Sunday, August 29

2010 Tomato Harvest: A Review

As usual, I grew a variety of funky tomatoes this year.  Some, like 'Black Krim' and 'Cherokee Purple' can be considered old standbys by now... and others, like 'Lemon Boy,' 'Great White,' and 'Big Rainbow' were new varieties, grown in an attempt to get my boyfriend on board with my tomato mania.  (He's gone from "not really liking tomatoes all that much," to "liking them roasted, or fresh as long as they aren't too tomato-y." Baby steps!)

Top to bottom, and left to right within rows:  Big Rainbow, Cherokee Purple, LaRoma Gold, Great White, Brandywine Red, Black Krim, Lemon Boy

So I can remember what to plant again, and what to pass by, here's my 2010 tomato review:

Black Krim:  Still my absolute favorite, taste-wise--rich and almost smoky. (So good it never needs salted!) Better production on this year's plants, so I am definitely saving seeds from this plant.

Cherokee Purple:  Second only to 'Black Krim' in flavor, but usually favored over BK in my garden for its bountiful production.  However, my CP plants produced terribly this year, and the vines seemed all-around wimpy.  That will teach me to be so lazy about seed-starting that I have to buy plants--thankfully, I still have last year's seeds to use for 2011.

Big Rainbow:  I usually like the sweet tomato taste of striped tomatoes, but 'Big Rainbow' was a big letdown.  It was so... bland.  Like when you pick a melon too early, and it's juicy but has very little flavor.  I tried salting it to see if the flavor enhancement would help... and just ended up feeling like I was eating watery salt.  Definitely won't bother growing this one again.

LaRoma Gold:  If you're looking for a super-sweet tomato for canning and sauce, 'LaRoma Gold' would be perfect.  This was a great producer, even though it only received sunshine until about 2pm and then was in shade for the rest of the day.  Note: It rapidly outgrew its caging system and toppled over into a horizontal position, which makes me think that it may be a different golden plum tomato--'LaRoma' is supposed to be a more compact plant.  (In its defense, LRG barely missed a beat during that fall and continues to ripen tomatoes as if nothing happened.)  I'm still undecided as to whether I am growing this again, simply because I prefer "rich" over "sweet" when it comes to tomato sauce.

Great White:  This was a nice tomato--a huge beefsteak that ripened to a creamy ivory color with a hint of yellow and faint pink streaking on the blossom end when ripe. (Note: it somehow looks yellow in the photo above, but ivory is a much better color description.)  'Great White' is definitely a sweeter tomato, but still with a robust tomato flavor.  I saved seeds and will plant this one again next year.

Lemon Boy:  The non-tomato-loving boyfriend's favorite, this tomato is on the sweeter side but with a hint of lemon-y acidity that balanced out the sweet very nicely.  It's a great snacking tomato, and a good size--not as large as a beefsteak, but large enough for good sandwich coverage when sliced.  I'll plant another one of these next year, both for snacking and so that I have a tomato that both of us will enjoy.

Brandywine Red:  I bought 'Brandywine Red' purely because I started to fear that my eclectic tomato choices were a little fancy, and a good solid red tomato might keep me from seeming too elitist.  I'd never grown it before, but I'm now convinced that 'Brandywine Red' is what 99.99% of the population envision when someone says, "tomato."  Deep red, perfectly tomato-shaped, balanced in terms of sweetness and acidity, and having just the right amount of flavor without being "too rich."  I think that BR's might be my new go-to red tomato type.

Red Zebra:  'Green Zebra' tomatoes have a lot of zing... sadly, 'Red Zebra' tomatoes do not.  These were small, heart-shaped tomatoes with pretty streaking, and they would probably look beautiful in salads.  But the flavor didn't do much for me, so I just let Coco have at harvesting them whenever she wanted a snack for herself... and I probably won't bother with them next year.  They were just okay.

Just so I have everything in one post, I want to say a little something about the cherry tomatoes I grew this year, too.  'White Cherry' was amazingly sweet--like pretty ivory candy tomatoes--and I will probably try to grow two of those next year, just so I have enough of them to snack on in the garden.  'Sungold' packed a lot of zing into tiny, round, golden orange fruits... but somehow they failed to capture my heart.  I think I'll go back to 'Yellow Pear' instead.  'Black Cherry' was my biggest heartbreak, though... the fruits were not very dark and really just reminded me of those grocery store cherry tomatoes in terms of flavor.  Based on internet searches, I'm pretty sure that I either did NOT have a true 'Black Cherry' plant, or that mine came from some inferior strain of the plant... so I'm going to give it another try, from a new source, in 2011.

And with that, I'm off to roast some multi-colored tomato sauce, to help stock the freezer for this coming winter.  If you have any suggestions on tomatoes you think that I might want to try next year, please feel free to leave those in the comments.  I'm always on the lookout for a new, awesome tomato!

Saturday, August 28

And The Thief is Caught!

Steve was on dog duty while I was visiting the other side of the state to see my little brother off... and he sent me this cell phone photo during his morning visit:

Subject line:  "Thief!"
Accompanying message:  "Caught Red-Pawed!"

Yellow-pawed, actually.  That is the first 'LaRoma Gold' to ripen.  I imagine it was delicious.  :)

Friday, August 27

Running and Shadows

Running has been the theme of this summer.  Not literally--while I have no problems sprinting after an errant pass on the volleyball court, running just for the sake of running is just not in my nature. No, I mean running more in the sense of being always on the go... which I am again today.

The first blooms (ever) are showing up on my passalong brugmansia

So before I start my quick run to my parents' house, to see my brother off on his cross-country trek to his new home in New Mexico, I thought I'd take some time to appreciate the front garden in the morning.  Much of it is cloaked in shadow since it faces west, but those plants that are bathed in sunlight are really set off nicely by the depth of the shadows.

This self-sown portulaca blazes at the foot of the cool 'Black & Blue' salvia, surrounded by purple salvia lyrata

 My 'Black & Blue' salvia is visited by hummingbirds daily

 'Red Rocks' penstemon are supposed to be very touchy in my area, but they (and the sea kale) seem to like my well-draining sandbar of a front garden

 This spring, I replaced a horribly broken lavender with three different 'Acapulco' agastaches --they (like the lavender) still give off a wonderful fragrance when you brush past them, but keep the feel a lot more airy and open

 Looking up from the sidewalk, the "late summer" section of the garden is starting to shine
(Literally, in the case of the 'Golden Sword' yucca)

 The first blooms on my caryopteris are starting to break, and 'Albury Purple' St. John's Wort is offering some new foliage in a nice contrasting color

On the other side of the caryopteris, the 'Hameln' pennisetum that I failed (again) to move this spring glows like a handful of sparkles in the slanted morning light.

And with that... I'm hitting the shower and then the road.  Hope that everyone has a wonderful weekend!

Friday, August 20

Strange Tomato Damage

Off to Put-In-Bay, where I plan to play a lot of volleyball tomorrow (hopefully)... but before I head out, I thought I'd post pictures of some strange tomato damage that I found this afternoon in my garden, in the hopes that my fellow gardeners could try to help me figure out the cause.  Here is the state in which I originally found the tomatoes as I walked around the yard:

These tomatoes were at least a foot off the ground--way too high for something small like a mouse. It almost looks like the damage was caused by something that may have other large teeth, but have fairly flat teeth across the front.  Either that, or this particular animal is a very careful eater, because the gnawing is fairly even across the face of each tomato:

I asked my gardening assistant for her opinion, but she had no idea what it could be, either.  In fact, she was so guilt stricken disgusted by the sight that she had to avert her eyes:

I know the feeling.  Oh well, at least she was kind enough to oblige me by eating the rest of the tomatoes, so they didn't go to waste.   In fact, they were gone in a flash of black and white fur...

... and white teeth, carefully hidden to make sure that I didn't notice how straight across they are in the front.  Hmm...

Monday, August 16

Foliage Follow Up: Orchid (Sort of) Themed

My friend PJ sent me a few pictures via cell phone yesterday, showing his dad's amazing orchids.  Full, lush, and very happy living outside... in Miami!  While I will confess to a little bit of orchid envy, I thought that I would show a few "orchids" of my own for this month's foliage follow-up:

The jewel orchid, haemaria discolor, is grown primarily for its foliage--velvety, striped and reddish brownish burgundy in color--but I enjoyed its tiny white flowers this winter, too. Currently, it is summering outside on the front porch, where the nearby orchid cactus has decided to cozy up to it.

Really, this is probably not a true orchid cactus, in the epiphyllum family, but rather something in the nearby disocactus family.

No matter where it botanically belongs, it's beautiful.  And I have been calling it an orchid cactus for so long that the habit won't die anytime soon. I really like the contrast between the velvety jewel orchid leaves and the tough-looking orchid cactus leaves.

Both "orchid" pots have other plants mixed in.  Above, you can spy part of a rat-tail cactus that shares the cactus pot... and below, an unknown, tiny succulent that I rooted in the jewel orchid pot to cover up the bare earth around its stems.

This grouping is fun to look at from many angles:

And I couldn't pick just one photo to show you, so I decided to post them all.  Here's one more gratuitous shot:

Hope you enjoyed my "orchid"-themed Foliage Follow-Up.  For more great foliage shots, visit the comments on Pam's Hot & Steamy Foliage Follow-Up and visit the links there!

Saturday, August 14

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - August 2010

The crazy summer continues here, with our early spring warmup causing at least one big surprise for my August Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day:

My toad lilies normally bloom in September... sometimes October... but NEVER (until now) in August!  I captured this first bloom on Thursday night around sundown, and more have followed.  They're beautiful--and frankly, I was happy to see this plant reemerge after a really tough, dry 2009--but definitely on an accelerated schedule.

When I checked last year's GBBD post, I was surprised to see that this year's Japanese anemones, shown above, are at about the same fullness of bloom now as they were in 2009.  They started earlier, and it has been another tough, dry year, so I had expected them to be closer to "done," I guess.

More typical August bloomers include squash blossoms:

This 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth--which is so tall, I have to crane my neck to take its photo:

Orange butterfly weed, which I keep in bloom by deadheading it religiously:


'Hab Gray' Sedum:

'Empress of India' nasturtiums, just beginning because they were sown so late:

'Black and Blue' Salvia (with 'Acapulco' agastaches blooming in the background):

Pennisetum, with caryopteris just starting to bloom (at its tips) behind:

The Dragonwing begonia that I overwintered, then added to the mixed monstera container this summer:

And a few more things, like self-sown red snapdragons and orange calendula, a few different thymes, a couple of hostas and heucheras I haven't gotten around to tidying up yet, 'Albury Purple' St. John's Wort, an abutilon, 'Vista Purple' salvia, Russian sage, hens & chicks, and bronze fennel... plus the annual red salvia and portulaca that I have in my clay tile planters. And of course, the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basils and oreganos are still blooming strongly, too.  (In spite of my best efforts to keep those last two in check!)

To see what else is blooming in gardens around the world today, visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens!

Friday, August 13

Things I've Learned This Week

When figs look like they're wrinkled and dying...

... they are actually ready to eat, fresh, and delicious:

The best way to show off deep purple elderberries is with an underplanting of something bright and silvery:

Which I need to keep in mind next year when I plant more of these awesome 'Bull's Blood' beets:

Some garden mysteries solve themselves, when you peer under ginormous leaves...

... to find rapidly growing (are there any other kind, really?) zucchini resting on a bed of thyme:

But as soon as one mystery is solved, another appears.  Like when one of the 'Purple Cherokee' tomato plants that I purchased this year turns out to be... some kind of a plum tomato, but which one?

I've also learned that when you grow funky tomatoes, you have to do research on when they should be harvested.  'Green Zebra' and 'Black Krim' can still have greenish "shoulders" when they're ready to harvest, but these 'Great Whites' do not:

And the blossom end will turn yellowish, to give me another clue. But I'm really looking forward to trying their purported sweetness that it's hard to wait for them to be ready!  In fact, it's been such a long vigil for these supposedly tall snapdragons that they gave into fatigue and are now laying down on the job:

Speaking of laying around, some of the more brazen tomatoes--like this 'Big Rainbow--turn their noses up at even the most fun tomato cages I could find (they're bright red!) and prefer to stretch out across the nearby shrubbery instead:

Other veggies need to be watched, too.  Like 'Gretel' and 'Ichiban' Japanese eggplants, whose fruit multiplies at night when you're not watching.  Sort of like gremlins.

At least these types of eggplants stay tender at larger sizes.  And the plants stay compact enough to allow for container growing:

Speaking of containers, I have learned that a watched 'Yellow Doll' watermelon is slow to mature:

While surprise ones that escape your notice are nearly too large to go without support by the time you see them dangling precariously over the edge of the pot:

As far as pots go, a replanting of 'Red Zebra' tomatoes in an easy-dog-access pot is already on my Gardening Assistant's wishlist for 2011.  They are the perfect size to pluck and carry into the browning grass for an evening snack:

My own "Next year..." wishlist starts with more rain to keep the cherry trees from stressing out...

... and includes remembering to plant more kohlrabi, even later in the spring, as long as they'll get enough afternoon shade to make it to harvest size:

It also may involve planting at least one pale rose, like the one that I was surprised (and touched) to see waiting for me after work at the end of this very rough week:

I am amazingly lucky, to have a sweet, thoughtful boyfriend like Steve.  I think I'm going to make him help me pick out that rose--probably a repeat-blooming climber, to be planted near the porch this fall--which will hopefully keep this gorgeous gift* filled with floating blooms for years to come.

* This fascinating blown glass bowl, with its many layers of clear and opaque glass, swirls of blue-black, and sprinklings of silver, was a present from Steve last month to (unconventionally) celebrate a dating anniversary of sorts. It makes me smile every time I see the light streaming through it in the morning, and I continually turn it to display new patterns and views. I still can't believe that I own such a beautiful piece of glass art!