Friday, October 14, 2016

And it's a wrap. Garden season 2016 is done. "Not" enough tomatoes.

It's snowing, and not for the first time this fall. The 2016 garden season is definitely over, and it's time to make notes on what worked and what didn't, so I don't make the same mistakes next spring.

I started my tomato plants from seed for the first time ever this year. Way back in February (February???) when we bought the full spectrum LED lights and hung the shelves to start seeds, I had no intention of starting tomatoes, thinking they were far too fussy and difficult for my newbie skill set. And then I happened upon some heirloom varieties by West Coast Seeds at Earth's General store, and decided to risk the $10 or $12 for four bags of seed.

I haphazardly planted my first rounds of seed sometime in March using the seed packets that I had in various drawers from past years, just to see what would germinate. I relied on being able to distinguish species on leaf shape. I learned my lesson, and planted the second round more carefully, keeping meticulous records of which seed went into which row of the tray. 

The four varieties were:

Black Krim
Old German
Purple Bumblebee
Golden Nugget

I started seeds on March 16 and again on April 7, six of each variety each time. As the seeds germinated and the seedlings grew taller, I'd carefully transplant them into taller containers, so that only the top two leaves were out of the dirt. I'd read that was the right way to promote strong roots, and it seemed to do the trick. 

According to my meticulous record keeping - phone camera photos and a spreadsheet - the Purple Bumblebee did not germinate at all. The Golden Nugget were very successful, with a high germination rate and robust seedlings. I was sure we'd have a bumper crop of glorious yellow tomatoes for yellow tomato ketchup. I was also sure I'd have a lot of transplants to give to friends and family. I ended up with only 13/32 plants in the ground here and gave one Old German away. 

I transplanted Basil into each of the pots as well. My herb seedling transplants were almost all failures though that's a topic for a subsequent post.

More meticulous record keeping:

At the end of June, the plants were doing nicely and a few had some blossoms forming. 
And then it hailed. First week of July. Hail stones only about the size of peas. But they beat the crap out of my plants. 

It was like starting over for many of them. But, none of the plants died, and ten produced at least one tomato (and most of them produced many). By mid August they were all around three feet tall.

It turns out that Golden Nugget are more cherry tomato size than the described 1 inch tomatoes. I had three plants in large black pots, and they produced very prolifically. We were eating ripe tomatoes by August 6.
They're so pretty, and I wished I could figure out a way to preserve them as is. Ultimately, I roasted them whole (without removing seeds), which was as close as I could get to maintaining their color and shape. Ready to roast - fresh garden herbs and olive oil.

And I had a nice surprise in that one of the 13 plants was a Purple Bumblebee. Also a cherry tomato. And also really pretty.

Some of these vine ripened too. As did a few of the Black Krim. I learned that those needed to be picked as soon as they started turning as they ripened super quickly. 

Black Krim are a very, very dark tomato with green streaks that turn to black over time. The other variety, Old German, was the least productive, which is super unfortunate because it was definitely another great looking tomato - and big and yellow. 
Old German on the left, a small Black Krim on the right. 
A different Old German:

Inside Black Krim

I picked all of the unripe larger tomatoes with the first frost warning, pretty early in September. We hauled the potted herbs and the cherry tomatoes in and out of the garage for a few weeks, but they've come in too, along with the peppers and squash that I dutifully covered in hopes they might mature if we had a few more sunny, warm days.

The herbs are transplanted into colorful pots in the hope they'll keep growing over the winter. Yesterday I roasted the last of the ripened tomatoes, the squash and a few of the jalapenos. Roasting ended up being the primary preservation method for the tomatoes this year, since there were never large enough quantities ripe at the same time to do anything else. Also, that makes for really delicious tomato sauce for pasta or pizza.

The final harvest:

And so, not only did I start tomatoes from seed and keep them alive all summer, I've also now collected their seeds so I can do this all over again next spring. I started out with the goal of just enough produce to eat as it ripened, and ended up disappointed that I didn't have huge bumper crops to preserve and share. Next spring I'll be more generous with the number of plants I start. 

Overall I think the methodology for the tomatoes was pretty good, and I'm perfectly fine blaming the July hail and all the rain for the under production of some of the plants. I used 'organic' fertilizer very sparingly too, and perhaps that's something else worth modifying.

On further reflection, it was not 'Not Enough Tomatoes'. It was just right. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Fine Line Between Reduce, Re-use and Recycle, and Hoarding

I come by it quite honestly. Legend has it that my maternal grandmother had repurposed gallon glass pickle jars full of saved bread clips, because you just never know when you might need to secure a bag or two. Grandma was born in 1916, farmed, lived in a small town, and lived through the depression and the wars. She had every reason to stockpile things that could be re-used.

My dad has spent many, many hours over the last few years reorganizing his garage. Everything is now in it's place and properly labeled. This includes bins full of every size imaginable plumbing connection (he's a pipe fitter by trade and understands that a plumbing emergency might require a specific size elbow), electrical marettes, golf balls (yes) - anything that may have a valid future use. Organized for re-use. Not reduced.

Reusing is good. Keeping things out of the landfill is good. Not having to buy a new one when this old one will do is good. But, when does that good intent cross the line? When is it a problem?

This is the question I'm asking myself now, as I sterilize years worth of bedding plant containers and other pots that I've 'saved' along the way. I can't be sure how many summers they represent but judging from the price tags still on them, they represent quite a nice chunk of change.

I'm finally going to reuse them, as temporary homes for all the lovely little seedlings I've started. But once those seedlings are planted in their forever homes in my garden, what will become of these pots? I expect that they will be saved again, for another 'future' use.

The seedlings are doing alright, though I believe I've been over watering them. The earliest germinators - sunflowers and pumpkin - aren't thriving. Luckily there is plenty of time to start more. We are technically still 6 to 7 weeks away from frost free nights.

The morning glory are thriving, and I still haven't killed the cucumbers. 

I'm slowly able to tell the herbs from one another. Cilantro and Sage both germinated well. The thyme and oregano seem to be lagged. 

I need to figure out the best practices for transplanting the peppers and tomatoes. I'm thinking they should go into larger, deeper pots now so they can establish good strong roots. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A sudden urge to write

I'd been writing educational content as my day job for the last couple of years, and found it almost impossible to do any writing for myself. Changed jobs last fall, and haven't written anything in months. This morning I have a sudden urge to put some words on paper, so to speak.

I think a lot about actions that I can take to reduce my own, and my family's, carbon footprint. I know that my activities are but a teeny drop into a global bucket, but truly believe that if we each made a little more effort to change our own behaviour, and spent less time criticizing others on the globe, we'd all be better off.

And so, one of the actions I've chosen is to try to grow my own vegetables this year. I try every year, of course, because I really love gardening. But this year I'm going further. We installed some grow lights: fluorescent tubes (LED at 6500K weren't available) with the right color profile, 8 ft. of shelves to hold 4 seed trays, and an ever growing collection of seeds to try.

I started the first two trays about 10 days ago, with some freshly purchased seeds (cucumbers, sunflowers, morning glory) and decided to try germinating the packs of seeds I'd found around the house on my organizing spree in January. Much to my surprise almost all of them have germinated, even seeds that I've had for at least 5 years.

Trouble is, I didn't record what I planted where. I can tell that the cucumbers have germinated, but I don't know which are the English and which are the pickling. And, frankly, I think some of them are actually buttercup squash. I know that the sunflowers have germinated, and expect I'll soon be able to tell the dwarf from the giant, but not the red from the gold. I suspect I won't be able to tell the peppers from the tomatoes for a while.

As the seedlings have outgrown the small seed pods, I've moved them over into 2 inch pots, and replanted in the smaller cells. I've now got some spots with slower germinating seeds from round one growing with the seeds planted in round two.

And my collection of seeds has grown. Each trip to the hardware store brings a new batch. This week, as I was leaving from having my hair cut, I noticed the store next to the salon sold seeds from West Coast Seed. I now have another dozen kinds of (organic and open pollinated) seed varieties to try.

If each cucumber seedling grows up to produce even one cucumber, I'll be ahead of the game financially. And if they happen to be more productive than that, then you all may be hearing from me. Need zucchini?