}

June 8, 2012

This Summer's Biggest Blockbuster? It's a Tomato in Red Tights.



It's a bird, it's a plane....it's a Mighty Mato®. Relax, he far from genetically modified. No spider bite turned this passive solananoid into a superhero, he's simply a mere, wimpy heirloom, cut, and glued in  lab onto a naturally-bred beast - Nope, it not a movie, but it just might be this summer's biggest blockbuster - and he's grafted!

I've read that Grafted tomatoes are the answer to many of our soil and air born diseases, especially with heirloom varieties of those plants within the genus Solanaceae, - I mean - we all have to be careful that we don't trigger another outbreak of fungus that caused the potato famine ( the same disease that our heirloom tomatoes get very easily- Phytophthora infestans).  Grafted tomatoes are simply heirloom or hybrid varieties, grafted onto a stronger-growing root stalk ( last year when I tried, I used the variety Maxifort, which is bred to grow strong roots for commercial greenhouse culture where grafting has been the modus operandi for years). Now, in just a years time after we home gardeners discovered that grafted tomatoes and cucumbers were the answer, we now can buy some - at Home Depot, no less. But act quick, these plants are not easy to find, which is not surprising, since a grafted tomato plant will grow twice as large and produce twice the fruit than a traditionally rooted plant will. This is my pathetic head grafted onto the body of Iron Man. Hoo wahh!



It's not too late to buy these nice, young and grafted tomatoes right now, to do your own home test. In fact, mid-June is the best time to plant tomatoes, I even planted some seedling ones last week. Grafted tomatoes just might be the greatest advancement in home vegetable gardening since floating row covers. especially helpful if you want to grow your plants organically. The PR folks at Home Depot emailed me to see if I would like to test a few plants and write honestly about my thoughts on this blog, so I decided to take on the challenge. I'm not always open to such opportunities, but I decided to accept this offer since they encouraged be to "be honest'. I was a little concerned that I would get a big box in the mail with one of those giant, steroided out monsters soaked in hormones and fertilizer.
MY PLANTS ARRIVES IN GREAT CONDITION, IN THIS INNOVATIVE SHIPPING CONTAINER. THESE MAY LOOK SMALL TO YOU, BUT FINALLY, A RETAILER UNDERSTANDS THAT THIS IS THE PERFECT SIZE TO PLANT IF YOU WANT LARGE, HEALTHY PLANTS.

THE MIGHTY MATO PACKAGING - HE SURE LOOKS BIGGER, STRONGER AND TASTIER....BUT A LITTLE CREEPY. HE'S NEKID. EVEN SUPERMAN HAS SHORTS OVER HIS TIGHTS.
When my box arrived via FedEx, it was a cute, graphically designed box which made me both smile, and then become even more concerned -I understand that designing a brand to appeal to a consumer takes some creative risk, but I wasn't so sure about this solution at first, it just surprised me. The shipping crate wasn't very serious, rather, it was bright green and red -dare I say ' a cute, character-based approach' - as if this was a press kit for a new kids animated show starting a tomato wearing shorts... who happened to be a superhero, ( believe me, I know superhero design!).

ON THE LEFT, A SWEET 100 MIGHTY MATO GRAFTED PLANT, ON THE RIGHT, A GRAPE TOMATO FROM MY GREENHOUSE AT HOME. NOT EXACTLY A ONE ON ONE COMPARISON, BUT I TRIED TO FIND COMPARABLE PLANTS IN SIZE AND AGE.
I planted my Mighty Mato's in fabric bags, which I find to be not only environmentally friendly, but tomatoes grow better in sterilized soil-less mix ( which is not environmentally friendly, but I use Bio Comp with is made from composted peanut shells).  An important thing to note, is that a grafted tomato must not be planted deeply, as one may do with a traditional tomato plant, you  must plant it so that the graft is above the soil.


ON THE LEFT, A BIG BEEF TOMATO THAT I STARTED FROM SEED, AND ON THE RIGHT, A GRAFTED BIG BEEF VARIETY FROM MIGHTY MATO. I KNOW MINE IS LARGER NOW, BUT MY GUESS IS THAT MR. MIGHTY WILL TAKE OFF SOON. 

I had to put my marketing hat on for a moment, and then I felt better. Merchandising is key in this business of mass marketing. The competition is fierce, and there clearly is opportunity in crafting a niche in a category where the competition exists only in black plastic flats - retailers and nurserymen are handcuffed to only the variety name, and the size of the plant. Public perception needs to handle the rest. Not a very good way to try and sell anything, today.

So, I like the fun design solution of branding this as Might Mato - maybe, I even like the amateur looking illustration, as it look naive and like they didn't try too hard ( clip art in flat colors in a Pixar world). In the crowded home hardware store environment, this solution might stand out. Besides, I am not the target consumer, but I know that she lives on my road.
I AM TRYING TO GROW BOTH MIGHTY MATO'S AND SIMILAR VARIETIES SIDE-BY-SIDE, UNDER THE SAME CONDITIONS AND CULTURAL TECHNIQUES. THESE ARE ALWAYS FUN EXPERIMENTS TO TRY AT HOME WITH YOUR KIDS ( A GREAT IDEA TO PHOTOGRAPH IT AND BLOG IT FOR A FUTURE SCIENCE PROJECT!).

The tomatoes are shipped in a well designed poly pack, and they are grown commercially as what the nursery trade calls 'plugs' and then distributed to other growers to carry on until delivered to Home Depot. I am not sure if the Might Mato is now a Home Depot exclusive, since there is a web site where one, it appears, can order Might Mato branded grafts, and they offer many more varieties, but nothing beats the convenience of grabbing a few to try in your own home garden or containers. You can share your results here if you want.

Last year, trying to find a grafted tomato was like trying to get tickets to a Madonna concert - one on-line retailer, and you could order the supplies to graft them your self from Johnny's Seeds, ( I tried, and it was hard! $80 dollars later, I wish I could have just bought them!). It's not too late in most of the country to head out and try some of these plants, which may indeed be the Mighty Mato we all dream of! Stay tuned....
MY OWN TOMATOES ARE MUCH LARGER, BUT THEY'VE BEEN IN THESE FIBER POTS FOR THREE WEEKS NOW. IT WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE IF THE MIGHTY MATO'S FROM HOME DEPOT TAKE THESE WIMPS, OVER.

THIS YEAR I AM USING BOTH TUBS AND FIBER POTS FOR MY TOMATOES. THESE HEAT UP IN THE SUN AND WARM SOIL IS WHAT YOU WANT FOR GOOD FRUIT SET. THE SOIL-LESS MIX HERE IS PRO-MIX, NO GARDEN SOIL WILL TOUCH MY PLANTS TO DISCOURAGE DISEASE. I KEEP THEM ON A HOT GRAVEL BED, TO ADD MORE HEAT IN THE SPRING, AND LESS SOIL-SPLASH TO KEEP THE DISEASE DOWN.

June 5, 2012

Color Palette Combinations in the Garden

Entirely from the garden, this bouquet is not only a stylish palette, it is intensely fragrant - rich with the scent of Heliotrope, Sweet Peas and Stock. It's color palette may seem simple, but nature designed flowers to be more complex than we think. The color wheel here is broad and deep, and luminosity, transparency and saturation happens not in Photoshop, but with the sun.



As a graphic and visual designer professionally, it's not surprising that the most common question I get from friends and colleagues, when they find out that I have this gardening blog, is about color palettes. We all have favorite colors, and color taste is a very, personal thing, but there are some foundational rules to consider, rules that are hard, if not impossible to work around. The most important rule about color in the garden, is to accept your environment first, most likely, it exists in multitudes of green. Choosing a color palette combination for a garden is completely different than choosing color for paint or interior design. The physics are different outside, in nature, and in many ways, it's closer to choosing colors for a web site or a digital experience, because light suddenly comes into play more than ever. After all, plants flower for one purpose only - sex. They are designed to attract insects, so the built in features are closer to a video game or a pixel than you might imagine.



Like it or not, always remember that your canvas outdoors is primarily green and grey,  depending on the season and the light angle. Foliage and dark shadows dominate the garden, and color, is precious, often appearing only as specs and dots in the landscape.  Like pixels on a screen, nature uses color to attract, often with added features such as luminosity, refraction and layering of transparent tints to achieve a special effect.



Still, if you are just planning the perfect June wedding and are looking for a more thoughtful or stylish color palette, don't limit yourself to the printed catalog or magazine - try going outside and studying the woodland or the garden for a moment. The above image demonstrates that sometimes, there is something just "right" about certain combinations. There is a reason why hip flower sites show blush, champagne and plum flowers - all Photoshopped with filters and  de-shadows to look perfectly pale, but do you ever see this in real life? nope. Wedding blogs and hip stylish florist school sites know design quite well, but they also can manipulate images to appear, well, prettier than they actually are. Gorgeously yummy, but not very realistic when viewed in real life. 

Florists aside, in your garden, or, in your cutting garden, which is really should be two different subjects, the logic is different - the lighting is real ( either the sun, or in your home), and the plant material is not flown in from all over the world, it's seasonal. So forget Gerbera, lilac, Peony's, Billy Buttons and Hydrangeas all in the same arrangement - it's just not gonna happen. I know many of you want amazingly coral, pink, peach and buff - when in reality, this rarely is achievable outside of photoshop and creative lighting. Few of us live in a magazine photoshoot or a wedding blog with a handy color shift feature. But there are ways to add new and more interesting color palettes to you garden containers, new color ideas for your wedding, or new color palette combinations for the garden. 

If you want more posts on my color theory and plants, let me know - I think a little too much about it sometimes! But I do know my color theory, I work on a Wacom screen all day picking palettes for design projects, ranging from apps to print and product, and I am a pretty handy horticulturist, so maybe I can offer some sensible help here. It's a subject that I can frequently post about if it doesn't bore too many readers.

A few basic things to remember when buying plants based on color - if may have already discovered that seed catalogs and nursery catalogs are terribly misleading.  They show closeups of flowers like coral zinnia's or blush poppies, but the reality often is that 95 percent of the plant will be green, and 5 percent will have a flower with the color that you want. Of course they assume that you already know that the two plants will bloom at different times of the day, and year, and that the seasons will be off. There is just SO much to know.



1. Heliotrope - Heliotropium arborescens ( seed sown February 20th - Swallowtail Gardens.
2. Iris versicolor - "Cat Mousam' (Joe-Pye-Weed's Garden)
3. Parsnip Flowers - Pastinaca sativa, I always leave some in the garden to bloom (Johnny's)
4. Stock 'Quartet' - Mathiola incana (seed started March 12th, Johnny's Seeds)
5. Society Garlic - Tulbaghia violacea
6. Cardonna Sage - Salvia x sylvestris 'Cardonna' (Plant Delights Nursery)
7. Blue Flax - Linum lewisii (from Annie's Annuals)
8. Lathyrus Winter-Blooming Sweet Peas - (From Owl's Acre Sweet Peas)
9. Knautia macedonica - (Annie's Annuals)
10.Geranium 'Ann Folkard' (Plant Delights Nursery)
11.Iris siberica
12.Lathyrus- Winter Blooming Sweet Pea ( Owls Acres Sweet Peas)


Some of my best color combinations outdoors have been arranged in just this way - observing and noting what plants, and what color flowers and foliage, appear each day. For example, next year, I am replanting a border in front of the greenhouse which sits against a dark boxwood hedge. I noticed this spring, how nice the new yellow foliage bleeding heart looks against the dark hedge in early spring, and tulips in various shades of violet, plum and purple will mix nicely emerging from the border of chartreuse. If you are planning a June wedding, or looking for purple flowers and green flowers, spring is the best time to work with such a palette.

It's been raining for four days, and feeling a little British-like here in New England. So in honor of the Queen's Jubilee, (yeah, it's just an excuse to pick some flowers from the garden), I picked some purple flowers from the garden today. I could smell the Mathiola ( Stock) from a distance, it is very fragrant in the evening, and with stems nearly two feet tall, it is at its prime. I hate to say that I pulled out most of the seedlings that I started in March, because I made a mistake and first pinched them back, but they never branched ( I thought I had read that they should have been pinched to form strong two-foot tall bushy plants, but I confused this directive with one for snapdragons). Hey, it happens, even to me! The few that I left un-pinched, are now blooming, so I might as well pick them and enjoy them on this rainy, cold day.

The first of the Lathyrus ( Sweet Peas) are blooming also, but these are the winter blooming Sweet Peas which if you remember, I sowed back in November. Our field mice ate most of them as them emerged as seedlings, but a few re-sprouted in their pots in the greenhouse,  so I waited to see what they would do later on in the season. These are specially bred for winter cut flowers, (or to be more accurate, early spring sweet pea crops), since these are sweet peas which require less than the twelve hours of daylight, which is what summer-blooming varieties need to grow strong and bloom properly. These are just reaching peak bloom while the summer sweet peas are just starting to bud. One cannot compare the two forms. My summer blooming plants are three times as large, after only a few weeks outdoors.

June 3, 2012

Ducklings!

THREE DAY OLD INDIAN RUNNER DUCKLINGS

Our shipment of baby ducklings arrived today, a dozen mallard-colored Indian Runners all fluffy and full of peeps and cuteness. We even let them swim in the warm bath tub since it was unseasonably cold and rainy, not that they really mind the cool weather,, but seeing that they are only  a couple of days old, we wanted to give them a break. They are so cute at this stage.

INDIAN RUNNER DUCKLINGS, SPENDING THE DAY IN AN OPEN PEN WHILE JOE PREPARES THE NEW COOP.

IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN, THE HEIRLOOM GARLIC IS BEGINNING TO SHOW FLOWER SCAPES, WHICH ARE ALWAYS BEAUTIFUL, AS THEY TWIST INTO GRACEFUL LOOPS LIKE SWAN NECKS. NEXT WEEK WE WILL PICKLE SO FOR WINTER USE.

MOUNTAIN LAUREL IS SYNONYMOUS WITH JUNE IN NEW ENGLAND
Across the north eastern US, the woodland is in full bloom with Mountain Laurel, or Kalmia. Our native Kalmia typically blooms in late June, around Fathers day, but in the past few years, it has been blooming earlier, but never as early as newer hybrids, such as this one, which is strawberry pink when in bud, but white when open.

NOW THAT THE WARM WEATHER HAS ARRIVED, SPECIES  BEGONIAS ARE RELOCATED TO THE PORCH, WHERE THE EASTERN EXPOSURE AND BREEZES SEEM TO PROVIDE A MICRO CLIMATE WHICH THEY SEEM TO LIKE VERY MUCH DURING OUR HOT SUMMERS. THESE TWO SPECIES ABOVE ARE SIMILAR, PRODUCING A SPIDER-WEB LIKE LEAF, ABOVE RIGHT, BEGONIA MOYESII, AND LEFT, B. PAULENSIS.

THE SPIDER-WEB PATTERNED LEAF OF BEGONIA PAULENSIS. BY AUGUST, THESE PLANTS WILL BE MASSIVE WITH LARGE LEAVES.

IN THE GREENHOUSE, THE CACTUS COLLECTIONS CONTINUES TO BLOOM, AS LONG AS THE SUN CONTINUES TO SHINE. WITH A FULL WEEK OF RAIN AHEAD, THIS MAY BE THE MOST I CAN EXPECT THIS YEAR FROM THESE PLANTS.