Two years ago I naturalized corn salad in my garden so now it grows as a self seeding “weed”. It starts to grow from previously dropped seed in August or September when we get a bout of cooler weather. Once it grows up to a decent size, its edible in salads right up until the temperatures drop below freezing for highs (usually after Christmas in Ohio). Then instead of dying, the corn salad will hold its own (without any cover). Once the weather warms up in March, growth begins again and by May it’s sending out flowers and going to seed. Of course, with protection (be it row covers or cold frames), the corn salad would be even more productive with the ability to reap any time over the winter.
The Snarky Gardener shows you how to plant tomatoes
With spring looking to summer, thoughts turn to planting frost sensitive tomatoes. The best time to put these little guys into the ground is when the soil has warmed up and all chance of frost has passed. Of course, one cannot tell the future, but mid-May on is generally considered safe. If you do plant and then there is a freeze or frost warning, covering the plants with straw/leaf mulch or blankets should give them enough protection.
Tomatoes are special in that their stems will grow roots if they come in contact with soil, so dig down enough to cover the stem up to the first set of true leaves. This will allow the tomato to receive all the water and nutrients it needs. Plus it will be easier to cover them if the weather turns cold (being shorter and all). I usually dig my holes ahead of time and plant either on a cloudy day or in the evening so not to stress them.
As you can see above, I use the “Terrier” digging method, but you can also use a shovel, Before placing your plant in the hole, you may want to add some extra fertilizer or other materials to the hole. Some experts recommend adding Epsom salts as they contain magnesium and sulfate. Others recommend egg shells with their needed calcium. I tend to use “dynamic accumulators” – plants that collect and store minerals. My favorites are comfrey (pictured below), dandelions, and mustard greens. I just remove the leaves I need and bury them.
Once planted and watered, you should add some support, whether it be a tomato cage, fence, or stake. Some tomatoes (called determinate) don’t need much as they only get a few feet tall (like Roma for example). Putting in support now means you won’t be piercing roots later as the plant matures. As you can see below, I make my own cages out of steel fencing. These totally surround the plant and are 6 feet tall, providing support for most varieties of indeterminate tomatoes. The other positive of this system is that peas can be grown up the cages to give more food production plus nitrogen fixing for future crops.
One other technique I stumbled upon is to grow tomatoes on the north side of an east-west steel fence (behind the caged tomato in the above picture). As the plants grow up, I weave the branches in and out of the wire, thus eliminating the need to use ropes or other bindings to keep the plant from falling over.
The Snarky Gardener is ready for the growing season
Spring has been a fun and interesting time to be a snarky gardener. I’ve taken in some workshops, and taken in some new edible varieties. Last year was all about growing my own starts and saving seeds. This year so far seems to be about expanding my knowledge, contacts (through Food Not Lawns and the Kent Community TimeBank), and perennial plantings.
In March I took two workshops – one for bee keeping and one for tree pruning. Looks like bees will be a future project though now I’m now a member of the Stark County (Ohio) Beekeepers Association (even have a cool membership card in my wallet). A very passionate group but I’m not quite ready to have so many little lives dependent on me. The tree pruning workshop did pay immediate benefits as there’s an old apple tree way in the back yard. I’m not real fond of getting up on a ladder but the tree is 30 feet tall so not much a choice. It did produce (small and holey) fruit last year and I’m hoping for better this season. In early May, I attended a WordPress “camp”, where I picked up new knowledge to help these blog entries and this site be better for you. I also concluded my permaculture class prematurely as my schedule has been full as of late.
With permaculture slowly but surely changing my point of view, I’ve taken some steps to make my domain more permanent and perennial. My two part article written earlier this year discussed perennial plant possibilities and I’ve taken steps to make them reality. For the Snarky Garden, Egyptian Walking onions, ground nuts, mushrooms, strawberry spinach, and perennial kale (from Territorial) will be added to compliment already established sunchokes, strawberries, corn salad (via self seeding) and comfrey. The whole north part (top in the plan) is evolving into only perennials. I’ll never move to a whole perennial garden (I love tomatoes and potatoes too much), but half would be nice. Also, my foraging is getting more serious with grazing of garlic mustard, dandelion greens, hostas and violets picked right out of the yard. I wanted to do maple syrup, but missed the February/March window, but there’s always next year.