Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Secret of My Tomato Success

Or, Why I May Never Again Give a Hoot About Spring Tomatoes
That's almost 15 pounds of tomatoes you're looking at, harvested two days before Thanksgiving from two plants. I only harvested them because I wanted to spare my Austin gardening buddies a freeze over the holidays. (While it didn't actually freeze, some gardeners did have some frost damage. I lost my green beans.)

MSS of Zanthan Gardens asked me to write a post about how I managed to get such a huge harvest. I warned her, as I'm warning you now, that my post would be frustrating.

Here's my secret for the Great Tomato Harvest of Fall 2010: nothing.

I did almost nothing, except get out of Mother Nature's way.

On March 9 I planted four varieties I picked up at the Sunshine Garden plant sale: Lemon Boy, San Marzano, Black Krim, and Celebrity. Being nine months pregnant, I barely got the plants in the ground. I wasn't mobile enough to mess with fish heads. I think I added some compost and maybe some leftover vegetable garden fertilizer from Natural Gardener that had been sitting outside for a year.

Exactly two weeks later I gave birth to the World's Cutest Baby™ and promptly forgot I had a garden.

At some point I must have remembered to water the garden (much of those early sleep-deprived weeks is forgotten), because I found these tomato pictures taken in May amidst the 2,000 or so of the World's Cutest Baby™.

Lemon Boys were the first to ripen in May, guaranteeing them the coveted first tomato ritual: to be slathered in olive oil and salt as part of my brekfast tostado con tomate y aceite.

This is one of two Black Krims I harvested, also in May. Despite the poor production, I'll grow it again for the taste.

I know what you're thinking, "Enough about the spring tomatoes. Tell us about the fall tomatoes."

Well, here's the thing: I have nothing to tell. I couldn't even find any pictures of my vegetable garden from May until now. Shameful blogger.

I know that I did not arrange for anyone to water the tomatoes while I was out of town over the Fourth of July. I expected to come home to toasty plants but I didn't. Some abnormal rain continued in August, and the dang plants kept growing.

I ignored the plants and the tomatoes on them once the stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs invaded. And yet the plants kept on growing.

At some point in the fall, I pulled the Black Krim, which wasn't getting enough sun, and the San Marzano, which was getting plenty of sun but was covered in tomatoes sucked dry by stink bugs.

I did trim dead leaves off the Lemon Boy and Celebrity, and then resumed ignoring them. Rain and warm temperatures did the rest, leading to my stupendous November harvest, which exceeded my cumulative five-year spring tomato-growing harvest.

So to recap my tips and lessons learned for successful fall tomato growing in Central Texas:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Garden Conservancy Open Days Tour 2010

My plan on Saturday for the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour was to get started early and tour as many gardens as quickly and efficiently as possible before the baby needed me the Longhorns played Nebraska. My plan was slightly foiled as baby slept until 9:15 (!), but I really wasn't complaining as that meant I slept until 9:15.And my delay fortuitously meant that I ran into Pam of Digging at the first garden, Utility Research Garden.(Here's Pam's post.) I loved this space as I do any that shows such creativity, in particular the use of the ordinary in unusual ways, such as these cast-iron plants:Or these agaves planted in a gentle curve:Or found objects reused in unusual ways: The center is an eclectic mix of art, plants, music, and even a small farm. Some of its fruits and vegetables were for sale, like these gourds:and these radishes:Next stop on the tour was the infamous East Side Patch, where I took no pictures because 1) I couldn't take any better ones than Philip already has and 2) I was too in awe. As wonderful as Philip's photos are, his garden is even more magical in person. One day, my backyard will look 1/100th as wonderful as his.

Moving on I headed to Pemberton Heights where I was transfixed by the neighbor's Halloween decorations before I even reached the garden on tour.This garden has an amazing view of downtown Austin and a delightful and gracious owner who shared with me the history of the house (her mother had it built in 1951; she moved in and remodeled after her mother's death) and the street (she pointed out the other original houses as well the ones that had undergone complete transformations) and offered ice-cold bottled water to all the tour guests.These windows in the rear of the house capture the view of the Capitol and a teensy bit of hte UT tower. The garden is primarily in shade so uses shades of green and different textures for variety.

The next house and garden had even more amazing views of all of downtown Austin from the front yard,
as well as from the side yard with the pool and hot tub: The side yards also had views of Lake AustinIn comparison to the front yard, the back yard up a hillside was relatively small but still contained a swing set, a playhouse, a putting green, two or three seating areas, and a pet cemetery: and a fountain: a basketball court and a driveway. Okay, so maybe it wasn't so small after all but relative to the front and side yards it was still bigger than my entire house and lot minuscule.

These four gardens were the only ones I planned to visit as I had already spent more time away from my son than I had since he was born almost seven months ago. I had seen the other two gardens on a previous tour. But DH assured me that he and the boy were fine so I continued on to James David and Gary Peese's garden.

Along the way I stumbled upon this flock of flamingos and wished I could have taken a few home with me:
Having been to this garden twice previously, I focused on the areas that were new to me, particularly the garden areas around the studio:
In a garden this huge, I'm sometimes overwhelmed and find myself focusing on smaller details like this orchid in the greenhouse:or this penta(?) bloomor these crispy okra:At Deborah Hornickel's much more manageably sized garden, I still found myself drawn to the details, probably because of sensory overload at this point in the day. And because the details are so pretty, like these shells: and this post decoration:
Probably my favorite garden novelty of the day was this bronze fennel trimmed to match the other shrub balls in the front yard: But the best way to end the day was with a sighting of Wally, looking slightly worse for wear, in Deborah's Russian sage.(Please resist any urge to disabuse me of any notion that this swallowtail wasn't in fact Wally. Or you will force me to stick fingers in my ears and sing, "La, la, la," until you stop.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sweet Berry-licious

I seem to be finding less time to garden and having less success at it than usual so instead of abandoning this blog altogether, I'll share some shots from our trip Sunday to Sweet Berry Farm, near Marble Falls.A few pumpkins were still in the fields. Elsewhere on the grounds, the farm showed what it's really all about: the berries. Here are some strawberries waiting to be planted: Here's an already planted strawberry field, which shows once again why I am not a farmer. I'm not even bothering with strawberries this year after last year's poor output and the now garden-bed-ful of weeds after using hay as mulch.

I think most of the pumpkins there weren't grown on the farm but brought in for the six-week event. The boy was too little for most of the activities (hay rides, mazes, horseback riding, etc.) but we enjoyed plopping him on top of, behind, and beside all color, size, and shape of pumpkin.

Here are some of my favorites: aptly named peanut pumpkin.I'm pretty sure this one isn't named Warty, but it didn't seem to mind when I called it that.Blue Moon pumpkin (okay, that wasn't its real name but doesn't it look bluish?): Painted pumpkin (almost entirely certain that one wasn't grown on the farm):Basically, it was all fun and games until somebody said to my sensitive mama ears, "Your baby looks just like a pumpkin."

Okay, so maybe he is a little plump around the middle.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wally's Story

Last month without really thinking about it or planning for it, I became a mother again--three months after my first was born.
While I decided to spare the Twitterverse the details of my first birth, I tweeted pictures and daily updates of this one.

Which thankfully for the Twitterverse was more of a metamorphosis than a birth.

Here's my second-born:But let's get too far ahead of ourselves. In this era of oversharing and TMI, I need to tell you about his conception. Award-winning blogger and great garden party host Renee gave birth to him, or at least carried him over to me on some of her fennel in a tomato swap: her Cherokee purple for my Lemon Boy. The fennel was a happy extra. Renee pointed out two tiny caterpillars to me. My sleep-deprived brain decided to tear off the fronds and stick them in a cup in my kitchen window. One drowned almost immediately--oops, Mother Nature can be a beast inside or outside--but the other thrived.

My decision was so spontaneous that I didn't even take a picture of those early days. And then when i did get some shots of the caterpillar my husband named Wally, short for swallowtail, they were these:Wally, the prodigous eater, and Wally, the prodigous pooper. (Did I really just post a picture of my Wally's frass? And I thought I couldn't sink any lower than anole lovin' on this blog. Can I still blame my actions on sleep deprivation? Or can I just explain that much of my day is already spent celebrating the miracle of pooping and everything else the baby does so why not glorify #2's #2's? Please someone intervene now!)

I had no birthing plan for Wally. I had no midwife, although one later appeared in form of Linda Lehmusvirta who is an experienced butterfly-birther. In those early days I just watched and cleaned up the poop.

A couple of times Wally wondered off up the window or the curtain. I wondered if he was trying to pick his spot to pupate, but after noticing how dejected his fennel fronds were looking, I decided he was just off in search of better grub. Fortuitously for Wally, I had just received more fennel (and its fronds) in my Greenling Local Box. After refreshing his water and fronds, he returned to his cup. I took the fennel delivery as another sign that Wally was meant to pupate with us. Had I needed to pack up the baby human and drive to the store to buy something to feed Wally, I would have instead tossed him and his poop water outside.

And then one day I awoke to find Wally had attached himself to the side of our dishsoap bottle, proving that Seventh Generation products are green in a whole new way.I missed the moment where he split his caterpillar skin and wriggled it off of him. My husband saw it, but I was busy feeding baby #1. (Just a bit of foreshadowing: missing important events in Wally's life is a theme here.)
With that attachment began Wally Watch 2010. I posted daily photos of Wally on Twitter and his thousands of several fans cheered his fortnight of inaction.

Around day 11, I began to worry that Wally was a goner but Annie, Rachel, and butterfly doula Linda reassured me that Wally's time would come.

(I could also just paid closer attention to the book I was reading the baby, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, which clearly states that it takes two weeks for a caterpillar to become a butterfly. The book also states that a caterpillar forms a cocoon, and not a chrysalis, so maybe it isn't the best source of accurate gestational length information.)

And then on Wally Watch Day 14, I saw that he was making his move:
I thought his darkening skin meant I had just another 24 hours to wait. I wandered into the other room to watch the World Cup.

At halftime, I walked into the kitchen and found this:

Yep. After two weeks of assiduous attention, I missed the big moment. I searched frantically for Wally the butterfly and found him drying off his wings up in the curtains:
As he dried his wings and tested them out, I saw that he was actually a she, Wally-mena. We set out some cut-up fruit and water for the gal to gain her strength. She was still a bit too weak when she tried to drink some water and fell in the bowl. My husband rescued her from drowning.

A few short hours after metamorphosizing, Wally, now Wally-mena, was ready to leave us. She tried going straight through the kitchen window without luck so I decided to give her a helping hand.
I didn't succeed in getting her on my hand. I guess it was too crazy, what with my holding my first-born on my hip while trying to send my second-born out into the world while my husband videotaped it and the dog eyed her new playmate.

Finally, my husband caught Wally loosely in his hands and escorted her out. She flew off so quickly that I didn't even get a picture.

I pretty sure though that a month later the swallowtail butterfly that occasionally buzzes my head is Wally, letting me know how she is doing.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Welcome to the Boomtown

Over the Fourth of July holiday we traveled against the tide (pun, intended) to the Gulf Coast. When I first booked the tickets back in April, I was looking forward to introducing my baby to more of my family and to one of my favorite places on Earth: Pensacola.

As you might have heard, an environmental catastrophe of epic proportions the likes of which the world has never seen and government regulation-willing we'll never see again has bespoiled (and continues to defile) my heart's land.

Paths for workers on the beach, pedestrians on the left, ATVs on the right

We chose to continue with our plans because the baby would only get bigger, relatives were traveling from near and far to meet him, and because we figured everyone in that part of the country needed something else to look at besides the oil in their water and on their beaches.
I can't adequately express what the area, particularly my grandparents' house in Gulf Breeze on Pensacola Bay, means to me. As a place, it holds layers upon layers of memories, from the days we kids (my brother, my sister, and I) traveled to stay there and to eat fried mullet--freshly caught by Pop and freshly fried by Grammy--for breakfast to the day eight years ago when friends and relatives also traveled from far and wide to celebrate our wedding to the day five years ago when we spread my mother's ashes in the water in front of the place that was also her favorite and filled with her own memories of eating her father's freshly caught mullet and celebrating her little sister's wedding to the day last week when I tried to explain all this to my newborn son.

I didn't adequately explain my feelings for this place to him nor will I do it here.

Instead, I took pictures. I took pictures of the beach where we got married; it's now part of the "oil impact area." Hurricane Ivan wiped out of the road to that beach in 2004. It took years for the road to be rebuilt. This was our first return visit.I took pictures of the workers cleaning the beach,putting oil-soiled sand into plastic bags produced with petrochemicals, ensuring that BP will still make a profit as it desecrates my mother's grave.I took pictures of the tour bus now used to transport workers to clean the beach.Back in Gulf Breeze, I took pictures of the booms out in front of the house. (My grandparents' house, now occupied by my aunt and uncle, is the only house I know with two fronts: the waterfront and then the "out front" where the front door is. Confuses the heck out of visitors but those of us who grew up there know exactly which front anyone means at any time.)

I took pictures of the "beach towels"--provided by the city, not BP--vainly trying to protect the sand. In the end, I decided I'd just rather show you pictures of why I consider this area one of the most beautiful in the world.