Are They Tuff Enuff?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Vegetable Plant Starters-Bird Back 40
Texas-based Blues Rock and Rockabilly band The FabulousThunderbirds posed this question to the rest of America with their first and only Top 40 hit, and it's the same question the Birds are now posing to our 2014 summer vegetable crop. At this moment these tender, leggy veggie starters have been moved from the safety and warmth of their office-converted-greenhouse, to a shady spot in the Bird Back 40.

To throw these babies into full sunshine would be cruel and unusual punishment as well as foolhardy. Do that and the starters we've been nursing since mid-February would perish in a day. Nope -- wheeling our crop outside to a shady spot is just the first step in a gardening dance called "Hardening Off." It's a Texas-style two-step that we've come to learn quite well through the years (and a number of dead or shocked starter plants in the process).

Three rows of a Summer Garden
One wrong move in this process and we're heading off to a nursery later this month to purchase our summer starter plants.

So what are the Birds tending this summer? Just the most delectable of summer garden selections found in any Sacramento area backyard. There's a selection of new varieties -- a selection of old-time favorites -- big tomatoes -- small tomatoes -- hot peppers -- warm peppers -- sweet peppers -- you name it and we probably have it stuck in that rack somewhere.

By our count that's 34 varieties of tomato plant starters (two of each variety), 14 sweet, hot and warm peppers and six varieties of basil. Because what's a summer garden without at least six varieties of basil? That's right! BORING! Oh -- and did I mention the eggplants? Throw four or five varieties of eggplant starters into the mix as well.

Blue Beauty Starter Plant
This month represents one of the most crucial months in the "grow your own" summer vegetable garden movement. Should a sudden snowstorm or freeze strike the Bird Back 40 this month -- it means big trouble. Because, as of right now, these starter plants are not "Tuff Enuff." They will be by the end of the month, that much I can promise you. But as for right now? The first day and first week in Sacramento's natural elements? There's a whole HOST of things that can go wrong.

And they have before.

Starter plants grown sans a true greenhouse are leggy, weak and not ready for prime time. But the goal -- over the course of this next month -- is to toughen up those leggy stems. The goal is to prepare those leaves for the shock of true sunlight and the UV rays that come with it. The goal is to produce a starter plant that is tuff enuff to not only withstand everything that Mother Nature can throw at it -- but thrive in these conditions.

Pepper Plant Starters
The wife that is Venus and I will keep the plants in the safety of shade and away from the winds that can tear those tender stalks into so much kindling. At some point, the metal rack holding our starter plants will be covered with a a plastic sheeting that is used by painters and sold in any Big Box hardware store. After five or six days under the plastic cover in full sunshine? The once- weak and leggy starter plants are completely hardened off and feature thicker stems to boot.

The suggestion to use plastic sheeting -- I must admit -- was not a Bill Bird invention. Nope -- like most good ideas I STOLE IT from someone else. In this case? I stole it from a retired engineer turned gardener who lives in upstate New York. I love retired engineer-turned-gardener types. They have a solution for just about every problem -- and in this case? The advice was right on the money. After five or six days under the cover of 4 ml translucent sheeting purchased from my nearby Home Depot? The once-tender starters were indeed "tuff enough" for the 2013 summer gardening season.

Heirloom Tomato Starter Plant Forest
And 2013 was one of our best years ever, I might add.

And so my friends, while I could write more, I'm afraid that weed-pulling project in the vegetable garden deserves not only my time but attention as well. Because -- after a warm spring day like this one -- the weeds that await are certainly "tuff enuff."

Starring in the Bird Back 40 This Season:

  1. Azoychka
  2. Black and Brown Boar
  3. Black Sea Man
  4. Blue Beauty
  5. Blueberries
  6. Brad’s Black Heart
  7. Brandywine OTV
  8. Campbell’s 1327
  9. Cascade Lava
  10. Copia
  11. Costaluto Fiorentino
  12. Fireworks
  13. German Johnson
  14. German Queen
  15. Giant Belgium
  16. Green Zebra
  17. Grushkova
  18. Indian Stripe
  19. Janet’s Jacinthe Jewel
  20. Lemon Boy
  21. Limmony
  22. Lush Queen
  23. Lynn’s Mahogany Garnet
  24. Martha Washington
  25. Paul Robeson
  26. Pineapple
  27. Pineapple Tomatillo
  28. Pink Berkeley Tie Dye
  29. Pork Chop
  30. Porter’s Pride
  31. Purple Bumble Bee
  32. Royal Hillbilly
  33. Sioux
  34. Solar Flare
  1. Alma Paprika
  2. Anaheim Pepper
  3. Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper)
  4. Big Bertha Bell Pepper
  5. California Wonder Bell Pepper
  6. Chinese Giant Bell Pepper
  7. Early Jalapeno
  8. Early Sunsation Bell Pepper
  9. Merlot Bell Pepper
  10. Mucho Nacho Jalapeno
  11. Pasilla Bajo
  12. Purple Jalapeno
  13. Sunbrite Bell Pepper
  14. Sweet Red Bell Pepper
  1. Corsican
  2. Dark Opalka
  3. Genovese
  4. Lemon
  5. Lime
  6. Siam Queen



Holy smokes! Good luck with your mini farm. Hope you have enough water to irrigate.

Bill Bird said...

For those of us lucky enough to live north of the Delta? Yes, there's enough water. I read the other day in the Sacramento Bee that vegetable gardens, as long as they are on drip irrigation, are exempt from city watering restrictions. I only water the garden twice a week anyway, but I found it rather strange that the city exempted vegetable gardens. But, as one old-time water manager once told Venus and I, we're not "consuming" water. We're storing it in that tomato. Which we will eventually consume -- or can for later usage.

Fred Hoffman said...

Bhut Jolokia? You're nuts. Or masochistic. By the way, I received a letter from a nice lady in the Marysville area who waxed rhapsodic about an avocado growing near her, called "Pete's Pet's". She says the trees are still there. I could forward you her letter, if you like, because I know how much you like to travel long distances to search for the Holy Grail of Northern California Avocados.

landscaping and masonry services said...

Oh, wow, such a lush greenery, have you employed hydroponics with these gardening?