Tag Archives: WildWest Commmunity Garden

Additional thoughts from Cheryl Nichols

Cheryl has continued to visit our gardens at the Y with her friends Arlene and Terry and has observed that almost all of  our gardens are very thirsty.  As she pointed out, the primary ingredient of  most vegetables is water and most plants need at least 1 – 2 inches of water per week.  It’s best to soak them thoroughly.  Sometimes that means watering the soil around a plant for a minute, moving to the next, then repeating the cycle until the bed is thoroughly soaked.

Cheryl also noticed one statement in my blog about her talk that wasn’t correct.  I should have said that she found the White Queen tomato variety  to be interesting, but not that it was a favorite.  She probably won’t grow it again next year because it’s lycopene content is low due to its light color.    She mentioned a Harvard study  on Saturday that discussed the health benefits of lycopene and that pointed out that the highest values of lycopene are in the darkest red tomatoes.

She suggested a fall talk on soil preparation.  What do you all think?  I personally think it would be great.  From talking to many of you at the gardens, it seems most of us did very little to amend our beds.  While I knew it was important, I was so eager to get started that I added very little to my soil.  Amending the soil over the winter is a typical task for fall gardening and action from which  I think most of our  beds would greatly benefit.

A Distraction from the Heat

So everyone knows that we’re in the midst of a heat wave.  We’re awakened in the morning by the radio announcer stating the current time, while simultaneously  telling us to expect temps  near 100 before the day is over.    A glance at the window reveals condensation, the tell-tale sign of high humidity which we all know makes the temperature even more unbearable.  While I can’t change the weather,  I hope to distract you by sharing images  shot in the past week of plants and insects that are thriving.   Some were made at the WildWest Community Garden at the Wildwood YMCA.  The remaining images were shot at our home, with the exception of the “wall of water” which is featured below.

Images copyrighted by Dancing Woman Designs

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Watching the bees and butterflies busy at work insuring that our plants are pollinated made me realize that  we are blessed on many levels.  We are blessed to have nature working hard to produce fruit and seed so that we may eat.  Beyond being grateful for the activities of bees, butterflies, birds,bats,  and other pollinators, I’m reminded of other aspects of life that we often fail to fully appreciate.   Here’s a short list of what our current weather reminds me that I’m thankful for:

Farmers and all who work without air conditioning 

First and foremost on my short list of things to be thankful for during our “excessive heat wave” are farmers and the many other workers who toil outside in the weather, regardless of the temperature.  The produce we enjoy from local growers  like that offered at Ellisville Farmers Market and Wildwood Farmers Market   is possible because lots of people work in spite of the muggy hot days.  You know, those days when it seems the air is so thick and so still that a spoon could stand upright on its own, given an opportunity.   I have 3 community garden plots and some plants on our deck that I confess I have chosen to ignore on more than one day because it is too hot or I have something else I’d rather do.  I don’t think the people who chose farming as a way of life have that choice.  Where would we all be if someone didn’t accept the challenge and endure the heat?  I have loved gardening for years, but when I started trying to grow vegetables this year, I quickly realized that what I really love is gardening in the shade.  If you think about it, you know how incompatible shade gardening is with raising vegetables.  So if you’re sun averse as I am, you can vegetable garden at dusk or dawn, but the challenge is to figure out how to get everything done within those narrow windows of time.

Air conditioning

I grew up in Texas without A/C until I was  almost an adult.  We didn’t have it in our homes or our schools, and it was an expensive option in automobiles.   At the time, girls were required to wear dresses to school and the style  included full skirts which were supported by a petticoat.  It was unbelievably hot. Paper fans were de rigeuer, as open windows provided the only breeze.  When it’s 95 degrees or more, “breezes”  are nonexistent.  In high school one wing of the building had A/C so all the English classes were held there.  The theory was every one was required to take an English class so every student would have at least one class a day in an air conditioned room.  So I’m grateful for air conditioning and consider it a luxury although most of us have come to expect it as a necessity.

Potable and plentiful water

An interesting side development occurred while I was writing this blog.  I hoped to add some water images to elicit sensations of coolness.  I set out Wednesday evening to capture the fountains at Fountain Plaza in Ellisville.  I arrived around 8 pm, armed with my Canon Rebel XT digital camera with a Canon EFS 17-85 mm lens.  I intended to capture the water flowing down the stone walls and bubbling from the top.   I parked across the drive near the wall just south of Lifetime Fitness; put my Android phone in one pocket, my keys in the other and locked the car.  I walked across the dry grass and was thankful when I realized that there was a grassy strip in front of the fountains which would allow me to shoot without worrying too much about cars coming and going on the drive.  I shot two images and realized that I needed to change my angle to better frame the water bubbling from the top.  I took one step onto the foot wide ledge that sets slightly off the ground.  I instantly started sliding wildly.  My first thought was, oh well, I’m going to get my feet wet.  The next thing I know, I’m falling backwards into the narrow trough between the wall and the ledge.  As I had my camera in my right hand, I reached frantically for the sky, hoping to keep it out of the water.  The last thing I remember  as I slipped completely beneath the water’s surface was tossing the camera as far as I could onto the grass.  I hit my head on the wall, but thankfully not hard enough to lose consciousness.  It took me a few seconds to right myself as the bottom of the trough was also slick.   My first concern was for my camera; I had completely forgotten about my smart phone in my pocket.  I dragged myself out of the fountain which I swear is nearly four feet deep.  Guess I’ll have to go measure it just so I’ll know. I found a canvas shopping bag in my car and dried the water spots from the camera and realized that it was still powered on and seemed to be functioning.  With my vision impaired by dripping eyeglasses, I tried to evaluate the  condition of the lens.  I tried turning the zoom barrel and  concluded that I had separated it from the main lens body.  Not good.  That’s when I remembered my phone, still in my left pocket.  I pulled it out and realized there was water under the screen.  I kept remembering the time I dropped a cell phone into a glass of water and was able to save the phone by drying it with compressed air.  I covered the driver’s seat with another cloth shopping bag, loaded my soggy self and my phone and camera into the car.  When I arrived home,  my son said that I looked like a drowned rat.  I’m afraid that was a pretty accurate description.    I tried drying the phone with compressed air and got most of the water out, but it is a loss.

While I felt much cooler after my dip in the fountain, I don’t recommend it.   Public pools in Ballwin or Ellisville would be a lot more fun.  Ballwin has the outdoor pool at North Pointe and an indoor pool at The Pointe, while Ellisville has The Edge Aquatic Center in Bluebird Park.  Just remember to put your electronics safely away first.

While at the Ellisville Farmers Market on Thursday, I was reminded again to be thankful for water.  George Sackett made the rounds with pitchers of iced water, making sure that everyone stayed hydrated.  I stayed a couple of hours, visiting with friends.  When I came home you can bet I was grateful for a cool shower.  I washed a couple of loads of laundry today.  I have to confess, I didn’t think anything about the water used to do that.  It’s amazing how easy it is to take clean and plentiful water for granted. We just turn the faucet, and clean water magically appears.   As Ben Franklin wrote in 1746, in Poor Richards Almanack, ” When the Well’s dry, we know the Worth of Water.”  With drought stricken states all around, parts of the U. S. are getting a hint of what it’s like in so many other countries of the world.  The University of Nebraska at Lincoln Drought Impact Report  for the last 6 months reveals that roughly 70% of the states have been impacted by drought in the past 6 months.  I’m sure you’re all familiar with George Hutchings, fondly known as The Shoe Man.  George is intimately familiar with the impact on life due to water scarcity.  George is a Ballwin resident who works tirelessly collecting shoes for the resale market,using the proceeds to pay for water drilling expeditions to places like Kenya.  If you haven’t met George, visit his website and learn about his work.   He is indeed an amazing man!

I’m sure each of you finds relief from the heat in your own way.  I’d love to hear what keeps you cool when it’s 100 degrees outside.  What are you thankful for during a heat wave?

Cooler full of veggies

It’s been about a week since  I visited my 3 community garden beds, bringing along a cooler for the veggies I picked.  My plot at WildWest Community Garden had a few onions ready to pull, a couple of peppers and two handfuls of basil.  ( I have since learned you should never pull onions, but rather dig them in order to prevent damage to the plant).

From there I went to the church gardens and harvested a bunch of chard, kale, more onions, a couple of carrots and a couple of small stalks of broccoli.  The cooler was full so I decided I’d come back another day to cut more chard and dig more onions.  As it turned out, I kept putting off cooking the chard and eventually had to throw it out which made me feel badly.

6-27-11 Water from just a couple days of rain

I also harvested more basil from my plant on the deck that has produced the largest, most amazing leaves.  I made another 1 cup batch of pesto with these leaves.  I also picked a few tiny, grape sized tomatoes.  My son and I discovered that the tub intended for sweet potato plants and that had been empty, was bulging with water from a couple days of rain.  I took the opportunity to make a few images of the potato blossom and the potato and tomato plants in containers on the deck.  The tomato plants on the deck look much better than the ones in my plot at the WildWest Community Garden.  I really think the biggest difference is the soil.  The plants in containers are in Miracle Gro Organic gardening soil and/or potting soil.

6-27-11 12 Kibets Ukrainian and one brandywine tomato lost to blossom end rot

I also removed 13 tomatoes, 12 from the Kibets Ukrainian plant.  All suffered from blossom end rot.  Unfortunately I don’t know whether I amended the soil with crushed egg shells as I had intended.  This is supposed to supply calcium.  The day I transplanted most of the tomatoes was so hectic that I forgot the egg shells when planting some of them.  Our abundant rain could also be the cause of the rot rather than a calcium deficiency. Guess it will remain a mystery.

On the one hand, the amount of food I have harvested so far is a rather disappointing amount considering the effort involved.  On the other hand, I also realize that a lot of the work was due to the fact that 2 of the 3 gardens were built from scratch.  Since it’s my first year to garden vegetables,  I’m definitely on the steep part of the learning curve.   I do feel like I’ve learned a lot. The most important knowledge I have acquired is that  I have so much more to discover.   Lessons learned will be another post.

Jodi’s Inspiration for Our Community Garden

After the Saturday lunch and learn, several attendees were touring the gardens, admiring all the lush growth and the biggest zucchini and summer squash I have ever seen!  Apparently John has been on vacation.  Boy will he be surprised when he sees his squash plants!

6-18-11 Benches with flagstones

6-18-11 Benches with flagstones

I was admiring the flagstones that Michael has placed in front of the two benches and Jodi shared a personal story with me. One of the graceful concrete benches is dedicated to the memory of her brother who died suddenly a couple of years ago.  The last thing they had done together was to plant a garden in Houston and the first thing she saw when she returned to Houston was a big bowl of tomatoes from the garden.  She was inspired by their gardening experiences together to dream of building a community garden at the YMCA in Wildwood.   I am thankful that Jodi directed her grief over the loss of her brother to dreaming big – creating and inspiring others to come together for this shared purpose.   We have all benefited from Jodi’s enthusiasm and we can celebrate Jodi’s love for her brother by experiencing our connections to gardening, our friends and families.  Thank you Jodi!

Slideshow, 6-18-11 Garden (Click to Enlarge)

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Fun “Lunch and Learn” at WildWest Community Garden

Saturday morning, 20+  gardeners gathered under the tent adjacent to the WildWest Community Garden to hear Eric Lober of Sunny Creek Farm, Villa Ridge, MO.

Eric Lober, Sunny Creek Farm, speaking with WildWest Community Gardeners

Eric Lober, Sunny Creek Farm

Unseasonably cool temperatures had several attendees wishing they had brought light jackets.  Eric talked about Sunny Creek Farm and how he and Kathy  began farming five years ago after completing a Farm Beginnings class (now known as Grow Your Farm) offered by University of Missouri.    They lease 174 acres, with about 2 1/2 acres planted in produce.  Their current focus is on raising animals – cows and chickens – for processing into meats.  They raise grass fed beef which is inspected by Swiss Meats and pasture raised chickens which are processed, inspected and immediately frozen as whole birds at a facility in Loose Creek, MO.  They sell meats and some produce to  St. Louis restaurants, attend the Wildwood Farmers Market on Saturdays, and provide  CSA(Community Supported Agriculture)  subscribers with shares of produce and meats during the season.  They also market pork raised by Todd Geisert, Washington, MO.  When asked what time they got out of bed Saturday morning, Eric replied, “5 am”, which drew laughter from the audience.

They have worked hard to re-balance the soil on their leased land.  It had been used for years to grow hay which depleted the soil’s nutrients.  Eric recommended Midwest Laboratories for thorough soil testing.  It costs about $35 per sample excluding shipping costs.  He talked about the importance of micro-nutrients in the soil and the fact that a simple NPK soil analysis doesn’t include enough information to accurately select amendments.  One of the minerals that they have found necessary to add to their soil is pelletized gypsum.

They will soon harvest potatoes.  They applied Bradfield Organic fertilizers to this year’s crop and are looking forward to seeing improvements in their production.  Several gardeners wanted to know when to harvest potatoes.  Eric said that it is variety dependent, but it is definitely some time after the plant flowers.  Yukon gold potatoes have a short season of about 60 -70 days, but they don’t keep well.   He usually marks 50 – 60 days out from the time he first sees growth after planting.  When that time arrives, he checks a plant to see how the potatoes are doing.  If they are ready, he cuts the tops off before harvesting to let the skin harden.  They have access to a mechanized potato harvester that is owned by Missouri Organic Association ( or Cooperative).  They order potato stock from Potato Gardens in Colorado.

Eric also mentioned that pests are worse in gardens with imbalanced soil.  Questions were asked about what caused eggplant leaves to look like they had been shot,  riddled with tiny holes.  The problem is likely flea beetles and Eric said that it is difficult to treat for them with organic methods.  He and Kathy have tried every organic product on the market and have given up trying to grow plants susceptible to flea beetle invasion. While he thought some of the home remedies for pests might be practical or effective in a small garden, they have found that these methods aren’t practical in a garden the size of theirs.  Regarding blossom drop, particularly with cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers, he recommended Zone liquid calcium foliar spray, available at Morgan County Feed.  He cautioned that when you use foliar spray, you should apply it either early in the morning or late in the evening or the leaves will likely burn in the sun.   He also pointed out that heat and excessive moisture can cause blossom drop.  Eric said that if you have aphids, you probably have too much nitrogen in the soil.

On the subject of extending the growing season, he recommended Eliot Coleman’s book, Four Season Harvest.  An earlier Coleman book,   The Winter Harvest,   is available at the St. Louis County Library.  Methods such as hoop houses and cold frames are discussed in detail in these books.  Black plastic on the soil will also raise soil temperatures.  A hoop house greatly extends the season and allows the gardener to control the water received and protects plants from temperature extremes and wind damage.  There are seeds that can be started in August to plant in September.  He suggested kale and carrots as examples.  They usually start lettuce about 3 weeks before planting.

Miscellaneous thoughts from Eric – he read somewhere that brown or purple green beans germinate in cooler soil vs. the warm soil temperature requirements of the white bean seed.  He and Kathy have grown corn but  it required too much land to meet it’s cross pollination needs, so they no longer plant it.  When asked about a lettuce that would better survive the heat of summer he recommended Summer Crisp Lettuce.  He suggested Route 66 Organics as a source of compost for those who would like to amend their soil.  Route 66 Organics is located in Pacific and the owner frequently comes to the Wildwood Farmers Market on Saturdays.

The event was covered by reporter Jo Beck of the Eureka-Wildwood, MO Patch. Be sure to check out her story on their web page.  Doug Smedley barbequed delicious hamburgers and hot dogs for the lunch that followed Eric’s talk.  Several garden members brought additional pot luck items – brownies, cookies, salads, watermelon and dips.  I’m pretty sure no one left hungry.  Deanna Eguires manned a snow cone machine, offering to make icy treats for any one interested.

Deanna making a snow cone for Bella

Deanna making a snow cone for Bella

Jodi Smedley introduced members of the garden committee who received rounds of applause from the audience for all their hard work in bringing the garden to reality.  We are all so grateful for the hours of planning and organization that occurred leading up to the build day, April 30.  Everyone seems excited and enthusiastic about the efforts that have transformed a field of grass into more than 40 gardens brimming with a variety of beautiful flowers and vegetables in just a couple of months.  What a great example of community working together for a common goal!  Yea, Wildwood YMCA!

 WildWest Community Garden “Lunch & Learn” 

Planting purple Japanese sweet potato slips

I bought 30 purple Japanese sweet potato slips  from Karl Burgart,  Healthy Harvest Gardens,  at the Ellisville Farmers Market on Thursday, planning on getting them in the ground Friday morning.  After looking at my plot at WildWest Community Garden I realized that I  only have room for maybe one plant.  I planted one after adding some of Dana’s coffee grounds and some soil   left from “build” day.  Most references say that soil for sweet potatoes needs some extra preparation and that they like acidic soil.  Since I didn’t take any of those extra steps, I’ll be lucky to get many sweet potatoes, but I figure you have to start somewhere.  I left most of the potato slips there, hoping some of the other gardeners will try them too.  Karl said that they are supposed to be great “keepers”, which means they can store well after harvest.  Last year I learned another interesting fact about sweet potatoes: they need to be “cured” to improve their flavor.

I took the opportunity to record the progress of the squash and cucumber plants that I planted from sprouted seeds 6/4/11.  I thought I might be able to plant 2 or 3 slips at the church garden and drove there in spite of what appeared to be a developing thunder storm in the northwest.  After arriving, I unloaded my tools and the potato slips and surveyed the two plots there.  I noticed wild sweet potatoes, or perhaps they are just morning glories, along the path.

close up, sweet potato or morning glory?

close up, sweet potato or morning glory?

It’s fascinating to me that some plants are related – who would have thought that the sweet potato was in the same family as the common morning glory?  And until I planted radishes this year, I would never have thought about a radish making flowers.

Delicate pink flower on one nonproductive radish

Delicate pink flower on one nonproductive radish

Obviously the seeds come from somewhere; you would think I would have connected the dots.  And did the few that flowered in my garden do so because they were too crowded and the plant somehow decided that it should go to seed if the root wasn’t going to grow?  Or did it flower just because it had been in the ground a certain number of days?  Another mystery of gardening – if you know the answer, please share it with me.

I managed to get one slip planted in the south bed before I decided that I really shouldn’t be out in a field with thunder rumbling in the distance and foreboding skies closing in.  I hurriedly packed up and will just have to make it another day.  Leaving was a wise decision; the storm passed through the area about 30 minutes later.  We had more storms early this morning and are apparently in another cycle of unstable weather.

6-17-11 NW skies that prompted me to pack up and come home

6-17-11 NW skies that prompted me to pack up and come home

Gallery of Images, 6-17-11 WildWest Community Garden  & LW Church Garden (click on images to enlarge)

Presto it’s pesto!

Of course making pesto isn’t quite that fast, especially when it’s the first time in awhile.  After a conversation about pesto with my neighbor  at the community garden this morning, I was inspired to make a batch.  Well, actually two batches.  I had a colander full of a variety of basil with some of the largest leaves cut from a plant that I saved from a pot of basil microgreens.

 Harvested Basil, Freshly made Pesto, and Basil Flowers

I followed a basic recipe, Classic Basil Pesto from Pestos! by Dorothy Rankin.  The recipe ingredients include basil, garlic cloves, grated Parmesan and Romano, pine nuts or walnuts and lots of olive oil.  I removed the stems and used a salad spinner to dry the washed leaves.  I added the juice of a lemon and I wasn’t too precise with my measurements when adding the basil or the cheeses.  I used equal quantities of  ParmigianoReggiano  and Stella Romano.   Rankin suggests Romano Pecorino and calls for more Parmesan than Romano because the Romano is sharper.  I didn’t find that to be an issue; maybe because I used a different brand of Romano.   I also used walnuts instead of pine nuts.  When I’ve tried pine nuts in spite of their price I’ve found them to be rancid, so I don’t buy them.  I have been told you can get tasty pine nuts at Di Gregorios Italian Market on The Hill in St. Louis but I haven’t been down there in awhile.   In my view the olive oil is a critical ingredient so I used 1/2 cup of Olea Estates oil.  This fabulous oil is available from Karl Burgart, Healthy Harvest Gardens.  He is a regular at the Ellisville Farmers Market.  I’m hoping he’ll have his shipment of Greek olives at the market tomorrow.  I’d love to include some with the pesto, maybe a fresh vegetable or two from the market and some nice pasta.  Hopefully I’ll remember to capture the dish and post after dinner tomorrow night!

Transitioning from spring to summer crops

The Latest Harvest, 6/10/11

Reflecting upon the last 2 months since I started my first community garden at the church, I thought it might be a good time to take stock of my progress.  I have had several bunches of radishes and Swiss chard from the church gardens I started at the end of March.  While I had some beautiful broccoli transplants started from seed, I have only gotten a couple of very small stems and actually had to throw one away last night because it had turned yellow in the refrigerator.  I had a reasonable harvest of small onions.  By the time the spinach was ready  to harvest, it had gone to seed.  I can definitely say that there’s no way we could have survived on the small quantity of food that I have raised.  However, I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.  I have realized that perhaps the square foot approach isn’t the best for our needs; perhaps short rows would work better.  I also think the spacing between my plants is too close.  I’m still holding out hope that I’ll have a reasonable harvest of beans, potatoes and tomatoes.  We’ll see.  I am glad that I have the farmers markets to fall back on and that I’m not depending on the production of my vegetable beds to feed us.  I’m afraid we would be pretty hungry about now.  I did have a conversation with Pat at the Ellisville Farmers Market who mentioned that since she no longer has a half acre garden, she buys produce, usually at  Theis Farm, and cans it.  I guess I can do that as a last resort.   And there’s always the option of visiting a “u pick it” farm.  Sounds like a field trip in the making and subject for another post.

WildWest Community Garden looking fabulous!

Plot 36, Love the colors of the lizard and the marigolds!

Plot 36, Love the colors of the lizard and the marigolds!

Over the weekend, I planted some squash and cucumber seeds at the garden.  While I was there, I decided to shoot more images of various plots, just to show the fabulous progress, the variety of plant varieties and styles of gardening.  I only had my small camera with me and wasn’t really satisfied with some of the images when I returned home and began to edit them.  So, after showering, I decided to go back by the garden  before heading to the grocery store and re-shoot a few of the images.   I have a habit of putting my wedding ring and other ring in my pants pockets while around the house, and slipping them on as I leave the house.  However, this time, since my hands were dry and I planned to put on lotion, I left them in my pocket when I left the house.    I arrived at the garden and re-shot a few images.  When I got back in the car, I went to put on my rings and realized that I didn’t have my wedding band.  I spent about 15 minutes attempting to re-trace my steps, which was a challenge since I had roamed the garden, in particular trying to re-shoot a strawberry.  I searched the grass in multiple locations where I remembered kneeling and gave up the hunt, thinking perhaps I didn’t really have it in my pocket but had dropped it at home.  I went on to the grocery store, and then searched at home, to no avail.  My husband, son and I went back to the garden and searched for about 30 minutes before dinner with no luck.  I remembered a friend who owns 2 metal detectors and made arrangements to borrow them on Sunday.  Sunday afternoon I picked up both detectors and spent about 1 1/2 hours searching by myself, again with no luck.  I returned home, hot and sweaty, and ready for lunch around 2 pm.  My son agreed to go back to the garden with me when it had cooled off some.  We did an experiment with my other ring, safely tied to a long piece of red yarn and hidden in the grass, to figure out how the detector might sound when it passed over the ring.  Frankly, it wasn’t too encouraging as we couldn’t really get consistent results.   However, we went back to the gardens around 5:15 pm.  Imagine my excitement when around 5:45, my son came to me with a grin on his face and the ring in his hand!  He found it on the main path inside the east gate.  I was thrilled and we were happy to celebrate with dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, Wild Horse Grill.

Gallery of Images from Saturday and Sunday, June 4 & 5,

WildWest Community Garden

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That’s the good news and you can bet I won’t be walking around, kneeling down, with my rings in my pocket.  That was a close call.  Coincidentally, a couple of years ago my son lost his high school ring by leaving it on the bumper of his truck.  All he remembered was putting it there and later driving off.  We live on a steep and narrow private road, with lots of rocks, leaves and bushes on either side of the road.  He was sure it was gone forever.  I offered to walk our road and look for it, rationalizing that it would have likely fallen off before he made it to the main road.  Of course because it’s downhill, it could also have rolled a long way after falling.  I began my search, looking at all the leaves and vegetation along the road, thinking if it landed there, we would never find it.  I was about 2/3 of the way down the road when I spotted the ring about 2 feet from the road’s edge.  He was thrilled.  I told him Sunday, now we’re even.  Amazing that we found one another’s rings, lost in seemingly hopeless conditions.

I was searching online for information about climates in various states and how they are changing.  This is an interesting article on the many ways climate change affects biodiversity.  After 5 years in Missouri, all I can say is our weather is definitely nothing if not unpredictable.  I always thought Texas weather was wild and crazy, but it seems worse here.  It’s certainly had an impact on my nascent veggie gardening, in particular with my tomato plants.  I’m embarrassed by my sickly tomato plants, especially when compared to their neighbors.  I have plot 17 which is adjacent to Plot 3 (Arlene and Terry) and Plot 4 (Chrissie).  Everything in their gardens looks so healthy and the tomato plants are strong, covered with blossoms and/or fruits beginning to ripen.  It’s frustrating because one of the things I wanted to accomplish this year was to grow heirloom tomatoes from seed.  I ordered several varieties, most with a Ukranian heritage from Amishland Heirloom Seed.  I accept total responsibility for the poor health of my tomato plants as the seeds I purchased performed beautifully.  Following the recommendations of Lisa von Saunder, owner of Amishland, I soaked my seeds and started them, along with some I had saved from farmers market tomatoes purchased in 2007.  My husband built a warming box and a light stand with 2 fluorescent shop lights.  I planted the seeds in sterile organic potting soil once they sprouted and began the nurturing process.  I misted the seeds and kept them covered with a clear plastic lid to create a warm greenhouse effect in our 60 degree basement.  I was so excited when I had an almost 100% germination rate.

Kibits Ukranian tomato seedling, 3/13/11

Kibits Ukranian tomato seedling, 3/13/11

Each night I would turn out the lights and mist the seedlings.  As they grew, I transplanted from the small peat pots, to yogurt cups, then to plastic beverage cups, then to even larger containers.  I misted the foliage with Espoma’s Gro-Tone.   I frantically struggled to keep up with their growth.

5-5-11 Seedlings growing in basement - basil, tomatoes, broccoli

5-5-11 Seedlings growing in basement - basil, tomatoes, broccoli

Soon the table was covered with green, but the weather was not cooperating.  I gave away probably 15 Brandywine transplants in March or April.  I tried on several occasions to harden off the plants, but was continually hampered by cold and windy weather.  When I heard about the formation of the YMCA garden, I was excited to be able to participate.  I finally planted 7 tomato plants on May 6, before we had completed a trellis for them. I still hadn’t been able to harden them off, but we were leaving May 12, returning May 16 and I wanted to get them planted.   It was extremely windy that day and I thought I could stake them minimally and they would be OK until we installed the trellis on May 8.  However, by May 8, they were looking rather puny.  The weather was warm and windy, then it turned cold again while we were gone.  The night we returned, the temperature dropped to 37 degrees.   So I should probably say that my “initiation by fire/ice” experiment was  a failure.  I still have transplants at home, waiting for bigger pots or a spot at the garden.  I’m struggling with whether I should pull out some of the plants there and replace with some from home or give them awhile longer.

Even though I lost a lot of time looking for my ring, I’m glad I spent time looking around the garden.

6-5-11 Plot 30, Globe artichoke

6-5-11 Plot 30, Globe artichoke

I had never seen an artichoke plant (Plot  30) before or zucchini growing, (Plot 15).   I think my next trellis will be patterned after the one in Plot 39, Emily and Eric’s garden.  I may also convert part of my “Square Foot” garden to single, short rows as The Garden Society did in Plot 2.    After all, there are no rules in gardening, that’s part of the fun.

Hope springs eternal!

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

-Alexander Pope,
An Essay on Man, Epistle I, 1733

And apparently “hope springs eternal” in the breasts of gardeners.

One of the plants I started back in February from seeds saved in 2007 actually has tiny tomatoes on it.  Never mind that the largest fruit is about the size of a small marble.  They are definitely tomatoes.

6-1-11 Tiny tomatoes

Blossoms on same tomato plant

I’m not sure if it’s called “wild” or “wine” but I do remember  that the tomatoes were small, juicy, with lots of seeds.  Of all the tomato plants I started this year, this one seems to be the most resilient.   Although I started  about 7 heirloom tomato varieties from seeds, I broke down yesterday and bought an heirloom tomato plant, the Mortgage Lifter.  I love the story behind it’s beginning.  I planted it today between two other heirloom tomato plants at the WildWest Community Garden, at the risk of overcrowding.  I’ve been frustrated by the deterioration in health of the heirloom tomato plants I have planted.  I know it’s due to several  reasons – weather keeping them indoors way past when they were ready to be transplanted; lack of hardening off, intermittent cold/hot/windy/rainy weather once they were transplanted.  Still it’s hard to watch a plant that seemed so healthy seem to be closer to death each time you go to the garden.   I’m now wishing I had supplemented the soil at the garden with a potting soil when I planted the tomatoes.

In addition to the arrival of hot and humid days, we are in the midst of an amazing miracle – the return of 13 year cicadas.  Growing up in Texas, we collected the exoskeletons of the annual variety of these creatures which we mistakenly called locusts.  Apparently many people think that locusts and cicadas are the same insect.    I have been researching the question of whether the shed exoskeleton would make good fertilizer – they seem to be every where right now.  I’ve found some really interesting facts.  Here’s a short time lapse video of a cicada emerging from its exoskeleton.  The process takes over an hour; the video is just a couple of minutes.  It’s amazing to see the cicada emerge and its wings lengthen.  I also learned that there are 15 broods in this species and that cicadas are unique to North America.  The brood appearing now in Missouri is a 13 year brood, know as Brood 19 (XIX) or The Great Southern  Brood.  This brood encompasses all the states enclosed by Georgia, North Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee and Maryland.  These insects somehow miraculously appear from their juvenile state to their adult state to breed, lay eggs and die.

Yesterday I planted another pepper plant, some beautiful nasturtiums, some tiny parsley transplants that I started from seed, Kentucky Wonder pole beans and 3 sad looking sugar snap pea plants, as well as a 6 pack of yellow onions that were so crowded that they may not survive the forced separation necessary to actually plant them.    I harvested a few more greens and a couple of onions and probably the only broccoli I’ll have before it bolts.

6-1-11 onions and greens

6-1-11 broccoli & greens

It’s difficult to be patient and maintain optimism while waiting for plants to grow and produce, so I’m thankful for the appearance of the tiny tomatoes on my plants.  While I’m waiting, I’ll enjoy the Early Girl tomatoes grown in hot houses by our local farmers and appreciate the fruits appearing on other gardener’s plants, like these from the WildWest Community Garden, that I photographed last week.

tomatoes at WW garden, plot #22