About Me
My Photo
Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
View my complete profile

Friday, June 08, 2012

Tomato Garden Follies

At the end of year 6 of the Transplantable Rose blog, what better way to start year 7 than with tomatoes? We like peppers and tomatoes. We like growing them and we like eating them. I even wrote lyrics about the end of Tomato season for a music video called Farewell, Tomato.

After Philo made our small vegetable plot in 2004 we tried different ways to support & protect the plants.  

For a few years we just staked them

Our next phase lasted a few years - a large, strong, painted wooden framework that could support plants, bird netting & shade cloth. We hoped the net could slow down attacks by squirrels & birds.

It’s been fun trying new varieties every year, cramming in 9 or 10 tomato plants and 7 or 8 peppers, watering them by hand while knocking leaf-footed stink bugs into soapy water every day, with the reward of some salad tomatoes and frying peppers.

A post on GardenWeb suggested tying net gift bags over the tomatoes to protect them from the stinkbugs. I was too cheap to buy more than 2 – a good thing since the squirrels chewed off the whole tomato stem & ran away with the bags.

On Tom Spencer’s radio program we heard him mention one gardener who painted wooden balls red & hung them in the garden while the tomatoes were green. The idea was that any critter attacking the fake tomatoes would be convinced that hard, bad tomatoes grew in that garden. We tried it and saw no effect, but at least they’re decorative! 

Recent years broke the weather rules and what worked before no longer held up.  Last summer after every pepper plant in the vegetable garden died, I found a few new plants at a local nursery, put them into containers and those survived. The bird netting kept the birds from taking the tomatoes, but it allowed them to poke their beaks through the spaces to puncture the tomatoes.

The tomato frame filled the entire center of our little plot, making it difficult to get in to weed, prune & tie the plants and even harder to reach the stinkbugs. The stakes & frames gave the birds a good place to perch while they attacked the fruit. But we gardeners had no place to perch - the seat made from a slice of tree trunk had rotted.  

So we tweaked the vegetable plot, moving the compost enclosure and changing the layout. A central path looks better and gives us better access. There are fewer plants this year. Five pepper plants grow in containers and we’re getting a small, steady supply. We bought only 5 tomato plants and we’re getting a few of those each day, too.

The tomato vines are sort of draped over wire cages to hold the fruit off the ground but they’re not staked. In place of the garden netting I bought a few yards of inexpensive nylon net to sort of pouf over the top, using recycled bricks to keep it from blowing away. With a tighter weave and no convenient sticks for birdie feet to grasp, they have to work harder to punch holes in the tomatoes. 

They can still do it… our Blue Jays boldly cling to the kitchen windows and tap on the panes! The squirrels will chew through anything and possums and raccoons lurk at night. We know we can’t beat any of them but we're trying to stay in the game. 

If a stinkbug lands on the outside of the net it can’t fit through the small mesh. If the little monster is already inside clinging to the net I use the net to enfold & squish it.

A central path now leads to the concrete bench, relocated from the Secret Garden to the Vegetable Patch. Last June we turned two old compost bins upside down, painted them, added handles and called them tomato guards. This June they cover two tubs bought at some long ago garage sale, painted white. The tub on one side of the path has a pepper plant and a ‘San Marzano’ tomato grows on the opposite side. There’s something going on here but it doesn’t fit the usual categories… it’s not Potager and it’s not Austintatious and it’s not Garden Junk. Maybe it’s Transplanted Frugal Midwesterner?  

Two of the tomatoes were supposed to be our favorite ‘Black Krim’. At planting time I noticed a ‘Better Boy’ tag down the side of the pot. And that one ‘Black Krim’ has now turned to None. Look at these tomatoes! They all came from the same mislabled plant – not ‘Black Krim’ but it might take a tomato-genealogist to figure out what they are.

On the other hand, when that heirloom-lumpy tomato at far right finally ripened, it weighed in at over 13 ounces. Folly it may be, but what a delicious folly it was.