Friday, June 30, 2017

Tomato update

This year I've been keeping a lot of records so I have a better idea of what I have before I start changing things.

Well, realistically I've already started changing things, but I'm still keeping records so I know where I'm headed.

This year I have 15 tomato plants from my seeds and 5 from other sources in the main tomato area. I also planted two varieties in the main garden (since research showed they were exceptionally large) and one under the almond as a test. The one under the almond is a Japanese Black. The two in the main garden are Copia and Kellogs Breakfast. All three are heirloom varieties.

Those scattered around the yard haven't started blooming yet so I'm not including them in this update.

"My" tomatoes are the result of many generations of taking seeds off of whatever came up. So some are probably recognized varieties while others are mutts. I don't care what they are or where they came from as long as they grow and thrive in my yard.

All of the fifteen were cold tolerant, although one struggled. I planted seedlings in early April and replaced those that died in the cold even with protection. Seven bloomed before the end of May. All fifteen now have fruit on them. One appears to be heat tolerant and just started fruiting as the heat hit.

Of the fifteen, three have heart-shaped fruit and one (the possibly-heat-tolerant) appears to be paste. I've never kept any seeds from a paste variety, so that one is either a fluke/sport or a descendant of a hybrid that had paste in its ancestry. The rest are round.

The additional varieties added this year are Arkansas Traveler, Black Krim, Pink Tiger, Amish Paste, Copia, Kellogs Breakfast, and Japanese Black. Copia, Kellogs Breakfast and Japanese Black are just starting to bloom. The others haven't bloomed yet. Last year I added an heirloom Italian variety, and the year before I started saving seeds from Mortgage Lifter.

Black Krim will most likely be eliminated as a seed donor, as it is still the same size it was when it was planted a month ago.

I'm deliberately crossing the "new" varieties into my lines. I'm also deliberately crossing each of my plants with others in my lines so there's more genetic diversity. I'll plant more tomatoes next year than usual because I don't know how many of the crosses will carry the cold tolerant gene. I'll continue to plant out in April to select for that, and eliminate anything that doesn't thrive.

I am NOT crossing the new varieties with each other. Either they're bred into my lines or they're left alone. I'll keep seeds for each variety in storage, but mostly plant my own genetically diverse lines for my own use. Once I see how that's going I'll have a better idea of what I want/need to keep.

I am specifically looking for cold tolerance and heat tolerance in a beefsteak type tomato.I won't know how it's going until at least the year after next. Next year will be the first generation hybrids. The following year will be the first stable varieties (although I'll probably still be doing some crossing) and then by 2020 I'll finally be able to see how things are working.

None have ripened yet, so I'm still waiting anxiously for that milestone.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sun Oven

It's way too hot outside. There may be extra humidity, but it feels like I get slapped in the face with heat when I walk out the door. Of course I choose this moment to want fresh bread...

I refuse to turn on the oven during the summer. I doubly refuse to run the AC and the oven on the same day, and since the oven adds heat to the house, which would force the AC to come on earlier, I don't bake during the summer.

Last summer I bought a Sun Oven, an outdoor oven designed to use the sun's heat for cooking. I didn't use it, beyond one trial run to see how hot it would get.

It was a scratch-and-dent, so I expected some problems when I tested it. The latches are difficult to turn because of the way the frame is bent, but it still works.

A few weeks ago I decided I wanted zucchini bread, so I pulled out the sun oven. I've been using it ever since. Zucchini bread, banana bread, fresh wheat bread. Lunch.

I'm really enjoying the fact that I can whip up a batch of something and stick it in the oven, without being concerned about the extra heat.

The image isn't very clear, but the temperature is just over 350. The bread has been in the oven for a little under half an hour.


1 Use oven mitts or hot pads! The outside of the unit (reflectors, glass) gets HOT!
2 Plan ahead. The best time to use (i.e., cook with) the oven is when the sun is directly overhead, most likely between 11 and 2. You'll want to allow time to prepare, and preheat prior, then cook during this period. If you plan on having lunch ready at noon, it needs to be preheated by 11, so set up by 10.
3 It won't work well on cloudy or overcast days. Even a few minutes of shade will bring the temperature down noticeably.
4 Be aware that if you need to tip the oven (for instance, if you need to begin cooking at 10:AM) the inside will be slanted. You may need to even out whatever you're cooking to avoid spills. My oven came with a leveler rack that I can't find.
5 You'll need a relatively large space, five feet across at a minimum. You want to be able to walk all the way around the Sun Oven without bumping it.

If you have space for a permanent installation (I don't, so I went for the Sun Oven) these are relatively simple to build.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Forest Garden Update

It's only the beginning of June, and up on the hill the plants are already struggling. Rhubarb has died. Aronia are trying their best but their leaves are curling up and drying out. The apricot tree still looks good, but it's surrounded by other plants specifically to keep the root-zone cool. I couldn't do that with all the plants.

I was going to put two more dwarf fruit trees up there this spring but I couldn't justify the cost and my experiment failed miserably (I didn't get the serviceberry seedlings I expected, so no grafting of fruit-trees onto serviceberry rootstock).

Once the canopy is in place it should bring the temperature down considerably in that area, which will allow more plants to thrive. I covered the whole thing with mulch last fall, and it worked for a while, but in certain areas the bare soil (sand) has been uncovered by the wind and in other areas the water doesn't spread.

I am learning about berms and swales firsthand. Namely, any bump or crevasse in the ground will STOP the water flow. I didn't even out the area up on the hill, didn't dig or really change the topography in any way, so there are rocks that divert the water, patches of tree roots that divert the water, places where the water pools rather than flowing because of soil composition. The path I put in, paving stones only two inches thick, stops all water flow. So either I can remove the path (which I don't want to do) or I can plant much more drought tolerant plants on the downhill side.

It's a work in progress. I dug up the elderberry and planted it in a pot so it can recover. It was literally dying up there, and when I dug down to take it out I learned why. I'd deliberately planted it right by a bunch of logs, under the assumption that the logs would hold water and feed it back into the soil as the soil dries out. Unfortunately what seems to be happening is that the logs absorb all the water from the surrounding soil (they're covered with fungus hyphae) and never give anything back. There are also rocks, so the rootball of the elderberry was crammed into this tiny little space less than 6 inches across in totally dry soil.

It occurred to me this morning that the majority of what I have up there right now are spring plants--greens, rhubarb, etc. Most everything can be expected to die back by late spring/early summer, leaving the soil (again!) unprotected from the worst of the sun. I need to plant summer and fall food bearing perennials (if I can afford any) so the space fills in when the spring plants die back in the heat.

This week I'll transplant a couple of echinacea seedlings and scatter beans around. And melons. And nasturtiums. Maybe that will help.