Preparing for the Winter Garden

Posted by Eric Mon, 07 Jul 2003 00:00:00 GMT

Elliot Coleman is a farmer and gardener on the coast of Maine. He wrote Four-Season Harvest, a lovely and remarkable book about year-round gardening in snowy climates. (You definitely want to look at the drawings.) Even in the middle of January, he's harvesting fresh salad greens and sweet carrots from old-fashioned cold frames. Coleman relies on low-tech solar heating and cold-tolerant vegetables.

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Tomato Update: Weeding and Irrigation

Posted by Eric Mon, 30 Jun 2003 00:00:00 GMT

My tomato plants look extremely healthy, but a little bit small. Weeding is pretty easy, thanks to an sharp collineal hoe. It's basicly a knife blade on a long stick, and you use it to slice the weeds off just below ground level. No bending, no digging, no cramps--and it's fast.

For irrigation, I use a soaker hose. This is a long hose which "weeps" droplets of water through the surface. I looped it around all the plats, and turn it on in the evenings if the garden looks dry. A soaker hose requires plenty of pressure to work--you'll need to fix any faucet or hose leaks, and you can't irrigate more than 75' or so before the pressure drops too far.

Since messing with hoses is time-consuming, I also picked up a bunch of ingenious GARDENA pluggable connectors which allow me to snap hose sections together. Some of these connectors automatically shut off the water when uplugged. They actually work surprisingly well, even under the high pressure needed for soaker hoses.

I don't know how well the soaker hoses or GARDENA connectors hold up; we'll see what happens by the end of the summer.

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Tomato Progress

Posted by Eric Fri, 30 May 2003 00:00:00 GMT

I have 33 tomato seedings, ranging from 2 to 6 inches in height. The Amish Paste, Orange Banana and Glacier tomatoes look pretty healthy (perhaps a bit too tall). The Brandywine are still very short; I received these from a friend, and I suspect they're a long-season tomato. I'll need to transplant the tomatoes into the garden sometime in the next few days.

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Tomato Advice

Posted by Eric Tue, 21 Jan 2003 00:00:00 GMT

I spoke to my mother about growing tomatoes last night. Her advice: Purchase the yummy-looking varieties, but also some early ones. The growing season in Maine is all too short, and a September frost can kill the late-bearing varieties. If this happens, you need to pick all the green tomatoes and take them inside, where they'll turn red--but never properly ripen. So if you want to be guaranteed that ripe tomato taste, you should plant at least one variety which ripens early.

My mother, like every other New Englander I've asked, agrees that tomatoes are the one plant worth growing at home.

In related news, Fedco Seeds is running low on Orange Banana tomato seeds. I'll have to order this week!

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Last of the Tomatoes

Posted by Eric Mon, 20 Jan 2003 00:00:00 GMT

Last night I cooked some spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. This was a good dinner, but also a bit sad--I used the last of the tomato sauce from this summer. This summer, we got most of our vegetables from a local farmer, who arranged for someone to leave a big weekly basket on our doorstep. As is typical in New England, we got way too many fresh tomatoes, and decided to boil the surplus into sauce.

But now it's the middle of January, the ground is buried under three feet of snow, and we're out of tomatoes. Oh, sure, the grocery store would happily sell us tomatoes from Mexico, or Europe. But those tomatoes are bred for long-distance transport, not for flavor. Since ripe tomatoes are too soft to ship--but unripe tomatoes are quite sturdy--the multinational seed companies long ago bred tomatoes which turn red without actually ripening. If your tomatoes are crunchy and non-acidic, you're getting ripped off.

Fortunately, I've got a Fedco Seeds catalog with 50 varieties of tomatoes. The most tempting is the "Orange Banana": I never would have believed that the best tomato sauce comes from an orange tomato. But the proof is in the eating and the Orange Banana was the clear winner in our annual paste taste at the Shipmans... Its amazing sprightly sweet flavor, reminiscent of Sungold but with more depth and diverse tones, makes an ambrosial sauce by itself and adds a vivid fruity complexity to any sauce with other tomato varieties. When you're locked in the depths of winter, this sort of catalog copy can be seductive.

Of course, I've never grown tomatoes before, so I might be getting a bit out of my depth. Stay tuned to see how it all turns out.

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