}

June 4, 2011

Our Tornado Close Call

A CLOSE CALL, THESE 3 TORNADO'S FROM LAST WEDNESDAY'S STORMS, ALL STOPPED JUST MILES FROM OUT HOUSE, WHICH SITS JUST A HALF INCH DOWN FROM THE WORD WORCESTER, ON THE RIGHT OF THIS MAP.

Last week, while driving home from work, I could see that the sky was very dark, green even. Never a good thing during thunderstorm season here in New England. Suddenly, just as a reporter from NPR our local Boston station was reporting on the recovery in Joplin, Missouri, the report was interrupted by the infamous EEEEEp-EEEEEEp-EEEEEEEEP of the National Emergency Broadcast system. Usually it was followed by "this is a test, of the National Emergency Broadcast System, if this was an actual emergency..." but sadly, it was. A tornado was sighted, in fact two were sighted near our home in Massachusetts, and I was driving straight into the storm from the south, since I work an hour away in Providence, Rhode Island.
MY DAD, VITTY A. MATTUS ,AN AMERICAN  REGIONALIST ARTIST WHO PAINTED REGIONALIST WORKS FROM THE 1930's UNTIL THE MID 1950'S. THIS IS HIS INTERPRETATION OF THE GREAT WORCESTER TORNADO. Oil on Canvas.
You may think that tornado's are rare in New England, but they are not. In fact, in until last month's Joplin tragedy, our June 9, 1953 Worcester Tornado, with winds estimated at 256 MPH was an EF5, the country's deadliest tornado destroyed my home town of Worcester, injuring 1288 people and killing 94. I  was raised with this unrealistic ( or realistic?) tornado fear, since I was born ten years after the big tornado, and even though it hit the northern part of our city, every time we drove through it, my dad would show us how all of the trees were gone, and vivid details of the that fateful day.
A RARE PHOTO OF THE 1953 WORCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS TORNADO, AN EF5

Ironically, this past Wednesday's storm, he spent on a lounge chair outside by accident. At 97, he still gets around, but he is obsessed with feeding the birds. He is also, dare I say, or Hell, I'll just say it....a nudist. Yep. He liked to lay in the sun nude. He thinks this is one reason why he lives so long,, but that's for another post. Wednesday, he fell asleep in the lounge chair by the greenhouse and then couldn't get up because it was too low. Joe was taking a nap testing our the new air conditioner he had bought earlier that day, in the guest bedroom with Margaret and the other dogs, and never heard the storm coming. Needless to day, after surviving hail, lightning and heavy wind and rain, dad's none for the worse and has a cool story to tell his girlfriend.





THE ENTIRE NORTHERN PART OF OUR CITY WAS DESTROYED, SIMILAR TO THE JOPLIN TORNADO.


Thankfully, the storm passed over us just after the tornado lifted and weakened. The storms were trailing, and there were four tornado warnings, and on the weather channel, we could see the storms as they kept forming over and over again over the same towns, and then head straight for us. The meteorologists kept saying "if your in this path, in Worcester or Auburn, you had better take shelter immediately, since these storms are moving fast. In then end, we are all fine, but the towns just to the west of us have significant damage, and 4 fatalities. One tornado that just missed us, was rated an EF3, and it traveled 39 miles before it lifted just 5 miles from our house.

June 3, 2011

Planting Tomatoes 101

PROPER SOIL PREP IS AS IMPORTANT AS CHOOSING SMALL, HEALTHY SEEDLINGS.
It can be a simple task, or and elaborate one, either way many of us gardeners now know that tomato culture is rarely foolproof, and success is somewhat dependent on weather, disease control and proper cultural techniques, as well as on your choice of varieties. Tomato crops are one of those enigma-crops, there are legendary years, those of awesome harvests and those of great loss ( no tomatoes at all), and then there are those individuals who just fuss and tend to every detail, investing hundreds of dollars with the hopes to achieve tomato greatness, with nary a tomato,and there are those who toss into a windowbox, a few, free weak plants, and the end up with dozens of fruit, regardless, the tomato continues to be the single most important home vegetable garden crop, and in a world with hanging tomato planters, heirloom crazies and giant beefsteak goonies, there seems to be a tomato on everyones radar.

 I believe that the best results come from practicing excellent tomato culture, a lesson learned from my dad, oh, 40 or so years ago, when I would help my parents not only sow seeds on the glassed in porch every April, but also help them plant strong seedlings every June. My parents were a little crazy about growing tomatoes, as well as other vegetables, since they canned and froze many types of vegetables all summer long ( some caning lists from my mom show that she canned over 300 quarts of tomatoes every year!). Today, I still grow tomatoes, in the same garden that my mom and dad did, and where my grandparents also grew vegetables, essentially, for over 100 years, we've been planting tomatoes in the same soil, which has it's issues with crop rotation and disease management, for tomatoes are notoriously susceptible to many soil and air-borne pathogens.

Today, I grow tomatoes essentially in the same place, but the large vegetable garden that once extended over 100 feet long by 60 feet, has now been reduced to 6 raised beds, with only a couple of beds dedicated to tomatoes, with the balance of the tomato crop assigned to containers, where they seem to grow better in virgin soil. I grow a wide variety of tomatoes, some new disease resistant varieties, cherry's and dwarf patio types, as well as about 15 heirloom varieties. That said, I only grow about 25 plants, so it's not as if I am planting ten of each variety anymore. I think ( know) if I had room, if I lived on a farm, that I would, but I have limited time and space.

What I have learned over the past 30 or so years with my solo tomato growing, is something that I still see few, if any new gardener or blogger follow, for tomatoes do respond to proper cultural techniques, and I assure you that over time, you too will learn what works, and what doesn't. I have 6 simple rules to follow.
TOMATO BOXES THAT ARE SELF-WATERING, MAKE GROWING PERFECT TOMATOES, EASY. THIS ONE HOLDS TWO PLANTS THAT WILL GROW  FEET TALL, AND ONE BASIL PLANT THAT WILL MOST LIKELY BE OVER CROWDED IN A MONTH. BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVER PLANT YOUR CONTAINERS. ONE PLANT IS BETTER THAN 3.


1. Plant heirloom varieties in containers with an excellent quality potting soil, like ProMix. Why? Heirloom's might be cool and trendy, but they suck as plants. Heirloom varieties are the weakest growers, and are the varieties that are most susceptible to diseases, and since most tomato diseases come from airborne or even soil-borne sources, keeping planting as sterile as possible is the safest way to get a good crop.

2. Plant young plants - seriously. You could even plant seeds this week in the ground and I guarantee that you will have a better crop than that lady at my local Home Depot yesterday who was proudly rushing to her car with a 3 foot tall tomato plant, all staked and fruited. I start my seeds around April 15, and plant seedlings around June 1.
A FANCY HIGH-END SLATE TROUGH MAKES A STYLISH PLANTER FOR TWO HEIRLOOM TOMATO PLANTS
3. Plant tomatoes in different places every year. Crop rotation helps, but does not eliminate the risk for disease. There are a host of diseases that affect tomatoes, early blight, and late blight, various wilts and fungus', but the worst case scenario is what we had two years ago, an outbreak of early Late Blight, which spread and killed most every tomato crop in the eastern US. If you can't rotate crops, at least keep your beds clean and free from weeds.
4. Plant your tomatoes with enough space around them. Look, even my sister crowds in as many plants as she can into a raised bed. Last week, I saw at least 15 plants in a 9 square foot garden. My 5 x 10 raised beds hold only 6 plants, with 3 feet in between each plant. It helps if you can visualize the volume of space a mature plant will take up, which we all seem to forget while planting small little plants.

5. Grow tomatoes as stress less as possible, which simply means, provide constant moisture, full sun and keep them well fed with anything other than 10-10-10. Stay away from high-nitrogen fertilizer ( like Miracle Gro in the green box). Use either organic tomato fertilizer ( such as the one I use available from Gardener's Supply) or a commercial tomato fertilizer. I watch my neighbors water their tomatoes with MiracleGro and they brag about how huge and healthy their plants are, but, they are all foliage, since that's what MiracleGro -10-10-10 is designed for. Great for other plants, but not for tomatoes. Look for a formula closer to 3-5-10 or 5-10-10 or anyone where the first number is lower ( not all "tomato fertilizers' are the same). Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so don't think that going all 'organic' and 'crunchy granola' will get you a huge crop, there is some science here and good agriculture means that you will need to provide additional nutrients in order to harvest a sizable crop.




June 2, 2011

Unusual Pelargoniums

A HYBRID THAT LOOKS LIKE A SPECIES, PELARGONIUM 'SPLENDIDE'. IT'S FUZZY PADDLE SHAPED LEAVES ONLY EMERGE IN THE SUMMER, THIS ONE IS DORMANT ALL WINTER.
A fun fact for new gardeners, is that the "common" geranium, the red ones we see planted at Memorial Day are actually not true Geraniums at all ( you pro's know that, but newbies will find this an interesting fact). Red Geraniums are botanically organized by taxonomists within the genus Pelargonium, and to make matters more confusing, the genus Geranium, is a completely different genus.


 Today's daily awesome includes both, some true Geraniums and true Pelargonium species, and see just how different ( or similar) they can be. Confused yet? Don't worry, they are all wonderful plants.


YOUV'E SEEN THIS ONE BEFORE AS I'VE BEEN POSTING THE PROGRESS AND DEVELOPMENT OF THIS GIANT TRUE GERANIUM, G. MADERENSE ALBA. IT'S HAIRY STEMS CAPTURE THE SUNLIGHT IN THE EVENING, AS SEEDPODS FORM, ON THIS IMPRESSIVE PLANT WHICH IS TALLER THAN I AM.

THESE  LST TWO ARE BOTH MYSTERY PELARGONIUMS (LOST LABELS!) , ONE HAS CARMINE FLOWERS, AND IT'S ANOTHER SPECIES THAT GOES DORMANT IN THE WINTER. THE SECOND ONE BELOW IS JUST COMING INTO GROWTH, STARTING WITH A BUD.