Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The garden at mid-summer

It's been a very hot and dry summer here in Maryland, but a few replenishing rains recently have helped. The front garden, a mix of native and non-native, is doing well. Now that my rain barrel is full again, I can give the plants supplemental water without guilt.

The big stories of the moment - hummingbirds and tomatoes. On Sunday as we were getting out of the car I saw that the cardinal flowers in the front garden were starting to bloom, and I wondered when the hummingbirds would show up.  No sooner did I have the thought than two appeared, one hovering over the cardinal flowers, the other perusing the purple blossoms of the chaste tree. Last year I had a female virtually living in the yard for much of the summer -- I wonder if she is one of the two? So now, the quest for a really good photo of a hummingbird begins anew.

The tomatoes have puzzled me for awhile. All have had clusters of green tomatoes for weeks, and none seemed to be ripening, although now the Brown Berry, the Yellow Pear, and the Costaluto Genovese have begun. But the Brandywines and other large tomatoes remain resolutely green. I googled "tomatoes not ripening" and came up with 3 pieces of advice: 1) be patient, 2) cut back on water, and 3) fertilize. It had never occurred to me that it would be possible to water a potted tomato too much, and I'm still not sure about this, but I am cutting back just a bit. I sure want those big green softballs to fulfill their delicious potential.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Driveway Garden, Year 2

This is my second year of growing tomatoes and other vegetables in pots. So far, this is looking like a banner year. Last year's results were not all that impressive, though the attempt to grow cantaloupe and watermelon in large pots was fun and seemed promising at first.

This year, I've limited myself to the more traditional tomatoes and peppers, along with an okra and plans for a cucumber. The tomatoes look healthier and more productive than last year, and there are probably several reasons why. 

First, I started out with better transplants. Last year the plants I started from seed were pretty lanky by the time they got into the big pots. I let them sit outside in part shade, hardening off in small pots, while I got around to buying the large pots and preparing the soil mix. This year's plants got out sooner, and had sturdier stems to start with.

Second, I've been better about removing the suckers - the new leaves that start to grow between the main stem and a branch. Suckers left to grow turn into stems, which means more energy diverted from the growing plant. I try to get them when they are tiny, so as not to damage the plant. Last year I did some more vigorous pruning of larger stems, which my plants may not have appreciated.

Third, I mixed some fertilizer in with my soil mix, which was a blend of potting soil and compost. I'm not always so great about making sure my vegetable crops get some fertilizer.

Finally, I've been careful about giving them a good watering every day. It's been essential, as we've had many days with temps in the 90s.

All my plants have healthy looking tomatoes, though none have ripened yet. I'm growing mostly heirlooms: Cherokee Purple, Brandwine, Yellow Pear Cherry, Brown Berry, Amish Paste, Costaluto Genovese. I'm also growing a couple of hybrids: Micro Tom (a truly tiny plant with tiny tomatoes), and another patio variety called Container Choice Hybrid. Peppers are Poblano, Mohawk (supposed to be an orange bell pepper), Rainbow (also bell), and Salsa Mix (we'll see what that is.)