A science experiment- you can grow that


Tomato A, with rich chunky, water retaining compost.

Tomato A, with rich chunky, water retaining compost.

I had a paradigm shift this spring. I love that. I have always read that tomatoes are heavy feeders, that they need rich soil, so I have planned my rotations to give that to them. I hopscotch my compost bin around the garden, trying to balance out the need for soil improvement with the pain in the neck factor of walking all the way to the back corner of the yard when I need to dump avocado peels.
I read in The Tao of Gardening, by Carol Deppe that tomatoes will produce fruit earlier when they are grown in poor soil. So, they would be heavy feeders if they were allowed to be, but it makes them slow and lazy.
I decided to test it. I had the lovely, chunky nutrient rich black soil, with some still identifiable avocado peels (those things take forever to break down) where I had intended to place the tomatoes in the first place, and a few feet away, some clayey, brown soil. It wasn’t terrible, It has had compost added to it in the last few years, but it wasn’t the rich soil I usually reserve for the tomatoes. They both get about the same amount of sun, and while they are different varieties (Fourth of July and Juliet) they both have about the same number of days to maturity and I have given them the same amount of water.

Tomato B, no soil enrichment.

Tomato B, no soil enrichment.

In my day job, I have had a paradigm shift as well- I have always taught English, and beyond that, I have always been an English teacher, with that mindset. This past year, I have been working with students who are learning English in their math and science classes. It’s been weird. Good, but weird. I had to think in a way that I’m not used to. Staving off dementia one hypothesis at a time.

So the hypothesis in this tomato experiment was that the tomato plant with lush soil would produce a lot of leaves, but would fruit later, and the plant in poor soil would make fewer leaves, but would fruit earlier. Well, on August 4, I don’t have ripe fruit from either of them. The one in poor soil has slightly pinker fruit, but not by much. There are many more tomatoes on the plant in richer soil, so i would prefer to balance out quantity over earliness. Another detail, which I wasn’t hypothesizing about, is that the one with rich soil is much more drought tolerant. When we left town, temperatures got over 100 degrees F. When we got back, the plant in good soil was still lush and green, and the one in poor soil was slightly withered. I think it hasn’t completely recovered from that drought stress, where the other plant had enough moisture reserve in the soil that it did fine.As you grow, remember that it isn’t just about the fruits and vegetables, you can experiment and learn and improve.

Science- you can grow that.

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Resilience- you can grow that


kate hailstorm

“Hurry up, mom, it’s really cold!”

We had a hailstorm last night- after a lovely, breezy day with lots of garden puttering, I was sitting on my patio, listening to the neighbor kids scream on their trampoline. I heard thunder to the south and decided to move in. By the time I gathered up my iced tea and got the screen door shut, the rain had started, and then came the hail.
Kate decided it would be cool to go out onto the porch, then regretted it almost instantly- it was being blown under the roof. She struggled with the screen slider, and got hit in the shoulder. The stones were dime to quarter-sized, and they shredded the garden. Giant splashes came up from the pond, the iris and the peonies flopped over, ash leaves made pesto on the driveway. Looking at it through the window, I wanted to cry. I wanted brownies. I hate hail.
It poured rain for a good long time after, and we got probably another 1/2 inch, on top of the five inches we got during a very wet May. We usually get about 16 inches of moisture around here per year, so 5 inches in a month is crazy- the soil is saturated and there has been flooding downstream from us.
Now it’s the day after, and I hear a chainsaw going around the block. I take a tour of the yard with a cup of coffee.
Not actually that bad. Here’s where I get to my point about resilience.

Direct hit!

Direct hit!

The water lily leaves have holes in them, but none of the fish are belly up in the pond, the iris are still flopped over, but they were pretty much finished blooming anyway. The few peonies that had opened are shattered, but the rest that are still in bud look fine.The new baby peach tree seems fine, with just a few torn leaves. The giant ash trees took most of the brunt of the storm, most of what was in their shelter is okay, and no large branches fell down. Tomatoes were in walls of water, which protected them from damage. The traditional, “grandma’s garden” types of plants show damage, but they should bounce back.

Supposed to keep the tomatoes warm at night, also protects against balls of ice falling from the sky, apparently.

Supposed to keep the tomatoes warm at night, also protects against balls of ice falling from the sky, apparently.

Now, I planted a garden bed last year, in full sun, no shelter from big trees, of mostly native and dry-land plants. How did these baby plants do? They look fine. I can’t tell they were in a storm at all, other than the fact that there are some shredded leaves that were blown onto them. These native plains plants have evolved to get hailed on periodically, go without rain, shrug it off and grow anyway.
I got my collection from the Garden in a Box program from the city- sometimes you can get rebates. The garden was designed by Lauren Springer, and cost less than what I would have paid at a nursery. The water department wants people to plant them to minimize the amount of turf that people feel obliged to water. The side benefit is that they are resilient to other weather events, too.

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We happen to live in a hail zone, with frequent thunderstorms, and infrequent (fingers crossed) tornadoes. Maybe your extreme weather events include blizzards, or floods, deep freezes, droughts (I’m looking at you, most of American Southwest). Why not plant things that thrive in the weather that you have? Plant things that have evolved, or have been bred, in a climate like yours, that don’t take additional irrigation once they have been established. For my homies along the Front Range, Lauren Springer has books ( go to the library, I don’t make any money off this, not that you shouldn’t buy the book, but libraries are good, too) or David Salman runs a Santa Fe nursery called High Country Gardens. His catalog is an education in itself. Bounce back after sever weather. Resilience. You can Grow that.

On the 4th of the month, C.L. Fornari challenges garden bloggers to share encouraging words about what is growable. Search for other You Can Grow That posts!

Resilience- you can grow that!


Purple Coneflower and Yarrow, extremely drought tolerant herbs. They’re loving the heat.

It has been hot here. Crazy hot. Typically, in June we get nice moisture, soaking rains, heavy thunderstorms, nice misty days when it’s just cool and gloomy. Not this year. I realize it is hot pretty much everywhere right now.
We went LA on vacation last week, and it was cool and pleasant- too cool for the ocean almost. Then we ended the vacation in Las Vegas, and it was ridiculously hot. You expect that for Las Vegas, but we kept watching the weather for home, here on the front Range of Colorado, and it was ridiculously hot in Colorado, too.
The guy who mows our lawn was checking in on the cat, and a friend popped over to water the container plants and the tomatoes, but otherwise, we didn’t provide for sprinkling. I expected the worst when we got home, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The grass in the front looks awful, of course, but it almost always looks awful. It’s on the list for future projects.

The beds in back, though, look pretty good. They have plenty of mulch, to hold onto what moisture they get. They have plants that are drought tolerant, or native, or both. I designed them that way so they wouldn’t take much water, and would attract bees and birds and butterflies.

The golden currant is dripping with fruit, the lavender is blooming like crazy, the yarrow and coneflower and chamomile are standing tall.  They look better than I do, dripping and drooping, and praying for rain.

Plan for resilience- xeric doesn’t have to mean rocks and cow skulls, it can be dragonflies and birds and fruits and berries. It takes less water and other resources, and it bounces back from hard times. Resilience is a trait we all can use.

This is pretty much the same shot, from the same angle, as I took 3 weeks ago. It’s been watered once with a soaker hose.

Two books that influenced me tremendously are “Herbs in the Garden” by Rob Proctor, and “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway.  Both books helped me learn to think beyond “vegetable garden here, lawn everywhere else.”