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.
The install: Later than planned. We knew this would be a learning experience all around from start to finish something would be learned in every step. Here we learned to take advantage of cooler spring weather, do ground prep in the fall or early spring when things are cool. We did not do this. Starting late close to June 1st we broke ground, literally. A patch of grass and creeping charlie 50ftx30ft to the south of the barn became the site of our garden. This plot gets sun continually from ~5:30am til dark during the peak summer hours. I spent many hours removing sod with a sharpened shovel, loading the wheelbarrow up and toting away the top layer. Post holes were dug and a fence erected as deer are an issue out here. For the initial prep of the dirt I used a motorized tiller to work the soil 10inches down then had 3 cubic yards of pulverized black dirt delivered and added to the existing soil. Four raised beds were shaped and the center paths dug out and lined with newspaper and old straw from the loft of the barn.
Planting came later, close to June 15th and consisted of ~30 tomato plants, corn, peas, beans, onion, carrots, hot peppers, green peppers, zucchini and summer squash were all seated in loose soil. Care was taken but the first round of seeds did not germinate, we waited and waited. Finally close to the end of June we re-planted everything that was not coming up in decent numbers. The second round took well and now we have everything in the above mentioned list growing at an almost exponential rate. We built a trellis for the peas and cucumbers to climb and began weeding and mulching on an almost daily basis. The first couple weeks were slow, some plants were sun damaged due to initial over exposure but as July progressed the garden blew up. We are getting the first hand experience now to make next years garden much more productive than the current. With that said things are coming along, soon we will have more tomatoes than we can handle and will be giving them away to our friends and co-workers. Lettuce has been flying out of the garden by the bagful for close to three weeks now. Keeping up on the lettuce harvest has kept the bugs to a minimum due to the lack of rotting leaves tucked under the plants and the more leaf lettuce picked, the more produced. Most everything is now bearing fruit from the corn to the squash, daily harvesting will commence soon with canning to follow. Canning will be another learning experience…