Saturday, May 2, 2009

Spring Crazyness: Warning: long and rambling

I've been neglecting my blog- and really I've been neglecting my garden too. I've had a lot going on this month and it's not likely to slow down, so I'm working on my projects and adventures bit by bit rather than in the all day fully documented sessions that I'd ideally be blogging about. So I guess today's post is going to be a long list of scenes from my life, some of them no more than excuses, that show what I've been up to, and why my garden isn't in great shape yet.

Ok, so my last post was on April 7th. My excuse for not posting the week after that is that I was busy at work. I work on an educational farm: Center for Land-Based Learning's Farm on Putah Creek. I planned and led 4 field days that week. I really worked hard on the curriculum for these particular days and they went great! The students did a self guided rotation through stations where they learned about walnut trees, chickens and eggs, compost, soil formation and geomorphology, pond macroinvertibrates, vegetable gardening and irrigation, birds and owl pellets, flowering plants and pollinators. The cool thing is now that I have these stations put together, I can just roll them out whenever a group of kids comes to visit. We wrap up the day with a hay ride to the creek and a silent walk along the water. On the last day we saw 3 great horned owls and an otter! Sweet eh?

So the field days were fun but going to North Carolina was even more fun! After the last students left on Friday, I had to clean up the farm and pack as quickly as possible because I had a 10:30 pm red eye flight to Charlotte NC that night. I barely made it to the airport in San Francisco in time, but I made my flight and slept, albeit poorly for the next five hours while flying across the country (belive me I needed the sleep, those field days involved long late hours of prep, early mornings setting up, and lots of sprinting and yelling while the kids were around). Anyhoo I got to Charlotte at 6:30 am their time picked up a rental PT Cruiser, fired up my gps and embarked upon the two hour drive to Asheville by myself. I didn't last long though, about 45 minutes into the drive I was falling asleep at the wheel, so I pulled into a McDonalds parking lot and fell asleep.

When I woke up after half an hour I was alert enough for the scenery to make an impression on me. North Carolina is beautiful in the second week in April. The landscape is rolling hills covered in deciduous trees which were not leafed out yet when I arrived. In the understory there are dogwoods- lots of dogwoods, and they were all in bloom. It was amazing. The second hour of the drive took me along the broad river where Last of the Mohicans was filmed. This is breathtaking country folks!

I finally arrived at 'The Big House' Where Brian was waiting for me at 10 am. Brian had headed out to NC a week ahead of me because he was the best man in Sarah and Malanyon's wedding at the big house that we were there to attend. So the Big House - Also known as Sherrill's inn is a pretty amazing place. The earliest building on the property dates from 1800 and the place looks like it grew exponentially after that until about 192o when improvements on the house seem to have stopped.

The place is a huge beautiful old house that has that good old unplanned feel, the floors and walls aren't square anymore if they ever were, and there are staircases in places that don't quite make sense. There is electricity and indoor plumbing in some parts of the house- not so much in others.What's more interesting about the place though is what is inside. The contents of the house don't seem to have changed much since at least the late 1800s. The china cabinets are loaded with generations of brides' wedding china, beautiful, yet chipped and cracked from being used at celebration after celebration. All of the furniture is stuff that you've only seen on antiques road show and all of it gets used day after day by the Clarkes, the family that owns the place.

The place sees hard use too. The farm that the big house sits on produces grass fed beef, pastured hogs and broilers, eggs, and has a beautiful market garden. Annie Clark and her sister run a summercamp on the place where kids get to ride horses, work on the farm and swim in the hot afternoons. There are kids and dogs and dirt everywhere all the time. There's always a pot of coffee on for visitors... Need I say more. I loved the place; I wanted to move in, and I'm sure that they would have taken me in. But after the lovely wedding in the blossoming apple orchard, a tour of the farm, and a fabulous day of horseback riding I left totally inspired.

We checked out some other farms in the area while we were there. Asheville, it turns out is a very cool place, and I could see myself living there for a while, but I think that in the end I'm a California girl. I have to admit that I spent a lot of time on the tours of various farms remarking on how far behind us their spring seemed. In California the third week in April is time to plant tomatoes; in Asheville they are barely getting lettuce in the ground.

Ok so we had a great five days in Asheville checking out farms and hanging out with Malanyon and Sarah. We flew home on Thursday the 23rd, that afternoon I got back to work. On friday I hosted a field day and a Tour. On Saturday I coordinated a wedding at the farm- It was beautiful- and a lot of work. Also on Saturday I picked up four four-week-old kittens to foster from the farm across the street. And it doesn't stop there, Sunday I had three volunteers out to help with a landscaping project around the farmhouse.

I took most of Monday off and this week was a little more mellow; only one farmhouse rental to deal with, and oh yeah I got a dozen baby chicks on Wednesday. So this week I've finally been able to spend some time in my vegetable garden. Not too much- I've still got the kittens to take care of, and a number of other non-garden projects in the works. The non-garden related projects include hosting a bridal shower tea party for my friend Nina and all that that entails such as the making of invitations (last wednesday night) and the cleanup of my apartment and back porch garden (still a mess- I'll get to it one way or another).

Making strawberry jam while strawberries are in season is another current project. I tried to make a batch last night, but it didn't gel so I had to redo it this morning. It didn't taste super impressive so I got my mom to get my grandma's recipe from her(it's awesome). I guess when my mom told my Grandma that I'm canning jam, my grandma got kinda excited and sent over six cases of canning jars. Apparently she doesn't use them any more. I'll use them eventually, but in the mean time I have to store them. So I guess they're going in the back room with the fifty other cases of jars that I've got socked away.

Last but not least that brings me to garden projects. Brian is putting in irrigation lines so there are trenches all over the place and my garden looks like a war zone. Thankfully it's raining right now so it's a reprieve from the constant hand watering that we've been struggleing to keep up with. Remember how I advised not to hand water? I don't always follow my own advice so you shouldn't feel compelled to either.

More importantly in the garden, like I mentioned way back when I was talking about North Carolina, It's time to plant tomatoes in Davis, or at least it should be, but with all the cool weather (I totally missed the hot spell when I was on the east coast) I'm not sure the soil has actually broken 65 degrees yet, May 15 is the average date, but we live in times of weird weather. Soil temperature notwithstanding I planted tomatoes this week (readers-once again, keep this hard headedness in mind and consider it well when taking my advice). All gardening advice- no matter who is giving it should be taken with many, many grains of salt. There are lots of ways to do things and none of them are wrong.

I got my transplants at Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville. I don't start tomato, eggplant or peppers from seed anymore because I generally want one or two each of a bunch of cultivars and it's easier to get seedlings as long as the place I'm getting them from has a decent selection, and morningsun has a great selection! My tomato list so far for this year is as follows:

Aunt Ruby's German Green: The outside of these guys is pretty ugly, green with lots of brown scarring, but when you slice them open there's a pink blush in the center. Their flavor is fabulous and in my previous experience, the plants are productive and healthy.

Cherokee purple: A classic. Dark brownish purple beefsteak fruits. The flavor is sweet, smoky and complex. Not super productive in Davis, but well worth it for the flavor.

Carbon: Another "black" tomato similar to Cherokee purple, but the flavor is not quite as good. This however was my most productive plant two years ago.

Custorolee: A red french heirloom beefsteak. This cultivar yeilded the biggest, and best tasting tomato I've ever grown, or seen, or tasted for that matter. It was literally like the size of my head beautiful, red and blemish free. The caveat is that the plant only made the one fruit. The plant I had last year died before even flowering, so this one is a gamble, but worth it if it pays off.

Mariana's Peace: This is a pink potato leafed beefsteak like Brandywine, only unlike brandywine it will set fruit in the Davis summer heat. This was my best yeilding tomato last year, actually it was just about my only yeilding tomato.

Mexico: A new one for me. Supposed to be a large productive pink beefsteak.

Omar's Lebanese: Another new-to-me beefsteak

Thessaloniki: Yet another new-to-me beefsteak. I chose both this and the above because they come from hot, dry medeterranean climates so my thought is that they will do well in our dry heat.

Mr Stripely: My aunt Marilyn's favorite. I've never grown them, but they sure are great out of her garden.

Big Beef Hybrid: This is insurance in case sclerotia and nematodes strike again like they did last summer.

Aunt Gertie's Gold: These are supposed to be good and High yeilding

Roma Hybrid: I have 8 of these. They're another insurance policy so that I get some tomatos to can. I find that it doesn't matter whether the tomatoes I use for canning are heirlooms or hybrids; the cooking destroys the complexity of the flavor, so I might as well start out with something low in moisture like a roma. I think the decreased cooking time of low moisture tomatoes does more for the flavor of the finished product than anything else anyway.

If I can find them I'll plant some Amana orange- these seem to keep producing fruit much later into the fall than any other tomato plant I've experienced. I'm also toying with the idea of planting a sungold. I'm generally down on cherry tomatoes- they're too much work to harvest, but I miss snacking on them in the garden if I don't plant them.

Mmkay 'Nuf said for now. I'll hopefully add some photos later. Tata!


  1. I planted:
    Sweet Million
    Sun Sugar
    Marianna's Peace
    Golden Queen

    I also planted a Paul Robeson (deceased, burrowing vermin.)

    I'm curious to see if we find similar results with the varieties that we share in common. I guess I wonder how much the success of any particular plant has to do with the variety vs. how they are treated/luck of the draw.

    Will my Marianna's Peace be my best producer this year? Guess we'll find out.
    Assuming the vermin doesn't get to it first.

  2. My Mexico is 8 feet tall and is pulling down my 6 foot support posts. Still no ripe tomatoes off of it, but it looks like I may have a flood of them in a week or so.