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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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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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Meeting John Valentino of “John & Bob’s” – A “Dirty” Tale…

Posted by on Mar 1, 2013 in gardening, Uncategorized | 0 comments

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.

John & Bob's rich, nutrient-filled soil

John & Bob’s rich, nutrient filled soil

 

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!

John & Bob

John’s on the right.

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.

Soil food web John & Bob's

 

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.

 

You might also enjoy:

Laura Taylor in the Home Garden Reviews John and Bob’s

According to John: She’s A Little Odd!

Video: Amazing Tomato Comparison!

Laura Taylor Video - Tomatoes

 

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Growing Tomatoes From Seeds

Posted by on Feb 12, 2013 in gardening, Uncategorized | 0 comments

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.

 

Tomato seeds

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.

Seed mix

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.

Guacamole and Seed Starting 014

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.

Adding water to seed mix

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.

Guacamole and Seed Starting 017

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.

Planting tomato seeds

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.  Guacamole and Seed Starting 022

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.

Tomato seedlings

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