Thursday, July 28, 2011

Variety is the Spice of Life

And, it's inspiration in the garden and kitchen, too.  I love trying something new that I have never worked with before.  Unfortunately, when you have a penchant for variety, gardening can get expensive fast.  For instance, this is the list of tomatoes I would like to grow for fun:
  • Better Boy
  • Beafeater
  • Black from Tula
  • Black Plum
  • Paul Robeson
  • Japanese Trifele Black
  • Purple Calabash
  • Yellow Pear
  • Broad Ripple Yellow
  • Hartman's Yellow Gooseberry OG
  • Lemon Drop
  • Riesentraube
  • San Marzano
  • Cream Sausage
  • Green Zebra
  • Sheboygan OG (in honor of my sister who lives in the great state of chaos Wisconsin with her FIVE lovely kids and husband.)
  • Tasty Evergreen (reminds me of Colorado even if it's from Ohio.)
  •  Neves Azorean
  • Mrs. Maxwells Big
  • Vinson Watts
  • A variety of mystery heirlooms currently growing in my garden.
  • Anything else that suits my fancy at any given moment.  (Full disclosure: I have been known to go to Whole Foods and buy heirloom tomatoes just to save the seeds.)

And, this is just my tomato list.  You should see my pepper list and my squash list and my...  Well, you get the point.  So, frugal gardeners with a longing for variety have to risk breaking several laws get creative to get their hands on them.  That is pretty much what it boils down to.  Last week, Rick Callihan posted on his blog about his tomatoes, one of which is the much sought after Black from Tula.  That was his first mistake.  His second mistake was not only acknowledging my existence, but actually answering my post when I asked him if I could come over and take some cuttings.  He said yes. I know!  I still can't believe it!

So, this past weekend, I sharpened my scissors and made my way over to Rick's to take cuttings from his tomato plants.  Jackpot!  Rick is so crazy generous that he not only let me have cuttings, he walked around his garden packing me a to-go bag of tomatoes and peppers.  And, to think I came -->this close<-- to just sneaking into his garden in the dark of night for some cuttings. Big thanks to Rick for doing your part to keep me out of jail! My family thanks you, too!

Anyway, the timing of this is perfect because about this time every year, mid-July, I realize that my tomatoes, while still delicious, are getting smaller and the vines thinner.  They won't make big, tasty tomatoes for much longer.  So, I always take cuttings from my own vines and root them so I can have tomatoes well into fall.  Last year, I had tomatoes in December!  It's very simple.  All you have to do is take a cutting from a current plant, root it in a cup of water in a sunny windowsill and voila!  Once rooted, you have a new plant.  It's that easy!

And, this benefits the tomatoes on the plant, too.  It tells the plant to stop growing tall and work on finishing the tomatoes currently growing on the plant.  It sort-of forces ripening.  If you time it all right, then the new plant will start producing at about the time you are plucking the last ripe tomato off the old plant.  I really like this technique for extending the summer tomato bounty in my garden into the fall.

(We also used this technique at the Spruill Gallery garden when we realized one of the tomato plants was diseased but didn't want to sacrifice the tomatoes growing on it.  Within a week of cutting the tips off the plant, one of the young tomatoes was already turning.) 

Here are a few photos of the bounty from my cutting session at Rick's:

Rick's picks.  Black from Tula on the left.  Some other delightful orange variety that is soon to be a favorite on the right.
Black from Tula cutting I am rooting in my kitchen.  This will grow roots within about a week.  Once it does, I plant it in the garden at the end of the day and water it in well.  This gives it time to adjust to its new home before the heat of the day.  It will wilt a little until it gets used to its new roots and then it will flourish.
Cutting from Rick's other delightful variety.
Last but not least, Rick tossed a handful of these into my to-go bag.  These are tomato seeds Rick secured from a friend who recently traveled through Greece.  Apparently, this friend packed a bunch of ripe tomatoes as souvenirs.  Over time, the tomatoes rotted away leaving these seed clusters.  Since I have no idea what they are, they will forever be referred to as "Rick's Get 'em from the Greeks" tomatoes.
One final note, if you want to replicate a plant but are not sure if it is an hybrid, then a cutting is the way to go.  An hybrid will not grow true from seed.  In other words, who knows what you'll end up with?  So, if your neighbor is growing some delightful variety that you absolutely must have, I suggest you fire up the oven and bake some cookies to barter for a cutting rather than relying on seeds you dig out of their compost.

Happy cutting!

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