Wild Men on the North Fork
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Peppers - Squash | Tomato - Watermelon
January 1, 2007
Welcome to a new year of gardening. I have already received six seed catalogs, some as early as Thankgiving. So far there are no great surprises. My garden partners and I are proceeding with the plan we formed this fall, which was:
- Build some new beds this fall at the plots and fill them with soil, so there won't be such a heavy burden of work in the spring. That has been done.
- During the winter, in a warm spell, burn and dig all remaining weeds, so that the plots are completely weed free in the spring. That has not been done.
- Investigate new onion varieties, new squash varieties, and new tomato varieties. We are in the process of doing this.
February 12, 2007
Bill Simpson has new comments primarily about tomatoes. Check them out.
So what is the deal with seed catalogs?
I plant seeds that I have usually ordered from a seed catalog, instead of buying whatever is available in my local hardware store each spring. Why? Well, I have found that catalogs give a wealth of information, and that with some diligence, I can find varieties that work better in our climate.
The mail order seed companies are virtually all family owned and operated. These families, over generations, are responsible for much of the progress in hybrid varieties that we enjoy in our gardens today. They are honest and try hard to offer the best seeds possible. But, high altitude gardners must be very careful in ordering. Most of these companies operate below 2,000 feet elevation, and we live mostly above 5,000 feet. You will probably notice that varieties do not perform the same as they would at much lower elevations. Vegetables will be a bit smaller, or not quite as numerous. Be sure to read the descriptions of each variety before you order, and try to get short season varieties.
On the Vegetable Variety Pages (link above) are tables for each vegetable in which I am interested. My gardening partner, Mark McAtee, and I have been testing seed varieties for some 30 years now and what appears on these pages, are the results of those years of trials.
You will notice some honest disagreements between seed catalogs about the days to maturity for many varieties. Some of that disagreement may be due to having slightly different strains to offer us, or it could be due to the fact that some have trial beds only close to their headquarters in the South.
As a 'rule of thumb' add 10 days for any Southern seed providers like Park and Shumway; add 7 days for Northern growers like Burpee, Johnny's, Jung, Pine Tree, Totally Tomatoes, and Vermont Bean; add 5 days to Gurneys*, which is the closest seed company to our own climate.
Seed companies start by servicing a specific region of the country like Oregon, Maine, or the deep South. As these companies try to broaden out to service our whole country, with its many different climates, they find it tough going. For to sell seed that does well in some other area of the country they might have to give up seed that does well in their own. Naturally, seed providers are not inclined to alienate their oldest and best customers. So, while companies try sell seed across the U.S., they still keep centered on 'home sales'.
I have yet to find a seed company that is centered here in the mountain west. Over the years I have tried seeds from all the major suppliers, and I pick seeds very carefully from as many as 15 catalogs each year. But I think, as another 'rule of thumb' the average Rocky Mountain gardener would do best to buy most of his or her seeds from companies located on the great plains or in the midwest. The climates in those states seem to be closest to our own. Meanwhile, I have already screened a great many varieties for you, so that by reading these pages you can know right away what grows best here.
As catalogs go this year, the most impressive is the Jung catalog. Jung is celebrating its 100th aniversary in 2007. The catalog is full of old photos of the Jung company and seed packets from long ago. In addition, Jung has revived some of its old varities and is offering them for sale again. The whole catalog is an impressive effort.
May 18, 2007
I planted the cauliflower yesterday and the beans too. The chard goes in today.
During May 5 and May 6 we received 2.82 inches of moisture in rain and snow, a real tulip wrecker and lilac bender. We already had in our peas, lettuce, carrots, and onions. They look good now.
Our plan is to plant corn in the period of May 18 through May 20.
Tomatoes, peppers, squash, pumpkin, and cucumber will have to wait until the period of May 25 through May 27. We are expected to get a frost on the 21st. Remember gardeners that the last average frost for Casper is May 25. It can, and does sometimes frost a few days after that.
July 20, 2007
Heat and more heat. We are really in for it now. The plants are just popping up out of their early stages and becoming really big now. We are really happy with corn, squash, pumpkin, onions, lettuce, carrots and cucumbers. We are eating lettuce, chard, onion, and broccoli.
May 20, 2007
The warm weather has affected my plans. The corn is now all planted. So too is the broccoli, winter squash, pumpkin, and the chard. All that is left to plant: Summer Squash, Tomatoes, Peppers, Garden Huckleberry, Melons and Cucumbers
July 24, 2006
We picked our first full batch of beans last night. We also picked over a full bag of broccoli last night. The corn is mostly tassled now. Every tire of pumpkin and squash has a fruit started. One Autumn Gold pumpkin is 8 inches across right now.
A regular reader writes that his Goliath Tomatoes in Idaho Falls are six feet tall and are flowering, while his Celebrity Tomatoes are starting to produce ripe fruit. There is a stark difference between indeterminate tomatoes, like Goliath, and determinate tomatoes, like Celebrity. The determinates will come on a lot earlier because they are not busy growing their vines. In a cold season, the determinates will out produce the indeterminates. But in a hot year, like we are having, the indeterminates will ultimately prevail. It will just take them the whole season to get the job done.
July 31, 2007
Yesterday my wife and I visited Bill Simpson and his wonderful garden. Bill has already been harvesting red tomatoes. Bill is the gardener who turned me on to determinate tomatoes. He is having great success again with them this year. He is beginning to harvest potatoes in a serious way.
His garden is broken up into plots with big fences around each plot to keep off the wind. He uses tires down in the ground just to concentrate water around the roots of his melons, squash, cucumbers, and some of his tomatoes. At times he uses tires to keep wind off of young plants. As the plants get bigger he has to remove that windbreak to cut heat and give the plants more room. But most of his tomatoes are still grown surrounded by concrete blocks, which radiate a lot of heat back to the plants at night. That could explain why his tomatoes are about two weeks ahead of everyone else's.
Bill warms his water with the sun by first pumping water into elevated tanks. He starts most of his tomatoes. His cucumbers are huge. He will be picking musk melons about 12 days from now.
I am going to keep in better touch with Bill and track exactly which varieties he is growing, because he is having another great gardening season.
Many of our tomatoes are big enough to harvest, but they are not red yet. Our corn is tasseled out and ears are forming. We have harvested two Sunshine winter squash already and one Autumn Gold pumpkin. We are eating lots of beans and slicing cucumbers now.
August 29, 2007
The harvest is heavy now. We have 58 quarts of pickles put up and nine quarts of garden mix (cauliflower) put up. Beans are done and ripped up. Broccoli is still producing heavily. Corn is done. Squash and pumpkins are still producing heavily.
This year I planted a different variety of Garden Huckleberry called Chichiquelite. This year's variety is superior. It is sweet on the vine and lacks bitterness. The jam it makes is delicious. The one bad thing about it is the size of berries. They are very small and tedious to pick.
Last night I sliced a small yellow zucchini and sauteed the slices in olive oil with black pepper and celery salt. After they were soft I added diced tomato, diced green pepper, and black olive pieces. Over that I put 2 teaspoons of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of soy sauce. The concoction was delicious.
August 19, 2007
My partner, Paul Combe, and I put up 22 quarts of pickles yesterday. So far we have canned 44 quarts. That is off the pace of last year's 100 quarts. But that is just fine with me. We'll get enough pickles to last. We harvested onions yesterday and a couple of heads of cauliflower which we pickled with some of our carrots. We gave away four very large slicing cucumbers and two bags of broccoli.
The Sunshine squash seem to be especially productive this year. We'll probably forego planting the Confection squash next year and use those two tires for more Sunshine and more Heart of Gold squash.
The corn this year is especially delicious. The blackbirds, mice and whatever else think so too. We'll have to put some netting over the corn next year. Beans have been productive, and we just ripped out the Early Contenders. We harvested two little watermelons yesterday. Tomatoes are turning red finally and we are picking. This coming week we top the indeterminate tomatoes.
September 2, 2007
We are putting up salsa now. I made 34 pints last night. Cauliflower is coming on hard. So are the pumpkins.
September 16, 2007
We are winding up the growing season. Yesterday we ripped out all plants except the carrots and the brassicas. Any green tomatoes will be coverted to green tomato salsa, which is delicious. We have made 69 quarts of pickles, not counting the pickled peppers or pickled cauliflower.
Annual Review of the Garden:
This season was a bit warmer than average, and the heat and the rain both seemed to be timely, just what the plants wanted to grow. I also discovered another phenomenon. For the past three seasons we have been trying out new determinate tomato varieties. The first year we grow a variety it grows like crazy and provides tons of big tomatoes. But the next year it may grow as many tomatoes, but they are not big at all. I think these highly hybridized varieties may lose 'vigor' over 12 months time. And now that I think about it, other plants besides tomatoes may be susceptable to the same thing.
Fremont Cauliflower - Tried to tell us something this year. We planted three plants per tire as usual but only two grew well. We will change how we grow Cauliflower next year: only two per tire, we will add boron to the soil to prevent browning, and we will grow an earlier heading variety with the Fremont.
Incredible Corn - This is great corn and it grew just fine. But the birds got more of it than we did. So next year we will cover it with netting.
Summer Squash - Patty Pan and Gold Rush Zucchini produced well this year but our regular Zucchini was light on production.
Winter Squash - Sunshine was very productive this year. Heart of Gold, Confection, and Lakota were average. Table Ace Acorn and Burgess Buttercup were light on production and this may be due to older seed. We will buy fresh seed for next year.
Packman Broccoli - We grew 20 plants this year and it was way too much broccoli for us to eat. We will cut down the number of plants we have for next year.
Savoy Cabbage - did just fine this year - no changes.
Sweet Spanish Onion - We grew 5 tires of onions from sets purchased locally. They grew fine. We will make no changes next year.
Copra Onion - We grew two tires of these onions and they grew just fine.
Kakai Pumpkin - We only got one pumkin from two tires. This may be due to old seed. We will get new seed for next year.
Autumn Gold Pumpkin - Production was just average this year.
Sorcerer Pumpkin - Good production,it gave us our best pumpkin year ever.
Lettuce - We grew two beds of leaf lettuce this year. We can not eat that much. So next year we will grow just one bed, and grow head lettuce in the other bed.
Sweet Success Cucumber (Slicer) - We had and excellent year of production.
Cool Breeze Cucumber (Pickler) - We had and excellent year of production.
Carrots - (Sweetness, Danvers, Tendersweet) By planting earlier (May 1) this year, we got much better germination.
Improved Yellow Wax Bush Bean - This variety came on too late. We will look for a different variety for next year.
Roma II Bush Bean - We got good production this year.
Early Contender Bush Bean - We got good production this year.
Blacktail Mountain Watermelon - We got good production. Fruit was 5 inches in diameter and had good taste.
Sun Jewel Melon - Production was good this year. Excellent fruit.
Bright Lights Swiss Chard - Germination rates were down this year, and that may be due to the fact that it was old seed.
Fat 'N Sassy Pepper - above average production, excellent quality with thick walls, the best we have found for Wyoming.
Better Boy Pepper - Thick walls, but production not as good as Fat 'N Sassy.
Cherry Pic Pepper - Good quality and good production.
Thai Hot Bird Pepper - Good production and fiery hot.
Jalapeno Pepper - Good production, may want to grow Mucho Nacho next year.
Tomatoes - A good year overall. We grew a lot of new varieties.
Tomande - Good production, the second best tasting tomato we grew. This was new to us this year. We will be growing a lot more next year.
Big Mama - Average production, size was only average.
Goliath - So good we will double the number we grow next year.
Ultrasonic - Good taste, meaty, reasonably productive. New to us this year.
Ultimate Opener - Good taste, meaty, reasonably productive. New to us this year.
Better Bush - Excellent Taste, late to bear and ripen. Small size of fruit. New to us this year.
Sun King - Excellent Taste, only medium production.
Orange Blossom - Great production, medium taste, will cut back numbers next year.
Grandad - Excellent Production, good size, will grow again some time. New to us this year.
Bush Champion - Good production but small fruit.
Early Girl Bush - Small fruit, new to us this year.
Small Tomatoes - All good this year: Yellow Pear, Red Pear, Black Plum, Sweet Baby Girl.
Chichiquelite Garden Huckleberry - Very different than the normal variety sold by most seed companies which can be very bitter. Chichiquelite is never bitter. It is sweet on the vine. It makes wonderful jam. We have a winner!
September 27, 2007
Things are wound down and we are ready to wrap up this growing season. A couple of ideas have occurred to me lately. Let me present them to you.
Results may vary...
Whenever I visit Bill Simpson, who gardens northwest of Casper, He shows me beautiful tomato plants. His main producer is Bush Early Girl, which is a determinate tomato. We have trialed the same tomato a couple of times now and we are not crazy about the results we get. Yet, I know that next year I can go out to Bill's place and he will have wonderful plants, with big fruit, turning red a couple of weeks before anyone else in the county...using a variety that just does not do very well for us. Our partner Mark McAtee grows Big Mama tomatoes at his house and they get twice as big there as they get at our plots that are only half a mile distant.
I have quit worrying about it. Bill's conditions are much different from ours. So if you try a variety that we grow and it does not work out well for you, just think of the different results Bill and we get planting the exact same thing, in the same year, and only four or five miles distance between gardens. It is more than possible that a variety that works for a fellow gardener of yours in the same community may not work for you.
The One Third Rule...
If you live in the Rocky Mountains, or at high elevations, and you are reading a seed catalog or the back of a seed packet, apply the One Third Rule to what you read. Add one third to the days to maturity and subtract one third from the fruit size. Here is how that would work.
Let's say that Tomato 'X' information says that those tomatoes get to be 9 ounces. If you live at high elevation apply the one third rule, and you can expect to get 6 ounce tomatoes. If Tomato 'Y' information says that those tomatoes get to be 12 ounces, you will get 8 ounce tomatoes at high elevations.
Let's say you are looking at Tomato 'X' and the information says it is '70' days to maturity. That makes the real days to maturity, here at high elevation, about 93 days. I calculate that here in Casper our season is about 114 days. If you can get the average tomato from that seed packet to mature in 93 days, you have a winner.
If you are looking at Tomato 'Y' and the information says it is '90' days to maturity. That makes the real days to maturity, here at high elevation, about 120 days. I calculate that here in Casper our season is about 114 days. The average tomato from that seed packet is not going to be ripe when the season is over. Most tomatoes from that seed packet will not even be fully sized when the season ends. Tomato 'Y' is a loser.
- - This year's Degree Days compared to past years - -
Regular readers know that I keep a degree-day chart each year. I have chosen the base temperature of 50 degrees (F.) because I don't think plants do much growing below that temperature.
Degree days are the cumulative average temperatures above the set base (50 in this case). I always begin counting degree days on May 25, Casper's last average day of frost. If on May 25 the average temperature was 62 degrees, that would be 12 degrees above 50 and the cumulative total would be 12. If on May 26 the average temperature was 64 degrees, that is 14 degrees above 50 . I add that 14 to the 12 I already have, and the degree days for May 26 would be 26. Adding the degrees above the base together is what makes degree-days cumulative.
Here is the 2007 degree-day chart.
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