Tuesday, December 30, 2008
There comes a time to reflect on your summer tomato garden -- which is usually at the end of a growing season. At that point, you have a pretty good idea of what tomatoes did well in the backyard garden, what tomatoes you will grow again, and absolute DISASTERS that will never be allowed in your garden again. Like everyone else, I have that list:
BEST TOMATO PLANT 2008:
Without a doubt in my mind, the answer is CAMPBELL'S 1327. If you're unaware of this variety, yes, this is the tomato that Campbell's Soups used for eons for their famous cans of soups and sauces. They gave up on this tried and true original with the advent of genetic engineering and plant breeding, and Campbells uses paste tomatoes that are grown by the millions in the South, Central and North San Joaquin Valley. Like many heirloom varieties, the 1327 was not abandoned because Campbells developed a "better tasting tomato." What they did develop was a tomato that could withstand shipping over long distances and bumpy valley roads. Thank goodness someone saved seeds from this wonderful, former, processing tomato because it is a true winner. The Campbell's 1327 is an "indeterminate" tomato, which means it yields crop after crop after crop during the summer. My one plant yielded five crops -- with anywhere from 15-20 tomatoes per harvest. The Campbell's 1327 produces round, red, 1 lb. lip-smacking tomatoes with a high acid content. It's good in salads, sauces and is perfect for canning. I will grow this variety for years to come.
The PINEAPPLE BEEFSTEAK is an absolutely WONDERFUL tomato and I hope to grow it again next season. The plant was given to me by South Natomas grower Nels Christensen, a member of our Fruit of the Heirloom (FOHL) club. Like most heirloom tomatoes, it took time to set fruit. But it was well worth the wait. The Pineapple Beefsteak averages about 1.5 lbs., and gets the Pineapple name from its incredibly sweet and lush taste. If you're looking for acid content, this is not the tomato for you. But, if you prefer sweet tasting tomatoes, well, this is one I highly reccommend.
The BLOODY BUTCHER will also have a home in my 2009 tomato garden. I was given two of these plants, courtesy of Farmer Fred Hoffman, and they were an instant favorite. It's not necessarily the taste that knocks you out. It's good -- yes -- but not out-of-this-world great. What sets this plant apart from others however, is the PRODUCTION. Bloody Butcher produced early, mid-season and late season. The golf-ball sized, red, round tomatoes produce in clusters of five or six. It produced the first tomatoes of the season, in late June, and kept the production going until late September. This is a great tomato for snacking on while in the garden.
The CELEBRITY is one of my most favorite hybrid tomatoes of all time. It is not an heirloom, and was developed in the early 1990's. Much like the Campbell's 1327, the Celebrity produces an abundance of large, red, round tomatoes. This is an excellent salad tomato.
ANDREW RAHART'S JUMBO RED is another "must have" in the heirloom tomato garden. Although it did not produce many JUMBO sized tomatoes, it put out a fair amount of production. The tomato taste is slightly sweet and acidic. This one reminds you of tomatoes from the past. There's an old world taste there that is hard to describe.
Other winners from this year's garden include Marianna's Peace, Pruden's Purple and a tomato plant that was mislabeled "Rainbow." This wasn't a Rainbow Beefsteak. Not even close. I'd love to grow it again, but the seed source is all but gone now -- out of the picture completely. This plant didn't produce a darn thing until it grew to a height of five feet. And then, without warning, it fruited a crop of about fifty tomatoes. They were dark in color, much like Cherokee Purple, and also had green shoulders. But this was not a Cherokee Purple. I'm not sure what it was, but I hope to get the opportunity to grow it again someday.
TOMATOES THAT DID NOT DO WELL IN THE 2008 GARDEN:
OMAR'S LEBANESE: This is another heirloom favorite that I've wanted to try for years. The plant grew well enough, but didn't produce much. I did get three or four late tomatoes. And they were absolutely delicious, no doubt about it. But, in terms of production? A real stinkeroo.
GREEN ZEBRA: I keep longing for the day that I will have another productive Green Zebra plant. I nearly had it this year. But, it produced late, producing in abundance, and I lost the vast majority of the crop when the weather turned cold. I love this tomato and will try to grow it again next year.
COSTOLUTO GENOVESE: My absolute favorite tomato from 2007 absolutely fell flat on its face in 2008. And this one was all my fault. When volunteer Genovese plants began popping up in the garden last spring from numerous tomatoes that had hit the ground in 2007, I was ecstatic. What I could not plant, I gave away to friends and neighbors. BIG MISTAKE. The tomatoes were small, almost cherry sized, and did not have that "Genovese" taste that has made it a favorite of heirloom gardeners all over the world. I am starting over with new seed this year. We'll see what happens.
TOMATOES THAT WILL NOT BE INVITED BACK IN 2009:
Any tomato plant that contains the word "paste" will get tossed. I cannot grow them. Most get infected with Blossom End Rot, and it spreads to other plants. No thanks. No room in the garden for any paste tomato of any shape, size or color.
This is the hardest part about gardening for many gardeners. I am no different. There comes a time in every garden where the tomato and vegetable plants that you have treated with loving care for months must be ripped out. The season is done, over, kaput. Whatever. I have a hard time admitting as much. In fact, I still haven't ripped everything out yet. Here it is -- almost January 1st, 2009 -- and I have rotting tomato plants still standing in beds in the backyard.
Mud is the problem here. The culprit. I have yet to put in an appropriate ground cover such as bark or decorative rock so I can reach said planter boxes without sinking in the muck that is Natomas clay. You think it's funny? Step into that backyard, and that pair of shoes is instantly ruined. They officially become "backyard shoes" -- never to be worn anywhere again except the backyard. And that's only if you can dig them out of the muck, which is no easy task if you hit a soft spot. And Lord knows, I've hit them.
But, back to the subject. There comes a time when everything has to come out. You pick the last vine-ripened tomato. You enjoy that last salad produced by the backyard garden. That last heirloom tomato martini. That's it. No more for the year. And it's kind of hard to take -- at least for me. I love my summer garden.
The end, unfortunately, came rather early for us. I may be posting about the end now -- in late December -- but everything really wrapped up in mid-to-late October. That windstorm in late September was a telling sign. That really changed everything. That one-day blustery wind from the north ripped apart most of my PVC tomato cages, tore fruit off the vine and generally made a gigantic wreck of the garden.
Three days of rain then followed that wind. And although the nice weather returned somewhat following that rain, the damage had been done. Blossom End Rot set in with a vengance. BER took at least 50% of the remaining crop in some plants -- less in others and completely took over the three Roma varieties. BER is a curse. It just happens, despite the best advice you get from long-time gardeners. But the wind and rain really wrecked what I had hoped would be a late-summer, early fall kind of crop. Venus and I managed to salvage some of it, but half the crop was either on the ground -- stricken with BER or split wide open from the heavy rainfall. Worse yet, the bugs were starting to eat away at many of the tomatoes that had split open.
That wasn't the only problem. The weather was also changing in a strange sort of way. It was starting to get very cold at night -- much colder than usual for September and October. The mornings were cool. There was dew and frost on the ground. That's normal for late fall and winter in the Sacramento Valley, but September? That also didn't help. The tomatoes that were saved during that final harvest were not very good. In fact, for some, it was like I was eating store bought BLAND.
At that point I knew "the jig was up." The 2008 summer garden was all done. Time to pull it all out. And, as I mentioned earlier, that job is half-done. I will complete it at some point this week.
Posted by Bill Bird at 1:15 PM
Monday, December 29, 2008
I thought I would share some interesting tidbits I learned about growing sunflowers this year in Northern California. The wife and I grew two varieties -- including the Moulin Rouge. There's my lovely wife tending to this year's sunflower garden from earlier this summer. Nice eh? Watch it! Sunflowers are a TRAP! They are a CURSE upon man!
And here's why:
1. One sunflower plant equals fifty sunflower plants next year:
This is a true statement. I was a bit worried when my wife started ripping out dead sunflowers from one of the planter beds in late summer, but never thought all of those seeds hitting the ground during the removal process would germinate. Boy howdy, was I wrong. As you can probably tell from these photos, I'm the proud owner of a small sunflower forest -- which continues to grow at a rather rapid and alarming rate. I thought that the winter freeze would kill the new plants off. Hah! Sunflowers laugh at freezing temperatures. All of that green you see? While it's true that some of them are weeds, the vast majority of plants inside and around the planter bed are, in fact, sunflowers that germinated from seed that fell to the ground during the removal process during the late fall.
2. Sunflowers are "plant friendly" and grow well in mixed beds:
WRONG! Sunflowers take over every square inch of space and knock out the hardiest of vegetable and/or flower plants. They are a curse upon all gardeners. They cannot be contained.
3. Sunflowers make excellent cut flowers in vase arrangements:
FALSE! There is no such thing as "vase arrangements" when it comes to sunflowers. "Vase Arrangements" implies flowers other than sunflowers. What other flowers are available after the sunflowers kill everything off? A vase full of sunflowers looks good. A "vase arrangement" of sunflowers is an oxymoron.
4. Sunflowers require good soil, fertilizer and love to thrive:
FALSE! Sunflowers will grow in asphalt! They'll grow straight out of concrete! Good soil, bad soil, rocky soil, rocky asphalt, a bowl of acid, it doesn't matter. Sunflowers take over.
5. Once you grow sunflowers, you'll always have sunflowers, whether you want them or not:
TRUE!!! Sunflowers laugh at Roundup, blowtorches, plutonium and nuclear weapons. The scientist who predicted that only cockroaches would survive a nuclear holocaust obviously never met a sunflower.
6. Sunflowers are a gardeners best friend:
FALSE! A more true statement would be "sunflowers are a gardener's best curse!" Now that I have stated the lesson of the day, does anyone, perchance, need sunflower starter plants or sunflower seeds? I appear to have too much of both.
Posted by Bill Bird at 7:54 PM