Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tomato Wisdom from the Tomato Mavens

After my last post, I got some great feedback from veteren tomato gardeners. 

Here's the pick of the crop: 

" Make sure your soil has some lime worked in if you live in an area that does not have enough of alkali in the soil. This will help prevent blossom end rot.

Use of fertilizer low in nitrogen, but high in superphosphate, such as 4-12-4 or 5-20-5, will also do much to alleviate the problem of blossom end rot. 

In emergency situations, foliage can be sprayed with calcium chloride solutions." 

by funluvn1

"Put some crushed eggshells in the planting hole This will accomplish the same end - supplying calcium to prevent blossom end rot." by RunawayRose 

"Watch water. They need lots of water, but if you overwater them the fruit splits. Also, if you fear tomatoes, try growing cherry tomatoes. They're REALLY easy to get a good crop from." by heart of a quince

Good tips
"I live in NE Ohio.
I have always found them pretty easy to grow, actually. I plant mine along the side of my house - it's about 2 feet from the side of the house and 2 feet from the driveway - the radiating heat DOES help a lot.

Lots of water is also vital. Try not to let the leaves get wet unless it's hot and sunny out and the water will evaporate within a couple hours.

Some other tips -
For larger tomato varieties (not cherry tomatoes), I always snip off the last few flowers on each cluster - leaving no more than 3 or 4 tomatoes per cluster. They are less likely to rot and grow larger.

Plant them DEEP! Tomato stems root prolifically, so plant them deep, all the up to the lowest leaves.

Prune to just a few major vines, plucking out the little "suckers" that grow at the Vs off the main stem.
I grow only organically, so I only use compost for fertilization - chemical fertilizers are a no-no if you want really good tasting tomatoes.
Half-way through the season I cut off the top 2-3 feet of the larger plants (they are often 4=6 tall by this point) - and let a couple suckers grow up into larger vines - this gives me a late season crop from plants that might otherwise be slowing down.
by G35Guy

"Don't pick when the plant is wet in my zone 4-ish, it tends to kill the plant - some kind of really fast moving fungus that gets spread, I think. If I absolutely have to pick after a rain, I always wear leather gloves, but I try to avoid picking at all. Other than that, tomatoes are easy." by Ophelia
A few tips
For container (or even garden) growing of tomatoes mix 1/3 dirt with 1/3 compost with 1/3 aged manure.  

Start seedlings indoors at least 3 weeks ahead of planting out and if you have room you can start much earlier and pot them up.

When you plant the tomato plant it deeper than the soil line by up to 2/3rd of the plant. It will put out more roots and bring in more nutrients and have a sturdier stem. If you want to plant it deeper than the lowest leaves allow be sure to snap them off the stem, this will encourage more roots.

Shake the plant once a day for 5-10 seconds once flowers begin appearing when the wind is calm. This spreads the pollen.

When you water, water deeply but don't drown them. 1-3 inches a week is what tomato plants like but if you water them lightly each day then all those roots you developed don't get fed so it's better to give them a lot of water 2 times a week. More often if there's wilting.

Tomatoes are subject to fusarium wilt so I use cinnamon on the surface of potted plants to deter fungi.

by KS Rose

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tomato Primer for the Obama Garden: Corrections Wanted (and a poll)


All right, I'm a beginning gardener, and I fear tomatoes. 

People who grow tomatoes seem like Master Gardeners. Someone who pulls a tomato out of their harvest basket might as well say, "Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair." 

My lone and level garden stretches far and away, devoid of tomato vines and stakes. 

But tomatoes are a bountiful crop and are wonderful to give to people who need some produce in their lives. They're high in vitamin A, vitamin C, lycopene, and potassium, not to mention that they're tasty on pasta or in salads or chopped into rice. 

This year, I'm screwing my courage to the sticking place. I'm a scuba diver, hiker, and surfer.  

This year, I'm growing tomatoes in my Obama Garden

Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes

First: there are two kinds of tomatoes with regard to when they bear fruit: "determinate" or "indeterminate." 

Determinate tomatoes are bush or tumbling plants, often more suited for container gardening, that grow to be 1 to 3 feet tall. They produce flowers on their vine tips, stop growing, and then develop all their fruit quickly and all at once. They require less care than the other kind. 

Indeterminate tomatoes, also called cordon tomatoes, are the traditional lanky tomato vines that grow 6 to 20 feet long. They grow longer and produce new flowers and fruit all season long. You can control the growth of these tomatoes by training them on a trellis and pruning sideshoots. You must pinch off any sideshoots that grow between the main stem and any leafy stems, and you must pinch off the top in mid- to late-season. That directs the energy into ripening fruits rather than growing taller stems. 

Site and Soil 

Tomatoes like heat, so plant them in a spot protected from the wind but in full sun. Next to a sunny wall is often good, as they soak up the heat reradiated from the wall. 

They like moderately rich soil, so create a well of compost in the ground for each transplant. In containers, use generous amounts of compost. 

Water them well. Tomatoes need a steady supply of moisture and won't produce well unless they're kept moist. 

When to Plant
Planting too late is a lot better than planting too early.  Soil temperatures of less than 50F or any sort of too-cold night will shock the poor little plants. One book said that seedlings planted in June in the Northeast will grow faster and outproduce plants that were set out earlier. 

"Harden off" your seedings for up to two weeks before transplanting them. This means acclimating them to the outdoors. For a tender little seedling that hasn't ever been in a breeze, the outside world is a scary place. 

Place your little seedlings outside for 2 hours in a sheltered, shady spot at first, like under a tree, then for longer amounts of time each day. After two or three days, introduce them to the sun for two hours, then put them under the tree for the rest of the day. Gradually increase their direct sun time, too. Take them in at night or whenever the weather turns cold or windy. Keep them watered. Transplanting on an overcast day is ideal. 


Mulch early and often to conserve water. Red plastic mulch may increase yields. Water often. 

If you're container gardening, when you plant, insert a watering system. An easy one is to take a 1- or 2-liter bottle, leave the cap on, and drill about 15 small holes in the top (near the cap) of the bottle. Then cut or drill a larger hole in the bottom of the bottle. Plant the bottle, cap-down, in the container with your tomato plants, about 1/2 or 2/3 buried. Fill the bottle with water through the one large hole with a watering can or hose. The water will slowly leach through the small holes into the soil. 


If you're growing indeterminate tomatoes, pick fruits as they ripen to encourage the plants to bloom and bear more fruit. Twist the fruits to remove them gently, or cut the stem close to the tomato. 

If you're growing determinate tomatoes, you're going to be very busy for about a week. Pick every day. 

Please comment on any tips you have or anything that I got wrong. I'll edit the main post with corrections. 

TK Kenyon 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Warning About Corn: Gardening Basics for the New Obama Gardener

It seems like a great idea to plant a few seeds of corn, doesn't it? A few stalks growing in a corner of your wee garden that might produce ten or fifteen ears would be just grand, right? 

Don't do it. 

Don't plant corn unless you have a substantial section of land, like ten or twenty rows, to devote to maize. 

When I was a kid, my dad planted eight stalks of corn by the fence in our little kitchen garden. He watered them every day. They grew tall and thick and had lovely, leafy pods, ready for the picking. 

Then we picked them. 

(Veteran farmers are laughing their booties off right now.) 

When we peeled back the leaves on the cobs, about five little kernels were stuck on each cob, each like a baby's lonely first tooth in a smooth expanse of gums. 

My grandfather, an old Nebraskan rancher, laughed at my dad when he asked what he had done wrong. Evidently, corn cross-pollinates. You've got to have a big plot with a bunch of rows to get enough pollen flying around to cross-pollinate. 

We did grow a bumper crop of zucchini, though. 


623,004 Reasons to Plant a Garden

The number of initial jobless claims was lower than week (ending 2/7) than it was last week, but 623,000 people lost their jobs and filed for benefits last week. In addition, 4.8 million people received unemployment benefits for the week before that (ending 1/31, most recent data available.)

January, 2009 was the worst month for job losses since December, 1974. The percentage of unemployed in the US is a staggering 7.6%. This will only rise. 

President Obama said in his press conference on Monday: 

"In fact, local TV stations have started running public service announcements that tell people where to find food banks, even as the food banks don't have enough to meet the demand. (Emphasis added.)"

Luckily, donations poured in to that food bank in Elkhart, IL, after Obama's mention. 

However, all the other food banks didn't get a plug in Obama's speech. 

All the food banks in this country are going to be swamped with requests for help. If you can spare some coin right now, please donate it to your local food bank. 

In the meantime, please consider planting a garden. In a previous post, I discussed the theory behind planting a garden to help people and the economy. 

1. The produce will immediately give food to people who need it, either directly if you know someone out of work of indirectly through a food bank. 

2. In addition, the production of food, even small-scale production, will add value to the economy. 

3. Also, "kitchen gardening" is one of the greenest of activities. The industrial production of food produces nearly a third of the US's greenhouse gas emissions. It takes a lot of gas to truck a strawberry up here from Chile. 

4. Plus, gardening is heavily practiced in the "Blue Zones" where people live the longest. It's light, low-impact, and sustained exercise. It encourages the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Enlightened self-interest, anyone? 

If you don't have land, consider container gardening or borrowing property from someone else. I grew a bumper crop of cucumbers, herbs, and butter lettuce on a eight-foot-square balcony a few years ago. 

TK Kenyon 

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lasagna Obama Garden

I was just enlightened as to the most nifty gardening trick I've ever heard of: Lasagna Gardening. 

Last summer, when I tried digging up a small patch of grass, 5 feet square, to plant a teeny little garden, it was a terrible experience. It took hours a day for two weeks. The youngster wanted to not play outside anymore. Chopping a section of matted grass and roots away, shaking out the soil, and lugging the grass away was ridiculous. I made some raised garden beds last fall. 

But here's such a better idea: lasagna gardening. You don't even need a raised bed! 

Basically: you compost in place. Here's the steps. You can even start now for spring and summer plantings. 

1.  Pick a nice, light and sunny spot. 

2.  Lay down a layer of flattened cardboard box or three layers of newspapers. Water this layer to soak it down and start the decomposing. 

3.  Alternate "brown" and "green" layers of compost material for a total height of 18 inches to 2 feet. 
  • "Brown layers" = leaves you've run over with the lawn mover, wood chippings, paper shreds from your shredder, etc. Think dry.
  • "Green layers" = grass clippings, kitchen vegetable waste, etc. Think wet. 
4. If you're doing this in the fall, end with a layer of brown and walk away. Your garden plot will be ready in the early spring. If it's late winter or early spring, like right now, cover with a layer of black plastic to absorb extra heat and walk away. Your garden plot will be ready in middling to late spring. 

And much more info, including how specific crops react, here:  http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/1999-04-01/Lasagna-Gardening.aspx 

TK Kenyon

What vegetables grow in the shade?

Full sun – at least six hours per day — is necessary to grow really good tomatoes, peppers and corn, but it's not a requirement for all vegetables. It’s possible to grow a very good crop of lettuce, spinach or other greens in light shade with only a couple hours of sun.

 TK Kenyon  

Monday, February 9, 2009

When to Start Planting: Last Frost-Free Dates

I live in the fridgid Northeast. For a transplanted Arizonan, it's really flipping cold up here. 

My raised garden bed that I built last fall is under two feet of snow. It will be a while until I can plant anything in there. 

However, you can begin planting now! Yes, even with almost two feet of snow on the ground, you can plant seeds in the dirt and watch the growth! Hallalujah! 

You can begin pre-planting seeds for transplants. In areas like the northeast, this is an excellent way to extend the growing season and begin harvesting earlier. 

Here's an even more detailed map of climate zones. I'm evidently in Zone 6b. Link to: Detailed Climate Zones by The Garden Helper. 

Start peppers and tomatoes three weeks before your climate zones last frost-free date. Here in Climate Zone 6b, that means my average frost date is April 15. (Such an auspicious day, anyway.) That means that I can start tomatoes and peppers in the end of March or beginning of April. 

Well, I can plan, anyway. 

Y'all folks who live in the southern tips of Texas, Florida, and Louisiana: start planting now! (You lucky ducks.) 

Good luck. 

TK Kenyon, www.tkkenyon.com  

Author of RABID and CALLOUS: Two novels about science and religion, with some sex and murder.

Why Gardens Will Work

A $3 packet of seeds can yield 5 pounds of lettuce, 8 pounds of green beans, 20 pounds of carrots, or 120 summer squash. Zucchini will indeed give you great veg for the buck. They are the hyperfertile rabbits of the vegetable world. 

Depending on the variety and the care it receives, one tomato plant can yield more than 10 pounds of fruit, and in a packet of seeds, there are some 30 potential little tomato plants. That's 300 pounds of tomatoes per pack. 

That's a return on your investment. Heck, after buying one packet of cilantro seeds a couple years ago, I let some plants go to seed and have had a self-sustaining cilantro pot ever since. Multiple plantings during the growing season reap multiple harvests. 

TK Kenyon 


Another Reason to Obama Garden: Save the Planet

According to Kitchen Gardeners International, up to one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to our industrial-agricultural complex. 

What this means is that it took a lot of diesel to truck that tomato from Venezuela to your house. 

Greenhouse gas emissions are thought to be the leading cause of climate change, which means global warming. 

If you grow at least some of your own fruits and vegetables, you could greatly reduce your carbon footprint. That's another advantage to growing for yourself and your neighbors. 

Plus, your neighbors might really need some fresh vegetables

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Why a Garden?

I don't usually get too personal in blogs, but there're personal reasons why I thought of the Obama Garden. 

My husband is employed by a large pharmaceutical company that was recently taken over by an even larger one. Takeovers are notorious for producing huge layoffs. The takeover company has mentioned that they will pfire ten thousand people before this deal is done. (No, that's not a typo.) Probably twenty thousand.  Or more. 

Three weeks ago, I thought we were perfectly secure, economically. Indeed, I was getting a job with the aforementioned large pharm company. My office space was already assigned. The verbal offer had been spoken and accepted. I had stopped taking consulting jobs a couple months ago in preparation for my new job, so my consulting income dried up. 

Suddenly, HR got balky. Then the rumors started. 

By the next Monday at 7:00 AM, the takeover was hot news on CNBC. 

Then, my new job evaporated. 

And we were suddenly very worried about my husband's job. Twenty thousand people are going to be laid off from his company. That's a scary percentage of the employees. 

We went from the tax bracket that Obama plans to increase taxes on to ZERO over one weekend, at least in our fears. 

One of my thoughts amidst the panic was, "At least I put in garden beds last fall. With $20 worth of seeds, at least I can keep us in fresh vegetables for the season, if he gets laid off. We can survive on beans, rice, and my garden." 

We're more secure about his job, now. At least we're less worried considering the severence package that we've read about, plus my darling hubby has already been offered two jobs with other companies, if he does get laid off. He's a smart guy. His project seems to be important to the taking-over company. There is at least a moderate chance that he will be retained. 

I've started looking for consulting business again. (If you're a pharmaceutical company in need of a consultant, go to www.consultingtk.com.

We're not too badly off, considering. We have options. 

Others, out there, are in much worse shape than we are. While I allowed myself a moment of relief that we aren't in quite as much financial trouble as I first thought, I had seen that abyss.

The layoff abyss is a scary place. We were calculating when to sell the house (now? when the merger closes? before or after layoffs decimate this county's economy?) and whether we'd have to move in with my parents. 

I started looking for full-time jobs anywhere, even if my husband and I had to live apart for a while. 

Some of my friends are still staring into that abyss. A lot of people I don't know are staring into it or are falling into it, right now. 

My garden might help some of them. So I'm planning to plant an intensely cultivated garden to help them. Nobody turns away a perfectly ripe tomato or butternut squash. They might make a nice addition to the rice and ramen. 

When Should I Plant Stuff?

First, you need to figure out what climate zone you're in. This is easily done. 

Go to this page: Zone Finder by Burpee

Type in your zip code, and it will tell you. 

Now, buy seeds. Look at the back of the seed packet and it will tell you when to plant the seeds by your zone. 

Easy, eh? 

Six Basic Obama Gardening Tips -- How To Start for Beginners

1.  Start small. It's better to grow a few veggies well than try to grow a bunch, do it badly, and get no harvest at all. 

Containers are easy and great, and you can grow almost anything in a container that you can grow in the ground. See this post on a lady who grew a great crop of butternut squashes in containers. 

Besides, as the old adage goes, it's not how big your garden is; it's what you do with it that matters. 

2. Start a compost pile. It's easier than you think. You do not need to buy one of those expensive but nifty fermenter boxes. 

To make my compost pile last year, I took the box that our TV came in last year, made it round instead of a rectangle, and surrounded it with stakes and nylon chicken wire that we already had in the garage. (The chicken wire and stakes had been used as a temporary dog run while my parents and their pooch visited.) 

Then, I dumped lawn clippings, leaves, shreds from the paper shredder, and kitchen waste in there. You should aim for a mix of about half "brown waste" (dry waste: paper shreds, shredded leaves, etc.,) to half "green waste" (lawn clippings, manure, kitchen waste. Do not try to compost banana peels. They don't ever degrade. Do toss in coffee grounds.) 

Good composting article at HGTV.com here. 

3. Mulch. I saved last year's leaves in big, black bags to use as mulch this year. You can use just about anything as mulch: shredded bark and wood that you buy in a home store, pine needles if you have a pine tree that sheds needles, or hay or straw from a feed store (very inexpensive, a bale is cheap, cheap, cheap.) Good article on mulch here

4. Water if necessary. Water deeply and in the morning. If it's rained and the soil is nicely damp, skip watering. 

5. Start with easy plants. Really, just about anybody can grow a bumper crop of zucchini, carrots, radishes, or butternut squash. Personally, I'm not ready to grow tomatoes. I respect gardeners who do, but I know my skills and time aren't up to it. 

6. Tend often. Tending ten minutes a day, say right when you get home from work, is much better than two hours on the weekend. Stop by your plots, gather a few weeds, scoop some soil up higher on the squash hills, dump some water on anybody who looks dry, and go in the house. 

Good luck, 

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Do you have to be an Obama supporter to read this blog or plant a garden?

No, but it might help. 

I'm not overly political. I just want to help people. If you want to help people, plant a garden and share the vegetable wealth. 

You can call it a Grand Old Garden, if you want. Or a Don't Blame Me I Voted For The Other Guy Garden. 

Call it anything you want, but it's going to be tough year for a lot of people. A few carrots could help. 

Container Gardening for Butternut Squash

This review is from Burpee.com, about "Burpee's Butterbush" 
"This was my first time growing squash and I was very pleased with this variety. I grew 6 of these plants. I planted them in Miracle grow soil using 6, 5 gallon buckets in my front yard which has full sun. Plants produced 32 squash that where between 1-2 lbs each. I only sprayed twice this season for some bugs. Plants were very ornamental and the neighbors loved watching the progress. Squash were kept clean because the plant grew in a mounding format about a foot and a half tall and two feet wide allowing the squash to dangle from the top of the bucket. Not bad return on less than $3.00 of seed and six buckets of soil."
She grew 32 butternut squash, around 50 lbs. of food. 

At my farmer's market, a 2 lb. butternut was $5 last week. That means she grew $160 worth of squash for $3 in seed. 

That's the kind of value that we need to inject into this ecomony. That's the kind of help we need to give our neighbors. 

Notice also that she used 5 gallon buckets to grow these butternuts, not a yard plot. You could do this on an apartment balcony. 

Garden of Eatin'

Hello, and welcome to The Obama Garden. 

Look, this is a tough time for our country. A lot of people have lost their jobs, almost 600,000 last month alone, (7.6% unemployment at the time I wrote this,) and a lot more people are going to lose their jobs (perhaps 3.2 million more people in 2009.) 

If you don't lose your job, someone you know probably will. A lot of people are going to have some very hard times. A lot of people are going to have to choose between feeding their families or keeping their house. Perhaps the choice will be between buying food or paying exorbitant COBRA health insurance rates. Or buying prescription medicine. 

A lot of people are going to be eating little but ramen or rice. 

It's a terrible time, maybe as terrible as the Great Depression, when Americans starved to death or came darn close to it. 

Here's my opinion: This is America. We have fertile land and strong hands and open hearts. Let's feed our friends. If we feed them, then they can use their money to keep their house or pay for COBRA or buy medicine. 

I'm not just talking about picking up some slimy canned green beans at the grocery store. These are really tough times. We need to not just shuffle money around but to add value to the economy.

We all need to plant a garden. 

Like WWII, when we planted Victory Gardens to help with the war effort, let's plant gardens to feed our friends and ourselves and add sustenance to the economy. 

If someone you know is out of work, take over a box and complain about the exuberant fertility of zucchini. If you don't know someone personally, your local food bank will. This year, they're going to get swamped. 

You can call it whatever you want: a Prosperity Garden, a Friends Garden, or a Helping Hands Garden. Me, I'm going to think of mine as an Obama Garden. 

President Obama is trying his best to lead us out of this economic morass. He's trying to help people stay in their homes and feed their families and pay for COBRA and get their kids some medical help. 

My Obama Garden is my small contribution to the huge job that he needs to do. 

A lot of people say that change is happening. Optimism prevails. That's great. 

Obama can't do it alone. He can't go to the house of every person who's lost a job, comfort them, and personally help them. Even the federal government doesn't have that much money. 

This is just the first post of many, I hope. It's February, and it's time to start planning my Obama Garden. 

TK Kenyon, www.tkkenyon.com  
Author of RABID and CALLOUS: Two novels about science and religion, with some sex and murder.

Friday, February 6, 2009

First Post

First post. More to come. 

TK Kenyon