Wednesday, August 18, 2010

You Say Tomato


A couple months ago I was at the Meredith Corporation office in Des Moines on business, and got to take a tour of the Better Homes & Gardens test garden. It was, as you might expect, jealousy-inducing and so peaceful and colorful, one just wanted to tuck in and take up residence. The garden manager explained that the garden is about 12 years old, "really quite young for a garden," and that they've continued to refine and hone it. As she said, "You're never really DONE with a garden." What a comfort to know that even the BH&G staff, with their Better Garden, sees gardening as iterative.

Which is a long way of saying that my tomato harvest wasn't what I expected. I have about 10 tomato plants in (three are grape and other tiny varieties that volunteered when we moved the old compost location). The tomato plants went insane in early summer, growing taller than me before they toppled over. I had visions of being overrun by tomatoes; handing out heirloom varieties to lucky neighbors and keeping the stovetop canner in constant use. I spent a lot of time researching what to do with my bumper crop once it came; perhaps a bit less (some might say no) research on ensuring the bumper crop.

So we're getting a few tomatoes a day, and we're eating them now. I stand at the mangle of bushes and eat cherry and grape tomatoes off the vine. All in all very pleasant, but it's a good thing our winter eating isn't dependent on our Purple Cherokee harvest.

Fortunately this past weekend an old friend and co-worker dropped by. Dave and I worked together my first job out of college, and have stayed in touch over the years. For the past decade he's been a a volunteer at Gingko Community Garden (that's him on the home page!), an urban garden that supplies fresh, organic produce to those in need. He took a quick look at my toppled tomato plants and had a few tips I'll be integrating next year:

  • Prune. Getting rid of the nonproducing (but not downward-pointing) stems will mean a fuller stem and a better harvest. Let the plants more plant energy into creating the fruits, not more foliage.
  • Move the tomatoes to a sunnier spot. My backyard gets ample morning sun to grow lots of things, but tomatoes need lots and lots of afternoon sun. In fact, the huge growth is likely less attributable to my green thumb as to the plants trying to grow and stretch and get themselves to a sunnier spot. Next summer, I'm putting them in the front yard where they'll have constant access to sun. (Dave reminded me, realizing I'm a pretty lazy gardener, that this will mean I'll need to water more often. Noted.)
  • The sunnier spot goes double for the tomatillo plants. I chalked up the fact that these plants only produced sad little empty husks to their being overwhelmed, nay intimidated, by the monster tomato plants. In fact, they probably needed more consistent sun.
  • Stake. In years past, I've forgotten tomato cages until the plants were too big for them. So I was patting myself on the back over the fact that all were in cages this year. Dave reminded me that I also needed to stake them. This could save the current embarrassment of having a small step-ladder next to the garden trying to keep the fruit of toppled-over plants from touching the ground.
With the garden doctor on hand, I also complained as a helpless victim about the bores that had eaten my zucchini plants. Rather than the bushels of zucchini these plants should have produced, I got one -- one -- before the vines rotted and had to be pulled up and replaced with kale. Dave explained that I could actually bury the nasty part of the vine and the healthy part likely would take off and continue growing and producing. Nice tip.

He also tasted my basil and disagreed that it tasted "wrong" and "soapy," and I made a delicious pesto that night.

I'm already planning next year's garden, what I'll do better, what I'll research, where I'll get seeds. Mucho thankso, Dave.

In other news, this one headed off to kindergarten last week. He's taking it like a champ, and has been excited about the bus and chill about having his personal style succumb to a uniform. I'm in denial that he's this big a boy.


I'm going to pretend that she's never going to grow up:

So there.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, love the picture of Tommy 'all grown up'! Our tomatoes have, just in the last week or so, begun to ripen. We only have 2 plants, but there are plenty for us. Sure wish you were closer as I've given away zucchini and summer squash this year. What a nice feeling. Mom

6:22 AM  
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