Monthly Archives: April 2013

Groovy Grafted Tomatoes!

Most home vegetable gardens have at least one tomato plant, and that plant tends to be the gardener’s favorite.  Particular tomatoes become favorites because of dependability, production, flavor, disease resistance, or the one that Mom grew.  What if that favorite could be even better?!  Read on, because grafted tomatoes in your favorite varieties are even better than the originals.

Let’s start with what you can look forward to:  great flavor, great productivity, larger fruit, longer season, and enhanced disease resistance.  The desired tomato variety tops (scions), often heirlooms, are grafted onto hybrid roots–this gives you the flavor of the heirloom with the disease-resistance and hardiness of the hybrid.  “Side-by-side tests done by Ball Horticultural Co. in Chicago have shown at least 50 percent higher yields from grafted tomatoes than from non-grafted varieties. That total varies from garden to garden and gardener to gardener, but it means more fruit or larger fruit.” (Dean Fosdick, AP)

Care must be taken when planting a grafted tomato. With regular tomatoes, we encourage deep planting, as tomatoes will root from their stems.  Grafted tomatoes must be planted with the graft ABOVE the soil level.  Planting the graft under the soil defeats the purpose of the graft, as roots will develop from the stem of the scion, and you will no longer have the benefit of the hybrid root stock.  Our grafted tomatoes come with an indicator tab that should stay above ground level–essentially, plant these tomatoes at exactly the level they are in the pot.  If you look closely, you’ll be able to see the graft–it looks like a healed cut a bit above the soil line.

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Each variety tag has information about grafted tomatoes and planting instructions, as well as a QR code that will send you to this video.

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Mt Garfield Greenhouse has limited quantities of Big Beef, Brandywine, Early Girl, Mortgage Lifter, San Marzano, and Sunsugar.  We plan to plant  a grafted tomato next to the same variety,ungrafted, in our demo garden so you can see the difference!  Grab your favorites and see the increased vigor and yield in your own garden!

 

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The Zen of Spring Rose Pruning

Breathe.  You know what day it is.  Breathe.  Here in the Grand Valley, April 15 signifies more than a day that can be stress-inducing to those still crunching numbers trying to beat the tax deadline.  Mid-April is also prime time to prune roses; most of our hard freezes are usually in the past and the promise of fragrant spring flowers waits inside those thorny shrubs you’ve been dying to take the loppers to.

Let’s not get crazy, though.  Rose pruning requires patience, observation, attention to detail and a bit of artistry.  Assemble your tools first:  Heavy gloves, preferably long, gauntlet-style if you can find them, bypass pruners, loppers for larger shrubs/thicker canes, and a sealant of some sort–Elmer’s Glue or clear nail polish or an actual pruning sealer from your local garden center.

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1.  Get your Zen on and step back from your rose and assess its overall shape and size and scan it for dead canes.

2.  Trim out any dead canes first, starting a pile for the trash.  Roses are susceptible to many diseases and  insect invasions, so it’s best to NOT place rose trimmings in your compost.

3.  Step back again and assess how crowded the center of the shrub is.  Prune to open the center to allow light and air to circulate, which will minimize disease later.

4.  Make your cuts clean (not ragged) 1/4 inch above an outward facing bud at a 45 degree angle (See image), pruning 1/2 inch into green, live wood.  With the tough winter we had, this may cause you to reduce the size of your shrub by half or more.  If the rose was newly planted last year and still small, you may want to just give it a very light trim, along with the removal of dead canes.  Most roses can be trimmed back to a height of 18-24 inches every year.

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(image from Gardenality)

5.  Remove any twiggy branches that are smaller in diameter than a pencil.

6.  Remove any suckers–growth that starts below the graft (the bulge).

7.  Seal all cut ends with glue, nail polish or sealer, to prevent borers or other problems from entering.

8.  Step back again and reassess the shape of your rose.  Make additional cuts as needed to keep the center somewhat open and the overall shape vase-like, remembering to seal the cuts.

9.  Clean out any debris from under the shrub where bugs and their families could hide.  Use a rake or convince a bug-tolerant person to do this if the thought of creepy-crawlies gives you the creepy crawlies. 😉

10.  Breathe. Step back and admire the fabulous and professional pruning you’ve just accomplished.  Breathe.  Think of how beautiful your roses will be this year.  Breathe.  See your friends at Mt Garfield for fertilizers, systemics and sprays to keep your babies lovely all season long.

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Healthy Soil is Your Plants’ Best Friend

Plants are the rock stars of any greenhouse or garden center.  They’re lush.  They’re colorful.  They hold the promise of food, beauty and shade for your family.  Under the pretty flowers and strong, healthy foliage, inside the pot, is a soil specially constructed to help that that rock star plant shine.  Most of us don’t have garden soil anywhere near that perfect combination of organic and inorganic components, along with being beautifully textured to support optimum plant growth.  What’s a gardener to do to help their new little plant babies thrive?  Spend the money on soil amendments.

The soils in the Grand Valley developed from Mancos Shale, which can be very productive with yearly additions of organic matter.  While our soils are often not lacking in nutrients, with the exception of nitrogen, they are often on the salty side, with a high (alkaline) pH.  Correcting for organic matter and nitrogen is relatively easy using soil amendments.  If your soil is especially salty, avoid using manures or other fertilizers that may add to the salt content.

Organic matter “helps sandy soil by retaining water that would otherwise wash away and it corrects clay soil by making it looser, so that air, water and roots can penetrate. In all soils, it encourages beneficial microbial activity and it provides some nutritional benefits. Humus is natures way of feeding the circle of life.” (About.com-Gardening)  Amendments for improving the organic content of your soil include Soil Pepe, Mesa Magic Compost, and Happy Frog Soil Conditioner.

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To determine if your soil is lacking in nutrients, you can take a sample to the CSU Extension office or a private lab for analysis.  There are also home testing kits available for testing pH.  When you have test results, you can select and apply nutrient amendments.

Plants can deplete soils of nutrients, therefore if you have gardened for a while in a certain area, you will need to replenish those nutrients.  When planting, apply a fertilizer containing nitrogen for healthy green leaves, phosphorous for root growth and flowers, and potassium for overall plant health.  There are many, many options available to choose between.  Keep in mind that while inorganic fertilizers are often more cost-effective, it may take longer for the plant to access them and may increase the salt levels in your soil.  Organic choices can be more costly, but are often more effectively taken up by your plants.  You will also find different choices in application–influencing how and how often you need to apply the product.  Whichever choice you make, your plants will benefit.

While you’re waiting for the Valley to be out of frost danger, take some time to amend your soils.  Whatever you’re planting will be much more likely to survive and thrive with the additional time and expense.  Your friends at Mt Garfield Greenhouse are happy to help you make your choices of amendments and fertilizers.

 

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Let’s Talk Tomatoes!

According to a site called Tomato Dirt, 93% of American gardening households grow tomatoes.  Many of our  customers, as well as many of us, have favorite varieties they plant year after year.  Regardless of the preferred type, tomato lovers all seem to agree that nothing beats the flavor of a home-grown tomato.  Both veteran tomato growers and newbies to gardening often have questions about the tons of varieties we grow:  What’s the difference between determinate and indeterminate?  What’s the difference between heirlooms and hybrids?  When is it safe to plant and how do I plant them?  Do I need to prune them?  Do I need to worry about bugs or anything?  So.  Let’s talk tomatoes!

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Determinate vs Indeterminate:

Tomatoes are classified by their growth habit.  Determinate plants, like Roma, Husky Red, and Husky Cherry Red will tend to be shorter and easier to manage than indeterminates.  Most won’t need to be staked and may have a tendency to bear fruit over a shorter amount of time.

Indeterminate plants, like Goliath, Brandywine, and Fantastic will continue growing and bearing fruit throughout the season and will need support of some kind.

Heirlooms and Hybrids:  

Heirloom tomatoes, such as Brandywine, Amish Paste, and Pineapple Hawaiian, are open pollinated and true to seed, meaning you can save seed from them to grow next year that will result in tomatoes identical to those from the parent plant.  Most heirloom varieties were introduced prior to 1940, and tend to be more flavorful and unique in both shape and color than hybrids.  However, they may take longer to mature and produce fewer fruits than a hybrid.

Hybrids, like Goliath, Celebrity and Early Girl, have been bred to be stronger, more resistant to common tomato diseases, more productive, and maintain consistency of size and shape.  While hybrids are the perfect shape for your BLT, they may not be as flavorful as an heirloom.

When is it safe to plant and how do I plant them?

In the Grand Valley, it’s usually safe to plant on Mother’s Day Weekend (later for higher elevations).  Tomatoes are tropical plants that will not tolerate a frost; usually our last frost is mid-May.  Planting them early risks death from frost (unless you have wall of waters) and often doesn’t gain much of a head start–tomatoes need warm soil and warm temperatures day and night before they’ll really take off.  A cool spring often results in not much growth until the weather warms.  Tomatoes are heavy feeders and enjoy organic matter in their soil.  Be sure to amend the soil with an organic compost, such as Soil Pep, Mesa Magic or Happy Frog Soil Conditioner, and include a time-released fertilizer.  Plant your tomato babies a bit deeper than they are planted in their pots; tomatoes will root from the main stem and this deeper planting will result in a stronger plant.  (Big exception to this deep planting in the case of grafted tomatoes, but that’s another post!)

Do I need to prune them?

Pruning tomatoes refer to cutting out suckers–new stems that form in the crotch between a stem and a branch.

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If you plant determinates, no pruning is needed.  Pruning indeterminates is a personal preference thing.  Some growers leave suckers alone for a larger  harvest–more but smaller tomatoes.  Some feel their harvest is better–larger but fewer tomatoes–if they prune.  Pruning is a sort of trial and error process to see what works best for your garden.  Pruning can help control the monster-like spread of an indeterminate, provide better air circulation and make harvesting easier.  According to About.com Gardening:  “As long as you have a strong main stem, it’s fine to leave a few suckers on the plant. The general recommendation is to leave 2 or 3 suckers to improve yield, but not to let every sucker grow. After that there is no general agreement.”  It’s best to prune suckers while they’re still small enough to pinch them off with your fingers.  (Image from About.com Gardening)

Do I need to worry about bugs or anything?

In a word, yup.  There are some viral diseases that tomatoes are not yet bred to be resistant to.  The one you’ll hear the most about is “curly top virus.”  It is transmitted by the teeny-tiny feet of a leaf hopper and is fatal for your tomato.  Tomatoes with curly top need to be pulled out and thrown in the trash–not the compost.  Less fatal, but huge in the ick department is the tomato hornworm.

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Hornworms are the caterpillar of the pretty hummingbird moth and can grow from tiny to gigantic in no time.  They can strip entire branches of their leaves overnight.  The best and easiest solution for them is to watch carefully, pick them off and squish them or drop them into a quart jar of rubbing alcohol.  (I prune off a bit of a branch with my nippers, take the beastie, branch and all, to a dirt place where I have an old shingle that blew off my shed.  I put the shingle on top of the bug and step on it.  Ick.  I know…but I’m never gonna let a bug beat me out of my yummy tomatoes!)  Another common tomato issue is blossom end rot–a black patch that forms on the bottom of the fruit.  This is most often caused by inconsistent soil moisture.  Tomatoes like their soil to be evenly moist–they hate to be wet then dry out, then be wet….  Mulching is a great way to help retain soil moisture.  Another cause for blossom end rot is not enough calcium in your soil.  Crushing up eggshells and working them into the soil around your plants can help, and Fertilome makes a spray to help prevent the rot.  One last issue to talk about: blossom drop.  When daytime temperatures exceed 85F, your tomato can feel stressed and might drop its flowers without setting fruit.  This will right itself as temperatures cool, and once again, Fertilome has a spray that can help.

That bug section got kind of big and scary, huh?!  Don’t be frightened away from growing tomatoes, though.  As picky as they can be, there really is nothing like that first ripe tomato of the season, still warm from the sun, maybe with a little salt…….

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The friendly folks at Mt Garfield are there to help, from selecting the perfect tomatoes for your garden space and culinary desires to finding solutions to any problems that arise.  🙂   Also, new this year–grafted tomatoes!  Squeeee!  So cool!  More on them in another post.  🙂

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