So Long and Thanks for All the Tomatoes

We had our first freeze this past week, and some dry days… so this happened:

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No mas tomates

So the tomatoes are done for- we pulled them out and piled as many as we could in the fire pit. We let them dry out a few days and then torched them this weekend, quasi viking funeral style. The youngest actually toasted marshmallows on a dry tomato stem, improbable as that would have seemed before witnessing it with my own eyes.

When I pulled the plants out there were only two quite unhealthy looking tomato tobacco hornworms left; both were yellowish, a little translucent looking, and hadn’t moved for a day- I think the cold got to them. All the others are gone- so what that means for them I don’t know- all I know is I wasn’t the cause nor means of their destruction, so I’m okay with it. (The unhealthy tobacco hornworms got moved to the leaf litter around a climbing rose. I’m sure they’ll live long, healthy lives.)

I have some parsley, Toscano kale, and a new English thyme plant in the spot where the determinate tomatoes (Bobcat and HM1823) were. I put in three decorative purple kale, another thyme, two roses, and a loropetalum shrub in the side of the bed the cherry tomatoes were in. MUCH too crowded, but I’m using it as a nursery bed to carry the plants through the winter easier than the collection of smaller pots in the pot ghetto at the back of the driveway slab.

As I look at the varieties for a final review: I’d grow Bobcat and HM 1823 again- if I had to pick a favorite I’d go with Bobcat- it cracked less, but taste was the same between them. As for the cherries- I will definitely grow Sungold again, but I might finally be moving on from my Sweet 100s for a red cherry… I’m open for trying a new one next year.  It lagged so far behind Sungold and got a bit leathery and less tasty in the hot weather.

Ah my tomatoes… till next year, buddies.

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What a pain in the ass these things are when not in use though! I can only imagine it’s similar to those big light up deer you then have to store year round aside from Christmas…

Speaking of the first freeze, as I’ve mentioned when discussing our old tub and old windows here – we live in an old house. It is crazy cold in the winter, especially in the front of the house- luckily the bedrooms are okay. And we had only yesterday because of wet weather and it getting dark right after work due to daylight savings (thanks, Ben Franklin- I hate you) to finally get some insulation in under the floor in the living room and front room before it rained again.

It was… not an enjoyable job. And yet, I loved every minute of it? It’s hard to explain but these dig in and be capable moments are some of my favorites. My elbows are killing me from abrasions due to army dragging myself around in the 18″ crawlspace- I probably still have fiberglass in my face (is like microdermabrasion?), and I 100% know I have to go and reinforce it more with more supports so it doesn’t sag- but I have to make the damn supports myself because our house having been built in 1910, the joists aren’t the standard 15″ or 23″ spacing so standard store-bought supports won’t work- the jerks are only 22″ spacing on the main house and 24.5″ spacing `on the front/ dining room. Thanks a damn lot, Ebidiah, kinda a pain in the ass there.

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This is actually from a couple of weeks ago when I got under the house to try to fix a broken hot water line. We didn’t fix it and ended up having to call a plumber on a Saturday- but damn we tried first!

Anyway, my husband and I spent the late morning/early afternoon dragging ourselves around under the house stapling up insulation, it was great. I love doing this kinda stuff with him, its fun- even when the job has your nose in fiberglass and your back on cold clay soil that hasn’t seen the light of day in 108 years. Fingers crossed it’ll make a difference because I can’t STAND not feeling warm! Oh well, you know the thing they say, the one thing they aren’t making more of is old houses!

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Pic from when the paint was getting finished… I should take a new picture but its raining now and this bed is warm and the cat is asleep next to me and this coffee is hot…

 

Of Tomatoes and Bugs

Thanks to the recent rains that scourge of the late summer/ fall Texas garden, the red spider mite, is gone. They killed my tithonia and came THIS close to killing the tomatoes before the prolonged recent rains gave them the ol’ Wicked Witch of the West treatment and they melted away. So, when it finally DID dry out enough to pull out the tomatoes I actually found a halo of healthy leaves coming in… so they got a haircut instead of being executed.

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He’s only MOSTLY dead… which means that he’s SLIGHTLY alive!

From this… to this!

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Better looking than I was expecting, honestly.

I was quite pleased with them… as well as with the perfectly formed baseball sized green fruit on Bobcat that I hadn’t noticed under all those dead leaves. So for all the folks who rip out their determinate tomatoes and replant in the fall may I suggest that next year you try laziness? Worked for me.

But then, of COURSE on the last bit of cleanup on that first tomato plant I found this guy:

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Dang you!

Here’s the thing- I grow plants for caterpillars! I like them! My husband got me a book on pollinators for my birthday one year! The striped ones for swallowtails I literally smile at and call my buddies:

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My buddies!

But tomato hornworms!? Agh! Their appetite is HUGE! They can decimate a plant! And I found SEVEN more of them as I was cleaning up the rest of the tomatoes! So I had EIGHT of these massive green caterpillars… on my precious tomatoes. I was conflicted. And yet I couldn’t just squish them. Or throw them away. I actually DID put out a call to a friend with chickens to see if she wanted them for chicken snacks- is like the circle of life, right? She didn’t. That might have been too weird of a 7:30 am text honestly, now that I think about it. And so… I left them on the plants. They turn into the hummingbird moth after all… I just straight up couldn’t kill them, especially when they all seemed JUST about maximum sized and therefore should be crawling off to make  chrysalises soon, right?

And even now, after researching for this post when I find out they aren’t in fact tomato hornworms but are, in fact, TOBACCO hornworms (they both feed on both plants but are different species. Differentiated by markings on the caterpillars’ sides- tomato hornworm s have v shaped white markings and tobacco hornworms have diagonal stripes). And so they DON’T turn into these:

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Hummingbird Moth ( from the TOMATO hornworm caterpillar) cool and all if you could just do something about that oversized abdomen…

… but instead, the tobacco hornworms turn into these nightmares:

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Aw hell.

AND yet… I’d already decided to let them stay! Ugh… FINE. And besides, I remember seeing one of those moths on the front of the house… what if it was their mom? (I fully also see how crazy this all is, don’t think I don’t).

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Turns out they eat ACTUAL tomatoes too. Fantastic.

And so now the Sweet 100 cherry tomato has literally zero leaves from this brilliant decision of mine. But at least I am guilt free and happy in the knowledge I won’t have any angry tobacco hornworm moth parents coming after me.

Besides, it’s the Sungold that is still putting up the real numbers these days and still has enough leaves to see it through.

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So pretty!

So, a bit of a soft spot for insects I guess- which along with liking wandering around in graveyards puts me well over the line of quirky and unique and instead into downright odd territory. Whatever. Life is much too short to worry about anyone’s opinions- do what you like while you have the time. Besides, we’re all weird somehow- anyone who tells you they aren’t must be hiding some REALLY crazy shit.

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Did I mention my pet 2″ spider on the Basil? Yeah…

Cough cough… I also might have had a black and white jumping spider as a pet on the kitchen windowsill and have my second wolf spider pet on my desk… so… yeah. At least my weirdness is only for bugs and graves… imagine if I liked scrapbooking or napkin rings? Shudder.

 

 

The Texas Garden in August aka Picante’s Inferno

The garden in August is a lesson in survival and non-survival. Miss a day’s watering and your three year old spirea is toast. (Not a hypothetical example). It’s cut to the ground and is starting to leaf back out- that was touch and go though, it was in no way a given that it would survive. But, here’s what is going on out there right now…

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You can’t see all the bees in this picture… there were at least 4. Pickings are slim for pollinators these days so we’re all happy to have the flowers we do.

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Tithonia (the Mexican Sunflower) is over 4′ tall now

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Orange, Red, and Purple… I may pass on recreating that in an ice dyed scarf…

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Mexican Olive Tree- gotta be close to 6′ tall now. The Mexican Redbud is doing great too. If I had Mexican Oregano I’m sure it’d be thriving.

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So the days are past that we sit over here for the aesthetic.

The tomatoes are really struggling. Turns out the curled leaves I was concerned about on the Bobcat and HM 1823 is just the tomato response to extreme heat, so NOT a disease as I originally thought. The cherry tomatoes are still producing- though Sweet 100 is doing better on the volume of crop we’re collecting in the middle of this summer, but the Sungold has set lots of new fruit after a couple of week’s lull.

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I’m already needing a stepladder to harvest- gotta be 12′ these days, but it’s starting to curve back down.

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My buddies- the caterpillars for black swallowtail butterflies. We have 7 right now- how I love them!

Lord it’s so hot. We’re all just hanging in there for fall… which usually hits right around late November ’round these parts…

Weekly Ramblings

Guess what we’ve been up to this weekend? GUESS! If you guessed gardening, you win! Also, rewatching Singing in the Rain- for the third time. WHICH OH MY GOD IS SO GOOD AND FUNNY AND WATCH IT! If anyone doubts the “youth of today”- please know that it is the girls’ favorite movie, and they shared it this weekend with their 11 year old cousin, who also loved it, and  who’s previous favorite movie was Newsies. The youngest got up to dance along to every musical number. My theory is that generations move in a cyclical fashion, so we’re coming up on a Greatest Generation’s revival- but without the racism and unquestioning belief in the government… so just you wait and see- and have faith in the future.

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Sooo the sidewalk chalk is back. I should really take these at the same time of day so the exposure and shadows don’t bounce around so much. I should do lots of things.

Does the bronze fennel look slightly smaller this week? Well that is thanks to my favorite thing ever- my Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. So we had four of them- and what a great picture that would have been! They’re yellow black and white striped… and it should be obvious by now that if I had a picture I’d totally be sharing it. But when I went out to get some shots… nowhere to be found. For the first time ever I did find one setting up for a chrysalis though, all the way on the other side of the yard. They travelled far. Anyway- I’ll take pics of the next group.

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White Mistflower shrub. I just googled it and do you know what the other common name is? Havana Snakeroot! Hardcore! Poor thing, it’s like having Spike for a nickname and everyone calling you Susan.

So do you know how unusual these flowers are? Why are they unusual? Normal bloom time? October to November! So yeah. Keep it up there, Susan.

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Stop standing in your own light while taking pictures, you.

In front of the white mist flower are 3 clumps of Mexican Mint Marigold. Supposedly edible, other common name is Texas Tarragon, but I just grow it as an ornamental. Because here’s the thing- it’s supposed to be the warm weather alternative to Tarragon- but who the hell like’s tarragon? I can’t get onboard.

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Sweet 100!

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Sungold!

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HM 1823! Almost didn’t include this shot due to it being out of focus, but then realized a fuzzy picture tells you exactly the same amount as a crisp one, my god they’re just tomatoes.

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Bobcat. creeping Oregano in front of it. English thyme blending in with the grass behind it. Last tomato picture, I swear. For this week…

So the tomatoes are coming along awesomely- I’m so happy- I love everything about growing tomatoes. I swear tomato leaves are one of my favorite smells in the world. Had a bit of a rough week at work, and there was a day where I walked out from my office just to go bruise a leaf and smell it. Grounding and reminding that life is bigger and work is just so very small. That’s my kind of aromatherapy right there- and it worked like a charm. I can’t get onboard with the essential oils trend… but if they make a tomato leaf one I’d be down.

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And the newest bed with my Mother’s Day gift! Yes it’s early, but that is a Mexican Redbud we couldn’t constrain ourself another week before getting. Salvia Gauranitica  underneath it. Weird how this works- my husband and I call salvias by their latin names. Because we could call it Black and Blue salvia… or Majestic Sage… but we don’t? I honestly think it’s a holdover from when I worked at a garden center and so I must have imprinted like a baby chick on using the latin names and then he picked it up from me… but I only ever do it for salvias? Life is weird.

I know that seems planted too close to the house- but there is method to our madness, I swear. Mexican redbuds reach out and are airy and tend to have leaves only on the top of the branches when they mature (very Seusian) and we want it to reach up and out (we’ll train it away from the house) and then the oldest daughter gets to look through interesting branch structures out her window. The husband and I got the idea while seeing one at a restaurant on our anniversary date, and the hunt was on to find one- we just had to get it. And the Salvia Guaranitica will get about 3′ tall and fill in the whole area underneath it. We had it at our old house and probably had 20′ of it by the time we moved.

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Close up of the Mexican redbud leaves with droplets of water… so arty over here.

It was a beautiful day…

My husband and I were sitting in the backyard last weekend and noticed a black swallowtail butterfly flit around the potted plants. I told my husband it had been doing it for hours and when I went over and checked the parsley I called him over to see- a newly laid butterfly egg! And look- there is another, and another!

Did he reply with wonderment at the beauty of nature? Or with wonderment at me and my insanely good eyesight and perceptivity? Yes, that last one… kinda. What he said was something to the effect of: Picking nits from the past few lice incidents has really paid off! Well. Yes. I guess it has, my love. I guess it has.