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:
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.