“The Amen of nature is always a flower.” So wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Mrs. P says fine to the amen for flowers but let’s give Mother Nature a big shout-out and mega hallelujahs for veggies, fruits, and our wee friends, honeybees. It’s still spring and still a wonderful time to plant. The ground is warming up and the conditions are perfect for getting outside and digging. Before we do get down and dirty, let’s pause for a little safety talk. Yeah, I know it’s a boring subject, but very necessary. I have had three bad (breaking bones bad) falls in the past few years. They all happened in my garden. Trust me, a garden poses numerous dangers. It’s like a cuddly cat just waiting to spring. There are two reasons to be aware of these dangers. The first is you don’t want anyone to get hurt, yourself included. The second is that nasty word “litigation.”
Here are things to watch for:
Who doesn’t have an old, rickety ladder? Make sure your ladder is in good shape and the right height for pruning. If you need to reach out too far, the next sound you’ll hear is “splat,” just like Humpty Dumpty.
Leave tools around, and for sure someone will fall over them.
SMALL CHANGES IN LEVEL
We can see major changes such as a step, but it’s the small changes such as a depression in a path or lawn that trip us up. Mrs. P did a wild ankle roll this way. If possible, level these depressions out with gravel or soil.
Don’t plant thorny shrubs or cactus next to the edge of a path or where people walk. I used to have a climbing David Austin rose that leaned over my side door. If someone got too close, it sucked them in with a scratchy embrace, then whooshed them out with such a force that they landed in Arvin.
STEEP AND SOMETIMES SLIPPERY STEPS
Handrails, handrails, handrails.
Pick all twigs and debris off the lawn first. Use goggles to prevent chips flying into an eye. Never mow with bare feet or flip-flops. Toes are nice to have.
Watch that cords are out of the way of pruning and mowing activities; never prune near electrical wires. Leave that to the pros.
If you’re refilling a gas mower, let the engine cool first and always refill it outside, not in your garage. I’m talking to you, big guy.
Don’t use them on a windy day. Wear a mask and gloves and wash your hands afterward.
Store chemicals in a locked cabinet and keep sharp tools away from young children and that Chain Saw Massacre guy. Put the older kids to work mowing, trimming, and edging as good character builders.
Now that our safety chat is over, let’s spend time on every Bakersfield home gardener’s most favorite—and most frustrating edible plant—tomatoes. Whether you opt for grafted or traditional tomatoes, throw a handful of crushed eggshells into the hole before planting. This helps prevent calcium deficiency problems, such as blossom-end rot. Epson salt, sprinkled around tomatoes gives them a boost. Roses, peppers, and lawns can’t get enough of this stuff. Remember to water well after the epson salt applications.
At the risk of repeating herself, Mrs. P wishes to list her tried and true tips for growing brag-worthy tomatoes. Traditional tomatoes can be planted deeply because roots sprout all along the stem. With grafted tomatoes, it’s important NOT TO BURY THE GRAFT because then it will produce roots from the original plant or scion without the benefits of the grafted rootstalk. Plant grafted tomatoes at the same level as the top of the soil in the pot they came planted in.
Be vigilant about staking, trellising, or caging. Get even more fruit by pinching the plant so that you get two main stems. Prune some of the side branches (those that keep bearing throughout the season) so that the energy goes into producing fruit. No pruning is necessary for determinate varieties. Do you know how to tell determinate from indeterminate tomato varieties? This isn’t brain surgery; look on the plant label! Do you even know what the terms “determinate” and “indeterminate” mean (or care)? Well, the “dees” fruit all at once and the “indees” just keep on truckin’ all season long. Keep two feet between tomato cages so that plants get plenty of air circulation and light from all sides. As the plants mature, remove the bottom 12 inches of foliage. Prune any leaves showing signs of yellowing and be careful not to touch healthy leaves after removing diseased ones.
Fertilize and water regularly. And that’s Mrs. P’s most important takeaways for growing gorgeous love apples.
Another couple of Hosanna worthy plants are berry plants. What I like especially about berries is that they are a type of fruit that have loads of uses. Fresh berries can be eaten raw, cooked, dried, used in baked recipes, toppings, sauces, tangy accompaniments to meat dishes, and even cocktails. In other words, what’s not to like about berries? They’re loaded with nutrition and just about every vitamin known to man.
Two interesting berry plants I’ve planted this year are gooseberries and tayberries. Ok, gooseberries aren’t really supposed to grow in Bakersfield, but I like a challenge. I’ve planted mine in an area of my yard that gets shaded in the hottest part of the day. This little berry has nearly 20 times of the Vitamin C as in an orange. The fresh berries can be eaten raw, cooked, or in sauces. During the 1800s, there was a “gooseberry craze” which began in England and spread to America. At its height, gooseberry clubs began to form. Hey, Mabel, wanna join the gooseberry club? Oh, be still my heart, this is too funny. Though the fad waned in the early 1900s, “gooseberry fool” remains a favorite dessert in Britain. Actually, it’s a cave-man easy recipe. Simmer sweetened gooseberries until soft, mash, and swirl into whipped cream, yogurt, or vanilla custard. Plants are upright, multi-stemmed, and between three to five feet tall. The leaves are shaped like maple tree leaves and they turn bright orange in fall before dropping.
The second berry plant I’ve recently planted is the tayberry. Cultivated in Scotland in 1962, it’s a newbie in the berry plant world. It’s a cross between the blackberry and the raspberry. The fruit is sweeter and larger than loganberries. After receiving a bottle of delicious tayberry syrup from my friend Diana Talarsky, I was hooked on the thought of growing my own tayberries. I ordered two bushes from Willis Orchard Company (www.willisorchards.com) and they’re looking happy and healthy along a wood trellis. Tayberries need sun, well-drained soil, and plenty of organic matter. The fruit will ripen in August and Mrs. P will be in tay heaven! Oh, by the way, the berry was named after the River Tay in Scotland. Who else would tell you these things?