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Let's Reminisce: Backyard gardening
By Jerry Lincecum
Apr 23, 2019
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The lateness of Easter this year has made me mindful of my dad’s yearly reminder to us, “You’d better be prepared for the Easter (cold) spell.”  I think it came a week early this year.  A friend who grew up in southern Oklahoma said their version was “Look out for the blackberry freeze,” and she remembered many occasions when the roadside berry vines were in full bloom only to be set back by frost or freezing weather.

Putting in a backyard garden each spring is one way I stay in touch with my roots as a farm boy.  One of my earliest memories involves helping my parents set out tomato plants, followed by trips with my dad to the “tomato shed” where we sold the produce.  Raising tomatoes commercially proved to be a losing proposition, but my mother kept a large vegetable garden that produced a lot of tomatoes for our table year after year.  Another reason I grow my own tomatoes is the poor quality and lack of taste in supermarket tomatoes.

Deciding which tomatoes to plant each year is an interesting proposition nowadays, since there are currently over 7,000 varieties.  I had already made my choices when I ran across a very informative article in the Dallas Morning News, but it added some new information, especially about varieties that ripen in different colors from red.  I was already a fan of yellow tomatoes, like Lemon Boy, but I didn’t know about white, green, black and blue fruit.

Since North Texas has a fairly short growing season for tomatoes, because our summers are too hot, I favor varieties that mature quickly, like Early Girl and Celebrity.  Plants that produce larger tomatoes, like Big Boy and Beefsteak, take longer to mature and may present you with fruit that is partially cooked by the sun.

Another important consideration is whether you prefer hybrids or heirlooms.  I tend to prefer heirlooms, like Arkansas Traveler, because they taste better.  But I’m always willing to try a new hybrid, such as Mortgage Lifter.  Some varieties are determinate, which means they produce all their fruit at approximately the same time (within a couple of weeks); whereas I like indeterminates, which keep producing fruit over a longer period.  They grow bigger plants, which need to be staked or placed in cages.

When it gets so hot that my tomatoes stop setting fruit, I keep watering them just enough to keep them alive; then when cooler weather sets in (Sept. maybe), they will resume blooming and setting fruit.  For the last few years I have had fall tomatoes all the way up to Christmas.  When the hard freeze comes, I pick all the green tomatoes and store them in a bathtub, covered with newspaper, and they slowly ripen.

I use raised beds for my garden, to promote drainage, adding some new mulch and compost each year.  We had so little rain in Jan. and Feb. this year that I added a lot of water when breaking up the beds.  I have two barrels collecting rainwater, and use it to water my tomatoes (and house plants).

The best rule I follow is to have a wide range of tomato varieties, so this year I have set out a total of 22 plants, selecting one or more plants for each of the following varieties: Roma, Celebrity, Husky Cherry Red, Yellow Pear, Early Girl, Super Sweet 100, Lemon Boy, Jubilee, Yellow Cherry, Sun Sugar, Sun Gold, and Grape.

The only other vegetable I grow is potatoes, and we have settled on Yukon Gold, which has a yellow flesh, for our one and only variety.  They come to harvest in about 90 days, and you can dig some new potatoes in 60 days.

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories.  He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: jlincecum@me.com