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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

More information on soil preparation and mulching is detailed in Deer in My Garden, Vol.1: Perennials & Subshrubs and Deer in My Garden, Vol.2: Groundcovers & Edgers!

tomato harvest 2007The Great Tomato Race
Secrets for early and plentiful harvest

by Carolyn Singer
May 23rd 2009

I have had snow at my elevation as late as May. And a damaging frost as late as June 13th. My garden is in the Peardale area. Both years my tomatoes had been transplanted into the vegetable garden, and both times I was able to save them from damage.

In the early 1980s, when the late frost in June threatened my crop, I rose early and turned on the sprinklers before the sun was up. There was no damage to the foliage and it was a good gardening lesson. Since then, I have kept a row cover ready for any cold spell after the plants go to the ground. Tufbell is my favorite, but Agribon will work too.

The year it snowed in May, I had planted my young starts just five days earlier, and I had not covered them. After the previous experience with very late frost, I usually planted tender vegetables Memorial Day weekend. However, this particular year I was leaving for several days during planting time and did not want to wait until June, my next opportunity.

So there I was, the optimistic gardener, snow falling softly and already sticking to tomato foliage, while I hustled to spread a large section of Tufbell over these tropical plants. Another lesson. Now, if it's a cool spring, I use the row cover as soon as the plants go into the ground in mid to late May.

tomatoes in 2-gallon containersI buy my plants early, usually by mid April. Each one goes into a 2-gallon container with my special soil mix of organic mushroom compost, composted poultry manure, vermiculite, perlite, rock phosphate, oystershell, and alfalfa meal. They will spend the next four weeks in my cold frame, where snow and frost can not affect them. Two applications of liquid kelp fertilizer plus a good potting soil ensures healthy growth.

By the time these plants are transplanted into the garden, each has a very strong root system. The top growth is not over stimulated with nitrogen fertilization. Stalks are sturdy and branches are already flowering. Tomatoes by July 1? I did it last year even though the soil in my garden was colder. This year, the warm soil should release nutrients essential for rapid growth.

tomatoes May 18, 5 hot days after planting. 30% shadeclothMost of my tomatoes were planted in the cool morning hours during the recent heat spell. There was no wilting because of the strong roots. With the hot sunny days, it was shadecloth, not Tufbell, that was utilized for this transitional period. While I doubt that there will be a final late blast of winter, I will be ready for that too.

The tomato patch had soil builder cover crop growing in it until just before I planted. I cut down the crop and covered it lightly with chicken manure. A few days later, I used a digging fork to remove a large clump of vetch, bell beans and oats, creating a hole for each two-gallon plant. The soil was loose and populated with worms. Each hole was dusted with alfalfa meal, rock phosphate, and oystershell.

As soon it as the plants have doubled in size, I will spread a thick four to six-inch layer of decomposing straw around each plant. This mulch will reduce the need for watering to every seven to ten days midsummer.

Summer temperatures vary in the foothills, and I have often heard that "it is not a good year for tomatoes." Every year is a good year for tomatoes in my garden. Even last summer, when heavy smoke in our area excluded light and delayed ripening for a few weeks, the late summer and fall harvests were excellent. And I did harvest quite a few tomatoes in early July. This year I'm trying for June 20th!

tomatoes June 3rd

tomatoes June 9th

tomatoes June 9th

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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