Making sense of my 2016 tomato garden by reflecting on the weather

The idea for this blog entry came from a discussion with Daryl Pulis during a recording on Tuesday of an upcoming podcast for her show America's Home Grown Veggies. We were discussing what we both observed over the most recent season with our tomato efforts. Daryl keeps track of the daily weather as a way to anticipate her outcomes. 

I've always paid attention to the weather, but not to the extent of capturing the data regularly; I just use my memory (always dangerous!) to create an impression of the season. But Daryl planted a seed (pun intended?), and I carried out some data collecting and analysis. The exercise was quite worthwhile, because it seemed to reinforce the strong connection between seasonal weather and results.

Tomatoes can be troubled by temperature (too high and too low), humidity, and lack, excess, and timing of rainfall. Once seedlings are in the ground, low temperatures and wet foliage can, in the presence of the appropriate fungal spores, lead to Septoria leaf spot. Turn the temperature up, and a different fungus raises its ugly head - Alternaria, also known as Early Blight. Plants under stress, such as a heavy fruit set, extreme temperatures, and a deficit or excess of moisture, accentuate such issues.

High temperature and humidity at the time of tomato flowering can lead to poor fruit set and subsequent blossom drop. This is especially true as tomato size increases, with the large beefsteak varieties the most vulnerable of all. Many a seedling customer shares stories of tall, healthy plants of large fruited varieties with very low yields in summers that are very hot.

I put my plants into containers in early May. Given that, in general, the average tomato ripens in 70 days, harvest will begin on July 10. Since it takes about three weeks from open flower to ripe fruit (on average), flowers begin to open about 40 days from planting, or June 10. Since the plants grow about 1 foot per week (in the case of indeterminate varieties, with half that rate for dwarfs or determinate types), the plants will be between 2-4 feet tall, depending upon tomato type, by June 1, and 4-8 feet tall by July 1.

Given all of the above, the months most critical for maintaining healthy growth are May and June. The time span most critical to fruit set is early June throughout July.

And what happened in 2016 in my particular location? May was relatively cool, humid and rainy, setting up conditions for Septoria. June was moderately to very warm and wet, perfect conditions for Early Blight. June was, however, suitable for good fruit set, as the heat was just short of extreme. This matched very well my outcomes; sporadic lower foliage attacks of the two fungi, but very good fruit set. Only my disciplined mulching and removal of lower spotted foliage kept the fungal diseases reasonably at bay.

July and August had modest humidity, but very high heat levels. Fruit set of large tomatoes should have been an issue - and it certainly was. Add to that my frequent travel taking me away from daily care of the garden, which meant less discipline in removing lower spotted foliage, and the reason for the need to remove all plants by early August were very predictable based on the weather.

Finally, here is the data from the growing season that I used for the analysis spelled out above.

May - no days at 90 degrees or above, 16 days at 75% or greater average relative humidity, 12 days of significant rainfall (.2 inches or greater).

June - 11 days at 90 degree or greater temps, 10 days of high humidity, 6 days of significant rain.

July - 24 days of 90 degrees or above, 11 days of high humidity, 7 days of significant rain

August - 23 days of 90 degrees or above, 9 days of high humidity, 7 days of significant rain

September (so far) - 11 days of 90 or above, 7 days of significant humidity, 4 days of significant rain. 

What I will do over the coming weeks and months is think about this data - the weather we received, the impacts experienced - and ponder what to do differently. That's a real challenge, because of course the weather is likely to be quite different next year. I will be thinking about timing, possibly staggering, spacing, and other things that can be modified. It is really mostly about arming ourselves with tactics we can employ, no matter what weather we experience, to help us better succeed.

I will certainly share whatever I come up with in terms of a modified set of tactics for next season.

View of my late summer/fall 2016 garden - 76 tomato plants!

View of my late summer/fall 2016 garden - 76 tomato plants!

A peek into my Saturday talk at the Heritage Harvest Festival - 5 Must-Dos for Tomato Success

Love is in the air.....I love the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello....and creating and trying out brand new talks. (of course, I love my wife, daughters, pets, and all sorts of other things - but let's focus!).

A garden friend asked me on Facebook to expound on my Saturday tomato workshop, but I didn't want to post "spoiler" information, and give it away prior to the show. Well, the show is over, and I wanted to carry through on my promise and share the essence of that talk. It won't be anything earth-shattering, and more than likely, many gardeners will do these things. Plus, there is a bit of trickery going on - underneath each of the 5 things are many components. (in truth, I added a 6th - and will share that as well).

1.  Reflect on the season that has just come to an end. Sit with a pad and pen, look through your pictures and records. Think of your original objectives, and what you actually achieved. Think about what may have caused the differences between plans/expectations and reality.

2. Spend time planning for the season to come, using what you learned the prior year. Flip the page, take some time, and create a good garden plan. Incorporate changes based on your reflections in #1 above. Think varieties, timing, location, culture. Don't short change yourself on time spent on either of these first two steps.

3. Use high quality materials every step of the way. Be sure of your seed source, or seedling quality. Seed starting mix, planting mix for containers, and straw bales are just a short list of gardening "tools" that should be of the highest quality. 

4. Preemptive - preventing or spotting issues very early on - works better than reacting to serious problems. Be aware of your sun exposure, drainage, and growing conditions just ahead. Space plants adequately. Mulch well to keep soil off of the lower foliage. Water at the base of the plant. 

5. Spend time with - read - your plants, to get a sense of how they are doing and what they need. Walk the garden at least daily. Look for signs of trouble - spotted or discolored or wilted foliage, insect and other critter damage, toppling due to the weight of developing fruit. 

and - the one I added at the end of my workshop...

6.  Explore...try new things (methods, varieties, recipes) - have fun....and eat well as a result.  Set a different theme for your garden (for tomatoes, they are infinite - colors, shapes, sizes, flavors, growth habit, stories - just to name a few). Try containers, or straw bales, a different staking or caging technique. Have fun - and realize that there are no guarantees - each season will be different, and there will always be more to learn, more to try, and more to anticipate with great eagerness.

As you can see, I've put but a few examples in each of the points above. You are limited only by your time, energy and imagination. 

Product Review: My favorite garden cart, from Gardener's Supply Company

Ah, my first product review! Please know that the opinions expressed are entirely my own.  Read on, gardening friends....

Susan and I have been gardening since 1981 (not counting the little garden my dad and brother and I had in our back yard when I was 7); this year's effort is our 35th garden. Because we started when I was a graduate student, our initial approaches involved simplicity and frugality.

Some things really don't change all that much over time, and those two words still describe our basic gardening approach. After all, what is a garden but a magical, well cared for combination of good plants or seeds, fertile soil or planting mix, sufficient water, and appropriate temperatures. Of course, there are infinite complexities and permutations, but each of us has priorities as to where our hard earned cash gets spent. 

When we moved to Raleigh back in 1992, a family member gave us a gift that we finally needed to replace this spring. We've been delighted with our large garden cart from Gardener's Supply Company, and when that 25 year old version finally gave up the ghost, there was no other option that provided as perfect a fit for our use. (truth be told, I am really hard on equipment, and if I were more disciplined with its use and storage over the years, it may have lasted another 25!)

I've been doing some writing for Gardeners Supply Company this year for their blog, and I am so thrilled to count them among my sponsors. In exchange for an honest review of this cart, they provided me with one to support my gardening and writing activities, for which I am so grateful.

The cart arrives in pieces, and the easy to follow directions, high quality materials and excellent workmanship make assembly a snap. Two things really hit you right away once it is ready to go; it is big - with an incredible holding capacity, both in terms of weight and volume - and it is ergonomically ideal, rolling with ease even with a large and/or heavy load. It is attractive, robust, and one of the very few gardening "tools" that I cannot do without.

My main use of a garden cart is to hold the bags of planting medium that I use to fill my many containers. My garden takes over the driveway each growing season, as it is the only place in our yard with sufficient sun. Filling the well over 100 containers is a big job, and being able to combine more than 5 cu ft of the planting mix that I prefer in the garden cart saves lots of time and effort. Later, when the season is over, I can load up the cart with 8 or more containers to easily haul them to my spent planting medium pile. 

Whether you are filling the cart with leaves or other yard debris (easily emptied by lifting the end sliding "door"), or hauling tools and planting materials and flats of flowers and vegetables to transport to your garden, this cart will be the perfect fit for all of your needs. 

We've been happy customers of the Gardener's Supply Company for many years, and I am so pleased to have their support in my effort to bring the joy of gardening to my various audiences and readers.

 

 

 

Growing Season Home Stretch...Halloween tomatoes perhaps?

September - already. Though it is 90 degrees out there (I just got in from watering), the humidity is lower, and the angle of the sun and quality of light and the sounds of birds and insects say that yes, indeed - fall is just around the corner.  But...not too fast, I hope!

Before I forget (which I've done often recently), I am collecting data on our projects's new dwarf tomato releases. The 60 and counting new varieties that the team created finding their ways into seed catalogs are dying for some feedback. Please click the link and fill in any information you can...we've love to start to get a sense of what people think of these, which do well where, which will be the cream that rises to the top, and which will likely fade into eventual gardening oblivion. As feedback starts to accumulate, I will provide periodic reports.

I've still got plenty of garlic from last spring, and have begun to get the garden beds ready for the fall planting. Aside from use as a pollinator garden (all sorts of flowering shrubs and perennials), the only thing our side garden seems suitable for is garlic (rabbit and deer proof!). I am preparing four rows by topping with the broken down driveway straw bales, digging it in, then topping with a thick layer of potting mix from our driveway grow bags.

Peppers continue to thrive in our driveway. The eggplants were looking a bit ratty, so I trimmed them up and fingers are crossed for another harvest. Everything got a good feeding today.

Ah, tomatoes. Though all 170 plus of our initial planting was gone as of a few weeks ago, the various rooted cuttings and recently germinated seeds for the Dwarf project work are up and growing very well indeed. I am really excited about the various variegated seedlings that are now growing well. Since the only variegated leaf tomato in my collection is a boring, smallish, bland red, my new crosses should expand the color range considerably. Though a major planting will have to wait until next spring, I have a few sneak peeks growing. I also have my 8 new indeterminate X dwarf hybrids on the way, hoping to get a few ripe fruit from each for a head start on dwarf hunting next year. There are some really unusual pairings, and I look forward to seeing how far I've managed to stretch the tomato possibility envelope.

Below are two views of the driveway, the Carrot Like X Dwarf Scarlet Heart hybrid, a normal and charteuse leaf Mortgage Lifter comparison, and one of the new variegated offspring.

I am keeping busy seeking speaking opportunities for 2017 and beyond - watch my Upcoming Events page as my future dance card becomes filled in. We are off to the Heritage Harvest Festival in Monticello on Thursday - I am speaking on both Friday and Saturday. The year may be winding down in terms of events - but there are more books to write, gardens to plan, events to schedule - and a long, hard think back on my 2016 garden (what went well, what didn't), and planning for 2017. There really isn't a gardening season.  There is just a continuum of time.

These are the real summer doldrums. News and views from a well roasted driveway...and a request for information

Before I forget (I already forgot and am adding this as an edit) - if you grew or are growing any of our 60 plus new Dwarf Tomato project releases, we want to hear from you.  Please fill out this brief, simple survey for each variety. We are finally working to gather information on our creations, so we can paint a picture of how each performs in different regions of the country (world!) - which are favored, which are lacking, which are not quite what we hoped for.  Thanks in advance for your contribution to this survey!

This is just plain silly. Day after day of mid to upper 90 degree temperatures. I don't even want to ponder the heat index with the humidity levels, but spending more than a few hours in the muck is about the limit. Yet, somehow, work gets done - seeds saved, plants pulled, seeds sown, cuttings rooted...tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, figs picked. Welcome to mid summer in Raleigh!

Before I get to garden high (and low) lights, here is some information on upcoming events:

We are off to Hot Springs, Virginia, on Friday - I feel fortunate to be a speaker at the In The Garden event at Omni Homestead. I will be speaking at 9 AM on Saturday on tomatoes, followed by Q&A and a book sale and signing. 

Changing the topic from tomatoes to peppers, Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farms and I will be working with Caitlin Burke to provide a Southern Season Cooking School class featuring Alex's peppers.  The date and time is Monday, August 29, at 6 PM. This will be the third time for this course, and it is such fun, very informative and absolutely delicious. Be sure to sign up - it is so, so worth the price of admission, and you will leave full, satisfied and armed with great recipes and lots of information about peppers.

If any of you are in the Boston area, I will be at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts on Saturday, September 3 speaking on tomatoes, selling and signing books - and possibly, doing a small tomato tasting.

And for those near Charlottesville, Virginia, I will be speaking twice and signing books at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello on Friday and Saturday, September 9-10.

Two later events that I am participating in are the Terra Vita Food and Drink Festival in Chapel Hill, which runs from Sept 28 to Oct 1 (I am in the process of defining what my contribution will be), and the Carolina Farm Stewardship conference, to be held in Durham, Nov 4-6. 

We also finished filming for an upcoming episode of Growing a Greener World; I've been told to watch for it next April. I will certainly share more as I learn more. Working with Joe Lamp'l, the show host, his staff, and my local tomato growing friend Brie Arthur has been great fun.

The above will finish off a fun, busy, thoroughly gratifying year for me continuing to get about to meet gardeners and talk tomatoes. I do hope to catch some of you at one or more of them!

Now, on to the garden - and this will be brief. 

In the middle of last week, all of my tomato plants were pulled. It was time - critter and disease damage and the effects of a long, hot, humid summer all took their toll on plant health and performance. 

I did take cuttings from at least three dozen varieties, and they are now replacing the dearly departed. I also germinated seeds for continuing dwarf tomato development work - the 8 new hybrids (all of which "took" - the seedlings, saved from tomatoes on the dwarf plants, are indeterminate!), as well as seeds saved from the grow out of last year's new hybrids. I focused on those that involved chartreuse tinted or variegated foliage, hoping to get a sneak peek on some of my main work for next summer.

The eggplant and peppers are thriving, and I am into seed saving - and cooking - big time on those crops. We are also getting the figs that the crows and squirrels are leaving for us, as well as okra. 

It is important to consider the garden goals when assessing how things went. It is always difficult to come to the end of harvest for such a beloved crop as tomatoes. And yet I managed to get seed saved from most of what I planted, got a chance to taste and evaluate many varieties, and got the needed pollen to create some new hybrids. Based on what I planned back in the winter, it was a very successful garden. It just doesn't feel quite like it right now.

Some pictures below of the current state of the driveway.

 

 

Let's change the topic to Eggplant

Yes, yes - tomatoes are the well-merited super star of most gardener's summer efforts. How can they not be - they are supremely seasonal, infinitely varied, and a real challenge to grow well consistently (for most regions). 

Yet, each year I am reminded that as ornery as tomatoes can seem, peppers and eggplant are typically highly agreeable. Though the spectrum of flavors is relatively limited, the array of colors, sizes, and shapes - and in some cases, heat! - is vast.

I had little regard for eggplant - a combination of unsuccessful growing efforts, and dislike of the flavor and texture - until relatively recently. Switching to containers provided heat that the roots of the plant clearly love, and I was rewarded with annual bumper crops. A bit of research, trial and error on preparation, a dash of becoming a bit more open-minded and adventurous, in a culinary sense, closed the deal. I love eggplant, and consider them fully as seasonal a delicacy as tomatoes, strawberries, asparagus and sugar snap peas.

I've shown a selection of my eggplant from this season. For those of you on Facebook, I've started doing an occasional morning Facebook Live - tomorrow morning at 9 AM or so I will do part 2 of my driveway eggplant walk. Shown above are Twilight LIghtning, Mardi Gras, Green Ghost, Prosperosa, Rio Market (a rather rare type of eggplant called solanum aethopicum, also known as bitter tomato or Ethiopian eggplant, among other names) and Rosa Bianca.

Short list of what we do with eggplant

Poke a few holes, spray with oil and roast on the grill - scoop out the pulp (the skin will char and turn dark yellow brown, and the flesh will become soft) and use in Baba Ganoush or one of our favorite Indian dishes, Bangan Bharta.

I love to peel, cube, and roast the eggplant - just toss the cubes with a bit of olive oil, some salt and pepper and roast until a bit charred. We use eggplant prepared this way in a tremendous pasta dish, Pasta Alla Norma - by roasting the eggplant, the oil in the recipe is reduced by a lot!

Eggplant parmesan is a popular dish, but the eggplant is often breaded and fried. Instead, I peel eggplant, slice into 1/4 inch rounds, dip into beaten egg, then bread crumbs - spray with some olive oil spray and bake on a cookie sheet for 30 minutes at 400 - until they are browned and as crisp as you like. They can be eaten like this as a starter (they are like addictive potato chips), dipped in salsa, or used in eggplant parmesan.....even best, they can be cooled and placed into freezer bags - we've kept them this way for a year - just take some out and recrisp them in the oven to use them.

Finally - the dish that won me over was ratatouille. A blend of sauteed zucchini, eggplant cubes, onions, peppers, tomatoes, garlic and spices, this hearty stew is great over rice with some grated cheddar on top.

I've found a few ways to make it a bit labor intensive. Roasted ratatouille is a really easy way to get the same effect - my favorite recipe seems to have vanished from the internet, but really it is just putting some olive oil in a large pan and adding cubed peeled eggplant, zucchini, sweet onion, sweet pepper and tomatoes, with some basil, thyme, salt and pepper - put a few cloves of garlic on top, and remove it when golden brown and soft - mash it with olive oil, and blend it into the dish when it is done - typically 400 degrees for 45 min to an hour gives the veggies a nice slight char. Or do a deconstructed version - grill halved zucchini, skewers of eggplant cubes, onions and peppers and cherry tomatoes.  When they are all nicely grilled and tender, mix them all up and add some fresh herbs.

Have fun, try something new, and enjoy!

Always behind, it seems - vacation over, family visit over - let's catch up. The good - and challenge - of 2016 so far

August is well in view. How can it be? The summer that has been a blur (that began in spring) is proving to be a challenging one as far as successfully gardening. Or is it? Part of it is having reasonable expectations and acknowledgement of the original goals. This could be a long, long blog, but instead I will try to stick to a few major points and some nice pictures.

First - vacation! We hosted our daughter and her family - somehow, a near month is now in the rear view mirror, and wonderful memories are what remain from a big family vacation at the beach. We had such a nice time with Sara and Adam and Aaron and Aiden - joined by Caitlin and Patrick, and even Sara's friend Wendy.

Of course, the visit and vacation fell right in the middle of main garden harvest and maintenance time. Add to that constant extreme heat and humidity and lots of late day torrential downpours, and you get a challenging, complex season. Somehow, there is a bag of eggplant in the fridge, half a dozen cukes, a dining room table covered with tomatoes, and seeds dried and packaged from 140 varieties. Don't ask me how all of this is getting done. Sadly, there are also now a whole lot of diseased and/or dead tomato plants. But all of that is part of a more detailed story - that of what I hoped to accomplish...what was accomplished, and the reasons for the differences.

So the good - lots of varieties, fruit from all of my dwarf X indeterminate hybrids created last year, healthy eggplant and peppers, some delicious Cherokee Purple and Chocolate and Lucky Cross, and some great new family heirlooms (from Walt Swolka and the Maris family, particularly). Lots of seed saving completed - 140 varieties of tomatoes, and a few peppers and eggplant, including the weird eggplant Rio Market - shape and size of a fig, white seeds, ripens from deep green to nearly tomato red.

The bad - the plan was too ambitious, timing of the summer vacation wasn't taken into account, quite a few tomatoes will pass away prior to bearing fruit (I estimate that I will be missing about 30 varieties), challenging weather, lots of fungal diseases brought on by the weather, and some squirrel and deer attacks (particularly recently).

Much more on all of these points over the coming weeks and months.

Now for some garden pictures, including the current state of affairs. The last four pictures in the carousel below show the garden from today - including the healthy peppers and eggplant and the sad back bale row of toasted dwarfs.

Another late mid-week review...everything is happening at once!

It has been quite a week...in fact I had to look back in my calendar to remind myself of what transpired. Life-wise, we continue to enjoy the visit of our daughter and her family, all leading up to our week at the beach (which starts tomorrow). We had a great day at the Durham Museum of Life and Science with our grandsons.

It was also a week of some fun events - a Monday night cooking school with chef Kevin Callaghan of ACME Food and Beverage, focusing on (what else...) tomatoes. Today was spent at the Chapel Hill Farmers Market - a full morning of helping them celebrate tomatoes.

And the garden....tomatoes are coming in fast and furious, and eggplant joined today...peppers will be next. This means continuing to water, feed, tie - and, now, pick, taste, document and seed save. I feel a bit like the people who used to spin all of those plates in the Ed Sullivan show (yes, I am dating myself!).

This season - maybe more than most - in the garden has been very humbling, interesting, educational - and really challenging. I've bitten off too much in a season that has so much else going on (book related activities, the big family visit and trip). I am not able to keep up with staking, tying, topping, removing diseased foliage. It is raining too much - especially late day rain. It is too hot, too humid, and spending hours in the blazing sun is just hard going. I've lost, and am losing plants. (the peppers and eggplants look great, and clearly have less issues with disease and the weather).

As always, it is such fun to share my successes and challenges with you all. Results are coming in for all of the various projects going on in my driveway...stay tuned for many more updates.

Weekly Update...Tomato Story #3. Lucky Cross and Little Lucky

OK - it's Monday - back on track. Well, back on track with blogging...but not so much with gardening - we are delighted to be hosting family, giving me the chance to infect our two young grandsons with the gardening bug. Suffice to say I am a bit off my schedule. Each year something different impacts routines, and having the impacts be visiting family members is about as good as it gets.

Aiden and Aaron - best book selling helpers ever!

Aiden and Aaron - best book selling helpers ever!

 

Recent weather: For the most part the pattern continued - warm, humid mornings, clouds billowing for big afternoon thunderstorms. A few days provided a bit of a respite. It puts gardeners into such conflict - rain means that no watering is needed. Late rain means wet foliage, which means perfect conditions for fungal disease spread on foliage. This is gardening in North Carolina.  It's summer - we endure, adjust, experience a mixture of successes and failures. Makes us emotionally tougher, I suspect!

General Garden Observations: There are a whole lotta tomatoes out there on the plants, and ripening is (finally!) beginning. I am at the point where time and effort and daily heat and humidity lead to focus on the basics - tie when they droop, water when dry, feed when hungry, pick when ripe. Some plants are going under with disease - attrition is always expected, but it is important to note which ones are most susceptible to which diseases, and where and how they are grown. I never seem to capture as much of such info as I hope to....energy levels, focus, discipline just seem to flag a bit as the season wears on. It's my fault for squeezing so many plants into the driveway. One thing for sure - the peppers and eggplant show their relative ease of growth vs tomatoes at this time of the year. They are loaded and look perfectly healthy.

Driveway garden view July 11 - Overall, things are going well

Driveway garden view July 11 - Overall, things are going well

What has been rather breathtaking is the flourish of blooms in the side pollinator garden. Hibiscus, butterfly bush, and lantana are providing magnets for bees and butterflies - and I suspect hummingbirds as well. Each day provides amazing photo ops, and just walking through elevates my spirits.

Our tumbler composter sits amidst a forest of hibiscus and buddleia

Our tumbler composter sits amidst a forest of hibiscus and buddleia

 

Current Activities: Feeding continues at the week to week and a half rate, and watering has eased due to all of the rain. I need to spend some time topping and tying and better securing the many indeterminates that are as tall as the stakes and loading down with tomatoes. I also need to do a general walk through and note the plants that are struggling with foliage disease the most. I am beginning to pick tomatoes, label them, photograph, and save seeds. This is the major multitasking time of the season for me.

Epic Tomato book-related activities hit quite hard recently...tomato dinner at ACME, tomato day at the Carrboro Farmers market, tonight a cooking school at Southern Season, next Saturday tomato day at the Chapel Hill farmers market, an interview on A Way to Garden podcast with Margaret Roach, and a radio spot on Niki Jabbour's Weekend Gardener. Multitasking, indeed!

Tomato Story:  Lucky Cross - and Little Lucky

I am talking about tomatoes that are on the way, but are so special to me. The story of these tomatoes describes one way to  create new varieties....growing an unexpected seedling, confirming it as a chance cross (F1 hybrid), then seeing what riches it holds as saved seed is grown and the results sorted through.

It is a story that continues to this day, but started in 1993. A Brandywine flower in my garden that year was visited by a bee with pollen from a neighboring striped variety. I was lucky to save seeds from the tomato that formed; in 1997, when some of those seeds were planted, a few had the normal, serrated type leaves, very distinct from the expected, smooth potato leaves of Brandywine. The question to be asked is....is it a mix up in seed saving? Some stray seeds?  Or a cross?

I grew out one of those regular leaf seedlings in 1997, and the results confirmed the bee-aided cross. The one pound tomatoes were pink, but with fine vertical gold stripes. Seeds were saved, and in 1998 and 1999 I grew out a number of offspring, some regular leaf, some potato leaf. 

I hit the jackpot right away - in 1998 one potato leaf plant produced medium sized yellow tomatoes with a red blush that were absolutely delicious - fully the equal of Brandywine. Along that time I enlisted the help of a Duke professor who lived nearby who was also a tomato enthusiast. Over the next few years, we worked with this tomato, and eventually settled on two different offspring, both potato leaf.  

In the year 2000, two named tomatoes were born - Lucky Cross (a name I gave it - pretty obvious, really, since we were so lucky that the bee made the cross!), which was of the Brandywine size and shape (one pound average) and flavor (just delicious) and leaf shape - but with the lovely yellow coloring with red marbling known as the bicolored beefsteak type. The sister tomato, named Little Lucky, was the same in all respects except for size (4-6 ounce range) and shape (round). 

We are now pretty advanced now on generations for each of these - seed saved of each variety in 2012 was at the F10 generation, meaning it is quite stable. 

For this year, I wanted to go back to some earlier generations and do a reselection for the very best flavor. In my driveway garden are five different selections of Lucky Cross at the F8 generation, and three earlier generations of Little Lucky as well. Below are some unripe fruit of each type - we are probably a week or two away to getting to taste the fruits of this year's research efforts.

Lucky Cross - one pound fruit, a week away from ripe

Lucky Cross - one pound fruit, a week away from ripe

Little Lucky - blushing...any day now!

Little Lucky - blushing...any day now!

Where did mid-week go? How about "I spy" for a Sunday morning...

This would be a long blog if I wrote about everything I spied on my late morning meander through the gardens. Some of it is just awesome (such as dramatically blossoming flowers like Hibiscus, or trusses of ripening - long anticipated! - tomatoes). Some is a bit more sobering (finding half of a tomato chewed away, or tomatoes with tell tale signs of fruit worm, and the inevitable passage of this or that variety due to one of the plethora of diseases that strike).

What a week it has been - we are hosting our daughter and her family...such fun (such non-stop activity - young boys....say no more!). Tomato dinners, tomato day, a podcast (my first with Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden), a radio show with my friend Niki . Daily thunderstorms, stifling heat and humidity. Through it all, the garden marches on, fueled by the heat and the rain. Gardeners - well, this one, at least - thrive on routine, plans, daily rituals. Gardens thrive when those daily rituals happen. Weeks like this bust the rituals, fiddle with the routines - and this is not a complaint at all - life happens, as it should. But it reinforces why there is no perfect garden, or perfect gardening season. Life happens, family happens, diseases or weather or critters happen. Isn't it great that we get to do this every year, approaching but never achieving the ideal...but we still try.

I took dozens of pictures, and a few are shown below.  I spied a tree full of figs only weeks from ripening....all of our various hibiscus varieties in bloom, along with lantana and butterfly bush in our side pollinator (formerly main veggie) garden. There are eggplant and tomatoes ready to pick (next thing on my agenda for today). And, there is creeping foliage disease, signs of critters (deer prints, worm holes, visible chewing of squirrels, I suspect), plants that need topping and tying and reinforcing (the gusts from this weeks' thunderstorms, or growth of the plants, or weight of the fruit perturbing the order of things).

The boys are at the pool, the house is quiet, I've got a few hours to fight entropy - bring a bit of order to that which so desires to go to disorder. Which is just as it should be...because such is inevitable!

Below are pics of two eggplant - Skinny Twilight (one of mine from the hybrid Orient Express) and the incredible, striped Listada di Gandia - as well as a few other this and that pics from my late morning garden saunter.