From Tomatoes to Onions in 20 Easy Steps!

Monday, October 19, 2009

If the title of this post sounds somewhat facetious -- that's because it is. And heck, who are we fooling anywho? Let's just be real and remove the "somewhat" and substitute "very."

Long time gardeners will tell you that any sentence containing the phrases of "easy steps" and "gardening" is an oxymoron. Nothing comes easy when you're digging in the dirt -- especially when that dirt has turned to mud thanks to some early season storm activity.

I might be the last person on the planet to know this, but -- TOMATO SEASON IS OFFICIALLY OVER.

There -- I called it. That's all folks. Show's over. Move along. Nothing to see here (except wretched looking late-season heirloom tomato plants (photo to your right should illustrate that point).

Of course, this comes as no news at all to other gardeners in the Sacramento area. Hank Shaw called it a season in late August. I thought the man was clinically insane. But -- as it turns out -- Hank knew something I didn't.

Of course, I could literally feel the end of the season coming. I just chose to ignore those cold mornings in September. Cold temperatures play havoc with sugar levels in fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes. Black Cherry tomatoes suddenly taste like something that comes out of a bottle labeled "Night Train." What is that white fungus forming in the cracks of my tomatoes? Why is that firm tomato suddenly so soft and mushy? What are those bugs and where did they all come from?

Charlie Brown put it best: BLECH!

What is the hardest part of tomato season? The end of tomato season. Those vines that you've nurtured all season long need to be torn out. Vines that snapped easily in the early and mid season are suddenly as tough as iron. And no matter how careful you are -- some giant tomato that is rotted to the core is going to fall off the vine and go "SPLAT" on your shoes.

It's guaranteed. You've heard of "White Shoes Johnson?" Just call me Tomato Shoes Johnson. And I've got the stained shoes to prove it.

It's at this point where I wish I'd really followed the advice of Farmer Fred Hoffman -- who advised me to stick to just three tomato plants per planter bed. Unfortunately -- I ignore that man's good advice far too often. He told me to stick to three plants. I went over that just a tad by planting eight.

Do you know what eight full grown tomato plants represents in the fall? A mess. Vines here. Vines there. How did that Bloody Butcher vine traverse the length of the bed and why didn't I see it? Will all those rotted Black Cherry tomatoes falling to the ground sprout next season (yes)? What just fell on my shoe?

Needless to say, removing eight full-grown plants from a tiny bed causes quite the mess. That large green waste can? Tomato plants laugh at that. Two full grown plants can take up an entire can, no matter how hard I jump up and down on it. So -- today -- I found myself in the act of calling the City of Sacramento "Green Waste" Division with the polite request to "please remove that mass of tomato plants piled in front of my driveway."

There's a good reason why I had such a great year in the tomato growing department. Each planter bed was recharged with nutrients and compost before planting starter plants earlier this spring. And I guarantee that those small starter plants sucked just about everything dry over the course of the summer.

In other words -- just removing the plants is only half the battle. The bed is now devoid of the nutrients that are needed for the fall garden. You think the work is over? Hardly. Removing the plants is just the beginning. It's now time for "Phase II."

Fortunately, I did think ahead in this battle by stacking bags of steer and chicken manure compost in a part of the garden area that could be reached -- even though most of my backyard is now a sticky, muddy, mess. I also discovered that the Mantis Rototiller is not only good at churning up the soil, but removes the last vestiges of tomato plant roots that were left behind during the removal process.

Once you've worked in the new amendments -- which consisted of two bags of steer manure compost, one bag of chicken manure compost and two cups of pelleted Vigaro Fertilizer for vegetables, you've got a fairly clean and recharged bed to work with.

The wife that is Venus didn't waste time. As soon as the tomato bed was cleaned and recharged? She flashed into action -- planting red and yellow onion sets -- lettuce and bok choy starter plants -- and seeds of green onions, radishes and other fall crops.

As for the tomato plants that are still standing in other planter beds that we failed to address this weekend? In the words of former Monday Night Football showman Dandy Don Meredith: "Turn Out the Lights -- The Party's Over."


Fred Hoffman said...

Farmer Fred sez: Your music should be optional. There. I was polite.

Bill Bird said...

You mean, there's a way to do that? Seriously? It was hard enough getting that player on the blog!

Bruce Ross said...

August? That's nuts. I had my best tomatoes of the year after the September heat wave, and just picked and roasted a nice batch yesterday.

Of course, this latest rain will really turn what's left to slug food.

Garry said...

we saw the curtains drop on our tomatoes/garden too. spent the better part of a day, ripping out 40 tomato plants 2 weekends ago. and, yes i had a few splats of rotten tomatoes. one fell off the top of a tomato plant and landed square on the small of my back. the resulting compost pile of the tomatoes, corn and every other thing i ripped out was 4 feet tall by 7 feet long. i hand tilled the beds and sprinkled what remained of my dr. earth on the beds and over seeded with clover. hopefully 2010 will be another good year.

Greg Damitz said...

My tomato plants still look great. Unfortunately the season is over. I have garlic and onion sets that need a home. I'll pull them next week and build some raised planters to put my new plants in.

Anonymous said...

those Victory Garden posters on the left side are very interesting...

purrcatlady siamese said...

It is Jan 13, 2014... is it too late to plant onion starts??? Mariana Mill

Bill Bird said...

We order our onions through a firm in Texas. They don't arrive as bulbs, they arrive as small plants. It's not too late if you order them in this way. However, bulbs should be planted in October, along with garlic bulbs.