made their way over to my house and I stood and looked at them and went “OH MY GOD!  WHY ARE THERE SO MANY!?”

I informed him, nicely of course, that there was no %&^&%# way they were all going to fit, so he said variety was more important.  I chose the best looking 12 or 15 of each variety (or less, if we had less) and planted those.  The rest have been slowly given away (or grown spindly and sad on that same picnic table- WOULD YOU LIKE SOME TOMATOES?!).

We are growing many different varieties this year- I have about a dozen+ plants of each variety, though two have quite a few less.  They are:

Sungolds (of course!)- the ubiquitous and wonderful cherry tomato and one of the few I have ever managed to eat without wanting to barf all over the garden.

Sungellas– a hybrid of sungold that produces “golf ball sized” fruits

Azoychka– a bright yellow Russian variety

Arkansas Traveler– a medium-sized standard red

Rainbow– a large-fruited orange tomato with red spots and streaks

Black– another Russian variety with mahogany colored fruits

Black Sea Man– yet another Russian variety, this one with dark green skin and pink shoulders

Rose (though I only have three of these)- a beautiful pink Amish variety that is similar in texture and flavor to Brandywine (the only tomato I have ever eaten that I actually LIKED).

And finally, a mysterious variety labeled “HR.”  I have no idea what that means- any guesses?

So far there are lots of fruits on the Sungolds and one rather large fruit on the Rose.  All of them are flowering with the exception of the Black Sea Man and the “HRs”  which were the ones neglected until yesterday.  Everyone seems to be really happy so far, with the bizarre exception of a few plants (in totally random locations) that are being nibbled on by some critter.  We have lots of deer out here, but I didn’t think they would do anything to tomatoes- maybe I’m wrong?

The few plants that have been nibbled on are in totally random spots and only three are next to each other.  This happened about a week and a half ago and I haven’t seen any other bites.   Only two or three branches were eaten off each of them (though of course they were usually my main growing branches).  Anyone seen this before with theirs?

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I’m nervous about my beans!

This weekend and Monday I built all my bean trellises and planted my beans.  There is a stand of saplings on the south edge of the garden that Ann wanted taken down (and I was eyeing the perfectly straight, perfectly sized trees for their usefulness in the garden).  So Jeff came by with a chainsaw and hacked a bunch of them down and I had my pick of the best of the bunch.  They are perfect, and they ended up making BEAUTIFUL bean teepees!

I’m just so charmed with them!  They are about 9 to 10 feet high and each have 6 poles.   I ended up with 7 teepees all together, and after they were all completed on Monday, I finished up planting the beans.

I’m growing 5 Varieties this year.  Three teepees are planted with Fortex beans, which are the ones for Jeff and the restaurant, and the rest are all for me.  If I could only grow one thing, it would be beans.  I’m obsessed with them.  The others that I’m growing are:

Uncle Aut’s pole beans (this is an honest-to-god family heirloom that I’ve grown ever since I moved up here)

Kentucky Wonder pole beans (saved from last year’s seed)

Rattlesnake pole beans (sent to me by a dear friend from South Carolina who saved the seed from her garden)

Scarlet Runner beans (sent to me by Becky what, two years ago?  I’ve finally planted them!)  I’ve heard you can eat these, but I’m mostly growing them for the flowers and so I can get more seeds!

Each variety has their own teepee, so hopefully I’ll get a good yield from all these varieties.

But, as I said, I’m nervous.  Half went in the ground on Sunday and the other half of Monday, and since then it has been wet.  And dark.  And cold (I have THREE blankets on my bed right now!).  And now I’m worried about my little beans, buried under a bunch of wet, cold soil.  I hope they don’t rot- especially since I planted all I had of the Kentucky Wonders, Rattlesnakes, and Scarlet Runners.   We could use a day of good, strong sun, Massachusetts!

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Wow guys- sorry about that !   I just vanished with no explanation- and I actually have a REALLY good one!  I was in Wales!

I went with my parents.  We were there for two weeks and it was incredible.  I’ll post a few picture from my trip that I took just for you guys, but first I wanted to drop in and just let you know I’m still around!  One of the best things about the trip was getting home and seeing this:

Oh yes, that is a freshly plowed (and tilled!) field, just itching to be chock full o’ plants.  And it is getting there!  I’ve busted my hump since Tuesday (my first day back) and almost everything is planted now!  Still got lots of work to do- but my garden is finally getting started.  WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

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