Saturday, June 9, 2012

Last Tomato Planted Plus Sunflowers

We planted our last tomato this morning. Sort of a late set, but it is the Lemon Boy I bought to replace the wind-whipped Hillbilly. The Hillbilly did an unexpected turn and looked as though it might pull through, so I decided not to tear it out, but to wait for my second set of Texas Tomato Cages to arrive and use our extra cage on the Lemon Boy in a spare garden spot. Good thing I waited! After the hail the other night, I will be surprised if anything makes it. The Lemon boy has been set out late, but may end up being our only hope.

Meanwhile, we planted sunflower seeds this morning as well. The as sunset sunflowers, I think. We have waited to do final planting because a fence is being built around the garden. Next year we will get a more normal start a everything will be in place (irrigation, soil, fence, mulch).

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fertilized Tonight

I fertilized tonight. The awful hail storm stripped a good 70-80% of my tomato plants' leaves. I had just fertilized them a week ago with a liquid fish fertilizer, but considering the volume of rain we got before the hail, I figured it pretty much got washed out.

Tonight I fertilized the tomato plants with a half portion of MaterMagic worked into the top two inches of soil around the plant. It says to water heavily after, but the irrigation system will go off tomorrow morning and the plants are fairly watered from the other night. Instead, I finished the fertilizing with about three cups per plant of the liquid fish fertilizer. I figure the liquid fertilizer will have an almost immediate impact while the MaterMagic will feed them over time. The fish fertilizer is 5-1-1, so I'm hoping the higher nitrate will help leaf production and the MaterMagic's 8-5-5 will boost possible fruit setting.

We shall see. We shall see.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

All Hail Broke Loose

Welp. It's been a bad run. First we had that awful wind storm. Then last night we were walloped with rain and hail. If it weren't so bad, I'd probably cry. The tomatoes have been completely battered.

I put a hell of a lot of work into getting this garden up. It's the first year here, so probably the most work. I'm not sure if this would have been more devastating later in the season. Perhaps it is better it happened now. We had our first fruits on the Costoluto Genovese, the Uncle Mark Bagby and the Brandywine. Now all the plants are stripped of 70% of their leaves and scarred from the beating. The fruit still sits.... but it looks like someone shot bee bees at it.

I suppose there is a blessing in this. I am the Plant Killer after all. Now that the whole tomato crop has been pretty much wiped out, the rest of the season can be an experiment. I will tinker with fertilizing, watering, see if anything comes back. If we get a single tomato. How it tastes after hail damage.

That's it for now.

To Garden in Colorado is to be Crazy

As I set up my third line of defense on my completely beaten tomatoes this afternoon, a little quip ran through my mind. "Where is your god now?!?" rang over my thoughts. As is often the case in my internal dialogue, I wasn't being serious. But in a wry way, it was a bit true.

To garden in Colorado, I am learning, is to be crazy. The weather pops all over the place here. I remember last summer, when we arrived here from California, every afternoon a fierce thunderstorm broke over what had been a perfect blue sky spotted with the whitest of puffy clouds. I reveled in the dramatic weather, thrilled at being back in the land of thunder and lightning. My New England heart leapt at the prospect of my children growing up familiar with such gorgeous nature. The San Francisco Bay Area has splendid weather patterns as well, but they are milquetoast compared to other parts of the nation and you are lucky to hear one thunder roll a year.

Last summer, as I gloried in the storms, I had clearly abandoned any memory of gardening!

A few weeks ago, my ten tomato plant starts were whipped by incredible winds. One poor little puppy, the Hillbilly, was snapped. I believed it to be a hopeless cause, but it amazingly (limpingly) began to rally. After the wind, I got smart. I took the five Texas Tomato Cages I had, set them around the tallest plants (plus the Hillbilly) and wrapped the base of each TTC with bubble wrap, hoping to create a moderate wind break. It really looked like I had the weather licked!

In the calm weeks between, I set about getting the irrigation system in place and sat back to enjoy a more normal rhythm of fertilizing, pruning, etc.

Then, last night we were battered with an incredible storm. The rains were intense from 7-2 AM, coming on heavy then light. But at two.... the weather ended everything. We had 30 minutes, easily, of drilling, damning hail.

Today, we are expected to get more. So, my new design includes putting plastic trash bags on the top of each cage and hope that will save them more misery.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Lazarus Hillbilly Tomato

Against all odds, my Hillbilly tomato plant seems like it is going to live! A few days ago, the poor thing got snapped by some fierce winds. Fortunately, its stem was snapped near the base and I had planted my starts pretty deeply. They were all about 16 inches in their pots, so I popped off the first sets of leaves near the dirt and set them in at about 8-10" in height when I planted out on May 15th. This means they had a deeper root system from the get go -- about 8-10".

When the winds struck the other day, my daughter and I rushed to save the plants. We dug this one up, created a deeper hole, added plenty of water and some fresh MaterMagic Organic fertilizer. Then we staked it to a spare bamboo pole I had sitting around.

I pretty much gave up on the plant, but figured it would be an interesting experiment to give it a few days. Welp, here we are a few days later and the Hillbilly has gone from a limp, weedy looking thing to something with a little punch in it. Here's a shot of it starting to perk up! Notice that it is now set within a Texas Tomato Cage that has been wrapped in bubble wrap as a wind and direct sun barrier.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

And Then There Were Nine

We are new to Colorado, so the rhythms of its weather are still new to us. For instance, I wasn't aware that there were such high winds here. Last winter, the wind whipped through our back yard a few times with so much power that it moved the barbeque as well as a bench on our back patio! It even pushed around our (then empty but still quite heavy) garden boxes which were sitting on the back patio! One particularly forceful gale knocked down a large section of pretty antiquated fence.

It turns out that Denver can be a pretty windy place -- especially out here on the outskirts, not in the city itself, where there are lots of tall building to break the gusts us. It makes sense if you look at the topography of our continent. Denver is east of the Rockies -- like directly east. Further east of Denver are plains, plains, plains. North and South of Denver there aren't any mountain ranges. When the wind picks up from the North, South or East, what's there to stop it?

If you'd like to watch a fascinating, real time map of wind currents on the continental US, look here: (yes, it's a weird looking URL, but it really goes to a cool site!) Here's a still shot from just now:

After things started to thaw and the first tulips appeared, things settled down. A fellow at the dog park told me it is most blustery in spring and fall, but by the time we set our plants out a few weeks ago, things seemed mellow. I assumed the plants could take a little blowing around.


Last week we had two days of really strong winds. Just crazy strong. Not as bad as the big guys of the winter, but fierce for knocking around plants and trees. I still didn't have my little guys in cages, much less stakes. It had been good, hot weather, so I hadn't used my wall-o-waters either --- which I'd purchased specifically for wind protection more than heat (though next year I will set them out earlier and use them as little greenhouses -- we just weren't ready to go with the garden that early since we were still transitioning it from a wasteland of pebbles, decades-old mulch and bindweed).

I noticed the wind while driving home from dropping the children off at school. The trees were being whipped about. They looked to beautiful. I was admiring their dance when I suddenly thought of our little babies in the side yard!

Sure enough,  the poor little plants looked so wind battered by the time I got home. I rushed in, got out the wall-o-waters and started filling them up as fast as I could. This is a somewhat lengthy and annoying process, taking about 10 minutes per cloche. I got 3 or 4 plants done, focusing on the tallest ones first, and then the wind quieted down. I wasn't sure about how the plants would handle the heat cast by the wall-o-waters, so I decided to leave the rest un-cloched and see how the protected ones fared over the next day. Plus, I couldn't figure out how I'd water them, since I didn't have my drip irrigation set up yet.

The next day, the winds stayed down, but the heat was up. The poor plants looked like they were sweltering in their little tents. I had asked the woman I bought my principe borghese starts from if she thought it could get too hot in a wall-o-water, and she'd never seen it. Clearly she hasn't been ridiculous enough to leave them on in 90 degree heat!

I figured out how to lift an edge of the tents and pour some water under. The plants appreciated it.

On the third day, the winds came up again. Fierce and strong. My 5 year old and I rushed to cover the rest of the plants, but it was too late for one.... yes. And then there were nine. Our poor little Hillbilly had been snapped straight down about an inch from the ground. Amongst the wind gusts, I dug the poor plant up, made a deeper hole, watered the hole base well and replanted it with the snapped portion set deep.

Two more days of terrible heat and I finally conceded I could no longer keep the poor buggers sweltering in their tents. I presently have 5 Texas Tomato Cages (6 more on order) and 6 bamboo stakes. With 10 plants, I had to get creative to protect them from the wind without giving them heat strong. I devised a way of setting the cages up and wrapping the bottom 18" in bubble wrap. They are taped in with duct tape. So far, they are holding.

I set up this wind guard for the five tallest plants. Four, really, and one on my little dead Hillbilly looking limp and done. I just couldn't give up on it.

The other plants, the shorter buddies, are staked for the moment. I set two full wall-o-waters (since I had nine of those) around each staked tomato and hope that'll work until my second batch of Texas Tomato Cages arrive.

In the meantime, I've had to admit that the Hillbilly isn't going to make it.

I was at Murdoch's yesterday and spotted a little "Lemon Boy" plant. It looked perky enough, so I bought it and will set it out in the Hillbilly's place in a day or so. This is the first non-heirloom variety I will grow. Sadly, there just aren't that many places to get an heirloom start around here at this time of year, so Lemon Boy it is.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tomatoes Flowering

Brandywine - Landis Valley Strain

I planted out our ten tomatoes three days ago. Some are flowering. I will do a follow up post describing each tomato later, but at least wanted to note what we have set out. From east to west, the contenders are:
Brandywine - Landis Valley Strain
Uncle Mark Bagby
Hillbilly Lemon Boy planted 6/9/12*
Whole Foods Mystery Tomato planted 6/25/12*
Striped German
Ananas Noir
Better Boy planted 6/25/12*
Sun Gold
Costoluto Genovese
Costoluto Fiorentino
Principe Borghese (2 rather weak starts, co-planted)

*not heirloom
Uncle Mark Bagby

Costoluto Genovese