Garden On, Vashon
Gardening, cooking, building, designing, dreaming…
Nancy & Steve Rose have a large garden on upper Westside highway that she inherited from her father. He was a berry-grower who passed on his love to his daughter. Recently, when I dropped off the painting I did of their red rhododendron (blog “Bloomin’ in Place, May 23, 2014), I got the chance to sample Nancy’s blackberries. A long-time fruit club member, she wanted to share her thoughts about the many varieties they grow. So here’s Nancy—
by Nancy Rose
Steve and I retired to my old family home on Vashon Island a few years ago. We worked hard to rejuvenate the old orchard and the remaining berry patches that survived the deer. We grow some varieties not often seen these days that may interest a few folks.
Some of our loganberry plants may be 50 years old or more. These berries are a cross of blackberry and raspberry, producing fruit an inch long of a reddish-purple color. Ours ripen over a period of weeks in June and July. They do not hold well on the bush or in the fridge. They do, however, make excellent jam, either by themselves or mixed with blackberries. They freeze well for future jams and desserts. Canes have zillions of tiny thorns, so look for thornless varieties.
We have random blackberry varieties we obtained from Raintree Nursery. ‘Black Butte’ and ‘Siskiyou’ do well, producing great big, long berries with lots of lobes. They ripen gradually in July and August.
Several other blackberry varieties from Raintree haven’t done well for us—perhaps due to our cool microclimate very close to Puget Sound. ‘Chester Thornless’ is vaguely unhappy, berry-wise, but grows lots of cane. ‘Cascade Trailing’ does produce berries, but looks dry, yellow, and sad. ‘Prime Jan’ grows and grows, but its berries ripen very late if at all.
‘Olympic berry’ is an old local variety developed right here on Vashon Island. We have two young plants that should bear more next year. Berries are longish and black and come on in July. The plants are tip-rooters and like damp, muddy locations.
Our nectarberries (what my Dad called them) may actually be boysenberries or a close relative, marionberries. We have one old bush that produces very large, juicy berries with big lobes and few seeds. The plant is not awfully prolific, which may be due to age or a semi-shady location. Its small crop appears in mid-July.
Then there’s ‘Silvan.’ The two plants Al Watt gave us have turned into a Thicket O’ Thorns, crowding out anything else in their bed. They produce lots and lots of berries in August that one can pick if wearing armor.
Last, we have the ‘Thornless Mystery Berry’ – no kidding, that’s how it was labeled when we bought it at Raintree on sale. From catalog pictures, we think it may be a ‘Triple Crown.’ It grows up, up, up into the apple tree, producing large black berries in late July into August. Canes don’t bend well so find a tall person to harvest the fruit. This variety, whatever it is, really likes its partially shaded home.
Many of the above varieties are available locally at the Country Store and Kathy’s Corner on Vashon. Raintree Nursery in Morton has lots of fun stuff and is worth the road trip.
So many choices for a blackberry pie…
The most prolific bush at the Rose’s was the ‘Silvan’, so I asked if I could pick a quart or so for a pie. Back home, I was impressed by how NON-drippy these berries were: they held up to mixing without bleeding overmuch. Using Helen Brocard’s thickening method of 2-3 tablespoons of cornstarch mixed in with the berries, I obtained a pie whose slices held their shape BEAUTIFULLY once cooled.
So if you really LOVE blackberries and have the gumption to grow some on trellises some sunny somewhere, you might consider trellising something besides that old nemesis, the Himalayan Blackberry.
Here’s my recipe for the above pie—
FIRST CRUST: in a bowl, measure 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup SAFFOLA oil (no other oil works so well), and 4 brimming tablespoons COLD milk. Mix with folk until mixture balls up, then press into a baseball, cut in two. On a sheet of wax paper, roll out to a thin round about an inch wider than your pie plate. Pick up the wax paper and flip the crust into the pie plate, using a table knife to peel the pastry from the paper. Before rolling out the second crust, make it into a ball, remove from bowl, and then—
MAKE FILLING: In same bowl (why dirty 2?) mix 7/8 cup of sugar or Splenda, 3 tablespoons dry cornstarch, and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Add 4-5 cups fresh or frozen berries. (If you’re making a loganberry, strawberry, marion or boysenberry pie, use a full cup of sweetener). Mix, then pour onto the first crust. Dot a few teaspoons of butter or margarine on top of berries.
SECOND CRUST: roll out second crust just like the first crust. Lift with help of the wax paper, flip and peel off the paper on top of the pie. Take BOTH EDGES of the crusts and roll them under the pie plate’s edge, then pinch-crimp the edge into a ripple edge to seal. Sprinkle the top with a combo of sugar + cinnamon, or brush with milk for a golden sheen top. Poke 4-6 slits in the top crust for venting steam. Cover the rim with a pie-crust protector or edgings of aluminum foil: this keeps the crust more like shortbread and less like a dog-bone.
BAKE at 425°F for 10 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350° and bake another 45 minutes until you see the filling trying to bubble out the top slits. The top will be golden brown. If you’re using a glass pie plate, reduce heat by 10°. LET THE PIE COOL completely so pie slices will set up instead of falling apart when you slice & serve.
Look who just wandered down my garden path! This five-point buck is headed right for a clump of pinks that now (or were) in full bloom. It’s his second visit, I’m afraid—where yesterday were clouds of fragrant pink flowers, today are only nubbins of stalk.
His visit reminds me of the questions so many buyers of my book ask me—is there ANYTHING that Bambi won’t eat?
Myself, I believe in keeping his nose away from the plants I love. I have three fenced areas on my small property. But you can’t fence everything—slopes are particularly challenging—and this buck is grazing down the “alpine path” between a terraced slope and one of the fenced areas. You can’t keep them from everything. Seven-foot high deer fencing is the only good defense against deer—and even fencing can be breached if the top’s not taut or the bottom unsecured into the ground. I once saw a small deer crawl on his knees under a bit of loose fence, munch down my line of beans, then dive headfirst down a hole under the far fence when he saw me coming. As for this multi-pronged beast—well, I’m not about to go charging at HIM.
Edna Dam, whose garden we visited in the last blog entry, has a garden in upper Cedarhurst that’s wide open to deer. “In frustration over their browsing,” she wrote me, “two years ago I created a list of plants that had never, or very rarely, been touched by deer in my garden. I was surprised at how long it was! It was not time to throw in the towel yet— just get real and plant more of the proven deer-proof plants.”
Here is Edna’s list—
BULBS: Daffodils, most alliums.
GROUND COVERS: Rubus, snow-in-summer. ajuga, forget-me-nots, ornamental strawberries (Pink Panda et al), stachys (lambs’ ears).
PERENNIALS: Catmint (nepeta), most euphorbias, grasses and sedges, hellebores, peonies, lemon mint (melissa officials); poppies (also annuals), golden oregano, orange mint, lavenders, hairy geranium (the ONLY perennial geranium they leave alone); phlomis russeliana (Jerusalem sage), lychnis coronaria (rose campion), Ravenswing cow parsley, Russian sage, telekia, inula magnifica, verbascum (mullein), artemisias, Mexican daisy (erigeron karvinskiana). Many (but not all!) sages – salvia greggii has been blooming for months completely untouched.
SHRUBS: Senecio greyii, berberis, deutzia, cistus, common sage (salvia officinalis) – both green and purple. Mahonia, santolina, curry plant (Helichrysum).
I also developed a list, many years ago, of deer-resistant plants. Here goes—
ANNUALS: Calendula, canterbury bells, clarkia, impatiens, poppies, marigolds. (Marigolds are said to repel deer with their fragrance, but I’ve seen a deer nose right past a marigold to eat the red cabbage the marigold was supposed to protect.)
GROUND COVERS: Ajuga, arabis, plumbago, galium (sweet woodruff), ivy, jasmine, osteospurum, pachysandra, periwinkle.
PERENNIALS: Acanthus, agapanthus, columbine, armeria, artemesia, asters, carex, centaurea, valerian, crocosmia, bleeding hearts, foxgloves, echinacea, erigeron, wallflowers, euphorbia, gaillardia, helicrysum, iberis, iris, and red-hot pokers. Lamb’s ears, statice, liriope, lithodora, lupines, bee balm, daffodils, catmint, oregano, poppies, penstemon, phormium, black-eyed susans, santolina, sisyrinchium, stipa, thyme, verbena, calla lilies.
SHRUBS: Abelia, berberis, buddleia, box, heaths & heathers, hypericum, cistus, cotoneater, daphne, elaegnus, escallonia, juniper, kerria, lavender, lavatera, mahonia, phlomis, potentilla, pyracanthus.
TREES: Vine maple, Japanese maple, false cypress, hawthorne, eucalyptus, magnolia, mayten tree, douglas fir, pine, spruce, hemlock, california laurel.
Edna offers us this recipe for a homemade spray. She says, “The most effective spray I have used is a home-made recipe I got from Mary Ann Roberts whose novel ingredient is rosemary oil, available at Thriftway. It actually kept deer away from my garden for two years – but alas, nothing is certain with deer – and by now, they seem to have acquired a tolerance (maybe even a taste!) for it. The recipe, should you want to try it, is—
1 cup buttermilk or yogurt
2 tsp hot pepper sauce (I use Habanera)
1 tsp rosemary oil
2 tsp cooking oil
Blend, then add 2 tsp liquid dish soap (so it doesn’t get foamy in the blender). Strain into a 1 gallon tank sprayer and add water to 1 gallon (I’ve recently simplified the procedure by mixing it in a gallon jug and then pouring some into a small spray bottle, which is much easier to carry around)
She says, “I’ve recently also been increasing the quantity of pepper sauce and rosemary oil. I’ve also tried adding new ingredients that smell really bad. So far the plants don’t seem to mind it. These stratagems seem to work for a while – but nothing is ever guaranteed with deer. If I had it to do over again, I probably would build a fence around my garden, but it hardly seems worth it at this point. Still, I think it’s possible to live with deer and have a decent garden.”
So we can. And thank the Gardening Gods that, unlike our brother Alaskans, we don’t suffer from browsing MOOSE!
Anyone who’s biked the Island’s “Passport to Pain” event knows that our terrain has rather much Up and Down (quote the organizer, “a series of brutal hills connected by short sections of… well, less brutal hills”). If your place isn’t on the shore or the Island’s top plateau, chances are you garden on slopes only a mountain goat could love.
Edna & James Dam retired here from Seattle in 1997, moving into a three-story house designed by Jon Thomas and built by Carl Frederickson in upper Cedarhurst. Sweeping down from their backdoor is a steep slope that, back then, held “a forest of Scotch Broom,” Edna told me recently during one of the Garden Club’s Open Days. Once their house was finished, they jumped into gardening that steep slope, accessed by traversing switchbacks James busted through the broom.
By the time their garden was on the 2002 VAA Garden Tour, they had managed to cover the slope with plants, create a vegetable garden and a vineyard, and start a “berm” garden next to their upper parking lot. I remember flowering ground covers tumbling over short walls made of “cherry-tone timbers”—peeled cores of logs left over from veneer milling and sold to gardeners for walls, edging, or raised beds. I remember saying at the time, “Those will rot in a few years,” but I was wrong: nearly 15 years later, they’re still in fine shape. Here’s Edna, standing on one of those paths, below the house.
The property isn’t fenced, and with five acres of stewardship forest just below, they are frequently visited by deer. ”The only way we can grow roses is to lift them up on arbors,” she told me. Years ago they commissioned some arches from a Tom working under the name Corinne Technical Design “because he said his last name was unpronounceable,” said Edna. Now rising above the reach of deer are three Rosa ‘Van Fleet’ on the upper arbors, while a “White Rose of York” (top photo) graces the lower arbor. Edna, a former copy editor, sighed, “We had the Red Rose of Lancaster growing in the upper garden, but it died years ago.”
Edna has a whole list of plants her deer don’t seem to like, which I’ll share in my next blog as it’s a long list. Blooming on her Open Day were ceonothus, astrantias, foxgloves and alliums, verbascum ‘Southern Charm,’ oriental poppy ‘Coral Reef’ and a cherry-red single herbaceous poppy that might be ‘Le Charme’ or ‘Tom Eckhardt.’
The Vineyard: “The first vines were planted shortly after we moved here in 1997, and more have been added from time to time. The early ones included ‘Madeline Angevine’ and ‘Siegerebbe,’ two whites developed to do well in our less-than-ideal grape-growing climate that are registered as “Puget Sound appellations” by Gerard Bentryn of Bainbridge Island Winery. Jim also has a few ‘Pinot Noir’ and ‘Muller Thurgau.’ The loopy things are to hold bird netting. They work moderately well, enough so that he can usually get enough fruit to make a gallon of “Estate Wine” every year. Then he satisfies the rest of his winemaking lust by picking great quantities of the blackberries that grow so abundantly and never need pruning, staking, or protection from the birds. They make a pretty nice wine.”
The vegetable garden is a small, fenced patch set in their best sunlit spot, which is tough to find down in this hole-in-the-forest garden. At least half seems devoted to strawberries, and they are protected from varmints with a large, black net laid over the entire planting.
At the bottom of the cleared area are the plants that enjoy wetter soil: big-leafed things like telekia, inula, and mullein, plus a large deutzia shrub she brought from Seattle, today drooping with snow-white blossom. Here’s that deutzia, and Edna again, looking upslope across a shady ground cover toward the grassy area devoted to naturalized daffodils in the spring.
What I most fondly remember from my 2002 visit is where you go from here: winding far back is a trail that takes you into the wilds of Baldwin Creek. Here young alders, stout old cedars, and giant sword ferns line the watershed of this small seasonal stream, named after an island pioneer family. Baldwin Creek flows directly into Colvos Passage; the Parks Dept’s Belle Baldwin House in Fern Cove is nearby. I remember walking this trail on a fresh, sun-sparkling April day (the earliest the VAA Garden Tour had ever been held) and thinking that this kind of never-ending walk through the wilds was getting pretty rare on the Island. But with the Dams in stewardship of their five-acre share, who knows (and maybe soon we’ll all know) this kind of wild might be here for a long time.
Thriftway has ordered big from the famous strawberry growers of Burlington, Sakuma Bros. Tomorrow ONLY—that’s Friday, June 6—Thriftway will sell them for half-price, at $1.98/lb. You can get pints, big quart baskets, or even flats for under $20. The berries are big, coral to red all through, ripe and VERY fragrant.
For even more local berries, Sun Island’s farm-cart is open for business down in Burton. The photo I saw yesterday showed it loaded with about 45 pints of strawberries. Farmer Joe Yarkin also sells them at the VIGA market on Saturdays.
I’ll make freezer jam out of most of these berries. But I couldn’t bear to crush them before first cutting some into slices for crepes.
I remember my first strawberry crepes, eaten down in San Francisco in Guiardelli Square. They were filled with whipped cream and ginormous strawberries, and afterwords I was so full, I told my father I was gonna die. Dad, a doctor, rolled his eyes, told me I had eyes bigger than my stomach, and go walk up and down the boardwalk until I felt better.
Here’s the recipe:
In a blender, crack three eggs and whirl. Add 3/4 cups milk, and 3/4 cup flour. Blend. Let sit while you slice enough strawberries to fill a pint (2 cups). Sugar, and a little salt & pepper (believe me, pepper brings out something in strawberries.) If you’ve got it, a 1/2 cup of Torino Strawberry Syrup tunes up the berry flavor even more.
Scoop about 3/4 cup of plain yogurt into a cream pitcher, and add sugar, some Torino syrup. Set on table. Might put a container of cottage cheese out, too.
Heat a griddle or skillet with low sides on high heat. Oil the bottom slightly (brushed-on is just the right amount), then from your blender pour about 1/3 cup of batter into a puddle in the center. With a flexible cake knife or other spreader-thingie, spread the batter out until it’s a 6-8″ round, thin pancake. Let it bake on the heat: when the edges start to curl or release from the pan, slide the cake knife under and flip it to cook the other side. When both sides are golden brown (or have a lot of toasted spots), remove from heat and put on a plate in a warming oven (or serve immediately to hungry, slavering diners).
Microwave the bowl of strawberries for 2 minutes until just hot. Take everything to the table. Fill a fat center line down the crepe with cottage cheese (S & P’d tastes much better), then strawberry slices, some of that yogurt, and roll up. Eat, groan, love it all, clean your plate, then go take a nap.
So don’t miss that strawberry sale. One day only—TOMORROW!
From Tramp Harbor all the way up the Shipping Channel, the view is long and breathtaking from Judi Burwell’s deck. From her entrance, the view was once not so great: it overlooked the neighborhood road and, occasionally, whatever the neighbors dumped into the forest across the street. But today, Judi has a landscape that does what it needs to: frame the view in one case, obscure it in another.
Judi moved here in 2006, remodeled the house to (among other things) get an even better view over Tramp Harbor, and then hired Terry Hershey to redesign the garden. Judi didn’t want the front lawn, but she did want to keep the mature rhododendrons, enormous Japanese maple, and large ornamental cherry growing near the road. So Terry and crew removed the grass, brought in “tons of that sand-compost mix,” and created two garden areas: one a shade garden surrounding the Japanese maple, the other an entrance garden of potted plants and shrubs that hide the ground floor and visually push you up the front steps toward the new entrance upstairs.
Now, Judi’s view off her front porch is of volumes in color contrast. Violas and pansies, grasses blue, bronze, and black, red clover and hardy geranium weave among the purple and evergreen shrubs that embrace the house. Like stars amid green clouds, callas, peonies, and Asiatic lilies accent the garden, while the maple rises above them all, a tremendous thundercloud of green.
Far underneath, the elk statue she brought from Colorado keeps an eye on dogwood, whose blooms can be easily missed amidst all this greenery. No longer can the street be seen (except via the driveway), nor heard much, thanks to the burbling of the faux “river” that Hershey installed.
The view on the other side of the house takes your breath away—not only for its beauty, but for the danger to a little granddaughter wandering near that 80′ drop. So Judi asked for a wall in front of that edge: something that could be planted, something just tall enough to discourage little girls.
Here Judi has her roses, irises, and lavender, along with shrubs that “I know I need to trim back.” (Like many a gardener I’ve visited, Judi spent much of my visit doubled-over to weed and prune.)
An open, expansive view or an intimate, embracing garden: Judi Burwell has both.
Strawberries are here! Hubbie brought home an overflowing quart box of Burlington strawberries grown by Sakuma Bros. They were red all through, thoroughly ripe, and oh SOOOO good in our breakfast crepes. Keep ‘em comin’, Thriftway.
But the ones I’m drooling over are those slowly reddening in my own backyard. You long-time blog readers know the travails I’ve suffered with my strawberries: home-cobbled cages only Homer Simpson could love, succeeded by quonset hoops of bird-netting I THOUGHT were thoroughly pegged down, the coon trap with the rotting chicken carcass that sat, broadcasting its stink for a customer, for three disappointing weeks. Meanwhile the four Bros. Chipmunk and their pal Rocky laughed in my face as they nibbled their (my) strawberries on the top of my garden wall, leaving me only strawberry scalps to taunt their triumph. The little buggers…
Not this year (I hope). With all this spring’s moisture, I have a lush crop of berries coming on. And as of yesterday, the crop’s completely screened from varmints.
These are my new “Fort Knox” strawberry cages. The idea is like a banana box: the lids slide tightly over corner pegs rising from a wooden foundation. The corners are lap joints, pinned with brads; the short side panels were made first, then connected into boxes with stretcher bars screwed into the lap-joint corners. Each side is screened with the new, easier-to-handle bird-netting available at our local hardware stores (and because I ran out of netting, the side most favored by rodent invaders is screened with 1/4″ grid hardware cloth. Let them gnaw through THAT…)
It helps to have a workshop to create these things, time to do it, and years’ worth of helping the hubbie build projects inspired by “This Old House” and “The Woodwright’s Shop. I would feel like quite the woodworker if lap joints and screws weren’t so very Homer Simpson…
I also have a very small patch of ‘Marshall’ strawberries that I bought from Patty Hieb at the market. These are the strawberries that made Vashon famous, way back in early 20th century—but today, the variety is very rare. So when I saw one single berry turning red yesterday, well, I did something to make sure that I got it and not Red Robin.
And these are the raspberry screens. Birds have been more of a problem with the cane fruits, so months ago Hubbie built some frames out of bamboo, jute, and compressor-driven brads. Late this winter, I covered them with the better bird-netting. Amazing how a skin of fabric stretched over a rickety, racking rectangle will stiffen it right up and keep it true. To access the raspberries, I just pick up and move aside a screen. If I’m lucky, nobody else with opposable thumbs will learn to do the same.
Two days ago, I pushed down the last of the strawberry lids. Being mostly of cedar, they’re pretty light, and it’s a bet that a varmint may try to nose his way in. But just in case he does, I put a strategically placed brick right on the above corner. Like the practical joke of water bucket over front door, if he tries too hard to get inside — BONK! Rocks on HIS head, stars in his eyes—and I’ll be the one laughing as I gobble down the Berries Mine.
I’ve had this garden visit on my “To Do” list ever since my Kickstarter campaign last summer to fund printing of my book, “Garden On, Vashon.” For Steve & Nancy Rose’s contribution, I promised to visit, blog about, and paint their Westside garden.
“We have some beautiful rhododendrons,” said Nancy, “and we were thinking that the red rhodie near the house would make a good subject. Why don’t you come in the spring?”
Two weeks ago when the rhodie in question was just starting to blossom, I toured their garden. Her parents bought the place in the mid-4os when it was but a cottage on acreage with an orchard and a great view of Colvos Passage. Mom had it professionally landscaped in the mid-50s with the then-typical mix of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias. Dad cultivated the fruit trees, even grafting some new trees of his own, and planted loganberries and other fruit.
After Dad died in 1999, Steve and Nancy lived here part-time for awhile. In 2001 they added a kitchen and a new wing. To make room for that wing, they decided to transplant some of the big white rhodies away from the house and out along the driveway. Nancy said, “Our contractor just scooped them up with his front loader. We were surprised how shallow the footballs are: like big dinner plates, rather like those of doug firs.”
Since these rhodies were kept well hydrated from run-off coming of the Westside slope onto their property, they never went into transplant shock. Today they’re huge trees.
So I collected photos of their garden and the Red Rhodie that would become my painting’s subject. Retired to the studio and, for some hours, tried to capture it. However, I’ve largely given up painting during this Great Recession, so my skills are a little rusty. The result, to my eye, was a lifeless painting whose color and tone betrayed it had been painted in a dark studio. I’m an experienced plain air painter: I should have known better. No substitute for Being There.
So last Friday, on a sunny afternoon with bouncing light from passing clouds, I gathered up my painting kit and drove back to the Rose’s. And I suppose there’s a metaphor to be worked between the rhodies that thrived so well in their new situations and an artwork that quickly bloomed from being made in the right place. Nothing like feeling the scorch of sun bouncing off brick into your eyeballs, of refreshing your eyes with the cool shadows under a gigantic rhododendron. Here’s the result—
By today, the thick paint film wasn’t so slippery, letting me add the effect of flowers and tune up that sunlight pouring over house and blooms. Yes, I painted these last effects in the studio, confident that I had captured—could bring back to life—that bright afternoon in the red rhodie courtyard of Steve and Nancy Rose.
The sun’s out at LAST! Good timing, as two of your favorite Island authors, Ed Swan of “Birds of Vashon” and myself of “Garden On, Vashon!” will be sitting at True Value, signing and encouraging you to buy copies of our books. True Value is having their annual Potting Up Day, starting at 10am. I think the deal is that if you bring a pot and buy flowers, they’ll plant your pot and fill it with free potting soil, too. (Something like that, but don’t hold me – or them – to it).
At the VIGA Market, Patty Hieb is selling MARSHALL STRAWBERRY PLANTS. That’s right—the original Vashon strawberry that made our Island so famous for strawberries, back in the 20th century. The Marshall is said to be quite tasty and gets large—one booster claimed “the size of an apple!” Unfortunately, they have flesh too delicate for commercial shipping, so farmers abandoned this wonderful variety. Marshalls faded into obscurity—so much so that the only source known was a couple heritage Japanese farms on the West Coast and the Plant Germ/Seed Repository in Corvallis, Oregon.
But our own Helen Brocard kept her bed of Marshalls going for years. She moved to the mainland recently, selling her place in Dockton to Patty Hieb. She’s propagated these wonderful and rare plants, and you now can buy some and grow on your own VASHON FAMOUS MARSHALL STRAWBERRIES!
So go see her at the VIGA market. And if you haven’t got a copy of my book, come see me at True Value today until mid-afternoon and get your book autographed.
(And Ed won’t mind if you buy his, too.)
Though I could not make the Garden Club sale that was such a big success last Saturday, I DID see photos taken by club member Carla Okigwe of the many, MANY buyers prowling the aisles. Thanks to you all for snapping up our wares, the process from which will fund our community projects and scholarships.
I got an email from one of our tomato customers this morning. She was one of the lucky few who bought up—within fifteen minutes, no less–all of our black tomatoes. She wrote, “I bought an Indigo Rose, one of those recommended by Jo Robinson (author of Eating on the Wild Side), but I don’t know if it needs to be hardened off before I put it in the ground.”
To all you tomato buyers, be warned—OUR TOMATOES ARE NOT HARDENED.
We Greenhouse Nuns didn’t have the time to lug over 1000 tomato plants in and out of the greenhouse for a week. But you buyers DO have the time, this week, to gradually acclimate your tender green plants to the Great Rugged Outdoors (especially these last couple days…) HARDENING OFF is a gradual process of exposing your tomato plants from an indoor grow situation (which they’ve been in their whole lives) to an outdoor setting, while still in their pots.
Today, take your potted tomatoes and put them in the sunshine, in a place where Bambi can’t cruise by and have them for a snack. Let the toms shiver in the rain for a couple of hours, then take them to a sunny indoor spot. Tomorrow, take them outdoors for 3-4 hours before taking them in. On the third day, leave them outside a little longer. By day four, they’ll be ready to be parked outdoors during all the daylight hours. By day five, you can start leaving them out all night. By day six or seven, plant them.
If you are a working stiff and not home all day to move your plants in & out, use your Friday evening for the first 2-3 hours of hardening, more on Saturday, even more on Sunday, leave it out all Monday before bringing it in for the night, then leave it out all day Tuesday over its first overnight outdoors.
Tomatoes want at least six hours of sun to ripen their fruit—and more is better. Plant them deep—up to their first leaves—as the stem will erupt in new roots if buried in soil. Laying the plant in an angled hole means less deep-digging for you, more roots within quick reach of rainwater for the plant. A fistful of All-Purpose fertilizer scratched into the hole will be all the food the plant will need.
I recommend you put in your plant supports now, while the plant is small. If yours is a bush plant, you’ll need a tomato hoop-cage you can wiggle down around the now-small plant and jab its legs into our wet earth easily. If yours is a vine plant, you’ll need a stake at least 6′ long (or more— you may find you’ll need longer, deep into August) or a fence panel or an overhead wiring system with a hanging wire that you can wrap the rising stem around. (For much more information on how to grow an Island tomato, see the chapter on this very topic in my book, “Garden On, Vashon!”, available at most Island stores with gardening sections (plus, the pharmacy).
If we have a good summer, you’ll start getting ripe tomatoes grown outdoors in august; hoop house tomatoes will probably start ripening in July. Good luck! and if you get some good ones, don’t forget to come compete at the VIGA Market’s “Tomato Taste-Off” later this summer!
It’s nearly here—the Annual Blow-Out Garden Club Plant Sale . Think THOUSANDS of veggies, tomatoes, perennials, shrubs, trees, fuchsia baskets, geraniums, and garden treasures and tools, all grown or contributed by the Vashon Garden Club.
This year’s big event starts at 9am this Saturday, May 3rd, at the recently-emptied Temporary Vashon Library at the IGA Market Plaza. Bring a little sustenance if you come early, cuz you’ll join a long line that stretches back to the grocery store by 8:45.
Featured this year is over 1000 tomato plants: $4 in gallon pots, $2 in 4″ pots. Attached is a PDF file you can download to plan ahead (though don’t try to print it: it’s a 2×3′ poster that’ll hang above the tomatoes at the sale). We’ve grown lots of heirlooms, early tomatoes, colorful tomatoes like the phytonutrient-rich “Indigo Rose” grown by Jo Robinson (author of ‘Eating on the Wild Side”) and plenty of SunGold cherry tomatoes—I HOPE.
We’ll also offer veggie starts: lettuce mix, several varieties of onion, broccoli and cabbage, basil, marigolds, mesclun mix, swiss chard, beans, dukes, squash, and hopefully CORN!
From Kay White’s greenhouses will come fuchsia baskets and geraniums that are, (and I quote) “quality—but not much quantity.”
The action runs until noon. Bring your little red wagon and expect a line waiting at the door. Proceeds support horticulture scholarships and community gardening projects.