Tough Tomato Love

Since POD is new to the scene, an opportunity to rattle on about growing tomatoes from seed was missed. Consider yourselves spared.  Still, it’s not too late to share a word or two about hardening-0ff. Honestly, it’s not something I’d been patient enough to do properly before. For those of you in cooler climates than Philly and whose tomato seedlings are still snugly secured in the safety of your home, you’ll want to make sure you give the little guys time to acclimatize to a life on the mean streets. Or deck or patio or whatever.

First, be patient. (Which is really not something for which POD is known.) Make sure your average low temperature for the next 10 days hovers around the mid-50s. Then start by placing your seed trays outside, in the shade, for a few afternoons in a row. Remember to take them inside in the evenings. Then, expose them to a few hours of sunshine  and spring breezes for increasing lengths of time. After five days or so you can leave them out overnight.  After 8-12 days they should have gotten over the culture shock and have readied themselves for life as a plant on deck.

Wait for a cloudy day and then transplant your seedling deeply into the soil — only about 25-30% of the plant should be above the soil line. This will strengthen the plant immeasurably. Then, cross your fingers and hope the weather holds.

UPDATE: What’s with these cold temps???? 47 degrees tonight, really? In late May?

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All The Dirt

Organic Soil

Dirt’s important people. Especially for container gardening. Every year’s an experiment, too. Try things out and please let POD know what works for you.

One year I played around with moisture control soil. Mistake. In my defense, it made sense given the fact that Little Blue Deck becomes an oven during the miserable Philly August. Instead of keeping things nicely moist, though, it provided excellent conditions for all sorts of molds and fungi to invade. The year before I used plain ol’ potting mix but the NKP (Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus) mix wasn’t adequate for veggies and certainly wasn’t a one-size fits all ratio.

Last year I tried mixing my own organic soil. Clearly, all the people who swear by this process have way more room to play with than I do. And, for that matter, understand the whole NKP thing better. But if you’re lucky enough to have a decent gardening supply store in your neighborhood (POD has Lowe’s and the Depot) and you have room somewhere for a wheel barrow, you may have better success than me.  Good luck.

This year I was thrilled to discover Miracle-Gro Organic Choice at Lowes (I went to three independently owned greenhouses before caving in and buying it from the big chain). I mixed about 2/3 Potting Mix and 1/3 Garden Soil into each pot. (The Garden Soil came in larger bags and was cheaper.) Although it’s way too soon to render a verdict, I’m cautiously optimistic. All my seeds germinated in record time and the weeds are minimal.

The Little Blue Deck ate about 8 cubic feet of dirt.

Healthy (for now) Tomato Plants

Oh, the tomato. You know, Philly’s not so far from Jersey — you’d think I could grow a decent tomato. I have, but only rarely. I’m convinced it was a fluke. In the coming weeks you’ll see plenty of posts detailing my obsession with the wicked fruit. Here’s proof that the lovely Isis Candy is, for now, healthy. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Isis Candy5_09 This year,  rather than attempting full-size fruits (for a bevy of reasons that I’m sure I’ll moan about later), I’m focusing on a variety of cherry tomatoes including a yellow Tumbling Tom, Chocolate Cherry, Gold Nugget, and the lovely Isis. Although I generally try to buy my seeds locally I found a nice selection at Territorial Seeds.

Does anyone have any tomato-rearing suggestions for me?

Dinner’s On

I love growing vegetables. Why? Because I love eating.

Keep an eye open for recipes featuring garden fresh season ingredients. I’ll even try to remember to take pretty pictures…next time.

Not only that, but I’ll let you know when we cheat. This asparagus rice soup, for example, stars asparagus from Culton Organics found at Headhouse Square’s Farmers’ Market. I’m afraid the little blue deck isn’t sporting any asparagus this spring.

Asparagus and Rice Soup
– serves 4 –

Very slightly adapted from Nick Kindelsperger’s Serious Eats recipe

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups diced onions
1/4 cup white rice
4 cups chicken stock
8 ounces asparagus, stems removed, sliced diagonally into 1/4 inch pieces
4 ounces bacon or pancetta, diced
Salt and pepper

1. Pour 3 tablespoons of the oil into a medium saucepan. Tun the heat to medium and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 10 minutes.

2. Dump in the rice and then pour in the stock. Bring to boil, reduce to a simmer, and then cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the rice is tender.

3. Meanwhile, add the bacon and cook for a few minutes, until some of the fat has rendered. Then add the asparagus and stir until the asparagus is coated with oil. Then cook, without stirring for about 4 minutes. Stir and cook for 4 minutes. The asparagus should be tender and delicious. Cook for 4 minutes more if it is not ready.

4. Dump the asparagus and bacon into the saucepan. Bring to a boil, cook for 1 minute, and then turn off the heat. Add lots of black pepper and season with salt to taste. Optional: add a dash of cream to each bowl for added depth.

Radish Up

The harvest has begun and I couldn’t be happier. I planted wee radish seeds at the beginning of April (I wished I’d done it far earlier – like in February) and already we’re enjoying crisp, peppery veggies on freshly picked lettuce. For some strange reason my husband and I always thought we hated the little red guys. Turns out they’re pretty awesome.

(Not to mention, the easiest vegetable I’ve ever raised.)

If your growing space is limited, radishes provide a terrific early rotational crop. I scammed about 50 seeds off my mother for this year’s experiment and they all germinated within days and are producing small (think atomic fireballs) crisp veggies. I planted them about an inch and a half apart in the shallow planters that will be filled with lettuce and heirloom carrots now that the radishes have had their day.

These guys like the cold so I’ll probably plant them again in October, after everything has been pulled for the winter. Philly’s in zone 7-8 and enjoys fairly mild winters — as compared to Michigan, at least — so I may have found a year-round crop.

Next year I’ll even buy my own. I’m thinking French Breakfast?