Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Little Tomato That Could, End of March

It is now the end of March, and here is how "The Little Tomato That Could" looked last weekend.

For those readers new to my blog, this tomato came up in our Southeastern Virginia garden last November, and we have been raising it as one of our "rescues" through the winter.

It seems to be recovering nicely from the burns it got from growing too close to the fluorescent bulb Don had put in its winter trash-can growing space. It really likes the outdoors and the sunshine it is getting on the garage side of our house. We put it up against a brick wall to give it a little extra shelter and heat at night, too. It is even trying to flower. We really didn't harden it off, but that doesn't seem to have hurt the tough little plant.
flower buds

I must admit I was pretty skeptical when Don declared last November he was going to try to save it. Now I am hoping this seedling of unknown heritage will produce some decent fruit. If so, we'll definitely have the earliest tomatoes in our neighborhood!

The weather has turned cool both last night and tonight, so we've brought the tomato inside for safekeeping. It will go back out tomorrow, though, when the high is supposed to be back up in the 70s and lows in the 60s at night.
more flower buds

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Planting Asparagus

Purple Passion

Tonight I am physically tired. My 30 asparagus crowns, long awaited from R.H.Shumway's Seed Company, arrived yesterday, so today I finished amending the soil in our raised beds and planted them. I had ordered them from Shumway's because the price was good. They seemed to arrive in healthy condition; time will tell. I ordered ten crowns each of Jersey Supreme, Mary Washington, and Purple Passion. I ordered Jersey because it's a mostly-male top producer, Mary Washington because I have a soft spot for heritage crops, and Purple Passion because of its reputation for outstanding sweetness and flavor. Plus it's purple until you cook it, and I like color and variety.

As you can see from the picture, the asparagus crowns are cute-ugly in a "Cousin It" from the old "Munsters" t.v.-show kind of way.
Cousin It from "The Munsters"

Shumway's planting directions came wrapped up inside with the crowns. Since I didn't see directions right away, I went look online for directions on how to plant them. Most websites recommended digging a trench and filling it in, either slowly over time or all at once. Asparagusgardener.com had pretty typical directions. But I was using raised beds and a Square Foot Gardening technique, and Don had already measured my beds out into one-foot squares, so I decided not to use trenches and just spread each crown's roots out the best I could in a hole in each square. I hope the asparagus crowns will manage to figure out where their roots go for themselves. Here is a picture of the garden, now surrounded by a fence to keep our dogs out, with the vegetable beds half-filled and the asparagus beds filled in:

The ladder is to climb over the fence. Don put it up in a hurry and still needs to put a gate in it and tighten up the fencing. So I've had to climb up and over the fence using the stepladder all day as I went to work. It was great extra exercise if a little slippery in today's drizzle.

No wonder I'm tired!

The asparagus website said asparagus needs a high PH, around 7.0. I had put compost in the beds and planned to put in even more when I planted the crowns, so without actually measuring the PH of the beds I decided to add some lime. I reasoned that since compost and organic matter lower PH, I should counter the other amendments with something that raises it.

So I amended the top few inches of the beds with some cow manure, some "Nature's Helper" composted manure with forest products, and some Solu-Lime from Southern States. And, yes, I had to haul all this over the fence! I also mixed a little organic bone meal into each hole as I planted the asparagus crowns. This might seem like a lot of work, but the asparagus, once it starts producing in the third year, should keep producing for 15-20 years. It's a heavy feeder, healthy plants in good soil theoretically need less pest control, and we want these beds to get off to a good start.

 If the squirrels don't get it first. My neighbor, Nam, predicts the squirrels in our backyard will wreak havoc on our new garden. This is quite possible. And the way we've fenced it off to keep the dogs out will actually protect the squirrels and encourage the little critters. Don boasts about being a good shot, but he's not a killer at heart, I'm a vegetarian, there are laws against firing guns in the city, and the squirrels will just learn to wait to raid the garden when we're not around . They're smart.

What will we do to squirrel-proof our hard work? I guess that's fodder for other posts when we've had time to figure it out. If you'd like to see what I hope the finished beds will grow, visit Mother Earth News' Garden Planner.

**Update on 1/18/14: The squirrels haven't bothered the asparagus. We has some problems with asparagus beetles and asparagus beetle larvae last season. Our answer was to hand-pick as many of the critters as we could and hand-feed them to our chickens. It was time-consuming, but the chickens loved it and are much tamer than they used to be! Last season we picked asparagus for about two weeks, but this season we should be able to pick a lot more. I can hardly wait!