The Great Tomato Disaster of 2011: Then there was the wind. We’ve dealt with the effects of the Ridge Wind out here but this has to be on the top of the disappointment list, right next to losing the 50ft white spruce this last winter. We came home the evening of Aug. 24th to find the wreckage from a 30+mph wind that decided to take aim at the tomatoes. The corn had minimal damage but the poorly supported tomato plants, some of which were approaching the 6ft mark, packed with heavy fruit did not fare so well. Row after row were toppled over onto one another, green tomatoes strewn about on the ground and stems bent and broken. What was once 6ft tall lay close to 3ft. So we went about figuring out what to do regarding the problem. Stakes were procured and placed, support structures were erected and the plants re-supported. Unfortunately this process took us a handful of evenings and was mentally/physically taxing. It’s our own fault frankly, we put so many plants so close to one another and didn’t prune or train the plants much, a simple flimsy cage to get them going and we ended up with way more than those cages could handle. Personally I got frustrated several times as I untangled a plant only to have multiple branches break off, borderline mad. Mad at my ignorance, like you could just put them in the ground. Next year careful consideration will be taken when dealing with tomatoes and the wind, pruning will occur regularly and the plants will be dispersed amongst more beds rather than all contained in one or two. Significant support structures will be put in place prior to planting, learn from your mistakes.
After a couple of evenings struggling to get the tomatoes back to their former glory we had close to twenty pounds of green tomatoes and with them the first batch of ripe tomatoes on many of our plants. The bright light at the end of this tunnel? Learning. We know what went wrong and I’ll be hard pressed to see it happen again next year. Despite many broken and damaged branches the plants should come back alright and will provide us with a bounty of tomatoes. As a result of the Great Tomato Disaster we were forced to clean up and deal with many of the dead and dying branches on the plants exposing us to fruit we couldn’t see before as well as exposing that fruit to the healthy rays of sunlight that couldn’t penetrate the thick canopy.
The rest of the garden was fairly untouched by the strong winds, things are rolling along well. Our fears that a late start would result in less edible fruit has faded with the ripening of the corn and the later varieties of tomatoes. Our zucchini and summer squash continue to give up a healthy bounty daily. The cucumbers are giving us a handful of good-sized fruit each day as well as the peas. The big bright spot for the weekend: pole beans. Liz and I were hoping that we might be able to harvest enough beans to freeze a bunch for over winter, with our poor success with the bush beans we put all our stock in the pole beans which up until this last weekend had grown large and full but hadn’t shown us any signs of beans. Where there is a flower… and now we have the first of many beans growing. On the long list of things to do this week: mulch. Mulch everything, the garden paths, the tomato beds and especially the onions and carrots.
A jungle, a mess, a beautiful, wild mess, that is how I would describe the tomato plants in the garden as of yesterday. This first year’s trials are teaching us subtleties of our garden that will allow us to better plan and prep for next year. The tomato plants require more support than we’ve given them. We’ve also given thought to pruning back some of the determinant plant’s branches but at this point almost every branch has fruit hanging from it at some point. Next year a hand-made tomato plant support system will be required if we choose to attempt the tomato jungle again. As of now we have over 30 varieties growing many of which are beginning to ripen. My favorites are the Garden Peach, Italian Ice and the Lemon Boy. I’ll go over the varieties more in detail once oodles of red ripeness start showing up daily.
Other developments: The pole beans have grown and grown and are now full plants that are eagerly laying claim to the trellis that is supposed to be for the peas (spacing problem #44). The issue here is that despite vigorous growth we have no fruit, no beans. If we get them they will provide enough to freeze several bags, if not I have just fed a very large web of green leaves. Another note, if the pickler cucumbers you’ve planted are even borderline ready… pick them. 24hrs later they will have grown into a HUGE cucumber that is best on salads and not in the pickling jar. More on the cucumbers later… The corn is growing ever higher and has finally stretched above the 6ft tall tomato plants, the ears are beginning to really fill out. Squash is coming daily along with hot peppers and a few tomatoes, soon we will be forced to learn to can on a larger scale. For now things are progressing well, the thick layers of mulch have kept soil moisture up allowing the onions to take off splitting earth as they grow. We decided to see what if anything the carrots were up to, needless to say we were pleased. They need more time but are doing well, we will be eating our first one in salads this next week. Raised Beds allow for deeper larger root growth, that can directly translate to a larger longer carrot.
We’ve been regularly tending the garden, each day some amount of time is spent walking through picking weeds or fruit, spying the plants in their various stages of growth and watching as everything changes. As we explained earlier this is our first real garden installed a bit later than desired and planted even later than that. We are now starting to regularly pick our summer squash and zucchini. Soon the peas and beans will be keeping us busy along with the barrage of tomatoes. Last night Liz and I harvested a handful of our first tomatoes and labeled each of the plants in our large tomato bed, next year the garden will be organized much differently. We are learning first hand what spacing is necessary for the plants we want and how the arrangement can be changed to maximize the space used. I like the idea of planting lettuce around bed edges. Part of the lettuce will over hang and be less likely to sit in soil and rot. The rot brings bugs and we have been diligent to remove any slimy or rotting lettuce from the under layers to prevent slugs and other pests. We are also getting a taste for the idea of late summer planting, next year we will be designing the garden with this in mind.
Observations so far: Corn is the coolest thing, I think I’ve always wanted to grow corn but never had the space to do it. Liz and I head straight for the corn when we get in the garden. Pole beans… we need to build something much, much, much taller than the 4ft high cages we are currently using. We should have planted three times the number of Sugar Snap peas we did and put them on their own trellis separate from the cucumbers. I’m wondering if the cucumbers wouldn’t do better being planted between two trellises so the vines could bounce back and forth, they appear to want to move out a bit as well as up. I know this would complicate harvesting fruit because it would be trapped between the trellises but if your motivated anything can be accomplished. We are well motivated. Soil moisture has been good despite a couple of days with minimal to no rain, thick layers of grass clippings (especially around the onions) have kept the top couple inches of soil moist allowing for growth. If your onions don’t stay moist they won’t grow, they just sit stagnant and same with carrots so we have been diligently keeping an eye on the soil moisture around the very vulnerable. No cracking has been noted in any of the tomatoes which comes as a result of drastic changes in soil moisture.
Goals for the next few weeks include getting a soil chemical and PH testing kit along with designing a rough layout for the expansion of the garden plot and next years design so we can make informed decisions regarding fall soil prep and bed layout. We did basic staples that we know we will eat this year, next year I plan to embark on new territory including but not limited to: Leeks, Garlic (Plant in the Fall), Asparagus, Radish, and Potatoes. We need to keep an eye on the multitude of tomato plants we have, they are so close together and huge that it will be easy to lose fruit to rot or bugs if we don’t stay on top of them. We also want to prevent bugs by keeping the rotting fruit to a minimum. For now we are enjoying the new sights that come daily this time of year.