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Garden report 2018

GAYS MILLS - This is prime time for gardens. I hope your garden is doing well if you have one and it seems that most people around here do. Even a cherry tomato plant in a tub on your patio or porch qualifies and it can change your outlook and surprise you with how much food it will produce.  But some of us tend to go a little hog wild with the mini-farms that good-sized gardens can become.

This is the second year, I’ve owned a rototiller and I feel like I just discovered the wheel. 

“We get too soon old and too late smart” as the old (German?) saying goes. Previously, I hand dug (ugh!) my garden, relied on the kindness of friends’ loaner tillers or a couple times had the garden worked over with a tractor-mounted tiller. During the growing season, the weeds gradually took over using those previous methods.  The tiller I have can be narrowed up by removing the outer tines so it can be used for weeding between rows. 

Another recent breakthrough for me was mulch.  I was able to get a truckload of “lightly used” straw bedding after the county fair. Straw is a lot better than old hay for mulch. Straw, the clean, straight, bright stems of a grain crop, is usually weed free. Hay often has weed seeds in it and they find a garden a great welcoming place to colonize. I like the look of a well-mulched garden, its cleaner to walk on, holds soil moisture, and blocks weeds.

I may have written about purslane before.  Purslane is a ‘weed’ (definition: a plant out of place) that I’m cultivating now as a crop. Come to find out, this low-growing, succulent, and attractive plant, native to Asia, has been eaten by people for centuries. It’s an annual plant and you may well have it in your garden. There are lots of pictures of purslane on the Internet to help you ID it. Check it out before you hoe it. It has fat, shiny leaves, and I quote, “provides more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant.” That’s quite a claim.  Can be eaten in a salad or stir fry.  I grow more purslane by accident than I do some other things on purpose.

Another thing I’m trying this year is staking tomatoes. Tomatoes are either determinate or indeterminate. The indeterminate varieties continue growing like a vine and can produce indefinitely, much longer than a Wisconsin garden season. They benefit from staking. The determinate types can be caged and they tend to produce more of a crop all at once, good for the tomato-canning crowd.

Training a staked tomato involves supporting the main vine of the plant as it grows upward, training a leader, as orchardists do with apple trees. My stakes are eight-feet tall with 18 inches in the ground. I hope they’re tall enough.  Tying this leader to the stake with soft rags will be a big improvement over my previous method: just letting the plant grow willy-nilly, sprawled all over the place.

Another thing I’m trying this year is removing tomato suckers. I didn’t even know tomatoes had suckers until I watched a YouTube video on it. Those of you who used to grow tobacco can relate to the value of suckering. Tomato suckers are found growing from the connection between the main stem and a side branch; they jut off there at about a 45-degree angle. Pinching those fruitless suckers out, early on, and you’ll get a bigger crop of tomatoes is the theory.

Good luck with your garden this year!