The Garden Payoff

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Vegetable gardens are work. No doubt about it. I've got blisters on top of my blisters, a farmer's tan from hell and various aches and bruises thanks to my gardening activity. Although I do enjoy it very much, I'll be honest. Building planter boxes, installing irrigation and adding compost and soil IS work. And it's hard work at that.

But you don't go through all of that for nothing. There is a payoff. And that payoff is starting ring up now in the garden of Bill and Venus Bird. And it's not just our garden either. Nels Christensen, a founding member of the heirloom tomato group "Fruit of the Heirloom" (FOHL) sent me this picture just the other day. There it is -- payoff from his garden. That's a near 1.5 lb. Omar's Lebanese tomato, fresh from his tomato patch. Based upon the prices I've seen recently for heirloom tomatoes in local stores, something like this would sell for $10.

$10 for ONE tomato? Egads! And the thing is -- you couldn't even purchase something this nice in your local store. Tomatoes in stores are harvested well before they reach peak ripeness. To be honest, the absolute best tomatoes in the world come straight off the vine in your backyard.

Venus and I are starting to realize the fruits of our gardening labor.

This Marianna's Peace tomato came as a complete and utter shock. I missed it completely over the past few months when I was out inspecting plants. I only noticed it after it turned a light shade of pink. And I watched in anticipation as this large, potato-leaf, beefsteak variety turned to a darker shade of pink, praying all the while that some critter wouldn't start muching on it.

Fortunately, my prayers were answered. This was one of the best tomatoes to come out of the garden this year. Fortunately, there will be a lot more of them. The Marianna's Peace tomato plant is located in a bed that was recharged with two bags of steer manure compost this spring. That is the best move I've ever made. Every plant in this bed is six feet tall or higher, and every single one is spitting out tomatoes right and left.

But tomatoes are only half of the garden. Venus has always wanted sunflowers in the backyard. The problem is -- we never had the room. But -- with the new house? There's room and more. And there are scads of sunflowers in this bed. This is the Moulin Rouge sunflower. Believe it or not, these were planted from seed -- just like everything else in this bed. And they are six feet tall, loaded with flowers and best of all, attracting bees to the garden in record numbers. Bees are hard to find in North Natomas.....

Unfortunately, the sunflowers are planted in the same bed as the corn, and the poor corn is getting pushed aside somewhat. The Sweet Diane watermelon, however, has no problem with sunflowers around it. Sunflowers bring bees and bees mean pollination, which is essential to get melons like this. These Sweet Diane melons are still on the vine at our home. They are nowhere near ripe, and it does appear they will wind up in the 10-to-15 lb. range.

So, the payoff is now beginning. It's not August yet, and the garden is really hopping. If it's this good now, I wonder what August, September and October will bring.

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