Several gardeners have reported tomatoes by the Fourth of July.
Francis Orroch of Fredericksburg had several by July 3. He set out his plants of 'Early Girl' the usual time, about May 10, and fertilized them lightly every three weeks with 5-10-10. He uses plenty of cow manure in his garden and a dressing of dolomitic limestone dug in before planting. The only unusual thing he did was limit fruit set. He pinched off all except the two in the cluster that were nearest the main stem. (Ordinarily, tomatoes fruit in clusters, sometimes with seven fruits all touching in one bunch).
"I wonder if I'm stupid," he said, "but I'm the happiest man I know."
Not because of the tomatoes, of course, but in general. Maybe a happy disposition ensures an early crop? My tomatoes seem likely to ripen about Labor Day.
Gardener Poston also picked tomatoes the week before the Fourth from the variety 'Red Dawn.' The seeds were sown Feb. 10, the plants set out April 27 with a Wall O' Water shield against the cold.
Gardener Steele was equally early with two varieties unknown to me, 'Carmelo' and 'Redcap,' though the last may be the same as the old 'Bonny Best.' Also, and this is astonishing, the midseason variety 'Jet Star.'
Farmer Purdy, equally surprising, has come through with 'Better Boy,' another midseason variety never thought of as early. The plant was 18 inches high when she bought it, with two flower clusters already formed. It went outside in mid-April. (Which is three or four weeks too early, but who will complain?)
Several other gardeners have reported good ripe ones by the Fourth, and the variety most often mentioned is 'Early Girl.'
One gardener complains no fruit has set on 'Beefmaster' planted the end of May, though the plant is fully healthy at a height of 5 1/2 feet and has been fertilized every two weeks with Miracle-Gro. The blooms fall off, and why?
First, there is no point waiting till the end of May. Try May 5 to 10 next year. Second, do not fertilize until the first fruits set, and then use a third of a cup of 5-10-10 every three weeks, or some equivalent. Be sure the plant has at least six hours of direct sun daily. If there is less sun, the crop will be less and will take longer to ripen, so do not expect miracles. A tomato plant set out the end of May that is now 5 1/2 feet tall is growing too lushly. I would let up on the fertilizer.
Tomatoes do better with a three-inch mulch. They do better when grown in a wire cage 20 to 30 inches in diameter and five or six or seven feet high. They should have steady moisture, at least an inch of water a week. They do not like to be flooded then dry out then flooded. They do not like cloudy overcast skies, not that the gardener can do much about that.
As a wit once said, just do the best you can. If it's any comfort, which I doubt, my own tomatoes have had superb culture, if I do say so, and were planted out with protection April 14. They get seven hours' sun, a flawless mulch, no weeds, good cages, no bugs and no fungus. And not even that steady white look that must appear before the first sign of pink and then red.
Possibly I lack a happy disposition and the tomatoes know it. Now then, a word must be said for annual flowers. Suddenly, perennials are all the rage and for some gardeners it has come to the point that annuals are looked down on. This must not be allowed to occur, not with the sane gardener.
A gardener in Tennessee reports he bought "a" plant of California poppy recently and it has done nothing at all. I can well believe it, as that pretty annual does its growing in cool weather and blooms before the daffodils are gone. Next year, grow more than one and plant the seed outdoors in February.
A pretty annual not often planted is the Trachelium, which has flowers of sky blue, like a small cow parsley. There are endless annuals we see listed in the seed catalogues and never get round to trying. It adds zest to our glorious summers to try a few new things each year.
I was annoyed with Limnanthes douglasii, sometimes known as the fried egg flower, because it disliked summer heat, though it did flower lavishly for about three weeks.
Also I have never succeeded with tuberous begonias. I have seen them in full blazing sun in southern France and, of course, California. For a long time I consoled myself that they will not endure muggy nights when the temperature stays in the eighties. But I have seen them in sun in Washington, so I know they are possible.
A few years ago Steve Webber, the passionate authority on daylilies, gave me some tiny seedlings of a cross between 'Green Glitter' and 'Bitsy.' We discussed that cross and had something in mind, I cannot now recall just what. Anyway, they grew slowly, possibly because they were overhung by a huge rugosa rose, but this year they have been rather handsome and one of them is better than the others, with four branches. They are all pale yellow, lighter than primrose, with a greenish tone to them.
I have grown much better daylilies from seed in the past, if it's all right to say so, but my point is that many a gardener should make a few crosses and plant the seeds. When they bloom two years hence, the gardener will be pleased.
A few years ago I sent a lot of seed to England, crosses of the best standard varieties of the day, and when they bloomed the recipient reacted just as all raisers of seedlings do.
Nothing but swans. Not a goose in the batch.