Monday, March 30, 2009

Too early yet for Early Girls, tomato grower cautions

by Bill Lindelof
The Sacramento Bee

In the spring, a gardener's fancy turns to tomatoes.

The itch to buy tomato plants at the local hardware or nurseries can be overwhelming. The siren call of Early Girls and Better Boys beckons.

That might be particularly true this week as the National Weather Service forecasts sunny skies and daytime temperatures in the low- to mid-70s. Nighttime lows are expected to range from 44 to 50 degrees in Sacramento.

But hold on there, tomato lover. It's still too chilly to plant delicate seedlings. That's according to Don Shor, noted gardener and owner of the Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis.

Sure, he stocks tomato transplants in his store – but that doesn't mean he approves of planting them outside quite yet.

Shor said that before tomatoes are planted, the nighttime temperatures should consistently be above 50. Soil temperature should be 60 degrees.

"The key is soil temperatures," said Shor.

He suggests the "butt test." To do that, go outside and plant your rear on the ground.

"Put on some shorts, sit on the ground and if you are uncomfortable, the tomato plants will be, too," said Shor.

Shor is less concerned about tomatoes being planted too early than he is about peppers and eggplant. Put in a tomato too early, and the plant will turn purple and get phosphorous deficiency.

"They will sit there and sulk," he said. "Things that want to eat them will eat them. Then, when it warms up, they will start to grow. But put peppers and eggplant in too early, and they will be stunted all season. The peppers you plant in May always do better than the peppers you plant in April."

The rules with peppers and eggplant are night temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees and a soil temperatures of 70 degrees. Shor said that some gardeners use seedling blankets or plastic "walls of water" to warm plants. "Or you can do like I do – just wait," said Shor.

At times, his nursery has put up a sign near the tomato seedlings saying "It's too early to put these in the ground." That entertains customers, he said.

"I got my first request for tomatoes on Jan. 17," he said. "There had been a good frost on the ground."

Some gardeners like to buy small plants early on and shift them into larger pots for later planting. Going by the calendar, Shor suggests waiting to buy tomatoes, eggplant and peppers until May 1. "People often wonder when it is too late to plant tomatoes," he said. "You can plant them into June. We have a long season here."

What really helps warm the soil is a raised bed. Out in the open field, soil can linger in the low 50s, while the city gardener's raised bed is a toasty 62.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ethel Glove Giveaway -- I Won!

What a thrill! I've won a pair of Ethel Gloves through one of my favorite blogs, An Alameda Garden!

I am looking forward to trying these out. So often I rip my gloves off in frustration and go without due to poor fit. I hate not being able to feel what I'm doing.

These gloves are made especially for women so no more over-sized gloves for me. Thanks, Claire, for this great opportunity to give these gloves a try.

Stay tuned for a full review after I receive and test-drive the gloves.

White House Kitchen Garden

Michelle Obama and more than two dozen Washington-area fifth-graders broke ground Friday for the first vegetable garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden during World War II.

Read about it here. And here’s a great diagram of the proposed layout.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Garden Inspiration

As the weather begins warming, trees start budding and early bloomers begin emerging from the earth, my thoughts naturally turn to gardening once again. Although here in Northern California’s mild climate, year-round gardening is possible, inevitably each fall I give up the ghost. By late August, the most vigorous crops -- tomatoes and peppers -- have slowed production, started looking haggard and bedraggled, and are seemingly as exhausted as I am. So I put the garden to bed and head back indoors to endure the less physically demanding seasons of fall and winter.

Then each spring, like most gardeners who live in less temperate climates, my thoughts turn longingly and eagerly to getting back into the garden and looking forward to the bounty and satisfaction of growing my own produce.

Today I started surfing the blogs again and naturally started with Angela’s “Garden Bliss” where I not only enjoyed her garden rants and musings but followed several links to some other great gardening blogs.

I came across this post of a granddaughter remembering her grandmother on the day that would have been the elder woman’s 76th birthday. The grandmother it seems had a major influence on the writer’s interest in, and love of gardening. It was a touching post that inspired reader’s to comment on their own remembrances. So here I am heading back Through the Garden Gate and it feels great.

While many people stereotypically associate gardening with women, usually older women, In my family it was notable that the men were gardeners. My earliest gardening remembrances are of my grandfather among his tomato plants searching for the perfect specimen and then later standing at the kitchen sink with a saltshaker enjoying a huge, utterly ripe, beefsteak tomato while catching the juicy drips falling from his chin. To this day, without a doubt, that right there -- that to me is the taste of summer.

When I think about what specifically draws me to the garden, it is the tranquility one finds there and the silent appreciation of reveling in the literal fruit of your labors. When I am tending the garden, tension recedes, stress floats away. I am perfectly alone with my thoughts and a deep sense of nurturance acquired by the satisfaction and pride in myself that I have created something so wonderful.

The garden is where I retreat to after a long day at work, a long day of tending to my children’s needs. While I’ve heard it said that sharing this joy with my offspring is supposed to be a spiritual feeling, and could be a breeding ground of significant, lasting memories, I cannot help not feeling guilty when I shoo them back in the house to leave me be among the greenery. The garden is my Calgon.

Perhaps that peaceful calm is what my grandfather sought as well, all those years ago.

Where do you find inspiration to begin gardening anew each spring and who originally inspired your interest in getting your hands dirty?