Monday, March 29, 2010

attack of the heirloom tomatoes!

tomatoes are the plants i most look forward to growing this year. i’m doing nearly all heirloom varieties: paul robeson, marvel striped, big rainbow, white currant, black from tula, aunt ruby’s german green, brandywine red, cherokee purple, dixie golden giant and tomande. knowing me, that list will grow before the end of april. some of these are the big monster ones that get up to 2-2 ½ pounds. i’ve never grown tomatoes from seed before, so wish me luck.

i think heirloom tomatoes are gorgeous. there’s a big deal made of them being ugly because they don’t fit the typical smooth/round/red ripe tomato schema. they have so much personality though. if i succeed in growing these things i plan to do individual, formal portraits of all the most eccentric fruits. wouldn’t that be a great photo project? i can’t wait.

i admit the german green ones do look disturbing though, at least once sliced...i think they look like zombified brains.

i have a weird relationship with tomatoes. i’ve always liked tomato products, soup and juice and ketchup and such, but until recently i hated the raw fruit itself. for the past two summers i’ve grown huge tomato plants with awesome yields, and i so desperately wanted to get that same intense enjoyment from eating the homegrown tomatoes that i saw everyone else getting. i was in love with the idea of tomatoes.

i kept trying and trying to like them, thinking my taste would magically change or i’d acquire a taste for them. finally, a few months ago, i sliced up some grape tomatoes to use as a plate garnish, and i ate them, and they were delicious! i got excited and popped a whole grape tomato in my mouth, and it was gross. so it turns out i can enjoy tomatoes, but for some reason i have to slice them first.

so far i’ve mostly only eaten small tomatoes and i’m not sure if the rules will change for larger ones. i’m overjoyed that i like them now; i even get cravings for them! there is no other food i’d rather have gotten over my finickyness about. i think i’m still just slightly allergic to them but it’s worth it.

it’s depressing at the end of the season when you still have a ton of green tomatoes that won’t ripen in time...i know there are ways to make them ripen but i’ve never bothered before, maybe i will this year. i thrifted this cookbook the other day, full of recipes that utilize green tomatoes. cookies, breads, relishes, jams, pies, casseroles; even ice cream, and “green tomato wine”! i particularly want to try “eggless green tomato cake,” “end-of-the-garden pickles” and “french-fried green tomatoes.”

the author included a forward where she writes about techniques for growing tomatoes, and she mentioned something i’d never heard of before: japanese tomato rings. it’s a pretty neat idea. i’m not going to try it this year because i’ve already made layout plans that involve stakes, cages, a straight fence and a trellis, and a ring wouldn't fit in; but maybe someday in the future.

i am, however, going to try a topsy-turvy tomato planter for the first time. i was planning on making my own out of a 5-gallon bucket or a 2-liter soda bottle, but in a moment of weakness/impulsivity i picked up the real deal. i think i’m still going to make at least one out of a bucket, because using that method you can also plant the top with herbs, so it’s a huge space-saver. i might even do a few soda bottle ones because they’re little and cute.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

flower & garden show

the first thing i spotted walking into the garden show this weekend was franz witte’s clever wonderland croquet/mad hatter tea party setup. it made me want to use teacups as planters for herbs to make tisanes. not very practical maybe, but it would be fancy.

there was one room filled half with bonsai trees, many of them decades old, and half with orchids.

my favorite had to be the bug booth. dozens of colorful, much-larger-than-life, handmade metal bugs.

who could resist the mantises? this one’s now tasked with guarding the way are birds eating it this year.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

o the green things growing!

here’s a fun poem for my associate chlorophiles: “green things growing” by dinah maria mulock craik.

i direct-seeded part of my garden on sunday: one row each of beets, radishes, snow peas, sugar snap peas, lettuce, spinach and kale. we’ll see how they do...the weather in boise is so unpredictable in spring.

mirabelle plum trees are blooming...

and so are my favorite tulip magnolias.

the anemone i have growing out of a boot opened up yesterday.

my lettuce basket is doing nicely:

somehow a tomato seed made its way into the basket. i don’t know what variety it is and i don’t understand how it happened, because tomato seeds look nothing like lettuce seeds and i feel certain i would have noticed it when i was planting.

i’m trying to use entirely repurposed materials for sprouting seeds this year. all my tomato seedlings are in toilet paper rolls, most other seedlings are in plastic soygurt cups, and i set them in empty plastic and cardboard boxes to germinate. all of it would’ve been recycled otherwise, and most of it still can be after i’m done. the south-facing windowsills at my house are getting pretty full.

it was a weird coincidence, my friend andrea was telling me about these plastic apple containers from costco she’d used to start peppers and tomatoes last year, and it just so happens i’m using the same container to grow salad greens. it’s a sealing plastic palette-type thing that’s molded to hold 14 gala apples, but the molds form perfect planter cups and mini greenhouse domes:

andrea and i had a long, long discussion about gardening yesterday, and i think it left us both pretty fucking giddy about this summer. she grew a fabulous garden last year, but unfortunately she was forced to move a couple weeks ago and her new place has a shared yard. last year her kale went insane. she planted way too many, they grew enormous and wouldn’t die; they even started sprouting out of their stumps this spring. i hope my kale flourishes like that but i doubt it will.

this weekend is the 14th annual garden show at the grove AND a huge flea market at the fairgrounds. last year at the garden show i got some bulbs, an orchid and a praying mantis egg sack (ootheca). unfortunately the ootheca was eaten by birds before it hatched. i’ll get another one this year and probably hatch it inside, or put it outside in a very safe and secured location.

spring is the most goddamned exciting time of year. i can hardly stand it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

garden junk

last night i flipped through mary randolph carter’s “garden junk” book for inspiration. it’s full of beautiful photos with tons of creative ideas for exterior decorating.

seeing all the lovely rusty garden décor put me in the mood for junking, so today i went to antique world mall. it’s part antique store, part thrift shop, part junk yard, part museum, and similar in size to a big box store. there are over a hundred dealers. some have ridiculously low prices, others have ridiculously high prices, most are reasonable, and it averages out to just slightly higher than thrift store prices.

it’s a great place to just wander around for hours and be fascinated. i spent two hours there today and probably saw only half of it; i doubt i processed more than a quarter of what i laid eyes on.

somehow i always find exactly what i’m looking for when i go to antique world. not sure if that’s a function of me being extremely lucky or of the store being enormous and stuffed to the brim with goodies or both. i had a very specific item in mind today, something that caught my eye in the garden junk book, these metal flower carts:

and what did i find?

pretty perfect, right? it was meant to be. i love that the wheels work, so i can load it with container plants and use it to chase the sun around the yard.

i also went looking for rusted old garden tools:

a funky watering can:

a vintage malibu barbie bike:

kidding about the bike, that was an impulse buy...but i was looking for an old scale, to use as a plant stand and eventually to weigh my veggies so i can record yields:

there were probably a dozen beautiful old scales scattered throughout the store. most of them cost more than i wanted to pay, and a lot of them didn’t work very well. this one is very accurate, cute, and was on “scale sale” for half price.

i *would* have paid over twice as much for this awesome scale, except that it’s unreadable; all the numbers have worn off along with most of the increment marks:

i found some other garden junk at thrift stores, like this old glass milk bottle made in italy:

a “food umbrella” that i’ll use to keep birds and insects away from certain plants if anything starts to get attacked:

and a small kettle, repro-vintage coats & clark tin, yellow pitcher, and sun bonnet, all but the latter to use as planters:

the people who work at antique world mall are so very sweet. they were kind enough to let me take photos; here are some of the things that caught my eye.

^i had to look up a term found on the labels of these bottles, “eructations”--turns out to be a marvelously fancy word for burping. “oh pardon, i eructated.”

i love photographing display heads. since i can’t help but think of garden-y applications for everything right now, wouldn’t it be cool to find a display head with no hair, hollow it out from the top and use it as a planter for some crazy fern or something?

a boy, a cart, a massive chicken. what about that image doesn't scream "root beer"?