This time last year, I was trying to make up for lost time, “better late than never!” I thought as I belatedly weeded, watered, and fertilized. I didn’t want spindly plants this year, so I tended my rhubarb in March. The payoff came in May when I harvested 1 lb 14.5 oz (865 g), putting me further along than I was in June of last year. I’ve got high hopes for a good season this year!
A cold April followed a cold March with the average high temperature 3.36 Â°F (1.87 Â°C) below normal and the average low temperature 2.50 Â°F (1.39 Â°C) below normal. May is almost over, and it feels like its warming up. I’ll post complete data when I have it.
A La Nina weather pattern gave us the cold weather in March and April, but it will weaken and have a negligible impact in June. So says the Climate Prediction Center, a part of the National Weather Service. Hopefully that will translate into normal summer weather.
The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center has an explanation for cool weather I noticed in March. When the eastern Pacific Ocean cools, called La Nina, it affects local climates in predictable ways. Here in Washington State it brings cool, wet weather. Since the CPC expects La Nina to continue into April, it looks like we’re in for another month of cold, rainy weather.
This is not what I expect my backyard to look like in Spring! I start paying close attention to the weather this time of year, because I’m starting my garden and a lot of what I grow will end up in a primary fermenter. How’s the weather looking thus far? It felt cold to me in March, and a quick check of temperature data confirmed that we’re off to a cold start. The average high temperature was 3.48°F (1.93°C) below normal and the average low 0.58°F (0.32°C) cooler. Most of my fruit trees are beginning to stir, and I’m worried about a late frost.
Harvest your rhubarb early in the fall
I pulled in the last of the rhubarb on 10/5/07. The 11 oz (312 g) brought my total for the year to 62 oz (1737 g), which is about what I harvested last year. October is a bit late, and I had to discard many stalks. Next year, I’ll need to get out there and harvest in September.
Prune and train your tomatoes
I was out in the garden during September, that’s when I took the last of the Gold Nuggets. I harvested 4 lb 5 oz (1950 g) on 9/15/07. That brings my total for the year to 17 lb 14 oz (8132 g). I learned a lot this year, but the most important lesson is to make the effort to prune and trellis your tomatoes. I wrote, back in July, about pruning my tomatoes and that I would do it in “baby steps.” Well, baby steps just didn’t cut it. Tomatoes grow fast and furious; you need to be out in those beds, with your hand pruners, a lot to keep them under control. I didn’t do that, and my Gold Nuggets, which are supposed to be self supporting, just flopped over onto the ground and spread out. This meant that a lot of tomatoes were in contact with the ground and/or covered by vegetation. A good trellising system would keep them off the ground and a pruning regimen would direct the growth. The result would be more fruit, less rot, and an easier time harvesting.
Switching hats: from gardener to winemaker
So lessons learned. Next year will be better. In the meantime, I should get about a gallon of rhubarb wine and a gallon of tomato wine. Most of my wine and mead will be from purchased fruit and honey, but these two batches, and the Oregano Wine, are from fruit, vegetables, and herbs that I grew myself. That’s the sort of home winemaking that I love.
I began harvesting my Gold Nugget tomatoes a month ago. I hope to get at least 15 lb (almost 7 kg) to make a white tomato wine. The 6.5 oz (175 g) that I harvested on 8/9/07 has become 9 lb 12.5 oz (about 4.4 kg) and counting, so I’m about 2/3 of the way there. I couldn’t fit that many tomatoes in my kitchen freezer, so I bought a chest freezer to store my harvest. I may have been a little optimistic, though, when I was thinking about how much space I would need …
I’m waiting to see how my white tomato wine turns out before trying a red, so I haven’t been thinking about which varietals to try. Until yesterday. That’s when I noticed a photo of some beautiful bite-sized tomatoes that, if they were darker, would be just the thing for a red tomato wine. The photo is from this article by Molly Day about her garden. After some advice from Molly and some internet searching, I came up with a short list of promising tomatoes for red wine:
At this point, all I know is that they’re small and darker than most tomatoes. So now I’ve got some research to do, and I’ll revisit this topic when I know more.
The 20 oz (550 grams) that I pulled in today was my biggest haul ever, and puts my total for this year at 3 lb 3 oz (about 1425 grams). I’ve always had my last harvest in August, and if I can manage 2 oz more than last year’s 15 oz (about 425 grams), then I’ll have matched last year’s total of 4 lb (about 1800 grams) despite a slow start. It looks like I’ll have enough rhubarb for a gallon of rhubarb wine.
I put a lot of thought into pruning my grapes, but I normally just let my tomatoes grow any which way they choose. I might try to tuck them into their cages every now and again, but I never thought about pruning. Now that I’m growing tomatoes for wine, I’m starting to wonder if some of the principles behind grape pruning would apply to tomatoes. If one leaf shades another on a grape vine, then I would want to pull one of those leaves because a leaf in the shade isn’t doing much in the way of photosynthesis. Wouldn’t that be just as true for tomatoes? Also, tomatoes have a way of sending branches off in every direction. Maybe trimming off the ones growing into the dirt would keep the fruit cleaner? Maybe it would reduce insect problems?
In this photo, I’m about to prune a low branch that is sloping toward the ground. This is the sort of pruning cut I’ll be making this year. The tomatoes have grown taller and bushier since 6/21/07, when I took the above photo, but I’m going to start slowly with my pruning. If this goes well, I may try pruning tomatoes more like grape vines. I don’t know if I’ll really go that far, but if I do, I’ll get there by taking baby steps.
I’m still behind last year, but the rhubarb patch is looking much better now.
The large leaves on large stalks show how far the rhubarb patch has come from early spring.