Tomato Matters

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My method for growing tomatoes from seed

Posted by on Feb 4, 2016 in gardening, tomatoes galore | 0 comments

Even after all these years in the garden I am awestruck that a tiny seed, not even ¼ inch long, can not only grow into an eight foot tall plant, but also provide us with something so incredibly delicious and healthy to eat!

Growing anything from seed is a magical experience. Growing tomatoes from seed provides the magic and allows you to grow some special varieties that you won’t find at most nurseries or seedling sales (there’s no way they can have them all)!

To start tomatoes from seed you need to have seeds, growing medium, light, a warm place for the seeds to grow, water and some plastic bags.

The growing medium for seed should not be garden soil or potting soil. Don’t use anything that has fertilizer in it. I use a mixture of equal parts peat, perlite and vermiculite. These ingredients are all easily found at the local nursery.

The growing medium needs to be kept consistently warm, about 85 degrees. It needs to remain moist but not soggy. Once I plant the seeds ¼ inch into the medium I cover the seedling trays loosely with plastic but do not tie or close the bags. They should not be airtight.

When the seedlings emerge I introduce light. Keep the light about 4 inches from the tiny leaves. Fertilizing begins when the second set of leaves, called true leaves appear. In about 30 days the seedlings will be ready to moved to larger containers.

Before planting outdoors you want to harden off the seedlings, exposing them to increasing amounts of sun and wind.

Seedlings can be transplanted into the ground once the soil temperature is consistently about 55 degrees and daytime air temperatures remain between 70 – 75 degrees.

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Things I Learned in the Tomato Garden

Posted by on Oct 2, 2015 in gardening, homepage, tomatoes galore, Uncategorized | 0 comments

For most people growing tomatoes isn’t a full-time job. Growing 150 tomatoes, though, takes a whole different level of commitment. For many years I was basically at home so filling my days with tomato and garden tasks became my life.

Then, I went to work. I mean a job that not only takes me away from home but where I travel all over the country two to three weekends a month.

Not wanting to give up my tomato obsession I decided that I would have to be very organized about caring for the gardens and would definitely need some help. I scheduled my teaching trips around the typical dates and biggest periods of harvest.

Lesson #1 – there is no such thing as typical and there are no weather patterns that can be counted on. My first harvest came late and, of course the majority of the big tomatoes seemed to be ready to pick right when I was boarding a plane.

This year, I grew 125 tomato plants instead of my usual 150. I harvested almost as many tomatoes as I did in years past.

Note to self: 125 plants require as much work as 150, so don’t think you’ll be saving time.

Lesson #2 – the key is to plant the right tomato varieties. Plant those tomatoes that you will use. And, plant the varieties that are usually good producers. I had a couple of plants that gave me some really delicious fruit, but is it really worth it to grow a plant for 5 delicious tomatoes?

I am always a sucker for the different cherry varieties. They’re all so cute, they sound so good and you can just pop them in your mouth for a snack when you’re out in the garden. Sounds really good until you need to pick all of those cherry tomatoes. Now, THAT takes time!

Now, about help…I have some great helpers in the garden. Even so, things didn’t always get done the way I might have done them.

Lesson #3 – Yeah, yeah, if you want something done right, do it yourself. And then you’ll still make mistakes. Things will go wrong. Make that part of the process and it doesn’t have to be so painful.

Lesson #4 – And this is the really important one – gardening and growing tomatoes is a really fun way to make the most of the magic of nature. Sure, we can take care to maintain healthy soil, water properly and keep the bad stuff down to a minimum. Don’t let it become such a chore or so stressful that it diminishes your pleasure. Enjoy it for what it is.

The fact is, there is only so much that a person can do to grow a great crop of tomatoes and then the rest is up to, you guessed it, nature.

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Spider Mites…ugh!

Posted by on Dec 4, 2013 in gardening, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Spider Mites 002Spider Mites – Common yet mighty pests in the garden.

 

Spider Mites feed on just about anything…fruit trees, vines, ornamental plants and vegetables.  There are various types and colorings of Spider Mites, but what you really need to know is that they are undesirable in the garden and no matter the type of Mite, their damage is similar as are the steps you can take to control them.

 

Spider Mites are difficult to see without magnification.  They’re tiny. But, they live in colonies, sometimes made up of hundreds of Mites and that’s what you’ll see when there’s an infestation.  They tend to colonize on the underside of leaves so it’s often the telltale webbing that you’ll discover first.

 

In cold areas, Spider Mites overwinter in layers of tree bark or in piles of garden droppings and trash. In warmer areas, where plants remain green (Southern California gardeners take note) they can feed and reproduce throughout the year.  Either way, when the weather is warm, Spider Mites lay their eggs.  It doesn’t take long for the next generation to appear.

 

Spider Mites prefer dry, dusty conditions. You’ll often see them first along the outer edges of the garden or on plants that are water stressed.   Their damage is first visible as stippling on the leaves. Affected leaves will eventually yellow, red or brown and fall off.  You’ll see webbing over areas of leaves, often at the tips of branches.  They not only cause leaf damage but can also cause direct damage to the fruit or vegetable pods.

 

If you suspect a Spider Mite infestation the first action to take is to confirm it.  Shake an affected leaf over a piece of white paper.  When mites are present they move quickly.  Only think about treating when the mites are present.  In minor occurrences of Spider Mites insecticidal soaps or oils or even sprays of water may keep them under control.  Please heed this warning:  There are many sprays on the market said to control Spider Mites.  These should only be used as a last resort as they are not only often ineffective, but they target the natural predators of Spider Mites as well as the Mites themselves. This, in fact, then allows Spider Mite reproduction to increase.

 

Spider Mites 001The best ways to manage Spider Mites are with biological and cultural controls.  Adding natural predators to the garden is the most effective way to control Spider Mites and most other pests.  The predatory insects are available for purchase and release at many garden shops or online.  They are easy to use and highly effective in maintaining control of harmful insects.

 

In terms of cultural controls try to keep plants from being water stressed.  That can be difficult for tomato growers since they should be kept on the slightly dry side.  If you can keep surrounding areas moist and dust free it will help.  Water down the pathways now and then.  Be sure to keep garden areas tidy and rubbish free.  This is helpful in controlling all sorts of things you would rather not have taking up residence in your garden.

 

Whether you’re growing a Fall garden or just looking ahead to Spring, it’s worth it to take the time now to be sure the garden is neat and tidy.  It’s one simple step you can take that will help prevent future problems.

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Foliar Feeding for Tomato Plants

Posted by on Jun 4, 2013 in gardening, tomatoes galore, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Garden shots May 29 011What 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.

yellow flowersI 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.

Bu's Brew Biodynamic Compost TeaI 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 from dairy cows which 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!

 

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When is the Right Time to Plant Tomatoes?

Posted by on Mar 22, 2013 in gardening, tomatoes galore, Uncategorized | 0 comments

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.

tomato seedlings

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