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Friday, July 02, 2010

The Edge (Not Really)

Nothing says modern American swain like a Friday night spent in the garden, right?

They write rock and roll songs about guys who spend an hour or two tying and pruning tomatoes and so on, right? Tell you what, I'm living on the edge...of Kansas City.

So Wednesday night I was indecisive about whether to water on Thursday morning. Morning waterings, I'm told, are the only watering a real tomato farmer will commit. It minimizes evaporation you'd get watering in the heat of the day and maximizes the chance for any leaves that get wet to dry out before nightfall.

Wet leaves grow stuff, but not the stuff we want. What we're trying to grow is luscious orbs of red, green, orange and yellow (and combinations thereof) flavor.

What wet leaves grow are various blights, septoria and other stuff I don't want to eat and which can kill the plant.

I'd emailed Worley about whether to water and didn't get an immediate response (he was, predictably gone fishing; his Facebook profile pic is his dog and a half dozen newly killed ducks, and he gardens semi-professionally — which is to say, as far as I can tell, he sets his table almost exclusively with things he grew, caught or killed), I looked around online and found someone who said if the leaves curl up late in the day, that's normal, but if they're still curly in the morning, break out the firehoses.

So I did, but in a very imprecise way because I was running late getting Mo to summer school and my own ass to work.

I spent about twenty minutes aiming the flow from the carbon filter on the end of my hose onto the silver reflective mulch in the three beds.

I got a belated reply from Worley saying the best gauge was to stick a dowel a foot into the soil and see if it comes out like a cake that's done baking. If it does, water. If there's cake on the stick (i.e. damp mud), don't worry about it.

He also said, "Over-watering is way worse than under-watering with the exception of container plants which need daily watering for the most part."

So I don't want to over-water, obviously. It can dilute flavor in the fruit, or like my neighbor with the waterlogged Topsy Turvies, kill the plants. But when I took my dowel to the soil, I found that it was like concrete, and would not permit the entry of a dull instrument like a dowel. And in the break in the SRM created to plant one of my tomatoes, I noticed a long crack about a half inch wide. I stuck the down in the crack and managed to get it down maybe eight inches and it was bone-dry coming out. So I watered again. Thoroughly.

I know, it was evening, but I'm really not a morning person. And, I reasoned, it rains at night and everyone's tomatoes don't just die instantly. So by carefully not getting the leaves wet, I figured I was reasonably safe.

I gave each plant a gallon or so from the watering can, a bit less for the peppers and basil.

Obviously, my plants are getting huge so they haven't been harmed much by my maybe under-watering them a bit. In fact, I may have benefited them by encouraging some extra root growth to dig deep and get some of that 13 inches that fell in early June.

There may be a bit of rain coming this weekend, but even if there isn't, I can confidently forget about watering the gang for another week, I think.

You'll see my hand in some of these pics. I was tying my Kung Pao pepper a second time and noticed a newly formed pepper I didn't realize was there. I held it for a pic and realized that my tomato pics lacked a reference for scale: you can't really see how the Gigant Pelina cluster is a dainty lot and the Kellog's Breakfast seems to aspire to be the next FIFA standard soccer ball.

As far as plant height, a few are as short as four feet (Stupice, Tigerella), and some are easily five and a half feet high (Paul Robeson, Limmony, Kellog's Breakfast).

Another couple weeks, I should have edible fruit from some of these (though not from Tigerella: Mr. Stripey is the lone holdout among my tomatoes to bear blooms but no fruit, still). And by then, I wouldn't be surprised if one or two are taller than me.

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