Wednesday, July 18, 2012

But Darlin, we can’t eat flowers

My wife, Sweet Tomato, and also sometimes known as Darlin Girl thought it would be nice to grow flowers in one of the raised beds I have traditionally used to grow tomatoes.  Now the garden and growing tomatoes has been my passion and responsibility for many, many years.  I am the one that pours over seed catalogs in the winter, digs three foot deep trenches with a pick axe to remove clay that is the naturally occurring soil in San Diego and spends hours caring for my tomato plants through the summer.  Sweet Tomato maintains an herb garden conveniently located at the edge of the raised beds in our garden.  She helps me can tomatoes during the harvest and generally is supportive of my obsession. 
So when Sweet Tomato brought up the subject of growing flowers instead of tomatoes, I was understandably aghast at the thought of flowers replacing tomatoes in my garden.  In the early years of our marriage, I thought I was the boss.  When our children were born, I realized I was not the boss, and never had been.  I saw the boss’ job, and truth be told, I didn’t want it.  So, after my obligatory wailing and gnashing of teeth, I asked Sweet Tomato what kind of flowers she wanted to plant and where she wanted to plant them.  That is when Sweet Tomato added insult to injury and whipped out one of my own seed catalogs, turned to the back page and showed me several flower garden offerings for butterflies, bumblebees, hummingbirds and songbirds.  I was mortified.  One of my own seed catalogs used against me, the indignity of it.
Sweet Tomato decided that she would like the butterfly habitat which we ordered from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog.  To quote from the catalog’s evil propaganda: “…colorful mixture of happy summer butterfly camps full of yummy nectar and friendly host plants.”  ‘Yummy nectar’, what is ‘yummy nectar’, as if I was going to eat the dang flowers. The catalog goes on with a whole list of flowers, none of which I had ever heard of before.   So we ordered the butterfly flower mix and planted it this spring.  I had some sunflower seeds lying around, so I planted those as well.
Here is the flower mix we planted.
Here is the flower bed in June, before the sunflowers sprouted.
Here is the flower bed in July with sunflowers beginning to tower over the original flowers.

As much as I hate to admit it, the flowers do add beauty to the garden.  Sweet Tomato and I especially enjoy watching the small birds and finches in the evening that flock to the flower habitat.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Yes, We Have Few Tomatoes

The season always starts with such promise: new varieties of tomatoes selected, new vegetables to try, the entire off-season spent researching and planning. But ultimately, such hopes and knowledge can't prepare for an off year. I have been tending garden since 2007 and this is my first, true, off year. Two weeks ago, I pulled out my Momotaro and one Mariana's Peace tomato plants. Today I pulled out two Russian heirlooms and the Matina tomatoes. The were suffering from a variety of ailments, some of which I can speculate rather than diagnose with certainty. A nutrient deficiency is one theory explains failure to thrive. Insufficient watering explains the leaf curl. Now combine weakened plants with pernicious powdery mildew and an unknown blight and half my crop had to be destroyed before the plants could produce any significant quantity or quality of tomatoes.

Papi Tomato suspects verticillium wilt. My Matina is down for the count.
Leaf curl, premature discoloration, and mildew
My San Marzano Redorta is doing okay, but not thriving
Russian heirloom with wilting blight - they're in the trash heap now.
Powdery mildew
My poor sad tomato bed

And to add insult to injury - blossom end rot!
 It is an odd contradiction that the garden as a whole has never looked better. The weeds are under control. The roses are blooming beautifully and prolifically. My side yard fruit trees are burgeoning with pomegranates and fragrant with the earthy smell of almost ripe figs. My patio is a colorful and hospitable place for birds, butterflies, and feline and human guests. But the tomatoes keep failing and any fruit I have is small, hard, and sometimes downright unpalatable.

This fall into winter will be the time to regroup and refocus on the foundation of a healthy garden: making deep improvements to the soil. I plan to add massive amounts of compost to the soil along with some natural and organic fertilizers. My main beds will be covered through the winter season with the exception of two beds held over for wildflowers. I will grow a minimal cool season vegetable garden to help keep me fresh and in the game. But truth be told, after this disappointing season I need a break to nurse my hurt pride.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Papi’s 2012 Lineup: Third Flight

Dagma’s Perfection

This is new to the lineup this year.  It is a bi-colored heirloom tomato and is described as very picturesque. Tomatoes are 10 to 12 ounces with hints of tropical fruit.  I doubt the tropical fruit part, but the pictures of this beauty could fool you into thinking you were eating a papaya or a pineapple.  My main reason for trying this tomato is to compare it to my perennial favorite, Cory’s Grandpa (see my blog Papi’s 2012 Lineup: Second Flight for the story behind Cory’s Grandpa).

Abraham Lincoln

This tomato is new to the lineup this year.  Old Abe has been around for a long time.  The tomato that is. 

Abraham Lincoln’ was introduced in 1923 by the W. H. Buckbee seed company of Rockford, Ill., which named the tomato in honor of the state’s favorite son. It was released without much fanfare, but over the years it has proved itself to be one of the great tomato classics that happily survived the big shift to hybrids during the 1940s. After the demise of the Buckbee firm, the tomato was continued by R. H. Shumway of Randolph, Wis.”

Advertised as an abundant provider with 6 to 10 ounce tomatoes. Good texture with higher amount of acid, but also tempered with sweetness.


Zapotec has been in the lineup before.  This is a great tasting tomato with thick flesh great for making sauces and canning.  Zapotec is an heirloom from Mexico and is reputed to be the progenitor of the Italian heirloom tomato Costoluto Genovese.  According to myth, legend or history, the Spanish Conquistadors brought this tomato back from their conquest of Mexico and introduced it to Europe.  The Costoluto Genovese is renowned for its great sauces and taste.  Zapotec is every bit as good and in my opinion is better looking than the Costoluto Genovese.

Copia has been in the lineup before.  It is also a bi-colored tomato.  It is advertised as a stabilized cross between a Green Zebra and Marvel Stripe.  The tomatoes are 10 to 12 ounces and the tomato was named for the Copia American Center for Food and Wine in Napa California.  I had the good fortune to visit the Copia Center several years ago with my wife (Sweet Tomato) before it closed in bankruptcy in 2008.  The Copia is every bit as tasty as it is beautiful.