tomato

Harvesting Eggplant

I love eggplant. Not only delicious, but it’s easy to grow and beautiful to gaze upon. From the delicate purple blossoms accentuated by bright yellow centers to the sleek black bodies of fruit, I love everything about eggplant.

eggplant-blossom

Unfortunately, I’m the only one in my family who enjoys this robust fruit, hence the reason I only have one plant in my garden. One, lone plant, tucked away within the rows of its close family member, the tomato.

eggplant-and-tomato-friends

Both part of the nightshade family of plants, eggplant and tomato can thrive planted alongside one another, however, beware of allowing them to follow one another in your crop rotation. Not a great idea, because verticillium wilt fungus that infects tomatoes one season can live in the soil for years and likely infect subsequent crops. Peppers and potatoes are also members of the nightshade family so consider these four plants as one unit when it comes to crop rotation.

A few varieties of tomatoes are resistant to this fungus, ie. Carnival, Celebrity and Santiago. I happen to grow Celebrity and Beefsteak, so I’m half-resistant! Just another example of why crop rotation is so very important in your organic garden.

first-eggplant-harvestAnd since I’m both gardener and chef in my household, I grow and enjoy eggplant as much as I want — serving it up sautéed golden brown with tomato sauce, or layered in lasagna.

sauteed-eggplant

Simply delightful! Check out my recipe section for Sautéed Eggplant full details.

Broccoli Babes

As my peanuts finish out for the season, it’s time to introduce a new crop. To best utilize my garden space, I interplant based on crop rotation rules. Crop rotation is an organic gardening practice where you change the placement of your plants from season to season. Doing so improves the structure and quality of your soil as well as minimizes the risk of disease and pest infestation. I use a rotation of beans-leaves-roots-fruits. Basically, this means that after my “beans” have produced, I plant “leaves.” In this case, beans = peanuts and leaves = broccoli. Peanuts fix nitrogen into the soil and broccoli requires lots of nitrogen to produce big green leaves so this rotation makes good sense.

baby-broccoli-and-mature-peanuts

In between the broccoli sprouts will be spinach. Both love nitrogen and are good companions in the garden. Other crop rotation considerations are how my tomatoes followed peanuts from earlier this season, corn followed my bush beans. These peanuts (shown above) actually followed okra, although I normally try to follow a fruit group, say tomatoes, squash or peppers.

my-fall-garden-2016

Above is my fall garden to date (just prior to the insertion of my tomato stakes and cables). Blueberry bushes are located in the farthest row. Black beans are in the ground next to them. Then there’s my corn, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, broccoli and spinach. Still to come this season are sweet onions and carrots, cabbage and chard. Potatoes will go in around January. Can’t wait!

Tomato Support is Crucial for Success

I’ve struggled with this issue for years. What is the best method to support my tomato plants?

I’ve tried tomato cages. However, once the tomato plant becomes a healthy size and produces big, fat beautiful tomatoes, the cage can fall over, breaking my tomato branches.

wild tomatoes

The cages are also hard to remove once the tomato plants have finished producing. I’ve tried bamboo stakes, propping my tomato plants up from all sides, yet this system doesn’t provide the lateral support my tomato branches need.

staked tomatoes

It becomes very difficult to sustain growth when heavy tomatoes droop and drop. And during heavy winds, bamboo stakes can easily fall over. Heavier stakes work nicely, yet encounter the same problem once the tomatoes grow and fill out. (That’s soft plant tape shown above.) There is no lateral support.

sturdy tomato stakes

Then there was my experiment with the Florida Weave system.

Florida Weave

It was a great idea, except that the twine gave way to humidity, rain and wind. The natural material stretched, causing it to lose support. Not good when “support” is the goal.

tomato-stakes-and-cables

This season, I’ve gone back to using solid stakes combined with solid cable, interspersed with bamboo (shown above). The green cable is actually a clothes line found at the hardware store. Two levels of cable line were run to ensure that my tomato plants will have lateral support as well as stalk height support. I’ll secure the plants to the cable using soft plant tape. Tape will minimize any damage to the tomato branches. Bamboo stakes will then be placed in and around the cable system to help keep the plants in place.

And yes, that’s basil in between the tomato plants. Basil and tomato are good companions in the garden, with basil said to improve the flavor of the tomatoes. Perfect!

As always, don’t forget to pinch your suckers. You know, those little sprouts that pop up between your tomato branches. You don’t want leggy, scraggly plants which is what you’ll get if you allow these “suckers” to suck the life out of your tomato plant. Instead, remove them and direct all of the plant’s energy into one or two main stalks.

pinch it

Good luck!

Tomatoes In Need of Eggs

My tomatoes are rockin’ and rollin’ and ready to go in ground. Woohoo ~ what a great day! (Below, the sprouts were two weeks old.)

tomato sprouts 2 weeks old

And it’s a day I’ve been planning for, insisting the family not put their eggshells in the compost bin but instead, straight into my hot little hands. I need these babies for my tomato transplants. Eggshells and Epsom salts. Together, they are my fail proof preventative against blossom end-rot. You know, those ugly black spots that can form on your tomatoes?  (Shown below, the sprouts are now 3 weeks old and ready to head outside!)

tomato sprouts a week later

The spots are caused by a lack of calcium which is why I give my tomatoes a blast of calcium right from the start. Using discarded, dried and washed eggshells, I crumble them into small pieces and scatter around the base of my tomato plant. Next I sprinkle a bit of Epsom salts around the same and cover with compost. I’ll follow by forming a well around my tomatoes to increase their water retention.

they're in!

If the weather in Central Florida remains exceptionally warm, I’ll cover my babies with a screen to block out the hot midday sun. Once they reach about a foot, I’ll remove the screen and begin dusting. Dipel dust keeps the worms off my leaves by eliminating them before they get a chance to eliminate my tomato plants. All’s fair in gardening and nature!

Wow. SO excited! For more details on growing tomatoes, check my how-to grow section located on the sidebar to the right or menu bar above.

Tami’s Last Hurrah

After a long summer of vacay and summer rain, Tami’s garden has survived, albeit her tomatoes and compost have succumbed to neglect.  What can she say?  She’s busy.  It’s hot.  You get my drift.  It was a valiant first effort that will blossom anew this fall, with more tolerable temps and a fresh new attitude.  But not all is lost.  Her green peppers look great.

Turning to red as they mature.  While it doesn’t look as pretty, it will taste sweet and delicious.

Don’t even ask about mine.  Talk about succumb!  I’m not sure who was harder on them—me, or Mother Nature.  But we won’t go there.  We’re talking about Tami’s garden at the moment.  The basil is blooming up a storm.  Needs pinched, but it’s still producing, still thriving.

Her aloe is gorgeous and full and the perfect remedy for an oven burn.  Slice off a piece of one thick, juicy leaf and smear the oozing liquid over the burn and voíla!  No scar, quick healing.  Careful:  the stuff is stinky and it will stain.  So take care when using.

The blueberry looks lost but not forgotten (entirely).  A little weed pulling and this baby is back in action! 

Now for all you tomato lovers, take note:  this is what hornworms can do to your plants.  In a matter of hours. 

Yep.  It’s ugly—and the main reason you want to make daily visits to your garden, for the sake of vigilance.  Beyond the garden is the compost pile.

Or two.  The overgrown pile in the foreground can easily be remedied with a weed whacker and transferred/mixed in to the second pile.  No big deal, giving the dirt time to “ferment” and turn rich and organic.  I do love nature when it proves low maintenance, don’t you?

Now, for my next project….  Who will it be?

Tomato Update

Okay, so I’m not sold on the red paper thing.  Not because I doubt it reflects the perfect rays of sunlight to ripen my fruit to ruby red perfection, but because it’s interfering with my plant’s ability to absorb water.

You see, cutting slits in the paper for my tomato plants to grow does not allow sufficient water to get to the roots.  Florida downpours can do the trick, but my sprinkler?  Not so much.  My plants are stressed and susceptible to attack by the fungus and worse, the dreaded hornworm.  In fact, much of the water ends up in puddles on top of the paper–despite my every effort to weight the paper down in all the right places, encouraging the pools to funnel down toward my plant.

Nope.  Not working for me.  I’m sure there is an answer to this dilemma.  It just remained out of my reach for this first season of experiment. 

 Needless to say, I’m open to suggestion.  I hate to give up, but I hate wasting time, too. On to brighter beds, my Hungarian Wax Peppers are doing well.  Not huge by any stretch of the imagination, but they are producing some rather robust peppers.  Used one last week for some homemade Pico de Gallo.  Tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, little lime juice and voila!  A delightful homemade salsa! 

You see, there is good news.  Even though my tomato plants look horrible, they have produced.  And isn’t that what’s important?

I think so.  Did find an interesting development with my sunflowers this week.  Now granted, I’m no expert with these mammoth marvels but I had no idea that the flowers could actually form all the way down the meaty stalk.  In our school garden, the flowers were solely at the top of the plant.  Our second batch, too. 

But mine?  I have blossoms running all the way down the stem!   Which is pretty cool, if you ask me.  Not only do I get the huge flower up top, I get the added benefit of these little beauties.  

I realize this may be an anomaly, but that’s okay.  I’m not too picky when it comes to my plants producing.  They produce, I pick ~ and that’s about as far as I care to dwell on the matter.  Remember, I’m a happy gardener!  And happy gardeners don’t sweat the small stuff.

Tami’s Growing Strong

For a first time gardener, Tami is doing AWESOME.  In this bed you can see her plants look great—squash, peppers, tomatoes and basil are all thriving together in harmony. If you remember, she planted the basil right in between her tomatoes, because these two make wonderful companions in the garden.  Funny, they make wonderful companions on the dinner plate, too.  Coincidence?

She’s pinched tomato suckers and pulled basil flower heads to keep these two healthy and happy.  To continue this progress, she can prune her tomatoes once they begin to grow past the top of her tomato cage.  This will also help to keep them full and strong.

The next bed over is residence to her okra and lettuce AND her first harvest.  Already!  Can you believe it?

Okra and lettuce make great companions, especially here in Central Florida because the canopy of the okra shades the more delicate lettuce leaves allowing them to flourish with ease.  (I’m about ready for a salad.  Anyone else?)

Upon closer inspection, we notice remnant damage on her okra leaf from the aphids and ant battle.  Not sure if this is from the diatomaceous earth of the aphids sucking the life out of the plant.  Will have to get back to you on that one.  But the plants appear to be fine in general, with no lasting trauma.

Next up is our pole beans which suspiciously resemble bush beans.  Now these varieties can produce very similar bean pods, but the big clue?  No climbers. 

Hmph.  Never know what’s in these bags we buy these days.  Remember our weed plant inside the blueberry?  It happens.  Course in my garden it’s usually do the fact that I occasionally forget what I’m planting where—despite my fabulous excel program!  Sheesh.  Yet another reason to become self-sustaining!  (Just keep your brain cells more organized than mine.)

Go figure.  Anyhoo, everything looks great.  Beans are plump and her cucumber and watermelon are bursting with life from their in ground “hill” site.

Lookee who I found in the compost pile!

My neighbor warned this might happen.  I’ve been so busy tossing everything into my compost pile, planning for my next growing season, I didn’t pay attention to what was growing in it this season.  A tomato plant!  I knew right away what it was, because there’s one thing about tomato plants and that is – they are aromatic.  I’m no “olfactologist,” but I can tell a tomato plant when I smell one – it’s a distinct fragrance.  

survivor!

And I’m excited!  Another experiment in the making – woohoo!  But due to the fact that I yanked the thing out of my compost pile like the intrusive weed that I mistook it for, my expectations are somewhat dimmed.  Tomato plants are not known for their transplanting capability.  And while I have a few in my garden disproving that notion, this one might not survive, as its roots were fairly ripped.  And torn.  (I can be fairly aggressive when there’s work to be done.)

But looking on the bright side of the compost pile, it might just be the stimulation this little guy needs to get busy and get growing.  It’s already day two, and he hasn’t shown signs of stress, yet!  Give him time, my husband says.  Give him time