Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tumbler tomatoes in containers, part 1

Every spring for 4 years now, I've been starting a couple hundred Tumbler tomato plants from seed. I sell most of them at the first Farmer's Market of the season on the May long weekend and some of them stay in my garden to grow on.
I grow them in hanging baskets in my glass greenhouse and in containers outside around my garden....this year, I'm also trying them in the ground in my new hoophouse but that's another story.

Look at these lovely young tomato plants in the seed starting greenhouse in April, waiting to go to their forever homes.

My tumblers are really producing beautiful, delicious red cherry tomatoes these days. They make me think of all the fabulous folks I've sold to who are growing them right now on their decks and patios too...many tell me about how much they love them and how well they're doing but I can't help wondering about the one's who may have encountered problems with their tumblers and don't tell me about it.

This past May, I had the opportunity to lead a gathering/workshop at our Home Hardware's Garden Center...we were talking about growing veggies in containers. Lots of people here on Mayne Island grow food crops in containers for various reasons and tomatoes are a real favourite. Thinking about what ideas to talk about at the workshop helped me to organize some issues that we have when we're gardening in containers.

I like to keep the thought in mind that just like we human-beings, plants mostly need food and water to live a productive life...well, sunshine too!
And because container growing pretty much requires creating a natural environment out of an unnatural situation and because we have extreme water shortages here on Mayne during the hot, dry days of summer....growing food crops in containers in a conscientious and sustainable way can be quite a challenge!

Like most people I know, I water my containers by hand. I've found a system that seems to work really well. I put most of my tumbler tomatoes in hanging pots. The pots are plastic and are fitted into a hanging wire cage that's lined with sphagnum moss...the plastic pot stays moist longer than clay, especially when it's insulated with the moss. When I water them, the water eventually drains through and moistens the moss which helps too. I place another plastic pot that sits in a tray beneath the hanging basket...this year, they're growing cucumbers and as the water drains from the hanging basket, it waters the cucumber pot below. As the cucumber pot drains, the water collects in the tray beneath and as the cucumber pot dries out, the soil absorbs the extra water from the tray...and because cucumbers really hate to dry out, this is ideal for them. Next year, I'm going to try melons! Many things would work tho'...even another tumbler in a pot, under the hanging one.

I think it's essential to set all containers in trays for the summertime because water isn't wasted and the pots stay moist for a longer time.
Another nice thing about this method is that none of the goodness from the complete organic fertilizer and the seaweed tea that I use to feed the tomato plants gets lost and wasted either....more on feeding the tumblers and other container food crops next time....

Saturday, July 24, 2010

fava beans

I can't seem to get enough of fava beans this year. I grew a little bed of them just for us, thinking it would be enough but it wasn't and this morning I took off running to the Farmer's Market to get some more.....yet another delicious and nutritious seasonal garden treat. One of my favourite ways to prepare fava beans is in a simple salady mixture like the one above.....

ingredients: fava beans (planted in late February), tumbler cherry tomatoes (from the hanging baskets in the glass greenhouse), basil (that I'm growing in a low poly-tunnel this year), nasturtium flowers and leaves (that self-sow every year)(and these in yellow is the best, visually, in the bowl or on the plate, I mean) ....all chopped up together and mixed with a little olive oil, lemon juice and feta cheese....and of course, some whole nasturtium flowers and leaves to decorate, sometimes I add garlic....simple, fast, delicious summertime food!

This is my little circle bed of fava beans, red russian kale, purple and white alyssum, and a trailing nasturtium plant, end of May. I think this could look quite nice in an urban front yard. There were 21 plants here and they produced enough beans for 4 meals for 2 people....8 big servings.

I sure hope I remember next year to plant the sweet pea flower "Mary Lou Heard" where I plant my Windsor Broad Beans because it'll look so beautifully purpley with the purple and white alyssum I outline the growing bed with and it goes so well climbing along the branches I stick in the ground to support the bean plants....and the fragrance! The bugs love them and I love being able to cut a few for my house too....

Almost ready to harvest! This year, I planted these....and next year, I'll plant them again. I want to try these next year too because the red flowers sound pretty. I love edibles that are also ornamental!

Oh Oh. This doesn't look good. Fava bean plants are quite susceptible to aphid infestations on their tips and I've read that it's a good idea to pinch the tips off when this begins to happen....but I didn't...and.... started getting really nasty...but luckily, only on 2 of the plants.

So I still got a nice healthy harvest from my little bed of favas.

The beans look so lovely all nestled in their soft cushy pod. First step is to remove them from it...

Each individual bean has a kind of tough and often bitter outer shell that also needs to be removed to finally get to the tender bright green bean inside. Some folks eat them without removing this outer skin but they need to be quite young for that to be tasty. All this bean shelling is quite time-consuming but really worth it, once in a while....

Here they are, after removed from pods, blanched in boiling water for a couple minutes, then ready to easily slip out of their shells...beautiful bright green beans!
I'm really looking forward to growing more next year for us and for my garden customers too.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

crocosmia and parsley

Every summer, I can't wait for the crocosmia to bloom. It must be one of my favourite perennial flowers in the garden. The hummingbirds love it and so do the bees. The bees and other beneficial bugs also love the Italian broad-leaf parsley that I try to let go to flower at the same time as the crocosmia blooms...they look so beautiful together.
Parsley is a biennial plant so it flowers and goes to seed in it's second year. Every year, the seeds drop from the flowers and germinate all around the crocosmia so nowadays, I have to do very little to keep this lovely duo going in this spot. Some of the parsley plants in their first year give us leaves for the kitchen and the ones in their second year give us blooms and eventually some new plants to keep the cycle going.
The self seeded feverfew looks good with them too and is another beneficial garden plant. I so appreciate the no-fuss reliability of this combination.

Crocosmia is a close relative of the gladiola....It's not fussy about soil, I don't feed it much at all (a wee bit of compost), I never need to water it (altho' for Mayne Island, my garden is quite moist) and it over winters reliably here on the coast. It can even become a bit invasive if left alone, but I love it so much, that's ok with me. It grows well in the semi shade near the cherry tree.

It's so fun making flower arrangements with crocosmia 'lucifer' and the parsley blooms....with asiatic lilies: a gorgeous combination!

Add a few grasses, some grape vine, lady's mantle...natural breezy beauty....this was a special order arrangement.

This one was for a weekly colourful.

...and this one's for me! In a tin can on my kitchen table.