Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Most of the apple blossoms have dropped by now, blown by the wind, except for those on the late-bloomers like the Baldwin. Usually the early-ripeners are the early bloomers, and so it goes: the Baldwin is a winter apple, which means it does not fully ripen on the tree before the winter comes. On the first of June Marta and I planted the paste tomatoes and the slicers that I'd grown from seed. We use IRT mulch, a kind of plastic that Fedco sells which is spread atop the soil and warms it--which makes a real difference in yield and earliness. The coast of Maine, with its mild summers and long, cool falls, is not tomato-heaven. Late varieties are difficult to bring in. And so I grow the early ones, and also the short (determinate) ones when possible. They all sprawl atop the mulch. Deer will jump the garden fence if tall varieties are staked; the stakes (for pole beans also) seem to attract the deer. This is something I learned in the 1980s and it's one of the compromises of gardening here. Of course, I might invest in 8-feet high chain-link fences around the garden, but that's expensive, ugly, and seems technologically inappropriate. More to my liking are the cheesecloth bags I make and fill with hair from the barber shop, which I then tie to the low (four-feet high) fences. The smell of the human hair seems to discourage the deer and other animals. A scarecrow or two in the middles of the gardens also helps. The law of unintended consequences teaches it's best to try to co-exist with the pests (including deer) by discouraging them but not eliminating them. Back to planting tomatoes: we slice a hole thru the mulch and plant the tomato seedling, which has grown in a small yogurt container, lower in the ground than it set in the container, with a tablespoon of fish meal and bone meal worked into the soil at the base of the plant. Compared with pea and bean planting, this is labor-intensive, requiring kneeling and digging. But we got about 20 paste tomato plants and an equal number of slicers through the mulch, along with some peppers and eggplant (also warmth-loving). Of course, the mulch is ugly also, but it keeps the weeds down and on balance because it's inexpensive and works so well, I'm not opposed to it. Garden aesthetics have to yield often enough anyway, when it's vegetables and productivity that come first, in a challenging spot to grow a garden. Over the years, I've experimented growing many varieties of tomatoes, from the most modern to the heirlooms. As with other types of vegetables, the variety that grows well here may not do so well 20 or 200 miles from here, so it's trial and error. Among the most successful here are Bellstar (paste) and Sungold (cherry). Some I grow because of their taste and earliness (Cosmonaut Volkov), others because of their yield (Heinz paste), others because of their keeping qualities (Burpee Long Keeper). I've grown the ones that are reputed to taste the best (Brandywine) and found that they just don't yield much here. At one point I decided to grow heirlooms that could be found in the earliest seed catalogs from the 19th c. and put in one or two plants of varieties such as Chalk's Early Jewel. None of these were especially outstanding, but it was fun to grow them from seed and taste them. A good tasting, good-sized, early, slicing tomato is just not possible here, under the conditions that I grow tomatoes. It may be that with special coldframes or tunnels it could be done, but that is more technology than I want to fool with. Over the years I've gradually tried to be more efficient with gardening. The perfect, as they say, is the enemy of the good.

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