As I woke this morning, I heard the unmistakable sound of raindrops hitting the skylight above my bed. I sat up and glanced outside. It was still dark. I couldn’t see, but I still breathed a sigh of sweet relief.
Rain was falling on Oklahoma’s dry and dusty plains. The prognosticators predicted rain all week, but it’s August 1 and high summer. Not a time for 68° and cloudy skies, let alone, sweet, sweet rain.
It rained all morning, and while I forgot to look at my rain gauge when I went outdoors and took pictures, I saw evidence of a slow and gentle outpouring everywhere. The phlox bowed their heavy heads in thankfulness for rain falling from the sky.
In Oklahoma, we never take rain for granted. Never. My part of the state had received no measurable rain since the beginning of June. We’ve had temperatures of over 100° for several days although nothing like in 2011.
Sunflower ‘Crimson Blaze’ changed throughout spring and summer.
‘Crimson Glory’ sunflowers at the end of their time in the sun.
Still, I was feeling a bit bedraggled not unlike the ‘Crimson Glory’ sunflowers in the cutting garden. Now, everything is shining and new all because of rain.
Elusive garden symmetry. I am always trying to make the garden have balance and symmetry, but rarely does it work perfectly. Maybe there’s a lesson in that.
Folly (shed) as seen from the back garden after the rain.
Red crapemyrtle and Leucanthemum × superbum ‘Becky’ shasta daisies
Eutrochium dubium ‘Little Joe’ Joe pye weed.
Whenever we have a cool and rainy day, I also can’t help but think of the short story by one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, “All Summer in a Day.” If you haven’t read it, you should. I’m not going to link to it anywhere because most just give a synopsis of the story. Instead, you need to read it for yourselves. It’s quite claustrophobic, but rain in Oklahoma happens so seldom in summer, we get all the summer days we ever want and then some.
Rainy days and Mondays may get you down, but I’ll take a rainy Tuesday, any day.
Tomato season is in high gear at Little Cedar. You know we’re calling our property Little Cedar, right? That’s because my sister-in-law, Maria, said our garden reminded her of Big Cedar Lodge when she visited us in spring, and she dubbed our garden “Little Cedar.” We loved the name so much it stuck. In fact, Bill had a sign made for my little she shed out back.
Inside is a potting bench and a cafe table and chairs. It’s also painted lavender.
My little she shed. I love it so much.
Sign for my little she shed and garden. I don’t know why Bill didn’t put his name on it too. He may not garden, but he certainly helps build things.
We go to Big Cedar almost every year so this name means a lot to us.
But, back to tomato season in my Oklahoma hills, and what a tomato season it is.
I spoke to the Tulsa Perennial Club on vegetable gardening the day before yesterday so I’ve been taking a few photos here and there with my iPhone while I’ve been out working. Vegetable gardens are unforgiving this time of year. If you don’t go out every single day, they expire from hot weather–we’ve been over 100F lately–or the squash bugs arrive without warning and kill your squash plants in a day. Use diatomaceous earth on squash bugs nymphs, but be careful not to get it on blossoms. You don’t want to kill your pollinators. If anyone has any other great organic squash bug killing advice, other than squishing them–I do–please let me know. I told my Tulsa friends that I didn’t have any, but they arrived that night.
You can plant tomatoes now and reap a harvest in September before sunlight lessens. Just be sure to keep everything well watered. We’re having some terribly hot temperatures this week in the 100s°F. When the temperatures soar above 100°F, tomato blossoms just fall off.
Try not to worry. Just keep your plants healthy and water because temperatures will lessen, and you should have time to grow and ripen more fruit. Speaking of ripening, I usually harvest my tomatoes just when they start to turn like the photo below. I know articles tell you to wait, but if I wait, the stink bugs will suck them dry and cause sores on the skin which is just gross. I bring partially ripened tomatoes inside and finish them on my kitchen counter. They still taste delicious and don’t even need the sunshine to ripen. I also don’t refrigerate tomatoes until I must because they don’t taste as good and quit ripening. Any tomato you grow at home tastes 100 times better than one bought in the store.
I started a bunch of seeds in the greenhouse last February, and while I didn’t have time to write about it on the blog, the tomatoes didn’t know. They grew just fine.
My transplants never look as big and bulky as those you buy at the nursery or box store, but they quickly catch up. After transplanting in late April or early May, I watched my plants grow all spring and worried over them. We had very cool temperatures and loads of rain. I planted some tomatoes in the potager in new spots–crop rotation to repel root-knot nematodes–and after the raised beds were built, I planted more out there.
The raised beds looking from the Kitchen door. Tomatoes are planted in front. I’ll rotate them to the back where the sunflowers are next year.
Raised beds as seen from the street.
Zinnias and sunflowers in the raised beds
The good folks at Burpee Plants/Burpee Home Gardens sent me several tomatoes and peppers to try. I really appreciate the markers they sent with the plants, along with a very helpful laminated card. Vegetable and flower companies who send out trial plants don’t realize how easy it is to lose tags in the middle of spring planting season. If you receive plants from several companies to trial, as I do, you may not be able to identify the plant later on. I so appreciate Burpee’s extra step. All of the plants showed up super healthy and not stressed for which I was thankful. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with the plants they sent me.
Laminated Instruction sheet from Burpee Seeds and Plants. This came with their test plants this year, and I’m so glad. It made things so much easier and didn’t disintegrate in the box from water. Other instructions sheets sometimes do.
UPDATE: AAS winner ‘Mad Hatter.’
Take Two Blockbuster tomato from Burpee. It is supposed to be two plants grafted together I think–a beefsteak and a cherry-type tomato–but I believe the beefsteak type was the piece that broke off in an early-spring storm.
‘Gladiator’ tomato, one of the test plants sent by Burpee. The fruits are huge by paste tomato standards. I love this one. I’m just starting to get ripened fruit. It is resistant to blossom end rot. So far, it is extremely prolific.
Oh Happy Day tomato has heart-shaped fruit. It is extremely disease resistant.
When I start seeds, I always choose unique varieties. Then, I run up to my local nurseries and buy my standard favorites like ‘Supersteak,’ ‘Big Beef,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Rutgers,’ ‘Beefmaster,’ ‘Super Sioux’ and ‘Whopper.’ I may not grow all of these in a particular year. It depends on what I find locally. The ones I start from seed will almost always be weird like ‘Artisan Pink Tiger.’ This elongated cherry tomato has a very complicated taste and such thin skin it is easily bruised. These are the vegetables I like to grow at home, the ones grocery stores don’t carry because of shipping considerations.
It’s been a great tomato season so far. One step I made sure to complete was to ferilize the tomatoes again when they started to bloom. In other words, I fertilized their planting holes when I transplanted them and mulched them heavily to stop dirt and diseases from splashing up on the leaves. Then, when they started to bloom about five weeks later, I fertilized them around the drip line with an organic fertilizer like Jobe’s Organics All Purpose fertilizer. If you’d rather, you can buy Jobe’s Organics Vegetable & Tomato Fertilizer, but I just use the all-purpose one everywhere. I don’t have time to mess with all these distinctions. For my Tulsa friends, this is the fertilizer I was talking about the other night.
I also tied everyone up nice and neat and braced my tomato cages with rebar. It’s how I like to do it. I could build more extensive cages, but I haven’t so far. I like the colored cages, and so many of the determinate and patio type tomatoes do just fine in these as long as I tuck in their canes as they grow. The rest I tie up as needed.
I think that’s all I have this Saturday. How is your tomato season going?