tomatoes

Mulch Necessities

Mulch is an integral part of organic gardening. Not only does it help conserve a precious resource, it breaks down and contributes to the organic matter in the soil. And, if that wasn’t enough, mulch helps prevent weeds. Win-win-win. Gotta love it!

Not to mention it’s inexpensive (or can be!). I use pine mulch from my neighbor’s yard. It’s free and easy, and a great way to acidify the soil–important for plants like potatoes and blueberries. Gardenias and azaleas love acid, too.

I also recycle the fall décor placed by my front door every October. Scarecrows and hay bales lend themselves well to fall festivities and ambiance, but hay also works well in the garden.

April and May, when I’ve harvested my sweet onions and potatoes, if the mulch is still in decent shape, I’ll use it around my peanuts. If not, I’ll simply till it back into the soil.

Garden leaves work well as mulch, as do grass clippings–so long as no pesticides are used on the lawn. If so, keep it FAR away from your organic garden!  Newspaper is another good source of mulch. The ink used these days is non-toxic and safe for garden use. Just make sure you’ve read all of the important pages, first.

Plastic paper is sold as mulch. Many gardeners prefer red, because the red light wavelengths stimulate the growth of tomato plants via a reaction with a pigment in the tomato plants – study done by Montana State University. Penn State did their own study that revealed blue did an even better job. Go figure. Other colors are also available.

Whichever method of mulching you use, do use one as opposed to none. It’s better on all counts!

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.