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The Perils of Overgardening

Forty-five tomato plants.  Count ’em.  45!  And, despite the sound of it, I am not proud of that.  With a piece of property with a 25 x 60 back lot, that’s a lotta tomatas.  I was talking to my friend with property (serious property) in Mississippi, and she was up to her neck in tomatoes she had to can.  She said she had 60 plants, and tomatoes were coming out of her ears.  Although I promised to simplify (if not downsize) my gardening habit this season, the truth is I’m just a junkie.  That, and I completely underestimated my ability to save seeds that would ever amount to anything.  I read the instructions, and generally followed them, taking seeds from my tomatoes last year, putting them along with some of the tomato pulp and water in baby food jars on on the windowsill (and, when I was following directions, in the basement).  I covered them with paper towels and rubber bands until the seeds got all moldy and yucky, then I scooped out the mold and guck, rinsed the seeds, then let them air dry on paper towel covered plates.  I was surprised how very many seeds I was able to save this way.  But in the mindset of a typical novice gardener, I never imagined that one seed would equal one plant (I feel like a teenager thinking you can’t get pregnant if you have sex just once and we all know where that leads).

Even though it’s obviously illogical now, somewhere in my mind I must have been thinking that I wouldn’t possibly end up with plants from the seeds I saved.  I was sure that, somehow, I would fail. Maybe it was the votes of no confidence coming from outside my own self-doubt.  Most public seed saver exchanges require their participants to have at least a year of seed saving experience under their belts.  Since I wouldn’t be trading them online, I organized a fun, but intimate seed saver exchange with fellow blogger/gardener/revelers last fall (calling it, ambitiously, the Best BK Seed Exchange Ever … or something equally obnoxious).  And though I was able to unload some of the seeds there (sheepishly sharing them, since I had no belief that they would ever become anything but the lifeless pebbles they appeared to be), I ended up with more than I brought to the party.  As for the extra I had on hand from my own obsessive seed saving last summer, I threw several seed packets in with Christmas gifts and the occasional birthday card.  Others I tucked away with random greetings and how-are-you-doing-IhavetoomanyseedsIambeggingyoutotaketheseoffmyhands “care packages.”  Word from my mother is that New York-origin seeds winter-sown in Wisconsin  (I have a sister whose punctuality extends to her garden) have been producing bountiful fruit under the watchful eyes of my nieces and nephew.  But even with all those channels of seed distribution, I still had seeds coming out my ears.

I knew I wasn’t going to be able to winter-sow my seeds, and thought that, at best, maybe I would get some plants going early indoors.  But March and April flew by and I still don’t know where they went.  Then May came and it was on the top of my list to get the seeds in some soil.  Finally by late May, I had to get something in the ground, or I was looking at not having anything more than a measly container herb garden (not that there’s anything wrong with herbs or container gardens, just that I couldn’t shake that first delicious taste of backyard-grown tomatoes that I had last summer).  So, against my earlier protestations that all my tomatoes would come from seeds I sowed myself, I broke down and bought two tomato plants at a fundraising plant sale held nearby and threw them in the ground before I ended up without any tomato plants at all.  (And, since tomatoes were a staple in my garden last year with the four plants I bought from a farmer in Saratoga Springs, I feared not having much of a garden at all).  They shot right up and now there are tomato-heavy Martha Washington and what I thought was Dr. Wyche plants going wild in my backyard.  The Dr. Wyche is definitely not Dr. Wyche; it is way more interesting and beautiful (no offense, doc).  Any guesses on what variety it could be?

Apparently not a Dr. Wyche

Before I gave up for the season, though, I decided just to see what would happen if I tried to sow just a handful of the seeds I saved from my four tomato plants last year.  When I was at Shannon’s picking up some potting soil, the guy looked at me like I was nuts.  He asked why I didn’t just buy some tomato plants.  I explained that I already had tomato plants but I had saved these seeds from last year, and…. never mind.  I didn’t know why I had to justify my gardening habits to this guy.  So off I went and proceeded to plant more than a handful of seeds.  I thought I’d up my chances of getting at least a plant or two.  Little did I expect that every seed I planted would actually produce a plant.  I carefully labeled all of the plants because some of the seeds I had bleached and soaked before planting and some I just popped right in the soil.

Next thing I knew I had more tomatoes than I knew what to do with, but only two plants in the ground that looked like they were far enough along to give me any tomatoes this season.  Then, the unthinkable happened.  Aimee, over at Red Garden Clogs, told me that she had some tomato plants that were just going to be tossed if they didn’t get in the ground, and did I want them.  I was thinking this might be one or two plants, which could be easily accommodated.  And, I thought, if one or two of my seedlings got big enough, I might try putting it in the ground and then I might have about six plants to last year’s four, which was a reasonable increase.  I was a hungry kid in a candy store with eyes much bigger than my garden when I got to Aimee’s.  I left with at least five tomato plants, including Cherokee PurpleBlack Krim, and the two I’m most excited about: Jaune flamme (from seeds that meemsnyc from Gardening in the Boroughs of NYC brought to the Big BK Seed Etc. Exchange last fall), and Paul Robeson tomatoes.

But it doesn’t stop there.  I have discovered tomatoes growing spontaneously in the flower pot near my front door, and also in a potted rose bush.  Every so often, as I’m traipsing my small grounds, I’ll notice a tomato plant with little baby fruit popping out, and only vaguely remember getting them in the ground.  On good days, I’m glad they’re all there, and I silently calculate how soon I’ll have to brush off the canning skills I picked up at a trial class from Red Garden Clogs (btw, invaluable!).  Other times, as I’m ripping away the out of control choke weed that has climbed over my neighbor’s fence (she is out of the country for the summer but would normally be a good neighbor and hack it away for me), I wonder what in the heck I was thinking, putting all the plants in the ground.

Moral of the story: have confidence that what you sow will grow.  Just know what you’re going to do with it when it does.

6 responses to “The Perils of Overgardening

  1. Susan Reiners ⋅

    The “apparently not a Dr. Wyche” is so gorgeous, I’d like to have a couple of dozen on my Christmas tree… Seriously, if it tastes half as good as it looks, I’d love to try The Wychemacallit.

  2. Ralph ⋅

    Wow, 40+ plants- I’ll be thrilled with 40 tomatoes by season’s end. In all fairness, I have less planted this year than last. The tomato seeds I planted were all from last year’s seed exchange. With a couple exceptions all grew and I was careful to keep track of the different types. The couple tomato plants I had in the past were of unknown variety. One of the 2 Paul Robesons is growing better than all the tomatoes including the 2nd Paul R I planted. All my tomatoes are in containers, but whether that one came from a good seed, or the soil made a difference I can’t say. I used potting soil for all, but 2 different types which I hopefully still have the bags for.

    For various reasons I have a lot less planted in the ground this year. From now on that will be referred to as ‘leaving the land fallow’. it sound’s like it was a planned intentional thing that way. The containers are getting a lot of attention this season which is good since most of my growing plants are in containers.

    One thought on what to do with excess seeds is to select a reasonable amount, label them, and keep them for long term storage. Especially if you have some really good plants, keep the excess seeds safe in case something happens and you get a ‘crop failure’. Having known good seeds for your area will help restore things the following season.

    Speaking of planting, let me once again bring out the wood for my planter and see if I can make it rain again.

  3. Ralph ⋅

    Yesterday I pulled out the lawn mower and cut down the jungle of weeds that’s grown since the last mowing. Now that I can more or less see down to the soil it was obvious looking from above how little ground I actually planted. Today’s email had an update from Seed Saver’s Exchange which in part talked about It being time to start planning a fall garden. Coming in from the heat, a fall garden would not have come to mind were it not for that email. There’s no doubt it’s been a hot year, so maybe a fall garden makes more sense than ever. Another thought is planting some root crops. This year was the first time I planted carrots- all in containers. They seemed to grow surprisingly easy from seeds the Seed Savers Exchange sent me when I started a membership with them.

    Is anyone out there growing any root crops? Aside from my carrots I have no experience with those and would be interested in what grows well in the NYC area.

  4. Ralph ⋅

    I did get out for the third time to work on my bamboo planter. I got the first layer of wood drilled and loosely assembled to see how things fit. After some time it started getting cloudy and I could hear thunder in the distance. I was going to stop working in that heat anyway, but I thought if it did rain again I was going to quit my job and make a living as a rainmaker. All I would have to do is travel around to dry areas with some lumber, tools, and a project to build. It didn’t rain that day, so for now I’ll stick with computers.

    This thing seems to be taking forever to build, but in actuality I haven’t put much time into it. Next time I’ll re-assemble the first row of boards and attach the bottom which will make it stiff. It’s nothing fancy, but with a coat of paint on the outside it should look OK. Originally I was thinking of painting 2 sides white and 2 black. I was going to face the white sides toward the sun in summer to help keep it cool, then spin it so the black sides would absorb heat during the winter. It’s a good idea but I am still debating on it. In order to pick it up and turn full of dirt the bottom will need to be pretty strong so it doesn’t fall through. I have a couple ideas on strengthening the bottom and it can be left as the last step before filling with soil.

  5. Ralph ⋅

    I recently listened to a podcast which should be of interest to anyone who uses or saves money. The program can be played straight through your PC if you don’t have or don’t want to use an MP3 player. This was a speech recently read to Congress, and no attempt was made to hide or sugar coat the truth.

  6. Ralph ⋅

    My Paul Robeson tomato plant is the winner of the few tomato plants growing this year, all from seed. I moved it into a large pot due to it’s size and used a couple feet of unused PVC water pipe to tie it up to. Once I hammered the pipe in to get it to the bottom of the pot I realized I could fill it with water and it would slowly water the plant from below. It’s not enough water by itself so I still water the pot too. It has quite a few good sized tomatoes growing on it and I am waiting for one of them to ripen.

    I made some progress on the planter box today. The first row of boards is now bolted together with the bottom attached- and of cause another coat of paint. I’ll need one more trip for some bolts and nuts to continue, and aside from waiting on oil paint to dry every step of the way it’s progressing pretty well.

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