Spring Fever or (Im)patience is a Virtue

Tomato seedling in the ground

Plant your garden after Mother’s Day is the conventional wisdom in our part of the Ohio River Valley. After the second weekend of May, any chance of a hard frost or a Blackberry Winter is past and the soil has warmed up enough to be receptive to most seeds and seedlings.

But the unusually warm weather makes me itch to get my hands in the dirt. Visions of ripening tomatoes haunt my brain, making me a bit foolhardy. And when the weather forecaster makes no mention of colder temperatures in the long range weather predictions,  my fears of frost evaporate.

So we’re planting early.

Pinching tomato leaves

Pinching off the lower leaves and planting deeply for will make for lots of good root structure.

My daughter and I dug a little compost into the beds and tucked in some tomato plants, nice and cozy. We always pinch off the lower leaves and bury them deeply, since any stem section below ground will sprout roots, making for a more vigorous plant down the road.

Tomatoe seedling root

Tease the root ball apart a bit before planting so the roots can stretch out.

We also break up the roots a bit to ensure they reach out into the surrounding soil instead of remaining in a tight little root ball. And we water in well with a healthy dose of  compost tea. (For more hints on growing tomatoes, check out my tomato-tip post.)

We grew a few of our own seedlings for transplant this year and picked up a few from Thistlehair Farm, who grows over 100 varieties of heirloom tomato seedlings. It’s always fun to see what new seeds they’ve found on their travels and try something novel. We never know when we might discover our new favorite variety!

Some of the tomato varieties we’ve planted this year include: Lucid Gem, Galena’s Golden Girls, Large Barred Boar, Orange Wellington, Black Krim and Cherokee Purple but there are so many more to try. We just need to identify the square feet in our suburban back yard and convert it to tomato-plot. As far as I’m concerned, there could hardly be any better use for it.

What are your favorite tomato varieties? Have you made any recent discoveries that made it onto your list of favorites?

Heirloom Tomatoes

With luck, we’ll have another batch of these beauties gracing our summer table.

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Tomato Time

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After a cold, wet spring that  slammed abruptly into a hot, hot summer without the usual tempering one would expect from a kinder and more benevolent Mother Nature, tomato season is finally here.

The bite-sized tomatoes appeared first, Spoonful and Sun Sugar and Sweet 1000. The Spoonfuls are mighty cute and appear in abundance, but the skin is a bit thick and when tasted along side some of the other tiny toms, they just can’t compete in the flavor department. Still, they might make a return to the garden next year simply because they are so darn cute.

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(No) thanks to the late, wet spring, blight is rearing its ugly head in the patch so I’ve been removing diseased leaves and stems with the hope of slowing down the curse until I manage to harvest at least a few pommes d’amour. We grow mostly heirloom varieties which leaves us vulnerable to whatever tomato plague that comes down the pike.

If you’re in the same boat (or ‘mater patch) we are, make sure the diseased plant parts are removed from the garden and not chucked into your compost pile, as the nastiness can make its way back to your soil the next time you add a layer of compost.

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And so let the tomato binging begin! We’ll gauge whether or not we can grow sick of eating tomatoes by the time the garden sputters out. So far the answer has always been a resounding NO!

Oh, and my absolute favorite thing to make with a tomato straight from the garden? This!

How’s your tomato patch growing this year? And what is your favorite variety?

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Peaches & Plums & Poetry

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As June burns away into July in our part of the Ohio River Valley, the peaches are coming on nicely. Not that I grow peaches, but I know where to find ’em. And for the past couple of year, there’s been this caravan of stone-fruit laden nomads who drive north, up I-75 from the Peach State, to sell these fuzzy beauties off the back of their truck.

And they are delicious.

And remind me of the peaches (and plums) that my Grandmother and Great Aunties used to grow, and which we’d pick straight from the tree and consume in three to four bites.

And they make me think of this classic jewel by William Carlos Williams, which never fails to make me smile.

This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams, 1883 – 1963

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Not that you should keep peaches in the refrigerator. Plums, yes, but peaches, never. They go mealy, and dry, and the opposite of peachy. If you can’t eat all the summer peaches you’ve carted home (mea culpa), freeze them, can them in big ol’ Mason jars, turn them into cobbler, but for the love of all things tasty, don’t refrigerate them.

Our kitchen counter is currently covered in those gifts of summer, and we’ll eat those peaches ’til we founder or peach season is over, whichever comes first.

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Silent Sunday

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Silent Sunday

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End of the Month (of May) Garden View

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May should always smell of lilac.

We thought spring might never arrive. But it did, at least for a day or two. But then, BAM, straight on into summer. Heat plus humidity hangs in the air like sodden laundry on the line. Thunderstorms materialize from nowhere like a bunny from Mother Nature’s magic top hat.

But the garden doesn’t seem to mind, for the most part. The radishes went straight to seed without ever rounding into those luscious curves that peep out suggestively from the dirt. The peas were lackluster as well. But the tomato plants are surging and several are blossoming. I’m struggling with the idea of pinching off those first blossoms with hopes of forcing the energy back into the plant for a more vigorous production down the road. But a tomato in the hand in July may be worth more than a basketful in August.

These are the decisions that keep me up at night.

Here’s a quick stroll around the garden from May.

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Tomatoes…pretty much the reason why I garden!

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This little fellow may be enjoying these beauties even more than we are!

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The allium always puts on a show.

 

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A wild May Apple blossom beneath its green umbrella.

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Foxglove are always a favorite.

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Catmint (before they all lay down, leaving a bald spot in the middle that rivals my own.)

So long May and cheers to June! And thanks to Helen for hosting the End of Month View theme!

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The Garden Awakes

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Apple blossoms and blue skies!

Hello spring, true spring, the spring we thought would never come!

The garden loam is ready to receive our offerings of bean seeds, tomato seedlings and various other alms we’ll present to the earth in an attempt to coax forth a bounty of goodies come July and August.

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Future tomatoes!

We look at each spring day as a gift in our part of the Ohio River Valley as the gentle temperatures last about as long as the truncated lifespan of the short-lived mayfly. We all too quickly sink into the heat and humidity of a summer that lasts well into October.

So we close our eyes and breath deeply of the good spring air while it lasts.

And pray for asparagus.

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Sweet, sweet asparagus!

 

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Silent Sunday

Dogwood Horizontal

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April the Cruel

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T.S. Eliot opined: “April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”

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But while certainly occasionally cruel, April has a gentle side as well, tempering thunderstorms and late frosts with soft rains and sunny warm days that coerce you outdoors with unspoken promises.

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And April smells like no other month, tempting us with a green and fertile perfume as the ground warms and wakes, pushing forth a host of tender seedlings, both welcome (hello, peas!) and unwelcome (ugh, crabgrass!).

This April has been a weather rollercoaster for us, with 70 degree (F) days followed by snow squalls followed by thunderstorms. We pretend to be shocked by the whiplashing but April in our part of the Ohio River Valley behaves this way most years, a tantrum-throwing toddler of a month.

I like April. Despite the mud (and there’s a lot!), and the inability to dress properly for the capricious weather, it’s a blessing to get out and putter around in the garden, even if I’m not doing anything more productive than pulling up a wayward dandelion here and there. It feels so good to be outside in the April air and take stock of the yard and garden. Time to see what winter damage may have occurred to the various plants and shrubs . Oh, and pick up the hundreds (possibly thousands) of branches and twigs shrugged off from our trees during the winter gales. (Which gives us an excuse to build a cheery bonfire on a chilly spring day.)

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Chores for April:

  • Add compost to the garden beds
  • Start even more seeds indoors (if I can find a horizontal space left uncovered)
  • Plant peas, spinach, kale, swiss chard, radishes and other hardy treats
  • Make a tentative plan for the annual beds
  • Turn the compost bins
  • Do battle with emerging chipmunks

How’s April treating you where you live? Are you itching’ to get gardening again?

 

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Vernal Equinox

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Daffodils braving the cold!

We’ve had a good winter this year. For our family, that means a several good snows and temperatures low enough to merit wool sweaters and long underwear . The kids received a gift of snow days off from school and we took full advantage, sledding and drinking hot chocolate.

But enough is enough.

We’ve had a few whispers of spring, with  few days reaching into the sixties but a cold spell would snap us back into the reality that we were still tilted away from the sun.

And now here we are. Spring Equinox. And us Northern Hemispher-ites cant our faces back toward Ol’ Sol and the promises of warmer weather.

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The forsythia branches are ripe with buds, the daffodils brave the cold and the garden waits patiently for an indoctrination of radish, spinach, sugar snap peas and any other seeds I think I can get away with planting early. You can almost hear the magnolia trees humming with the electric desire to send their blossoms bursting forth.

But this winter is particularly tenacious. He is hanging on with tooth and nail and promising us another four to six inches of snow and ice and freezing rain and any other tricks he has up his frosty sleeve. One more (we hope) big bad wintry mess is headed our way before spring’s gentle breezes coax us outside in short sleeves.

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We’re become accustomed to a spring with a fickle nature in our patch of the Ohio River Valley. It’s not rare to see flower blossoms here looking shocked and more than a little indignant, peeking out from a blanket of snow. But being accustomed doesn’t ease our spring fever as we stare out the window at the garden patch while the spade and hoe recline slothfully in a dark corner of the shed.

But soon, very soon, we’ll all get to work!

How’s your winter been? Are you ready for spring? And what’s on your shortlist of spring chores?

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