Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tomato update and more

I received a high compliment this week. I was working in the front garden, when 3 typically noisy teenage boys came strutting their way down the street, talking their jive, pushing each other around a bit, trying to act cool. One of the boys looks at me and says, unexpectedly, “Hey, I love your garden”. Then one of the other boys, the biggest, baddest of the bunch, smiles and says “Yeah, you have a bad-ass garden!” and gave me some sort of thumbs up type hand sign that I can’t quite remember right now. Oh yeah, I’m cool –

I finally picked the rest of the grafted tomatoes. They were still green, with some of them just barely starting to turn, but I couldn't wait any longer. I have been holding off on harvesting them, knowing that the upcoming days were forecasted to be warm and sunny, and I was trying to give them every chance to ripen on the vine. 

A pound and a half of tomato

However, waiting this long was a bad judgment. First the good news: ‘Chocolate Stripes’ yielded 20 more pounds of (mostly green) tomatoes at this last picking, bringing the total pounds harvested, on this one plant, to over 77 pounds! ‘Brandywine’, though consistently at or near the top of the taste tests, is known to be a somewhat poor producer – still, there was an additional 14 pounds picked, for a total of 52 pounds. I can live with that. The bad news is that the pounding rain we had in September took a toll. Either it was physical damage to the tomatoes, or the quick influx of water through the system of the plants from the rain, but almost all 35 pounds of the newly picked tomatoes had some sort of brown watery spot on them, and I knew it would be a race to see if they would ripen before the rot spread too far. They have been sitting on the counter now for 6 days, and a few of them that were nearest to ripening have turned red, and we were able to salvage about half of each of them. There are some pretty big tomatoes there, and even half of one of these is a respectable size. But they are going downhill fast, and I've already delegated some to the compost pile. Unfortunately, I think most of them will be a loss. So I guess I can’t honestly say that I got 125 pounds of  EDIBLE tomatoes from these 2 plants, but they were harvested nonetheless. So it counts. Next year I need to be more diligent in picking them before the rain and cold hits. Every year is a learning process. And I never consider it a waste if something ends up feeding my compost pile. It’s all part of the cycle.  

I've started to work through the spent jungle of tangled up plants, neatening up the perennials and cutting back annuals at ground level, leaving their roots in the ground to decompose. I’m trying to disturb the soil as little as possible. I see no reason to pull them out, as long as there is no evidence of root disease or insects problems. I think it will be good for the soil to let them decay in place. And I've cleared enough debris out now to see where the English Ivy, bindweed and fireweed have encroached into my space from our neighbor’s yard along the fence line. It took a while to dig them and pull them out, but I know I am just stemming the tide. They'll be back. 

The Black Eyed Susan Vine (Thunbergia alata) is still performing well, with scattered blooms, climbing up the remains of the holly trunk. This is a good plant for this situation, as it is a fast grower and a prolific bloomer. I was pairing it with 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories, which in theory sounds beautiful to me, I love the orange/blue color combo, but the morning glories never quite lived up to my expectations. Not sure why. 

Black Eyed Susan Vine 
Thunbergia alata 

(Note to self – next year plant the Black Eyed Susan vines earlier in the season, and more of them - don’t bother with the ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glories planted as companions – it’s a fabulous color combination, but for 2 years in a row the morning glories were such a struggle, started blooming so late, the leaves would wilt easily, and they never really lived up to the image I had. And don’t bother with the expensive gallon size plants of the Thunbergia. The one from the 4” pot I planted was just as big and healthy as the one from the gallon after a few weeks of growth, actually better. And use more of them the garden next year, maybe in different colors.)  

Plant profile:  Thunbergia alata (Black eyed Susan Vine) Native to tropical areas of East Africa, this twining vine is perennial and evergreen in warmer climates (zone 10) but for most of us it is grown as an annual, blooming all summer and fall, from seed sown in spring. It is a fast grower and a prolific bloomer, with attractive, broadly toothed, elongated arrow or heart shaped leaves with a rough texture. It covers itself with a multitude of flowers with 5 spreading petals, about 1 1/2 across. The typical color is a warm orange with a dark brownish spot in the center, but there are varieties in various shades of oranges, yellows, and white, with or without the dark eye spot, Most references give the growth rate to about 8' in a season, but ours has grown over 10' this year. In its native habitat and in warm climates, overwintering as a perennial vine, it can reach 20' or more. It is an excellent choice as a seasonal covering for a trellis or a fence, up the side of a house, or as a quick cover for an unsightly corner. The thin stems twine, but they need something to twine on, so give it some kind of support to twist itelf around.  It is frequently used in hanging baskets, where it will trail to about 4'. It does best in average soil, average watering, and full sun or afternoon shade. 

Thunbergia alata 
showing the 'winged' leaf stems 

(Nomenclature note: 
Thunbergia - named for Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1827), a Swedish naturalist and student of medicine, who spent many years in Africa and Japan exploring for plants. considered to be the Father of South African Botany.  
alata - winged, referring to the ridged (winged) petioles (the leaf stems) or maybe for the ridges on the seed capsules) 

I finally cut back the sunflowers. I was leaving the heads on for the birds. I like seeing the chickadees hanging upside down, pecking out the seeds. But now the stems are cut back to stumps, (again, no point in pulling out the roots ) and the few heads that still had seeds in them are now lying face up on the ground and the birds (and squirrels ) are still working on them. A bright blue California Jay was pecking away at them yesterday morning – bossy bully birds, but what a color! Kind of like ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glories on the wing.   

The front yard compost pile, hidden from view by the bamboo trellis that is covered with Scarlet Runner beans in summer, was decomposed enough to use as mulch, so it is now spread over the area that I just cleaned up. It looks better already, and if nothing else was done to this area, I feel like it is ready for winter. But there will still be cleanup to attend to. There were a few zinnias and cosmos with flowers, so I left those. The spots of color are nice, and the bees and other pollinators are still out looking for food. The curly parsley that I planted last year (2012) was left to go to seed this year, so I am seeing LOTS of parsley seedlings germinating under the plants. I don’t think I will ever have to plant it again if I just keep letting at least one go to seed, and keep transplanting the seedlings to better spots. They make such a lovely edging to the flower borders, The frilly foliage is so clean and rich looking, so pretty, and so tasty, and the flowers are such lovely green umbels, swarming with tiny bees this summer. Next year I hope to learn what those bees are.  

(Note to self: use more green flowers next year)

I borrowed this great gardening helper last weekend. A seat for weeding, then turn it over and you have a comfy padded kneeler! Actually, it was a gift to my Mom many years ago, when we thought she could use it, as she was getting older. You can see it's been well used. She is no longer with us, but I came across it in my dad's garage and thought, now isn't that a great idea! So, am I getting old, or just smart? Don't answer that. 

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This stately specimen of Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is in the yard next door, going out in a blaze of glory. I covet those leaves, so I've got my rake and my wheelbarrow ready. Somehow, the neighbors don't seem to mind.  

Blazing !  

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