It has rained and rained here in eastern Iowa. So much so that we are looking at flooding along some of the rivers in the region and flash flood warnings are a constant right now. Another casualty has been getting plants into the ground because no one wants to do that in the mud and driving rain.
The skies parted on Wednesday and the sun came out long enough to make it enjoyable to spend the lunch hour in the sun getting my hands dirty. As in past years, my gardening is limited to a series of containers on my patio as I wait the moment when I “sack up” and till under a huge section of my yard. Or go all strawbale style. I cannot decide and that is why I am limited in what I plant.
In about thirty minutes everything was planted:
Earlier attempts at growing larger size tomatoes in these containers proved futile. It never seemed like the plants were healthy and the yield was pretty much piss poor. Plus, when the farmers market has tomatoes in the summer they will almost hand you baskets full for nearly nothing. If you are willing to take the cracked and ugly tomatoes—does it matter if you are making sauce?—then you might even get some for nothing. I have had it happen more than once.
I decided this year to focus on cherry and grape tomatoes because my luck has been good and my daughter eats them like other children eat chips. She picks them from the vine and does not even make it to the kitchen instead choosing to rinse them off in the bathroom downstairs before inhaling her tomatoes. On a day when she can pick a few blueberries and a couple of grape tomatoes you would have thought there was no little girl happier in the world.
This year there are three varieties: Tiny Tim, Patio, and Husky Cherry Red. The Patio variety produces fruit that is a little larger than a grape or cherry variety, but it was a good producer in containers in the past for me so I am giving it another go this season. The Tiny Tim and Husky Cherry Red are true cherry tomato varieties.
Last year I planted one Tiny Tim plant because I lost a plant in a storm and it was one of the few starters left when I went shopping for a replacement. I did not have a lot of faith in the plant as I watched it top out at about one foot in height, but my trepidation was misplaced because that little plant put out a lot of fruit without a problem for weeks. It was a powerhouse of a producer, pound for pound.
The Husky Cherry Red is a popular choice here with container gardeners in eastern Iowa. It produces a lot of fruit and needs minimal support, a simple cage or staking will suffice.
If there is one thing people should plant in their gardens, container or otherwise, it’s herbs. If you go to the grocery store a little plastic clamshell of sad looking basil will cost you $3 or more. For $3 in seedlings you can plant a container of sweet basil that will keep on giving for weeks during the summer. The same can be said for a lot of other herds.
As in years past I planted one container of basil and another of rosemary because I use a lot of both herbs in my cooking. Basil is used for pesto and sauces while rosemary is a grill companion without peer. It’s amazing how much a simple piece of grilled fish can be enhanced with a sprinkling of crushed rosemary that was picked from the stem that afternoon.
Why I plant a few containers of vegetables and herbs every summer is not about self-sufficiency. I agree with Erik Knutzen of Root Simple fame who believes that self-sufficiency is a fool’s errand. It is more about reconnecting with essential knowledge that has been lost over the past half-century or so as our food system industrialized. Given where our food system seems to be headed—collapse anyone?—I think it is critical that people reconnect with knowledge about food and nature as much as possible.
It’s also about making sure that my children understand food. I want them to know that tomatoes come from plants that grow from seed and I want them to watch the process unfold. I want them to understand that on the occasions where we eat meat that they understand it comes from an animal that was alive on this Earth. You cannot have an understanding of food when it is abstracted from its origins.
Plus, I think that every time I eat a tomato from my containers or snip a few herbs that it is a little bit of rebellion against the dominant system. It’s like sticking it to the man with flavor.