Monday, October 6, 2008

How I skipped September and the Two Hundred Dollar tomatoes I ought to have skipped.

Yeesh. Bit of a gap since last post, sorry. Life happened!

I now have a new car. I've already had a collision in the new car. I've already had to take the same car to the shop for non-collision issues. I've come well along on Tuesday and the Moon. I've had my debit information stolen and my checking acccount cleaned out. I've rescued a cat that i now want to keep. I've had an interesting few weeks.

So, yeah.

The tomatoes... yeah, they're nuts. I started building homemade sub-irrigated planters that are like the EarthBox brand, only better and cheaper. The idea is to water once or twice a week, and the plants take what they need. It's lower impact, There's some directions for making your own here and here. Making your own is cheaper than buying the real thing, not that I'm knocking Earthboxes at all! Great product! But I am broke as phuc, and what I've grown this year would have cost me $500 just for the boxes (they're $50 each), and that's not half what I'd like to grow. Plus, Earthboxes are shallow, and I grow indeterminate tomatoes. They need DEEP dirt, so making my own was the only way to go. I can make the equivalent of 2 Earthboxes in growing space for less than $8, so what's the poor waitress going to choose? $100 or $8?

So anyway, I've been trying like hell to grow. I should photograph the cemetery of dead smaller pots that just couldn't stay watered in the California heat, or else suffered from damping off. I started some twelve varieties. The first installments of the saga can be found here and here.

So the ones that I thought would live did not. I have five survivors: Black plum, black prince, power's heirloom (which was a freebie. I didn't even order the damn seeds.), the San Marzano from the nursery, and one testing out of a Purple Haze to see where the hybrid falls. Not one has actually produced a usable fruit. Only 3 have set fruit at all!

The costoluto genovese and 2nd jaune flamme did not survive transplant. (the first jaune flamme was light years ahead of the other seedlings until transplant when it promptly gave me the middle finger and didn't grow an inch. It was then destroyed in the caterpillarpocalypse.) The Dona, hawaiian currant replacement, and 2nd san marzano did not survive the 2nd heat wave.

Then, the caterpillars hit. I didn't know that the little black sandy specks everywhere were caterpillar poo. They decimated everything. My first 3 tomatoes had caterpillars in them as well as splits. They were useless. So I waged Caterpillar Armageddon right after they dropped the caterpillarpocalypse on me. I did what the web told me which was cut the 'pillars with scissors if I found them. The ensuing green goo-splosion has put me off avocadoes indefinitely. I much prefer a weekly dose of BT, which is a bacteria that kills them, but not other bugs, birds, cats, etc. I didn't have time to order the flies that destroy the caterpillars. Desperate measures were needed. i took care of them, and then, BAM! Blossom end rot on the San Marzano. Goddammit...

As it stands right now, if my 2 likeliest tomatoes actually make it, then they will have cost $200 each. Not tomato plants. Actual tomatoes. Those fuckers better taste good. I hope to put them in the 90-day novel potluck later in the month, which gives them about 4 weeks to mature. I am hopeful. They'd make pretty caprese salads.

I'm not alone. most other California gardeners have reported weird-as-hell growing issues. Pollinators coming too early,

Other casualties: 4 dead eggplants, 2 clinging to life with no fruit. One habanero of six survives and is just beginning to bear. All other peppers (some 40 of them!) dead. Three shrimpy jalapeno peppers less than one inch long got produced before that plant keeled over. Garlic? What garlic? New thyme plant is dead, have bought another. Not one parsley, cilantro, oregano, sage, or marjoram made it. Only thyme and rosemary from nurseries did make it, all my from seed ones died. All six okra bit the dust. All turnips and carrots went buh-bye. No calendulas survived. Hell, even the Borage is dying without flowers.

I hope to make planters every couple of weeks over the course of the winter to add to the 5 I have, plus 2 of the 5-gallon bucket variety. This way, I won't have to muck about with trying to maintain all the little pots. Instead, I'll get them in the self-waterers ASAP. I'll start 'em, sprout 'em, transplant 'emm young, and thin 'em later if necessary. Getting the plants in regular watering and protected from the heat is the hard part here. 80% of my tomato survivors were from seed, and over 95% of my plant costs were in tomato plants that didn't make it. I won't do that again, but I'll use my certificate for my 2 free plants next year. The plant pickup location is near the L.A. location of Penzey's Spices, so I'll consolidate and hit Little India on my way back. Make a day of it outside of damn tomatoes. I might buy 2 more just for the hell of it, but I don't believe that the plants were tempered for my area. We'll see. But I'll definitely combat my late start.

What I did right: BASIL. That shit goes nuts in self-watering planters! the photo is of my recent prevent-the-bolt cutbacks, because when basils go to seed, they lose flavor. I have several varieties that are doing extremely well, and I have cut them back multiple times. I will make my caprese salads for the potluck, and then let some go to seed. I'll try to catch seed for the first time ever! I am loving the purple basils (dark opal, purple ruffles, and purple petra) and having fun making basil vinegars, oils, and pestos. I made an amazing Thai pesto by mixing garlic and equal parts thai basil, cilantro, and mint. I used olive oil, but next time I'll use some sesame oil. White pepper instead of black. YUM! I'll skip the African blue basil next time, though. It is thick and fuzzy. Not a great texture. It's also a hybrid, so I can't save seed.

So, next is garlic and lettuces. Another shot at turnips and carrots. Keep the 'maters going until they keel over. Keep the basils going until they poop out or until the temperatures drop (IF they drop, that is).

I sleep now.