Gardening is work but can also be play. In fact, for me, the fun makes the work tolerable, particularly when considering the demands of growing everything in containers or straw bales in my hot and humid Raleigh climate. Located in my driveway (because that is where the sun shines best), my garden is an annual research laboratory, food producer, and place where stories can be told about many of the varieties that grow there. Here is a quick walk through the many projects that are in progress in 2019.
Favorites For the Table
We can’t get enough tomatoes no matter how many plants we grow each summer. Over my 40 years of gardening clear favorites have emerged, and each garden has a selection of the truly cherished varieties, grown for maximum yield in straw bales. Some examples from this year’s garden are Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom, Cherokee Purple, Cherokee Chocolate, Cherokee Green, Green Giant, Azoychka, Andrew Rahart’s Jumbo Red, Lucky Cross, Yellow Brandywine, Egg Yolk, Sun Gold and Stump of the World. With two plants per straw bale, my very achievable goal is 20 pounds of tomatoes per plant.
New Members of My Tomato Garden
Each year gardening friends, readers of my book Epic Tomatoes and folks I’ve met on the speaking trail share family treasures with me, and it is a joy to give the varieties places in my garden. Out in my driveway are Redman Giant, Roman Figun, Civil War, and a German tomato sent to me by an Epic Tomato reader that was from her grandfather’s garden years ago. Previous examples are Cancelmo Family Heirloom, Cutler heirloom and Koch family heirloom. Not surprisingly, they are typically wonderful.
Refreshing Old Seeds
Having a monstrous tomato seed collection means that many varieties are at risk of seed death, given infrequent grow outs. I’ve gone to growing indeterminate (tall) tomato plants in 5 gallon grow bags with a focus on getting a few ripe tomatoes for fresh seed, rather than maximizing yield. Examples this year are Azoychka, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Great White and Carbon.
Growing for Pollen to Expand Our Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project
Breeding your own tomato varieties using the technique of collecting pollen from the father plant and applying to the style (tip of the pistil) of the female plant is fascinating and fun. The Dwarf Tomato Project that I have co-led since 2005 now has 106 new compact growing varieties in various seed catalogs, and all project releases began with a cross to create a hybrid. The diversity of tomatoes available today, combined with some imagination, can lead to some unique creations. I have a selection of unusual indeterminate varieties growing in 5 gallon grow bags merely to provide pollen for some new crosses. Yellow foliage, variegated foliage and anthocyanin fruit types are among the diverse pollen donors I am hoping to use this year.
Sampling New Dwarf Releases
With 106 varieties from our project now released, there are a hefty number I’ve yet to grow out. I am giving nearly 30 of them a first look and can’t wait to sample the successes. Maura’s Cardinal, Mystic Lady, Parfait and Egypt Yellow are among them.
Dehybridizing Eggplants and Peppers
The easiest way to create a new non-hybrid veggie variety is to begin with a favored hybrid and grow out some saved seed. It can take up to 10 generations to stabilize a great find, but lots of basic genetics can be learned along the journey. I have my latest selections from Islander pepper and Orient Express eggplant growing in my garden this year.
Creating New Ornamental Hot Peppers
Finally, work continues with some gorgeous hot peppers that all originated from one single red fruit obtained from a local arboretum many years ago. The bees helped me create some diversity in the family, and each year I sort through and narrow down the most promising to continue with.
Be sure to have some fun with your garden. Work in some projects, create or learn something new, and get the most out of your efforts. There really is never enough space, or time, to explore all of the wonderful places you can go!