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Dishin' the dirt from the garden and beyond

Tomatoes: How's your harvest?

Is there anything better-tasting than a homegrown tomato? Plucking one, still warm from the sun, and popping it into your mouth -- or slicing it on the spot and tossing it into a salad, makes garden toil worthwhile.

This looks to be a very good growing year for tomatoes, judging from the big bowlful I picked on Saturday. Not an early year, like 2010, when I harvested my first tomato on June 30 -- but a very satisfying year. The tomatoes I've harvested so far have been delicious. And there's lots more to come, with dozens of tomatoes still ripening on my plants. 

The weather has been pretty great this growing season, with lots of rain early on, when we needed it. And I'll take a little credit for my awesome tomatoes this year, because I took the time to do good soil preparation with lots of compost.

That's not so say everything has been a complete success. Three of the ripe tomatoes I plucked from one plant had serious end rot. This unappetizing, common condition typically suggests a lack of calcium, often linked to inconsistent moisture.

I admit I'm not the most attentive plant-waterer. I sometimes forget about my plants for a day or two, then try to make up for it with a big dousing. (There's some good information about blossom-end rot and other tomato maladies on the University of Minnesota's website:

My lone pepper plant is a total under-achiever, with only one acorn-sized pepper to show for itself so far, even though I planted it back in late May. I'm not sure what I did wrong with this one.

What are you harvesting this week? And is this a better-than-average year in your garden? Tell us about your successes -- and flops -- so far.    

Minnesota wineries are worth the trip.

Last night I got the opportunity to enjoy someone else’s garden.  It happened to be a winery which made it particularly fun.  Before I even looked a bottle of the harvest, I had to see the vines.  Cynthia Bahr, the proprietor of Vinmark Estates, was happy to show me around.

The vines are in neat rows about 5’ apart.  If you’ve never seen a vineyard – the plants look like old sticks coming out of the ground with lush green vines above all connected to a strong wire fence holding up the plants.  The fruit hangs low on the vines making it easier for harvest.  

Cynthia told me early Spring, while things are still chilly, is when they do the majority of their pruning.  The ‘stick’ remains, but all of last year’s growth above is pruned.  They choose two main shoots and from there, they train the plants to grow horizontally. Vinmark Estates grow two different kinds of grapes – Frontenac and Marquette (white and red), both plants created by the University of Minnesota.  

The plants looked really healthy, but I asked her if they had any problems.  Believe it or not, that darned Japanese Beetle attacks grape plants too.  Because they have honeybees on the estate, they do not use any pesticides.  They do their best to control the beetle and know that when they start with a healthy plant – nature can ward off most problems.

There are over 40 wineries listed with Minnesota Grown Events abound and wine trails are set up.  I can tell you that after the experience in the garden I had last night (and in the tasting room), I will be visiting more Minnesota wineries in the future.

Have you visited a Minnesota winery?  What was your experience?

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