Tomatoes, Potatoes, and Weeds

– Posted in: Weather, What's up/blooming

On June 12th, it got down to 34. There was frost on Dad’s windshield, but the plants showed no visible damage (unlike the last true frost in the last week of May). Also on June 12th, my peas were blooming. And my TOMATOES!! I feel so clever. Yes, yes, I’m sure plenty of other people have had tomatoes blooming in these sorts of circumstances, but that’s beside the point. It’s the first time I’VE ever had my tomatoes and peas blooming at the same time–usually I’m planting my tomatoes into the garden in early June, not watching them bloom. I guess that means that, despite the fact that they’re an incredible pain in the neck, the wallowater’s work.

I actually put some of my first tomatoes out in April, and then another few every 2 weeks or so (so sue me, I don’t keep good records). In the end, though, they all evened out–all of the tomatoes in the WOW are the same height. I think putting them out some time early or mid May is the best time for me. I supposed to finish filling the WOW’s up with water, so that they stand open, but I totally dread doing that. I would rather just take them off and forget about it, but seeing as the temps are supposed to be down to the 40s tonight, I suppose I oughtn’t. The question is, ought I more to leave them on or make sure they don’t stay all closed up? Because I have a feeling I’m never going to get around the filling them the rest of the way. I still have to stake the tomatoes, too, and all sorts of other gardening things.

But Teman and I did plant all of the potatoes today! I have seen about as many ways to grow potatoes as I have tomatoes, and everyone swears up and down that their way is best. Well, the year we got our best ever crop–somewhere deep in the Annals of Purdyville, I know I recorded exactly how well of a crop, but there were a lot of potatoes that we were weighing by pounds (i.e., potatoes that weighted two, three or even three and a half pounds per EACH, which is enough to feed some {small} families {I must point out that, when I make potatoes for our family, I make 10 lbs–and they all get eaten.})—well, actually, the year we harvested our best crop ever, we actually didn’t get to potatoes in the ground until late. Someone had given us a bunch of seed potatoes, and by the time we FINALLY got around to planting them, they had sprouted tremendously long shoots. The had been sitting in old baskets in the basement, and the potatoes had decided they wanted light, and they fully intended to keep growing until they found some. You really have to admire their determination, I think their shoots were all well over 12 inches long. Looking at these baskets full of ghost white shoots, Teman and I were minorly appalled at ourselves for taking so long at planting them. We considered our options. . .snap off the shoots and plant them? No, they’ve already put so much energy into growing, they probably wouldn’t have enough to start over again. Through them all in the compost and forget them? What a horrid waste! Plant them all in the garden anyway, and pretend we never saw the shoots? Couldn’t hurt, might help. So we planted them all, laying the shoots along our furrows, and waited to see what would happen. Bumper crop! In the following years, we continued trying to be “good”, and planting things on time. After all, the bumper crop could have just been a coincidence; The weather was really weird that year, after all. When we finally harvested our potatoes–in December!–it was in the 60s, and we were wearing short sleeved shirts. The petunias were still blooming on the porch. But this year, Mom gave me some gardening booklets she had in her room, and one of the articles was about how this “master” gardener had gotten a huge yield by planting potatoes with long sprouts. (Alas, I cannot get more specific than that, as I promptly lost the booklet in my very messy room. Don’t tell me you thought that I, with my hopelessly messy garden, had a clean room!! Thanks for the benefit of the doubt, but no.) With our own suspicions bolstered, we deliberately left our potatoes to sprout this year. The shoots are only 12 inches or LESS this time, not so horridly desperate for life. I suppose, if were something other than lazy Saturday-afternoon gardener, we would dig deep holes so that all of the shoots continued to grow up (like the potato-barrel idea I’ve seen other places), but we are just lazy Saturday-afternoon gardeners. So we plant them on their sides, and let the plants figure out which way is up themselves. Some day, like if I get another bumper crop of potatoes this year, I’ll make up theories of why it works better this way. (I’m a lazy Saturday afternoon scientist, too. I prefer to make up theories only after I know something works, not before. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time–all the time spent making un-applicable theories is made worthless. That method doesn’t exactly hold water, does it?)

So the peas and tomatoes are blooming, the potatoes are planted. We’ve been eating lots of lettuce–ooh, that makes me feel clever, too, even though I’m just following directions. On the back of the seed packets for my romaine lettuce, it said that if I just cut the heads (instead of uprooting them, as I’ve always done in past years), more lettuce would grow up from the base. And it does! Kind of cool. A bunch of little baby lettuces grow up in a circle from the base. Some of the heads are already useable. The spinach is past. For what little I planted (bad girl! bad girl!) I think we got quite a nice harvest. But it’s all bolting now. I had put the whole broccoli/lettuce/spinach section (roughly 18 feet by 18 feet) of the garden into small raised beds. I’ve heard 15 hundred million different arguments for or against raised beds, and I’ve come to a conclusion. Ignore all 15 hundred million arguments, and make up your own reason. My reason was that it would make it easier for me to weed, because I wouldn’t be walking all over the soil and packing it down. I was right–it’s really easy to weed!

“Then what,” asks Teman, “Is your excuse for there being so many weeds?”

“Ummm. . . I think the weeds look pretty?” Just because it’s so much easier to weed does not, unfortunately, make it a self weeding garden bed. If I ever figure out how do that, I’ll let you know. (It’s weedy, in case you’re wondering {and even if you’re not}, because I’ve been doing other things, like trying to finish this quilt in honor of my parents’ wedding Anniversary–25 years on the 16th of June–that’s this past Wednesday! Also getting my wisdom teeth chipped out of my mouth, and various other exciting things.) Part of me rationalizes weeds–well, they help shade the soil, so there’s less water evaporation and it cuts back soil erosion! And some organic gardeners just weed for the first couple of weeks until their plants get established, because they say that the weeds help draw the nutrients to the top of the soil! The other half of me just says, ha ha, very funny, you’re just rationalizing you inability to diligently care for you’re garden. All of us do, I think, have this idea in our heads that unless all of our vegetables are growing in neat straight rows without a weed in sight, we’re not taking “proper” care of our garden. While I’m sure this state is attainable by some gardeners (not the lazy Saturday afternoon types!), I think it’s a bit like being a super-model. (Also not unattainable for everyone, just for us mere mortals who actually have a life.) It might be considered the ideal and many people might strive for it, but in reality it is neither practical nor healthy. You can come up with as many theories as you like, every thing from companion planting to plant aurora vortexes (that WAS a weird theory! Don’t ask me what book I saw it in. . .), or your Saturday rationals and organic gardeners, a lot of people have noticed that a few weeds and messy planting don’t hurt–and often time actually benefit–the plant you’re trying to grow. So I like to keep the weeds from taking over (sometimes I don’t even manage that!), but I don’t sweat the occasional weeds. Or the crooked rows. Or the rocks the size of my fist laying on the ground.

I was up there weeding some today. It struck me as mildly amusing that many weeds where, in fact, self-proclaimed weeds. Pigweed, bindweed, smartweed, hogweed. . .Then there are those plants that are synonyms for weeds: dandelions, thistles, grass (ok, some people in suburbia try hard to grow grass. The rest of us have enough). But even weirder (to me) was how many weeds I knew could actually be useful. Clover, of course, many gardeners deliberately try to grow. Lamb’s quarter’s is edible. So is mint, but I think most gardeners will agree with me that mint is a weed. Burdock is even edible (eew!), and so is sorrel. Plantain is supposed to be a styptic which stops bleeding, and an effective remedy for insect stings or bites. And those were just the few weeds which I was pulling out by the arm load this afternoon. (Weeds grow healthy in my garden!) I’ve been dumping my weeds all in a pile by the garden. I will probably get in trouble for that, when the boys need to mow up by the garden, but it’s working out so nicely I’d really like to keep it. I don’t have to haul the weeds down to the compost bins to compost, and then back UP the hill to the garden when the do. I can stake out my weed pile as mine, and mine alone, so the little kids won’t use it all up on their little patches (I’m sure their little patches are greatly appreciative of wagon loads of compost, but if they’re MY weeds, I want MY weed compost to end up in MY garden!). Besides which, it gets all nice and toasty, so a snake has taken up living in it. I’m hoping it (the snake) will make frequent trips to the garden and maybe eat the blankety-blank rodents that plague our crops. (Rundy noticed somebody was grocery shopping in rows of corn seed.)

Anyway, I’ve still got loads to do in the garden, even besides weeding. My basil and dill need to be planted. The tomatoes certainly need work–do something with the WOWs, stake them (I’m going to use PVC pipe, and when I water my tomatoes, pour it down the pipe–slow, direct watering), and mulch them. Thank goodness for local farmers wanting to get rid of old hay. Makes a nice mulch, and then turns into compost and improves the soil. The plants like the mulch, the worms like the mulch, and the aforementioned unmentionable rodent also likes the mulch!!!

I also want to put down some more flower seeds. . .I’m not sure if it’s too late or not. Last year, though, I collected about 1/4 cup of nicotiana seeds. I could take about half of that and scatter it to the four winds. Even if it was too late for it to bloom this year, I’d still have enough seed left over for next year. Besides, when you buy your annual seeds for 10 cents a packet, you don’t feel to worried about wasting it. I do have some flowers growing. It’s been a fun surprise. I scattered a lot of different seed in my lettuce/broccoli patch, so I’ve just been pulling out things that I know are weeds, and waiting to see what will happen. I know I have some snapdragons, I can recognize their seedlings. I know I have poppies, I recognize them, too. I know I have baby’s breath, but only because it just started blooming today! I was just about ready to pull that out as a weed, too, but it looks so pretty when it blooms. I’m pretty sure I see some bachleor’s buttons.

Well, since it’s getting late enough that my eyes are starting to glaze over, I suppose I ought to call it quits. I have to send my post through the spell-checker first, I guess. (I’m a terrible speller, but it seems like a minor crime not to at least run things through the spell checker, even if I don’t go back and do other necessary editorial changes. . .)

About the Author

Talitha spent the last few years doing an absurd combination of work and school, and found it wasn’t very pleasant. Now she’s doing work, school and a garden, and life is a little better! She also enjoys photography and hand feeding her ducks. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 AHS Heat Zone: 3 Location: rural; Southern Tier of NY Geographic type: foothills of Appalachian Mountains Soil Type: acid clay Experience level: advanced beginner Particular interests: herbs, vegetables, cutting garden, cottage gardening

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

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