Tomato Update

They made it!! My tomatoes endured the torrential November downpours and gusty winds, the chilly cold fronts and the spindly trellis system I concocted to support them. Despite my incompetence and Mother Nature’s testy moods, my tomatoes have survived. It’s a good day in the garden.

tomatoes made it through

To celebrate, I enjoyed the first harvest in my salad this afternoon–a salad fully clipped from my garden–and both were divine. Mind you, my tomatoes are not picture-perfect gorgeous. How could they be? After the struggle and strife they suffered, it’s amazing they’re still attached to the vine!! But I don’t mind a few scruffy edges. Not when the flesh is sweet and delicious.

tomatoes in December

It really was. I should have taken a picture of my salad but my stomach took action before my brain.

Next time. Next time I’ll remember the camera. Perhaps over dinner this evening…? I’m serving sautéed chicken with a chopped tomato-Parmesan topping. In addition to a side of sautéed garlic and kale. YUM.

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The garden is growing great these days with minimal weeds. Gotta love that combination, right?

Credit goes to my heavy black ground cover and my frequent visits. Vigilance is key when it comes to keeping up with weeds in an organic garden. Unfortunately, elbow grease is still one of the best weapons one has. Corn gluten works well, but you have to reapply after heavy rains and/or frequent watering. So I watch and pick and pluck in the meanwhile.

It’s relaxing. As is walking by the blueberry bushes and seeing the plump blue fruit popping between leaves. So beautiful.

delectable blueberries

My chickpeas are progressing.

chickpeas in the garden

They haven’t kept pace with the compost pile but then again, Mother Nature still rocks when it comes to gardening. But alas…this is what I have to look forward.

chickpea pod

That little pod holds 1-2 chickpeas. Unlike most other legumes that produce half a dozen beans per pod, the chickpea plant tends to be a minimalist. On to other rows…my sweet onions are ready ~ yay! That’s one between the strawberries, their wonderful companions in the garden.

sweet onions

Along with my potatoes.


Tomatoes are forming, next to their friends, basil and peppers.

friends include tomatoes, peppers, basil

And then there’s my first squash blossom. I was a bit late putting these guys into the ground, but better late than never, right?

1st squash blossom

While I was visiting my garden, I spotted this gal. Must be I have some aphids somewhere?

miss lady bug

Cute, isn’t she? One more reason to visit your garden early and often. You’ll be treated to a serenity unlike any other. 🙂


Mandie’s in a bind and on a roll!

Okay.   Things are good, sort of.  Still no dirt and the weeds are sprouting.  Maybe not sprouting, more like shooting for the stars.  I mean, look at these things!  They’re taking over!  Aaaaaaaagh!

Of course they are.   They’re weeds.   That’s what they do.  But have no fear.  Mandie assures me she’s on dirt patrol.  It will be delivered any day now…

Well, I’m not holding my breath on that one but I am looking toward the positive — the other box!   Good news — these babies are growing with awesome results. 

The lettuce is fanning open, begging to be plucked for a beautiful salad, the tomatoes are blossoming, the broccoli is blooming and the potatoes are growing larger, safe and sound, tucked away in their underground incubator after being properly hilled. 

Carrots are sparse.   More fertilizer, more water and they’ll be fine.  Just give them some time.

Conch peas?  They’ve been touch and go and Mandie is concerned for their welfare, certain they won’t make it. 

Me, I think they’ll pull through, so long as she keeps an eye on the aphids.  Ladybugs, anyone?  They’re one cure, but so are insecticidal soap and finger smudging.  Either way, keep up the maintenance, Mandie!  Once they gain a little more stature and strength they’ll be fine.

More good news?  No Chihuahua tracks in the dirt.  Very good.  They can be lethal to the delicate greens struggling through the sprout stage, not to mention pure terror for those meant for human consumption!  Who wants to eat salad stepped on my the pup who’s been who knows where…???

Not me and if Mandie knows what’s good for her — not her, either.   But she assures me it won’t be a problem.  The boy is on a leash when outdoors.  Hmmm.  I have kids and I have a dog.  I know how habits slip and slide until the next thing you know, the dog is sitting smack square in the middle of the kitchen floor which is off-limits to him!  (But he’s so cute, Mom.  How can you be mad?)

Hmph.  As one who has lost this battle, time will tell if she proves any tougher.   Good luck with that girlfriend!  Where no dog seems to have made tracks, one of the boys apparently has.  Left this Easter bunny plant creation next to the lettuce (in case he gets hungry, I presume). 

They’re so smart and creative at this age, aren’t they?  And green.  Chalk up one more for Mama’s column!

Time for Action

Here we see our first casualty of a busy woman’s schedule.  No dirt.  But don’t dismay — with the kids out of school this week, she’ll be filling this baby in no time!

Okay.  Empty planter aside, everything is blooming, sprouts are bursting and the bugs are feasting.   

Not good.    No insecticidal soap at the hardware store and as a dedicated localavore on both food and material levels, Mandie doesn’t want to hit the big warehouse stores, but at this point — she may have to if she’s going to save her peas!  

Either that, or coax some ladybugs into her garden.   These little beasts are doing her babies NO favors.   This conch pea sprout is too young to tolerate this kind of devastation.  Once mature, I wouldn’t worry too much.  A few aphids can be wiped off the leaves and stem with ease — a very organic system of bug removal! — but not from this delicate creature. 

Number two on the action list are the potatoes.   Aren’t they grand?   Growing beautifully full and robust, they now need “hilling.”  

Hilling is the process by which you mound dirt around the plant as it grows, fostering healthy and continued production.   Once they reach about 12 inches, hill the soil around them so that only a few inches of the plant remains above the soil.   

This growth habit is the reason they do well in “box production” for the smaller square foot gardens.   (I believe Yukon Golds, however, set fruit only once and are not conducive to this method of growing.)

Number three.   The tomatoes look much better but need some pinching.  

This tiny sprout  (more commonly known as a sucker) growing at the base of the two larger stems must be “pinched” off, directing nutrients to the main stem of the plant.   Once the entire plant reaches the top of its support apparatus, Mandie will need to prune it back even further, ensuring all the plant’s energy goes toward the developing fruits.   

But we have time for that discussion, later.   Right now, she’s got to get snipping!

P.S.  Mandie has added a new member to the family.   A friendly Chihuahua in need of a good home has found one.   (Did I mention she’s not only an earth lover, but an animal lover, too?) 

Running the edge of insanity, she’s fired up and ready to take on the challenge.  Atta girl!   Just don’t let him near the garden.  

Dogs are cute, but not when trampling through the garden.  Soft dirt, delicate sprouts, weeks of backache — bad, bad, BAD combination!


“Hey,” came the insistent voice over the phone line.   “We’ve got bugs.”

Recognizing her voice and the panic within I replied, “What kind of bugs?” 

This is, after all, is my job.   Mandie has a problem in the garden, it’s my job to respond.   Remember:  Master is a term to which I want to become accustomed.   (Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?  Besides, no one else is calling me master.  Might as well be the master of the garden, right?)

“It’s a black bug with six white legs.”

“Number one, you’re too close to the thing.   Step away from the bug.”   I mean, really.   Who can see eight tiny legs well enough to know they’re white, if you’re not nose deep in the beast?   When I looked, they didn’t look that bad to me.

What is it?” she persisted.   “It’s destroying my conch peas.”  

“It’s a bug.   Doesn’t matter what kind.”   Logic; from one who doesn’t deal in species specific pest invasion.   “Use your insecticidal soap.”

She muttered intelligibly.

“You got the insecticidal soap I told you about, right?”

“Gary,” she turned from the mouthpiece.   “Did you buy the insecticidal soap?”

A blither of replies goes back and forth before it becomes apparent he did not.   “Okay,” she said back to me.   “We’ll get the soap.   But what do I do in the meantime?   The bugs are devouring my peas!”

“Use the soap,” I replied calmly.   “If the bugs persist, you may want to spray them again and then cover your peas with cheese cloth.   Do you know what that is?”

“Cheese cloth?   Sure.   I have some.”

“Okay, watch for bugs.   If it looks like you have a major infestation, spray again and cover your peas – over your trellis cage – with cheese cloth.”   Common screen material will do.   Anything with very small openings to prevent the bugs from flying through, yet still allowing sunlight to permeate.

Next crisis.   “And I wanted to mention, your tomatoes look weak.   Have you been fertilizing them?”

“Sure, but it’s the cold.”

“True, the cold will stress them.   Did you get the fish emulsion?”

A flurry of doubt flitted through her tone as she replied, “Yeah, we fertilized them.   You think they need more?”

“Yes.   And water.”   Now that our steady rain had ceased, I wanted to be sure she was doing the job.   “Have you been watering?”

“Oh, yes.   Gary’s been watering.”   She called out over her shoulder again, “Right, babe?   You’ve been watering the plants?”

Apparently playing with the boys in the background, all of them boisterous and romping about, he replied, “Watering?   Yes.   I watered the plants.”

“Deeply?” I interjected.   They’d rather be watered deeply every other day than a light splatter with the hose each and every day.

Mandie repeated my concern, to which Gary seemed hesitant.   Frustration welled.   “Babe, you have to water them deeply, every other day.” 

Boy, she sounded like an expert.   Atta girl!

“And we have ants,” she informed me.   “What do we do about the ants?”

Panic again.   “No problem.   Go to your local hardware and look for the garden safe ant killer.   It’s a white powder you sprinkle around the trouble spots.”

“Is that the diatomaceous earth?”

Kudos, again.   “Well, yes, that is a garden safe material, I don’t know if it’s the same material as I didn’t check the label ingredients.   I have used diatomaceous earth before, but I don’t think my results was that great.”

“Okay.”   Relieved, she sounded ready to tackle any obstacle coming her way.

Good, I thought privately.   Because there will be more to come.   But in the meantime, let’s celebrate our progress.   I mean, c’mon.  Look at these gorgeous potatoes! 



Number two!   (Way to hide the eyesore — ten points for design brilliance!)

Gary and Mandie have built box number two, a BIG accomplishment.   And once the dirt is delivered, they will be in big business — the melon kind.   And if you know anything about melons, you KNOW they need space and lots of it.   But if you’re short on space, what do you do?

You improvise.   You get creative.  You think outside the box

In Mandie’s case, we plan to grow the plant in the box while allowing the melon to grow outside of the box.   Crazy?

Crazy  ingenuity!   Besides, with her limited space, it’s the only way it will work.   These fruits need room to stretch out and with a suggested row spacing of nearly five feet — which she doesn’t have — there’d be no watermelon for the boys this summer. 

Frown.  Who’s willing to deliver that bad news? 

Not me.  Not Mandie.  And need I remind you who built the planter box?   There’ll be no bad news in this back yard, no sir!

But in the meantime, we see the potatoes are coming along nicely.

As well as the lovely conch peas in their trellis “cage.”

Not the MOST exciting time in the garden with progress confined to sprouts and growth spurts and building boxes in preparation for more exciting times, but look on the bright side — not enough time has passed for the weed invasion, right? 

Remember:  there’s always a bright side.

We have sprouts!!!

It’s working!  Yahoo!  And what a thrill.

Discovering your first sprouts is a great day — especially for the boys. 

“Look mom!  There’s a potato!  And there’s another one! “

Wow.  They really are growing.  While it was exciting last week with the addition of transplants, the added greenery a major boost to morale during the throes of winter (oh, waah — as if Floridians actually knew anything about winter) but now we have proof positive Mandie has a green thumb!

Could be a simple example of Mother Nature doing her thing, but I’m willing to go with the green thumb imagery. 

Not only the potatoes are rearing up, but the carrots are sprouting and so are the conch peas!  Cute little things, they look more like “bird” peas, don’t they?

Either way, we’ve got action — and lots of it.  Why, look at these sprouts – they’re everywhere!   These baby carrots may seem more like baby hair, but they are THRILLING nonetheless.   Like having your first baby.   Sure, it’s red and screaming and covered in awful slime but to you, it’s the most beautiful creature in the world.

You see it now, don’t you?  Yes.  I see your smile.  You see it, too.

But of course, as the earth spins, with every upward tick comes a downward tick.   We have daylight, we have night.  

Yes, you guessed it.   Blemishes.   Bugs.   While admiring all the new sproutlings, eagle eye Mandie spotted a tiny black bug.  Her eyes are better than mine.  

Argh!  Infestation.  Panic.   She turned to me, whom she has affectionately dubbed master, and asked, “What do we do now, Master?”

I smiled.  (Not only because I like being called master, but because this is where the reality of organic gardening hits.)  You get him

She balked.  “What do you mean?” 

“I mean, you grab him, get him, pinch him – whatever you need to do to remove the dastardly invader from your garden — without using any awful pesticides.”

She promptly obliged.  

You have to hand it to her, the girl’s a quick study! 

I then mentioned the use of insecticidal soap, an environmentally friendly spray for her plants, touting it was a somewhat easier method of beast removal.   She whipped her head around to her husband.  “Gary, while you’re at the store, grab some of this stuff, will ya?”

Wonderful husband that he is, he agreed without protest.  (Boy, do I love husbands.  They really do make gardening easier.)

After a final inspection, we decided everything was good, perfect, save for the tomatoes.  These pups proved a bit peaked after the close call with the mercury last week, but I think they’ll make it.  Fish emulsion will do wonders for them, along with a well planned fertilizer program.


Mandie paled.   Fish emulsion.   “I forgot to pick up the fish emulsion!”  (You remember, this is the busy gal — a lot on her plate?  We weren’t kidding!)   “Gary, will you grab some fish emulsion why you’re out?”

He smiled.   “Sure.”   Then to me, asked, “Can you buy that at the hardware store?”

Probably.   If not, the seed and feed will have it.   Fish emulsion is a wonderful organic fertilizer.   While it won’t address all the needs of your garden, it does provide a solid foundation.

Satisfied all was in hand, he nodded.  “No problem.”

I like a calm, cool and collected guy.   Tends to mellow out my more hyper-tendencies.   Uh, make that energetic.   I’m energetic, not hyper.   I have focus.   Determination.   Why, just this weekend I relocated a rose garden to make way for my new herb garden, and planted a blueberry patch to boot! 

It is blueberry patch, right?   I asked my daughter and she assured me it was patch, not orchard.   But then again, she’s barely ten.   Help?

More on that tomorrow.  Until then, rejoice in Mandie’s success!