The blackberry bushes have been incredibly prolific at the Community Garden this year. I’d swear the plants have doubled in size, each vine exploding with fat, juicy fruit. I had thought that perhaps our cold winters curbed their invasiveness but I’m starting to discover that they can take over in this climate too… albeit somewhat less insanely than in temperate climates like San Francisco. I have never and don’t expect to see blackberries like that here in Southern Ontario. Those bushes are the kind of plants that inspire cheesy horror films… gaining ground while suckers like me naively hang about gorging themselves, even pushing further into the bush in a greedy attempt to get at the best, ripest berries before being sucked in alive. Bwahhahaha!
The Gardening Educator in me wants to tell you why products like the Plantarium are not viable tools for growing healthy seedlings. Look for a moment at the product photo. The seedlings inside the vial are very leggy, thin, and weak. They have elongated, delicate stems that will make the transition from the vial to a pot of soil next-to-impossible.
The Gardening Educator wants you to know that you don’t need expensive or fancy gadgetry to grow seeds into seedlings. In fact all you need is good quality seed-starting mix*, and a used plastic container (yogurt containers are good) with a bunch of holes poked into the bottom for drainage.
When the Gardening Educator spots products like this in a store she screams silently inside, “Why?! Why must first-try gardeners be mislead by useless, colourful plastic objects that inevitably result in dead plants and sad hearts?!”
But the Science Geek Kid in me thinks they’re kinda neat.
I would love to bring you more hard-core gardening experience type information but I am completely emersed in the harvest season and relishing the fruits of my labour. I just ate lunch — a fried egg sandwich on spelt toast with a slice of garden tomato, fresh basil, mayo, and oyster mushrooms — and I couldn’t wait to get back to my computer to tell you about the delicious black pear tomato. Perhaps I am glorifying it because it’s the first large tomato of the season and the first tomato is always THE BEST TOMATO THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN! However, this tomato was juicy, sweet, and rich tasting. It cut easily into a perfect sandwich slice packed with dense meatiness in the centre and fresh and juicy towards the edges; not at all mushy or mealy. Don’t you think the shape looks like a cute little hobo sack?
I’m definitely adding this one to my list of new faves.
A few tips for container growing:
- Grow it in the largest container you can find – This variety is an indeterminant which means the plant itself grows quite tall, requiring a lot of root space. I used a plastic garbage can and drilled holes into the bottom for drainage.
- Grow one plant per container – Do not be tempted to shove a couple of transplants into the same container. That little plant is going to grow up fast. Competition for space in the container will result in a reduced yield.
- Don’t let the soil dry out completely – Water consistently and give your plant a lot of water each time. I give mine about 4L of water daily! Plants that aren’t watered enough are prone to Blossom End Rot which shows as a mushy black spot on the bottom of the tomato.
- Fertilize – I fertilize my plants regularly with sea kelp throughout the growing season. You can get it as a liquid concentrate or store up batches of “tea” made by steeping dried kelp meal in mason jars. Kelp meal is high in potassium which is a good plant stress reliever. This will sustain your plant through the odd day of drought and neglect. But of course there are no miracle potions for utter delinquency!
My first response is a loud string of expletives followed by a very long and drawn, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”
‘Black Cherry’ tomato with chunk extraction. Oh the humanity.
A mysterious mammalian creature has been visiting the rooftop deck and taking nibbles out of random produce. We think it may be an opposum this time since one has been spotted climbing the fire escape. I barely broke a sweat over the cucumber left on the vine intact but with tooth imprints, and the assorted tomatoes didn’t freak me out because there are lots more to go around. The cherry sweet peppers were annoying but there is still time for more so I’ve accepted the loss gracefully. But dammit, I have been nurturing that single, perfect ‘Thai Long Green’ eggplant all summer. It was so perfect, and green. WHY!! I don’t even like eggplant. It makes my mouth itch. What bothers me is being robbed of that moment when I can cradle the fruits of my labor lovingly in my arms and capture that moment forever on film… or a digital file. There will be no beautiful ‘Thai Long Green’ eggplant to hold up against the clouds like a tiny UFO. Not this month anyway. There are two more microscopic fruits on the plant that may make it to full-size before the cold sets in.
I can’t tell you how many times this year I have advised fellow gardeners to accept a certain percentage of loss to our fellow mammalian creatures. We share space with them and have to expect that our tasty homegrown goods are going to be attractive. On the best of days I think of it as doing my part to keep city life alive. While finding my beautiful ‘Thai Long Green’ eggplant half discarded on the fire escape makes my blood boil, spotting a ‘possom scurrying across a city street at night is an exciting surprise. I just wish they’d take the whole thing! It would make me feel a whole lot better about the loss. A half-eaten tomato reeks of a “Yeah, I don’t really care for this one” attitude.
My neighbor suggested we send the half-eaten fruit into some kind of CSI-type lab for bite mark analysis.
In the end I know that the best thing to do is just move the plant. My experience has shown that this one is opportunistic and only goes for veggies hanging out in the open. In all cases the fruit was exposed to a railing or like in the case of the eggplant, the entire pot was sitting out on it’s own. When I move the plant into a cluster of other plants the plundering stops. There will be no revenge or attempts to deter the creature with sprays or sprinkled magic powders.
But I will move that eggplant pot with a lot of authority and a very firm hand!
I have been in love with my rooftop garden this past month. Every meal includes something picked fresh from the garden that morning – there’s a bowl of fresh produce on the counter everyday! This is what I love about the harvest season (besides all of the eating). No matter how hard the growing season has been, no matter how many buckets of sloshing water have been hauled, and squirrels have been reckoned with, it is all erased by the joy and thrill of eating meals grown and prepared with my hands, brains, and skill.
I’ll be heading over to my community garden this afternoon to check up on progress there. I’m sure I’ll come home with a bag of food, but there’s just something extra special about stepping out the door, picking something fresh off the plant and stepping back into the kitchen again to prepare it.