Gardening Gift Guide #12: The $64 Tomato

#12 The $64 Tomato

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It is a story as old as America itself. When we dream, we dream big. Big houses, big cars and, in the case of The $64 Tomato, big gardens. In this book, author William Alexander details his love/hate relationship with his garden. I knew I was going to love this book within the first chapter, when I found myself laughing out loud time and time again. Alexander perfectly captures the idealism and absurdity that usually accompany any home improvement project.

I must say that, after my childhood of helping my Grandmother and my Father in the garden and even, reluctantly, maintaining my own small garden plot as a child, I found it a bit ludicrous that anyone would actually set out to “design” a vegetable garden. In my experience, you usually just mark out an area, have the neighbor plow it up and disc it down, lay out some string lines and plant. Aesthetics were rarely, if ever, an issue. Now you bring in experts, test the soil, try exotic new varieties of plants and, so it seems, endure many failures.

While the book is funny, it is also a trifle sad. There is an underlying current of hubris which seems to thrive in the heart of every American. We like to think we can conquer and control anything, even nature itself, when, in reality, we can only hold back nature for short periods of time and even then, only in relatively small areas. It is also a story of having eyes too large for our stomachs. Rows and rows of zucchini that must be given away, if not forced on the neighbors. Yes, we love having fresh food from our very own gardens, but it seems we have no self-control. If “some” is good than “more” must certainly be better.

The $64 Tomato is entertaining and enlightening because it is so true. Anyone with any aspirations to gardening will recognize themselves in its pages. Gardening, like life itself, is about struggle and this book details many struggles with bugs, grass, weeds and neighbors. Even then, I can guess that these were only a small portion of the troubles that occurred in the real garden. Television writers, like my wife, constantly deal with this issue. Just because something happened in real life, often times the viewers will never believe it. I would guess there are more stories that this gardening author has yet to tell.

The saddest part, but one that rings true, is the author’s struggle in finding balance between gardening as a task and gardening as a joy. I know that I experience this every day in my own garden and I am sure you do, too. It is a rare gardener who can find joy in pulling weeds time and time again That said, don’t let the dandelions get you down. Pour a nice, cool lemonade (preferably made from your own lemons), sit back in your favorite chair and enjoy, if just for a moment, the garden you have created. While I certainly hope you don’t spend $64 for each tomato you harvest, this book can make you laugh and give you solace in the knowledge that most gardener’s are happily suffering right along with you.

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Gardening Gift Guide #11: Sunset Western Garden Book

#11 Sunset Western Garden Book

This is a perennial regular in the gift guide. I still find it an excellent reference guide specifically designed for western gardeners, like myself. A big book and a useful one.

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Gardening Gift Guide #10: Wellington Boots

#10 Wellington Boots

Our Fall and Winter rains just started here in Los Angeles but our near-desert environment doesn’t really call for “Wellies” in the garden. That said, these would be appropriate nearly anywhere else. Getting through the Winter and Spring in my hometown in Ohio would have been a whole lot easier with a set of these. If your garden or yard gets a bit wet, these would be an excellent addition to your gardening tools.

More Wellington-style boots in additional colors

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Gardening Gift Guide # 9: Wells Lamont Wet and Muddy Latex Coated Gardening Glove

# 9Wells Lamont Wet and Muddy Latex Coated Gardening Glove

If your garden gets a little muddy, these are a great addition to your gardening kit. Cloth and leather gloves can get soggy and uncomfortable much too quickly, but these gloves will allow you to work longer, with a better grip. I especially like to use them when I am potting up plants. It allows you to easily wet and mix up your potting compost without feeling you are constantly wet. They also help to keep your hands a bit warmer when working in the Fall and early Spring.

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Gardening Gift Guide # 8: Garden Crafts

# 8 Garden Crafts

I came across this book years ago, but saw it again in the library and was reminded how nice it is. There are some great ideas for nearly every type of garden, along with detailed instructions. The photography is great and really gives you a clear idea how each piece is put together and how it fits in the garden.

This book is a pleasant reminder that just because a book is a few years old doesn’t make it out of date.

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“Cookies and More” Holiday Special — We want your stories, recipes, advice and more

Cookies and More Holiday Special
A Holiday Special from WelchWrite.com

Each year I make over 80 dozen cookies and candies for our annual Cookie Party. After 15+ years of putting this party together, I have collected a lot of cookie stories, recipes and advice. This year, I am putting together “Cookies and More for the Holidays” — a New Media special full of holiday reminiscences, recipes, cookie baking tips and more… and I would like you to be a part of it.

There are several ways to participate:

  • Join us live in the “studio” to talk cookies
  • Call in live via Skype or other online media
  • Record your story, recipe, question or advice via voice mail by calling 818-804-5049
  • Post an audio or video clip to YouTube and send us the link
  • Email your story, recipe, question or advice to cookies@welchwrite.com

I am planning producing the show in mid-December, right after i have finished up all my baking for the party and reminded myself again about all the joys, trials, tips and hints of cookie baking for the holidays.

Start thinking of what you would like to add to this special. You can start sending in your emails, audio and video immediately. If you have any questions, send them cookies@welchwrite.com.

Gardening Gift Guide # 7: Coppertop Caged Bird Feeder

# 7 Coppertop Caged Bird Feeder

Birds and other wildlife are an important part of any garden. Why not give them an attractive place to feed? I have a similar bird feeder in my garden and it has stood up will to the harsh, sunny, conditions better than any plastic feeder. UV light damages plastics over time, but this copper feeder has no such issues. It is also easier to clean than a plastic feeder.

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Gardening Gift Guide # 6: Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening: Month by Month

# 6 Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening: Month by Month

Welsh’s previous month-by-month guide has been a constant companion in my gardening journeys over the years and it is great to see her offer this organic version. Gardening in Southern California is quite different from other areas with odd seasons, hyper-local micro-climates and a near-desert environment. The month-by-month checklists help to remind you what needs to be done when to make your garden thrive.

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Gardening Gift Guide # 5: Anthony Eglin Gardening Mysteries

# 5 English Garden Mysteries by Anthony Eglin

I have quite enjoyed this series of garden-related mystery novels by Anthony Eglin over the years. They follow the adventures of Professor Lawrence Kingston, gardening expert, as he finds himself drawn into the machinations of various evil doers, all thanks to some very special plants and gardens.

Here is my short review of “The Blue Rose”, the first book in the series.

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Gardening Gift Guide # 4: Troy-Bilt TB154E 6.5 Amp Electric Front Tine Forward Rotating Garden Tiller/Cultivator

# 4 Troy-Bilt TB154E 6.5 Amp Electric Front Tine Forward Rotating Garden Tiller/Cultivator

When I moved to Los Angeles 22 years ago, I left behind my grandmother’s ½ acre garden and our own ¼ acre plot behind the house. I thought little of gardening for almost 10 years. Some people are good with houseplants. I am not one of them. So gardening was fondly remembered as something I did way back when.

It seemed like everyone in my hometown (New London, Ohio, pop. 2600) tended a garden and I spent my childhood with a hoe in my hand, riding a lawn mower, behind huge rototillers and eventually driving tractors around our small farm.

Finally, twelve years ago we purchased our first home and inherited a 10 year old, quite mature, garden. My wife and I typically tended the garden with shovel and hoe, but when I received an offer from Troy-Bilt to review some of their products, I jumped at the opportunity. We have a variety of beds on the property and after 12 years they could all use a bit of TLC. I thought an electric cultivator could help a lot.

The Troy-Bilt TB145 Electric Cultivator(Click to get more info from the Troy-Bilt web site) arrived in a box about 4’x 2′ we found on the porch one day after returning from Little League practice. I was eager to try it out, so like a typical user, I opened it up, set the owner’s manual aside (of course) and put the cultivator to use. The only assembly required was attaching the handle, which took about 5 minutes and no tools.

The first task was a rose bed that, after being dug up for a sewer line replacement, was buried in tall grass. I had used a hoe to clean out the bed once already and couldn’t face doing it by hand again. Thankfully this tool arrived just in time.

I was immediately surprised by the power in this small electric unit. I could easily pick it up with one hand, but it was cutting through the grass and quickly cultivating the bed to to 6″ or more. Since it is so small, maneuvering it around the existing rose bushes was no problem. The bed itself is probably only about 3 feet wide, bordered by a cement block wall on one side and rustic wooden edging on the other.

The long grass would occasionally wind up around the tines, but the cultivator is designed with quick release pins on each end that allowed me to simply pull off the tines, remove the grass and get right back to work.

Managing the electrical cord is always a concern with a device like this. (I have cut the extension cord with my hedge trimmers at least 3 times (!!!). The cable management is well designed with a simple clip to hold the extension cord towards the back of the unit and along the handle so it is always in your sight and within easy reach of your hands.

For me, personally, this is a great unit that fits well with my environment and I already have 4-5 more jobs waiting for it.

The next weekend we brought out the cultivator to work up another small bed where we planned to put some tomato plants. I had picked up 3 seedlings from Tomatomania (Watch the video) in nearby Encino and was eager to get them, and a small pot of basil, into the ground. This bed was even narrower than the first and surrounded by cement on two sides and the stucco of the house on the other. I thought about taking the outside tines off the unit, but the full width ended up being fine.

On this bed, I first laid out about 6 cubic feet of compost recently harvested from our old compost bin and then used the cultivator to work this into the existing soil. Again, the unit did a great job and quickly we had a nice, fluffy bed for the tomatoes. The tines handled the inevitable contact with the edges of the cement driveway with no ill effects. The blades showed no damage and simply bounced off the cement.

Overall, the cultivator works well as an all-purpose cultivator for a small to medium-sized garden. Those with large expanses of open garden would probably opt for a bigger, gas-powered unit. The TB145 would also be an excellent “second machine” for small beds and hard to reach areas such as annual beds, shrub beds and cultivating between rows in a small vegetable garden.

For me, personally, this is a great unit that fits well with my environment and I already have 4-5 more jobs waiting for it..

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