Monthly Archives: February 2011

Wind Blows

When I decided to gamble and plant a few vegetable plants early this year, I only planted as many tomatoes as I had spare plastic trash cans. Heavy plastic trash cans are useful in such a plethora of ways that I couldn’t help myself a few years ago when, upon entering the garden section of the local Home Depot, I noticed eight or nine big trash cans listed for sale, but with no matching lids to be found. I negotiated a cheaper price as a result of their lidlessness, and have been completely delighted with the purchase ever since.Year's first tomato, spied on Feb. 26

They came in handy yesterday. I was a little worried that we’d get another cold snap, and I’d lose my gambled maters. But no, it turns out the wind is this spring’s culprit. We had sustained wind of 20 miles per hour, with gusts up to 30 mph or so. I could see it was really beginning to stress out some of the plants, so I moved all my still-potted tomatoes and peppers into the garage, and turned the trash cans over on top of each of the already-planted tomatoes. The plastic retains heat, but not excessively, since they let in no sunlight. As a wind-block, they are great.

The wind was supposed to be just as strong today, but it hasn’t turned out to be so. Right now it’s 66 with just the beginnings of a westerly breeze. Tonight, and for the next two after that, the temperatures allegedly will drop to 45. While tomatoes can easily survive that slight chill, it could be enough to shock them sufficiently that they stop growing for a few days. (It’s called “checking their growth.”) That would undo my whole purpose in planting the ‘mater plants early. So to prevent it from happening, I’ll just make sure the plastic trash cans are in place over the tomato plants this afternoon, to give the air plenty of time to warm up inside. While the rest of the grounds may hit 45, inside the trash cans I expect it will remain above 50 degrees – warm enough to prevent growth check. It’s worth the small effort to me, as several of the plants already have tomatoes, which is a ranch record. Fastidious care, or global warming?

Visions of sugar plums dance on the lawnElsewhere on the expansive One Acre Ranch, the spinach has been growing fast, and I’ve been harvesting it quickly, too, trying to suppress any urges it may have to bolt to seed.

Also, at least one of the fig trees has decided it’s OK to start setting fruit. This doesn’t mean spring officially has arrive early, however. Figs and other fruit trees are easily and often fooled by an early warm spell.

This year, I hope they’re right.

Not Only Is Fast Food Bad For Your Health…

When 'drive-through' becomes a whole new concept...It can be dangerously addictive!

Hamster Wheel ‘Round The Sun, Part LIX

After the year’s first sweet garden sweat I swig a beer and watch the new plants undulate in the breeze, the moment connecting me somehow to my grandpa maybe 45 years ago in Cleveland, before he escaped back to his Florida homeland, tending his tiny, immaculate plot next to the garage – were they plum tomatoes? – small plants with short stakes, Still Life With Shoveleach set precisely (3 feet?) apart from the others, in all directions, ready to grow their way past grandma’s ice chest, down the stairs to the basement pantry with the canned sauerkraut and applesauce and beans and something to do with those little purple plums. And my late brother (a real misnomer since in fact he died so early) never forgotten and especially now, at planting time, he’d be on the lookout for something new to grow that couldn’t be grown, in a way that’d never been attempted, spurred on by something cheap negotiated on the spur of some moment like the contractor cleaning up the lake, with all those trailers full of seaweed and so little time, fertilizer extraordinaire delivered free to the garden gate. That pulling sensation, smack in the middle of the old DNA, right Uncle Casper? completing the ceremony again, magic plants impaled in the prescribed manner, deep in Earth and blessed in the traditional way, stoking the manna engine in return for nothing but a little sweat and maybe a young apprentice or two, and the promise to make another go of it if blessed with another season’s worth of Time.

Rolling The Dice

This is gambling time in the garden, when your tomato plants are like poker chips, and you have to decide whether (and if so, how many) to bet that you can plant them safely in the ground now, or whether a late spring freeze will sweep in from the north and strike them dead.

I wouldn’t be inclined to gamble at all if I lived a few hundred miles north. Up in central Arkansas, for instance, the summer heat is less intense, and you can expect at least several weeks (beyond what we get down here at the Texas Gulf) of weather below 90 degrees. That’s the temperature at which many varieties of tomatoes begin to complain and stop setting fruit.Yum!

So you gamble in the Gulf in order to get as many tomatoes to fruit as possible, between the start of spring and the time when too much heat will bring a close to the early growing season.

In the last couple of seasons, we’ve had frosts or freezes in mid-March and even later. But this is a good year for me to gamble. First, both the short and long-term forecasts call for warmer-than average temperatures. Second, I have at least twice as many tomato plants growing as I have space for around the grounds. So even if I plant half of them in the ground and lose ’em to a late freeze, I’ll keep the rest containerized and inside over any cold weather – and thus be able to cover my losses.

It seems almost crazy to me to start them in the ground this early – the earliest I’ve done in the past was Feb. 28 – but while our current La Niña conditions are supposed to be keeping the Pacific Northwest and the upper western states colder than usual this winter, the weather service geeks predict the same conditions will cause more rapid warming from Arizona to Texas to Florida. We’ll probably get less water than usual, too, but that’s another story.

Given all of the above, I’ll be looking for a 7, 11 or doubles by about this time tomorrow.

One Man’s Trash…

Is another man’s swimming pool. If the other man is a couple of green tree frogs.Move along, paparazzi, nothing to see here.

These guys were incensed when the big clumsoid human started snipping freeze-dried leaves off of a whithered red banana plant, cutting closer and closer to the ground until he finally pulled the privacy curtain back from their hot tub and slashed it off forever. The dork.

Their pool exists in the space between the turgid leaf stem and the big, fat banana stalk. There are two or three other banana hot tubs around the outside of the plant, but this is the best one. Or was, before Dufus Scissorhands lopped off the roof.

Goodby to the Pomegranates

Update: It turns out some of the assumptions on which I based this months-old post were, as assumptions are wont to do, false. Thanks to Ed Laivo whose comments below shed much-welcome light on pomegranate naming conventions and the like.

I didn’t enjoy sawing down the two pomegranate tree/bushes and then digging up their roots, because they were lovely in the spring. However, thanks to bad marketing on the part of the wholesale nursery trade and one of their local retail customers, these turned out to be trees with poor fruits, so out they went. Life is too short to grow insipid pomegranates.

As best I can discern, California’s Dave Wilson Nursery, one of the biggest wholesalers of pomegranate trees, decided a few years ago that the real names of pomegranate varieties weren’t splashy enough for marketing purposes. So they changed all the names. We had read that a variety originally named Parfianka had won some major taste-tests, and had other desirable qualities we wanted in a fruit tree. We had also read that the Wilson nursery had renamed this tree “Garnet Sash” (splashy, huh?). So three years ago or so, we bought two “Garnet Sash” trees from a local retail nursery that has not since become one of our favorites. The labels on the trees show they came from Dave Wilson.

Here is a representative description of Parfianka, the likes of which you will find on various retail nursery web sites:

Large size Red fruit is sweet with a hint of acidity. Arils are red with very small edible seeds. Vigorous upright plant sets a heavy crop dependably. Maintain at any height with summer pruning. Always receives the highest praise for overall flavor. Great for juice or fresh eating.

Here is my description of the fruit we got from our trees over the past two years:

Small to medium fruit is green with a hint of pink when ripe. Arils are white with large, bitter seeds. Vigorous upright plants set a lot of flowers, a few of which become fruit. Overall flavor is insipid, with bitter overtones. Lousy for fresh eating and not very juicy.

Thus, it appears to me that whatever the retailers are selling as “Garnet Sash,” it is not Parfianka. It isn’t even a red variety, although when you create a marketing name containing the word “garnet,” the public (at least the percentage of the public familiar with the word “garnet”) is going to be expecting a red variety.

Bottom line: The wholesale nursery industry is capable of using marketing to shoot itself in the foot instead of increasing sales through the promotion of great plants.

Next time I go pomegranate shopping (if I go again) I may have to get a USDA license and import them from overseas in order to assured of getting what I paid for. Sheesh.

Between Seasons on the One Acre Ranch

Click the little ones to see the big ones…
Bananas frozen in time


Spinach stretches in the early spring sun


These brown nubs will turn into golden loquat fruit in a couple of months


Snowdrops are the only kind of snow we see with regularity


Tomato plants harden off in garden paths shielding them from the wind


What chimineas are really for most of the year...