Category Archives: tomatoes

Gardening with Ollas

I, like most gardeners, like to try new things in my garden.  This year Mt. Garfield Greenhouse carried a new product that represented old-school technology–the Olla (pronounced oy-ya)–from Dripping Springs Ollas.  Ollas have been used by native cultures for decades as a way to farm crops in dry areas.  The idea is to bury an unglazed terra cotta vessel, fill it with water, and let that water move through the vessel into the soil to water plants around it.

I don’t have irrigation water, so I must use domestic water in order to garden.  My husband set up a mini-soaker hose system in our raised beds, operated on a timer to water the garden 3 days a week, once in the early morning, and again in the late evening.  The system works great to conserve water, and is enough for great plant growth and productivity.  However, in the scorching summer heat, the soil doesn’t stay as evenly moist as tomatoes would like, resulting in blossom end rot on the fruit.  This year, I wanted to see if ollas could help with maintaining soil moisture through the hot season.  So, at the start of the season, I purchased four ollas for the two 8×4 raised beds I planned for tomatoes this year–two ollas per bed.

I buried them up to their necks about a foot and a half in from the ends and centered from the sides, filled them with water and replaced their lids.

plant up to neck

Tomatoes and marigolds were planted around them.

plant around it

2 in a 4x8 garden

The hardest part about using ollas, was that my plants got so huge it was hard to find the ollas to fill them!  At the end of the season, I pulled the plants and uncovered the ollas.

uncover

Check out the roots growing around the neck of this olla–all the ollas had roots growing to them like this–the plants LOVED having this water source!

roots at top

Here’s a look at the roots surrounding the bottom of the olla.

roots at bottom

Roots had actually become attached to the ollas, and stayed on them after I pulled them out.

clinging roots

I let the ollas sun-dry on my deck for a few days, and I’m storing them in the garage for the winter to prevent freezing and cracking.

drying out

The result?  Blossom end rot almost non-existant!  Hurray!  I’m buying more ollas for the rest of my garden beds next spring.  Ollas help me keep soil moist and plants happy even on the hottest days.  I had a great tomato crop this year, with minimal loss due to blossom end rot–the only rot happened when the ollas dried out when I was out of town for a couple weeks.  Because my gardens are on a watering system, I filled the ollas every other week or so.  If you plan to use ollas as your only watering source–something that really works–you’ll need to fill them more often.  Soil composition and drainage as well as soil and air temperature will affect how often you’ll need to fill them.  Ollas can also be used in large container gardens!

See Mt. Garfield Greenhouse for ollas for YOUR gardens next spring!

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Filed under drought, General gardening, soil, tomatoes, water-wise landscaping

Heidi Mae’s Garden: Harvest

Here we are mid September.  Where did the summer go?  This time of year I can barely keep up with the produce coming out of my garden.  I confess to a huge pile of zucchini and patty pan sitting on the counter and a big bag of beans in the fridge; waiting patiently to be dealt with.  So pretty though, right?!

baskets

bounty

Needless to say, I’ve been busy.  Tomatoes, including cherry tomatoes, are washed and frozen to make sauce later as soon as they are picked.  I have kept up (sort of) with basil; already making pesto for the winter.

pesto

I’ve already canned a batch of Dilly Beans with some of the beans and made a few batches of hummus.

dilly beans

I’ve roasted, steamed, peeled and frozen Big Jim chiles and poblanos.

roasting chiles

roasting poblanos

Peppers have been the star of my garden this year. I’ve made stuffed peppers a couple of times, and have otherwise kept up with them by leaving them in the garden until  need them.

valencia

peppers

Buttercups are starting to size up; I picked the first one last weekend.  They’ll keep for a bit, hopefully well after fall becomes winter.

buttercup

Thankfully, I’m staying ahead of squash bugs and horn worms, but a couple of my tomatoes caught a virus this year, cutting back my overall production there.  One was a Mortgage Lifter, the other a Cherokee Purple–both heirlooms and therefore a bit more susceptible to such things.  The fava bean experiment has ended.  Even after the construction of a shade structure and hand watering, they weren’t happy, refused to set and got black on the edges.  I admitted defeat and pulled them out.  My potatoes died back, so they’ve been dug as well, with a much happier outcome than the poor little favas!

I’m alternately dreading the impending frost (Still have lots of green tomatoes!) and kind of looking forward to it (kinda ready to be finished with the “putting up” part, what AM I going to do with all this squash?!).  I know I’ll miss having fresh veggies anytime I want them.  But, everything that gets canned and frozen now will bring happy memories and flavors of warmer days when the snow flies.  Fingers crossed for a late frost.  🙂

Previously,  in Heidi Mae’s Garden:

Getting Started

Sprouting

Goodbye Cool Season, Hello Warm Season

Bring on the Heat

Midsumer Fantabulosity

 

 

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Filed under General gardening, pests, squash bugs, tomatoes, vegetable gardening

Heidi Mae’s Garden: Bring on the Heat!

Hello, Virtual Gardening Friends!  Temperatures have been climbing steadily since I last checked in.  For some plants, this is not good; my peas finally browned out and I pulled them out this week.  However, warm season veggies like tomatoes, peppers and peas, love that nighttime temperatures are staying warm.  I’ve harvested quite a few cherry tomatoes and a few San Marzanos.  Here’s a pic of the garden as of July 9, 2013.  You can see a newly-constructed shade thingie over the favas.  These poor beans are really hating on the hot temps here, so we’re trying to help them out with some shade.  Keeping my fingers crossed for at least a few beans!

the garden 7-9-13

The beans are blooming and will set in no time.  I plant Royal Burgundy bush beans.  The flowers and beans are beautifully purple–making harvesting easier.  They turn green when cooked.  Aren’t the flowers pretty?  Here’s a pic of the bean and potato bed as well. The dill plants itself and comes up everywhere!

royal burgandy flower

beans and potatoes

Peppers are setting, sizing up and getting pick-able!  Here are examples of Big Bertha bell peppers, Big Jim chiles, and Goliath jalapeno; aren’t they pretty?!

big bertha

big jim

goliath jalapeno

Cilantro is in full bloom.  I cut some of it back to give my poor Goliath jalapenos some light and space, but I’m leaving some of them to seed another crop for this fall.  Green onions are also in this bed–they’re getting huge!  I planted another pack of them this week; this time planting in “bunches” instead of individually, just to see how that works.

cilantro

onions

Beets are doing great, but needed thinning.  I pulled quite a few, washed and chopped the greens and sauteed them with garlic–yum!

beets

Tomatoes are topping their tomato ladders.  The grafted San Marzanos are loaded with green tomatoes, and starting to ripen near the bottoms of each plant.  Grafted Mortgage Lifter has set tomatoes, as have the Aunt Ruby’s German Green and Cherokee Purples I planted from seed.  The warm weather has the seeded tomatoes almost caught up to the tomatoes I bought in gallons from the Greenhouse.

tomatoes

san marzano

I have some squash planted in pots in the garden, and quite a few out in a perennial bed that had some big “holes” from perennials that didn’t survive last winter’s cold.  They’re beautiful plants with pretty blooms that look rather nice in among the perennials.  This year I planted baby round zucchini–a ball-shaped heirloom–just to see how I like them, and to see if I can stay ahead of them easier than regular zucchini, and patty pans–golden scallops–the one that look like flying saucers, and buttercup–an acorn-like winter squash that is easier to stuff because it has a flat bottom.  I got these out really late, and have just now picked my first round zucchini, along with the first squash bugs.  Yay zucchini, boo bugs.

baby zucchini

zucchini

buttercup

That’s about it for now.  My basil needed pinching back today, so I’m enjoying a refreshing basil lemonade as I write today.  What’s one of your favorite garden snacks?

Here are quick links to the other posts from Heidi Mae’s Garden this year:

Getting Started

Sprouting

Goodbye Cool Season, Hello Warm Season

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Filed under General gardening, onions, squash bugs, tomatoes, Uncategorized, vegetable gardening

Heidi Mae’s Garden: Goodbye Cool Season, Hello Warm Season

Here we are in mid June.  Daytime temperatures have been in the 90s, and overnights in the 60s.  It’s certainly feeling more like summer than spring, and cold season veggies think it must be time to make flowers.  Lettuce, spinach, arugula, radishes, and cilantro might be elongating and starting to flower–a process referred to as bolting.

For cilantro, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Allowing it to flower will result in seeds which are the herb coriander and can be dried and ground.  Or!  Let the seeds fall.  They’ll germinate and produce a second crop of cilantro for you!  This is the cilantro in the demo garden at the Greenhouse.

demo cilantro

Other cold season crops become bitter as they put their energy into flowering.  I got a final clipping of my greens and pulled up those plants, as well as the radishes.  I washed everything and have been enjoying my last fresh salads until fall, when I can plant a few seeds for the second cool season of the growing season.

salad

Pulling out my cool season veggies left me space to plant a few more warm season crops:  additional tomatoes, squash and cucumbers.  Warm season crops such as these enjoy the warming temperatures; blooming and setting fruit.

Bell peppers and tomatoes are sizing up.

peppers

san marzanos

There’s a Sun Sugar almost ripe!  Squeeeee!  Sun Sugar is a favorite around the Greenhouse.  They’re so sweet and yummy, I end up eating a bunch of them before they get into the house!  Early ripening cherry tomatoes are great for anyone with a short growing season.

sunsugar

Here’s a pic of how my garden looks this week.

garden 6-13-13

You may notice some unfamiliar plants in the same bed as the peas.  They’re fava beans!  I LOVE fava beans, so I’m making the mad attempt to grow them here.  They much prefer the cooler temperatures of California’s Bay Area.  The Grand Valley’s hot summers will make them a bit of a project–we’ll see how it goes.  I’m thinking some sort of a shade structure may be in order.

How are your gardens faring with the hot, dry and WINDY weather?  You may be noticing some dry, brown and crispy leaf edges on your tomatoes and peppers as a result of the wind.  They’ll come out of it just fine, no worries.  🙂

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Heidi Mae’s Garden: Sprouting!

It’s been a little over three weeks since I got my garden started; it’s looking happier all the time!

garden 5-18-13

A lot has happened in the time since I blogged last–from my garden journal:

  • April 29:  Arugula and lettuce sprouted 
  • May 2:  Basil sprouted in my unheated greenhouse, and radish sprouted outside.  Everything survived 2 freeze warnings
  • May 3:  Buttercup squash in the greenhouse sprouted, beets and spinach sprouted outside.  I seeded Cherokee Purple tomatoes in the greenhouse, expecting them to sprout between May 8 and 13
  • May 4:  Round zucchini and California poppies sprouting in the greenhouse, peas outside
  • May 7:  Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomatoes, cilantro and patty pan squash sprouted in the greenhouse
  • May 13:  Cherokee Purple and parsley sprouted in the greenhouse
  • May 14: Potatoes finally showing a bit of green above the soil
  • May 15:  Peppers, tomatillos, tomatoes from MGG planted, cauliflowers starting to form
  • May 18:  The first strawberry!
  • May 19:  Planted green beans and fava beans (an experimental crop!)  Expecting beans to sprout in 10 days.

“Cold season” crops were planted outside toward the end of April, while warm season crops were planted in my unheated greenhouse.  Because it’s unheated, I wait to plant in it until most frost danger is past.  A greenhouse gets enough light to keep seedlings nice and stout, and I start a variety of warm season crops in there, growing plants for myself and my neighbors’ gardens.  Warm season crops should NOT be planted outside until frost danger is past; for the Grand Valley that’s usually Mother’s Day weekend.

In the greenhouse, I seeded most everything April 26 (later than I usually seed due to the cold spring) and by May 8, most had sprouted.

greenhouse sprouts

True leaves were appearing by May 18.

seedlings

When seeds sprout, the first leaves are the “seed leaves,” because they come from the sides of the seed.  (Corn is a bit different, it only has one seed leaf.)  True leaves are leaves typical for the particular plant–the ones you recognize as squash or tomato or lettuce.  Look for the seed leaves and the new true leaves of these squash and tomatoes.

squash true leaves

tomatoes true leaves

Let’s look at some baby pictures from May 8 (the first) and see how they’ve grown by May 18 (the second).  First the arugula.

arugula

arugula

Now beets.  This is my first time planting beets; so far they’re pretty slow-growing.

beets

beets

Here’s lettuce.

lettuce

lettuce

And sugar snap peas.  I need to get a trellis for them to climb on soon!   I planted tomatillos in the same bed.

peas

peas and tomatillos

Here are the radishes.  They’ll get thinned as I pull them to munch on.

radishes

radishes

Let’s check in with the potatoes.

potatoes

Here’s my pepper bed.  I have green, orange, gold and red bell peppers, Big Jims, and poblanos planted in the same bed as the green onions.

peppers and onions

I’m trying grafted tomatoes this year!  I chose San Marzanos–paste tomatoes, and Mortgage Lifter–an heirloom that makes huge tomatoes that when they were first bred, were popular enough to pay off the originator’s mortgage!  I’ll plant the Cherokee Purples and the Aunt Ruby’s German Greens when they’re ready to be outside in this bed as well.

tomatoes

The marigolds are there because I like them, and because they help keep bugs away.  How is your garden growing?

 

 

 

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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.

20130425_163059

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

20130330_133014

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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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.

Tomato_Suckers

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.

hornworms

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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