This is a transition time for the vegetable garden. Plants are reacting to the approach of fall, with tomato leaves turning to yellow, ruby peppers peeking through dark foliage, winter squash setting fruits in shrubs adjacent to the garden bed, and bean pods turning brown and papery. Of course theres always that giant summer squash we overlooked until now.
The most unappealing-looking tomato Ive ever grown turns out to be the sweetest, most flavorful fruit of the summer. Its called Copper River, and the ripe fruit is a sickly olive green with faint red splotches showing through the skin. I have one fruit left that Ill save seeds from (and eat the rest).
John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seed catalog describes it as oxidized verdigris copper with bright new-penny stripes. Mine obviously didnt look like that, but they are very sweet and delicious.
Two other tomatoes Ill save seeds from this year are a mystery tomato from my brothers golfing buddy in Yakima, and Oroma, from Victory Seeds. The mystery tomato seeds were accompanied by a photo of a 6-inch long oval red tomato, but the seeds yielded large round heavy golden tomatoes, with an appearance and flavor identical to Kelloggs Breakfast tomato.
Obviously the seed had not stabilized, so no one could predict which tomato would grow from those seeds. Sometimes these cross pollinations produce inferior fruits, but in this case, theyre all good so far. When I grew Kelloggs Breakfast tomato in the past, the fruit was not as large, heavy and numerous as on this vine.
The Oroma is a determinate plant bearing dozens of 2- to 3-inch long red tubular paste tomatoes, fine for salsa. Paste tomatoes contain more flesh than seeds and gel. I usually dont grow determinate (i.e., short) tomatoes on purpose, but Ill grow these again and again in regular beds, not in the tomato patch.
Cotoneaster is a durable, interesting shrub. It was one of the foundation plantings present when we bought our house in 71, and we paid little attention to it. Those were the days when Boiseans boasted that this city was in the banana belt, with a very mild climate.
Three years later, the bottom dropped out of the thermometer. In the early winter of 1974, the mercury dropped to minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit. A few days later, it was back to its usual mild temperatures, but the drop had been devastating to many plants. A very large Euonymus shrub in the ell of our house died to the ground. It had apparently exuded an allelopathic substance into the soil because nothing we planted to replace it grew for many years, except for Bishops weed, regressing from variegated to green.
West of our front door, however, were a small, tidy boxwood and the sturdy Cotoneaster (pronounced Co-tony-aster; Ive heard young men in some nurseries laugh at customers who called them cotton-easters, a pronunciation they themselves had recently used). We pruned off the damaged portion of both shrubs, and three years later, the boxwood had struggled to grow about 2 inches, so we put it out of its misery with a shovel. The Cotoneaster was not a neat or attractive shrub, but it was doing its best to recover, so we left it alone. It grew some, and was not especially attractive until we had another super cold spell in 1990. That year the mercury dropped to minus 25 degrees.
Even that didnt kill the shrub, but it damaged it. We used to have weather colder than minus 20 degrees on an average of every ten years. Its been 22 years now, so I hope thats behind us.
Its obviously slow-growing, but bears attractive red berries that serve as food for wildlife. Now its large enough for us to prune it to shape and make it an attractive addition to our foundation plantings.
Margaret Lauterbach: email@example.com or write to Gardening, The Idaho Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.