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August 2nd, 2012

Three Tomato-Growing Lessons

I have grown ‘Green Zebra’ tomatoes for a while and they are one of my favorite varieties. If you leave them on the vine to ripen they will go a yellow-gold color and be quite sweet. Personally, I like them a little greener so they are a bit tarter. Interestingly, ‘Green Zebra’ starts to soften before it turns yellow; I like them just as they start to soften.

Yesterday I picked ‘Pilcer Vesy’, another of the tomato varieties we’re trialing. It has been my most vigorous grower this year and loaded with large fruit. However, I’m not so certain I like that neon yellow color. Something in my biological makeup warns me against eating neon-colored foods. I’m thinking that about ‘Indigo Rose’, too, but will make judgement on both when I taste them. I already have two wonderful yellow slicers I grow every year so ‘Pilcer Vesy’ will have some stiff competition.

My main planting of tomatoes are doing very poorly this year. They are on ground that I’ve only had developed for 2 years, and despite my efforts to build the soil they are very stunted. My other regret is that I went away for 2 weeks mid-June with my drip system just set up and we hit 2 weeks of unseasonably high temperatures. When I came back my heart fell as I could tell immediately that they hadn’t been getting enough water. Interestingly, even though I have pygmy plants this year most are loaded with fruit. I wonder if the water stress triggered fruit production over vine growth? Anyway, three lessons learned:

1. Get my drip set up at least 2 weeks before going on holidays. (Hah, I’ve been saying this for years. Maybe it’s better not to go away on holidays till July…)

2. Divide and conquer. My paste tomatoes located elsewhere in the garden (on soil I’ve been gardening and enriching for longer) are looking super.

3. Put your tomatoes on your best soil. Next year they’re going back on my more well-developed soil. Even though that area is a bit more shaded they’ll be wonderful, leafy 9-foot giants by this time next year.  —Tracey Parrish, Boulder, Colorado

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July 6th, 2012

Heat Waves and Hail: Summer in Dallas

leslie_h_tnFor all the weather punishment we’ve been taking down here in Texas for the last 5 years—especially last year—we’re actually getting a much deserved break this year! We had a mild to non-existent winter (which does make the bugs quite happy) and a very, very wet and long spring. Yes, we’ve had a stretch at 106°F already, but it didn’t hit 100° until July 1 here, which is great! Last year we hit 100° by June 1. We don’t know what to think about this kind of mild weather, but after last year we’ll take it!

You may have heard we had a pretty hefty hail storm here in Dallas a couple of weeks ago. Luckily there was little damage at my home. Unfortunately, almost all the plants I put in our display and testing gardens up here at the garden center were completely destroyed by almost softball-sized hail. Who knows what the rest of July and August will hold, but the mild temps and rainfall have so far made for a pretty easy gardening year, all things considered. Not easy to say in Dallas!

Side note: Dallas is under permanent watering restrictions. Twice per week via automated system, but we are allowed to use drip irrigation or hand-water as needed within specific time parameters.

 'Faerie' is a compact hybrid watermelon with a ghostly skin. It's an All-America Selections winner for 2012.

'Faerie' is a compact hybrid watermelon with a ghostly skin. It's an All-America Selections winner for 2012.

I’m particularly in love with this ‘Faerie’ watermelon so far. It’s probably my favorite variety on the trial list right now. Of course, we’ve had such a mild June that who knows what they’ll do in a normal summer. So far, they’ve been very prolific (but I do have beehives and the bees are helping quite a bit). The compact size of the vines is fantastic. I have them growing in my front yard where they are quite the fascination for the neighbors.  And no powdery mildew. I should be harvesting soon—I hope the flavor is just as good as all the other characteristics!  —Leslie Halleck, Dallas, Texas

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