Saturday, September 28, 2002

a good year for tomatoes

This is the year of the tomato in our micro-climate. I used to think I had to grow the hybrid tomatoes and couldn't grow the old heirloom varieties that didn't have all those letters by the variety name. VFNT: verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, nematode resistance etc.. I know I've gotten some of these fungal diseases on my plants before in wetter years. (And some of those plants were, I swear, the hybrids!) The leaves wilt and turn brown and gradually the plant dies and so doesn't get a chance for maximum production. But not this year. Or at least the wilt is only just starting now to hit some lower leaves. The tomatoes have been great. The Amish heirloom varieties like Pruden's Purple, Brandywine, and Golden Queen make me swoon with the sensuousness of their various shapes and colors, and the depth of flavor. I also grow some hybrids, like Early Girl because it's one of the earliest tomatoes to ripen, and Big Beef, or one of the other BIG main season tomatoes, and Heinz, a paste tomato, to hedge my bets. The hybrids last longer too and are less prone to cracking, so they are what you usually see at stores. The heirlooms you don't find at the big grocery stores. You can find them at the Farmer's Market or a natural food store, like the GreenStar, but there's nothing like the homegrown pleasure of growing those old Amish tomato varieties, and picking them sun-drenched off the vine.

There are practices that help discourage the wilts too. Not planting the tomatoes in the same spot every year. A new one I learned this year from a neighbor is to trim off the bottom-most branches that might be touching the soil because, after all, these are soil-borne diseases.

Another success this year are the Kentucky Wonder pole beans. Got them climbing up a pole and they are lush in spite of the heat. I hear the bush beans don't form proper flowers when it's above 90°, but the pole beans can take it. Today I'm going to can a few pints of pickled dilly beans. I like them and I have one relative, who has rhapsodized about someone else's pickled beans; that's a challenge I can't pass up, so I know what to get him for Christmas.

The cucumbers are a bit of a disappointment this year. With the heat and drought, Steve's best efforts to water every day still couldn't keep up with their needs. I got a few jars of pickles canned and there are a few more cucumbers coming on, but we're not getting the bumper crop we were hoping for.

Low to the warm ground, moving from knees to squat, then standing up and bending over (keep that back straight!), as I move along the rows, eyes close to the ground so as to pick the weeds and not the little spinach seedlings that only sparsely came up compared to the generous showing of purslane and amaranth. Wasps buzzing gently around, attracted by the moisture of the just-watered ground. Weeding is extra important this year, what with the drought and heat. The weeds can rob what moisture there is in the soil from the other plants, but, on the other hand, they can help shade the soil and keep the moisture. What's a mother to do? Why follow your instincts of course.

Weeding is most important with the smallest plants. The bigger plants are deeper rooted and can compete quite well, thank you.

Deadheading the calendula is another enjoyable weekly task--so satisfying to see the bed look bright and alive thereafter. I am reminded of the common saying--"damned if you, and damned if you don't" and I see the obverse here. If you do pick off the flowers that are fading away, then more energy will go into producing more flowers, but if you don't pick them, the flowers turn into seed and the birds enjoy them, and what is left is sown in the ground for another hospitable time.