Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tomato planting frenzy

Get your tomatoes and other spring vegetables into the ground now.
Tomatoes have a very narrow window of opportunity in our geography - you basically have to get established plants into the ground in the month of March because they cannot tolerate extremes of cold or heat, both of which we tend to have in abundance.

Here is a link to this planting guide PDF.  
I mention tomatoes specifically because they are probably the most popular vegetable.  Even folks who do not garden will grow tomatoes in large pots.

Where possible, I buy my tomato starts from Farmers Market vendors, but they often don't have as much stock or selection as my hands-down favorite vendor:
Maas Nursery in Seabrook.  This is one row of tomato hybrids and heirlooms, as it looked yesterday...
This is another row of tomatoes...
...and this is yet another row of tomatoes.  The selection is unparalleled.  
Even with all those tomatoes for sale, Maas will often sell out. Last year, I was too late to the party, and I wasn't able to buy grape or cherry tomatoes, which are the only kinds we grow.
The stock sells rapidly.  This is what the Maas check-out lines looked like on Saturday around 11 a.m.  There's a time-compressed buying frenzy this year in particular because the winter was so cold, which means folks are now playing catch-up.

Do you see at photo center that there's a shopper wearing a goose down winter jacket?  In Houston, in the middle of March!  It was about 65 degrees outside when this pic was taken, but by this point in our unusually cold winter/spring, bundling up has become force of habit for many folks.

A long line at Maas is not necessarily a bad thing.  It's not a lower-end retail destination, so there are always plenty of hyper-educated and interesting people to talk to as you wait.  
Given my failure to get to the stores on time last year, we did harvest probably five to ten pounds of tomatoes, but they all came from volunteers that had sprouted up randomly in our yard because I compost most of my organic waste, including expired tomato plants.
We grow the miniature varieties exclusively because we place them whole in gallon-sized freezer bags - no blanching, no work, no hassle factor.  And then I use them in dishes that I prepare for months afterward.

This is all we have left from our last harvest, which ended in June of 2013.  Eight or nine months is really too long to keep frozen vegetables, but these guys actually still taste very good.  This last bit of frozen tomato dregs will probably go into a near-future omelette.  
Volunteer tomatoes still taste really good, but the plants are not as prolific and the tomatoes are not as sweet as the pure hybrids.
This year, there will be little if any harvest from volunteers.  Most of the tomato plants I bought at Maas were the Sweet Million variety, which I chose on the advice of a couple of local Master Gardeners.

This is one of the two oblong stock tanks into which we usually put our tomatoes.  About a year ago, I wrote a post called "Landscaping around utility boxes and lines" which describes the development of this encumbered space (that's a utility box sandwiched between the tank and the concealing hedge of POH Yaupon).  It has become one of this blog's most popular posts, with thousands of hits.   
Despite the rain we've had this weekend, I managed to get some other vegetable starts into the ground as well.
This is what one of the existing larger stock tanks looks like with winter garden plants still going strong.  It is overrun with Swiss chard, celery, dill, bunching onions (which are obviously taking over the place), bulbing onions, carrots, and some gratuitous weeds.  
In sharp stage-of-growth contrast, here is that tank's spring garden mate.  I use the rocks to suppress weeds and slow evaporation.  Because the stock tanks are elevated, they tend to get warmer during the day, increasing evaporation.  
Happy planting, and welcome to spring.  I think it might be here, finally.  Maybe.
Our tomato count from the 2012 growing season.  Yes, I was nerdy enough to jot down each day's harvest.  

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