Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Greenhouse Snow and Ice Removal

Over the past two days the weather here in Kentucky has been crazy. We received 6 inches of snow, then a half inch of ice and then 5 more inches of snow!

We don't usually get so much snow and ice so we wanted to make sure the greenhouse was okay. Ever since we saw on Throwback At Trapper Creek how snow can collapse a greenhouse structure, we have wondered how our new greenhouse would hold up. There is nothing growing in it yet, and the vents (windows) are still opened to allow the wind to flow through. Unfortunately that means there is no heat being generated to help melt the snow cover.

After the first 6 inches of snow, we could already see that the plastic was beginning to buckle under the weight.

So we decided to knock the snow off and the whole family pitched in.

Overnight the snow turned to freezing rain and ice. In the morning, the hoop house was covered in a half inch sheet of ice.

Again I had to use the broom to clean off the plastic. Removing the ice was easier because in broke into big pieces and slid right off.

Just about the time I finished with the ice, the snow picked up again at the rate of 2 inches per hour! When it finally stopped we visited the greenhouse a third time. By now the pile of snow and ice was getting pretty large. Luckily I had plenty of help clearing it away...

... as well as removing the rest of the ice.

After the work was done, there was plenty of time for fun!

Is it Spring yet?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tomato Playground Part 2

In my last post, I listed 5 fun things I am planning for my tomato garden this year (other than eating lots of tomatoes). Here is the list again:

  • See how big I can grow a tomato.
  • See how early I can produce a ripe tomato.
  • Grow at least 7 different colors of tomatoes.
  • See if I can grow a 15 foot tall tomato vine.
  • Make some time-lapse videos of tomato plants growing.
  • The first two were explained in that post, but now let me explain the others.

    Number three is simply to grow many different colors of tomatoes - a tomato rainbow of sorts. Last year I accomplished this with my cherry tomatoes.

    I grew several colors of full size tomatoes as well but they ripen at different times. I never really got a good picture of all the different colors together. This year I plan to pay more attention to the number of days it takes for each variety to mature, and have some of the plants timed to ripen together.

    The next silly thing on my list is to grow really tall tomato vines. Climbing Triple Crop tomato is supposed to grow 15 feet tall. I have seen pictures in magazines of tomatoes growing on lattice up the side of a two-story house and thought that was interesting. My Chinese Red Noodle beans reached the top of my 8 foot trellis last year, so I had planned to build a new 10 to 12 foot tall trellis for them this year. Now I will extend that trellis for these tomato plants.

    I plan to build these trellises with PVC pipe similar to what I used on my cinder block raised beds last year.

    I love growing veggies vertically, so this trellis system may get a little complicated. I will write much more about it when the time comes.

    The last thing on my list is to produce some time lapse videos. This idea has been brewing for over a year now. My nine to five job is at a video production company, so I'm not lacking the know-how. The difficulty will be in the discipline to regularly take the shots or the video. I want to make a wide shot time lapse of the whole vegetable garden as well as one of a single tomato plant from sprout to full grown. More to come on this as well.

    A bonus idea for my tomato playground will be to grow some as hanging plants. I want to make something similar to the topsy turvy upside down tomato planter, or the hanging tomato baskets. Last year I saved some fending and big seed sacks for this purpose, but I haven't yet worked out the details of how to make this.

    So those are my five six odd tomato goals. What about you? Please tell me that I am not alone in having strange goals and experiments in the garden. Do you ever do things other than planting, tending and harvesting the vegetables? Several things come to my mind other than these tomato tricks. Have you ever tried for giant veggies, grown cucumbers is a bottle or forced squash into a "face mold"? Are you going to try any of these crazy things this year? Please give me more ideas!

    I think it makes things more interesting to garden for food and fun. Do you?

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    Tomato Gardening is my Playground!

    My last post about growing 35 different tomato varieties attracted some great comments which made me realize that many of you out there think I'm crazy. Chris actually called me nuts, but then he added that it was in a good way. Alan who is an actual farmer seemed to think I was being wasteful. He was very nice but in a normal way of thinking, he is right.

    When it comes to tomatoes however, I don't think normally. I wanted to take a few moments here to explain my oddity. Tomato gardening is my playground. Not only do I love eating massive amounts of tomatoes, but I love growing them and trying crazy things with them. This year I have 5 fun tomato growing goals:

  • See how big I can grow a tomato.
  • See how early I can produce a ripe tomato.
  • Grow at least 7 different colors of tomatoes.
  • See if I can grow a 15 foot tall tomato vine.
  • Make some time-lapse videos of tomato plants growing.
  • Let me explain these endeavours a bit more. The first one was simply growing a giant tomato. Last year two of my tomato fruits weighed in at almost 2 pounds.

    I didn't do anything to promote this, but supposedly there are things you can do to help increase fruit size. You can allow each plant a lot of growing space and compost. You can pick off all but one or two fruits when they are small to put all of the plants energy into the remaining fruit (talk about wasteful - but fun). It also helps to grow varieties that have the ability to become large. Two of my selections from Baker Creek this year are for this purpose. Delicious produces 1 to 3 pound fruits. Someone once broke the world record with this variety by growing a 7 lb 12 oz. tomato! Another potential giant is Omar's Lebanese, a pink pink tomato that promises 2 - 3 pound fruits.

    #2 was to see how early I can harvest a ripe tomato. This is a game I've been playing for a couple of years now. I live in northern Kentucky, zone 6a, where main season tomatoes are harvested in late July/early August. In 2007 I got my first ripe tomato on June 15th. Last year, I put the plants outside earlier and added a makeshift greenhouse tent to protect them.

    That helped me beat the previous year by ten days as I picked my first ripe tomato on June 5th.This year, since I now have a real greenhouse to help me, I hope to get ripe tomatoes in May!

    I would like to further explain the other 3 goals, but this post is getting a bit lengthy and it is getting pretty late. I will save it for my next post. Hopefully after explaining the fist two goals, you can better understand that I grow tomatoes for food, and for fun!

    Do you still think I'm crazy?

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009

    Is Growing 35 different tomatoes this year too many?

    I really appreciate all of the suggestions I received in the comments on my previous post about what new heirloom tomatoes to try. I really did take them into consideration and choose a number of them to try this year. It has been a really hard decision. Matron's comment said it best with her statement "There are just too many varieties to choose from!!"

    Every year while it's cold outside, I like to plan the upcoming garden out on paper and choose what varieties to grow - almost like you would choose what players to have on your team. I want to assemble a championship team like those competing this weekend in The NFL conference championship playoffs. In the NFL they have a 53 man roster, so I should have 53 tomato varieties right? If only I had room for that many. I have narrowed down this year's tomato team to 35 varieties, so let me announce my starting lineup:

    A football team consists of different player position groups; lineman, running backs, receivers, defensive backs etc. My tomato team is also arranged in different groups.

    All of these are heirloom varieties except for six. The hybrids are designated with an (H) after their name.

    First up are the early tomatoes. This is a big passion of mine so this group is heavily represented. They are:

    Returning from last year,

  • Siletz
  • Sub Arctic Plenty
  • Orange Blossom
  • 4th of July(H)
  • Early Girl(H)
  • This year's rookie is "New Mountain Princess" from Baker Creek, chosen because it can be ripe in 45 days.
  • The next group is your normal "Red" tomato category which is what has managed to stick around even with the wonderful other colors and flavors added. Also returning from last year:

  • Celebrity(H)
  • Burpee Super Beefsteak(H)
  • Park's Whopper(H)
  • Delicious
  • And the rookie in this category is "Climbing Triple Crop" from Pinetree Seeds because it can grow up to 15 feet tall. Cool!
  • The next position group is the Pink tomatoes:

  • Brandywine (my all time favorite)
  • Pink Flamingo
  • Caspian Pink - recommended by Connie on my last post
  • Mortgage Lifter - recommended by Kelli Simone
  • Omar Lebanese - new this year because it is supposed to produce mammoth 3 to 4 pound tomatoes!

    The Orange tomatoes this year will be:

  • Kentucky Beefsteak
  • Pineapple - recommended by Connie
  • Persimmon - recommended by Throwback at Trapper Creek
  • Garden Peach - recommended by Jen and Janet
  • and Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge, which looks really cool.

    Black/Purple Tomatoes will be represented by:

  • Black Krim - the veteran in my garden
  • Black Brandywine - invited because I love pink Brandywine
  • Prudens Purple - recommended by Happy Girl
  • Japanese Black Trifele - recommended by Patrick and Melinda Are they really pear shaped?
  • Starting for the Yellow Tomatoes:

  • Yellow Brandywine - mentioned by Harmony
  • Dixie Golden Giant
  • Lemon Boy(H) - for my Father-in-Law
  • The Green (even when ripe) Tomatoes this year will be two returning favorites:

  • Aunt Ruby's German Green
  • Green Zebra
  • Small but powerful - The Cherry Tomatoes:

  • Sweet Million(H) - Red
  • Sun Sugar - Orange
  • Aunt Ruby's German Cherry - Green
  • Black Cherry - Black mentioned by Melinda

    Finally, last and least - this year's White Tomato:

  • White Tomesol - the punter on my tomato team.
  • Wow, I'm exhausted now! There you have it - 35 tomato varieties. The re-cap:

  • 28 Heirlooms
  • 7 Hybrids
  • 6 Early Tomatoes
  • 5 Red Tomatoes
  • 5 Pink Tomatoes
  • 5 Orange Tomatoes
  • 4 Black/Purple Tomatoes
  • 3 Yellow Tomatoes
  • 2 Green Tomatoes
  • And a White tomato in a Green Garden!
  • I am also trying 11 kinds that I have never seen and listened to nine of you from my last post's comments. Thank you to everyone who made suggestions.

    So, is 35 too many? Too few? How many different varieties are you going to try? Are you growing more than just red tomatoes? Heirlooms or Hybrids?

    I can never get enough tomato talk!

    Friday, January 9, 2009

    Looking for new "strange but good" heirloom tomatoes

    If you have visited my blog in the past, you probably know that I am addicted to tomatoes. I'm sure my wife wishes that I could stop with that statement because she too loves tomatoes. Unfortunately for her, I also have an unusual fascination for wierd tomatoes - the stranger the better, as long as they still have great flavor.

    Eating plain red tomatoes is a bit boring to me. I would rather my BLT look something like this:

    or this:

    The first picture featured Aunt Ruby's German Green tomatoes and they are fantastic! The second picture was a new heirloom variety that I tried last year called Kentucky Beefsteak. Since I live in Kentucky, I am particularly proud of it. It boasts tasty large orange fruits.

    Of course my all time favorite unusual colored tomato is Black Krim. It isn't exactly black in color, but look at them in comparison to the red Roma tomatoes:

    Another new unusual heirloom tomato from last year was Green Zebra:

    It has great flavor and the markings make it very interesting to look at. I do wish it produced larger fruits though. Here it is plated with red Brandywine (the king of flavor) and Black Krim:

    Not every wild and wacky variety that I try turns out to be great. This is why I think my wife gets aggravated with my obsession. For every variety that "makes the team" there are two or three that don't get invited back. Last season's disappointments included the White Tomatoes. How cool is a white tomato? Unfortunately when you take all the pigment out of a tomato, some of the tomato flavor goes with it. They do look cool though:

    The above picture is Great White and the below picture is White Tomesol:

    Actually, to be fair, the flavor is still good but pretty different. I may still grow some this year, even if for no other reason than the novelty of it.

    So this year I am perusing the seed catalogs and seed company website in search of more "strange but good" heirloom tomatoes. My keeper list from years past include Brandywine, Black Krim, Orange Blossom, Ky Beefsteak, Aunt Ruby's German Green, Kellogg's Breakfast and possibly White Tomelsol. A clear winner in the Pink Tomato varieties have yet to surface.

    So help me out - am I missing out on a truly great heirloom tomato variety? What is your favorite? Least Favorite? What should I be looking for for my new rookie sensation this year? I'm a bit worried. I have successfully found worthy varieties to join the rooster each year, but I'm not sure about this year.

    I'd like to hear your thoughts. Doesn't this make you crave a garden fresh BLT?

    GardenDesk   © 2008. Template Recipes by Emporium Digital