Archive for the 'Gardening' Category

Jeopardy question: What is 40?

Answer: The number of tomatoes currently ripening on our windowsills.  = )


I saw something wonderful this evening when I was spraying the garden.

No, I don’t do the organic thing. Every few weeks I toss handfuls of cheap-o, dry, chemical tomato fertilizer around the base of my plants and water it in to make them dark green and lovely, and when I see lacy leaves, I spray them with another wonderful chemical product that fights fungal infections and keeps insects from eating them. I was doing the latter this evening when I spied something orange among the lush, healthy-looking tomato plants in the pot labeled “Oaxacan Jewel.”

Each of my pots has two plants this year because I was too wimpy to cull the seedlings, and even after I gave a few plants away, I still had way too many – so I planted all of them. The Oaxacan Jewels are yellow tomatoes that grow huge, heavy, and hideous-looking, cracking long before they’re ripe, but I planted them again this year because they have absolutely The. Very. Best. Flavor. Imaginable.

My goal is always to get a ripe tomato by the 4th of July, but even though I usually start my seeds around Valentine’s Day, that never happens. I always pick for the first time in the second or third week of July. And this year I started them around Scott’s birthday, which made for only one month of tending before planting instead of two, and I punted the peat pellets, which made for much less work during that one month. Having started them so much later than usual, I figured it would be late July before I could pick anything.

But it seems that while one of the plants in the Oaxacan Jewel pot is indeed a Oaxacan Jewel, and the other plant must’ve come from a stray grape tomato seed that found its way into the Oaxacan Jewel seed packet. And sure enough, today I picked one lone grape tomato! And it, as well as all the other still-green grape tomatoes on that plant, has blossom end rot, but the good news is that my Early Girl, First Prize, Better Bush, Big Beef, and Oaxacan Jewel plants all have lots of nice, green, growing fruit, none of which is plagued by blossom end rot. I worked some more egg shells (calcium) into the soil of the affected plant, so although the current grape tomatoes may not be edible, hopefully subsequently-formed ones will be. No great loss, as I wasn’t expecting any grape tomatoes anyway.

I’m just very glad to see something getting ripe out there!

All the tomatoes have been picked!

With an overnight forecast of 29 degrees, I decided I’m done tending tomatoes on the vine, so I picked them all (green) this morning, and this evening I boxed them all in the playroom to ripen. Feel free to remind me to check them every two days. Sometimes I forget or just don’t want to be bothered, and then they rot, but I want each and every one to ripen and be delicious! I didn’t count them, but I probably have about 200. Most are small (golf-ball sized), but I have one box of maybe 30 or so good-sized ones, including a few of Scott’s new favorite bicolor variety, Oaxacan Jewel.

While I was working with my tomatoes so much today, I gave the whole process some thought, and I realized that out of 52 weeks in a year, I will have about six weeks off from tomato duty this winter. I plant the seeds around Valentine’s Day, and then I’m watering them daily under lights in the attic, transplanting them once, and continuing the daily watering till I plant them outside around tax day. Then I tend them daily outside, which means means mulching, daily watering, fertilizing and/or spraying as needed, and finally daily harvesting(!!!) beginning in early to mid-July. That all continues daily till frost, and then once the green ones are picked and boxed, I check them frequently inside (when I remember) until they are all either eaten, given, or discarded, usually around the first of the year.

That means that every year I am dealing with tomatoes just about daily in one way or another from February 14 till December 31! And while I really like growing tomatoes and eating tomatoes and sharing tomatoes, the daily-ness of ten and-a-half MONTHS of tomato-tending is beginning to wear on me.

I think I will consider scaling back somewhat next year.

And yes, go ahead and laugh at and with me; that’s what I had thought I was doing this year!

They’re not open yet, but

I have tiny green things that will soon be yellow flowers on my tomato plants. YAY!

And the peonies are in bloom in their snow-white glory back by the bird feeder.

Have I mentioned that I LOVE spring?!?

Pots and more pots

I feel a little like the woman to whom Elisha said, “Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few.” 

It’s time to make the donuts plant the tomatoes, and that requires pots. Over the past few years, I have amassed a nice collection of cheap-o Wal-Mart 15″ plastic pots. I take off the bottom saucer (useless in my situation), put a small rock in the pot over each drain hole (yes, this means collecting some hundred pieces of gravel), arrange three small pieces of wood on the sidewalk to provide some elevation for water to drain, place the pot on the pieces of wood, and fill it with potting soil.

The issue is the pots. They are, as mentioned above, cheap plastic, which is perfectly fine for tomatoes, none of whom gives a rip about his or her personal appearance. But (and despite my repeated admonitions) when Andrew weed-eats the yard and goes around the pots, the torque of the twine is sufficient to whack holes in the pots. Small holes are not a big deal, but when they become inches long and an inch wide, the water I put in from the top runs out the hole(s) before the soil becomes saturated. Rather frustrating.

So this year, I sorted the pots into three groups: intact, holey but usable, and too holey to use (a.k.a. “holier than thou”). And combining the first  two groups, I had six pots, but I had twelve tomato plants to go in those pots, and they really need to be one plant to a pot. Actually, I HAD had 24 tomato plants because when I planted the seeds two to a peat pellet to insure that each pellet would have at least one plant, every single seed sprouted! So I gave half the plants to my friend, Judy, but to accommodate the twelve plants I have left (and that doesn’t count the six Big Beef plants that will go in the side yard barrels), I needed six more pots.

I went to Wal-Mart this morning and got six more pots for a little under $7 each (good price), brought them home, and then thought, “But do I really need to plant 18 tomato plants?!? Especially when I decided last year that about 10 plants was enough for the three of us, and 12 is enough to be able to give some away?”

But we will be having a number of guests this summer, what with a WEDDING and all(!!!), and we don’t know yet about Scott’s work, and I definitely want to keep Pastor Barb stocked (she really likes my homegrown tomatoes), and if I have too many I might be able to sell some (but do I really want to hassle with that? and who would buy them? etc.), so I finally decided to use only four of the new pots and maybe double up some of the plants or maybe give more to Judy, and oh, I will be ever so glad when the decisions have been made and the plants are planted and I don’t have to think about all this stuff!

I just want to get to that so very fun “water and cage and look for the first blossoms” stage.

But until then, I’ve got pots, even empty pots, and not a few.


A reading from Luke 2, PSRV

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Patty’s brain that all the seeds should be planted.

2 (And this planting was first made when Valentine’s Day had arrived.)

3 And all the seeds went into moistened peat pellets, every two into their own pellet.

4 And the pelletized tomato and red pepper and jalapeno seeds were all placed first into tan plastic trays under clear plastic lids, and then set in non-leaking foil pans that were carefully positioned on the middle of Jessica’s bed (because we had thrown out the dead office closet computer upon which we had germinated seeds for many years:)

5 To be warmed by her bed-heater, the bed being unmade and great with heat.

6 And so it was, that, while Patty waited, the days were accomplished that the seeds should begin to sprout.

7 And she brought forth her attic nursery, and set up the PVC frame, and laid out the ironing board, but then became greatly distressed; because there were no fluorescent fixtures or bulbs for them in the attic.

8 And there were in the same attic Robertses, searching in the library and the secret closet and Katie’s room and Katie’s closet, seeking two four-foot-long fluorescent fixtures and four four-foot-long fluorescent bulbs, keeping watch for them by the afternoon sun.

9 And, lo, Scott came to Patty and Josiah and spoke to them, and the glory of renewed hope sprung within them: and they were neither sore nor afraid.

10 And Scott said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I took down the attic nursery last year because it had remained up for so very long, and it did, yea and verily frustrate me. And although I don’t remember where I put the fixtures and bulbs, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For in the shop, you may find those items, which will be to you a great light.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the bulbs in the shop or in the lawn building or in the smokehouse or in the playroom or in the cellar, probably not wrapped in anything and lying wherever I placed them.

13 And despite looking diligently in all those places, there was sadly no heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and in the attic, peace and good light toward seedlings.

15 And it came to pass, as Patty realized the gravity of the situation, that she said to Scott, Let me now go even unto Home Depot, and see those things which I need to buy, which the Lord hath not made known unto us.

16 And she went with haste, and passing F Highway, considered that no tomato-loving Roberts would ever have trashed the sought-after items. Hence they had to be somewhere on the property, but what could possibly be the hiding place for six white items each four feet long? And she thought of Katie’s bed.

17 And when she had had this thought, she made known to Jo’s cell phone the saying which might be true concerning these items.

18 And he, when he heard it, also wondered at this thing which was told him by his mother. And he did go immediately and look under Katie’s bed, where the six lost items all were found.

19 But Patty kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And she returned home, glorifying and praising God for all the things that had been found, as it was told unto her.

21 And when twenty minutes were accomplished for the connecting and setting up of the lights, the job was called FINISHED, which was so named of Patty before it had been begun.

Jeopardy question: What is 2.5?

Answer:  The number of hours it takes to fertilize and fully water your veggie containers and your two flower beds, tie up all your tomato vines, pick the ripe tomatoes, and spray all your broad leaf foliage (read:  everything but the marigolds) with Amdro Rose and Plant Care (ARAPC) IF it’s mid-August and you haven’t done squat in your garden for at least a week.

This ARAPC stuff is just plain good.  At least as good as cardboard.  It’s a combination insecticide and anti-fungal concentrate that:

~ keeps the Japanese beetles from making lace of morning glory leaves

~ keeps tomatoes from getting (or at least reduces the severity of ) various diseases like early blight and fusarium wilt

~ keeps those hideous tomato horn worms at bay

~ and does a host of other wonderful things as needed

The only problem is that after several years of using it very successfully in my garden, it has now been discontinued.  AARRGGHH!  But to my great credit, and even without the assistance of Research Consultant, I did manage to find four bottles online, so I won’t have to stress about finding a replacement product for some two or three more years.

Now, the shipment of those bottles (about the size of, but of a flatter shape than, a bottle of vegetable oil) to our house was noteworthy.  One day, I got a call from the Forsyth post office.  Note that although our mailing address is in Walnut Shade and we always trade at the Rockaway Beach post office, our incoming mail actually comes from Forsyth.  Go figure.

The very nice Forsyth postmaster asked me what was in the box addressed to me from some obscure company whose name I don’t now recall.  (I had ordered the ARAPC juice from amazon.)  The company name didn’t ring a bell, but the lady said the box was leaking, and it had leaked over other customers’ mail, so she needed to know what exactly it was that was leaking.  Specifically, she wanted to know if whatever it was was poisonous; if it was a hazardous chemical, she was debating whether or not to close down the post office for the safety of her employees.

Wow!  I guess the postal service still takes biochemical terrorist threats very seriously.

About that time, my brain turned on, and I guessed what could be in the box.  I told her it was probably stuff to spray on my garden to help my tomatoes grow.  Boy, was she relieved.  I asked if she wanted me to come pick up the box, but she said no, they would deliver it.  They just needed to make sure it was safe for our carrier to handle.

When the box arrived on our porch. . . Well, picture this.  Take four bottles of vegetable oil.  Throw them loose, with absolutely no packing material or paperwork whatsoever, into a used cube-shaped box that is approximately 15 inches on a side.  Seal the box with one lonely strip of packing tape, slap on a label with my mailing address, don’t bother to mark out the scribbled “MEDIA ROOM – DOWNSTAIRS” Sharpie marker notation on one side of the box, and mail it to me.

One corner of the box was soaked, but I figured it was no big deal.  It was probably like an old car.  If your car leaks oil onto the garage floor, it looks like a huge puddle, but if you put newspaper down to catch the drip, you find that it’s really only about 13 drops.  All four Amdro bottles still had their foil seals, all the lids were screwed on, and none of the bottles (they have a little clear strip on the side that lets you see the liquid inside) seemed to be low on fluid.  I’m thinking that when the box was thrown around by postal employees – those fine folks who also train airline baggage handlers – a few drops somehow leaked out of one or more of the bottles.  It was enough to soak the box corner ooze onto someone else’s mail, and it was enough to make the the Forsyth postmaster think she might have a terrorism story for Fox News, but given that the merchant was clearly a small-time player, I decided it wasn’t enough to bother trying to get any reimbursement.

I sprayed some ARAPC from one of those bottles on my plants this morning, during my very satisfying 2.5 hours of gardening.

On the changing of seasons

Given the option, I generally don’t do change.  My tendency, at least historically, has been to try to get something, anything, figured out in a way that works and then LEAVE THAT PUPPY ALONE!  I have learned, however, that change is unavoidable and (I do choke to type these words) can actually be good, and although I still fight against it and struggle to work through it, I do at least intellectually realize that life goes better when I face and deal appropriately with change.

As you may well know, I grow tomatoes in containers, and I tend those babies more or less daily from about Valentine’s Day till sometime in November.  I really shouldn’t complain about that, because tomato-growing is my choice.  No one makes me do it, but by about Labor Day, it does start to get old.

Tonight’s low is expected to be 22 degrees.  Every other year, when the first frost is expected, I recruit Andrew to go out and help me move move the tomatoes and cover them with sheets and clip the sheets in place with clothespins.  Then the next morning, we uncover them and hang the sheets out to dry, and the next night we re-cover them, and we repeat this process for one or two or three or more days until the nighttime temps climb back up above 35.  Which they usually do, and then they tend to stay up for a week or ten days before dipping back down, which requires another round of covering and uncovering.

I do this because I have chosen to grow indeterminate tomatoes, meaning that the vines keep growing and the plants keep producing fruit until they die.  Kind of like people. . .  Hmm. . .  Anyway, it’s Halloween, and not only did I have loads of green tomatoes on the vines, I actually still had BLOSSOMS on those plants!  And something in me just can’t stand to let all those green tomatoes die!  It seems like such a waste.  So I complain as I cover and uncover, and then eventually, when I can’t stand doing that any more and it looks like we’re going to have a hard freeze that will do the plants in once and for all, I pick all the green tomatoes and store them in boxes in the unheated playroom, where a number of them will gradually ripen.  Last year, we ate our last homegrown tomato in the second week of January.  = )

But this year I decided that I wasn’t going to do the cover-uncover two-step because – are you ready? – I don’t have to.  My tomatoes are a hobby; we surely won’t starve without them, we can afford to lose some of them, and my time and mental energy are more valuable than a windowsill full of Big Beefs, Early Girls, and First Prizes.

Tonight will be well below freezing, and although the seven-day forecast says we’ll be back up in the 40s all the subsequent nights, I picked all the green tomatoes (two full buckets’ worth; maybe 25 pounds?) today, pulled the poles and cages, and chucked the vines into the ditch.

Yes, I will check the playroom boxes twice a week and move to the windowsill those that have potential, but other than that, I am done.

This is actually an important emotional process for me.  I am learning – and training myself to – let go of things when their seasons are done.  Like pain that has been faced and processed.  Like day-to-day parenting of adult kids who now live on their own.  Like friendships that were close but now aren’t.  Like expectations that are no longer (and maybe never were) realistic.

So, while I know that I am potentially losing the opportunity to enjoy some subset of our homegrown tomato crop, I am choosing to be thankful for the ones we we’ve already eaten and glad that I will have more time for other things in the coming months.

And next year, I’ll grow more tomatoes.  = )

On lacking “no good thing” ~ Psalm 34:10

It being an odd-numbered year, our plum trees have once again produced a bumper crop of tart, grape-sized plums.  It goes against my nature to let perfectly good fruit rot on the ground, so this year I decided that I would once again make plum preserves.  I stocked up on the essentials – jars, lids and rings, sugar, and pectin – and started picking.

I have carefully calculated that it takes exactly 3/5 of a bucket of plums to produce the requisite six cups of prepared fruit.  That’s a lot of tiny plums, many of which have blemishes that need to be cut out, and all of which have a seed that needs to be cut out.  Then once pitted, the plums have to be cut up into tiny pieces.  The most time-consuming part of making plum preserves with such small plums is definitely the cutting out and cutting up.  It takes about an hour and-a-half to do that.

But after our first two batches (which Scott helped with!), I had a brilliant idea.  We have this nifty new blender, and maybe I could dump the pitted plums into the blender and let it do the cutting up.  Which I did, and it worked magnificently.  Whew!  With that technique, I was able to get the whole procedure down to about three hours total per batch.

And we did six batches.

Which resulted in fifty-nine (59) 8-oz. jars of plum preserves!

Last time, with the wonderful help of Scott’s mom and Andrew, we put up 38 jars, but what with our eating them and giving them away, we ran out in January of this year.  Then Scott started mentioning our lack homemade plum preserves, his fondness for homemade plum preserves, and his desire for me to buy SOME kind of store-bought something to go with peanut butter. . . like maybe blackberry jam.  Which I did buy, but he kept talking about plum preserves.

Loosely calculating that at 38 jars (rounded down to 36 for easier figuring) lasting 18 months, our usage – either personally or publicly – was about two jars per month, and since I wanted this year’s batch to last the full 24 months, I wanted to produce something in the range of 48 jars (rounded up to 50 because that’s an easier number to remember).  Technically, I could have stopped with our fifth batch (total, 48 jars), but we still 3/4 of a bucket of uncut plums sitting on the kitchen floor, and I was two jars short, so I pressed on for another three hours and 11 more jars.

There are still loads of plums ripening on the trees, but the deer have been enjoying the ones off the ground and on the low branches.  I know this is true because 1) one evening, after washing the Durango, Andrew counted six deer munching away under the plum trees, and 2) they do leave evidence of their presence.  ‘Nuff said.

We took the rest of the bucket of uncut plums to our friend, JR, at church.  He said he’d feed them to his chickens.  At least, I think it was chickens.  Or maybe it was some other animal.  His family has chickens, ducks, rabbits, cats, and dogs, and they are wanting to get a milk cow. . . or was that a goat?  Well, anyway, we gave the leftovers to JR for his animals.  The ones still on the trees and under them are now officially fair game for critters and/or neighbors.  I guess some neighbors can be critters, as well, but thankfully none of ours are.

I have gotten all the canning stuff put away, and I’ve mopped the floor for about the fourth time in a week.  (Be it noted that when making plum preserves, no matter what precautions you take, the floor is unbearably sticky within the first hour.)

It was exhausting, but fun, and I do feel quite productive.

We have no lack of plum preserves!

Egg shell answer

Katie was closest, but even she was fairly far off.  The answer is that to obtain a heaping two cups of crushed egg shells one must crack SIXTY eggs!  Pretty amazing, eh?  But I have good news:  we are picking big, beautiful, delicious red ripe tomatoes with no blossom end rot in sight.

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