The first ripe tomatoes

Ripe tomatoes
The first ripe tomatoes

 

My Piramide paste tomato plants have been putting out massive amounts of growth and flowers all summer. There are many green tomatoes, large and small, hanging from the vines. Today, I saw the first two ripe fruits and later found a few more hidden in the mass of vines. The first tomato harvest was three pounds. A few of these ripe tomatoes are going to be cooked tomorrow night with cucuzzi gourd or with tromboncina or maybe both, garlic, onions, olive oil, and some basil. Tonight, though, I made a pizza with sliced fresh tomatoes sprinkled with oregano and basil on thick toasted homemade peasant bread topped with slices of zuchetta rugosa friulana that had been cooked in olive oil with balsamic vinegar, garlic, and shallots, and finally covered in a thin layer of shredded mozzarella (although I think a stronger flavored cheese would have been ideal but that’s all I had) and a side dish of broccoli, carrots, root chicory, root parsley, more onions and garlic, and followed with cucumbers and apples for dessert.

Weather predictions for the next several days are for 70 to 80 and 50 to 60 at night. That is almost perfect and more tomatoes will certainly ripen before September when the nights will get cool or even freezing cold. With so many green and soon to to be ripe tomatoes on the vines I’m hoping for many gallons of tomato sauce to get me through the winter.

First Tomatoes

Tomato

 

It may not look like much but this is one of five tomatoes to appear this week on my Piramide paste tomato plants. As best I can remember this is the earliest any of my tomatoes have ever started making fruit. I set out the plants on June 14th about 65 days after sowing the seeds indoors. A few had flowers or small buds even then. Now the plants have put on another half-foot of new growth and many new flowers. It’s hard to know what will happen with my tomato plants over the next month but so far they seem to be off to a good start.

Summer Solstice is Near

Tomato Flowers on June 16
Piramide paste tomato flowers on June 16

 

Just five more days until the Summer Solstice and while the plants in my gardens may seem to be way behind those in other parts of the country I know that soon they will be growing rampantly. The garlic, onion, and shallots are doing best now but these are cool season plants that begin growth almost as soon as the ground thaws. I’m expecting garlic scapes in about ten days or so. Not to long after that the bulbs will be ready to pull.

Most of the potatoes are up and now I see that I missed about 50 feet in one row so tomorrow I’ll dig I trench and drop in sprouting potatoes from the basement. I’ll at least get some nice small potatoes for fresh eating from them. The other root crops are spotty in their germination so some re-planting may be necessary. The carrots look good, though, especially after I pulled the weeds from them. My cole crops also look good and the Zebulon sunflowers, quinoa, amaranth, and some beets are coming up. The chard will probably need to be replanted but there is still plenty of time for it to grow into huge plants.

 

Painted Mountain Corn Seedlings
Painted Mountain Corn seedlings

 

I planted Painted Mountain Corn on May 28, and Dakota Ivory Corn and the sweet corn grex on June 1. These are all up now and germination was almost 100%. Soup beans (Flambo, Good Mother Stallard, and an unknown red bean) and several varieties of pole beans were planted between May 29 and June 2. Except for two varieties of pole beans all came up and are looking good. I replanted the missing rows of pole beans yesterday hoping they will grow fast enough to yield something.

 

Flambo Bean seedlings
Flambo Bean seedlings

 

Although the night temperatures were above 40° F from June 2 on I did not transplant my tomatoes until June 14. I typically wait that long because there is almost always a frost around June 10. Sometimes these frosts can be very hard and kill tender plants right to the ground. To keep the tomato plants healthy and strong while they waited I potted them into large azalea pots where their roots could really spread out. This was a good idea as they grew almost a foot high and even formed normal blossoms.

 

Tomato plants transplanted under the trellis
Piramide paste tomato plants transplanted under the trellis

 

I started all the winter and summer squash, edible gourd, and cucumber seeds indoors by sprouting them on wet paper. Once roots appeared I planted the sprouts into the garden. Planting the sprouts into the gardens was done on June 6 and by June 12 all but a few edible gourds had come up. The rest of the gourds came up today. Only my Beppo hull-less pumpkins did not sprout. I direct sowed these and that was probably a mistake. In their place I planted a mix of scallopini, zucchini, and crook-neck squashes and some left over tomato plants.

 

Tromboncino squash seedlings
Tromboncino squash seedlings

 

I planted three species of winter squash: my Hubbarb mix (Cucurbita maxima), butternut and tonda padana (two varieties of C. moschata), and spaghetti squash (C. pepo). The C. moschata varieties may or may not mature in our short summers but the flavor of this species is worth the effort.

 

Winter squash seedlings
Winter squash seedlings

 

There is still a lot left to do. Rhubarb can probably be harvested one more time. So far there are 46 quarts of rhubarb sauce in the freezer. I’d like to harvest enough this next time to try making a batch of wine. After that I will be transplanting the new rhubarb varieties I bought this year. The Dakota Ivory corn needs to be mulched and there is weeding to do in the rhubarb, garlic, and root crop rows. But it’s good to stop and appreciate the flowers, too.

 

Iris "Sans Souci"
Iris “Sans Souci”

Under Construction

Winter Squash Trellis

 

There are still a few weeks to go before crops like squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and beans can be safely planted out in the gardens. Last night and the night before temperatures dipped down to 28 degrees freezing thin films of ice on the sheep’s and chickens’ water buckets. Grass blades and fence wires were coated with spiky crystals of ice in the early hours of morning. But soon temperatures rose and it felt a little too warm to be dressed in a sweater and lined pants.

I am building another trellis in the meantime. This one is for my winter squash. It is part of a raised bed that I built last fall from layers of soil, bedding, and spoiled hay. Over the weekend I added another thick layer of soggy spoiled hay to the raised bed to replace what had decomposed. Today, I attached long poles of balsam fir to the upright posts using wood screws to hold them in place. Against these I leaned shorter poles of balsam fir and attached them with wood screws also. Tomorrow thin saplings of fir and spruce will be attached to the leaning poles. These will be what the winter squash vines are to climb on. Squash tends to wander so it may take a little training to get that to happen.

After the trellis is finished tomorrow the next project is to start planting cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and broccoli seeds in the East Garden. That should not take long so if I feel energetic I will begin laying down mulch where the flour corn is to go. The weather forecast predicts mild sunny days ahead and no chance of rain until Saturday. Should be able to get a lot done.

 

Tomatoes

 

My tomatoes are looking good after re-potting but from Saturday to Monday the daytime temperatures were cool so I had to keep them inside most of the time. The newer growth is a little pale but that is only temporary. I’ve re-potted the hot peppers and am hardening them off. Both the tomatoes and peppers are brought in every night just in case the temperatures drop suddenly.

 

Canadian Chapman Red

 

The Chapman and Crimson rhubarb roots I ordered have finally begun to grow leaves. They looked awful when on arrival, all dried up and no signs of life. A few more weeks in their gallon pots to get healthy and then to the garden with the rest of the rhubarb.

Getting Tomato Plants Ready

Tomato 4441ok

 

In about 30 days it will be time to plant these tomato plants in the garden. Until then they have some more growing to do. Also, the plants must be “hardened off” which is a process of acclimatizing tender indoor plants to the outdoors. Leaves will become tougher, pigments darker, and stems thicker. In the house under fluorescent lights growing conditions are mild. The air is uniformly warm, humidity is constant, there is no wind, and, most importantly, the light intensity is weak compared to natural sunlight. If indoor plants are put into direct sunlight they will scorch in just a few hours. Weeks of work growing them for transplanting will be lost. The plants might not recover.

To harden off plants I give them a few hours a day of indirect light under a tree. After about three days they get some exposure to full sun but only for an hour or two. By the end of the week they are ready for full sun exposure. It is important to keep the plants watered as just a few hours of warmth and wind can dry out their pots.

The plants must also become adapted to cooler night temperatures. I follow a similar process of gradual exposure. A few hours in early evening then they’re brought indoors. I do this for about a week. When I think they are strong enough to stay out all night I keep them close to the house and will cover them with a light sheet at night if temperatures will be lower than 40 degrees.

The big day is in June and that’s when the tomato plants will be planted into the garden.

A Rude Start to Summer

Frozen Opalka Tomato Plant
Frozen Opalka Tomato Plant

The month of June started out very cool with lows in the 30’s and highs reaching the 70’s but more often in the 60’s. On June 18 I woke up early like I do every day to do my morning round of feeding the chickens and sheep and listen to the birds singing in the woods. I looked at the yard thermometer, which is about 25 feet from the house, and it read 39 degrees. Lows forecast for the early morning were for the lower 40’s so this seemed alright, but when I stepped outside I felt a definite chill. The garden thermometer which is much farther from the house read 36 degrees which is cold and could damage pepper plants but it is not freezing so I felt safe. And besides it was almost dawn. As I began cutting grass with the scythe and filling the wheelbarrow I felt my hands becoming very cold. The air felt colder, too. By now the first rays of sunlight were coming over the trees. I went back to the garden thermometer and the dial was now at 32 degrees. I could see frost beginning to form on grass blades and on my corn, potatoes, and squash. It was time to get busy covering sensitive plants with hay. Even if frost forms on the plants if you can keep the sun from warming them too quickly they have a good chance of surviving. A little hay over each plant would keep the sun out and let them slowly warm up minimizing damage. I couldn’t cover the corn not with 250 feet of rows so I left them as they were and hoped for the best. Next I headed up to my tomato garden. The frost was already heavy here and I quickly pulled hay around and over all the plants.

Later that morning I went back to my gardens. What I saw was not encouraging. The corn was damaged and 27 of my 46 tomatoes were severely damaged. I had covered them too late after they had already frozen. Some plants just a few feet away were not damaged at all. The squash looked like it would survive with little damage but some plants did not look good at all. It was hard to tell much about the potatoes but some plants looked burned. Even the cabbages, garlic, and onions were touched by frost.

Over the next few days the most damaged tomatoes died. A few squash, potato, and corn plants also died but in general these came through very well and have begun growing again. Fortunately, the corn had only two leaves which meant that the growing point was well protected in a wrapping of several layers of developing leaves. Had the corn been past the five leaf stage I doubt any plants would be alive because by then the growing point would be more exposed and so more likely to freeze. Even so, many corn plants suffered the loss of 1 or 2 leaves. On some corn plants the frosted leaves lost much of their chlorophyll and turned from dark green to yellow-green. Now the corn is beginning to grow again and many plants have put out two new dark green leaves. On some plants the injured leaves are interfering with the emergence of new growth so I gently loosened the twisted and drying dead leaves.

I’ve replanted most of the tomatoes that were killed by frost but not all the varieties. I did not plant multiples of each variety this year as I usually because there was no space in my propagation room for that. All but one each of Opalka, Elberta, and Peace Vine were killed and I had none to replace them. The survivors are severely damaged and the goal now is to get a few tomatoes from each for seed. Silvery Fir was wiped out but one might survive. I will have to wait until next year to grow these again. This is more than a loss in potential sales at the farm market. I grow almost all my vegetables and fruit each summer. A frost of this severity takes a big chunk from my personal food production and it reduces the amount of seeds I will be able to save for next year. But it is also a test of the plants and those able to survive and produce well become seed for future plantings. I do not coddle most of my garden plants

The winter squash and potatoes fared better than I expected. I have been growing this strain of winter squash, my mix of Kuri, Blue Ballet, and Lakota, since 1999. It is fast growing and adapted to the local climate including cold weather. It is tolerant of light frost. Some winter squash plants that had come up at the edge of the garden (where I’d left rotten fruits last fall) survived beautifully without any mulch or hay over them. The potatoes, which have been through two frosts already, came through with only a little injury to the uppermost leaves. My summer squash and cucumbers, which I planted on June 10th, came up four days after the frost so they were safe.

I’m not holding out much hope for a warm summer. I had anticipated this before the frost and planted extra rows of cool season crops like onions, rutabagas, chard, kale, and cabbage. I have also been harvesting the rhubarb more intensively than in previous years and so far have about five gallons of cooked and chopped stems in the freezer. There is still a good chance that the apples and Canadian plums will do well this year, too, as they are loaded with immature fruit right now. The American plums have been infected with a fruit gall so they are a total loss. Pollination of the currants was poor with only about 50% of the flowers setting fruit. My cultivated blueberries bloomed when the weather was cold and wet which kept the bumblebees inactive and so pollination was poor.

Since the frost the weather has gotten very warm and humid. This has spurred growth in the winter and summer squashes, the corn, and the tomatoes. Even a few of the tomatoes I’d given up on are growing and may make a few fruits so there will be seeds for next year. The re-planted tomatoes and those that suffered minor damage are growing but compared to other years they are way behind. My potatoes suffered a bit but have put out a lot of new growth but they are also much smaller than in other years. It is the corn that is is doing best with most plants at the five and six leaf stage. In the rows patches of small yellow-green pants show were the frost hit hardest.

I dug up clumps of the “feral” winter squash and planted these in piles of rotting hay with a little soil. They have survived the transplant very well. Although they may not produce mature fruit the young immature squashes can be harvested and eaten. These are much more flavorful and with a denser texture than typical summer squash. And there will be many more squash blossoms, too.

Corn sprouting in the field and new chickens in the mail

It has been cool and rainy here from May 30 to June 10 the time when I typically get most of my seeds and plants in the ground. The average low was 45 and the average high 61. There were a few mornings with frost in low areas. It rained a lot and many days were cloudy so the ground warmed very slowly.

This has been and still is a very busy week here trying to catch up with planting. At last the temperatures are in the (low) 70’s and even at night it is in the 50’s. My Painted Mountain Corn planted on May 27 has germinated. The first shoots appeared on June 10. Germination started fourteen days after planting but with soil temperatures in the 50’s I think that is not so bad. Now it appears that almost every kernel planted (somewhere between 1,600 and 1,800) is coming up. The first small shoots of the potatoes planted on May 27 began breaking through the soil on June 13. I’m still waiting for the winter squash to come up. I planted pre-sprouted seeds which usually works well even in cool weather. A check under the soil today showed they were ready to break from their hulls and emerge from the soil.

Yesterday and today, June 12 and 13, are the latest I have ever planted summer squash and bean seeds and tomato plants. But until yesterday that was out of the question. The air and soil temperatures were simply too cold. Squash seeds would have rotted and the tomatoes would have been hit by frost.

On Monday my new chickens arrived in the mail. A tiny and flimsy looking cardboard box held the 30 newly hatched Americauna chicks. But all were alive when I picked them up from the post office at 7:30 AM. I got them home and into their “pen”, a plastic wading pool surrounded with some extra fencing and carpet pieces for protection. Overhead I hung a heat lamp to keep them warm. The chicks are all doing very well. I’m hoping that these will make it to adulthood and that the disaster that happened last year will not be repeated. Right now I am feeding them cooked brown rice and split peas with yogurt, peanut butter, and squash added. They like it and it is easy to digest. As they get larger I’ll be transitioning them to a diet of cracked grains (wheat, peas, sunflower seeds, oats) and eventually merge them with my old flock.

My new Americauna chicks in their wading pool nursery.
My new Americauna chicks in their wading pool nursery.