Tomato as perennial, and other mysteries

Mid December, and not much rain. I’ve been looking around the garden, and thinking things like should weed and time to prune, but then the sun goes on shining and I lounge instead.

Maybe that’s the theme for this week’s Six on Saturday garden report: plants doing their own thing, with cheerful disregard for expectations. In that spirit, here are my Six:

The Chadwick cherry tomatoes I planted back in March are still going – in fact, I ate tomatoes on my hamburger two nights ago courtesy of this plant. I know tomatoes are supposed to die off in winter, but the Chadwick was the earliest starting, latest continuing, sturdiest, and most productive of all the varieties I tried this year. I’m pretty tempted to see if it wants to over-winter and produce next spring.

The alyssum under the roses is taking off in a lovely way. I’m hoping it keeps going, and out-competes the bindweed.

Speaking of roses, I just love this color.

And returning to the vegetable garden, this broccoli is a monster, in a good way. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the plant is almost three feet tall. I ate one entire plant of it (a smaller one) a couple of weeks ago, after a gopher severed the roots, but recently there have been no new gopher holes in the vegetable beds, and thus far this plant and the ones next to it are still standing (thank you local cat, fierce and mighty gopher-hunter). I’m looking forward to the flowering broccoli head growing bigger, and meanwhile snacking on a few leaves every so often.

Recent harvest bounty included green tomatoes (yes, Chadwicks); cilantro and parsley, which I can now tell apart by looking at the leaves – a personal victory; carrots; and a few first peas.

And finally, like so many of us, I’m looking forward to the new year, literal and metaphorical alike. I planted some flower seeds. Pink and buttercream poppies, please sprout!

(I’m also realizing this might be one of my more cheerful-sounding posts recently. Happy holidays, everybody! There’s nothing like a change of pace, even if this year it’s a shift in mindset as much as anything else.)

And with that, that’s all for my six this week! Head over to the Propagator’s blog for more gardening Sixes, and glimpses into what other gardeners are gardening, near and far.

Six-on-Saturday garden report: early December

The rain hasn’t really begun, and the roses are still blooming.

I turned the watering system off, then on again when I realized that November’s barely-there rain-slash-mist wasn’t going to become a trend. There are leaks in the system that still need fixing, but that’s for tomorrow.

Today, I’m grateful for the cat that left a dead gopher on the path – a gopher that I assume was responsible for these holes:

which used to be not so much holes, as dill plants. You can see a few fronds of a remaining dill plant in the upper part of the photo. I am hoping there was only one gopher.

It’s very definitely fall. The leaves are golden, and the apples and pomegranates are in the last days of ripe.

The backlit sphere near the middle is a pomegranate. I was trying to capture the light’s late-fall angled slant.

The flowering sage plant continues to be ridiculous. It’s taller and more aggressive than the baby citrus tree behind it – we have to keep cutting the sage plant back so it doesn’t entirely overwhelm the poor kumquat. We keep saying we should remove the sage, because it doesn’t remotely fit in the space or make any sense at all with anything planted near it (a maple tree, two citrus trees, a yellow daisy, two agapanthus, some kind of weird low ball-shaped shrub – admittedly, those things don’t make sense relative to each other either, and the tall ones are all entirely in front of the short ones; this is what happens when a bunch of plants get planted right before selling a house to two poor saps who’ve never had a proper garden and thus don’t realize the difference between mature and just-got-it-from-Home-Depot landscaping – but oh well, we’re learning) – but it blooms year round and the hummingbirds love it, so so far it stays.

Note the very excellent bee also enjoying the sage.

The lavatera maritima which I planted in place of a hibiscus which did not thrive, is thriving:

I love these colors so much. Also, I realized recently, I love pretty much all mallow plants.

And at least to my eye, there are few things more hot-sun gorgeous than a bougainvillea in front of a cream stuccoed wall – even if the weather isn’t actually hot, but just looks as if it might be.

Happy Saturday! I was glad to be out in the garden today. Good weather to you, whatever version of weather that might mean. And if not in the garden, then good dreaming & planning for gardening days to come.

For other gardeners’ posts in the #SixOnSaturday series, complete with lovely or interesting seasonal photos, click through here!

The tomato that shouldn’t exist

This is a Chadwick Cherry tomato, planted from seed I bought early in the pandemic from RedwoodSeeds.net. Isn’t it doing nicely? Look at those blossoms! That sturdy stem! The equally nice little basil plants to either side! (Ignore the weeds. Nothing to see there. Focus on the basil!)

This tomato plant is, I think, looking good. And by all expectations, it shouldn’t exist. 

When I planted it, I did everything wrong, as far as standard gardening advice goes. I planted seed directly in the ground on April 9. April 9 is too early to plant tomatoes, and planting seeds directly is not recommended in any source I’ve found. The recommended approach is to either buy seedlings from a nursery, or else start seeds indoors, carefully sheltered in a warm spot, preferably with grow lights and a heat mat. Either of these methods gives the tomato seedlings a chance to start earlier, because tomatoes take a long time to produce fruit, and in warmer conditions, because tomatoes love heat. And there were so many things I didn’t know! I didn’t know how much variability different kinds of tomatoes have in terms of cold tolerance, and heat needs, and days to produce tomatoes. I didn’t know that tomatoes need night time temperatures over fifty degrees in order to set fruit (can this really be true?! I’m still incredulous about this.) I did know that “days to maturity” on a seed packet means “approximately how long it will take to get tomatoes,” but I didn’t realize that for tomatoes, the clock starts when you plant a seedling, not when you plant seeds

So in other words, I had no idea what I was doing! I planted this tomato both too early and too late, and in far-from-ideal conditions. About the only thing I did to give it a fighting chance was hope, figure “how hard can it be?” in a naive and uninformed fashion, and cover the seeds with a floating shelter to keep a bit of heat in. 

(Why did I do it this way? Partly laziness reality-based planning. I’m in the middle of a house remodel and it was the beginning of the pandemic. I wasn’t about to figure out where to buy seedling trays and potting soil, start seedlings indoors, figure out about a heat source, move a bunch of bay plants around out of the way of construction, deal with transplanting, etc. I do not need more fuss or chaos. And partly, optimism resulting from lack of knowledge. If I’d known that days-to-maturity thing, I might have thought this wouldn’t work at all, and not bothered/given up. Ignorance occasionally leads to a good outcome!) 

Yet here it is. 

It hasn’t yet produced tomatoes, but June is early for that, and meanwhile it is every bit as big and healthy-looking as the three seedlings I bought later from a nursery, and which I planted at the recommended time. 

One of the most interesting things I’m realizing about gardening is the science-experiment nature of it all. At the same time I planted this Chadwick Cherry, I also planted two other varieties in similarly non-ideal conditions: Brad’s Atomic Grape, and Thessaloniki, both also from seed, and both also directly in the ground under shelters. Similar conditions, similar approach, but neither of those are doing anywhere near as well in terms of either size, sturdiness, or blossoms. 

So – next year, which varieties of tomatoes will I plant, and how will I go about it? It depends in part on how all these tomatoes do over the summer. Is the Chadwick Cherry tasty? Does it produce fruit in addition to these blossoms? Do the other currently-unimpressive seedlings catch up? How do all those compare to the nursery seedlings? I’m hoping that some of these direct-seeded plants do well enough for that to seems reasonable again next year – if so, I might experiment with more traditional / improv style shelters (ie, empty plastic milk jugs with the bottoms cut out!), and see how those compare to the row covers. And now that I know more about varieties, and what to look for in seed-packet descriptions (“early” seems to be key, and maybe “cold hardy” or similar; cherry tomatoes are likely to set the most fruit, and in prior years were less prone to squirrel depredations), I might stick with whatever works this year, and then branch out to a few new varieties too.  

Mostly I’m hoping for more tomatoes than I can realistically eat* – but looking further out, I’m aiming to figure out which varieties of tomato I can grow, lazily but successfully, in my own particular garden. 

*Admittedly, I have not yet found the limit on that, but there must be one. Right?