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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

English Kitchen Gardens and---- tomatoes?

English Kitchen Gardens

English kitchen gardens seem pretty distant from our SoCal conditions—so why bother with them? Well, the average temperature for the Central Coast in 2010 was 68 degrees—we had trouble ripening our tomatoes, the eggplant was unhappy, the zucchini got mold. Soo… dealing with this globally cooled coastal climate which doesn’t look like it is going away anytime soon---maybe we can learn something from English vegetable gardeners .

The first thing to consider is their use of masonry, brick or stone walls, and border edging if they are not using raised beds. We all know about creating micro climates, in a dim sort of way. The English method is highly specific and time-tested, and thought it has something to do with aesthetics it has a lot more to do with radiant heat. So—find a wall, south facing if possible. West facing might be too much in our climate.The English are crazy about brick and stone—its what they have to work with. For us, adobe, stucco, the side of a house is great.
 I’m assuming you are frustrated by the behavior of your tomatoes in this  really nasty summer.Find the side of a garage, a proper fence, whatever --- to collect solar heat. (Being aware that our temperatures even along the coast can fly up to 100 degrees on a hot day.) The chilly weather will help the tomatoes set fruit if you use Early Girl, San Francisco Fog, or any of the many Russian or Siberian heirlooms.

This one is Purple Prince. Black Prince is another Siberian that does well. (Has anyone else noticed that only tomatoes from the coldest part of the world do well in Central Coast summers? Makes you wonder....) Mark Twin remarked the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.

Well to outwit this kind of weather we will grow our tomatoes in
 5 gallon black plastic pots —one plant per pot in either pure mushroom compost (getting hard to find), a prepared good potting mix, or your own you have produced from composting and /or vermiculture. The soil temperature is critical---the  black plastic pot warms up the soil fast, and the starts take off. However---unless you have a drip system set up, you need either self-watering pots or a plan to stand with a hose in your hand 12 hours a day. Double potting is also a good idea (more on this later--we have time before tomato planting season)

 Obviously, I favor self-watering pots. Making your own is easy. Or buy them  Expensive but effective.

Tomatoes  do just fine grown in pots---just be sure your pot is big enough.Dahlias also do extremely well in big pots—grow them with the tomatoes .Mary McCarthy always said dahlias belong with the vegetables, not in a flower bed. Dahlias do have edible tubers, so they are  a vegetable ? (the Aztecs considered dahlias a food plant: “The Aztecs gathered and cultivated the dahlia for food, ceremonies, as well as decorative purposes,["3]  W

Here’s the original dahlia coccinea the Aztecs used for food and ornament. It would look great with your potted tomato plants..  .
We have coming from England (where else) a whole mini series on Victorian Kitchen Gardens-- which turns out to be a a pig in a poke. European DVDS only run on a PAL system (don't ask). We don't in the US of A. Had to borrow a PAL DVD player.
Stay tuned.