Posts Tagged ‘Tomatoes’

Flood relief

Summer is the rainy season in Central Florida. Rain is frequent and heavy, and is often accompanied by gusty winds and lots of lightening. Anyone who has visited the region during the summer months can attest to the severity of our afternoon thunderstorms this time of year. They can also tell you how, once the storms clear out each evening, the sky will clear up again and we will have a warm and muggy, but otherwise pleasant evening.

This past week was different. One storm in particular had all the locals chattering on Facebook and comparing notes for several days afterward. Several things made this storm stand out. To begin with, it caught nearly everyone off guard by coming through the area at night. It also produced exceptionally heavy and frequent lightening. And thirdly, it dumped an incredible amount of water in a matter of just a few minutes. The rain gauge below shows what this storm dropped on my garden in under thirty minutes.

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Under normal circumstances, if I have young plants out, I can see the storms coming well enough in advance to bring the plants in under a shelter. Not this time. My young seedlings caught the brunt of it. And by the time I was aware of the storm, there was far too much lightening for me to go outside safely. Thinking back on it afterward, I realized that I did hear the storm coming; however, since I live within earshot of the Magic Kingdom, I actually thought the thunder was just a somewhat louder than normal nightly fireworks display. Little did I know!

When I checked on the seedlings the next morning, the tray they were sitting in was filled to the rim, and it was obvious that the plants had taken a beating. I didn’t think to take a picture at the time, though. I just dumped the water, tidied up the plants and refilled their little peat pots with fresh Mel’s Mix.

Yesterday, we had yet another heavy storm. This one wasn’t quite so intense, but I did not see it coming, and once again my plants got hit pretty hard. Here’s what their tray looked like this morning. There was almost an inch in the rain gauge. As you can see, much of the soil was once again pounded out of the pots. Some of the pots themselves had even been ripped by the force of these storms!

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Today, I provided them some relief. I repotted those in the worst shape, moving them to plastic pots, and placed the plastic pots in a tray with drainage. I am hoping that does the trick. While they are still vulnerable, I will try to pull them in out of harm’s way, but obviously I’m not always able to be there for them.

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Here’s hoping they have seen the worst of it! In the meantime, happy gardening!

Awaiting Autumn

Florida gardeners look forward to fall with as much anticipation as gardeners farther north look forward to spring. With the exception of a few tropical species such as okra and cowpeas, not much grows in Florida gardens during the long, hot summer. By the time August rolls around, the limitations on what can be planted have begun to loosen up, and by September, we will be able to plant pretty much anything.

Although this region theoretically has a year-round growing season, fall is really the time of peak gardening. By way of comparison with northern gardens, August is akin to that period in late winter when the ground has thawed, but frosts are still frequent. September brings the first hint of cooler weather, with the kind of long warm days and mild nights that make garden vegetables thrive. One significant difference that remains, though, is that here the days start out long and then get shorter as the season comes to a close. Because of this, the growth slows down as the season progresses, rather than accelerate.

Against the backdrop of this calendar, I have spent these first few days of August clearing out old growth, preparing the ground where I have spaces available, tending to the young plants previously started, and planting more seeds. The first two pictures below show the oldest of my fall plants, an assortment of tomatoes and peppers as detailed in this post.

I would like to draw your attention to the two peppers on the far right of the tray in the foreground of the first picture below. Those are Black Hungarian peppers, which produce tasty, medium-to-hot peppers and can be used as ornamental plants. Notice the dark coloration? According to the description when I bought them, they are supposed to have deep purple veins and emerald green leaves. From what I’ve seen so far, it appears the reverse is true. Either way, as they mature, they should produce purple flowers, followed by pepper pods that start out green, turn solid black, and then ripen to red. This is my first time growing any, so I’m looking forward whatever colorful display they offer.

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I’m somewhat concerned with the discoloration on several of the tomato plants. I have compared them with tomato disease pictures found in databases, and as best I can tell, these leaves do not match any of the leaves illustrating identified diseases. As such, I will not panic just yet. What I will do is trim them up and move them out of the screened enclosure to expose them to full strength sunlight on a full time basis. I will also be transplanting them to their permanent homes within the next couple weeks. I am hopeful that this will address the problem.

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The next picture shows the second and third waves of tomato and pepper plants. The second wave is discussed in detail here, and the third in this post. Careful readers or keen observers might notice that there are a couple extra pots in the right-hand picture. Those are both a type of ornamental tree known as a Jerusalem Thorn. Only one of them has sprouted thus far, and it has been almost long enough to conclude that the second one failed to germinate. Needless to say, these are not intended for the vegetable garden!

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The next picture marks this fall’s first departure from the Solenacea family, more commonly known as nightshade. The plants in this tray are members of the Brassicacea family, more commonly known as the cabbage family. In fact, they are all members of a single species, Brassica oleracea. This species has a surprisingly diverse array of cultivars, one of which is cabbage, and within those cultivars, one finds an assortment of varieties.

In is tray I have planted one variety each of two cultivars, neither of which happens to be cabbage. Instead, I have broccoli (the DiCiccio variety) and collard greens (the Georgia variety). The nine on the left are broccoli and the six on the right are collard greens. If you look closely, you will notice that they are indistinguishable from one another at this stage.

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Last, but not least, I have planted a whole lot of herbs. Many of these will end up in containers that we keep within easy reach of the kitchen; others will find their way into the butterfly garden, either because of their nectar-producing flowers or their use as caterpillar food. Others still will be tucked away in various niches in the yard to add a particular ornamental characteristic or two, and some will be used as companion plants where beneficial relationships exist. Most of them are the types of herb commonly used in cooking, but some are used for other purposes. Here’s the full list:

  • Basil
  • Chives (Common)
  • Chives (Garlic)
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Fennel (Bronze)
  • Fennel (Florence)
  • German Chamomile
  • Hyssop
  • Marjoram
  • Mustard
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Rue
  • Sage
  • Summer Savory
  • Thyme

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Odds and Ends

This past week was one of those weeks. I’m sure you’re familiar with the kind of week that happens now and then when some of life’s other priorities demand time and attention that you much would rather spend gardening. It was one of those. As such, my gardening activities dropped off to a minimum over the last few days. Fortunately, this weekend has provided the opportunity to finally get back into the garden, so I spent some time on odds and ends — literally.

But first, an update on the status of my fall garden starts …

The first wave tomatoes and peppers, detailed here, are doing quite nicely as you can see in the picture below. All of them are looking strong and healthy, with one exception. At the time I transplanted them recently, I noticed that one of the large red cherry tomato plants was nearly severed close to the base of the stem. I do not know how this happened. Because of this, I buried it pretty deeply when I transplanted it, so that the damaged part of the stem was below ground. It lay weakly on the soil at first, but now it is beginning to stand up on its own. I wouldn’t say it’s in the clear yet, but it does look promising. The rest are doing as I would expect at this stage. I’ve been taking them outside the screened enclosure for a few hours a day to help them get accustomed to the full, unfiltered sun.

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My second wave plants, detailed here, are also coming along nicely. Nearly all of them have sprouted, as you can see below, so it’s about time to start putting them in more direct sunlight. Although the sun looks bright in this picture, the place where they’re sitting is shady most of the day. This picture was taken in the late afternoon, during a period of maybe half an hour a day when the sun shines on them directly.

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The odds.

Now, on to the odds and ends, starting with the odds. In this week’s mail, I received my last set of tomato seeds (for now, anyway). I only got three varieties this time, but each one is a bit of an oddball. I planted two of each yesterday.

  • Carbon — Heirloom aficionados often rave about the taste of black tomatoes, yet many people have never heard of them and would very likely pass them up if offered. If you expect tomatoes to be red or if you tolerate the occasional well-maybe-okay-I-guess-so-yellow, then a black tomato will look just plain wrong to you. It will be largely red, but will also have dark splotches here and there on the surface and on the inside. To the aficionado, a black tomato represents the kind of rich, complex, subtle combinations of flavor you just can’t find in ordinary reds. By way of analogy, the black tomato is a bottle of red wine from the reserve list, whereas a red tomato is the house red. Grocery store tomatoes are more like a cheap white Zinfandel. The Carbon tomato, as the name suggests, is a black tomato that produces well, yields uniformly round, mid-sized fruits, and often wins taste awards. I have never grown a black tomato before, so I figured I would start with this one.
  • Kewalo — There is nothing odd looking about this tomato, which produces a medium sized, round, red fruit. What is unusual, though, is that it is one of the few open pollinated (i.e., non-hybrid) varieties developed specifically to do well in hot climates. Not only does it tolerate heat, it is resistant to several tomato diseases common to this area. It was developed at the University of Hawaii. I decided to try this one to see how well it does for me in Central Florida.
  • White Beauty — This tomato is probably the most unusual of the three. White tomatoes are fairly rare, and this one even more so. The White Beauty is said to be the whitest of the white tomatoes (which are typically more of an ivory color). White tomatoes are not well known for their taste, and this is no exception. They tend to be high in sugars and low in acid, giving them a sweet taste, quite unlike the taste we generally associate with tomatoes. I’m growing this one more out of curiosity than anything else.

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The ends.

As for the “ends,” I started rooting the top ends of two edible bromeliads, more commonly known as pineapples. There is a vendor at our local farmers market who sells fresh pineapples. He cuts the top off with a knife and then uses a nifty little gadget to core and slice a whole pineapple with just a few twists of his wrist. I bought one yesterday morning and then asked him if I could have the top. He said, “Sure! How many would you like?” So, I took two.

From what I have read, it’s really easy to take a fresh top and turn it into a new plant. You place it in a pan of water about half way up to the bottom of the leaves, and you leave it there for three days. After that (whether you see roots or not) you plant it in good soil. It does the rest. It takes anywhere from 24 to 36 months to produce another pineapple, but in the meantime, you have a nice tropical plant. The picture below shows these two sitting in a tray lid with about an inch of water. Perhaps I should name them Mutt and Jeff. Better yet, maybe I’ll call them Odd and End.

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Happy Gardening!

Impulse Gardening

Regular readers of this blog have undoubtedly discovered by now that I tend to be somewhat methodical when it comes to my garden. But that’s not always the case. Over the course of the last few days, I brought home a total of six plants (five different kinds) on occasions when I had gone out specifically to get something else.

On the first occasion, I had gone out to buy nursery pots so that I could transplant the first wave of fall plant starts, as detailed in the blog post, Seasons in the Sunshine State. Now, you would think that in a town the size of Orlando, there would be plenty of stores at which to buy plain old, ordinary, plastic, cheap plant pots. But, no. So far, I have found a grand total of one place where I can buy them. Had I planned ahead, I could have ordered some online, but I didn’t, so I made the trip across town to Urban Sunshine, a retailer that specializes in organics and hydroponics. It just so happens that they also carry nursery pots. The size I wanted was a whopping 50 cents apiece, so I was happy.

But, wouldn’t it be silly to drive all the way across town and come home with nothing but fifty-cent plastic pots? Of course it would. It would also be silly to pass up the gorgeous zucchini plants that were only $1.95 apiece, right? It would be even sillier, given that I had the organics experts right there to tell me how to address my squash vine borer problem! Right? I thought you’d agree. Never mind that at $9.95, the bottle of Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew with Spinosad, which is what they recommended, cost more than the zucchini plants and the pots put together.

So, I came home that day with two brand new zucchini plants, a bottle of organic insecticide, and of course, my nursery pots. I didn’t really have good places available in my garden for the zucchini, but I did have some unused 7-gallon containers, so that is where the new plants ended up. I didn’t think to take a picture of the zucchini up close, but you can see them in the picture below. They are in the second and fourth pots along the fence.

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After making enough Mel’s Mix to fill the two 7-gallon containers and enough to fill 32 small pots, I realized I was getting low on vermiculite. Since I buy it in 4 cubit foot bags, such as the one Emma is inspecting below, I don’t have to buy it very often. Fortunately, I have found a local supplier who always seems to have that size bag in stock, and they sell it at a good price. Unfortunately, that supplier is the one I had just come from, Urban Sunshine. Alas, back I headed across town.

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As expected, they had the 4 cubit foot bags in stock, so I got one. I was so pleased with the zucchini, I just had to look around again. What caught my eye was the cayenne pepper plant shown below. At only $1.95, I thought that was hard to beat. Before sundown, it was nestled into its new home in one of my raised beds.

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This time, rather than plan a trip across town for just one thing, I decided to stop by Home Depot on my way home to get that other raised bed kit I’ve been thinking about. After finding exactly what I was looking for, I thought I would look at the tomato plants to see if they had any interesting heirlooms that I wasn’t already growing. Not only did they have 1-gallon pots of two different varieties that I was interested in, their 1-gallon plants were on sale at 3 for $10. So, I came home with two heirlooms and a hybrid developed specifically to perform well in the hot Florida summer. The heirlooms are a Mr. Stripey and a Yellow Pear. The hybrid is a Solar Fire.

I planted the heirlooms in my remaining two 7-gallon containers (first and third containers along the fence row above). The Solar Fire ended up in the raised bed near the Cayenne. Here’s a picture of the Mr. Stripey:

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Here’s a picture of the Yellow Pear:

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And here’s a close-up of the Yellow Pear’s tomatoes, already on the vine:

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Happy gardening!

Sixty-Four Promises

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This morning I planted the second wave of tomatoes and peppers for my fall garden. The first wave was planted in early June, and those plants have all been moved from their starter tray into medium-sized pots filled with nutritious Mel’s Mix. They’re spending all day in the filtered sunlight of our screened-in pool enclosure now. They’re still small enough to where I pull them in under a shelter if it looks like we’ll get a heavy downpour. Soon, I will start exposing them a few hours at a time to full-strength sunlight in the yard. Before you know it, they will be out there full time.

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This morning’s planting is part of my continuing quest to find the best time of year to start fall plantings. As I reported previously, last year I started my tomatoes and peppers in early August, but didn’t see the first ripe fruits until New Year’s Day. Is it asking too much to harvest my fall garden during the fall?

Logic suggests that the first wave should be ready around the October/November timeframe, and that today’s plants should start to yield fruit in the November/December range. But then, I have been gardening long enough to know that gardens follow their own logic and do not always conform themselves to the human perspective. The bottom line is that these plants will be ready when they’re ready, assuming I do my part and Mother Nature doesn’t come up with any unwelcome surprises.

Today’s planting very nearly duplicates the first wave planting, as described in my earlier blog post, Seasons in the Sunshine State. In that wave, I planted two each of six varieties of pepper and 10 varieties of tomato, each of which is described in detail in that earlier post. Today I changed up the mixture a bit (three of some varieties, two of others, and some with only one), plus I added an eleventh tomato variety:

  • Virginia’s Yellow Tommy Toe — Although most written accounts credit their origin to the Ozarks, Tommy Toe tomatoes are frequently found growing as volunteers along the periphery or even outside of gardens throughout southern Appalachia. Given the patterns of human migration in recent centuries, I can’t help but give more credence to the oral history version that places the origin farther east. Unlike their more refined cherry and grape tomato cousins, Tommy Toes have not been selected for their sweetness. Instead, they tend to have more of the tangy flavor characteristic of full sized tomato varieties. They also tend to be disease resistant and to continue yielding fruit late into the fall, both of which are attractive qualities to me here in Central Florida. Tommy Toes are also commonly saved as heirlooms and passed down from one generation to the next. This particular variety is from Lee County, Virginia, which is the westernmost county in the state, bordering on both Kentucky and Tennessee where the three states meet at the Cumberland Gap. Although I don’t have any childhood memories of that region, many of my ancestors just a few generations back either lived in or near Lee County or passed through the region while migrating to Kentucky. I purchased these seeds from the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center.

The full list of varieties for today is as follows:

  • Peppers
    • Black Hungarian (2)
    • California Wonder Sweet (2)
    • Fish (2)
    • Jalapeño M (1)
    • Jalapeño Traveler (1)
    • Long Red Cayenne (1)
  • Tomatoes
    • Amish Paste (3)
    • Brandywine (1)
    • Brandywine Suddath’s Strain (1)
    • Cherokee Purple (3)
    • Large Red Cherry (2)
    • Lemon Drop (2)
    • Riesentraube (2)
    • Super Sioux 2011 (2)
    • Super Sioux 2012 (2)
    • Vinson Watts (2)
    • Virginia’s Tommy Toe (3)

Taken together, this adds up to 32 starter tray compartments. Each compartment holds the promise of a season’s worth of growth, leading to whatever yield is within that plant’s potential. In turn, as I dropped the seeds into each compartment, I made a promise to nurture the tender seedlings and to tend to the plants as best I can throughout their lives in my garden. This seasonal ritual represents an interspecies pact as old as civilization itself. Yet, for me it’s as fresh as this morning’s planting.

Happy gardening!

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Tomatoes – Our Love-Hate Relationship

A few weeks ago, in my blog post called “There’s Something About Tomatoes,” I pondered what it is about tomatoes that attracts gardeners so much, while the commercial varieties seem to repel us almost universally. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who has been thinking about this.

Just last week, on the National Public Radio show, “All Things Considered,” journalist Dan Charles pondered the same topic. In case you missed it, here’s a link to the segment entitled “How The Taste of Tomatoes Went Bad (And Kept On Going).” If you are able to listen to the audio, it is well worth the five and half minutes it will take you. If not, you can read the transcript at the same link.

Interestingly, I have been reading a book on the same subject. The book, written by Arthur Allen, is entitled Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato. I haven’t finished the book yet, so I’m not ready to post a review of it, but I’m curious: have any of you read it? If so, what were your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you!

Meanwhile, I have lots of beautiful tomato vines in my garden, but only two lonely fruits waiting to ripen. Although I hate to wish time away, I’m anxious for the hot days and warm, muggy nights of summer to fade into the past so I can get my fall garden in the ground with a whole assortment of heirloom varieties!

Of Nematodes and Gnomes

I don’t know why, but whenever I hear the word “nematode”, I always think of gnomes. I had the unfortunate experience of having to think of nematodes today, so naturally my thoughts turned to gnomes. I’ll have more to say about the nematodes in a minute.

As I suspect is the case with most of my fellow travelers through this mass-produced, fast-paced, fully-interconnected, always-on, just-in-time, homogenous, twenty-first century of ours, the first image that comes to mind is that of the ubiquitous ceramic garden gnome statuettes that pop up in as many places around the world as Flat Stanley and that may be colored differently or have different facial features, but pretty much all look alike. But where, I wondered, did the idea for that little guy come from? To answer this question, I did a little research and came up with this gem from the Encyclopedia Brittanica: “In European folklore, dwarfish, subterranean goblin or earth spirit who guards mines of precious treasures hidden in the earth.” That sounds pretty much like the creature caricatured by those statuettes, but it doesn’t do much to explain my mental association with nematodes.

The article went on to say that gnomes are “represented in medieval mythologies as a small, physically deformed (usually hunchbacked) creature resembling a dry, gnarled old man.” I read that and the word “Bingo!” was shouted from somewhere in the recesses of my mind and bells started going off. Take a look at the picture below and you’ll understand why. The picture shows the roots of a tomato plant infested with root knot nematode, or simply RKN, as it is known in gardening literature.

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A number of sources also mentioned the 16th century alchemist Paracelsus, crediting him with popularizing the term. As he described them, gnomes had the ability to move through solid earth in much the same way fish do through water. I guess that explains how the nematode gnomes came to live right beneath one of my best tomato plants.

Until a few months ago, this tomato was among the most productive in my entire garden. It was a Super Sioux that I started from seed last August. It regularly bore fruit throughout the winter months and into the spring. At its peak, its longest vines were up past the top of the eight-foot stakes I used to support it. Lately, though, it has been in a state of decline. Its demise started out slowly; enough to give me an excuse to be in denial, but then the decline became precipitous and I knew it was just a matter of time. I tried to stave off the inevitable. I trimmed off the unhealthy vines to allow the plant to direct its energy to new growth. I fed it a well balanced, organic tomato food. I watered it carefully and regularly. It was all to no avail. Today I had to give up and say goodbye to my friend.

RKN is a common problem here in Central Florida, so it is not unexpected, merely unwelcome. I had had other tomatoes succumb to this disease in the past, so I recognized the signs: leaves that lose their luster, some leaves that turn yellow and drop off, lack of fruit production, and just a general appearance of declining health. The symptoms are similar to those of tomatoes lacking nutrition. The difference is that a good dose of nutrients does not help to revive an RKN-infected tomato. In fact, the reason for the decline of the plant is that the knots on the roots (a form of scar tissue) prevent the roots from being able to take up nutrients.

There are precious few organic remedies for RKN available. One of the best approaches is to cover the soil with black plastic for a few weeks, ideally in the summer, and allow the high temperatures to kill off the nematodes. However, given that I have such limited space to work with and because I have other plants in such close proximity, I have been seeking other methods that won’t require idling so much of my garden for that period of time.

The approach I am taking is two-fold. First, I planted French marigolds. As you can see in the picture below, I actually planted one marigold alongside this tomato several weeks ago when I suspected the nematodes. Everything I have read about using marigolds to treat nematodes has emphasized that they need to be French marigolds, not African. Second, I will try to steer toward RKN-resistant varieties of plants for the next planting in this space. The French marigolds are said to leave behind a substance that is toxic to these pests. By following them with resistant varieties, the hope is to basically starve any nematodes that survive the marigold toxins.

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If you are like me, you may find it a bit tricky to locate French marigolds. Several months ago when I first discovered an RKN problem elsewhere in my garden, I went looking for a local supplier of French marigold plants so I could get them up and growing quickly. Most of the ones I found at retail outlets were simply labeled “Marigolds” and the sales people were of no help. Some were labeled as African marigolds, but I could not find the French variety anywhere. Failing that, I scoured the seed racks, with pretty much the same result, so I turned to the Internet and quickly found some I liked for a decent price at Amazon.com. They are certified organic French Brocade Marigolds from Seeds of Change. I ordered a pack and planted them right away. In another couple weeks, they should come into full bloom.

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They have several others as well, but if you’re interested in this one, here’s a link to the exact product I bought: