tomatoes

Match Made in Heaven

The fall gardening season is upon us in Florida and that means I’m ready to tackle tomatoes, figuratively speaking of course. You want to be gentle with these babies, careful. Unless you’re using one of those upside down bag “thingys” and then—all bets are off. From what I understand, you can’t kill the things when growing them in those contraptions!

But I’m an in-ground gardener, doing things the old-fashioned way. Now that it’s time to start my tomato sprouts it’s time to share a little secret, the secret to beautiful, healthy, blossom-end rot free tomatoes.  Epsom salts and eggshells.  Yep, just mix some crumbled eggshells together and Epsom salts into your potting mix and you’re good to go!

secrets to our tomatoes

This disease is the result of a lack of calcium.  Calcium’s most important function during the crop fruiting stage is its role in cell wall/cell membrane stability.  If Ca is deficient in developing fruits, an irreversible condition known as blossom-end rot will develop. Blossom-end rot occurs when cell wall calcium “concrete” is deficient during early fruit development, and results in cell wall membrane collapse and the appearance of dark, sunken pits at the blossom end of fruit so this blend does wonders to give your plants a head start.  The magnesium helps plants grow bigger, heartier tomatoes but go easy.  Too much Mg can cause trouble, too. More

If You See Poop…

It’s a telltale sign. The poop looks like this…

hornworm poop

The beast looks like this…

meet the tomato hornworm

It’s the tomato hornworm and not a good thing for your tomato plants. Look for him. He’s there, somewhere, albeit hard to find. This is a closeup shot taken so you’ll know what you’re looking for, but this fat fella blends in well–and I mean REALLY well, so be vigilant and don’t give up. If you see poop, he’s there.

An easier sign to detect the presence of tomato hornworms is the abundance of bald stems.

tomato devoured by hornworm

No leaves, just stems. (He needs something to climb on, doesn’t he?) He’s there, in the middle of the plant. Can you see how he’s the same color as the leaves? 

Yep. Trust me. This one camouflages well, so look watch for poop or stems. If you see either one, slip on your gloves and get to plucking.  Definitely dispatch this guy from your garden or say goodbye to your tomato plants.

Stake and Tomatoes

Take it from me—trial and error gal—don’t learn this the hard way.  Your tomatoes want big stakes, firm stakes.  Sturdy, semi-permanent. They want to know there’s support for them when the wind blows, that they won’t lose their ruby-red jewels dripping from their vines.

triangle cage

Trust me when I say, “think strong” (as in men, too.;)). Next time you’re shopping for tomato cages and you see this packaged structure, walk on. Don’t stop. Don’t waste your time.

Admittedly, I thought this three-walled triangle style cage would be the secret to success. It was–for a while. But when the tomato plant grew and the tomatoes hung heavy, it fell over like a twig.

And this round, loopy one? More

There’s Always Next Year

Ever catch yourself saying this as you stand and gaze upon your garden?

I have.  Am, I should say.  My garden is going through some “growing pains” at the moment.  Most horribly, our frost “bite” right before Christmas.  Weather man modified his forecast AFTER I was able to prepare.  (Aaagh!)  Watching the news one evening, I found myself gaping at the television screen.  Hard frost?  Freeze, north of us?  Oh no…

Yep.  I have three forty-foot rows that look just like this one.  We salvaged what tomatoes we could, pulled the plants and still have these to clean up.  Tomorrow.  There’s always tomorrow.  Same fate befell my wax peppers, forcing us to clean, cut and can Christmas eve and Christmas day.  (Like I had time for that?!?!) More

Vigilance Required

This week, garden duty was all about vigilance.  What’s eating our tomatoes?  What smashed our pumpkin?  What burrowed beneath our squash?

All good questions, and thankfully, we have Upper Elementary on the lookout.  Many of our tomatoes are beginning to turn red and we want nothing to jeopardize their progress.  Ruh-roh.  Too late.  Moms–close your eyes.  The ick factor will scare you… More

Zucchini Tomato Sauce

When it comes to my garden, my motto is “eat what’s blooming.”  So, with my zucchini in full bloom, I came up with a little comfort sauce for my pasta.  Now I prefer roasted zucchini, but since I’ve already had that three times this month, I decided to try something new.  While making pasta and red sauce for the family, I decided to have mine with zucchini.  Mind you, I’m the only one in the family who cares for zucchini, but we have an entire bed of the stuff because I am the head gardener which means I get a say in what grows where.  Leadership has its privileges.

Anyhoo, this sauce is easy and delicious and can be expounded upon exponentially (can you tell my daughter is learning algebra?).  The ingredients are zucchini, garlic, tomatoes, basil and parsley.

Olive oil and butter, too, but I can’t grow those in the garden.  The basil I used is cinnamon basil, but plain old sweet basil is also delicious (yes, I’ve made this twice, now). More

Pinching and Planting

This week the kids were taught how to pinch their plants.  Their tomatoes, to be specific.  (No pinching the others, or slapping that rosemary either.  Kids.)  We pinch our tomatoes to encourage nutrients and water to go where needed—the main stems and branches.  Scraggly, overgrown and unkept tomato plants help no one, least of all the gardener looking for some ruby-red produce.

And it’s simple.  The tiny branch growing in the crux there?  Pinch it—a difficult task if your gloves are ultra thick, so take care, and pinch with precision. :) More

Do You Know the Secret?

If you’re a follower of my blog, you do.  It’s time to start my tomato sprouts and the secret to beautiful, healthy, blossom-end rot free tomatoes is the combination of Epsom salts and eggshells.  Yep, just mix some crumbled eggshells together and Epsom salts into your potting mix and you’re good to go!

This disease is the result of a lack of calcium.  Calcium’s most important function during the crop fruiting stage is its role in cell wall/cell membrane stability.  If Ca is deficient in developing fruits, an irreversible condition known as blossom-end rot will develop. Blossom-end rot occurs when cell wall calcium “concrete” is deficient during early fruit development, and results in cell wall membrane collapse and the appearance of dark, sunken pits at the blossom end of fruit so this blend does wonders to give your plants a head start.  The magnesium helps plants grow bigger, heartier tomatoes but go easy.  Too much Mg can cause trouble, too.

I start my tomato sprouts now because it’s too hot to put them in the ground outside.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Florida heat, we call these the ”Dogs Days of August” which has to refer to the fact this weather is unsuitable for man or beast.  Not that my pumpkin dog is a beast, mind you, but he wants nothing to do with the outdoors right now–unless he’s in a lake.  Or pool.  He’s not fussy and either works, but my tender tomato sprouts?

The tiny green shoots would fry the minute they poked through the surface.  So now is when I set out my seedling trays and start my seeds.  I mix up the Epsom salts and eggshells with my compost and this seems to do the trick.  Come September, I’ll transplant into the garden and once again, add my secret blend of ingredients to ward off blossom-end rot.

Monster Okra

Now this is enough to scare you plum out of the garden–so don’t let it come to that.  Okra are one of the easiest and tastiest veggies to grow and when eaten fresh from the vine (stalk, stem…) are not slimy in the least.  They are divine.  My son prefers them fried–and they are good this way–but I like them fresh.  But if you let your okra grow to gargantuan proportions, they will be tough, stringy and icky.  Leave these mammoth pods for seed saving.

And the only way to prevent this from happening is to visit your garden every day during harvest time.  Like I said, okra are EASY to grow and grow they will–inches a day!  Or so it seems.  These are Tami’s okra (no, we haven’t forgotten her) and in need of plucking.  But in between home and the beach, work and vacation, it can be downright hard to visit your garden every day.  (Yet another reason I close most of my rows for the summer.  Summers are for vacation in my household!) 

For optimum taste, you want your  okra about two inches, maybe a tad more if you’re frying them. This little guy is perfect, isn’t he?  Gorgeous AND delicious. 

Speaking of gorgeous, her pepper plants are thriving.  Beautiful and green and only a couple of holes to speak of, these babies are blooming and producing.  Now remember, perfection is overrated.  I don’t mind one bit if the leaves have a couple of blemishes.  So long as they don’t kill the plant or prevent peppers from blossoming, I’m good.  How about you?

Now her tomatoes are wild and wooly and taking full advantage of her divided attention.  They need pinched and pruned, but Tami’s been too busy to do either.  Like I said, Florida during the summertime can be very distracting.  Sunny skies, warm waves and beautiful beaches…  Who can stay home?

It’s tough.  Forgive her.  She’ll get back into the swing of it soon.  Why, she has this cute little melon fella to take care of! :) 

Isn’t he adorable?  Precious.  Just precious.  So if you’re in the same predicament as Tami, don’t worry.  You’re not alone.  For all you lucky gardeners out west and up north, take heart–this is YOUR season to shine.  And do share!

Maintain Vigilance

One thing to keep in mind about gardening is maintenance.  Not only do things go “bump in the night,” they go chomp in the garden.

Tami’s lettuce have gone to flower, now taller than her okra, and the bugs are in hog heaven–sans the swine.  Ick.  At this point, Tami need only remove the plants and put them in the compost pile–her new compost pile!  Yep, she’s decided to join the organic ranks and start her own compost pile, beginning with the pile of oak leaves she recently raked up.  Smart.  Very smart.  Best of all, it’s mere feet from her garden.

The okra are growing gangbusters and spitting out “cobs” all over the place.  One thing to keep in mind when you’re growing okra, is these guys are fast operators.  Once they begin producing, you’ll want to visit every day.  This will ensure you harvest your okra at its most tender because trust me, large cobs of okra are tough and NOT delicious.  Great for seed saving though!

Always a silver lining (if you know where to look).  Moving right a long… Tami has her first watermelon.  Isn’t it adorable?

Won’t be long before this little guy is burgeoning from the vine.  Note on watermelon harvest:  in Florida, these babies have a tendency to explode during hot summer days, so while you’re visiting each and every day, keep an eye on the melons.  Give em’ a tap and when you hear the nice dull “thump” sound, pull that rascal from the vine and haul it onto the picnic table.  Another good indicator is to check the curly tendrils.  Light green = not ready.  Brown and dry = thump it baby, thump it!

Another technique is to press your thumb nail into the skin.  If it makes an indentation, not ready.  No mark, you should be good to pull.  Tomatoes are a much easier fruit when it comes to harvest detection.  Red, they’re ripe.  Green they’re not–unless you’re a Southerner and like your tomatoes green.  Tami’s are looking mighty fine.

Her basil could use a little pinching.  I prefer to pinch the budding blossoms from mine before they reach 1/2 inch, then toss them into my lunch salad.  Mmmm…  Aromatic and delicious.  Did you know that basil eases digestion?  Wunderbar.  Nothing like making my roughage go down “easier.” :)

Have you seen the recipe for my favorite summer salad?  Strawberry and goat cheese and oh-so-delicious!  Add basil for an added delight.

And since we’re speaking of maintenance, these squash need some attention.  Fungus.  Very hard to rid the Florida garden squash of fungus, what with all our rain and humidity, but we must. 

This plant wants to survive and produce more squash.  It simply needs a helping hand.  So Tami will remove the diseased leaves and allow the center healthy green ones to thrive.   Remember, your plants want to produce and sustain you.  They just need a little help sometimes!