Q&A With the Gardening Goomba!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Gardening Goober
Greetings Kids!

I rarely answer fan mail because -- well -- uh -- I rarely get fan mail. Normally -- responses are limited too "why did you do that" and "you're doing it wrong," followed by "you're doing it wrong again."

Those last two lines normally come from the wife that is Venus.

But today I have a real treat! Actual mail! Not from a fan mind you. But she did take time to write! Does that count?

At any rate, today's "fan" mail comes from Deby in the Rosemont area of Sacramento. She writes:

"Hi Bill -may I call you Bill?-

I'm a new gardner, coming up on my third year of trying to grow something edible in our Rosemont area home. Last year turned out pretty decent, and I've been reading everything I can to improve my game. Got my Viking Purple potatoes today, can't wait to get those in some dirt.

2010 Heirloom Tomato Garden
I do have a question to ask you, if you don't mind-are you INSANE?? 50 tomato plants?!? I grew ONE tomato plant last year, an Early Girl (which wasn't, but not for lack of trying) and got 50-60 pounds from one bush. My pantry is still crammed full of sauce. Are you secretly feeding your own personal militia? Or trying to single-handedly eliminate world hunger? Or do heirloom tomatoes produce only one precious fruit per plant?

I was thinking about attempting an heirloom variety next year when we expand our beds (my secret agenda is to take over the entire back yard, one raised bed at a a time), but if it leads to the sort of insanity where I have to beg people on the street to take my excess produce, I may just pass. Is this the sort of obsession I have to look forward to?

My measured and tactful response to the questions she poses is this:
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus..
Wait! Wrong script!

The Wife That is Venus
Yes, Deby, you may call me Bill. My wife has many names for me. Most of them are unprintable. Not because I can't spell (although that is a problem on some days). It's that -- well -- someday a child might chance upon this blog. We've got to keep things relatively clean here -- even though we're digging in the dirt for joy and satisfaction.
The second answer to your question of "are you insane," is: Did you just figure that out? I'm certifiable Deby. I've turned a bedroom into an overpriced North Natomas home into a greenhouse. That nutty enough for you? I have five cats -- and also managed to adopt the ONE dog on this planet (ONE mind you) that gets the utmost satisfaction out of digging up everything she can get her muddy paws on in our raised beds.

Ultimate Digging Machine at Rest
When the "Bandinator" isn't playing dead on the bed -- she's out somewhere -- digging where she's not supposed too. Last year I was chagined to discover that our little girl not only enjoyed digging up various plants, she developed a taste for them. The only thing that we found was the hole where we planted our new "Incrediball" Hydrangea starter plant.
But I digress -- back to your questions -- Deby.
Do you know what the answer is to the question of: "What are fifty tomato plants?" The answer is: not enough. Yes -- the wife and I will usually start about fifty heirloom plants in a spare bedroom -- but don't think we can possibly plant that many. I mean -- we would if we could -- but even with our bountiful Back 40, we simply don't have that kind of room.

Eight plants per bed
Unless -- however -- I started hanging them from the eaves of my home. Or perhaps converted the attic into a new gardening area. Hmm.... You've given me some good ideas here...
Against the advice of my gardening mentor -- Farmer Fred Hoffman -- I usually cram about eight plants into a standard 4X8 foot bed. Fred reccommends no more than three. I go beyond that. Slightly. Is it any wonder then that I have a tangled mass of all things tomato by the end of the growing season?
And Deby -- this does not take into consideration the numerous "volunteers" that spring up in every corner of the yard now. One of those volunteers -- which may have been a cross between a Sun Gold (small orange cherrry tomato) and an Omar's Lebanese -- resulted in a Large Orange Cherry MUTANT that is quite tasty.
Why grow heirlooms? Why not? There's nothing wrong with hybrids like Early Girl, ACE and Better Boy. Each will give you a bumper crop of round, red, tasty tomatoes. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that in my opinion.

Cherry Tomato Surprise
But the hybrids also won't give you a bowl full of color like the one pictured. All of the cherry tomatoes in this bowl -- I might add -- came from numerous volunteers that sprang up in the yard last year (I don't have the heart to pull out most of them, unless they're growing under a peach tree). How did tomato seed get underneath a peach tree you ask? Good question. I'm still trying to figure that one out myself.
The cherry tomatoes in that bowl -- plus many others that we harvested last season -- served to be useful bribes among co-workers. In fact, I so impressed one young lady, that she now refers to me as her "future ex-husband." It's just nice to know that you have fans.
I am quite happy to hear that you enjoyed what appears to be tremendous success with just one plant last year -- and I'm just a tad bit jealous. Last year was a terrible year for most heirloom growers. The weather never really did cooperate. In a normal year? Venus and I will can vast quantities of Roasted Garlic and Heirloom Tomato Salsa, Picante Heirloom Tomato Sauce and quarts of whole tomatoes by the dozen.

A Full Pantry!
There's nothing quite like the satisfaction of opening up a can of whole heirloom tomatoes and heirloom tomato sauce on a cold winter night to serve in a soup, stew or PIZZA!
Finally Deby -- every heirloom tomato is different. You might think that a tomato is "just a tomato," until you take your first bite of a true, treasured heirloom. None have the same taste as the other. Some are sweet. Some are tart. Some have a rich and smoky taste and aroma. Others taste like candy.
That -- my dear Deby -- is why heirloom tomato growers are nuts for heirlooms. There is no taste in this world like taste-bud surprise that a true, vine-ripened Cherokee Purple brings. The jolt that comes from that first bite of a Kelloggs Breakfast is hard to describe, but should not be missed.

Large Orange Cherry MUTANT
Finally Deby? Growing heirloom tomatoes is different from the "plant and forget" hybrids. Some will vex you to no end. Why some produce bounty crops while others do not is a question that I still can't answer. But growing heirlooms is a true and healthy addiction. Once you've tried it, you're hooked for life. You keep going back for more of the same reward and punishment.
Best of luck to you in the bed-building efforts. If I were you? I'd put gardening beds in every square inch of the yard.
But -- remember -- I'm also insane. And I like it that way.


Garry said...

i know how you feel brother - but i did muster the will to cut it down from 42 tomato plants to just 21 this year. what did it for me was the sheer numbers of tomaotes i couldnt get to and how the plants bent over and blocked the walkways.

Kristy (muddytoes) said...

I love the pvc cages. They look very sturdy.

Fred Hoffman said...

Deby, Bill Bird is the Glenn Beck of gardening. Listen to yourself, Deby. Follow your own gardening dream. You will do what is best for you.

Laura Bell said...

What to do with 50 tomato plants ? Green roofs are the cutting edge of eco-architecture, Bill. Be the first in your neighborhood to have one !

But seriously, do you really cram all those into your backyard ?

Bill Bird said...

The PVC cages ARE sturdy. That's why I love them and continue to use them, although they do take additional time to set up. It's well worth the effort though.

Deby, Fred is right on the money. Gardening is what you make of it.

Laura, I may start fifty plants, but the most I've ever set in the ground is 35-38. The rest are given away in work contests -- or traded to other growing friends. That's why I always try to grow two of everything.

Even Fred Hoffman is famous for his drive-by tomato plant deliveries. BANG! You have tomatoes!