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Early tomatoes


We can all agree that home grown tomatoes are what make life worth living, right. (Oh be quiet- you like them in salsa and stuff, though, right? okay, then.) So, we can probably all agree that we want those tomatoes as early as possible, right?
Around here (zone 5, Northern front range of Colorado) the traditional date for safely planting out things that won’t survive frost is Mother’s day- mid May. There is no guarantee it won’t freeze after that date, but that is the average annual last frost date. This year we had a snowy April, and an actual cancel-school- snow day on May first.
That meant that the ground was cold- it was very wet, which is a good thing, but the soil was cold. I made the decision to delay tomato-planting until it warmed up a bit.
Tomatoes need warm air temperature as well as warm soil temperature- it isn’t just a matter of “not freezing” they actually need to be warm. (Interestingly, tomatoes are kind of the Goldilocks of plants, when it gets too hot, over 90, they stop blooming)
I checked the soil temp with my trusty meat thermometer, and it was 43 degrees. I had some walls of water in the garage. For those of you who don’t know, a Wall of Water is a plastic cylinder made of connected tubes which can be filled with water.  It creates a mini greenhouse, and the water absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night. They are supposed to be self supporting. I set them up, (and then reset them up- they kept falling over- I don’t know if the cat kept messing with them or what the deal is, but that is why I don’t ordinarily use them- any one have any tips?)

Look how slouchy that one on the right is- if that falls over on the chocolate cherry plant I am going to be so ticked off.

Look how slouchy that one on the right is- if that falls over on the chocolate cherry plant I am going to be so ticked off.

Anyway, I set them up, then took the soil temperature again. It was 63 degrees after just a couple of days.
Now, variety choices. In the past I have gotten “Early Girl” because the fruits are, you know, early. 60 days to maturity, which means mid July, roughly. One year I was swayed by some garden porn, and bought Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, which has a great name, and an heirloom provenence, and is supposed to be heart-meltingly delicious, which didn’t ripen until late September, so I didn’t get to eat any. Mid- September is our average last frost date, so we have about 4 months to get as many tomatoes as we can.
This year I went to the garden center, and mixed in with all the Early Girls was a variety I hadn’t heard of before- 4th of July. I checked the label- 55 days. Which means first harvest on the…let me do the math..umm, 30 days hath September…carry the 1- the 4th of July.

The other variety I picked today was Chocolate Cherry. I have grown this before, and it is so delicious.  It ripens to a dark, deep red, very sweet. It is a bit slower to ripen, but very prolific.

So, I put them in the ground, carefully lifting the waterfilled tubes away from the planting spots, digging in some compost, plugging the tomato plants in deeply, then carefully replacing the waterfilled tubes back over the plants. I acknowledge that it might have been easier to dump out the water and refill, but I just couldn’t see doing it. It seems wasteful.

That was a couple of weeks ago, and the 4th of July has blossoms on it. I haven’t seen any pollinators go inside- which doesn’t mean there aren’t any, but I have been busy. Does anyone have tips about that? The walls of water seem to be kind of a pain in the neck, but I am hoping they are worth it.

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I can’t believe I am spending money on grass!


Gaze at the majestic grass in the sunset, said no one...ever.

Gaze at the majestic grass in the sunset, said no one…ever.

For years, my secret plot has been to rid myself of as much lawn as possible (oops, not so secret anymore, huh?) I have mulched, and created shrub beds, and laid out veggie beds, and perennials, and even sneakily scooted the edging bricks out, expanding the width of every bed by 4 inches each year.
I hate grass- hate mowing, hate fertilizing, hate the amount of water it takes, hate the judgement of people driving by who see my dandelions and shake their heads.
And yet, I just spent 30 bucks on “Revive” an organic, Colorado made fertilizer/soil amendment/wetting agent. Wetting agent sounds gross- it has chelated iron in it, and “pure chicken-shit” as my brother says. (The label actually calls it DPW, which stands for dehydrated poultry waste, which means my brother is right.) The idea is that water will be able to soak in more deeply, and we will be able to water less frequently, but the grass will grow better.
It won’t kill dandelions, but maybe the grass will be able to out compete them? Those judgey people driving by will just have to find something else to judge me on….What will that turn out to be?

(Sorry to anyone who has missed me- the day job plus gardening has left me less time to write…no disasters on the home front, just normal busy-ness.)

What is your deal, Asparagus?


I ate 4 spears of homegrown, organic, purple asparagus the other day. And that might be all the asparagus I get to eat this year from my garden. This really bugs me- I love asparagus. This patch has been growing for maybe 4 years, and I planted another one 2 years ago, and I see no shoots coming up this year at all.
What the heck?! What is your deal?!
I followed planting instructions, I watered the new bed faithfully, I really want asparagus. The universe should give me what I want, right?
I suspect the issue is water. The asparagus that does well around here grows near irrigation ditches and cattle waste lagoons (yeah, that’s what it sounds like). This has been a wet spring, but a dry winter. We do live in a semi-desert. So if I want to grow asparagus here I need to water more, all summer.
I think what has been difficult about that is that you only pick asparagus for a few weeks in spring, but it needs water all year, and I have a hard time watering ferny foliage that doesn’t feed me. In my head, I think the ferny foliage should take care of itself.
What I came up with last night was maybe I should interplant some things that I do want to eat with the asparagus. Carrots? okay. Lettuce? cool. Beans? okay. I’ll water it like any other veggie garden.

it only looks like it is as tall as the fence- that's just an error in perspective.  This stalk is smaller than a pencil. Sigh.

it only looks like it is as tall as the fence- that’s just an error in perspective. This stalk is smaller than a pencil. Sigh.

So, I’ll try it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Pizza- you can grow that!


Well, not the whole pizza, there’s no such thing as a sausage tree or a mozzarella bush, after all, but we do veggie pizzas around here, mostly, and it is certainly possible to grow your herbs and veggies for pizza.
I have an oregano plant that has come up reliably for five years. I always swoop down and brush it with my fingers when I walk past, just to smell that evocative scent of …well…pizza.
You can plant onion sets simply by pushing them into the soil, pointy end up. Pull them throughout the summer for green onions.
Wait until after danger of last frost to plant tomatoes, peppers and basil. In my area, that is traditionally mother’s day. This has been a weird year, though, with hardly any snow all winter, then a couple big dumps- one that closed school on May first- this spring. The snow has melted, but the soil is still very cold. I’m going to set up Walls of Water, to warm up the soil in advance of planting.

Yes, this is our meat thermometer. Yes, I washed it! 43 Fahrenheit is around 4 degrees Celsius. Tomatoes are happier with warmer toes.

Yes, this is our meat thermometer. Yes, I washed it! 43 Fahrenheit is around 4 degrees Celsius. Tomatoes are happier with warmer toes.

I have designed my garden on purpose to mix in edibles with the flowers. Rather than having a big “vegetable garden” out back, each big border has an area without perennials or bulbs that I can turn over and plant annual vegetables. I think it is prettier, and easier to take care of, to have a couple of square feet of tomatoes right next to the asters and iris.