Saturday, October 31, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
1. MARIANNA'S PEACE: Hands down, this is a clear winner from the Back 40 in North Natomas. Seed Source: Totally Tomatoes. Starter plants grown by Fred Hoffman. This is my third year for growing this wonderful, potato-leaf variety. And we must have done something right this year. This was by far the tastiest, and most productive, variety to come out of the garden this summer. Marianna's Peace produced pink, saucer-sized tomatoes in the 1 and 1.5 lb. range all summer long and it's still producing ripened tomatoes in October. One bite of this time-honored treasure is a trip to a tomato lover's paradise. This is a must-have for any garden. It will get a prime spot in the garden next year.
GOOD TOMATOES: These varieties were good -- no doubt about it. They just could not crack the Top Ten this year.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Yes sir. That's right.
I've been in cold beer ever since that fateful decision to purchase ye olde kegerator...
Who am I kidding?
For her? It was a struggle. For me? Are you kidding? That's like the California Lottery asking if I wanted my $10 million award in "tens or twenties." That answer was pretty easy. It was on this date that I struck GOLD. And, if you're a fan of the San Francisco Giants, this also happens to be the same date that the Giants blew Game 6 of the 2002 World Series against the hated Angels.
That's the reason why watching the Angels lose to the Yankees last night wasn't half bad.
After two or three or seven (I kind of lost count) at the Bear's Lair -- the wife and I found ourself stumbling back in the direction of Shadduck Avenue -- toward that lovely downtown Berkeley BART station -- and the train back to Richmond. From there -- we would catch the Cal Train -- and the all-important BAR CAR -- back to Sacramento.
As for the Back 40? The fall garden? The Birds? The Bees? They can wait. The perfect marriage to the perfect woman comes only once in a man's lifetime. Better enjoy that life while you can. Because time does indeed fly when you're having fun. Which is why my marriage to this lady seems like yesterday.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
But I did get at least one project finished. Venus has her tree rose. Not just any tree rose mind you -- the one special tree rose that my wife has wanted since we were first married. I finally got around to locating the one remaining Saint Patrick tree rose left in the Sacramento area this summer.
When Venus' mother passed away quite unexpectedly four years ago following a long battle with cancer -- I knew she longed for the Saint Patrick tree rose and the Celtic Cross. It is, quite simply, her favorite spot in the yard.
Unfortunately, the recent rain and windstorm that hit the Sacramento area (and the rest of California I might add) -- did some rather wicked damage to the wife's special rose. Not only did it lose blooms -- it's no longer standing straight as an arrow. I suppose I have learned the "curse" of tree roses. I don't care how well you have it staked. If Mother Nature throws a vicious curveball of sustained rain and winds -- that perfectly placed tree rose is no longer standing at attention.
This picture simply doesn't do justice. The fruits were starting to color to a deep red when I took this two weeks ago. They are all now a deep -- candy-apple red in color. It wasn't ready to harvest two weeks ago when I was disappointed to find white kernals inside of a "test harvest" fruit. I'm not sure what it will look like now -- although I'm willing to give it a little more time.
If you are looking for a beautiful landscape tree that produces more than just flowers and blooms -- I highly reccommend the Pomegranate. The spring-time blooms are staggering in color and a highly favored source of pollen for honeybees and Carpenter bees alike.
Plus -- I'll admit -- I love a splash of fresh pomegranate juice in my margarita! And I also ran across an interesting recipe for pomegranate syrup here, courtesty of Jenn's Cooking Garden.
I know this much: Despite the landscaping headaches that sunflowers can pose, they are a welcome addition to our "Edible Garden" landscape. While not necessarily edible for humans, they are a favorite place to forage for our "Hello Kitty" beehive.
Monday, October 19, 2009
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."
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
I'm a sucker for roses. I'll be honest -- I haven't always been this way. I learned this love from a former roommate and still a good friend from Fresno by the name of Russ Maurice. When Russ and I moved into a ramshackle duplex together in the mid 1980's, one of the first things that he did was landscape the small side and backyard with strips of turf and a few rose bushes that he retrieved from a neighbor's green waste heap.
I even remember the name of his favorite rose: Midas Touch. He would gift his girlfriend, Michelle, with golden-yellow bouquets whenever possible.
I've never forgotten his love for roses, because that sparked my interest and eventual love as well. I had no idea that -- like heirloom tomatoes -- roses had names and histories behind them. And once I had set my mind to study -- it was no longer "just a yellow" or "just a red" rose. It was a Mr. Lincoln! A John F. Kennedy! A Blue Girl!
The Scentimental is a Floribunda rose. What does that mean? Unlike the hybrid tea roses, which produce the classic beautiful rose on a long, single stem, the Floribunda produces great numbers of roses on just one stem. You can't cut just one and bring it inside the house for a flower arrangement. If you're going to cut -- you're going to get three or four.
I'll be honest -- I wasn't wild about Floribunda roses. Like most romatic suckers -- err -- men, I wanted the long-stem hybrid tea roses. I let my love for these varieties drive me a little nuts with my first home in the Madera Ranchos area of Madera County to be honest. I planted fifty different varieties of only the best hybrid tea roses -- roses that survive and thrive to this very day.
It's how I convinced the wife that is Venus -- to be the wife that is Venus. True -- most ladies can wave off or dismiss a single hybrid tea rose with a wave of the hand. But when you present a lady with the riot of color that is 40-to-50 hybrid tea roses week after week -- that kind of affection is tough to ignore. It is the rose that convinced her of my love and devotion. The rest is history.
Now, I will also admit that planting 40 hybrid tea roses was also a GIANT LANDSCAPING MISTAKE (one reason why I no longer own this home). Roses are nice -- yes. They're also a pain to care for. They require daily fertilizer, pruning, protection against disease and pests and offer lots and lots of skin-penetrating thorns. OUCH! It would take an entire weekend or two to carefully prune back the collection of hybrid tea and hedge roses that I had planted in Madera.
It's the first rosebush that people spot upon entering the Backyard of Bird. I knew that transplanting this beast would throw it into a bit of a shock, and while it grew well in that first year, it didn't grow as well as I knew it could. This year, however? The second year? It's up and over the six foot fenceline and still growing.
The following is from the website All America Rose Selections:
Deep green, quilted foliage flatters large, pointed buds each opening to expose a swirl of color as unique as a snowflake. The 4-inch flowers have 25 to 30 petals. Introduced by Weeks Roses, Scentimental was hybridized by Tom Carruth. The rose was created from a combination of Playboy and Peppermint Twist."