Posts Tagged tomato ‘Early Goliath’

Veggie Experiment Updates

Potato Row, May 26

Potato Row, May 26

I am happy to report that Wonder Spouse’s Great Potato Experiment appears to be proceeding well. You may recall that WS is trying grow-bags for his potatoes this year to thwart the greedy chomping of voracious voles on innocent tubers. He began by filling the bags one third of the way full of compost and soil, then planted his potatoes — three kinds, one in each bag. The above photo is an attempt to get all three bags in one shot. It’s not easy. They have grown — a lot.

Here’s what two of the bags looked like on May 9. At that point, Wonder Spouse had folded up another third of the bag and filled in more compost and soil around the stems of the enthusiastic plants.

Two potato bags, May 9

Two potato bags, May 9

Over this past long holiday weekend, he unfolded the final third of the bags, bringing them to their full height. Once again, he filled in compost and soil around the stems of the plants. The idea here is that new potatoes are produced from the newly covered stem nodes, thereby producing successive layers of tubers.

Here’s what two of the bags looked like a day or so after he filled the bags for the final time:

Potatoes, May 26

Potatoes, May 26

Already, the plants are taller than what you see in the photo. The burning question plaguing Wonder Spouse’s potato-fevered brain is, “Do I have growing tubers, and are they numerous?” “There’s the rub,” as the Bard once wrote.

The same methodology that we think is thwarting the voles is also preventing Wonder Spouse from checking on tuber production. The plants are jam-packed into those bags. To try to dig into them seeking tubers would be to risk damaging the plants.

Thus, Wonder Spouse, aka Mr. Potato Head, impatiently waits. Potato harvest traditionally occurs when the plants begin to fade and die, usually some time in June around here. New potatoes are said to be ready for harvest when the plants bloom. Ours bloomed a bit, but Wonder Spouse decided not to risk damaging his long-term prospects for a healthy potato yield.

And so we wait, watering occasionally. And when I foliar feed the veggies in a day or so, I’ll be sure to give the potatoes a dose too. Meanwhile, the suspense builds…

You may also recall that I had planned to compare the same varieties of two grafted tomato plants with two seed-grown plants of the same types. However, the grafted plants I received in the mail were past recovery on arrival, as I documented here. It turns out, that’s not the end of the story.

Via a terse e-mail from customer support, I was informed that my money for the plants would be refunded. I didn’t ask for this; they offered. On the other hand, the nice folks at the Oregon greenhouse operation that produces the grafted plants for the wholesale market wrote me several e-mails, including one in which they offered to send me new plants. I thanked them for their kind offer, but declined, pointing out that it was too late for a fair comparison, given the then-enormous size of my seed-grown tomatoes in my little greenhouse.

I was forced to wait much later than usual this year to plant out my tomatoes. Most years, they are in the ground and growing by late April. This year, it was about two weeks later. I was trying to avoid exposing the transplants to nighttime temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I didn’t succeed. This has been one wacky weather spring. Last Saturday night — May 26 — the temperature in my garden dropped to 38 degrees! Fortunately, there was no frost, the sun came up quickly, and no plants appeared to be damaged. However, their growth has been slower than normal, I suspect, due to the chilly nighttime temperatures.

On May 9, I was feeling good about the summer vegetable garden. My beans were coming up with impressive enthusiasm, and the seed-grown tomato transplants appeared to be adjusting well to their new surroundings. Imagine my astonishment when that day’s mail included a box of two grafted tomato plants from the company that had promised me a refund. I was flabbergasted — and confused. And curious. What would the plants look like this time around?

May 9 grafted tomatoes still in their shipping box.

May 9 grafted tomatoes still in their shipping box.

If you compare these to the pictures of the ones I received previously, the difference in vigor is apparent. I didn’t ask for these plants, and they were vastly smaller than their seed-grown equivalents already in the summer garden, but they were here. So I did what any obsessive gardener would do — I planted them the next day.

When I unpacked the box, I discovered an addition to the packing instructions. This was not in the first delivery I received:

I'm guessing I wasn't the only customer who experienced difficulties.

I’m guessing I wasn’t the only customer who experienced difficulties.

Trust me, those first plants I received were not salvageable even by gardeners with two green thumbs.

I took the little plants to my greenhouse and arranged them for a photographic comparison:

Grafted vs. Seed-grown Brandywines and Goliaths

Grafted vs. Seed-grown Brandywines and Goliaths

If you click on the above photo to enlarge it, you should be able to see that the newly arrived grafted plants are in front. Behind them are the dead stubs of the first grafted plants that were sent to me. Behind them are two seed-grown plants of the same varieties that I didn’t have room for in the garden. I deemed these plants to be lesser candidates for transplantation, so they lingered in the greenhouse as back-ups, if needed. Brandywines are on the left, Goliaths on the right.

Here’s what the plants looked like in the garden this past weekend, about two weeks since they were first transplanted.

Grafted Brandywind, May 26

Grafted Brandywine, May 26

Seed-grown Brandywine, May 26

Seed-grown Brandywine, May 26

Grafted Goliath, May 26

Grafted Goliath, May 26

Seed-grown Goliath, May 26

Seed-grown Goliath, May 26

It may be a little difficult to tell from these photos, but I would estimate that the grafted plants were about a third of the size of the seed-grown specimens. All my seed-grown tomato transplants are now sporting green fruits, as you can see here:

First fruit on Sweet Treats cherry tomato

First fruit on Sweet Treats cherry tomato

To confuse me further, a few days ago, the company from which I ordered the grafted plants credited my credit card for the plants. I guess they were trying to be nice, which I appreciate, but I would have much preferred that a human being had contacted me with an apology instead.

Bottom line: I will attempt to proceed with the grafted vs. seed-grown tomato experiment as best I can. Measuring growth rates is mostly a subjective matter, of course. But I can count the number of fruits each plant produces. And I can record when the plants are overcome by the many diseases that usually claim my tomatoes by late August. Brandywines are heirlooms, meaning they lack hybrid resistance to diseases. In my garden, this usually translates to the production of a few delicious fruits, then the demise of the plant to disease. Will reputed grafted vigor keep that Brandywine alive and productive longer?

Stay tuned, garden fans. I’ll keep you posted.


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Vegetable garden charges toward summer

Foxgloves and yarrows invite pollinators to visit.

Last week, my garden sweltered beneath high temperatures in the nineties. This week, the temperatures plunged 25 degrees. This morning, our hill thermometer registered a low of 41 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, it’s a typical late spring in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

Experience has taught me that the trick to helping veggies survive spring’s wild weather swings is to plant vigorous plants during a settled spell of weather, mulch them heavily immediately, and water as often as necessary to keep the soil evenly moist.

This year, my timing seems to have been pretty good. The spring veggies are still producing, although last week’s nineties caused some of the mesclun mix (Yankee greens, as I think of them) to bolt.

And the Sugar Sprint Snap Peas have been disappointing. It took them much longer to begin to bloom than the Sugar Anns I’ve grown in the past, and the pods started filling very unevenly when the heat hit them last week. The Sugar Anns never faded this fast. That’s not to say the Sugar Sprints aren’t still producing, just not producing up to my expectations. Here’s what they looked like yesterday morning after a piddly rain the day before:

Sugar Anns will replace these Sugar Sprints next year.

As for that rain I mentioned, as usual, my little corner of the Piedmont is being overlooked. The city 30 miles to our east has had two major, multi-inch rain events in the last two weeks. Our two-week total isn’t even 1.5 inches. Of course, the folks in Raleigh also got hail, some flooding, and a few houses were set on fire by lightning. I’ll take gentle, light rain over dangerous storms every time, of course, but I get grumbly when I hear the TV weather folk talking about the “break in the drought.” Not at my house.

Wonder Spouse and I are still enjoying the bed of spring greens, and we do have enough peas to at least add a few to our salads. Here’s what that bed looked like yesterday morning:

Still sweet, tender, and delicious

And the beets are finally looking like they might make some actual beets. If the sub-80-degree weather sticks around and we can get some decent rain, I think I still have a good chance at a decent beet crop. Here they are with the bolting mesclun mix in the background:

The pink flower is a cosmos.

The 90-degree heat was a huge boost to the summer garden. A number of the tomato plants are already as tall as I am, and fruit production is enthusiastic. The peppers are not far behind, and the beans — especially the pole beans — are reaching for the sky. Here’s what the pole beans looked like yesterday morning:

These Fortex pole beans seem even more vigorous than last year’s crop — yikes!

And check out these tomato fruits:

Sweet Treats Cherry Tomato

Viva Italia paste tomato

Early Goliath Slicer Tomato

Indigo Rose Tomato

Check out the way the Indigo Rose tomatoes are already turning purple. I did a bit of research on these and learned that they only make anthocyanins (the purple-colored antioxidant) where the sun touches the skin, and the purple stays only in the top layers of the tomato. So this is one you’ll want to eat skin and all if you’re trying to take advantage of this nutrient. I also learned that the tomato is fully ripe when the bottom of the tomato is deep red.  I’ll keep you apprised of their progress.

Last but not least, two of my six squash plants had open flowers yesterday, so I was forced to remove their coverings so that pollinators could access the flowers. The plants look strong, and I’m hoping they’ll be able to resist the squash varmints long enough for us to grow weary of squash-filled dinners.

Y-Star Patty Pan Squash — a new variety for me this year

As you might guess, our yard is still producing many blooming plants. I’ll show you some highlights soon, along with some wildlife updates.

Now it’s time to pull more weeds, mulch, and continuously pray for gentle, abundant rain.


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Dream Time

Decisions, decisions …

They’ve been piling up for the last two months: seed catalogs – and plant nursery catalogs too. Their arrival usually signals the onset of my garden dream time – the frozen month or so during which I peruse the colorful pictures and descriptions contained in these myriad purveyors of temptation. However, this winter I’ve mostly been piling the catalogs in a corner for later reading while I take advantage of the continuing abnormal seasonal warmth to complete more yard and garden clean-up chores.

This past weekend, Wonder Spouse and I tackled our deer-fence-enclosed north slope. Mountains of evil Microstegium vimineum were raked up and hauled away, along with vast piles of tree limbs and tangles of Japanese Honeysuckle pulled from soft ground and off trees it was trying to strangle. Poison Ivy was gingerly dislodged from the base of a large Tulip Poplar. Leaves were raked and relocated around trees and shrubs – instant mulch. We were tired and sore but proud of our accomplishments after two days of hard work.

The catalogs continued to accumulate in their designated corner unread. I’d tell myself I’d get to them in the evenings, but found myself too tired to keep my eyes open after a long day of debris wrestling. Finally, during yesterday’s rain, I sat with the catalogs long enough to settle on my seed needs for the upcoming vegetable garden season. As is my usual practice, my choices combine old reliable favorites with a few new temptations that I feel obliged to try out in this year’s garden.

I always start with the tomatoes for two reasons. First, whole catalogs are devoted to them, so there’s more to study. Second, my greatest struggle every year is to limit myself to a sane number of varieties. My willpower is strongest when I begin my selections, so I settle on my tomato choices first.

Last season, I grew seven different varieties of tomatoes, as I described here. This year, I’ve managed to limit myself to six varieties. It was almost five, but a variety in my main seed source’s catalog was too interesting to resist.  Here are this year’s selections:

  • Early Goliath – We grew this one last year and were so pleased with its early and continuing productivity that we are growing it again.
  • Big Beef – This variety continues to please with its enormous, flavorful slicers that begin to ripen about mid-season and continue through hard frost.
  • Viva Italia – We find this roma-type paste tomato to be indispensible for sauces, and they’re meaty enough to hold up when thinly sliced onto pizzas.
  • Sweet Treats – This cherry tomato is so perfect that we’ve decided we can’t survive a summer without it. Everyone who tastes one of these little treasures exclaims aloud with delight.

My experiments for this year are:

  • Super Marzano – We loved the flavor of this roma-type variety’s ancestor, San Marzano, but it didn’t hold up against our southern Piedmont heat and diseases. This newer hybrid comes with much more disease resistance, and it’s supposed to be high in pectin, which means it will thicken pastes and sauces quickly and flavorfully. I’ll let you know.
  • Indigo Rose – The picture in the catalog was so surprising that I read its description, which completely hooked me. It looks gorgeous – almost purple – and it supposedly is very high in anthocyanins, which are powerful anti-oxidants. Their good flavor is supposed to have “plummy overtones.” Color me intrigued.

I ordered all my tomato seeds except Indigo Rose from Totally Tomatoes. I’ve been ordering from these tomato/pepper specialists for many years, and I’ve never been disappointed. The rest of my vegetable and herb seeds come from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

After discussing the pros and cons of potential bean candidates, Wonder Spouse and I decided to stick with the bean varieties we grew last year: Jade bush beans and Fortex pole beans.  Both were fantastically productive and delicious. We’re sticking with Red Ace beets; we know they grow well in our garden, and they always taste wonderfully sweet.

In addition to Nelson carrots, we’re going to try Laguna carrots, which are supposedly very heat-resistant. The idea of keeping carrots productive even midway through our summer swelters was too tempting to resist.

I went a little nuts on the lettuces. I always do. Suffice it to say that I focused on heat-resistant varieties, made sure to get some colorful red ones, and also threw in a mesclun mix for pizzazz.

I’m trying Sugar Sprint snap peas. They are theoretically stringless, unlike the Sugar Anns I’ve been growing. And I went with heat-resistant spinach varieties.

On the summer squash front, I’m growing Raven zucchini again; we’ve been pleased with their vigor. And we’re going to try Spineless Perfection. If this variety really lacks spines, I will indeed be delighted – assuming they produce well and taste good too. We’re trying a patty pan type called YStar that intrigued Wonder Spouse.

But we’re not doing winter squash again. We’ve decided we just don’t eat enough of them to justify the garden space needed to grow them. And we’re lucky enough to live in an area blessed with many small farmers and markets that offer tasty, locally grown winter squashes in abundance when we do have a craving.

We’re going to try Bright Lights swiss chard, and in addition to my culinary basil standards (Nufar and Aroma2), I’m going to grow Amethyst Improved, which is supposed to be deeply and reliably purple while tasting fabulous.

I don’t usually order annual flower seeds beyond Queen Sophia marigolds, which I consider essential to the vegetable garden. But this year, as a benefit of my membership in the Garden Writers Association, Renee’s Garden sent me a media kit that offers me free seeds if I’ll write about my results. Free seeds – say no more! I’ve ordered ten flower varieties, many of them heirlooms, which I’ve found are usually better at attracting pollinators than the fancy newer hybrids. I’ll let you know how they do as the season progresses.

As usual, I’ve ordered quite an ambitious number of seeds. As always, if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, I’m going to have a sad excuse for a garden. My county is in moderate drought right now. Every rain event promised seems to peter out just before it gets to my house. But my seed orders are in. I am placing my garden in the hands of the weather gods.

P.S. If you know any good rain dances, drop me a line…

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