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First ’Maters

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm contributor

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tomato plant

Photo by Rick Gush

I was a little late getting my tomatoes in the ground this year.

Finally! I put the first tomato plants in the ground yesterday. By my calculations I’m about a month behind my usual planting schedule. It’s been a really rainy late winter and spring, and the ground just didn’t ever have a chance to dry out to the point that it could be worked. 

It’s usually my goal to have the first tomatoes in the ground on Valentine’s Day. Of course, when I plant so early I need to protect the little plants from both cold and rain damage, so I have a whole set of cloches to put over the young plants. I also have a few 1-gallon-size glass jugs with the bottoms cut out that make superb cloches, but most of my little greenhouses are cut from plastic jugs. They work just as well but just aren’t as cool as the glass jugs. Because I’ve been slow to plant, I haven’t dragged out the cloches — they’re sitting in a pile in my storage area.

My late planting start probably means I’ll spray less of the copper fungicide this year, and that’s fine with me. A lot of the organic farmers in Italy think spraying with the Bordeaux mix is OK, but I’ve never been too crazy about using the stuff because I know it’s a poison. When it’s cold and wet, copper is the only way I’ve found to get the young tomatoes through into the hot weather without developing fungus problems.

The tomatoes I planted yesterday are datterini, which are the large, oblong cherry types. They are called datterini because their shape resembles a big, fat date. They will be the main tomato variety we plant this year. We’ll grow a few cuore di bue (beef heart tomatoes) and a few of the yellow pear variety because that’s the sentimental favorite I remember growing when I was 6 years old.

Cucumber rack

Photo by Rick Gush

This year, I'm building more cucumber racks to support more cucumber growth.

In other work yesterday, I constructed the rack on which we’ll grow the cucumbers. We turned into more avid cucumber fans a few years ago when my wife figured out we could make cold cucumber soup. She adds a bit of really soft cheese or some yogurt and then chops it in the blender along with the cucumbers. Boy, is that good on a hot summer day! I used to just eat cucumbers as a salad component, so we really didn’t need bushels full of cucumbers. But now that we and our relatives have developed this taste for cucumber soup, our cucumber desirability index has skyrocketed and I need to plant a whole lot.

I think the cucumber fruits form best when they can hang easily, so I’ve been building racks out of river bamboo in such a manner that the cucumbers planted on the terrace above hang out over the terrace below from where the fruits can be easily seen and picked. We’ll grow both long, green cucumber varieties and the small, round lemon cucumbers. Lemon cucumbers are a bit sweeter, and there’s no bitter taste in the rind, so I can eat them whole without peeling when I want a quick snack in the garden.

Read more of Rick's Favorite Crops »

Give us your opinion on First ’Maters.
Submit Comment »
Annie, Houston, TX
Posted: 8/9/2013 6:45:31 AM
Time here to start seeds, weeks away from putting them in the garden.
Carl, Livermore, CA
Posted: 2/19/2012 12:22:45 PM
Your cucumber racks have inspired me to do the same. Usually I grow them in the lower beds and train them upward. This year I'm growing them in the upper beds and am bringing them forward. The shade will help here in the desert.
Bruce, Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 4/6/2011 7:49:54 AM
Rick, wow you have tomatoes in the ground and claim to be a month late. We here in Nebraska are just starting the seeds inside to plant in the middle of May. I kind of envy you for having a much longer growing season. I expect that your season goes longer in the fall as well. We just had a nice wet sloppy last of the winter snow of four inches. It's a real treat to get these snows as they are filled with rich nitrogen and melt slowly so it all goes into the ground to boost the spring growing season. Gardening will start soon enough and be better for it because of this last snow.

Have a great tomato planting day.
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 3/27/2011 7:10:03 AM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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