What is foliar feeding and why do you need to do it? Simply put, foliar feeding is feeding the leaves. So, if you fertilize the roots of the plant why do you need to feed the leaves? Because feeding the leaves is another really great way to improve the health of your plants and provide sustenance. That’s especially important when it appears that there’s something amiss with a plant. Perhaps the vascular system has been compromised and it’s not able to take up nutrition. Foliar feeding just may provide enough nutrients to get the plant back on track.
I foliar feed my tomato plants four times during the growing season. This is in addition to the feeding that is done at the soil. The first foliar feed is when the yellow flowers first appear and the second is when fruit starts to form. One month later I give the third application and the fourth is one month after that.
Sometimes I use the compost from my worm bin to make a compost tea to feed the plants. Worm tea is the liquid concentrate of worm compost. Ideally, it is full of minerals and microbacteria that is incredibly valuable for your plants. The tea is created by brewing the compost in water and using a pump or stirring rapidly to aerate it. But that’s a lot of work and I’m not ever sure it’s as nutrient rich as I would like it to be. I often tell myself, my compost is only as good as what I put into it. And, I always worry that my worms get too many strawberries and not enough spinach.
It’s important to note that the liquid drainage that collects at the bottom of the worm bin is not compost tea. It’s actually liquid that leaches out of undigested food waste, and it can actually be toxic to your plants.
I love to use the Compost Tea Bags from Malibu Brew for my foliar feeding. It’s a Biodynamic Compost Tea made from dairy cow manure. Manure from dairy cows has very unique properties that make it even more powerful than chicken or steer manure or bat guano. Malibu Brew Compost Tea is really easy to make and easy to use. I put one of the teabags into a bucket of water (2.5 gallons) and let it sit overnight. In the morning I give it a really good stir and then stir it the other way. Then, I pour it into a garden sprayer and lightly spray the tea over the foliage. The leaves will be refreshed and revitalized.
In case you’re wondering, foliar feeding isn’t just for tomatoes. Go to town and spray your entire garden. You’ll be glad you did!
Knowing the right time to plant tomatoes depends on your soil temperature.
I’m getting lots of phone calls and emails from anxious gardeners and tomato growers wondering if it’s time to plant tomatoes yet? The answer is…it depends!
Where are you growing? What’s your average nighttime temperature? Have you thought about taking the temperature of your garden soil? Soil temperature is the key to deciding when to plant tomatoes. The soil must consistently be 55 degrees or higher for tomatoes to thrive. My general rule of thumb for tomato growers in Southern California is to wait until the end of the third week in March. Then, check your soil temperature (I use a meat thermometer!) If it’s still too cold, give it another week.
If you’ve purchased tomato seedlings but it’s still too cold at night for them to be planted outdoors, let them enjoy the sunshine during the day. Be sure to keep them somewhat protected from the elements and give them a feeding of diluted liquid fertilizer once a week. Bring them in at night, putting them somewhere away from drafts or the furnace.
An Update about Tomato Seeds….
Did you start your tomato seeds yet? If not, you still have time but not time to waste. Tomato Sseds that you start now should be ready to plant outside in 6 – 8 weeks. That sounds like perfect timing, especially if your climate will allow you to begin planting in the next couple of weeks. Spreading out your planting means you’ll be harvesting tomatoes for a longer period and that sounds really good to me!
When your tomato seedlings first emerge they’ll have two tiny leaves called cotyledon. In just a short amount of time they will develop a second set of leaves, called “true leaves”. Begin feeding once a week with diluted liquid organic fertilizer.
When seedlings are about 1 ½” tall they are ready to be potted up into 4″ containers with organic potting soil. (This will be in about 30 days.)
You”ll need to “harden off” the seedlings before moving them outdoors. Start the process by moving the seedlings outside for a few hours every morning. Pick a spot where they get a few hours of gentle sunlight and are sheltered from the worst weather extremes (eastern exposures are great). Don’t take them outside if temperatures threaten to drop much below 60ºF or if rain is imminent. After a few hours, move them back inside. Extend their time outside a few hours at a time over the next two weeks. At the same time, gradually increase their exposure to full sun and the elements. It’s not uncommon at this stage to find your seedlings bending over as they adjust to harsher conditions outside. If they start looking sad, reduce the time outside or stake them up with bamboo skewers.
Transplant outside when day time temperatures are consistently between 70-75 degrees and night time doesn’t dip below 55.
John Valentino, of “John & Bob’s Grow Green Smart Soil Solutions, and I met for a chat about….dirt!
Online relationships can be tricky and often misleading. I’ve had an internet friendship with a man for several years. John always seemed friendly and cheerful. I thought he seemed genuinely interested and committed to our friendship because he always replied to my emails quickly and with enthusiasm. Our conversations often focused on our mutual interest, a passion for gardening.
From time to time we toyed with the idea of getting together to meet in person. We don’t live near each other so it just never seemed to work out. And so it continued, status quo.
Now, if you’re thinking this story doesn’t belong on a gardening blog because it’s going to get very dirty…well, it is. But, not the kind of dirty you might be expecting. Read on.
As I said, John and I share a passion for gardening. To say I have a “thing” for tomatoes is putting it mildly. And, as crazy as I am about growing tomatoes, that’s John when he’s talking about dirt. But, don’t call it that. It’s soil. And, if he has anything to say about it, it’s healthy, vibrant, living soil that supports life from the microscopic fungi and protozoa to my eight-foot tall tomato plants.
As luck would have it, John and I did finally meet in January. He was an exhibitor at a local trade show so I drove over to meet him. I was beyond excited. I envisioned sitting down with this carefree guy, dressed in soiled jeans and work boots, chatting up a storm about all of our favorite tomatoes and the most delicious ways to enjoy them. I was thrilled to meet and have some face time with someone who plays such a huge part in my gardening success. You see, John is one half of John & Bob’s Grow Green Smart Soil Solutions. I’ve been using their “stuff ” (as John refers to it) for years in my gardens and the results are outstanding!
So, that’s where the fantasy ended. The effervescent exchange that I imagined didn’t materialize. I arrived at our meeting location a few minutes early so I could stop by the ladies room before we met. Of course, John was already awaiting my arrival, early and ready to get down to business. He greeted me with a slight smile, dressed in perfectly pressed khakis and a crisp button down shirt. This was not going to be the warm, fuzzy tomato talk I expected. Without making my pit stop, John walked briskly and directed me to the John and Bob’s display booth. I had trouble keeping up with my shorter stride. John didn’t care. He was a man on a mission.
John had something he had to show me. To John, it wasn’t enough that I love, swear by and practically insist that my students use his products to grow great vegetables. John is a science and numbers guy. I appreciated that he patiently explained to the importance of mycorrhizae (I can’t even say that) and the difference between the bad and beneficial nematodes.
More than that, though, he wanted me to see charts, photographs and cost comparisons to further prove that the beneficial bacteria, fungi and protozoa that make up John and Bob’s product line make a huge difference in the overall health and production of every garden and at a very reasonable cost. My cursory glance and nod of acceptance wasn’t enough. Look again, John insisted. He showed me the impressive results of their field tests using the four John & Bob’s products, Optimize, Nourish/Bio-Sol, Maximize and Penetrate, at a residential garden, a university campus and a community hospital. Yes, the landscaping looked spectacular. But John needed to be sure I saw the part about the cost of using his products in each situation compared to using bulk soil amendments. It wasn’t just about the cost of the products, either. It was about the amount of time and labor (and cost of labor) involved in using the products.
You know how they say you have to hear something eight times to remember it? Well, it might have been seven or it might have been ten times, but after saying it and showing me so many times, I got it! I already knew that John’s products worked great. I knew that I didn’t have to throw out my back to use it or pay an arm and a leg to get someone else to use it. What I finally understood, though, was that ounce per ounce, John and Bob’s goes so much further than any other amendment I might use, that I’m actually using less product and I’m spending a lot less money!
John and I haven’t spoken since that meeting last month, but we have emailed a few times. I had some questions about using John & Bob’s with my seed starting mixture and he promptly and thoroughly answered my queries. Yes, his stuff goes in right at the beginning.
It’s a safe and familiar relationship and it’s comforting, too. I know if I need some info about making my garden beds even better, John will be right there for me. Not the kind of dirt you might have expected, but just the kind of dirt this gardener needs.
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I’m so excited! I love the energy and untethered enthusiasm kids show for learning about the garden. They develop a genuine love and respect for growing things that I am sure contributes to who they become as adults. The fact that it also contributes to their overall health and well-being makes it all the better.
FROM SEED TO SALAD BOWL AND BEYOND! – An Organic Gardening Adventure for Kids
March is National Nutrition Month! I am thrilled to be partnering with TUTOR DOCTOR to present a five week, hands-on organic gardening for kids series. We’ll have tons of fun and make growing and preparing healthy foods part of their everyday routine. Read all about the upcoming program and register your child today at Organic Gardening Adventure
Start your tomato seeds now – It’s almost time to start planting!
And, so, it begins…
Typically in the San Fernando Valley we will plant tomatoes outside around the end of March or beginning of April. Counting back 6 – 8 weeks from that target date is, well, now! That means it’s time to start tomato seeds and nurture them indoors until nighttime temperatures are consistently in the mid-fifties and the seedlings are strong enough to be planted in the ground.
Last weekend I started 18 varieties of tomatoes from seed. That’s just the beginning. I’ll start more seed but I also will allow plenty of room in the garden for tomatoes that I buy at seedling sales. Going to the sales and searching for new varieties that I haven’t yet tried is one of my greatest pleasures and I’ll never stop doing that!
We had a lovely afternoon on Sunday and I took full advantage by doing my seed work out in the garden. Frankly, the mess is easier to clean there so, if you can be outside or in a greenhouse to get your seed started, all the better.
I began with a huge plastic tub full of the ingredients that go in my seed starting medium. I like the plastic tub because it’s easy to move, easy to add water to and the high sides contain my potential spills. If you’re really doing a lot, you might find mixing the medium in a wheelbarrow very convenient.
Into the tub went equal parts organic peat moss, organic vermiculite and organic perlite. When mixed together the combination will provide a light medium that will retain enough moisture to encourage germination without drowning or rotting the tiny seeds.
Using my hands, I lightly lifted and tossed the ingredients to combine.
Then, I gently added water and mixed again. You want the medium to be moist when you add the seed.
Next, I took my containers (I like little pulp pots) and scooped some of the growing medium into them.. I gently pat it down without compacting and then added more to fill each cell to the top.
Using the end of a pencil, I made three holes in each cell. The holes were about 1/4 inch deep. I dropped one seed into each hole and then carefully covered them up with the potting mixture that was displaced when I made the holes.
I immediately added markers to each tray of seeds so I would know what I was growing. Seems like a no-brainer, but even though I do this right away I somehow always end up with one mystery plant! I included the name of the tomato and my start date on the marker.
Using a spray bottle filled with room temperature water, I moistened the growing mixture, taking care to spray each cell. The growing medium should be moist but not wet. To help retain moisture, I then put the trays into ziploc bags. The bags are left open so air can circulate.
My grow lights are set up (but not turned on until the little plants begin to appear) and heat mats are turned on. I’ve put the bags with the seedling trays on top of the mats as seeds need heat to germinate. Now, I’ll give a light spray of water each day and watch and wait.
See how easy it is? Now, go get set up to start your seeds. And, check back often. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of my seeds and the next steps of this seedling adventure.
So, back to selecting your seeds. You’ve got a pile of seed catalogs, everything looks fabulous, and you don’t know what to order. Ordering everything seems easiest or maybe ordering nothing.
No!! Neither option is a good one! Start by thinking about how much you want to grow. How much space do you have? And how much of that space will get enough sun, at least 8 hours per day (more for larger tomatoes) to successfully grow tomato plants? Do you have a favorite variety that you want to have a lot of? Do you want to grow tomatoes to eat sliced or in a salad or do you prefer to grow for sauces or canning?
Once you establish what you really like to do with your tomatoes and about how many you can grow, start thinking about the tomatoes you’ve enjoyed in the past. This is where keeping a garden journal comes in. Look at your notes. If Green Zebra didn’t do well in your extreme heat, cross that one off your list. If Kellogg’s Breakfast loved the heat (it does), and you absolutely loved the flavor, it would be a good one to grow again.
I like to break down my seeds list into color categories. If I don’t, I’m liable to end up growing a whole lot of bi-colored, sweet tomatoes and not have much to can for later use. So, I make a chart, as seen in the photo below. As you’ll see, I have each color listed and then different varieties within each color column. I’ve also included a very important number. This is often referred to at DTM or Day To Maturity. This is not an absolute but an approximation of how long it will take to produce ripe tomatoes once planted in the ground. Since many of these varieties are new to me, I’ve also decided to include a quick note about size when ready to harvest.
Now comes the fun part. Juggle. Mix it up. You don’t want to have all medium-sized red tomatoes coming in at the exact same time. Remove a few reds and add a few somewhere else. In fact, you don’t want all of your tomatoes ripening at once. Choose some that are early producers (55 – 60 days), some that are late (90 – 100 days) and some that will produce mid-season (75 – 80 days). Ultimately, you want to have a variety of colors and sizes coming in at any given time. You want diversity to keep things delicious and interesting.
Ok – you’re ready. Grab those seed catalogs, make your list and order! It’s almost time to start your seeds!
There are so many ways to enjoy a tomato it’s often difficult to decide what to do with them.
Some are absolute perfection when eaten raw while others are ideal for canning. Some you just want to pick and pop in your mouth while others make a superb addition to a panzanella or caprese salad or a hearty soup. With so many options, how is it possible to know which to use?
The fact is, if you ask 100 different tomato growers what their favorite tomato to eat is you‘ll get 100 different answers. For me, it’s Pineapple. I like a slightly sweeter, not too tart tomato. Pineapple is like a tropical fruit. Its beautiful color, a blend of yellow, blush and pink echoes in the flavor. The taste is as sweet and yummy as its outer beauty.
If I’m making a salsa, I always like to include black or purple tomatoes. The black and purple varieties tend to have a slightly smoky flavor that adds depth and complexity to any recipe. They’re also quite fabulous sliced nice and thick to layer on a BLT. Black Krim, Cherokee Purple and Black Mammoth are standards in my garden.
Choosing the right seed catalogs and seeds to fit your garden and lifestyle needs.
Choosing seeds to grow for your garden can be an overwhelming task. There are so many seed catalogs to choose from, each with pages of vegetables that all sound fabulous. I’m going to share with you how I approach the task and make it less daunting, keeping the fun in the process.
In anticipation of buying seed or putting in a garden you need to give it some careful thought and really consider your needs, space and desires. A little advance planning will help keep your thoughts clear and will be more useful than you can imagine.
Even before you select the seed, I suggest you weed out some of the seed catalogs. They may all be pretty but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. This is the perfect time to remember not to judge a book by its cover!
As soon as the calendar turns to January, my mailbox fills up with seed catalogs, booklets and pamphlets and I’m sure yours does, too. I’ve decided that if I use a simple system I can make selecting seed almost as enjoyable as planting and growing the crops themselves.
So, here’s my plan and I think it will work for you, too.
Some seed companies are easier to work with than others. There are those that I’ve worked with in the past and had a good experience. I know they have a quality product that meets or exceeds my personal standards. So, I begin with the ones I know and trust. I also know that if I have questions, they will gladly and within a reasonable amount of time answer them – even if I call multiple times. When considering seed catalogs, I urge you to invest a few minutes and see who gives the customer service you may need. Call up and ask a question or send an email to see how long it takes for a reply.
Do you have some idea of what you want to grow? Knowing what you want to grow might help narrow down which seed catalogs have what you are looking for. Some catalogs are all about one vegetable while others will offer seed for a cornucopia of crops. Start with the definite’s and then later you can look at the others. Obviously, I’m rather tomato obsessive. The seed catalogs that feature mostly tomatoes are very appealing to me. I know that whoever assembled the publication and all that it offers “gets” me.
I try to flip through each catalog as soon as it arrives. A pile of them on the counter will frustrate me and I would probably just throw them all away. Handling them when they arrive eliminates the mess. So, as I’m flipping through I’m looking at pictures. I want to see beautiful photographs of every single thing they offer. This is not a time when I want to use my imagination. Photos need to be in color! Black and white means nothing to me in terms of tomatoes or any other vegetables.
I like seed catalogs that offer several varieties of each vegetable. I want choices. No matter which one I’m looking at, the descriptive paragraph needs to be concise and full of details. I want to know some basic information about each variety like whether it’s a hybrid or an heirloom, the approximate days to maturity, and anything they can tell me about growing habits. In the case of tomatoes it will also indicate whether the plant is “Indeterminate” or “Determinate”, referring to the plant’s pattern of growth and setting fruit. I also want to know something about the plant that reflects the writer’s personal experience. With so many varieties sounding so fabulous, something about flavor, shape or how the vegetable is used can be very helpful.
Lastly, I want to look at the catalogs from the brand new companies. These are probably somewhat limited but companies that are young are usually really on top of what’s new. They’re enthusiastic and eager to share all that they know and do.
Once you’ve narrowed down which catalogs to devote your time to you’re ready to use page markers, sticky arrows or post its to keep track of what interests you most.
I’m going to give you a day or two to get to this point. In my next post, we’ll explore how to narrow it down to which seeds you want to order and grow. I suspect that you’re probably already on overload so let’s break this down into small steps. You’ve got a little bit of time.
To be continued…..
Remember when all canning jars looked pretty much the same? There were Ball and there were Kerr and that was about it. Well, times have changed!
Have you noticed all of the really cool looking canning jars available in the cookware stores? Weck Jars, available at cookware shops come in some very unique sizes and shapes. No matter what you’re preserving and in what quantity, there is a Weck Jar for you. These jars have rubber seals that are kept tight with metal clips. I’ve also seen Bormioli Rocco Fido Canning Jars locally. They come in a variety of sizes and also have rubber seals. These jars have one clamp for closure rather than the three clips that Weck jars have.
A quick Google search comes up with pages of online ordering options for your canning needs. There are square jars and hexagons, minis and extra large. Sure, you can still get the round, glass jars with metal lids and rings. But, why not have some fun and make the packaging as delicious as what’s inside?
Speaking of what’s inside…Read my recent blog post about my favorite tomato for making sauce and canning. My Favorite Sauce Tomato.