Saturday, June 25, 2005

First tomato

I admit to engaging in a bit of shameless crowing. A ripe tomato in June! And another will be ready in a few days. The rest will be more on schedule but many plants have full size fruit so the wait will not be too long.

What a wonderful treat to return from a few days out of town and find that the tomato I had been watching was A) still on the vine and not carried away by some marauder and B) ripe and ready to eat.

The variety is ‘Stupice’, an heirloom noted for earliness. It was not on my tomato list for this year, but a friend had started seeds and discovered that some of the seedlings were potato leaf (the real ‘Stupice’) and some standard leaf. I suggested that she might grow out one of each for fun and she handed me two plants.

Now most gardeners might have politely declined, offering some lame excuse such as lack of room in the tomato bed. But any reader who has been bitten by the tomato bug knows that there is always room for more. So I planted the two plants and have been rewarded. The standard leaf plant is huge and loaded with oblong fruit with pointy ends. The seed was from a commercial source so I assume that the rogue plant was from a mix up in the packing rather than a cross-pollination issue. After a bit of research I have discovered that several heirloom varieties have little points at the end: Amish Gold, Wonder Light, Polish Linguisa to name a few. So I will wait and probably never be sure about the pedigree of the pretender.

But I’m very glad I accepted these plants. The tomato was absolutely delicious and gave me a chance to practice the particular style of understatement peculiar to gardeners. For those interested here are a few simple guidelines.

Never start a conversation with a fellow gardener by announcing your particular horticultural victory. Let it be almost an afterthought.

Strive for a slightly offhand manner, as if you always get ripe tomatoes in early June.

Above all, refrain from cackling with justifiable glee.

I am sorry to report that I did let slip the smallest of cackles.


Thanks to Kathy at Cold Climate Gardening for the heads-up on some serious tomato competition. I am tossing my feed cap into the ring over at Dr. Charles Examining Room tomato contest.

'Stupice' 2005

Monday, June 06, 2005

Wet spring musings

The Pacific Northwest has a largely deserved reputation for copious rains. But my corner of the PNW is usually blessed with drier spring weather than the rest of the region. Not so this year!

According to the National Weather Service our rainfall in May was 2.97 inches. This is 1.76 inches above average, well over twice what we can expect. This has certainly helped forestall the predicted drought conditions for the coming summer. The litany “we need the rain” can be overheard at grocery stores, garden centers and employee lunchrooms. And it’s true.

But focus down from the big picture into one corner of my garden. The increased rain has encouraged a weed I had formerly dismissed and has elevated it to the coveted LFW (least favorite weeds) status.

I am speaking of the Western Buttercup, Ranunculus occidentalis. While researching this menace I discovered that the genus name Ranunculus comes from the Latin rana or “little frog”, referring to the habit of growing in moist locales. Pair this with occidentalis, from the west, and my garden scourge sports a rather whimsical moniker, little frog of the west. (Note the initials LFW. Coincidence? I think not!)

Is it possible that recalling that fanciful name will help restore some humorous perspective to the odious task of clearing out a jungle of this weed? I hope it does because the invasiveness of this buttercup is astonishing, in a “Little Shop of Horrors” way.

The balance of climatic conditions gives any region its own gardening persona. Alter one condition and expect changes. The local explosion of mushrooms should have been a clue.

Such a departure from the usual numbers and varieties of spring fungi is peculiar enough to alert the mindful gardener that this spring is different and that other, more sinister, plants may be exploding as well. Reading such signs is essential to gardening and should be second nature, regardless of the hectic pace of living.

My little frog of the west provided yet another small nudge, a reminder to pay attention, here in the gardening department of continuing education.