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Winter Tomato Fantasy

This tomato really doesn’t look very happy….

Maybe I’m stubborn. Or maybe I have to try a different variety of tomato to grow in winter. I’m going to go with the second thought for the time being. It seems obvious, though, that my Cherokee Purple heirloom variety is not exactly thriving in my kitchen this winter, not even with a grow light. At six in the morning it is bathed in light while it is still dark outside. From a distance it looks really discouraging, and maybe time to scrap the idea as not worth the electric bill for the twelve hours of artificial light that I am bestowing on my tomato, (a celery too.)

But! I haven’t given up yet, because if you look closely, the growth at the bottom looks new and healthy.

There is new growth at the bottom of the plant that looks healthy.

At this rate, though, I will be having spring tomatoes, not winter ones. This is what I call learning by doing, as opposed to fantasizing about fat, juicy tomatoes greeting my in my kitchen in the middle of February….

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One Tomato

A tomato starter under a grow light, (and some celery too.)

I have finally accepted that a tomato is not going to grow in winter, not even in a greenhouse, without some extra hours of sunlight. I am down to one tomato starter that is still alive almost half way through December. I am determined for it stay alive, and also to get a few tomatoes from it! So I bought a grow light, my first one ever.

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Winter Veggies that Grow in Greenville

Mr. Nathan Vannette recommends Agribon as a cover for a hoop winter garden, because of its durability, and because it is less likely than plastic to get caught in a wind.

On November 19 from 7-8pm, I attended a very informative class, along with about thirty other would be winter gardeners. The class, called Winter Vegetable Gardening, was taught by Nathan Vannette, a co-owner and operator of Growing Green Family Farm. It was hosted by the Travelers Rest Branch of the Greenville Public Library. Not only did I learn about different methods and what to grow, but I was given a lettuce starter and five free packets of seeds!

Reading materials available at the library for would be winter gardeners.

Mr. Nathan Vannette gave an information packed lecture about best practices here in the Upstate of South Carolina for keeping a garden going year round. Now, I have to confess I was a little disappointed, but that’s because I have a tomato growing in my kitchen right now, and I thought I was going to leave the class with what I needed to plant that baby and get some tomatoes this winter. Well, that turns out to be more fantasy than reality for now. That’s because Mr. Vannette ever-so-politely informed me that I would need a grow light to get any tomatoes at all, cuz there’s just not enough hours of light around here. A fully constructed greenhouse with a grow light is not in the cards right now, but maybe an LED light in my kitchen?

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Admitting Defeat

There is no avoiding that this is a total fail…

I don’t know if my plants in my greenhouse died because they got too dry in the daytime, or if it was because there’s a hole in the plastic at the bottom, or if there is too much air coming up from underneath the deck and I should seal that off, or if I should have watered them even more. I have got to learn the right moves.

I really do need to go to that workshop! If you’re planning on going, I’d be glad to meet some local homesteaders. At least I still have one celery and one tomato inside my kitchen.

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Dancing with Potted Plants

The hibiscus will stay inside until spring.

It’s the time of year here in Greenville SC when the temperature fluctuates wildly between a high that can reach the eighties to a low in the thirties at night. Yesterday for Halloween we had a deluge of rain that brought with it a warm tropical wind, and we had a high of seventy nine degrees. But I have been anxiously looking at multiple sources for weather reports. I knew that the temperature was going to plummet last night, but of course not to the exact degree. So yesterday I brought my hibiscus and gardenia pots inside, where they will stay until the freeze has passed in spring. Since the temperature dipped to thirty nine degrees last night, I did the right thing. The hibiscus plants are not hardy below forty degrees.

I’m keeping this pot with tomato and celery in my kitchen window.

The annual ritual of moving my potted plants has gotten to be a bigger chore than it used to be. I also brought in one of my avocado trees, and a potted amaryllis that I couldn’t find a spot for in my house last fall. At this point I have used up about all the space that I have in the sunny portion of our living room. I also brought in one of my pots that has both a tomato starter and a celery starter, both only a few weeks old. I put that one in the kitchen window, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do when that tomato vine starts spreading out a bit. I might experiment with keeping it clipped, (sort of like a tomato bonsai?) and see if I can coax a tomato or two from it that way. I squeezed the amaryllis into the guest room window, which already has an avocado tree, a large gardenia, and a bamboo plant that is almost ten years old now.

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Acquiring Winter Wisdom

Recycled celery from the kitchen and tomato starters from the compost will be my first winter crop…

I have tomato starters growing on the deck in little pots right now, very late October. I rescued the sprouts from the compost heap a few weeks ago, because I have a hard time letting go of living things. At the time I had a vague idea about actually starting a greenhouse this winter and miraculously having some of these ripe beauties for a salad in the middle of winter. I’ve heard that it’s possible, but I haven’t done it yet myself.

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Heirloom Tomatoes

It’s still tomato season around here, and I’ve done many things with the baskets of tomatoes yielded by about two dozen tomato vines. There are a variety of them, grown from starters that were purchased in our area. I’ve canned tomato sauce, paste, salsa, and BBQ sauce. But there’s also some heirloom varieties available around here, and a few years ago we started growing some Cherokee Purple that I discovered at the Farmer’s Market.

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According to a story from NPR, the original seeds did indeed come from the Cherokees. Mostly they don’t grow picture perfect. They have a purple tinge to them and are really meaty and delicious.  I don’t throw them into the crockpot to stew down. Instead I reserve them to eat fresh in sandwiches and salads. Continue reading

Prep Work

When I have a load of food from the garden, the first thing I do is wash and sort it all. The okra I go ahead and chop right away. Then I bag it and put it in the fridge. Over the next few days I will fry it or make gumbo. Tomatoes get divided into the good and the ugly. This morning I took the ugly ones and cut the ugly parts out. The remaining parts I chopped up to make fresh salsa to go with dinner tonight.

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There was also butternut, acorn and patty pan squash that I cut open and baked all together in the oven. Later I’ll scoop them out into freezer cups….

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