A Bowl Full of Cherries

Bowl full of cherry tomatoes
You didn’t think I meant the other kind of cherry, did you?

If I had just awoken from a long sleep and wondered into the garden, I would think it was early August. We’ve already harvested enough tomatoes to make a roasted tomato marinara, and still have tomatoes left over for eating. We have never harvested this many tomatoes this early in the season.

Cucumber vines

I have dreamed of making the season’s pickles from home grown cucumbers for the last few years. Some years I get enough to make half-sour pickles, because the recipe can be scaled to any quantity. But, it is bread and butter pickles I’m after. Other years, like last year, I barely harvest enough to have with a salad. This year might see my dream of pickles (I know, I need to dream bigger) fulfilled. The cucumber plants are already larger and have more cucumbers than I remember having.

Baby cantaloupe

Another fruit I have been trying to grow, with little success the last couple of years is cantaloupe. I have had fruit start to form in the past but it has always met with some misfortune. So far this year the plants look healthy and are starting to produce fruit. Hopefully everything will keep growing along.

Freshly harvested tomatoes and tomatillos

Happy growing.

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A Little Rain Goes a Long Way

Baby Cucumber

It is amazing how much better the garden does with reasonable temperatures. The early rain we had this weekend will also go a long way. The plants are a better, deeper color green, tomatoes are so heavy I can barely stake or support them, and everything is in full blossom.

Sun Gold Cherry Tomato on Vine

Last weekend we picked the first few cherry tomatoes. This weekend we will pick a few more. This is easily a month or more earlier than normal for us. We even have a big tomato ripening, Yay! I will also have enough Thai Hot Peppers to ferment again this year. I have two jars on my counter that have been happily fermenting away with garlic for 2 and 3 years. Why so long? Why not, plus, I have to find a good way to remove the seeds, which I haven’t found yet.

purple Bumblebee Tomatoes

While things are generally going great so far, one problem does keep resurfacing: whatever pest keeps digging holes in the garden now also digs up a plant or two. We have tried putting water bowls out for it but it keeps digging. Holes I can tolerate. Digging up plants I cannot. So, I will try a two pronged approach this week: increased pine needle mulch and spraying a mixture of ground ghost peppers and vinegar around. Now I’ll just have to remember to wear gloves when I work in the garden.

Garden Planted

Green Bumble Bee Tomatoes

This time last year the garden was still in pots in my yard waiting for better weather, all the while being abused by worse weather. Last year we went from too cool to plant to too hot. When we did finally plant the vegetables we had to rig make-shift shade cloth, but even with that it was too hot.

Cucumber blossoms

This year we have reasonable temperatures; we’re just lacking rain. I don’t think the Arizona summer monsoons are reliable for another month or so, so I guess our lack of rain is to be expected. However, because of how dry everything is we are seeing unusual activity in the garden. Birds ate every single cherry we had right off the trees. While the birds usually eat some of them, they generally wait until they are ripe and leave us most of them. Not this year, they ate the cherries well before they were ripe and left us nothing but cherry pits attached to the trees. We also have a critter digging up some of the irrigation lines looking for water. It has not chewed through the line yet and hopefully it won’t.

Tomatillo Blossoms

On the plus side, most of the plants are doing great. We have tomatoes ripening already – the earliest ever for us, I have picked a few eggplant, and rhubarb we transplanted last fall did a lot better than expected. All of the plants that need planting are planted so now I just have to bring up the plants that travel back and forth every year and live in pots, the peppers and some herbs. Most of those came up this weekend so we are ready for summer. And that means waiting and monitoring until the rush of full-blown harvests.

blooming flowers

They can Wiggle their Toes now

tomatoes survived the trip

The garden committee was texting back and forth about the very issue of the last post of what to do with the ever growing plants and the limited headroom in the car for a lot of tall plants as I wrote the last post. Turns out, we had 2 inches of room left. The committee decided to make a quasi-emergency run up to the garden to get the largest plants up there. I am happy to report that not only did they survive the trip well, but that they also survived the week fine. They were stashed in an area protected from wind and potential frost, and because they were hooked up to temporary irrigation, they faired perfectly fine, and were even larger a week later.

transporting tallest tomatoes

Because of the limited room, we only transported the 6 or so tallest tomatillos and tomatoes. That left another 30 or so plants getting too large to transport the following week, aka, last weekend. So, most of the rest of the tomatoes and tomatillos were whisked up to the garden and promptly planted. Some of those plants were even larger than the ones the week before, but, with some gentle bending of the tops, seemed to survive mostly unscathed. Last weekend was by far the earliest we have planted the frost tender plants in the garden. It is a good six weeks earlier than last year; but, last year was a ridiculous weather year.

one of the first tomatoes

Because my backyard functions as a greenhouse every spring until the plants are moved up to the garden, they had been enduring the Phoenix sun for a couple of months, so they were well used to intense and constant sunshine. That conditioning combined with the healthiest root system of any of my seedings so far, resulted in minimal transplant shock. All the plants were upright and perky later in the afternoon. This is always a relief and never really happened last year. The further good news is that a number of the cherry and even beefsteak tomatoes have little tomatoes on them. Assuming nothing untoward happens, we should have an early harvest this year.

That leaves only what is still at my house. I have the various sweet and hot peppers, but they live in pots now and generally don’t get too large until September. They can also endure the heat a bit better than tomatoes, at least for a couple of weeks, so I have time to move them up. I also still have the eggplants, which I have already started harvesting from. While they will be planted when they make it up to the garden, they stay small enough to fit in the car and don’t seem to mind warmer weather. I also have a few tomatoes left, but they grew slow so they will fit also. I just don’t know where they will find a home in the garden as most locations are already spoken for. Maybe some will have to double up.

cucumbers and banana squash seedlings

The last plants I start every year are the cucumbers and squash. I am happy that they are doing very well. They were moved outside this morning so I can keep an eye on them as they acclimate to more the intense light of being outside.

Overall, I am very happy with how things are starting. This narrows down potential concerns to a failure of the irrigation and/or predation by the ever present deer. Hopefully they will move into the forest soon and leave the garden alone. If not, we will have to monitor the fencing to make sure it is up and strong.

Here’s to hoping all of your gardens produce well.

YIKES! Can I plant these yet?

plants waiting to be planted in the garden
Garden plants over ready for the garden, April 28, 2018

It is amazing what a difference seemingly small changes can make. This time last year my little plants were still little and not doing well. Some of that was my fault with cutting too many corners, some was crazy inconsistent weather that went from too cool to way too hot in the span of a week. Regardless of the cause, it made me reevaluate what I was doing and how I was doing things. It is also amazing what a difference 4 weeks make, as highlighted in comparing these two photos of the same plants.
up-potted garden plants
Garden plants recently up-potted, April 1, 2018

That is why I changed overhead lighting for the initial seed starting and growing, and made me up my game in the soil preparations to include a lot more peat and vermiculite, and not to use any old bags of dirt. Now I am wondering when I can trust the weather enough, which looks like next weekend, to move the plants up to the garden and hope the plants will still fit in the car without having to rent a van to gain the height.
Japanese eggplants getting larger

The tomatillos and a number of tomatoes are entirely too tall (43″ ground to top) and healthy (a good thing) for this time of year. Because there have been blossoms for almost a month now, I am sure there are both tomatoes and tomatillos in there somewhere, if only I could see through the dense growth. The rest of the plants should remain small enough to move to the garden another weekend.
tomatillo blossoms

I anticipate being able to harvest eggplant within the month, which will be a good month before normal. They may even like the heat at my house, as long as it doesn’t get too hot too early. Timing is further complicated by a trip I have to take, but one thing at a time.

So, until the wheels come completely off and the tomatillos become trees instead of bushes, I will appreciate the success of the seed starting this year while secretly, or really not so secretly, hoping for mild weather until I can get everything to the garden. And put in my calendar to start some of this a month later in 2019.