Attack of the Killer Tomato Killer

semi-vertical tomato wreckage

I pulled it back upright but most of the tomato plant is still horizontal and sulking.

To anyone who’s been through a REAL catastrophe – hurricane, tornado, 20-foot floodwaters washing away the town hall, significant earthquake, erupting volcano hurtling lahar waves down into the valley – well, what’s a bit of wind, eh?

We were supposed to have a real nice wild thunder ‘n lightning storm last night, probably to celebrate the passage of July and all its humidity and bad hair days, and welcoming August and all its humidity and bad hair days. Instead, we got squat.

I enjoy a good thunderstorm, especially with a light show against the north range. The ground shivers and shakes as Thor casts his hammer wide – or at least the mobile home used to shake like a scared puppy. This house, not so much – but it’s still a hoot to watch, especially now that we’re up the hill a ways and have a great wide-angle view.

Pointless Aside: Didja know Thor is also the god of oak trees?

So I waited for the show to start. And waited. Waited more. Nothing north, nothing east – the last lightning show we had was a few weeks ago with a spectacular 20 minutes of sheet lightning that just never quit. Amazing! I’d pay entrance fees for a show like that.

Up here on the hill, the wind also blows pretty steadily. Sometimes it can get up a good gallop and bend the trees to the west pretty well horizontal at the waist. They’re eucalyptus though; they’re used to that. Typical wind runs from southwest to northeast, or south to north, or -rarely- north’ish to south’sorta.

Tomato Disaster Strikes!

But sometime during the night after I gave up waiting on the lightning show, a strange wind blew in hard from the east-southeast. Nothing good ever blows in from that direction. That way is many square miles of desert, a handful of military bases, Death Valley, Las Vegas, the Rockies, some farms, and eventually New York City.

Usually this means we are in for a killer rainstorm, street flooding, flash flood warnings through most of the desert, floating mailboxes, washed out intersections and the like.

Instead, the wind kept things personal. It didn’t bring flood, or rain or hail, or even a warning to watch out for floating compact cars. All it did was flatten the tallest thing I’ve ever grown: The Front Porch Tomato. Even taller than me (which isn’t saying much).

See why I said it’s pretty petty and lame? Stupid tomato vine thing had managed to come up with a handful of blossoms but hasn’t produced a single hint of a tomato. All it did was get a half gallon of water every morning, burp and glare at me. I should be glad it got whomped.



How to Putter in the Garden for Maximum Results

putter in the garden outfit

Proper putter prep: the outfit must be particular defines “putter” as: 

  1. to busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely, casual, or ineffective manner: to putter in the garden.
  2. to move or go in a specified manner with ineffective action or little energy or purpose: to putter about the houseon a rainy day.
  3. to move or go slowly or aimlessly; loiter.

Some of us don’t have time to putter in the complete sense of the word – too much to do! In order to get all our puttering done in time to get to work, we have to charge at the task with all the energy of a 4AM call from a drill sergeant.

A typical morning putter goes something like this:

  • 6:45 AM – grab gear and first water source, a gallon milk jug with fertilizer
  • 6:45 AM – grab coffee cup; juggle cane, jug, coffee cup, set down coffee cup and immediately forget where
  • 6:46 AM – open patio door soundlessly so as not to wake husband or cats (who would escape) (cats, not husband)
  • 6:46 AM – water topsy turvy tomato; look for tomatoes (hah!); glare at bunny bait soon to be compost
  • 6:47 AM – close patio doors quietly; water starting mason jar potatoes and garlics; spray tops and sumac
Roma tomato plant

More tomatoes on the label than on the plant – still

  • 6:48 AM – grab second water source, one quart juice bottles, make mental note to throw out bottle with broken handle
  • 6:48 AM – water bonsai in kitchen, bonsai on nook table, last remaining indoor tomato seedlings now bigger than cat
  • 6:50 AM – grab third water source, one quart juice bottle with Miracle Gro
  • 6:51 AM – check water in fireplace room plants; water sparingly
Ginger root has sprouted in the dark dank garage humidity

Ginger root has several sprouts and what might be a spider

  • 6:52 AM – open small garage door; wince at high pitched squeal
  • 6:52 AM – water starter pot of ginger plant; kick spiders out door while not screaming. Oh wait, that’s a beetle.
  • 6:53 AM – grab fourth water source, two big DeliCat cat food jugs
  • 6:54 AM – check on lone stray squash plant in Bunny Buffet Field; water if it still has more than two leaves
  • 6:55 AM – water tomato, tomato, cauliflower, potato on front porch
Echeveria shaviana about to bloom

Puttering past Cousin Bob; wave happily

  • 6:55 AM – wave ‘hi’ to Echevieria Shaviana and Cousin Bob
  • 6:56 AM – refill DeliCat jugs in garage sink; drench left leg, swear under breath
  • 6:57 AM – walk down and water two rose bushes; consider inventing thornless rose or thorn-proof housecoat
  • 6:58 AM – refill DeliCat jugs and place on front porch; make mental note to throw out leaky DeliCat jug and invest in -decent- watering cans
  • 7:00 AM – grab fifth and final water source(s), three juice jugs and spray bottle

(the following steps are performed under the careful supervision of two cats)

  • 7:01 AM – water yellow squash – one full quart. It will have drunk all the water from last night and produced two more leaves the size of your old VW bug.
  • 7:03 AM – stare at cardboard palm peat pots; wonder yet again why they haven’t sprouted
  • 7:03 AM – water tamarind #1, water tamarind #2
  • 7:04 AM – water spinach, spinach, jalapeno and green onions, putter around for 30 seconds while wondering where the other green onion pot is
yellow squash

every morning yellow squash is out of water

  • 7:06 AM – consider watering orange mint if you could see the pot but with all that mint, who knows where it is
  • 7:08 AM – carefully remove wilted squash blossoms, broken leaves; swear at nearest cat (who is blameless)
  • 7:10 AM – try to find coffee cup

And that, dear reader, is how you putter in the garden at break-neck speed for maximum results.

Just think how relaxing it’ll be when we finally add on the space to the north of the shed at the bottom of the hill…

There’s a new tomato-grower born every minute

Roma tomato green on vine

There are actually three Roma tomatoes there.

Just how long -does- it take to grow a tomato?

When I read through the Now Growing list this morning, it struck me that that Roma tomato in the Topsy Turvy on the patio is the same Roma tomato that first showed up on June 7. It’s now the 22nd of June, and that Roma tomato still looks very green and not very big. Is it growing? Is it plastic?

I don’t even like tomatoes. But I do make one kick-butt pasta sauce from scratch. And to do that I need more than three runty poorly motivated Romas.

I’m not letting logic get in the way of a fine obsession. I know full well I could go down the road to the grocery store and pick up a couple of jars of perfectly good pasta sauce. I could even go back to the Produce section and hand-select a couple of dozen freshly arrived Romas in a little eco-compatible biodegradable seagull-friendly tray, and make my sauce from those.

But where’s the fun in THAT?

Actually, a little logic is already in play. The tomato plants in the house are leaving as fast as I can find them new homes. They’ll produce fine big red juicy Beefsteak tomatoes for someone, someday. For now, I need them to go away and quit making my eyes itch.

Why, then, am I growing tomatoes, if they make my eyes burn like a bad hay fever attack? Because “everyone grows tomatoes.” Because “tomatoes are one of the easiest plants to start with when you’re learning to garden.” Because I fell for the hype.

And I’ll probably do it again next time. Fall for the hype, that is.

Run, darling! Save yourself! Indoor gardening out of control.

yellow squash threatens neighborhood

Yellow squash leans out window and threatens neighborhood horses

When I read Sunset Magazine, it’s the shaded emerald lawns and rock-path back yards and graceful koi ponds that grab my attention. The ones with the ivy-glazed gazebos and hobbit-sized reading benches, and nary a weed in sight.

Nothing in any magazine could have prepared me for the yellow squash that has taken over the dining room.

Seed packages need information for beginning gardeners

Warning, this squash will eat your sofa

Nowhere on the seed packet did it say “When it grows up, this plant will produce leaves bigger than your average domestic cat.”

No. Nobody would buy yellow squash plant seeds if they said “This squash may inhale your dining room chairs.”

I now believe that seed packages need to have warning labels specifically designed for the new gardener: “Warning. This zucchini will hold your Pomeranian hostage until you distract it with buffalo bones and harness it with razor wire.”

4 pro gardener tips for successful tomato transplants

Transplanted three per pot, around the edge

This morning, six of the Beefsteak tomato seedlings from the original kit of 16 holes got transplanted into 8″ self-watering pots.

Before performing a transplant on these, I spent a few days researching suggestions from professional gardeners on how to do this safely and keep the vines in top notch growing condition.

  • Add an organic fertilizer after 4 weeks of growth. Follow the fertilizer instructions carefully.
  • Use a top grade potting soil, not dirt from the garden. Avoid potting soil that contains sticks and inorganic material.
  • Place each seedling into a hole as wide as its leaf spread, and as deep as its total height (roots plus stem), leaving the top leaves exposed. Cover with top grade potting soil and water well, to moisturize the soil.
  • Dice a banana peel and place in the potting soil to give the new plants some food.

So that’s how to give your new tomato vines more chances at productive growth, and you more chances at juicy tomatoes!

First, work down the side with the edges out

Once loosened, turn the spoons to lift out the root ball

Oh, a hint of my own: Rather than using trowels and risking the barely developed roots, I used a pair of plastic spoons and worked down the side of the peat seedling squares with the bowl facing the edge, to loosen the root ball. Once loosened, I grabbed it gently with the spoon pair and lifted it out and into place in its new home.

[sellfire id=”4fbeccfb0c888c1478c0876b” name=”Organic Fertilizer”]

The Edible Exodus Part 1

Topsy Turvy Zucchini (left) and yellow squash (right)

Yesterday afternoon, we pressed into service three of our seven Topsy Turvy® Tomato Planters – one for a then-small-now-large Roma tomato plant that we bought at Home Depot the middle of last month; one for the zucchini bought near the same time, and one for one of the yellow squash brought up from seed that has been taking over the dining room windowsill one inch at a time.

The box hints at great success.

You may remember how I mentioned, in the Rules for the Amateur Gardening Game, not to buy out the stores of any idea in particular. Actually I said “Don’t buy two when one will do, especially if your first instinct is to buy ten!”  – and I meant it! And I forgot it immediately when I saw a big sale on these planters, even though I had yet to try out the one I already had. Addendum to the rules: Do as I say, not as I do – and I admit that I forget to re-read those rules.

Speaking of reading: The first instruction on the device was to “Read all of the instructions before proceeding.” They mean it. Read, believe, read again – and prepare stuff ahead of time, like the hook on which to hang what will be a pretty durn heavy bag of dirt with a plant sticking out its bottom. When you finish reading, get out the handy hints brochure written by the inventor, and read that a couple of times, too – two pages crammed with insights!

Now there’s a good possibility that we were not doing this entirely right. It took two of us to wrestle the first plant – the Roma tomato –  into the Topsy Turvy® Tomato Planter – gently so as not to break off stems and branches and each other’s fingers.

Roma tomato

You have to put the foam collar on the plant BEFORE you put dirt in that bag. Yes, I read that instruction, too. I just managed to forget it between the time I read the instructions and found myself elbow deep in a plastic bag full of dirt with a plant sticking out its bottom.

We gently stuffed each plant into its own container and hung them up on hooks on the patio, west facing so the 6-8 hours of full sun is more likely. Once they were up in the air, it took some creative thinking to get the water up into the top of each unit to soak the soil without soaking the very short gardener (that’d be me). Since I can’t fly, we settled on building a low platform of concrete blocks, sturdy enough to step up on, wide enough that I’m not acting like a gymnast on a balance beam, and waterproof enough that it’s no biggie if the plants piddle a bit.

And piddle they did. Enough so that a few minutes after we’d finished cleaning up our workspace, the zucchini and yellow squash had attracted a family of curious robins, who sipped and feasted until chased away by a very short, still-damp gardener (that’d be me again). A few leaves didn’t make it through that encounter, but the next morning all three now-topsy-turvy-transplanted plants were still alive, and just a bit worse for wear. Despite transplant trauma, birdie visits and our persistent wind, they’ve survived the first 24 hours.

HINT: It helps to have two people and a few plastic grocery bags. Wrap a bag loosely around the exposed stems, leaves, and branches, then put the foam collar in place at the point where the rest of the plant will be buried in soil. Keep the plant upright, root ball down, while the other person lowers the bag over the plant. Guide the bag through the bottom hole until the collar is at the hole’s exit. Remove the bag carefully, bringing the leaves and branches free without tugging.

Topsy Turvy® Tomato Planters is a registered trademark of Felknor Ventures, LLC. Photo of front of Topsy Turvy® Tomato Planters product box may contain portions of copyrighted images.