It’s Not Too Late! Hurry!

Have room for a 5-gallon bucket somewhere? 6-10 hours of sunlight? Good.

Plant your tomatoes in 5-7 gallon buckets or containers. They’re not pretty, but white painter’s buckets can be purchased inexpensively from any hardware store. They’re light (an important consideration for roof deck gardening), cheap, and reflect the sun’s most brutally hot rays.

If you live in the greater Philadelphia region (or are a zone 7ish gardener) Anytime between May 10 and mid-June will probably work for planting your crop. Nurseries and farmers’ markets are still selling plants so get going. (Try to find plants without any blossoms — fruiting takes a lot of energy and transplanting large plants can be fairly traumatic. To the plant. Not you. The plant will be better off in the long run)

Save those evil Styrofoam pellets and use them as a drainage layer. (They’re light and it’s gratifying reuse of a non-biodegradable material — you can even save them for use the following year.) Or, you can break large pieces of packing Styrofoam in more manageable pieces. A 2-3 inch drainage layer seems to work pretty well.

If your plant is small (say, 5-10″), bury 60-75% of the plant beneath the soil line. This will make for a much stronger plant. Snip the leaves that will be buried before submerging them in your clean, organic soil. If your plant is pretty well-established (as most are by now) you just need to make sure you nestle the plant deep enough into your container that the new soil line at least matches the existing one.

Stake them. (see RIP Poblano)

Cage them.

Water them.

Feed them.

Hope for the best.

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Penne With Vodka

With the basil still recovering from the grilled pizza adventure, tarragon stepped in to give this pasta a surprising bite.

Tarragon
Tarragon

Penne With Vodka

3 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. tomatoes, lightly drained and chopped
1/4 c. vodka
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
black pepper to taste
1/2 c. heavy cream
tarragon (or basil) to taste
1 lb penne (cooked until al dente)

1) Get the pasta started.
1b) Grab the vodka and make a martini.

2) Heat the olive oil over medium heat, add onions and stir until the onions have softened, about 5 minutes.

3) Add garlic, stir for about a minute.

4) Toss in tomatoes, vodka, and red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Simmer 10 minutes

5) Pour in cream, heat through.

6) Add tarragon or basil, mix with pasta.

7) Thank the chef. Make happy noises. Enjoy.

Tomato Genetics

The lessons learned about tomatoes never seem to end. For example, just the other day POD learned that some heirlooms have a wilty gene. Who knew? Evidently, this simply means you need to water them more frequently than their brethren who lack said gene — perhaps something container gardeners should seek to avoid. And, I see rumors of tomatoes — heirlooms — that are genetically resistant to fungus.

I really, really want these tomatoes.

Does anyone have a list of varietys that do not contain the wilty gene and do contain the two genes responsible for fostering an immunity against fungus?

Drink Milk

Tomato Milk
Tomato Milk

Last year POD’s Nebraska Wedding suffered from (among other things) a nasty case of blossom end rot. Wherein the lovely half-formed fruits suddenly blackened at the, well, blossom end and rotted. Exactly as the difficult-to-parse name would suggest.

Since then I learned that tomatoes need calcium to keep their cell walls strong and healthy. So this Chocolate Cherry is soaking up a diluted mixture of soured skim milk (why use good milk?) and water. This particular batch was about 40% milk and 60% water but it’s not all that fussy.  Well, calcium and warm soil. So practice patience, if you can, and wait for temperatures to stabilize.

Supposedly tomatoes also enjoy a seaweed snack every now and again. Since South Philadelphia isn’t quite close enough to the Jersey shore to use seaweed as mulch, I ground up some dried seaweed from the Number One Asian supermarket, dumped it in the milk solution and called it a day. We shall see.

Basil Fueled Pizza

Nothing says signs-of-summer like fresh basil (which is nothing at all like those sad little anemic hydroponic cones that get us through the winter) atop homemade grilled pizza. This one has flecks of fresh rosemary and minced garlic hiding in the crust. (Thanks, Digable Pizza — if you’re ever in Asheville, NC, check them out.)

Grilled Pizza with Basil, Chevre, and Grilled Onions
Grilled Pizza with Basil, Chevre, and Grilled Onions

Bloomtime

Tumbling Tom Blooms
Tumbling Tom Blooms

Woo! We have lift-off! The Tumbling Tom is looking healthy (thus far) and is sporting a stylish little flower.

Tom is the only tomato planted in a 2-gallon (ish) bucket and hangs from the deck railing. The rest are ensconced in containers that are 5-gallons or larger.

This cherry tomato is supposedly perfect for container environments as it “weeps” — that is it drapes artistically over the sides of its sunny, east-facing South Philadelphia home. We’ll just have to make sure we eat all the fruits before they drop on the roof of our neighborhood  garage.

Bird Chili Blooms
Bird Chili Blooms

Looks like our wicked hot Thai bird chili is ready to go, too.  I started this from seed back in February. This sucker is awfully prolific and we tend to toss them right into the jar of prik nam pla (Thai chili/fish sauce) we have perpetually stewing in the fridge.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler and it keeps forever: finely chop 1/2 c. bird chilies (any super hot tiny chili will do) + 1 c. fish sauce. Remember to wear rubber gloves while chopping the chilies. Combine the chilies and the fish sauce in a jar, shake. Refrigerate. Refresh ingredients as necessary. Spice stuff up. That’s it. Many thanks to Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid of Hot Sour Salty Sweet fame.

Container Gardening: Making the Most of It

Philly gardeners should check out the Pennsylvania Horticultural society’s City Gardening Series workshops. They’re free and full of useful tips. For example, POD discovered that early on in the season container gardeners  can cram their pots with all sorts of greenery.

Cucumbers and Swiss Chard
Cucumbers and Swiss Chard

So, with that in mind, this 5-gallon bucket is sprouting 3 cucumbers (two Space Masters, from D. Landreth Seed Company and one lemon cucumber snitched from my mother’s supply). The Swiss chard seedlings came from Moore’s Greenhouses, a small family-owned operation in West Deptford, New Jersey.

While the cucumbers are still wee we can enjoy all the chard we want. I’ll just yank them when the space masters need a little more space.

Herbes de Provence

Tarragon, Thyme, and LavenderAs much as POD enjoys the vegetables produced from its little containers, no meal would be complete without a good herbal uplift.

Herbs have proven to be easy to grow, resilient, flexible, and disease-resistant. In other words, if you’re new to this whole gardening thing, grow them.

Then dry them and make yourself some herbes de Provence. Chow has a great recipe for the classic French mixture.