Saturday, June 29, 2013

Growing Tomatoes 101

One of my readers on My Cozy Little Farmhouse's Facebook Page  posed the question of could I provide any tips on getting a good tomato yield, which was in response to my post that after reviewing my canning notes from last year I had processed 157 POUNDS of tomatoes. That is what I canned or had frozen. Not including the tomatoes I used fresh, gave away or the small percentage I lost  due to rot/ insect/ animal damage.

Let that roll around your brain...157 POUNDS. That is the equivalent of a person (and  a weight I wouldn't mind seeing on my scale again...soon).

So I thought I would put together a Tomato 101. 

A few terms  you should know

Determinate tomatoes are usually a bush type and compact. They set fruit and ripen mostly at the same time (usually a 2 week span). Do NOT pinch off suckers for determinate varieties.

Indeterminate tomatoes are more of a "vining" type tomato and will produce until a killing frost. They can can grow up to 10 ft in height but mine usually hit 5-6 feet. They require strong support (cage or stake).

OP Open pollinated by wind or pollinating insect. A cultivar capable of producing seeds and plants like the parent. Not all OP are heirloom!

HEIRLOOM Usually 50 years or older.Heirlooms are about preserving natural history/ characteristics of a plant. Not all heirlooms are organic.  All heirlooms are OP. Some heirlooms actually started out as hybrids and eventually stabilized. Heirlooms can be generational, legacy, old market or modern depending on the lineage and how far back it can be traced.

HYBRID (aka cross pollinated) Hybrids can be man-made or cross pollinated in nature. Man-made hybrids originated in the 1920's. Hybrids will not always reproduce a plant with the identical characteristics of a parent plant. Some hybrids the seeds will be sterile.

GMO Genetically Modified Organism involves gene splicing. Taking DNA from completely different species and organisms to isolated desired characteristics (resistance to pesticides or acceptance of a fertilizer)

F-# Means x# of generation hybrid. This does NOT mean GMO. This is simply a  transfer of pollen from one cultivar to another of the same species.

OC Organic Certified. Certified crop grown to a set of strict and specific standards

V is the designation for verticillium wilt. You want the V resistant varieties. Verticillium wilt is caused by a fungus late in the season. Follow this link to read more about this disease and for a list of V resistant cultivars.

F/ FF is the designation for Fusarium Wilt/ Fusarium Races 1 and 2. This is another fungal disease that affect tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes. Follow this link to read more.

N is the designation for Nematodes. Follow this link for more information and list of VFN resistant varieties.

T is the designation for Tobacco Mosaic virus. TMV affects tomatoes, peppers and ornamentals worldwide. Follow this link for more information.

There are additional fungi which can affect tomatoes but I chose to list the universal troublesome varieties. For additional information check with your local agricultural extension.

I know I know, y'all are saying all I wanna do is dig a hole, drop in some seeds or a plant and get  some yummy nummies in  x number of days...

Here are some tips for maximum 'mater output

1. Always begin with well amended and aerated soil. The soil should be 6.0-6.8 pH.

2. Plant a good mix of determinate and indeterminate plants so you have staggered harvesting times.

3. Trench planting ensure the plants are well rooted and will support the weight of the fruit. Dig a trench, remove all but the top 2-4 sets of leaves. Lay the plant on it's side with direct contact to soil. All those "hairs " on the stem will form roots.

4. Stake or cage your plants at this point. Nice and sturdy to support the weight of your intended bounty. You have lots of options: cages, stakes (Florida weave), spiral, ladder or tripod.  If staking do not bind the plants tightly or you will damage them making them susceptible to damage or death. Follow this link for more information.

5. Make sure the plants are spaced well. Good air circulation means you are less likely to have problems with pests or blight.

6. Water deep at the roots. Moist, well drained and no standing water! An innovative way to do this is to insert perforated tubes near the roots when planting.
7. When the plants set blossom an begin developing fruit, side dress with compost or if you must a nice organic fertilizer (8/10/10 or 10/10/10) These numbers represent NPK  which is Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. These elements are needed for proper nutrition, development of healthy plant and fruit.

8. Be diligent with pruning and pinching off the suckers on your (indeterminate plants only)! You want the energy to go into making your food not more plant.  You will have a main stem from which branches (axis) will form (effectively making a Y formation). Pinch the suckers off that appear in the Y juncture (it makes it look like a W). This also promotes much need space for air circulation and light penetration.

9.  When the weather gets really hot (usually mid July in the Midwest) I blanket the bed with straw to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. I make sure the straw is nice and loose so water and air can get in but thick enough to deter weeds. It retains moisture, cools the roots and provides a barrier between the fruit and soil, reducing chances for spoilage.

10. Harvest frequently and enjoy the "fruits" of your labor!

Maybe you are new to growing tomatoes or maybe you have been doing this for years. Either way I hope you enjoyed my post. If you have any great hints or tips please share because I am by no means an expert and I love to learn!

Sharing on Savvy Southern Style

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How I began Holistic Gardening (part 2)

Well I already took you on a walk down memory lane when I talked about my introduction into holistic gardening. I took the knowledge from Betty Jean and began to grow vegetables in containers on my balcony.  Now during this time I was completing my education as a chemist and soon I found myself reading the labels on my bottles of fertilizers and pesticides. And I have to tell you it literally made me nauseous to think of the poisons--and that is exactly what they are--we were ingesting.

So I did what was second nature to me--I researched. I read. I gave myself an education in organic gardening. I say organic gardening because I did not embrace all the holistic methods at this point. I mostly found books at yard sales and second hand stores because I was still  in college and broke! (Ok now that I think about it it is 23 years later and I am in college and what?) The "hippie generation" had a back to the land movement in the 1960's and 1970's  but surprisingly there were not a lot of books from their experiences. There were a few I located and some of the books were better than others. I wish I could recall all the titles.  Not all the books I referenced at that time were organic methods but  I gleaned the best information from all of them.
I began to frequent libraries to find information from the newer publications but back in those days there weren't many. Barnes and Noble was formerly B. Dalton's and  Borders was formerly Walden's of which, neither were conveniently located. And the Internet? Well it was in it's early days

Some of the books I used (and  most still on my bookshelf )

Still have it!

Still have this one too!

Rodale Encyclopedia

(Except now I have the newest one)

Said to be the BIBLE of self sufficiency.  I wish I had kept this book.

I still hungered for more knowledge. So I began to ask people I knew who gardened how they managed.  Sadly, most people I spoke with used chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. It was so frustrating. Then several things occurred. I spoke to my step-Grandpa who clued me in on some "old timey" techniques and someone I befriended introduced me to the best publication-ever! Mother Earth News. Seriously my mind was blown! 

You have to understand at that time many of the things we now take for granted were not yet mainstream. It really wasn't until the late 1990's and early 2000's that there was an explosion in the green movement. Regardless of the little bit of knowledge I acquired -it was Nirvana. I began to learn about things like  manures (green and brown), compost (what you need to make it), using egg shells as a calcium supplement to the soil, and companion plants. I also learned that ladybugs, praying mantis and worms in your garden were a good sign.

I had been gardening at this point for about 8 years and still knew next to nothing! I was working, making a decent wage and could finally afford some of the newer books on organic gardening. I also had become computer literate and learned how to use the Internet. That is when all the pieces of the puzzle began to fall in place. I spent another 5-8 years slowly learning about organic gardening. 

Then we bought a house. Going from containers to an actual plot of land-well that was certainly a game changer! In my containers everything was controlled. The land was wild and the rules I had learned didn't always apply. My yard and garden were horribly neglected and the soil was decimated.

By now the green movement is in full swing and you were no longer viewed as part of a fringe movement. You could  take classes at the local community center on organic gardening and information was everywhere. I finally had the time to commit to gardening. It was no longer just a hobby-it had become a way of life.

Ok I think that is enough history for tonight. The conclusion to this journey will put all the pieces together. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sown and Harvest #11

Hello all my dear bloggies!

I would say summer had decided to finally drape across the Midwest like a soggy blanket. Phew- it is hot and humid! My veggie garden was off to a slow start because it was cool and damp for so long then BAM overnight the icky hot days of summer. Wouldn't it be nice if there was an in between?

I did a lot of companion planting this year. I planted marigolds pretty much everywhere in the garden beds.

 Basil with tomatoes (and a few marigolds tucked in, lol)

Oregano with the peppers (all my extra marigolds ended up here)

I have a very large container of sage next to the brussel sprouts along with thyme in the bed and the small pot in front of it.

Rosemary with the carrots.
Radishes with all the squash
Spinach with the beans.
Pumpkins and corn together  (Sort of a take on the Native American 3 sisters companion planting)

I tried trellising my cucumbers with upside down old & broken tomato cages. We'll  see how it goes. 

Here is the rundown of  what's growing in my garden:

Fruits and Vegetables
Brussel Sprouts
Peppers (Hot, various)
 Peppers (Sweet, Bell)
Squash (Butternut)
Squash (Yellow)
Squash (Spaghetti)
Squash (Zucchini)

 Mint (Grapefruit)
Mint (Orange)
Thyme (Lemon)

How about you? What's going on in your garden?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

How I began Holistic Gardening (part 1)

Holistic gardening is an approach that you view the ecosystem or environment as a whole. Much like holistic medicine the focus is on the sum of systems instead of the individual issues. When I first had my forays into gardening 25 years ago I knew NOTHING about what I was supposed to do. I grabbed a little bag of dirt sold at the local grocery store, a plastic container, dumped some dirt in the container, plopped my plant  in and waited for a miracle.

My little plant struggled along with poor drainage, poor soil, poor light, and poor everything. So I went to the library and checked out a book. It was a light bulb moment. I read. I researched. I LEARNED! I began to collect plants--easy ones for indoors. My apartment began to look like a conservatory. I had more plants than furniture or chatkes. I was hooked but I felt like I needed more of a challenge.

Then I met the hubbs, except he wasn't the hubbs then. Well I knew he was gonna be the hubbs someday but he was just the boyfriend then. We eventually shacked up (always classy, haha) and moved to a tiny little apartment that had a balcony. OMG--I had outdoor space!

It started with a little pot of marigolds. Then there were petunias. And some geraniums. But I wanted more, I just didn't know what the  more was until  I was out for a walk one evening and there was this little old lady tending a garden on her patio that had...vegetables! I swear I heard angels singing!

Who knew you could grow vegetables in a container?! My little 22 year old brain thought all vegetables came from farms. From guys who wore overalls named Edgar, Willie and Pops. From little old ladies who wore calico print dresses. From people who did hard, back breaking, sweaty manual labor hoeing fields or using rusty broken down farm equipment. Because that is what I sorta remembered from my grandparents and great grandparents. Not my brightest moment.

I shyly asked the lady about her plants and she was happy to talk.  We introduced ourselves and she began to school me  on having a garden of edibles. Her name was Betty Jean. She was widowed and had to give up her house after her husband passed away. But she didn't give up her love for a garden.

Not Betty Jean but this picture reminds me of her. I sure wish I had a picture of her
She told me what plants could go in the same pots together. How much light was needed and how much water. She told me how to pinch off suckers to contain the size of the plant so it would make food instead of more plant. I was in awe. I was able to visit her a few times before one of her kids moved her to an assisted care facility. I found this out when my now hubby (who was the apartment complex maintenance man at that time) brought me some of her patio vegetable containers.  I never had a chance to say goodbye but she made sure to leave a note telling him to take the plants for me and thanking me for spending time with an old lady. I am choking back tears remembering this...

 I can still see in my mind's eye all the little pots and containers that cluttered her patio. She had used margarine tubs, peanut butter and jelly jars, milk cartons, egg cartons, old pots, bowls and coffee cans. Whatever she could use to hold some dirt and a plant. It may have looked like junk to some but I thought it was beautiful.

It was such a long time ago but I can recall the conversations just as if they were yesterday Those were my first lessons in companion planting and recycling. Walking down memory lane makes me tired.  I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I  did. Stay tune for next installment of my journey on the holistic gardening path.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Gardening, Planter Pretties and Other News

Hello My dear Bloggies! I have been remiss in posting on my blog but have been lurking about reading every one's posts.  I seem to have very little energy for any kind of home projects. My focus has been on school (as it should be). It isn't necessarily hard but it is time consuming. I apparently have a very poor ability to manage my work life balance. Which has carried over to my school-life balance. Eye on the prize, right?

We have had such unusual weather this year. Rain nearly every other day and cool. The gardens are slow to grow and produce. Still it beats the horrible heat wave and drought like conditions from last year! Even though we had torrential rains 2 days ago the plants were still quite thirsty. Nothing like a nice long drink from the sprinkler.

Since we lived so many years in rentals (apartments and town homes) before purchasing our home,  I was limited in my forays in gardening.  Enter container gardening! I was known as the tomato lady in our apartment complex because my balcony/ patio was covered with containers. I grew everything from flowers, herbs, and vegetables in those containers. Even then my love of hands in soil was strong. I still grow some leaf lettuce in a container near my kitchen despite having a large backyard garden.

My monster sized sage plant that survived from last summer.

I STILL love planter boxes and pots for my flowers. You can play with color, shape and texture. You can plant all sorts of combinations and try it for a season- or more.

I used an rusted metal fruit basket lined with coconut fiber and nestled this inside a old curbside found crock. I planted a dracena spike, sweet woodruff, petunias and salvia.

In the planter bench near my pool, I planted penstemon, dracena and a trailing stonecrop.

This is 1 of 2 hanging baskets over the planter bench. I combine petunias, salvia and a lemon colored vinca. I love the red and yellow combination.

In other exciting news my daughter and son-in-law (referred to as the kids from here on out) have bought their 1st home!  A darling little 3 bedroom, move in ready ranch home. It has a somewhat rustic curbside appeal.. The kids are over the moon and we couldn't be more happy for them. There isn't much need for the house to have DIY since it is completely redone but that's a good thing for where they are in their lives right now. ALTHOUGH she does have 1 project already in mind--she is going to paint her shutters more of a country red because she hates the uneven wood tone.

This little barrel beauty is my planter arrangement for the kids since their house is sadly lacking landscaping. They won't have much time initially to do any landscaping and my daughter asked me to make her a planter. I mixed perennials and some annuals. My hope is the perennials will find a new home somewhere around their house.The barrel has Deep Rose Begonia, Summer Idol Geranium, Stella de Oro daylily, Shasta daisy, red and yellow petunias, sweet potato vine and a tropical filler (which I don't know the name).   Won't this look adorable on their porch?

Anyone else have exciting news to share?