Tomatoes Tomatoes Tomatoes

If the title didn’t tip you off, this post is a short post about tomatoes. Tomatoes are just about the easiest things to grow in a garden. There only slightly difficult if you put them in pots (things just dry out faster in pots). They’re pretty no nonsense. They love sun and heat (which there is a good amount of in San Diego). Pests are fairly rare or easy to deal with. Our plants have grown almost too well, causing our cages to collapse.

There is no comparison between the taste of a store bought and garden-fresh tomato. Honestly I’ve been pretty skeptical of all the “stuff grown in your garden tastes better than stuff bought in the store” hype. (Kinda wrote it off as the group think that flourishes so well within the New Urban Farming/Omnivore’s Dilemma crowd). My skepticism was unjustified. The only way I can describe the difference between the taste of a store bought tomato and a garden fresh one is the word “roundness” or “full”. The flavor is just far more complex and…full…obviously I’m struggling to articulate it. The cherry tomatoes are, as our Portuguese neighbor’s parents said “doce” or candy. They really are that sweet. And the San Diego And Beefsteak varieties have that slightly tart-citrus flavor but not in an overpowering way such that other more subtle earthy flavors can come through.

Ok, on to the photos.

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My mother’s pottery being put to good use.

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A close up. The big one in the front is one of the San Diego tomatoes i believe.

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A little bruschetta made with a bunch of the cherry tomatoes.

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Pizza made with sauce created from the San Diego tomatoes. Also the dough was made from scratch by John who has recently become quite the amateur bread baker (i’ll try to post some of his bready delights).

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Lady E ate around 3 cups worth.

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…And the tomatoes made the little lady very happy.

 

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squashccess or the 2ish month update

I started a full time job. I get on the internet for 20 min at lunch…hence a terrible taper in the frequency of posts. Lo siento gente, lo siento. Well you’re in for a treat.

As you may recall, the last post was about a month ago…veggies grow a lot in a month.

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For perspective, the corn in the back (if you don’t know what corn looks like) is 8.5 ft tall…no joke.

Here’s one month and a week or so ago.

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You can’t tell in the first photo but you can no longer safely walk all the way down the tomato row…we’ve already lost a few children to their voracious appetite for energy. Speaking of tomatoes, here are some of the growing Beefsteak variety.

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Beefy indeed!

Some of the most exciting things to watch grow, simply because of their height, are the corn plants. Sweet corn is probably the best way to eat starch…if you have to.

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Corn. Basil in the foreground recovered nicely from it’s early days of struggle. Spinach has just been truckin along. It’s almost time to replant the lettuce (to the left).

If you are completely unfamiliar (and i don’t know how you can be after the onslaught of consciousness-raising food documentaries…yes i’m that guy on netflix watching any and all documentaries after my wife falls asleep) with the plant known in Latin as zea mays, what you’re looking at in the photo below is the “silk”. That is the female part of the plant that receives the pollen from the male part, “the tassel” (the thing on the top). The segment below the silk is what turns into the ear of corn.

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Corn ear silk….eeeewwwww ear silk.

We’ve already eaten some of the green peppers. They taste great! A wonderful amount of spice but not too overwhelming.

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A clump of green peppers.

Swiss Chard is a leafy green that is often used in salads or stir-fried like collard greens.

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Swiss Chard. That red is all natural.

At last check there were between 8 and 10 pumpkins on the pumpkin vine. In my estimate, the vines take up around 250 sq ft so far…its hard to get a good solid count on how many pumpkins there are because you have to lift so many different leaves on the same vine, that it’s easy to loose track. It’s tons of fun to watch the pumpkins swell from just little grape size bulges to soccer ball size. As a side note, it’s encouraging that our pumpkin and squash have been so productive. I was concerned that we might not have enough insects around to pollinate things but I’ve seen tons of bees and wasps (a little scary) and ants and flies.

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Pumpkin on the vine!

Our onion row! We’ve been doing a ton of cooking with the green onions that have been growing. They’re full of flavor but not overly oniony. Can’t wait till these babies are big enough to harvest. I’ve been clearing away the dirt around them as they’ve been growing. I heard that is one way to ensure proper growth but I’m not sure if that info is good or not….so don’t quote me on that cultural tip.

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Yellow onions.

And finally, one of the larger zucchini we’ve harvested. I think it ended up weighing around 5 lbs…that’s a lot of zucchini. We’ve had 4 or so reach this size because our plants are packed so close to the tomatoes that it’s hard to see around all the leaves and stems.

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Lady E with the Giant!

Next post. Some things from the garden we’ve cooked….

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our garden could beat up your garden.

Ok so I may be a proud parent and a little biased, but (from my limited knowledge) our garden is kicking ass and taking names. Last week we had a couple days of really hot weather (mid to upper 90s) and I decided to bump up the watering (from once a day for 15 min to twice a day for 10 min each). Subsequently I started my new job (yay!) and didn’t have time to make it to the garden this whole week and change back the drip system timer…until yesterday…

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Full garden shot. Tomatoes are around 3.5 ft tall. Corn around 3.

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Dan (of Mullanderson fame) finally got his feet in the garden for a squash perspective photo!

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My legs serving as perspective for the giant corn!

These veggies are going nuts!

Garden notes:

Corn: The corn has been growing vigorously. We tilled in a composted manure before we planted and I’m thinking that’s what we can attribute the explosive growth to. Each plant has been growing suckers pretty pervasively. Suckers are little side plants that grow out of the base of the main plant. I’ve just been pulling them as they’ve come up. This is to encourage growth of the main stalk.

Tomatoes: All three of the varieties we bought are putting on fruit of various sizes. The beefsteak variety has fruit the size of…well a small tomato. All plants are bushing out quite well. I haven’t done too much pruning. In addition we haven’t staked them yet which may be a bad thing…we shall see. There are two types of tomato growth patterns: determinate and indeterminate. The determinate (which you can probably figure out if you know English) have a fairly set maximum height. The indeterminate kind will just kind of keep growing till they’re all tomatoed out.

Squash: It is quickly filling up its space! Small squash are already forming. Only about an inch long right now. The biggest leaves are around 13 or so inches across. Huge! I’m not sure if i mentioned the fact that the squash, in seedling stage, quite literally burst out of the ground. It grew so fast that it pushed whole chunks and clods of dirt out of the way on its way towards the sun!

Peppers: I’m still not sure if they’re on track for growth. Mainly because they’re just growing behind the vigor of everything else but they’re still steadily growing. They seem to be responding well to the extra watering they’re getting so that’s good.

On a side note my wife and I just discovered that we’re having a baby girl! I’ll be taking her out in the garden from day 1! :)

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Celebrate 1 month in the garden with a photo update!

A month ago we placed seeds in the ground. Then we waited. And watered dirt. In a few days we spotted tiny green pairs of leaves in the salad greens row (the banner photo on the blog). Honestly I couldn’t distinguish them from weeds and we didn’t know exactly what to do. So we waited some more. And here’s whats happened…

Spinach. Notice the one plant to the left that was washed away a bit. Hang in there!

Spinach. Notice the one plant to the left that was washed away a bit. Hang in there!

Lady E demonstrating the hugeness of our pumpkin plants. Sadly we may have to thin to fewer plants.

Lady E demonstrating the hugeness of our pumpkin plants. Sadly we may have to thin to fewer plants.

Our aforementioned salad greens went nuts! Notice in R corner, some have been harvested and eaten already. Quite tasty!

Our aforementioned salad greens went nuts! Notice in R corner, some have been harvested and eaten already. Quite tasty!

The Romaine with room to grow now. Thinning was a sad process but the 7 plants we have are doing pretty good. They're reach 10-12" tall.

The Romaine with room to grow now. Thinning was a sad process but the 7 plants we have are doing pretty good. They’ll reach 10-12″ tall.

Kale. Unfortunately something has been munching on these guys. Aside from that they're truckin right along after thinning.

Kale. Unfortunately something has been munching on these guys. Aside from that they’re truckin right along after thinning.

As with the Kale, so the Chard. Its being chewed on a bit by something and maybe the weakest showing of all we planted. More to come...

As with the Kale, so the Chard. Its being chewed on a bit by something and maybe the weakest showing of all we planted. More to come…

Broccoli. These plants are at about 3" high. All doing pretty well.

Broccoli. These plants are at about 3″ high. All doing pretty well.

Brussels Sprouts. Again, something taking tiny bites. These plants are around 3". We planted these a bit late, so hopefully it doesn't get hot too soon.

Brussels Sprouts. Again, something taking tiny bites. These plants are around 3″. We planted these a bit late, so hopefully it doesn’t get hot too soon.

Potatoes. Doing very well. Some that I thought were dead have begun to poke through the soil. These plants are around 8-12".

Potatoes. Doing very well. Some that I thought were dead have begun to poke through the soil. These plants are around 8-12″.

Shallots on the L. Yellow onions on the R. Really it's hard to tell exactly how well these are doing. Looks good to me though.

Shallots on the L. Yellow onions on the R. Really it’s hard to tell exactly how well these are doing. Looks good to me though.

Watermelon. Again. No idea how these are supposed to be growing. We may thin these out further along. They're green. They're up. I call that a win.

Watermelon. Again. No idea how these are supposed to be growing. We may thin these out further along. They’re green. They’re up. I call that a win.

Green Peppers. These I'm not sure about. They have all grown some (except one plant), but are growing weakly. More research required. Tips?

Green Peppers. These I’m not sure about. They have all grown some (except one plant), but are growing weakly. More research required. Tips?

Vigorous is an understatement when it comes to the Yellow Squash and Zucchini. If that plant was a Venus Fly Trap it would have eaten this cute kid by now.

Vigorous is an understatement when it comes to the Yellow Squash and Zucchini. If that plant was a Venus Fly Trap it would have eaten this cute kid by now.

Tomatoes. Nearly as tall as this toddler. Producing some flowers. Keep in mind that we paid exactly 50c US for these seedlings. A steal I'd say. They're about 2.5 ft tall.

Tomatoes. Nearly as tall as this toddler. Producing some flowers. Keep in mind that we paid exactly 50c US for these seedlings. A steal I’d say. They’re about 2.5 ft tall.

Corn (obviously). I'm really surprised with how well it's doing so far. Pre "hilling".

Corn (obviously). I’m really surprised with how well it’s doing so far. Pre “hilling”.

Hilling corn is a process where soil is gathered up around the base of the corn to stimulate root growth higher up the stock thereby stabilizing the corn. The particular species we are using can get up to 7ft tall! This is the first hilling. We’ll probably do it another time or two.

Post "hilling".

Post “hilling”.

Wide shot on our 3 rows of Sweet Corn.

Wide shot on our 3 rows of Sweet Corn. Most plants are around 14 or 15″ tall. Some shorter ones are about 8″.

So far this gardening experience has been humbling and exciting. Humbling because we have all had to recognize the fact that we know exactly jack squat about gardening. And exciting because we know exactly jack squat about gardening. I’ve really enjoyed researching (which I enjoy more generally…I have fond memories of wandering my college library) the cultivation of all the different plants we have growing; learning exactly what it will take to grow each plant to harvest. I know John, too, has been researching weeds and the best ways to fight them. I think we’ll be applying some mulch soon. (city of San Diego residents can get 2 cubic yards free from the Mira Mar Greenery!).

We do have something to celebrate on this one month anniversary. We harvested a grocery-bags-worth of salad greens yesterday! I forgot that we planted a spicy mix of greens (mustard and the like) so that was a surprise! The amount we harvested was roughly 1/6th they amount growing…we have a good amount of greens left to eat before it gets too hot for them. They’re good fer ya!!

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garden planting schedule resource and rain!!!!!

Here’s a great resource with planting times and cultivation info most of the common vegetable garden plants. Its organized by climate zone which is hugely helpful. I wish knew about this resource when we planted. We probably would have waited on some things and planted others a little earlier. I think everything will survive though.

I’ll be adding this to the Links page.

In other news. IT’S f@#%^&* RAINING IN SAN DIEGO!! (being that this is one of the drier areas in the country we all get very excited when it rains) I didn’t even have to do a dance…even though I am a phenomenal dancer…. Supposed to rain for the next day or so which is great. Our veggies have been doing awesome with the drip system, but a good natural deep soak will do them good.

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Blade by Blade or The Battle of the Weeds

A few notes on weeding and various weeds encountered thus far in our garden by John Rowland.

Blade by Blade

I have a memory, from the planting day, of our garden adviser promising me that, especially after our drip system had been installed, the hard work was over. That it was now time to sit back and wait for the Earth to bring forth her bounty. But I am starting to think that I manufactured that memory, because no one who’s done this before could possibly have said such a thing. The weeds have come.

There are three memorably distinct types of weed. There’s “the sprout,” which is common but pretty easy to pull up from the root. The only problem with the sprout is that it looks like the first phase of darn near every plant we’re actually trying to grow, so at first it was hard to be sure whether to pull these ones. There’s “the fern”, which is rare, but has the annoying characteristic of being too floppy to get out any real root when you pull it. And along these lines, but in a whole other league, maybe even playing an entirely separate game, there’s the grass. It may be clear from previously posted images that we reclaimed our 30×17 patch of land from a back yard lawn. Well, that lawn wants the garden back something fierce, and it’s sent crack troops on the mission.

Part of the reason I wanted to be part of this garden project was to learn about how the garden–any garden–grows. Well, I’ve sure learned a lot about grass. Wikipedia helped me with some of the terms, but all of the following was frustratingly familiar to my tired fingers. Grass grows its blades from nodes within sheaths, very low to the ground. When you pull the blade, easily 50% of the time all you succeed in doing is detaching the blade from the node, leaving the sheath and root structure intact. A new blade grows easily, because it may well be receiving nutrition via a rhizome – horizontal root—connecting it to another blade a few inches away. All this means that if you’re not going to be thorough about grass weeding, you may as well stay home.

Well, we haven’t been staying home. We’re pulling away, hoping not for total victory, but that we can at least give our new favorite children a leg up by causing as much damage as possible everything else that tries to grow. I don’t know if we’ll see the end of the weeds before we start enjoying the vegetables of our labor, but I do know that the irksome reality of the weeds at least gets me into the garden a few times a week. So for that, at least, I can be thankful.

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Evil fern weed.

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Grass surrounding a corn plant. Inevitable when converting a yard into a garden.

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Bushy tomatoes. John and Eric in the background.

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Full garden photo. The tomatoes to the upper right are nigh 3 ft tall.

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Full garden photo from the other (north) end. Corn is near 12 – 15″ tall now. The plants on the middle right edge are the pumpkins. They’re doing quite well. Eric weeding onions.

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That garden is going to be hit by a train!!

The High Line park/garden in NYC was installed on an old disused elevated train track.

It was featured in the documentary (oh how i love netflix) Urbanized.

I love seeing shared public spaces created so ingeniously.

Check it.

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the thinning

We’re a few weeks on at the 30×17 plot. Everything but a few of the potato sets have sprouted (I imagine they’ve rotted since they were pieces cut from a single potato). The sweet corn is growing like nuts which, as a Nebraskan, makes me very happy (it’s at about 12″). The tomatoes are bushing out and growing strong central vines. Its awesome to watch this 500 sq ft of dirt turn into a garden.

As things have sprouted and have started to reach a few inches in height, we have to start thinning out the seedlings. I’ve been been avoiding the thinning for a few days. As a new gardener it makes me (Eric) nervous to put all the work into tilling the ground, prepping the soil, and making sure everything gets enough water just to turn around and pull some up of the newly sprouted plants. I know it’s necessary, but it feels painful. The lettuce is especially difficult because the seed is sown rather densely, then thinned to just one plant every 8 inches or so. Each head of Romaine will reach about 10 inches in height and spread to about 8 or so inches in width. Each needs room to grow properly.  We must restrict the number of plants in the row so the ones that can grow will reach maturity.

In a similar way, as a church, we have limited ourselves. We have restricted (and pruned) ourselves to a particular place of influence in order to foster the growth of healthy common life in our neighborhood.

A little background.

A little over two and a half years ago, when our church was in a sort of transition, the new lead pastor began calling members to move into the neighborhood where our Sunday gathering is located. As people started to relocate to the pretty plain, pretty middle-class neighborhood, we found that practicing life together and the “all things in common” of Acts 2 began to make more sense. Our pastor was asking  us to uproot wherever we had decided was best to live in San Diego, for whatever reason, and move into a neighborhood that is nice…but not particularly interesting or hip or trendy. It has its charms, but it’s primarily populated by older folks who have lived in the neighborhood for decades. The motto of our local community council is “Peaceful, Friendly, Rolando”. We like it peaceful. We like it friendly. We’d like to keep it that way. Not exactly the diverse, edgy, multicultural (though we are some of that), urban hub that is a popular with young reformed missonal Evangelicals (or anyone under 35 for that matter) these days. What our pastor was calling us to was to live in a particular place, serve a particular people, and live a particular life together. He was calling us to limits.

The outcome of this is that our central goals, as Christians, of loving God and loving our neighbor, are achievable. We aren’t spread out all over the city, each of us having different neighbors and different spheres of influence. We are proximate to one another (somewhere around 95-98% of our church population lives within walking distance of each other) and able to bear one each others’ burdens, share what we have with each other, and get to know the same neighbors with the goal of displaying Christ to them. When someone’s car breaks down (as ours has…multiple times) rides and car lends are available. When a baby is born, meals can be walked over to help ease some of the stress of the new life. When a neighbor’s back yard hill landslides in a rare intense rain storm and destroys their retaining wall there’s a dozen strong fellas under 30 who can operate jack hammers and pick axes to remove a few dumpsters worth of earth and concrete. When our homeless friends need food or a ride to recycling or just to talk we’re down the block or around the corner.

This is possible because we’ve allowed ourselves to be limited by our callings (the very nature of callings is that they limit) as Christians to love God and love our neighbors. This isn’t a great labor we’ve done, it’s something we’ve become as we have read the Gospels and the book of Acts. It’s something God is doing through us as we draw near to him. We fail at it. Everyday. While community is built into humans, we are broken and often wish to selfishly hold onto our possessions or isolate ourselves from common life or work to promote our own name rather than Christ’s name. We can only lay down our lives and live within these limits through the love of Christ.

Did I think of all this while thinning the lettuce? No, not quite. This is more of what we call a ramble.

I apologize for the length.

Checked on the Romaine today. The plants I selected are beginning to leaf out. I ate the ones that were selected against.

pre-thinned lettuce

pre-thinned lettuce

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Gardening is manly!

Great post over at The Art of Manliness on why gardening is manly, highlighting some famous male gardeners from history. Thomas Jefferson raced his friends to see who could grow the first pea each spring…competition I could even get into.

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tech specs

Here’s a brief look at two documents we’re using to keep track of planting and harvest times and where everything is in the garden. The hand drawn garden plan is the work of Kalida. Utilizing my EXTENSIVE knowledge of excel, I (Eric) threw together the garden schedule, using the mature dates and spacing info on our seed packets (…ok the “extensive” part, not true. I dropped the one class in college that used excel extensively…I was failing. What do you expect of someone who thought it was a good idea to major in English). We have no information on the harvest dates of our potatoes because we received them from Mr. Bockman in an unmarked bag and I haven’t yet looked up the time to maturity for red potatoes…brief google search…75 to 135 days. Same deal for the green peppers.

I’m realizing it’s essential to keep track of all this information and pay attention planting dates and season recommendations. We may have planted some of our cool season crops a little late (local garden clubs and extension programs can have lots of great info on your particular area). Late summer in San Diego can be a scorcher. In the end it’s just plain enjoyable to be gardening and have friends with space where it will work.

In the garden plan picture, the row numbering runs in the reverse of the post on planting. The original numbering scheme (in the picture) didn’t count the row between 1 and 2 as a row. It is now counted. There are nine rows.

Any comments about systems you use to keep track of what’s going on in your garden are greatly appreciated. We’re all still quite new to this.

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Planting and harvest schedule.

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Garden plan.

 

 

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