Tuesday, April 5, 2022

The Rites of Summer

 I know. I know.

For many of you Memorial Day is still a long ways off (I'm actually writing this on March 26) but around here seasonally it's already Memorial Day and time to get out my linen Chinos, white loafers, and diaphanous sundress.

Even though the last family reunion was something like 7 month ago, when first unfurled my canopy still puffed out the strong scent of those height-of-summer campfires!

OK, so I don't really have any of those things lurking in my closet, but I do have my own version of seasonal wardrobe-swap.

With the afternoon highs pushing the limits of comfort inside the steel box of The Van, and the intensity of the north-bound sun burning through my protective layers it's time to move to the summer-house. Which I have to build each year there on a spot sharing a view of the pond with the greenhouse.

Which, to be fair, from dragging all the components out of The Van to sitting down with the first popsicle of the season takes all of twenty minutes, and that includes travel time to the freezer and back.

Since growing season is firmly shut down by mid-June/early July around here something else we have to be thinking about earlier than much of the country is the spring garden.

This year we are trying something a little different.

Instead of buying packets of organic seeds for our tomato crop (yes, I know, plants from organic seeds don't produce foods that any healthier than plants grown organically from less expensive conventional seeds, but at least I know there's a good chance the 'organic' seeds were produced in a more earth-friendly way than conventional seeds.) we decided to buy organically grown plants instead.

That might sound expensive but a single plant costs pretty much the same as a packet of seeds and since we only use one or two seeds per packet per year and by the third year even the most carefully stored seeds are getting pretty iffy, it's not like we're spending that much extra money going the plant-route this year.

In order to ensure availability we placed our order back in January and the ship-date, based on the last possible frost-day for our area, was the week of March 20. (Last average frost is more like March 4)

Come March 24 we got word that our plants had shipped out that morning with an estimated deliver of Monday the 28th. The night of the 25th, according to the USPS tracking info, they were already at the shipping center in a nearby (relatively speaking) city, but the estimated delivery was still the 28th. Accordingly we shuffled things around and made plans to go into town on Monday and collect them along with the rest of our mail.

But on Saturday, by pure happenstance - OK, some imprecise planning - The Wife discovered she had to get a package into the mail so went into town anyway. Turns out our plants were already there, despite the USPS's own tracking info claiming they were still at the distribution center a hundred miles away. I just hope 'No Joy' Dejoy doesn't find out some of his people are ignoring his slowdown directives and actually doing the job they'er paid for!

The down-side of this accelerated delivery is that while The Wife was off to town I just puttered around thinking I had two more days to prep the garden for our plants.

You know, minor things like filling up the tubs and adding a microbe rich supplement from MicroLife, (Microbes are people too and have to be fed and watered so I didn't want to get this started too soon) and adjusting the automatic watering system so each tub has three feet of fresh weeper-hose in it (When new, three feet of weeper hose produces just under a quarter inch of water per hour in these tubs, making it easy to adjust the watering setup. But this small diameter weeper-hose, made of recycled tires, is only good for two seasons with our hard well water so we needed fresh stuff for this year.)

So it took some last-minute scrambling to get our five plants, each one a different variety selected for our growing conditions, properly re-homed.

I also threw up a bit of landscape cloth overhead to tone down the afternoon sun a little. The plan was to have proper shade-cloth stretched out the roof but that hasn't encountered any efficient USPS'ers along the way and hasn't arrived yet.

Of course, when the plants are small like this a watered tub of microbe and micro-nutrient rich dirt is pretty much all they need, but with short, 50 to 65 day growing seasons depending on the variety, they don't stay small for long and will soon need some sort of support system.

Now I could spend $10 apiece on commercial tomato cages and be done with it, but now that the initial scramble is over I, you know, being retired and all, have time, and an abundance of raw material right here on the property, to work with.

In fact Yupon is kinda overly abundant around here so it only takes a few minutes of wandering around with the loppers to source plenty of material to work with.

To make tripods out of this I take three of the sticks I've harvested and loosely tie a double-wrap of some para-cord around them abut 8 inches down from what will be the top end,

then grab the bottom end of one of the sticks and pinwheel it 360 degrees, twisting my lashing up good and snug,

creating a stable, chest-high tripod.

Depending on how loosely I tied the wrap the pinwheel maneuver can get a little violent and I might end up stripping the bark a bit, but Yupon is tough stuff and can take it. (Using this method it takes about 30 seconds to make a tripod but for more structural work, such as holding up a wilderness shelter or a precious pot of food over the fire, a proper 4 or 5 wrap lashing with two-wrap frappings between each stick is called for.)

You might notice that I left the sticks a bit nubby, not bothering to trim the twigs and branches off too close. These nubs help out later.

Now that I have the verticals of my tomato cages built I need to do something about the horizontals.

I could just spiral some twine around the tripods from top to bottom (gravity and those nubbies would help hold everything in place) but fortunately I don't need to spend even this little bit of money because another thing we have in abundance around here is vines.

Now the bigger ones, like that gnarly one there on the right, are pretty much useless for this but because they are, by evolutionary decree, very bendy and pliable, even the largish ones, like that almost blue one there in the middle, are suitable for my needs.

I just cut it off there near the ground with the loppers, grab hold, and start walking.

They sometimes put up a bit of a fight, but with some determined tugging, making sure I'm well out from under the tree to avoid getting beaned by falling branches, I can quickly end up with 20 to 30 feet of vine laying on the ground.

Cut into appropriate lengths the vine can then be twisted into hoops of various sizes, (the sooner I do this after cutting it down the easier, though I have twisted vines cut down 4 or 5 days ago into hoops without too much extra effort.)

that can then be dropped down over the tripod in size-succession, where they snag on the nubblies and form perfectly functional, nearly completely locally sourced (I used para-cord for the lashing instead of local plant material) tomato cages for less than a nickle apiece. (again, because of the para-cord)

In this case I got the lashing a little tight on the right-most tripod and it wanted to close itself up at the base, so, rather than disassemble and relash - because, you know, lazy and all -  I jammed a couple short leftover branch-stubs in the top to encourage it to stay open.

But I wasn't quite done yet.

Because I can't jam the ends of the tripods very deep in these relatively shallow tubs I cut another Yupon branch long enough to span the width of the greenhouse,

and used a bit of twine to loosely tie off the top of each tripod to it in order to help stabilize them against the wind and weight of the growing plants, hopefully soon to be laden with a variety of different colored and shaped tomatoes.

        Golden Nugget

                         Italian Ice


                                            Sungold Cherry

                                                           Balls Beefsteak

Now, I think I've earned my afternoon popsicle! 


  1. You've earned that popsicle! What a lovely beautiful tub-garden with the handmade natural supports. I've done large braided wreaths with those vines, and it's sturdy and strong for about 6 years until it starts to get brittle. You'll need to do a monthly show and tell of your tomato blossoms for us all OK?

    1. Four of them are already high enough to start draping over the first level of the cages. Three of those have blossoms. The 5th one, the Beefsteak, doesn't look like it's doing much. I'm not sure why we continue to insist on a Beefsteak every year since we rarely have much luck with them.