- Author: Karen Metz
It's been an interesting experience to garden at the time of the COVID 19 outbreak. Shortly after we had gone under the shelter at home order, my husband called me from Raleys to tell me they were selling tomato plants. He told me they had ‘Early Girl' and ‘Roma' varieties and they had bell peppers as well. I asked him to get me one of each.
Now at this point, I had no idea how long we were going to stay under the order. I also had not realized that the big box hardware stores and some nurseries would be allowed to remain open. In usual years I would choose one or two plants each from several varieties of tomato, but this year I figured I should be grateful for whatever I could get. Also, I thought it was too late in the season to try growing tomatoes or bell peppers from seed. To be honest, I had never had much luck with that in the past anyway.
When my husband got home, I found I had a six-pack each of ‘Early Girl' and ‘Roma' tomatoes and a six-pack of bell peppers. Oh my! I had never grown that many tomatoes before. I placed them in my raised bed where they were soon joined by a volunteer that sprouted up where I had grown cherry tomatoes last year.
Now tomatoes have some extra challenges growing at my house. Only one raised bed really gets enough irrigation for them. So, unfortunately, I have not been able to practice crop rotation to minimize the buildup of plant diseases in the soil. Also, the raised bed that is available is also the home of beautiful gladioli, that I am not willing to part with.
So, each year is a gamble to see if the tomatoes can get tall enough, early enough to keep from being shaded out by the gladioli. I do put tomato cages around the tomato transplants to try and give them designated spaces.
Getting the plants in the ground quickly and having a variety that matures rapidly like ‘Early Girl' has worked out beautifully. I picked the first ‘Early Girl' in the second week of June. Early Girls are also disease resistant which is good for my situation. They are indeterminant which means they will keep growing till the frost kills them.
The Romas are doing well also. They are loaded right now with fruit although they are still green, as they take longer to mature than the Early Girls. Romas are classic paste tomatoes with fewer seeds and juice, and thicker, meatier walls than standard tomatoes. These qualities make them wonderful for cooking and canning. However, Romas are also good for eating raw. My husband and I love them cut up in salads.
Knowing that the six-pack of bell peppers only had the raised bed with the poor irrigation available to them: I decided to do an experiment. I put three in a large pot which I watered every day. The other three went out into the raised bed which I also watered by hand. The container peppers are doing much better, being twice as large and already having fruit before the raised bed peppers have even started to blossom.
I also decided to try planting some vegetables from seed. Now, most of my seeds are very, very old. Some radishes sprouted, but as it had already gotten quite warm, they bolted, rapidly going to flower and seed, before the root had matured. My lettuce and bean seeds didn't come up at all.
I had some eggplant seeds that my Uncle Curtis had given me back in 2008. Given their age. I threw about thirty seeds in each of two pots and kept them inside on a windowsill. After about eight weeks, just when I was getting ready to give up and throw them out, a tiny sprout appeared. Soon after, another one followed. I ended up with two seedlings that I was able to transition to outside and then plant in the raised bed. We will see if they deliver the small white eggplant that my uncle had promised back in 2008.
The last thing that I threw into the raised bed was some new potatoes from the grocery store that had not been used quickly enough and had sprouted. I cut them into pieces, let the edges dry for a day or two, then planted them in a little trench in the raised bed. As they grew, I have piled additional soil on them. So far, they seem happy, as long as I water them daily.
Although this time of sheltering at home has meant that usual resources and varieties have been limited; I have had an abundance of home time. This has allowed more time in the garden to water, to watch, and to appreciate. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the growing season plays out.