2018 Tomato Review

It is safe to say that tomato season is over for me. My late tomatoes never really took off. The first planting is looking sad, producing the occasional tomato, and I am half hoping for a hurricane to blow along and put it out of its misery.

Time to look back on this years winners and losers so I know what I plant next year.

I had intended to weigh the harvest and calculate the most productive plants, but I did not…and thank goodness, because who would really care.

Winners

Sungold:  My favorite cherry, a beautiful deep orange that looks pretty in pasta salads and…regular salad. These seeds were from Johnny’s. (In the picture below, you can see the color compared to a regular red cherry tomato.)

Verdict: Yes! I will plant every year until my death.

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Brandy Boy: My favorite for taste. My seeds are from 2011 and should be replaced but I don’t know if I will. They get so much cat facing. I would say only 50 percent of them are usable and I don’t know if they’re worth the space.  (In the front of this grouping below is a hideous tomato, and that is a Brandy Boy.)

Verdict: Yes, even though they aggravate me, I do love them.

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Madame Marmande:  A pretty, slightly ribbed tomato that looks like an heirloom but is not. It is exclusive to Burpee’s, as far as I know. Nothing amazing. I like it.  (In the picture above, second from the right.)

Verdict: Yes.

Super Sauce: Roma’s with no blossom end rot. The plants were finicky, always the first to wilt and look weird, even as seedlings. The tomatoes varied in size, but all were firm when diced and great for making sauce, as they weren’t too watery.  Even if I don’t make any sauce, they are handy just as Roma tomatoes.

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Verdict: Yes.

Early Girl: Eh.  Smallish and normal tasting, they are very early but not much else.

Verdict: Yes.  Sometimes being first is important.

Celebrity: Available everywhere, trouble free, and just a good reliable variety.  If I could only grow one tomato, this would be it.

Verdict: Of course

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The Losers

San Vincente: A red cherry that I think is exclusive to Gurney’s.  The plants were quick to grow and super productive.  The only problem was the tomatoes had really thick skins which is totally gross in a cherry tomato.

Verdict:  No.  Sweet 100 is way, way better for a red cherry.

Striped German: Pretty, yellow with red stripes, but a little bland. Not amazingly healthy or productive. I like to try a new “pretty” heirloom from time to time, but this is another one I am done with. Next year I will bring back Black Krim as my pretty heirloom, as it is much tastier.

Verdict: No. Thanks for the memories.

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It’s a little weird that I have all these tomato pictures, isn’t it?  Okay one more.

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Have a good weekend!  (P.S. The ones in the foreground are Early Girl. I’m done now.)


Landscaping Contentment

When we lived in our old, gross house, I had a lot of complaints.  Now that we are in a new, beautiful one…I still have a lot of complaints.  My first one is the landscaping. Or really, the fact that there is no landscaping.

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(Our backyard is a flat area of mowed weeds near the house, then a steep area of unmowed weeds, then woods, then a hayfield.)

The house sits perched on a steep hill, looking like it was dropped off by aliens.  There is no connection between house and land, despite the windows and porches.  It just looks goofy.

This irks me because I was not present at the meeting with the builder to determine where the driveway should go and where the house should sit on the lot.  It should have been pushed back more, to allow for a flat space in front.  The driveway should have started earlier and crisscrossed the front of the house so that our front door would be more than a decoration.  (Everyone currently walks in through the laundry room, to my constant aggravation.)

I have never really shared pictures of the outside of my house because I find how it is sited very unattractive:

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Yuck.  (At least now the black erosion fencing is gone!)

I have come up with a lot of solutions in my mind.  Retaining walls, moving the side steps, widening the front pathway.  I want white hydrangeas on the far side of the walkway.  I want the front terraced.  I at least want something done about the grass (green weeds actually), which just grows to hideous lengths by the end of summer, dies in the winter, and begins again.

I want, I want, I want.

I’m never going to get any of those things.  I can’t afford them… in the sense that they would be so expensive you would have to be truly rich to justify it.  Doing it ourselves, over time, is not really an option.  If you are cutting into a hill and building walls you have to just do it .

Similarly, my bitterness over not having any input about the house location is not contributing to my happiness.

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So instead of looking for ideas and solutions, I am just going to be okay with it.  I don’t like it, and never will.  But there is no use drawing up landscape plans. That is hard for me, as silly as it sounds.  I like things to be pretty and welcoming. I like to have dreams, and Pinterest boards, and plans in the works.  It hard to for me to say to myself, this one is not going to happen.  Make peace with it.

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I wonder if I did spend the many thousands of dollars to terrace the front and widen the walkway, would I be glad I did?  Or would it just be more money spent, and on to wanting the next thing?

I guess contentment is not as simple as being happy with what you have.  I’ll never be happy with this one aspect of our home.  It’s also being okay with the fact that you aren’t happy with it.  Choosing not to spend a lot of money to fix it, and just leaving it the way it is.  Realizing that I am still a happy person with a good life, no matter how steep my front yard is.

Is there something in your house that bothers you…that you know you can’t change?


At Home, July 2018

Garden

Ah the garden. So far we’ve had 30 ears of American Dream corn, ready on July 6th. It is done and we are waiting for silver queen, which should be ready when we get back from vacation. It was used up in corn chowder, corn salad, and plenty of salted and buttered corn on and off the cob. This variety germinated well, was ready in 67 days, and after harvesting the big ears, each stalk sent out one or two smaller ears that were short but still filled out. I was so happy with this variety.

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If you have ever tried to grow corn, you know what it feels like to pull back the husk and see this!  Pure joy.

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Tomatoes are going nuts, and cherry tomatoes have been demoted to chicken feed. We pick and toss them to them daily. There are maybe 50 a day coming in and that is just not okay. I need maybe 20 a week.  Next year, two plants, max.

I tried a new variety of jalapeño: Primo Jalapeño from Gurney’s, and I am very happy with it. They are the biggest ones I’ve ever gotten. I’ve made poppers twice and canned pickled jalapeño rings.  I am also pleased with Gurney’s Giant Belll, after many disappointing years of growing California Wonder.  Cherry peppers are doing very well too.

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(Caperino Cherry Peppers from Johnny’s)

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(Primo Jalapeño from Gurney’s)

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(Cosmos Bush Bean from Johnny’s.)

Flowers for every room, every hallway, every bathroom counter. Not a problem.

My dahlias have been a literal flop.  I put them in with the rest of the garden where the soil is rich and gets irrigated, and they are doing awful.  Huge, green, bending over, very few flowers.  Last year I planted them in unamended clay and I was bringing in buckets every evening.  Now I know.  More room in the actual garden for something else next year.

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House

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Oh dear I really need to iron that.

Dining room is painted and my tablecloth arrived. My next project will be painting the porch and getting porch furniture, probably four Adirondack chairs. I will not be personally painting the porch. No I will not. I think this will be put off until October, when it is cool and soccer is over.

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Family

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We’ve been on a serious ice cream making kick, having made it now four weeks in a row.  I’ll share the recipes once we try it with a few more flavor variations.  So far we’ve done chocolate, cookies and cream, strawberry, and vanilla.  I want to try something with a caramel swirl, and blackberry or peach.

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We leave soon to visit Matt’s parents in California. They live on a beautiful ranch with a huge garden, horses to ride, and no humidity. Sounds like heaven.  And his mother is a genius who does not plant any cherry tomatoes.

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Back to school and activities soon. ☹️


At Home, June 2018

House

No painting or purchases this month. I am being indecisive about the dining room color and the beige-gray looks nice in the summer light.  I did paint a yellow sofa table with leftover cream paint, but It is still kind of ugly and pointless. At least it no longer clashes with the wall.  We really need some furniture for our huge, empty deck, but have yet to get any.  Cheap outdoor furniture is soooo bad, and the nice stuff is way out of our budget ($6000 for a loveseat, sofa, and table set. Made out of plastic wicker. From Costco!) Do you know of any good places to look?

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(Enjoying the last rays of sun on the longest day of the year.)

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Some garden sage added to the wreath.

We’ve had a lot of rain which has led to some cozy meals, like penne vodka with Italian braided bread.

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Hot weather has returned with a vengeance so that’s over.

At least I finished my Fourth of July decorating yesterday.

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Yep.  That’s it.

Garden

We have cut the first few dozen zinnias and sunflowers. I planted White Nite to harvest first and they were ready in a little over 60 days. My zinnias are tequila lime, senora, and a Benarys giant mix. Dahlias are coming in too. I was hoping to have a ripe tomato by July 1, but it didn’t happen. Well I had cherry tomatoes, but that doesn’t count. And two early girls, which are barely full sized. I want a real one! Late tomatoes are in, and I am planning my fall garden.

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(See all the roots that grow in a jar of water in a week or two?

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(Red Norland potatoes and the first batch of one million cherry tomatoes.)

Family

The kids are out of school and had a week of vacation bible school, which is now over as well. I like having them home and not doing the daily school rush. I also like to fulfill my homeschooler fantasies. Maddie, at 6, loves workbooks and has been working through Singapore Math. Camilla does not like workbooks or reading. She turned five last month. We do no workbooks and are gently working on the reading. I would love to have her reading by kindergarten. But maybe that is not realistic and I wonder if I’m doing more harm than good.

Afternoons have settled into a comfortable pattern. We eat lunch around noon and then Ellie goes down for a nap. The kids and I head down to the yard off the back deck for some pool time.  (The pool is a nine ft wide water trough and is sort of perfect of their age.  It is chlorinated and they can swim in it but still stand comfortably.)  It is not near the garden or barn or anything that requires any work. I am forced sit and watch them to make sure they are safe. So all I can do is sit and read, getting in the pool to cool off as needed. It is delightful. After the pool time, we have wet hair and are tired.

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Looking forward to July!


Our First Year Growing Onions

I have never grown onions before, as they are widely considered to be difficult to grow.  They are cheap in the store, and not something that is much better fresh, like tomatoes or corn.  But for some reason I decided to give it a try this year, and I will grow them every year from now on because I liked it so much.

Planning and Ordering 

Onions are day length sensitive.  The plant starts out growing a green leafy top that just look like big scallions.  At some point a switch is flipped in the onion’s brain that tells it start forming a bulb.  That switch is flipped based on the length of the days.  You have to get enough leaves in before bulb formation starts to get a good sized onion.  So the variety you can grow is determined by your latitude, not the heat of your climate.  We are in Central Virginia, and can grow either “intermediate day” or some “long day” varieties.  “Short day” onions are grown in the south where the days are shorter in the summer.  As a rule, longer day onions are less sweet but keep better, but there are exceptions.

Since it was my first year I wanted to do just intermediate day as they are supposed to be the best for our area.  I ordered from Dixondale Farms, which gets good reviews from everyone.  I ordered the Intermediate Day Sampler.  They sell the plants in “bundles” of 50-75.  It is around $12 for your first bundle and then $5 for each additional.  I ordered two of the sampler, for an expected total of 100-150 plants.  The sampler is a mix of “Candy”, “Red Candy”, and “Superstar”, a yellow, red, and white, respectively, all three are supposed to be sweet and relatively long keeping.

Planting

They arrived in a small box, with little plants that looked a little dry, which is apparently normal.  I wish I had taken a picture.  I planted them within a few days of getting them.

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I was able to pick the date I wanted them shipped, and picked mid March.  They typically go in with your other early stuff like peas and potatoes, as they can take a frost.  I think they could have gone in even earlier.  We had an unusually cold March, with some hard freezes and they didn’t seem to mind.

The directions said to plant them in 2 rows that were 18 inches apart.  The plants needed to be only 4 inches apart.  That is amazing.  That meant that this skinny little row, carved out of a few feet of space next to this weird rock wall, was PLENTY of room for my 140 onion plants that I ended up receiving.  It was a forty foot double row.   I had space to put 10 feet of red new potatoes at the end.

Growing

In the beginning you are focusing on getting the tops big, green, and leafy.  Each leaf equals one ring (a perfect onion has thirteen).  Big leaf equals big ring.  So to get big tops, and big bulbs, you need a lot of water and a lot of nitrogen.  You can buy nitrogen heavy fertilizer (the first number on the fertilizer bag tells you how much nitrogen).  Chicken manure is also high in nitrogen.  I didn’t do any of that.  I just wanted to see how they would do without any special treatment or spending a lot of money.  I mixed in a balanced fertilizer at planting, and that’s it, aside from whatever the compost has offered the garden.  This picture was taken April 27th, and you can see they are still very small, but clearly alive and growing a little:

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Quite a bit bigger on May 9th:

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See them on the right on May 27th?

(Do you like the old dryer in front of the barn?  Don’t worry, its now in a different spot.  The yard.)

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Since the onions are greedy for nitrogen and water, it is important to keep them weed free.  So this…. is a no no:

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(Taken on June 21st.)

As the bulbs form, the tops die.  No more water or nitrogen needed or wanted.

Harvesting

And on June 25th, the day arrived!

They were all pulled, and we brushed the dirt off, and laid them on newspaper on the porch to dry, five piles in all.

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Here’s Candy (only half of them, there were about 60 total):

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Half of Superstar (about 60 total here as well):

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And the much smaller harvest of Red Candy (9 total):

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I brushed, Camilla sorted, and Maddie counted.

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You can see some are big and some are small, except for the red which are all sad looking.  They might need the true onion VIP treatment of nitrogen and weeding.

We have sliced up one of each to taste test.  They are very sweet and mild tasting without the super strong onion smell that burns your eyes.

Storing

This remains to be seen, but I will update!  I hope to go a long time without buying onions.  I would love to make it all year, and if they keep, it is possible.  I don’t think I use more than 2 a week on average.

After a few days of drying on the porch, they will need to finish drying inside.  After a few more weeks, I will either braid them or trim the tops and put them in mesh bags.  We’ll keep them in the basement, which is cool and dry.  MAYBE if I feel motivated I will chop and freeze some. Probably not, since I don’t need more mysterious things in the freezer.

Next year I will also try one of the long-day varieties, which are supposed to store very well.

Overall

I loved the first year of onion growing!  Nothing bothered them in terms of pests or disease.  Since I wasn’t concerned about growing enormous bulbs I didn’t do any of the special things that they want.  Next year maybe I will do some high nitrogen fertilizing, just to compare.  I was really happy with the survival rate of my plants, too.  Out of 140 received, I harvested about 130 onions.  The ones that didn’t make it probably got stepped on.

They do, however, look ridiculous on my front porch and next year they need a better home, even if it’s just for a few days.

Happy Summer!

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