I’m doing that thing that I do – holding onto things for longer than they are useful. Refusing to accept change. Cluttering my life.
The time of the ripe tomato has come and gone. It’s time to improve my soil and gear up to plant something new.
Many of my most recent columns have included a lengthy brag about the volume of cherry tomatoes gathered from the raised bed. Over the past two months, I have plucked and dehydrated so much fruit that I was willing to share with others. This spirit of plenty has created an urge to keep the plants past their prime of production.
Already, the wire cages have plopped over. I’ve killed two fat tomato hornworms, the presence of which is a sign of the end of the season. I could have yanked the plants last week when I filled a colander with round deliciousness.
I’m holding on, trying to get one more batch for my food dehydrator, or maybe even a bowl of green tomatoes that I can ripen indoors.
Even without the daily buzz of bees, gardeners can help a tomato plant with pollination by tickling the stem a few inches below fresh flowers. These days, I find the wire cage under the tangle of vines and give the entire plant a fast-paced shake.
Gardeners who have a huge growing area have the luxury of letting plants die of natural causes. The leaves will become blackened once the nights turn very old.
However, I have a small growing area and could and should replace the tomatoes with a quick crop of lettuce, or plant spinach and kale for harvest in early spring.
The Chico Valley Area Planting Guide from the University of California, https://ucanr.edu/sites/bcmg/files/184803.pdf, also advises planting fava beans and peas in October.
Time for lime
About this time, I also add dolomite lime to the growing area. Years ago, Jerry Mendon recommended this extra step to prevent blossom end rot next summer. He urged me to add the lime in the fall, so the mineral can provide calcium and magnesium to the soil.
The Gardening Know How website, https://bit.ly/2MrkCiP, notes that the benefits of adding lime may take place as little as four weeks. However, it can take six to 12 months for the full impact on soil quality.
As for measurement, Jerry had recommended adding about one cup per 10 square feet in my garden bed.
Of course, this means taking out the tomato plants, tilling the soil, then raking the lime into the top two inches. Now.
Maybe I’ll wait one more week. The extended weather forecast (https://wxch.nl/2Vuby0S) whispers of a bit of rain Oct. 17. This gives me time to harvest some mostly-red or green tomatoes to ripen indoors.
Indoor tomatoes won’t be as beautiful as those you pick and eat from the vine. However, my plan it to dry them, wrinkles and all. Place clean, less-than-ripe fruit in a shallow bowl or cardboard box top. Ruffle up a bunch of newspaper at the bottom, so each fruit is resting separately, with room for air. After a week or more, the fruit should ripen.
Some folks also delight in green tomato recipes.
One more week, maybe 10 days … Soon the first real rains will arrive. If I hurry, I can grab fruit, yank the plants, add good soil to the raised bed, add lime and plant seeds for those fall and winter greens. Maybe I’ll plan a vacation – I’m unemployed these days. If I plant seed before I leave, I can hope for rain and return to seedlings when I return.
I’m holding my breath, but I think I have a line on some work to keep me busy until I apply for another full-time teaching position in the fall. Wish me luck and look expect good news soon.
Garden enthusiast Heather Hacking loves when you share what’s growing on. Reach out at email@example.com, and snail mail, P.O. Box 5166, Chico CA 95927.