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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Venus and Sara: Gardening Girls Gone Wild
Hello! Welcome to yet another adventure in "Extreme Gardening." This week in the Bird Back 40? It's Garden Girls Gone Wild and guess who the lucky man behind the camera was? If you're guessing a one Bill Bird, you just might be correct. And, despite hands that trembled with excitement, I'm here to tell you a satisfying tale in both pictures and words.

Those two young ladies pictured above right played a starring role in Garden Girls Gone Wild. You may have noticed that one on the left is none other than the lovely gardening wife that is Venus. But that girl to the right may not be as familiar. Her name is Sara. And she is a charter member of GWG -- "Gardeners Without Gardens."

Heirloom Tomato Starter Plants
I would meet Sara some years back when she magically appeared from nowhere with an offer of free heirloom tomato starter plants for an annual tomato plant handout that I once hosted at the State Capitol. It was Sara who gave us the brilliant idea for our seed starting rack. And it's Sara who gave us the inspiration for what took place in the Bird Back 40 last weekend.

Yes -- we jumped the gun a tad. Tomato plant out in the Sacramento area normally takes place with the start of May. But the weather isn't cooperating. It's been downright gorgeous for most of the month of April, other than a few blustery days. But there's been no rain to speak of -- certainly no frost -- and we've been blessed with mostly warm temperatures and abundant California sunshine.

Can you blame us for getting a head start?

Return of the Mantis Rototiller
After giving the Mantis rototiller a good workout in three different raised gardening beds, I put Venus and Sara to work. And, make no doubt about it: This was WORK. It was hot, sweaty, grungy, get down in the dirt and DIG DEEP type of work. Quite simply? This is unlike any summer garden planting process we've gone through before.

It's not like we've never planted heirloom tomato starter plants before. We have. If you've read this blog a time or two, you've probably figured out that Venus and I have planted our fair share. But when it comes to the world of extreme vegetable gardening, there's always something new to try. A new approach beckoned. "Be one with the Earth, William," both Sara and Venus whispered.

They Work-I Watch
As it turns out -- I let the two gorgeous gardeners be "one with the Earth." I just snapped the photos and earned a rather brutal sunburn in the process. That's the luck of the Irish for you. Irish people don't tan. They turn a bright shade of redneck red. They peel. And then they burn themselves silly again. Insane Irish.

Last week's post related a special story of a Homer five gallon bucket that was packed with fish parts. It had fish heads. It contained fish tails. One could find fish skins, fish entrails, fish poop and all parts of a fish that people just won't pay money for. We'd let our tightly covered can of smelly fish parts sit and cook in warm sunshine for a full day before we finally popped that lid off.

Smelly Fish Parts!
What an aroma! We drove neighborhood dogs and cats wild with envy. My neighbors thought -- and still think -- we'd gone half mad. And they just might be right.

Although I always amend our raised gardening beds with proper and equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium every spring, Venus and I had never taken that extra step of adding additional amendments to each hole that we dug when it came to plant our heirloom tomato garden. The standing order of business had been the following: till up the garden with the Mantis, add amendments, then proceed to use the Mantis again to till everything together. The beds were then raked smooth and planting would then commence.

Venus Prepares to Plant: Bird Back 40
Venus and I would each dig a hole anywhere from eight to 12 inches deep -- place our treasured Brandywine or Lemon Boy at the bottom of the hole -- cover with dirt and move onto the next hole. It's the same step we repeated day after day, year after year. We didn't vary much. It always worked, so why mess with a good thing?

Why mess with a good thing? Because better things can be had. Sara came armed with some pretty good ideas. She's not the first person to employ this technique. She certainly won't be the last. But this was a departure from what we've done in the past.

I knew this was going to be a different gardening experience when Sara approached me with a request for a shovel. I handed her our standard gardening trowel. She proceeded to launch said trowel into orbit with a retort of something along the lines of: "Not this wimpy thing, I mean a SHOVEL!"

One Cup Liquid Fish Parts
She wasn't kidding.

Sara wasn't content or happy with digging a hole of eight to 12-inches. Sara demanded a hole two feet deep and two feet wide. Since most of my raised beds don't stand taller than 14-inches, I informed her she was going to hit some nasty hard clay at the bottom of her quest. No matter. She cut right through it. Sara and shovels are no mystery to one another.

When I indicated earlier this was real grunt, sweaty type of work, I wasn't kidding. Digging a two foot deep and two foot wide hole isn't hard. But try digging 26 of them. In hot sunshine. One after the other. See what I'm getting at? This was no vacation. By the time Sara and Venus were finished cutting through the clay soil line, my once nice and level gardening beds had been transformed into a series of sharp, mountainous peaks.

Fish Parts Added
Why dig a hole two feet wide and two feet deep? Recall that story about a Homer 5 gallon bucket full of fish parts? Those parts, plus other amendments were destined for the bottom of these holes. These had to be placed deep, lest neighborhood critters steal in during the dead of night to dig them up for a "snack."

If you once believed that those 18-ounce Red Solo Cups were reserved for one purpose and one purpose only (PAR-TAY!), guess again. The gardening girls needed something to transfer smelly and by now quite liquidish fish parts from bucket to gardening hole -- and the red solo cups were it. And so it went. The girls, who wore plastic gloves for some protection, dove into that bucket again and again and again. Ever tried swimming in liquidish fish parts? Oh, the fun we have here in the Bird Back 40!

Aspirin Amendments
Each hole demanded a cup of fish heads and fish parts. Each hole received a cup of fish heads and fish guts. Venus and Sara then topped off each hole with two aspirin, a quarter-cup of fine bone meal and a bit of amended dirt to make everything nice and level. What's the aspirin for you ask? That's a good question. You may ask. I make no promises of answering.

However, if you take a gander at this article from Science Daily -- the aspirin supposedly adds to a plant's immunity, thereby reducing the need for pesticides to control bad bugs and bad fungal diseases. Heirloom plants are unlike their cousins, the hybrids, in that they are highly susceptible to many bugs and fungal diseases. I still think it's a bit odd to place two aspirin next to the root ball of an heirloom tomato starter plant, but I'm willing to try anything once I suppose. As for the bone meal? It's high in phosphorus, which tomato plants need to survive and thrive.

If you're asking why we didn't throw the kitchen sink into the bottom of those cavernous holes, you may ask.

The final step: Planting
With holes dug, fish parts, aspirin and bone meal distributed, it was now time to get down to the task of why we gathered in the Bird Back 40 on this particular day: It was time to plant our leggy heirloom tomato plant starters. Those leaf sets that I had lovingly cared for during the seed-starting growth process last winter were clipped and tossed aside. Into each hole went a very long and skinny starter plant, with a few leaves remaining at the top.

Tomatoes are one of the few vegetable plants that will develop additional root systems. The stem will actually take root, provided you plant it deep enough. And two or three sets of root systems are better than one as the old saying goes.

Sara in Her Element
Why go through this process for a simple tomato plant? Because Sara and others have promised this particular method of planting will result in end-of-season stems that are as thick as small trees. Why do the stems get this thick? They are needed to support the plant because it's busy producing a whopper of a heavy tomato harvest.

That's all the argument Bill Bird needs. Please bury me in various colors of heirloom tomatoes people and leave me in heavenly peace. One part of the summer garden -- the most important part some would say -- is now in. Bring on the peppers and basil and other summertime bounty. The job of planting our summer garden continues.

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