Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's Alive! It's Alive!

The rain knocked off some of the few blooms I had for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day so I thought I would follow up on a few previous posts. Y'all played the Dormant or Dead game so enthusiastically that I'll start with it.

First up is the Forsythia sage, shown above. I labeled it dormant, and I was right! Yea! (None of you disagreed with me on this, so we all get points for it.)

Next is the beautyberry: Alive! Alive! So in the wrong place now! (I moved it when I thought it was dead because I wasn't quite ready to give up on it, but I really didn't think it would recover so I planted it way too close to some other plants. Oh, well.)

The Mexican mint marigold is next. Most of you said it was tough and would recover.
You're right! It's not looking a lot better than it did in January, but it's definitely still alive. Or at least it was when I took this picture. I then moved it, again. There may be a final lightning round of Dormant or Dead.

And next, the plant that sparked the most debate both on and off my blog: the chile pequin.
The friend who gave it to me told me to treat it badly. I did, hacking half of it off. Lo and behold, the chile pequin likes it rough.

And then there's the Turk's cap.I know what you're thinking: Hey, no fair, those weren't part of the original game! So, sue me. I didn't include these because everything I read about Turk's cap suggested they were impossible to kill. I assumed they would live so I didn't bother tossing them into the dormant or dead pile. Well, I think both varieties--some red Turk's cap that had been growing wild behind my fence before I transplanted it here and two white Turk's cap I bought last year and moved from the front yard--are dead, without a doubt.

Moving on, my poor fig tree, which had its fill of Life in Texas, seems to have a better grip on the weather here than I do. I trimmed it for the first time ever in mid-January, and it seems to have liked it. Lots of little figs are covering the tree.

My last update is on some of the mystery plants from The Drought Is Over post. The one many of you identified as gaillardia (Indian blanket) bloomed, and it was not a gaillardia. It had tall white flowers and was ugly. So ugly that I didn't even take its picture. Before it could sow its evil seeds, I yanked it out. Unfortunately, in my haste, I also inadvertently yanked the passionflower plant growing next to it. And killed it too, no doubt about it.

I do have another mystery plant for you though:Thoughts?

And finally, the mystery plant that might be a buttercrunch lettuce.
Annie chastised me then for nibbling a bit of it. At the time I tasted I thought it wasn't a lettuce but now I'm not so sure. It looks exactly like a buttercrunch, doesn't it?

Can I eat it now, Annie?

Monday, March 9, 2009

That Didn't Take Long

If you haven't yet had time to read my post from earlier TODAY, then by all means start there. (If you're squeamish, you might just want to wait until I turn my attention to something less sensitive like anole lovin'.)

If you already read today's earlier post and clucked knowingly, then read on.

After a walk tonight with the world's luckiest dog, I walked into the backyard with her to check on the tomatoes. From a distance, I could tell something was wrong. The gate to my vegetable garden was ajar. Somehow the bed looked different. Fluffier, maybe? As I got closer, I saw this:
Let's go in for a close-up. Yes, that's a fin.

And look, there's the Arkansas Traveler tomato plant I bought on a whim. I had already bought five tomato plants and no intention of growing six until I saw the tag that Arkansas Traveler grows well in heat. I guess I really was meant to grow just five.I wasn't entirely sure if the world's luckiest dog was to blame. Normally she does not go into my vegetable garden. This evening however, she accompanied me in to survey the damageher afternoon's entertainment. She immediately did a play bow over the fish remains, inviting me to join her in her fun.
Here she is on the other side of the fence. See how she's avoiding eye contact? She realized pretty quickly that her digging adventure wasn't the right move.

It wasn't entirely her fault though. Sometimes the latch on the gate doesn't quite catch. (I've reenacted the crime scene here to show the open gate. I didn't have my camera on me initially but I thought you needed all the evidence.)I guess she couldn't resist the lure of stinky fish.

I do have verdict already though of the Arkansas Traveler tomato: does not travel well.

Adventures of a Fish Head

WARNING: Some of these images aren't for the faint of heart. I probably also wouldn't show them to your cat, unless you're okay with your cat licking your computer screen.

This weekend I planted my tomatoes and a few friends. Ever since I read this post from Grow Better Veggies, the blog for Love Apple Farms, a biodynamic farm near Santa Cruz, California, I've wanted to try this method of growing tomatoes. To quote the website,
Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, with an emphasis toward balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants, and animals as a closed, self-nourishing system.

All that is great. But the real reason I wanted to try this method is because it just sounded like so much fun.

It helps that I'm also not at all squeamish around fish. My mother grew up in Pensacola, Florida, and some of my fondest memories are of fishing with my grandfather. By age five I knew how to eat a fried flounder without swallowing a bone. I could also scale with the best of them. Fileting was a little beyond my reach because, well, my grandfather thought it ill-advised to allow a five-year-old to wield a fileting knife. But I did a learn a little as I got older. So when I read about fish heads in the garden, I knew I was going to try it.By the time I read the post, however, I had already planted my soon-to-be-doomed tomatoes so I just tucked away this information and waited.

This week I sprang into action. I stopped by Quality Seafood on Airport Boulevard to ask if I could get some fish heads. I guess a request for fish heads isn't all that unusual. The counter guy said, "Sure, I use them in my garden too. Just call the morning you want them, and we'll set them aside."

He also told me about a local loofah farmer who regularly buys their fish guts to spread on his beds. I was surprised. Not about the fish guts. I mean, it's really just a rougher form of fish emulsion, but about the loofah farm. Who knew you farmed loofah?
I gathered all my collected supplies: eggshells I'd been gathering for weeks, aspirin, bone meal, some fertilizer, and the fish heads. (I got my six fish heads for free; when a friend found out, he was mad because when he wanted fish heads for soup, he had to buy them. Sometimes, it's good to be female.)

Late Saturday afternoon, I started planting.The fish head went in the hole first. These heads are much bigger than I was expecting. (I don't know what kind of fish they are. After the fact, I worried that the fish are mercury-filled, and I'll end up poisoning myself with my "organic" tomatoes. Oh well, they are planted now, and I am not unearthing them.)

I dug the hole as I deep as I could but have no picture because I could not hold back the dirt and the camera. Take my word for it. The head's in there.
Next I added the hand-crushed aspirin. In a full circle moment, I used a wine bottle waiting to become part of a new edging to crush the aspirin. Next came the bone meal and the fertilizer. I skipped the RootZone and worm castings mentioned in the post. This was already enough of an adventure.
Here's how the concoction looked before I added the tomato plant.
Here's the after photo of my Early Girl. I also planted Heatwave II (bought on a whim because the label said it would tolerate heat; the reviews I'm now reading pronounce its flavor "decent not outstanding"), purple Cherokee (because Renee had such good luck with them last year), Roma, Matt's wild cherry (recommended by many), and Arkansas Traveler (a last-minute, impulse buy).

I don't have pictures of planting the others because well, when you are handling massive fish heads there's so no easy way to keep your hands clean. I'm okay with fish guts and scales on me but insist on keeping them away from my fancy Nikon dSLR. Priorities, people.

I did direct my husband to snap a few pics of the fish and love this one. Gives new meaning to a fisheye lens.
The question now remains whether these remains will make any difference in my tomato production and quality. This year is already threatening to be hotter and drier than last year.

Considering the source of the information, I remain skeptical. Not that Cynthia and her team don't know what they are doing. But that Love Apple Farms is located in northern California. I think we're all acquainted with my thoughts on gardening in Heaven.

Last year Cynthia wrote about making sure you let your tomatoes ripen on the vine. I asked her asking her secret for keeping animals from eating the tomatoes before she could harvest them. Her very sweet reply (see below*) implied she didn't have that problem. Seriously? The birds and squirrels just pass on by her tomatoes, leaving them unscathed? Seriously?** Again, no wonder there are so many Austin garden bloggers.

*Here's Cynthia's response to my question last year about keeping bird and squirrels from eating the tomatoes:

How do you keep your tomatoes free from squirrel and bird attacks while you let them ripen? If I leave mine to ripen completely on the vine, the squirrels take a big bite out of them before I can pick them.

(I do have a dog, but the squirrels seem to know when she is inside.-)

Gosh, Vertie, that's awful that squirrels and birds get your tomatoes. I have heard of using statues of owls and flash tape to keep away birds (I don't know if those work). Squirrels, though, are harder. Short of enclosing your tomato patch with some sort of light weight structure (with a top), I don't know what to do about squirrels.

Because squirrels, raccoons, and birds do visit my yard and compost piles, I added New Mexico chile pepper on the soil around the tomato plants. So far nobody has dug up the plants in search of the fish heads.

I'll keep you posted.

**On Saturday, I staffed the master gardener plant clinic at the Sunshine Community Gardens plant sale. A woman from California came up and said that when she lived there, she never had any problem with birds or squirrels eating her tomatoes. When she moved to Austin last year, the birds ate a lot of the tomatoes. I went through the usual spiel of possible solutions (many mentioned by Cynthia above), commiserated, and mentioned the effect the drought was having on all animals.

Her husband then walked up and said they didn't have birds eating the tomatoes in California because he put Sevin on them. After I pushed my eyeballs back in, I gently nudged closer to him the city's Grow Green publication on pesticide toxicity and asked if Sevin is labeled for tomatoes. As a master gardener, I am not supposed to recommend organic techniques over chemical pesticides. I am just supposed to offer information, which I did. I think I might have also mentioned that one reason I grow my own tomatoes is to control what chemicals are used on them.