28 February 2009

Random Tomato

Here's an interesting mystery... a half-dozen tomato plants from seed that, somewhere along the line last year, lost their labelling, but were compelling enough to keep. They are finally ripening, and quite a nice tomato it is, too.Trouble is, I've never grown anything like it at all. Ever.

As you can see, the fruit is about 40-45mm across. The colour-balance in the picture is a little off -- the true colour is more of a peachy-orange shade, and very uniform through the fruit. Flavour is good -- fruity rather than tangy, and the tomatoes are nice and juicy. Their skin is quite tough -- almost like commercial tomatoes. I'd place them as a pretty-good (not spectacular) salad tomato, and they should be good for roasting or sauce. The bushes are smallish -- about 30-45cm tall, indeterminate, and quite sparse. Fruit set in trusses of about 6. They're not massively prolific, but not bad either, and one of the earlier tomatoes in the garden this year. Fruit are splitting quite badly, but then so are all the tomatoes! (It's the damn drought and resulting irregular and inadequate water.)

I think that this is a random cross of some sort, so I'm growing the F1 hybrid. My guess is that one of the parents -- most likely the mother -- was Moneymaker, which I grew last year (and swore never to bother with again, as the flavour was just so lackluster compared to everything else.) The other parent? We can only speculate. (Taxi? Ida Gold? Gold Nugget? Those would be the only yellow tomatoes I was growing last year, but my records are not good enough to have recorded what varieties were growing close to each other.)

Another reason to believe I'm dealing with an F1 hybrid is that the fruit are very uniform in size, shape, colour and flavour.

I still have plenty of the seed that produced this oddity, so I can grow them again for some years to come. I'm also saving seed from at least one fruit from each of the bushes for growing out next year to see what comes out in the next generation.

Unless I'm completely wrong in my guesses... ;-) (And that's not unlikely! I'm a complete n00b to the whole breeding thing, and finding the genetics and theoretical side of it quite difficult to wrap my head around.)

Hmmmm... this plant-breeding lark is quite exciting!

15 February 2009

Braamekraal Farm Wiki Updates

I've been updating/adding info on the Farm Wiki... mainly info on various Veg Varieties and how they perform in our particular circumstances.

I'm finding the wiki more and more useful as my repository of gardening records; it has so much flexibility in terms of recording different aspects separately but still keeping them woven intertwingly. For example, I've been writing up my notes on Red Russian Kale, but in the next breath I can also record notes about my treatment of the garden-bed it's been growing in, as well as general observations about the particular growing season.

Other things I've written-up include French Oakleaf Lettuce, Ida Gold Tomato and
Resi Gold Tomato as well as various garden-bed notes. If you're interested, you can see exactly what pages I've been fiddling with via the "Recent Changes" link.

The wiki also has RSS feeds if anyone cares to follow along.

Originally I put the wiki together to tell our self-sufficiency story in an ever-evolving way, but it has become an indispensable record-keeping tool. I think I've finally figured out the best ways to make it work for me, so there are some work-in-progress structural changes underway, and you're almost certain to trip across broken links and missing pages... be warned!

14 February 2009

First Fruit

Hooray! First Brandywine Tomato of the season! In fact, the first "real" Tomato for the year -- we've been eating quite a few Gold Nugget and Red Cherry Tomatoes, one or two of the (new to us) Resi Gold (which are outstandingly delicious!) but in my mind they're all just "salad"... all those subminiatures. This particular Brandywine is a bit smaller than average, and not quite ripe yet, but, given our luck so far this Summer, I wanted to get it out of the beady gaze of the rapacious Mousebirds! They've been feasting on anything and everything that even hints at turning red, pink, orange or yellow.

Finally some rain!

Some half-decent rains, at last! 36mm so far this month (and its rained some more this morning since I emptied the rain guage) with more rain likely in the coming week. That's already more rain than we had in December and January put together! The soil is looking less parched, though the water has not had a chance to move deep into the ground yet. We plant in hope!

Time to start planning the Winter growing season...

08 February 2009

Death Grip: The Lesson for Climate Change

My last couple of posts about The Drought probably sounded like whining. They were. To some extent, anyway. But beneath that there's a lesson.

So many people -- the world around -- are hoping... waiting... assuming... praying... that there'll be some sort of Return To Normal.

There won't be. Get over it!

I well know that we cannot ascribe directly the current weather conditions to GCC (Global Climate Change a.k.a. Global Warming) -- that's just not how this thing works. After all,"climate" itself is nothing more than a mathematical fiction. An average of weather conditions over some short spane of recent decades. But the climate models -- no matter how deficient they may or may not be -- do predict a greater number of more-extreme weather events than we've historically seen. Still, whilst it is scientifically incorrect to connect our current drought conditions (or any of the other extreme or unusual weather events happening in the world) to GCC, there is one consequence we can note... one realisation that comes out of this drought...

Climate change screws up our ability to predict. For the farmer, the gardener, the self-sufficient, it is impossible to over-emphasize the impact this unpredictability has. Forever... for as long as we've been cultivators... we've pretty-much been able to predict.

"If I plant Beans now, I should see enough rain to get them growing, and in about 4 moons from now, I should be harvesting the next year's Bean Stew suppers."

But now, something seems to have slipped. Take our (anecdotal) local case: We had the Humid Season back in December, instead of now (February) as is "normally" the case. Our Windy Season -- normally September and October -- is still on-going. The Once A Week Rain that characterised the region 15 years ago is clearly now a part of History. Our Spring was long, exceptionally cool, and characterised by almost 2 months of permanent overcast, resulting in very slow Spring growth from most plants. It's as though the "seasons" have slipped forward by about 6 weeks.

Maybe so. Maybe not. That's not the point.

The point is that the weather has become just that much less predictable.

Until last year, I would have planted Maize in the 1st or 2nd week of January1. This year the dry conditions stopped me. Perhaps fortuitously! Perhaps I should now plant Maize in mid-February... (If we get some rain.) But I don't know.

And next year? I won't know!

It's all gone Random. That's the real consequence of Climate Change.

[1] In most parts of SA, people would plant Maize much earlier in the Spring and/or spray the plants with some Toxic Cocktail. Around here, early-to-mid-Jan is the Right Time for "organic" growers to plant Maize whilst avoiding the worst depredations of Corn Ear Worm.

Death Grip

Drought continues. Fruit trees are losing their leaves in mid-Summer, not bothering to wait for the Autumn. I think (hope!) there's another week's water in the dam, and hope further that some rain falls before it is exhausted. And would that be enough rain? I doubt it.

Frightening times. Already I've written-off all the easily-replanted crops -- lettuce, (whether for seed or for eating) beet, swiss-chard, the Tomatillos, green-beans, Squashes,... they're all toast. Or at least left to fend for themselves. A hardy few survive... the Swiss Chard in particular comes up as champ in the survival stakes: Abandoned as just-emerged seedlings, they grow on, cheerfully green despite the dry.

The remaining irrigation water is reserved for the well-established high-value crops: the Tomatoes and Chillis. At that, they've been reduced to water every 5 days. It's not enough, but it keeps them going. So far. I've gone so far as to use the waste-water from the washing machine... being careful to use clean water in between... but it's desperation times, here! At least we use a "green", "micro" washing powder (though who can trust the claims made for it?) and tiny quantities of it, since our clothes are seldom dirty beyond a little sweat and dust.

Kale, wilted and stressed.Whilst England gets smothered in snow... Whilst southern Australia roasts and burns... Whilst the rest of South Africa drowns in too much rain... we're dry. Dry, dry, dry.

Our house-water supply is still OK -- the water tanks are at about -4000litres (out of 15kl total.) At our normal rate of water-use we'll be the last family left in the region... but the ground is parched beyond anything we've seen in 13+ years here. Even the ever-hardy Kale is struggling!

Update -- Sunday morning: Unbelievable! Rain! a whole 12mm last night in a spectacular thunderstorm. Completely unpredicted by the SA Weather Service, but welcome nonetheless. This morning the top 3 or 4cm of the soil is moist, but below that is still bone dry. So, while it helps, and is a huge relief, it might well end up causing more damage than good, as plants' roots grown towards the soil-surface seeking the moisture, only to get blasted by the sun when that thin layer of water dries out. We can only hope for some follow-up rain in the coming week...

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