A Gamble Worth Taking

Posted in Gardening at 10:47 am by Administrator

This has been a crazy gardening year!  After a very cold winter, the heavens opened and the rains came – and came – and came!  From April on into June it rained.  Tiny seasonal creeks became raging rivers – and the Red River became a lake of several square miles.  Even now there is still water standing in corn fields that will produce nothing this year.  Many of our gardening customers lost their gardens to the rain.  Of the 4000 tomatoes plants we had for sale, half went to the composter.  It  was not a good year to sell tomato plants!

We were lucky.  Almost all of our garden beds are raised so the water ran into the paths between the beds instead of puddling around the plants.  We planted extra tomato and pepper plants and will sell produce this year.  But even so, everything is late.  We just started getting tomatoes about three weeks ago and the peppers are finally starting to produce. I’ve made a couple of batches of salsa and will soon be making a lot more!

Phil and I never go to the casino.  We’ve decided gardening is enough of a gamble!  But for us, it is a gamble worth taking.


We’re Not Everyone Else

Posted in Gardening at 2:15 pm by Administrator

A few days ago a new customer came in looking for pepper plants.  When I told her that the plants wouldn’t be available for another 2-3 weeks, she replied “Everyone else is selling them now.”  She left unhappy.  My  gut response was that I should have done something to appease her.  Then it hit me.  We are not Everyone Else!

Every year it seems that vegetable plants start arriving earlier at big box stores and farmers’ co-ops.  And, sadly, people buy them, take them home and plant them into cold soil, then frantically try to save them from frost.  A new shipment of plants arrive, people buy them again, plant them and watch them freeze again.  Sometimes this happens 3 or more times! 

We began having people come to us looking for tomato plants at the end of February.  We explained that we don’t – and won’t – sell our plants until it’s time to plant them.  Some people grumbled a little, but we took the time to explain that warm weather plants need warm soil to thrive and that killing frosts generally don’t end until mid-April.  Old gardeners know that, but often can’t resist the temptation to be the first with a ripe tomato.  New gardeners had no idea.  They assumed that because the plants were available it must be time to plant. 

It saddens me to think that the bottom line has become more important than honesty, ethics and customer service.  Phil and I would rather lose money than take advantage of our customers.  Most CEO’s would think we’re crazy.  Maybe we are.  All indications are that tough times are ahead.  The price of food is increasing while the quality is decreasing.  The safety nets for the poor are being cut so the wealthy can continue to prosper. If we can help people learn to grow their own food and take care of their families without picking their pockets in the process, we’ll do it.  We aren’t Everyone else.


Tomato Planting

Posted in Gardening at 3:42 pm by Administrator

I’ve finally been able to start tomato seeds!  The night time temperatures in our garden center have been too cold for the growth of healthy tomato seedlings, but the worst of the very cold weather seems to have passed.  The extra heat mats we ordered have arrived so I should have enough to keep the roots warm as the seeds come up.  It takes 6-8 weeks for seedlings to mature enough to plant into the garden.  We should have our first plants ready by late March.  That’s really still too soon to plant tomatoes, but I know there are some who will plant them anyway.  In fact, Phil had someone ask him a few days ago if our plants were ready yet.  He wanted to get his planted.  We all love that first ripe tomato and just can’t wait to taste it!

There are several things to consider before putting tomato plants in the ground.  Is all danger of frost past?  Yes, you can protect plants with row covers, jugs and cans, but the cold will stunt the plant’s growth.  How warm is your soil?  This year’s extreme cold means that the soil will be slower to warm up.  If you put tomatoes in cold soil, their growth will be stunted.  You can help mother nature warm the soil by mixing alfalfa pellets into it about two weeks before you plant the bed.  It breaks down quickly and makes your soil into a mini-compost pile.  Don’t put plants in with the alfalfa because the heat generated will burn the roots.  You can also put down black plastic over the row and remove it when it’s time to plant.  You can leave the plastic down, but be sure and add a lot of mulch over the top of it or the heat generated by the plastic will stress the plants during the heat of the summer.  Clear plastic just helps the weeds grow bigger and better.  As a rule of thumb, we wait until mid-April or later to put our outside tomatoes in the ground.  We like the night-time temperatures to be at least 55 for a couple of weeks prior to planting.  An occasional dip below that won’t stunt the plants too much, but it’s really better that the temperatures be consistently warm before planting them.  Peppers and eggplants require even warmer temperatures to thrive.  I generally plant my peppers after I dig my garlic – early to mid-June.  I’ve tried planting them earlier, but they usually don’t do very well.  Soil moisture is another consideration.  Most years we have some pretty heavy rains in late March/early April.  Unless your beds are raised, the heavy rains can cause blight – or even kill the plants out-right.

There is lots of good information on-line about tomato growing, especially through Oklahoma State University.  Do some research and you will have a bountiful, beautiful crop this year!


Learning Patience

Posted in Gardening at 3:43 pm by Administrator

One of the many things gardening has taught me is patience. Planting seeds, watching them sprout, transplanting them to the garden, waiting for the plants to produce their bounty – it all takes time.  The harvest can’t be rushed no matter how badly I want to taste that first ripe tomato!

We live in an instant gratification, I want it now society that has forgotten that the best in life often comes by waiting patiently.

The fast food movement is a good example of this.  Now I’m not talking about McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Sonic.  I’m talking about the movement that brought fruits and vegetables into our grocery stores in the the dead of winter, shipped from thousands of miles away, just to satisfy our need to have the best of summer even when there’s snow on the ground.  The problem is, most of what gets sold as “fresh” has been in transit for days and is way past its prime by the time it gets on the grocery store shelves.  Many things have to be picked green in order to survive the trip.  Did you know that a whole new variety of tomato has been developed just for grocery stores?  It stays green for months and only turns red when it’s gassed.  That’s why so many of those grocery store tomatoes are hard as gourds.  They only look ripe.  They’re really green tomatoes gassed to look red.

From the phone calls we get at The Garden Market, I can tell that there are folks out there who have forgotten that fresh, off-the-farm vegetables have a season. Watermelons, peppers, tomatoes – well, you get the idea – don’t grow in SE Oklahoma in the winter.  And plants can’t be put in the ground until the weather is right.  If you plant tomatoes, green beans, squash, melons and cucumbers before the last frost, the plants will die.  If you plant eggplant and peppers before the ground warms up and the weather gets hot, they won’t produce.  Sometimes even seasoned gardeners get in a hurry, lured by those early warm spring days into thinking that the danger of frost is past.  Then along comes that late frost that catches them and they have to start over.  I have to admit, though, it is hard to resist the tomato plants sold early at big box stores and local feed stores!

There is a “new” movement that seems to be catching hold as people become more concerned about their health and about what’s really in their food.  It’s called the “Slow Food Movement” – except it really isn’t new.  It’s a return to buying what’s grown locally when it’s in season.  It’s a return to waiting patiently for that first fully ripe tomato that drips juice and seeds off your chin as you bite into it fresh from the garden.  It’s the crisp snap of green beans just picked off the vine.  It’s visiting your local farmer and seeing where and how the food is raised.  It’s knowing that what you’re eating has been raised with love and care – and knowing that chemical fertilizers and herbicides haven’t touched the soil or the plants or the produce that’s offered for sale.

I am encouraged by the garden that has been planted at the White House.  I’m encouraged that children have been invited to help plant, tend and harvest the garden and that they will get to prepare what they’ve grown.  What wonderful life lessons they will learn while digging in the dirt along side the First Lady, the President, their children and the White House chefs.  While they’re digging in the dirt they will be getting fresh air and exercise, not watching TV or playing video games.  And hopefully along the way, they’ll learn to wait patiently for the good things in life as they watch that first tomato turn red on the vine.