3.28.2012

Paste, Slicers, Cherry and 'Mystery'

Once I decided to get serious about our garden for the upcoming season, I pulled out the cardboard box that stores all our packets of seeds and reviewed what we had. We had an amazing variety, and some duplicates (but from different seed companies). What I started from seed this year:

  • San Marzano, a paste tomato
  • Costoluto Genovese, another paste tomato
  • "Dirty Girl", a small slicer from saved seed
  • Matt's Cherry, a cherry tomato
  • Big Red, a slicer
  • Dona F1 hybrid, and...
  • Mystery 'Mater

The San Marzano paste tomato makes excellent pasta sauces. We had seeds from three different seed vendors. I planted a few from each vendor, and have ended up with far too many seedlings this season. I'm hoping to find homes for all the plants that did not get planted.

I've never tasted (or even seen) the Costoluto Genovese, another paste tomato. An experiment!

The "Dirty Girl" tomato is one I've only seen at a local mega-organic store, and for only two years. I've not seen it since. The second year is when Spouse urged me to save some of the seed, and I'm glad I did. Of course, this particular tomato could be a hybrid and not set true to it's previous fruit (it's small and sweet like a Campari tomato). We'll see how it goes. Hopefully the plant patent police won't come knocking on my door to drag me away for infringement...

I've never grown a Matt's Cherry or a Big Red tomato, but everyone needs at least one cherry and one beefsteak-style tomato in their garden, right?

The Dona F1 tomatoes were grown by a local horticulturalist from seeds that I'm not at liberty to say how they were obtained *ahem*. There's some strange dust-up about the Dona F1, that the F1 was discontinued, but is now being re-issued, but is it really the F1 or is it an F2?, and oh you can't get F1 in the States, what you're actually getting is the F2, and on, and on, and on. I don't even know if it's a good tomato, but I was given two plants for free, so will see how this one works in our climate. It might just keel over at the first heat wave.

Last but not least, is the Mystery 'Mater. It was from a packet of seeds marked "Tomato", with further info that it was heirloom/open-pollinated, but nothing more. It could be a slicer, a paste, a cherry, or who knows what.

What I forgot to start this year: yellow tomatoes. I'm surprised that I had no seeds for them, cherry, pear or slicer! I love the sweetness and low acidity of yellow tomatoes, but ah well. I think we've plenty of others to keep my Summer tomato addiction sated for the season.

3.27.2012

Project: Raised Beds Experiment, 4x4

Getting any projects done around the property since January has been a tough slog, due to the torqued shoulder. For the raised beds that have been sitting, partially completed, for almost (over?) a year now, I employed a mind-hack almost guaranteed to kick things into gear: started a couple flats of tomato seedlings. In our area of Texas, you need to have your plants in the ground by the first of April, else it will be too late for the early Summer tomato season. And I wouldn't want all those lovely seedlings grown from seed and tended carefully in the house to go to waste, now would I? No, I would not. 

Pic: an empty reworked raised bed.
We had a couple of 8'x4' raised beds in the lower part of the property a few years ago, but the location wasn't ideal for tending. Too easy to forget or overlook, and a pain to haul down the hose for watering. Spouse & I finally dragged the emptied forms from the old spot up to a bare spot on the hillside next to the house. I grew container strawberries and potatoes in that same spot last year, and the location worked well. I also decided to cut the raised beds in half in order to remake them into 4'x4' containers, ala "Square Foot Gardening". The reason for cutting up perfectly good raised beds: ease of maintenance. You wouldn't think that walking the few extra feet to get around a bed would make much difference, but I'm already finding it does.

Pic: a soil-filled bed with tomato seedlings, and covered
with rotted hay for moisture retention. Green plastic
"chicken wire" attached to bed sides for protection
against chickens. Chickens are wily.
The painful part: reworking the beds to be level on the hillside, and having to angle-cut boards to follow the hillside contour. Not the easiest thing in the world. Spouse got the process started, and I finished two more forms on my own. The wood is 1'x8' cedar fencing planks, with 2"x2" support boards to support the corners.  The cedar fence planks may seem thin, but are much more affordable than smooth-milled regular cedar boards, and have worked well in our earlier beds. Another experiment: rather than using wood screws, we're using extra-long staples delivered via a pneumatic staple gun. The attachments feel really sturdy, but we'll see how the staples hold up over the season. No big deal if we have to go back & put in screws later.

Pic: log filler for bottom level of bed. 
Together we made a custom soil mix for the beds, again inspired by "Square Foot Gardening". I made our mix a little heavier than recommended in the book, due to temperature & moisture needs. We filled the lower part of the beds with logs & branches to take up space, then a combination of old potting soil and compost to fill the spaces between. The next level of soil was the mix: topsoil, vermiculite, peat moss, and more compost.

I've got two beds filled with seedlings already - one with paste tomatoes, and one with slicing tomatoes. More on the tomato varieties we're trying out in another post :-).

3.12.2012

It's Spring 2012 and All I Got Was a Frozen Shoulder

Pic: almond blossoms
Spring has come early this year, along with a case of "frozen shoulder" for myself. It has made working on the property a challenge. Never fear, determination (sometimes also expressed as "stupidity") is my strong suit, so I will do everything I can to work around the issue and get this place in shape. On the agenda...

1. Permaculture: had a consultant come out and look over the land. At first glance, looks like we're gonna need to truck in a couple tons of soil, and rent big equipment to move it into berms and swales. Living on the side of a hill often means that rainwater runs off before soaking in, so berms & swales will help hold and retain more moisture for our orchard and pasture needs. He's drawing up some plans, and I'm looking forward to further ideas on what we can do here.

2. Pasture development: since finances will dictate when & how much soil we can move around, it may be a few months or more before we can develop those berms & swales. In the meantime, this Spring the orchard areas will be developed to grow pasture grasses, despite the strong possibility that it will all get torn up & re-arranged later. It will involve raking back the bulkier layers of cedar mulch, spraying the ground with a soil "activator", then fertilizing, then planting a grazing mix of grasses (mostly pasture bermuda with a handful of other grasses). Over the Winter the poultry and waterfowl have kept the front & side grasses clipped/eaten golf-course short, and we need to expand, like, NOW.

pic: needs more logs, seriously
3. Raised 4x4 Terraced Garden Beds: I've two beds ready to go, and am filling the bottom & deeper parts with old log pieces in a small-scale hugulkultur experiment. It'll be great if the experiment helps the beds to retain more moisture, which is always a challenge during the dry months. If all else fails, it will take up some of the space that would normally be filled with soil, saving us on soil/compost fill needs. I also need to get the remaining beds built, as we've got...

Pic: Tomatoes. Lots of 'em.
4. Tomato seedlings: a boatload of 'em. 57 to be exact. Many to be given away, I'm sure. A small handful of tomatillo, and the rest a combination of open-pollinated paste, slicing, and cherry tomatoes. There's some from saved seed, some from seed catalogs, and two from a local shop that is a looong story, but the seeds are from a once-thought-abandoned line of tomatoes. We'll see how well they do here.

5. Gathering Native Cuttings: a former co-worker and friend has a humungous female native mulberry from which she's generously allowing me to take cuttings this year. The native mustang grapes are also starting to bud, which means I need to hit the backroads and get some cuttings from the roadside fences. Both provide fruit which will be a welcome addition to our poultry forage needs, and for human consumption as well.

6. Get That @#$!! Rainwater Collection Installed on the Coop! *sigh*... self explanatory.