Monday, May 11, 2009

Romas are in

The high and low wall garden are now the proud home to 30 black plum roma tomatoes. The low wall garden has 13 and the high wall garden 17. These romas were started indoors from seed on 3/11. Given two months of indoor growth, I am amazed at just how small they are. I started them in 6 packs in store bought seed starter mix. The seedlings were no taller than 4 inches with just a couple leaves at the very top of the plant. I expected the roots to be tightly wound inside the six pack, and even those were a little disappointing. Comparing these black plums to the sheboygans that I planted just two days earlier, was really no comparison. The sheboygans are 8-10 inches tall with thick stems and lots of leaves. So perhaps it is just the type of tomato. But anyway - I think I need will start these seeds in larger pots next year, and perhaps a little earlier to accommodate a couple of weeks in the cold frame.

The soil in these two garden sections could not have been more different. The low wall garden soil was absolutely fantastic. Sarah and I brainstormed this a little last evening. In 2007 this section of yard held about a million lillies of various varieties, a rose, a large evergreen bush, some small ornamental grasses, some pansys, and several large decorative rocks. In the winter 2007/2008, I chopped down the evergreen bush and composted it. In spring 2008, Sarah worked on the soil. She pulled out all the plants except the rose and added mushroom manure to the soil. In 2008 she planted various garden veggies including brussel sprouts, shallots, onions and cabbage in this plot. None of the veggies in this plot did very well. We had maybe two heads of cabbage and three passable brussel sprout plants. She recollects the soil being very poor. In fall 2008 I added another thick layer of mushroom manure - 2 inches or more. In spring 2009 I sowed white clover as a thick layer of green manure. This weekend in preparation for the roma planting, Quinn and I removed the green manure. In the process of removing the clover, much of the top layer of mushroom manure also went to compost. The remaining soil looks wonderful. It is very light and airy, and deep black. We found millions of worms and rolly pollys. It was so nice, I didn't even bother adding any compost. I tried to space the plants approx 18-24 inches apart and built a thin sunken path out of rocks for access.

The soil in the high wall garden on the other hand is just plain nasty. In 2007 this plot despite being one of our sunniest locations, held two large nasty overgrown evergreen trees, a large plot of iris, and a bunch of pachysandra. We spent 2008 chopping down the trees, but not the stumps, transplanting the pachysandra and iris, and tearing out the black plastic and small round river rocks that made up the base layer. Toward the middle of the 2008 planting season, I tossed in some cucumbers and mellons and actually got a very nice crop of both. I didn't even bother prepping the soil prior to that planting, instead I used a "hill planting" approach. I made nine mini-hills out of a 5 gallon bucket of sandy creek soil and dropped three seeds in each bucket full. These crops spread so quickly to cover the entire plot that weeds and the poor soil condition never really were a factor. In the fall 2008 I planted a rye green manure and in the spring 2009 I added some mushroom manure and planted a white clover cover crop. This weekend I tore out and composted the cover crops and chopped out the evergreen stumps. I added approx 10 large rainbarrel buckets of course compost to this soil and raked it in with my 8 inch fork. I dug a sunken path and used this ground to raise the beds for the tomatoes. The final soil consistency is very, very course. Sticks and stones are everywhere. The compost I used still has some breaking down to do. Evergreen roots remain and are fairly close to the surface. I am very curious to compare the health and production of the tomatoes in this soil compared to the well-prepared plot below. But seeing how well the soil improved in one year in the lower wall garden has me very excited to see this soil next year.

I read about undersowing green manures yesterday. Most folks recommend undersowing in late July after the main crop is plenty big and far along. They describe most of the benefit hitting the following year rather than the current year, and stress not to plant a cover crop too quickly as it will compete for nutrients with the tomatoes.

I gave Sarah's great grandparents a tour of our garden for Mother's day. Sarah's great grandfather is a farmer at heart and we shared lots of fun garden stories. I also passed along my sheboygans, a six pack of california wonder peppers, and one eggplant to him.

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