Monday, July 26, 2010

How does your garden grow?

For me, there are few things finer in the category of food than picking a perfectly ripe fruit or vegetable off its plant and savoring it on the spot.  From discovering a trove of wild raspberries on a hike to planning and planting from seed, the moment of harvest still excites me the same.   
As a city dweller, it can be hard to stumble on truly wild anything, but no matter what your living situation, you CAN grow something!  Over the years I have come to realize that it doesn’t really matter whether you have a garden the size of a small house with a gaggle of crops and compost your every scrap, or if you’re coaxing a little Home Depot runt of a plant to life in a window box outside your studio apartment.  Either way, the result of harvesting your treasure is pure pleasure.   My family makes fun of me because I talk to my plants like they’re my children and talk about them like it too.  I don’t know if it makes them grow any better, but it does connect me to them, which keeps me from letting myself get lazy and not taking care of them properly. 
If you haven’t tried vegetable gardening yet, it’s not to late!  All of the better farmers markets in town still have seedlings.  I recommend tomatoes to start for lots of reasons... they are fun and easy to grow, they grow fast and usually give a generous harvest, their foliage smells amazing and also because it is a HOT HOT summer that makes tomatoes tremendously happy.   Splurge on a bigger seedling now that it’s mid-summer and you’ll be picking yours by the end of August.  
Tips for growing tomatoes:
1.  Don’t plant too early!  I had to replant my whole crop this year because we got a late frost & they all died.L   Mother’s Day is usually the rule for the NYC area. 
2.  “Petting” your tomatoes supposedly encourages growth.  You literally brush your hands up and down the foliage in long swooping strokes.  Next year I plan to do an experiment to see if it really works, but for now I continue to make a fool out of myself, just in case it does.
3.  Once the plants have taken off, you should trim back the “suckers,” or the stems that do not produce fruit.  This lets the water & nutrients get to the parts of the plant that need it most, not the parts that ‘suck’ the resources from them.   It is easy to tell the suckers once you take a good look.  The stems that produce tomatoes get fine little hairs all up and down them, followed by flowers.   The suckers have smooth stems and never flower.  Don’t trim them all because then your tomatoes could fry in the sun.  Let just enough suckers remain to give them some shade. 
4.  You don’t have to wait for the tomatoes to completely ripen on the vine… as long as they’re of size and starting to turn, they will ripen just fine on your counter (don’t put them in the refrigerator).  This is especially my advice if you have any sign of pests or wildlife also waiting for harvest time.