Posts Tagged ‘Tomatoes’

Mary Beth: This was my project last weekend for my raised vegetable beds.

I got this idea from the Sunset web site and it worked amazingly well. Ray and I modified the design a bit based on how I made the beds which are on a slope and are very irregularly shaped. When I made them I used rocks for the sides of the beds instead of lumber, but it actually turned out to be a perfect way to protect my crops.

Ray used 2 foot pieces of rebar for the stakes. We hammered the bars into the ground along the long sides of the tomato and squash beds and slipped the PVC pipe on each opposite pair creating a half hoop. Then I covered the hoops with plastic.

The plants seem to be responding well. I think the plastic covers over the squash and tomatoes are keeping them warm at night when our mountain temps get down to the low 50’s. Cool nights will slow them down, but by using hoops to retain the warmth it should extend the season so I can have veggies well into October and maybe even November.

I also put hoops on my cool-weather plant beds, but I covered these with netting to protect those crops from the birds.

This is one of those “Why did I take so long to do this?!”  projects.


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MB: Barbara and I always talk about things we’ve found, or rediscovered, that we are in love with. So we decided to create a page where we can share and discuss with you the things that have helped us with our gardening. It might be garden photography tips, tools, design ideas, books, new plants — anything that makes us stop for a moment and say, “How did I ever live without this?”  We are happy to share the love.

Fertilizer Siphon

I just ordered a fertilizer siphon that I’ve always wanted and I’m pretty sure it will be worth recommending. The siphon attaches to a hose and pulls fertilizer out of a container, mixing it with water running through the hose and onto the soil. I finally broke down and ordered it because I’m so tired of replacing clogged sprayer ends. I inevitably end up with stinky fish emulsion splattered all over me and I just couldn’t stand getting that messy and smelly any more. It should be delivered this week and I’ll let you know how it works. I’m sure I’m going to love it.


Barbara recently planted an Earthbox and she’s really loving it. I’m going to let her tell you about it.

B: I’ve been thinking about getting an Earthbox for a while because I keep hearing great things about how well they work for growing vegetables, especially tomatoes.

I’ve had miserable luck growing tomatoes in my yard. The plants that I put in the ground really couldn’t compete with the tree roots and our clay soil is just too dense. Those plants never even got started before they gave up. Then I planted in pots for a couple of years, but they dried out so quickly that I missed a couple of crucial waterings and the plants failed again.

The Earthbox seemed like a great solution for my situation. Planting in the box provides the tomatoes with the loose, rich soil they love. The Earthbox has a water well in the bottom that keeps the soil consistently moist and it has wheels that let me roll it around so the plants get enough sun. (I don’t have to go far which is good because with soil and water combined it’s about 80 pounds.)

My tomato plants are going like gangbusters. The plants are growing really fast and there are many more blossoms than I’ve ever had. I’m happily anticipating quite a crop this year. Finally!

We’ll be posting more reviews, thoughts, information, etc under the new tab “We Love This!” at the top of the page. Please visit often for ideas and products that can help you become a happier, more productive organic gardener.

We also want to share what you are loving these days. It can be anything garden-related —  tools, recipes, growing or photography tips. Please share it with us and the rest of our Bees and Chicks community.

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It’s getting really hot pretty much everywhere, so we’re going to focus on keeping your plants well-watered. Plants transpire (evaporate) water vapor through tiny holes on their leaves — mostly on the underside. This helps to cool the plant and draws nutrients from the soil and roots to the upper parts of the plant. On hot or dry, windy days plants can lose a lot of water, sometimes faster than they can take it up, and that can stress them making them more vulnerable to insects and disease.

  • When the temps get into the 90’s and above you may need to water your plants twice a day — early morning and late evening.
  • Container plants are especially vulnerable in this hot dry weather. Check for wilting.
  • Some wilting can be normal for certain plants, but if they look really droopy and the soil is dry don’t wait, water right away.
  • Check newly planted trees and shrubs. Keep them well watered — deep watering is best.
  • Water deeply in advance of hot Santa Ana winds. Don’t wait for it to start blowing.
  • A good layer of mulch, 2 -3 inches, will keep plant roots cool and will cut down on evaporation.
  • Make sure bird baths are clean and have plenty of fresh water
  • Make sure you drink plenty of water while you’re out in the garden — heat exhaustion and heat stroke are no fun.

Garden pests are hard at work this month so stay on top of it.

  • Keep aphids under control by knocking them off with a spray water from the hose.
  • You can try the same for whiteflies and be sure to wash off the sticky honeydew too.
  • Watch for tomato hornworms, they’ll be chomping on your tomatoes this month. They’re hard to see; look for their frass (poop). Click for a pic.
  • Keep an eye out for ladybug larvae which have a voracious appetite for aphids. Protect them and let them do the work for you.

Ladybug larva. It looks scary, but it's one of the beneficial insects you'll be happy to have in your garden.

It’s time to divide your Iris. Lift the clump up with garden fork, snap off leaf fans with about 3 inches of the rhizome attached. Trim leaf fans back to 5 inches tall and replant them in soil amended with compost. Water well.

Garlic scapes should be popped off when they are in a full curl, but don’t throw them away!

Chop scapes up and saute them in olive oil and serve over pasta. They’re really good in scrambled eggs too.

Keep an eye on your garlic for signs that the bulbs are ready to harvest. When the bottom 3 or 4 leaves start turning brown it will be time to lift the bulbs and cure them. Depending on the variety of garlic this should start near the end of July into August.

Treat yourself to a bouquet of flowers to enjoy indoors — that is why you grow them right? I love scattering a few small vases filled with flowers through the house.

And finally, start plans for your fall vegetable garden.

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Is there any plant in gardening that provokes more passionate discussion than tomatoes? There are as many “surefire” tips for growing the “best tomatoes ever” as there are gardeners who grow them, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are a few tips that will help you grow great tomatoes.

The first thing you need to know is if the plant is a determinate or indeterminate variety. Determinate varieties bear fruit over a one to two-week period. (You may want to consider growing several varieties that set fruit at different times so you can have a longer harvest period.) These plants are usually more compact and good for growing in containers. Some people will tell you that you don’t need to stake this type of tomato, but it’s usually a good idea to tie them loosely to a stake or put a wire cage (the commercial type will work here, but it should be 4′ tall) around them when you plant. As for pruning, determinate don’t require it.

Indeterminate tomatoes are larger vining plants — from 6′ to 12′ or larger. These tomatoes will produce fruit throughout the growing season until they are killed by frost or the days are too short to support their growth. Many old varieties and heirlooms are indeterminates. These plants definitely need to be supported. You can let them sprawl on the ground, but you will lose a lot of fruit to rot and pests.

There are lots of ways to stake tomatoes, but there are two important points to keep in mind. First, indeterminates can get really, really big. Add lots of fruit and you’ve got a surprising amount of weight to support. Second, it’s best to stake your tomatoes when you first plant them; just be sure that you’re thinking about how big they’ll eventually get.

One method of staking is to make a cage out of 5-foot tall 6″ x 6″ hardware cloth. Cut a piece long enough to create a 2 foot wide cage. Bend it into a circle and secure the edges. Be sure to stake the cage into the ground so it doesn’t get blown over in the wind. Another option is to drive 8-tall stakes a foot or two into the ground and to tie the plants to the stake as they grow.

The last method we’ll talk about is a trellises. This is our favorite option and there are several ways to do it. Here’s one that I built for a client last year.

These plants (Better Boys I think) were in a very tight space, but it was really sunny and warm and the plants grew like crazy. As a matter of fact, I should have used 2″ x 4″s instead of 1″ x 2″s and I should have used a metal rod across the top because by the time we got to August the plants were so heavy with fruit that the wooden dowel was bent to the breaking point. In spite of its limitations this trellis worked great and my client harvested an unbelievable amount of fruit.

The list could go on and if you’re interested search the web where there are lots of clever staking systems. One thing you shouldn’t bother with are commercial wire cages. They are too short and will not be able to support a mature plant that’s loaded with fruit.

To prune or not to prune indeterminates? Again, there are lots of opinions about this. My client never bothered and I can’t say it was a bad choice. Still, when I grow my tomatoes I always remove any leaves or stems from the bottom few inches of the plants to keep them disease-free (water can splash fungus spores up onto low-growing leaves) and I remove suckers early on so that there are only two or three main stems. After that I remove enough of them to keep the plants somewhat controlled and to ensure good air circulation. Plants need leaves for photosynthesis so don’t take off too many. It’s a little bit of an art and you’ll just have to get in there and develop your technique.

The stem growing out of the crook is a sucker.

Small, thin suckers like this one can be pinched out; larger ones should be cut with clippers. Make sure that your clippers are disinfected before you prune your plants and clean them when you move to the next plant to avoid transferring disease from plant to plant. If you’ve previously had blight, it’s probably best not to prune your plants, as cuts might leave the plant open to infection.

Finally, tomatoes need full sun, fertile soil with lots of organic matter dug in, organic fertilizer (fish emulsion and seaweed extract or Stress-X will make your plants happy) and regular deep watering.

Then just sit back and enjoy those delicious red, ripe beauties.

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Our gardens are starting to take off this month and we’re really excited to see how it’s all going to come together as our plants begin to fill out. Don’t forget to make notes in your journal about what you’re doing. (Where did I put that journal???)

Water and Weed

  • It’s been hot and dry lately on Block Island (and will be soon in SoCal) so make sure plants have enough water and plenty of mulch. Mulch will slow water evaporation, keep weeds down, and keep soil temps more consistent; all of which will make your plants happy and less stressed.
  • Keep ahead of the weeds. Removing them before they have a chance to set seed or spread too far will make your job easier later in the season. Weeds consume resources that should be going to the plants you want to grow.
  • In heavy clay soil it’s so much easier to weed right after you water.

Feed and Prune

  • Roses should be fed with an organic fertilizer like Rose-tone or fish emulsion. Kellogg also has a good organic fertilizer for roses. (In SoCal it’s rose slug season again. If your leaves are beginning to look like skeletons, it’s a good bet that these little buggers are feasting. Spray with spinosad to get rid of them, but be sure to do it in the early morning when the wind is calm and before the bees and other beneficial insects are out and about. Here are links to posts about rose slugs and spinosad.)
  • Feed fuchsias, camellias, ferns, tropicals, and all your other annuals and perennials.
  • Take care of your container plants, including succulents, by keeping them well watered and fed with a light solution of fish emulsion.
  • Deadhead flowers to encourage new growth. The first spring flush is just about done for a lot for plants, but you can keep many of them going by snipping off the dead blossoms. Feed them a light solution of fish emulsion when you’re done.
  • Deadhead lilacs after they bloom so they won’t spend their energy producing seed heads. (Give me a moment to mourn lilacs and peonies — two favorites that don’t grow in SoCal. Miss them so!)
  • Pinch asters, chrysanthemums, and Montauk daisies back to encourage bushier plants and more flowers for the fall.
  • Pinch off growing tips of fuchsias for bushier plants.
  • Divide iris every 3 years after they bloom. Make new beds for your extras or offer them to gardener friends. I’ve had fun leaving extra plants on my curb with a sign telling folks to help themselves. Some have even brought me plants in exchange.
  • Cut lavender blooms in the morning while the aromatic oils are the strongest.
  • Tie up clematis during their growth surges, the new growth is fragile and will break off in the wind.
  • Feed staghorn ferns by tucking a banana peel behind the fronds every couple of weeks, or drench with diluted fish emulsion (per package directions).

Fruit, Herbs and Vegetables

  • Feed citrus and avocado; both are heavy feeders. Use a good organic fertilizer formulated especially for these trees and follow package directions.
  • Stake or cage tomato plants. Keep tying them up as they grow.
  • Plant herbs and summer vegetables and side-dress with a good organic compost.
  • Make sure your plants are getting enough water and mulch them well. Drip irrigation works especially well in the vegetable garden.

When planting or transplanting Mary Beth and I have had great success in reducing or eliminating plant shock by watering with a diluted solution of 1 tbs fish emulsion + 1 tsp Stress-X, or 1 tbs kelp/seaweed extract to a gallon of water.

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Tomato Daydreams

It’s tomato season! We’ve all been waiting for it, dreaming about it since the last of the sun-warmed tomatoes were enjoyed so many months ago. We’ve been carefully watching our lusty beauties in anticipation of this year’s harvest. But guess what? There are plenty of other creatures that have been eagerly awaiting this very same event. And more than likely, unless you camp out in the garden 24/7, they will get to your tomatoes before you do.

Is there anything more discouraging than taking your morning walk through the garden and finding half-eaten tomatoes trashed by some nocturnal thief? How can we protect the fruits of so many months’ labors?

The sad truth is that even if you employ all of the tips we’re about to impart, you will lose some of your harvest to pests big and small. So here’s hoping that you planted enough to share.

Tomato-saving Tips

  • Hot Pepper — Sprinkle hot pepper around your plants. On whiff of this will send the smaller fuzzies like squirrels and chipmunks scurrying away. Reapply after it rains.
  • Bloodmeal — We’re not so sure about this one. While bloodmeal may work to keep some animals away from your plants, it’s likely to attract others. Mary Beth found that it attracted skunks to her garden and it you’ve got dogs you know this is a BAD thing.
  • Cages — Creating a physical barrier is probably the only thing that will keep raccoons and birds away from your tomatoes. For birds, you can use netting, but be sure to anchor the netting to the ground. Some birds are smart enough to go under it. As for raccoons, you’ll need to build cages from chicken wire or hardware cloth. Don’t forget to close off the top of the cage and make sure the cage is a raccoon-arm’s length away from the fruit so the little devils can’t reach your tomatoes.
  • Shake Away — Some people swear by it, but we haven’t found it to be effective.
  • Water Scarecrow — This is a motion-activated water jet that squirts a powerful stream of water at garden intruders. We haven’t used this yet, but just you wait. Mary Beth’s tomatoes are ripening and the raccoons are gathering. I’m betting that we get a report its effectiveness shortly.

Which brings us to…

  • Mary Beth’s Back-up Plan — MB has sworn by all that’s holy that NO ONE is getting to her Black Krim tomatoes. She planted 4 containers this year — 2 Black Krims and 2 peppers. She plans to drag these suckers into the house every night until she’s had her fill. Now that’s hard-core!

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Companion Planting

Each spring as we make plans for planting our vegetable gardens, one of our guides is the ancient tradition of companion planting. Companion plants are mutually beneficial, helping each other by increasing nutrient uptake, pollination, productivity, or by controlling pests. You should also be aware that certain plants should not be planted near each other as they will hinder productivity.

Using companion plants to repel pests is part of a practice known as integrated pest management or IPM, which is a holistic approach to preventing plant damage. Using IPM techniques will almost always solve a pest problem and save you from having to use pesticides.

Further down the path of polyculture are practices such as intercropping and trap cropping, but today we’re going to keep it simple — sort of. A comprehensive exploration of companion planting would take a book-length post and we’re already late with this one, so we’ll stick to the most commonly planted vegetables.

Let’s start by saying if you could only plant one plant to prevent pest damage, that would be the marigold. This little soldier repels all manner of bad bugs. Plant lots of it around your vegetable garden. Nasturtiums are another star of pest control, as is oregano. You’ll start to see some patterns emerging as you learn more.


Companions: basil, parsley, tomato.

Pest control: marigold deters beetles.


Companions: beet (bush beans only), cabbage family, carrot, celery, chard, corn (see Three Sisters), cucumber, eggplant, pea, potato, radish, strawberry.

Pest control: marigold, nasturtium, rosemary and summer savory deter bean beetles.

Helpers: summer savory improves flavor.

Don’t plant near: garlic, fennel, onion and shallots.


Companions: bush bean, cabbage family, kohlrabi, lettuce, onion.

Helpers: catnip, mint. Garlic improves growth and flavor.

Don’t plant near: runner or pole beans (stunts growth) and mustard.

Cabbage Family: (bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collard, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnips)

Companions: beet, celery, chard, lettuce, onion, potato, spinach.

Pest control: catnip, hyssop, mint, rosemary, sage, tansy and thyme deter cabbage moths. Mint deters ants. Nasturtium deters beetles and aphids. Tansy deters cutworm.

Helpers: chamomile and garlic improve growth and flavor. Dill improves growth and health. Mint improves flavor and health.

Don’t plant near: kohlrabi and tomatoes stunt each other’s growth.


Companions: bean, lettuce, onions, pea, pepper, radish and tomato.

Pest control: rosemary and sage deter carrot fly.

Don’t plant near: dill retards growth.


Companions: bean, cabbage family, tomato.

Pest control: chive, garlic and nasturtium deter aphids.


Companions: bean, cabbage family, and onion.


Companions: bean, cucumber, melon, parsley, pea, potato, pumpkin, squash.

Pest control: marigold and white geranium deter Japanese beetles.

Don’t plant near: tomato attracts the same worm.


Companions: bean, cabbage family, corn, pea, radish, tomato.

Pest control: marigold and nasturtium deter beetles. Tansy deters ants, beetles, bugs and flying insects. Oregano deters pests in general.

Helpers: nasturtium improves growth and flavor.

Don’t plant near: sage.


Companions: bean, pepper.

Pest control: marigold deters nematodes.

Helpers: tarragon, mint.


Companions: beet, cabbage family, carrot, onion, radish, strawberry.

Pest control: chives and garlic deter aphids.


Companions: corn, pumpkins, radish, squash.

Pest control: marigold and nasturtium deter beetles. Mint deters cabbage moth and ants. Oregano deters pests in general.

Helpers: mint improves flavor and health.


Companions: beet, cabbage, carrot, chard, lettuce, pepper, strawberry, tomato.

Helpers: chamomile and summer savory improve growth and flavor.


Companions: asparagus, corn, tomato.


Companions: bean, carrot, corn, cucumber, radish, turnip.

Pest control: chive deters aphids.

Helpers: mint improves health and flavor.

Don’t plant near: garlic and onion will stunt growth.


Companions: carrot, eggplant, onion, tomato.


Companions: beans, cabbage family, corn, eggplant, pea.

Pest control: marigold deters beetles. Horseradish provides general protection when planted at the corners of the potato patch.

Don’t plant near: tomatoes are attacked by the same blight.


Companions: corn, melon, squash.

Pest control: marigold and nasturtium deter beetles. Oregano provides general protection from pests.


Companions: corn, melons, squash.

Helpers: chervil and nasturtium improve growth and flavor.

Don’t plant near: hyssop.


Companions: cabbage family, strawberry.

Pest control: borage deters worms. Marigold deters beetles. Nasturtiums deters beetles and squash bugs. Oregano provides general protection.

Helpers: borage improves growth and health.


Companions: bean, lettuce, onion, spinach, thyme.

Pest control: borage improves resistance to insects and disease. A border of thyme will deter worms.

Don’t plant near: cabbage.


Companions: asparagus, carrot, celery, cucumber, onion, parsley, pepper.

Pest control: basil repels flies and mosquitoes. Borage deters tomato worm. Marigold deters nematodes and tomato worm and pests in general.

Helpers: Basil, bee balm, borage, chives, and mint improve flavor and growth.

Don’t plant near: corn attracts the same worm. Mature dill retards tomato growth (although young dill helps growth and health). Kohlrabi stunts tomato growth. Potatoes attract the same blight.


Companions: pea.

Many thanks to Cass County Extension where I got much of this information. If you want to know more about companion planting there are two book titles that I ran across over and over again while researching this post: Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte and Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham.

Apologies to folks in the warmer climes for not getting to this sooner, but there are still many tips that you can use this season.

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