tomatoes

Fall 2016 Update

Well into the fall planting season, you might be wondering how my garden is growing.

Fantastic! My corn is thriving. Lined with lettuce, everyone is happy!

corn-and-lettuce

The corn is sprouted its first silk, lovely as a blonde beauty and a sure sign harvest time is nearing.

blonde-silk-beauty_corn

My tomatoes are burgeoning with fruit. Brushed with Dipel Dust, the worms haven’t got a chance!

tomatoes-in-progress-fall-2016

Dipel Dust is the white stuff on the leaves!

tomatoes-and-dipel-dust

Broccoli is expanding its reach. Still young and tender, but showing great promise. Those are my newly planted sweet onions next to them. For the most part, the peanuts have been pulled and boiled, making room for Brussels sprouts and cabbage.

img_3563

I’ll also be introducing a sole rosemary plant. I have a herb garden close to my house, but since I’m about to till it up for soil refreshment and bug removal purposes, I decided you can never have too much rosemary. Soon, I’ll have it near and far!

lovely-squash

My squash is satisfied and going strong. Can’t wait!

christmas-jalapeno-peppers

Alas, my peppers are waning but still producing. An assortment of green and red, they remind me of the upcoming holidays. Joy to the world…my garden is gorgeous!

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!

Clever Watering Technique

So here’s a clever method for watering your plants — bury a plastic bottle!

tomato-water-bottle

That’s right. Think of this method as recycling at its finest. You consume the contents of, say, a water bottle, then you poke holes in the sides, bury it next to your plant and ta-da! You have a root watering system. VERY important for tomato plants. It’s quite efficient for tomatoes, because they HATE water on their leaves. It can lead to fungus and tomatoes HATE fungus. Come to think of it, I hate fungus, too!

tomato-soda-bottle-water-method

When I discovered this image while perusing Pinterest, I thought, “Very cool.”

Of course, I had to give it a whirl. Stay-tuned! I’ll keep you posted on how well it works. Speaking of cool watering systems, check out this futuristic-looking hydroponics setup. It’s a hydroponic green sphere that allows for growing vegetables all winter long.

hydroponic-gardening1

Pretty cool, huh? And all the rage. More and more gardeners are opting for hydroponic systems. Not only are they “cleaner,” but they allow for more control, longer growing seasons and conservative watering practices. Win-win-win! Check out my blog post on Hydroponics for more details.

Don’t Think Tomatoes Are Supposed To Look Like This

I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure my tomatoes are not supposed to have…to have… I’m not sure what the heck to call it! A deformation? An odd lump? Whatever it is, I know it’s not right. But is it still edible?

Beefsteak tomato anomaly

That’s the question inquiring minds want to ask! I mean, I’m growing these beefsteak beauties to eat them, say, with my homemade pesto.

tomatoes and homemade pesto

Hm. Doesn’t that look good? It’s a mix of your standard Genovese basil with the addition of Dark Opal. I don’t find the Opal as intensely flavorful as the Genovese, but I do love the addition of color. Now, as soon as the garlic in my garden is ready for harvest, I’ll be able to make this pesto entirely from scratch! (Except for the olive oil and cheese, of course.)

garlic under cover

Currently, my garlic is under screen cover due to the unnaturally high temps here in Florida. Garlic can be sensitive that way. Heat and solid sunshine is great for the beach, but bad for garlic. No worries, they’ll survive. As will my tender sweet onions…

sweet onions are in!

Just planted, I want to make certain they get a strong start and stay moist so I haven’t added mulch yet. This way, I can keep a clear eye on them and will watch them for about a week before adding mulch. Nothing more than a personal preference on my part. I’m sure they’d enjoy the ground cover.

corn is faring well

Elsewhere in the garden, my corn is thriving, as is my lettuce. From now until May, I won’t have to get my salad leaves from the store–I’ll pluck them from my backyard! What’s NOT faring so well are some of my tomato plants.

tomato leaf curl

Leaf curl. Ugh. It could have been caused by whiteflies. It could have been caused by weather stress. Either is plausible, especially considering the heat wave we’ve been having. At this point, I’ll remove it and move on. Not that the plant can’t produce–it can–but it can also infect those around it. Remember, I’m growing these babies with culinary intentions!

tomato pesto salad

Now, off to enjoy my lunch. 🙂

Cute, But Unwelcome

These little guys are awfully cute, you have to admit. I mean, look at them. Out for an evening stroll, they’re not causing anyone any harm.

pesky piglets

Or are they?

According to my neighbor, these little fellas tore up his entire backyard. Ruts, holes–it looked like a Polo field at half-time. “Call out the divot-stompers!” The pristine grassy field is a mess (courtesy polo clubs and pony hooves). Not ideal for the home garden.

With this in mind, we scared off the piglets with a stiff bark and a quick dash down the fence line from the dogs next door and haven’t seen or heard from the little buggers since.

Cooper and Fadra

More

My Very First…

Red peppers. I’ve never been able to grow them in my garden. Not sure why, but for some reason, my green peppers tend to rot on the vine before they make it to “red” status. Green peppers are easy to grow and easy to freeze and save. But red?

my first red pepper

This is my first ever. And I’m thrilled! I wish I could tell you my secret, but I don’t have one. On a different note, my tomatoes are thriving and I know exactly why–dust for worms, weave for support and–ta da!–tons of tomatoes. More

Summer Success

For many of you, gardening season has just begun but for me, it’s a constant turnover. Our cool weather plants have long gone, replaced by summertime sweeties like okra and peppers, peanuts and pumpkins. Yep, if you want a pumpkin for your doorstep come Halloween, you’d better start planting it now. These babies take a while–especially if you like them big!

Big Max pumpkins

And we do. The bigger the better. These beauties were from a few seasons back, but it’s always a good idea to remind yourself of the goal. Helps to keep you motivated through the long hot summer. Peppers enjoy the heat as well and are thriving in varying stages. Green…

green peppers

Hot chili… More

Support My Tomatoes Can Rely On

I’ve finally found the answer for supporting my tomatoes. It’s an ingenious system known as the Florida Weave. Basically, it’s a system of stakes and twine that utilizes a weave pattern in an around the tomato plants to keep them stable, in place, and able to climb.

Florida Weave

It’s better than staking plants, because it allows them movement and accounts for the “sprawling” effect of fuller plants. It’s better than the metal cone supports, because they become too confining for the tomato plant as it grows and the branches and fruit become tangled and pinched. So far, I love it. I used the old twine that I saved from my hale bales through the years (I saved it all because I KNEW it would come in handy one day!) and tied them end-to-end until I reached the desired length.

Florida Weave_3

When I ran out of nylon twine, I went to the store and purchased garden twine made from natural fiber. I won’t do that again. One of the keys to success with this system is pulling and keeping the twine tight from stake-to-stake. I’ve only had this system in place for 10 days and the natural fibers have already stretched on me!

The nylon have not. Lesson learned. More

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.

I Can Taste Victory

And it’s glorious! After battling worms and bugs and flying creatures, at last I can see the red through the vines–the tomato vines!

line of tomatoes

Okay, so they’re not red, yet, but I can visualize them just the same. Fabulous red tomatoes–gobs of them–will soon be dangling from my beautiful, leaf intact, tomato plants. Yes, as many of you know, I’ve had my share of hornworms and bug invaders, blossom-end rot and general leaf wilt but today? I am on the road to tomato bounty victory. And it feels good.

What’s my secret? Why, many, thank you for asking, the most important of which I daresay is dust. Dipel dust, to stop the caterpillars and worms before they get a chance to grow fat and hungry.

dusted tomato

Prior to that flash of brilliance were the screen I used to cover my babies when they were young and tender. The Florida sun is hot and brutal in September.

tomatoes under cover

I gave them their usual dose of eggshells and Epsom salts, and paid daily visits–except when traveling–where I plucked and pinched (leaves mind you, not worms) and generally admired the gorgeous girls. You remember pinching, yes? That little sucker, there, between the branches.

don't forget to pinch your tomatoes

I made sure to mulch well and check my water source often. Although I use water from a well source, the misters sometimes clog and it’s crucial to catch this issue early. And how will my tomatoes reward me?

With gobs of decadent plump red tomatoes. Stay tuned!

Disclaimer: I’m staring down 35°F weather over the next two days. Tomatoes do not like 35°F temperatures. Not even a little bit. Ugh. I’m going to cover them and keep you posted.