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Posts Tagged ‘tomato’

As Gardening Season Ends

Tomatillo from my community garden plot

I started six tomatillo plants from seed and they were very happy in the community garden. I’d never grown them, and was impressed at how prolific the plants were. I harvested mid-summer and canned many pints of salsa verde which, by my estimation, is more about the onions and peppers than about the tomatillos. Unfortunately, chemo has suppressed my sense of taste, so I’ve no idea whether the salsa verde tastes good. The tomatillo plants continue to grow and produce, and I may have left more than 100 fruits to rot in the garden. It seems unlikely I’ll plant tomatillos in next year’s garden.

It has been a hard season. I’ve faced two huge challenges to maintaining my kitchen garden:

1. It has been unusually dry this year. What little rain we’ve had came over a two-week period in August and did more damage than it did good.

2. I had major surgery before the season started to remove a tumor from my pancreas. Subsequent chemotherapy failed, and an alternative chemotherapy regimen has kept me weak and nearly constantly uncomfortable with gastric distress.

I had some help from my wife and some friends. My wife prepared one end of the main vegetable bed where I planted peas and carrots. She erected trellises for the peas, and we both harvested when peas were ready.

When my wife was away, a group of friends visited one weekend and removed an enormous amount of weeds from the main vegetable bed.

Conjoined paste tomatoes

All 68 tomato plants are still growing well, but late summer brought quite the onslaught of tomato fruit worms. Most tomatoes remaining on the plants are getting devoured, but I’m still harvesting about a half gallon of decent ones every four or five days. This is a single, unusual tomato on a plant that usually produces pepper-shaped fruits. It looks as though two tomatoes merged at birth.

What truly kept me in the game was signing up at a community garden. There I got two 10’ x 20’ plots where the garden’s management applies composted manure, plows it in, and plows again a week or so later to stop the first growth of weeds—all before gardeners have access to plant.

It was crazy easy for me to plant my prepared community garden plots. The soil was loose and raked smooth; I had only to press seeds into the soil or set seedlings in holes I could dig with my fingers.

The community garden helped me manage the dryness challenge as well: There are faucets and hoses that reach every plot and I was able to water my plants every 2nd or 3rd day.

I’ve gone rather light on blogging about the garden. The cancer has diminished many activities that used to be easy or even fun. Rather than catch up on all the most interesting moments of the season, this post is about where the season’s ending. Photos tell the story.

Three gallon tomato harvest

This was a typical harvest—three gallons of tomatoes and a few sweet peppers—about every three days until august. I’ve canned gallons of tomato pieces, whole tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Oh, and chili sauce and salsa in which tomatoes are a major ingredient.

Pruned tomato plants

Happily, the dry season discouraged common tomato plant diseases. I saw no early or late blight on my plants, though late summer rain fired up some bacterial disease that worked its way up the plants from the ground. I pruned affected leaves for several weeks, turning the tomato patch into a rather weird landscape.

Ten-foot tomato plants

My tomato trellises top out close to seven feet. The plants have grown three feet above the trellises… though this photo shows them a bit shorter. Tomatoes in the highest growth won’t ripen before frost, but there are a few just below the seven foot level that have a chance.

Small neck pumpkin

By early July I had grown squash seedlings under lights indoors and I planted them out at the community garden. One hill of neck pumpkins has barely performed; I must have set it on a bad patch of soil. Still, there are two rather tiny neck pumpkins maturing on the vines.

Small Kitchen Garden squash

Three years ago, without asking permission, my garden cross-bred a neck pumpkin with a fairytale squash. Unknowingly, I harvested seeds from a hybridized neck pumpkin and planted them in the next season’s garden. They produced gorgeous squash that I hoped I could stabilize through two seasons. Last season, they seemed to breed true. However, seeds I planted this year have produced three distinct varieties of fruits. The variety in the photo is the most prolific. The skin becomes creamy brown when ripe, a bit lighter than a butternut squash. Perhaps this version will breed true for next season’s garden.

Supposed purple cayenne peppers

I don’t recall where I got it, but last winter I picked up a packet of cayenne pepper seeds. It was a mix of seeds that would produce peppers in a variety of colors. Purple cayenne peppers, I think, are cheaters. The fruits start out purple but ripen to a bright red. Other colors in the packet were red, yellow, and orange. Sadly, I failed with cayenne. The plants were prolific early when I was dealing with a bumper crop of tomatoes and sweet peppers. Most of the cayenne peppers ended up in the crisper drawer and became anything but crisp.

Sorghum approaching harvest

A first for me, and still in progress: sorghum. I bought a packet of one hundred and fifty seeds and planted them in a tight square at one end of the bed. The plants have flourished. The seed heads are full and, I’m sure, ripe. Everything I’ve read suggests harvesting the seeds as close to first frost as possible and leaving the stalks to get some frost bite. Then harvest the stalks and squeeze the sap out of them to boil into syrup. Frost may be two weeks away, so I won’t be messing with the sorghum right away. In fact, my next big harvest needs to be potatoes. The above-ground parts of my potato plants never stopped growing until they were overrun by squash plants.

Cannas in the community garden

On a whim, I reserved several canna lily roots that we didn’t need to complete our “Hawaiian corner” behind the rock garden this year. I stuck the spare roots in my community garden plot among squashes, onions, and potatoes where the cannas wouldn’t interfere with other plants. It was quite late in the season, so the cannas are late bloomers, but there have been several flower spikes so far. In a few weeks, I’ll pull the roots and save them for next year. Knowing how many we need behind the rock garden, I’ll set aside a few extra to add flare in next year’s community garden plots.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – As Gardening Season Ends

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Tomatoes Under Lights

First tomato sprout of 2015

It took just over four days for my first tomato seedling of 2015 to emerge.

Saturday and Sunday, March 21st and 22nd, I planted 73 tomato seeds in five planters. The planters are under lights in my office.

The 73 seeds represent 18 varieties of tomatoes – six varieties I brought back from last year’s garden, and 12 I bought from seed companies this spring. The first seedling emerged on March 26, just five (or four) days after planting. I snapped photos but here it is about 36 hours later and I’m just creating a post.

A lot happens in 36 hours! At last count, 67 seeds had sprouted. My planters have gone from bare to heavily-forested in just a day-and-a-half. I’m very excited to set the seedlings into my garden, but that won’t happen until June (unless the weather forecast is excessively rosy in May).

I love starting my garden indoors under lights!

Tomato jungle under lights

In about six days, all but six of the tomato seeds I planted in containers have sprouted. Unfortunately, only one out of four Great White seeds is up, so I may do a second planting of that variety. Those leafy things way in the back on the right are cardoon and artichoke plants. I started artichokes about February 10th, and cardoon about March 5th.

 

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Tomato Fruitworm in my Small Kitchen Garden

I wanted this to be a Beet Armyworm, but from what I could find online, Beet Armyworms won’t make it through the winter. So… this is probably a Tomato Fruitworm – more destructive than a Beet Armyworm

My small kitchen garden keeps me on my toes. It’s not enough that certain tasks must happen within a few calendar days each season. There are also diseases such as rust and blight, nutritional issues such as low nitrogen or high acid in the soil, watering challenges having to do with drought or excessive rain or both, weed issues, and insect imbalances—either too few pollinators or too many fruit- and vegetable-eaters.

I recently shared a story of Tobacco Hornworms and a Cardinal. This post isn’t so much a story as it is a “look!” I discovered a tomato pest of which I had known nothing until this past week when I found it in my small kitchen garden.

Pests my Kitchen Garden Doesn’t Need

As you can see in the photo, this worm chewed a hole through the skin of a tomato, then chewed a strip of skin down from the first hole and started on a second, deeper hole. That’s when I caught it in action.

I’ve seen this kind of damage on tomatoes in the past, but had never spotted the culprit. From casual research, I’ve decided this is a Tomato Fruitworm though it eats more like a Beet Armyworm does (from what I read here). Beet Armyworms aren’t supposed to range as far north as I live, so I’ll blame this worm’s behavior on timing: had I not found it when I did, it might have taken residence inside the tomato it was sampling.

I moved the worm into the meadow across the street but I suspect there is at least one other Tomato Fruitworm enjoying my tomato patch. Several fruits on one of my volunteer plants at the opposite end of the garden from this tomato have round holes in their skins. Ugh.

 

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White Tomatoes for Post Produce!

Black, red, orange, and white tomatoes (with a little diced onion) were the base for a salad I made earlier this month. I love the colors though white tomatoes have yet to win me over: it’s weird to eat a tomato that looks like that.

The main issue for August’s Post Produce at Your Small Kitchen Garden is tomatoes! Sure, there are gorgeous purple jalapenos, a few bell peppers finally turning red, more zucchini (frost probably won’t even shut down those plants), carrots, plenty of herbs, and even the last of the cucumbers. But tomatoes usually make my gardening season, and this has been a terrific year.

I bought seeds this year to grow tomatoes of many colors: black, red, orange, yellow, and white. The earliest tomatoes were black followed quickly by white and orange. Actually, we’ve had tomatoes of all the colors (except yellow) from early in August.

For entertainment, I grew a disproportionate number of white tomato plants. The plan was to cook down several pints of sauce using just white tomatoes. I would eventually use the sauce in traditional dishes such as spaghetti, pizza, or lasagna. At best, I figured, this would be a conversation starter. At worst? A conversation starter.

Things couldn’t have gone better (though I’ve yet to use any of the white tomato sauce I preserved). The photos tell the story.

Here’s the tomato that started me dreaming of white tomato sauce. Cream Sausage is a paste tomato that starts greenish white on the vine and ripens to a somewhat reddish white. The vines seem to be determinate which I didn’t know when I planted them. I’ll grow these again, but I’ll support them with tomato cages rather than with a hanging string trellis.

White Queen is a white slicing tomato. You can tell when it’s ready to eat because it looks “warmer” as it ripens. I used a bunch of these in my tomato sauce along with the cream sausage tomatoes.

I filled a 4 gallon pot with cut-up white tomatoes, simmered it for several hours, and put the cooked tomatoes through a food mill. I cooked the milled tomatoes a bit longer until I had just over a gallon of sauce, and then I canned the sauce. If you’d like to see how this all works using red tomatoes, have a look at my video titled Make and Can Tomato Sauce from Your Home Kitchen Garden.

The slightly off-white color of my white tomatoes didn’t hold through cooking and canning. Still, few would guess that these canning jars hold pure tomato sauce. My next batch will be red. Depending on how quickly I get to it, I might follow that up with orange tomato sauce as well. There’s no significant difference in flavor from one sauce to the other, but having different colors from which to choose adds a bit of whimsy whenever I cook with tomato sauce.

Now You Post Produce

What edibles are you consuming from your garden? Write about it on your blog, then use the Linky widget below and link back to your post. Visit other posters’ blogs to see what homegrown goodies they’re consuming.

 

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Tomato Spacing in My Small Kitchen Garden

By the time I planted tomatoes weeks earlier than usual, peas, broccoli, and cauliflower (to the right in the photograph) had a good start in my small kitchen garden and we were already harvesting lettuce (at the top-left in the photo).

I set tomato seedlings in my small kitchen garden starting in mid May this year… fully two weeks earlier than central Pennsylvania’s “last frost date.” Given the lack of winter, some uncomfortably hot weather, and more than 14 consecutive frost-free days leading up to mid-May I felt pretty safe putting in summer vegetables so early.

Tomatoes in Small Planting Beds

I’m frustrated by the lack of gardening space in my yard. The house came with a modest raised garden bed that I doubled in size one season. I also took over the kids’ sandbox for gardening when they stopped using it, and I’ve more than doubled the area it covers. Finally, I maintain several planters on my deck and on the kids’ otherwise unused play set.

I’ve prepped a double row for my tomato seedlings. Holes are one foot apart (from the center of one to the center of the next), and the gap between the rows is a foot wide. After digging the holes and before setting in the seedlings, I filled each hole halfway with compost, sprinkled in crushed egg shells and Epsom salt, and tossed it together with soil.

If you click the photo to zoom in, you can make out egg shells in the holes and also spot freshly-planted and watered tomato seedlings to the right of the prepared holes.

With all that, my vegetables don’t fit. To plant with the spacing recommended by seed retailers, gardening books, and the USDA, I’d need more than double the planting beds I already have. So, I “plant intensively.”

The vast, inverted, underground tree that is a tomato plant’s root system will spread through the soil evading impenetrable objects. What difference can it make if some of those objects happen to be roots from other tomato plants? Sure, the roots will compete for water and nutrients, so key to success with intensive planting is to provide adequate amounts of both.

How Close to Space Tomato Plants?

For the past several seasons, I’ve left just twelve inches from one tomato plant to the next within rows, and I’ve created rows in pairs twelve inches apart. From one pair of rows to another I leave a 30 inch wide gap which is just shy of comfortable for working among the plants once they reach the tops of the trellises (about seven feet).

  • Growing tomato plants so close together simplifies maintenance.
  • I can reach past plants near a walking corridor to tend plants in the “back rows” (less moving about).
  • I use far less mulch per plant.
  • Water and fertilizer for any one plant benefits several.
  • It’s short work to apply antifungal powder or solution.
  • The walls of plants provide shade that reduces the occurrence of green shoulders on ripening fruit.
  • Trellising requires far fewer materials.

The downside of spacing tomato plants so closely is that diseases and insects can pass among them easily. Wider spacing can buy you time to protect unaffected plants if you discover problems with any plants.

The photos tell the story of this spring’s planting effort. There are six rows, each of which holds 12, 13, or 14 plants for a total of 76. Varieties include Black Krim, Beefsteak, Nebraska Wedding, White Queen, Nyagous, Valencia, Noonglow, Manyel, Cream Sausage, Jonatta Banana, and the unidentified paste variety I’ve grown for many seasons.

I’ve written several posts about growing tomatoes over the years. Here’s a list of articles and links to them:

 

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Tomato Controversy at Your Small Kitchen Garden

This beauty isn’t quite ready to harvest. Yes, it’s a tomato. I believe it’s of the Andes variety… it’s a paste tomato with very little gel, few seeds, and delicious flesh. Pick a green tomato at your own peril. You can coax a green tomato to ripen, but the results are rarely satisfying.

Vine-ripened tomatoes are NOT better than tomatoes that ripen off the vine. Still, there is such passion for vine-ripening that kitchen gardeners perpetuate the lie; they claim a vine-ripened tomato is noticeably better.

Ripen Tomatoes Well

Last summer, Your Small Kitchen Garden blog challenged the conventional wisdom that store-bought tomatoes are horrible because they ripen off the vine. I argued that store-bought tomatoes are lousy because they are lousy cultivars: ripened on or off the vine, they grow up to be flavorless and wanting in texture.

Then I explained how I harvest, and I insisted that my “picked-pink” tomatoes are just as good as their vine-ripened counterparts… in fact, that picked-pink tomatoes are better because they don’t crack or develop “green shoulders.” Please read the original post here: The Vine-Ripened Tomato Lie.

I’ve enjoyed the insights from readers who have shared their opinions. Some are adamant that vine-ripened tomatoes are dramatically tastier than picked-pink tomatoes… and I won’t argue with their experiences. In my experience, if there is a difference, It’s insignificant and I’d be happy to prepare a scientific double-blind taste-test of several varieties of tomatoes both vine-ripened and picked pink. I’m confident that 99% of participants in such a test would not be able to distinguish between the two.

Tomato Nutrition

One person who read my original post on this suspiciously declared that picked-pink tomatoes lack the nutritional qualities of vine-ripened tomatoes. The visitor went by the name “Dr. Tomato,” lending a sense of authority to his or her comments. I conceded that it’s possible there are nutritional differences, and asked Dr. Tomato to provide links to the research that supports the claim.

My first tomato harvest of 2010 is a very large paste tomato that I’ve picked-pink. The tomato has just started to change color, and it will finish on my dining room table. Had I left it on the plant, a rain storm could have caused it to crack… and direct sunlight could have made it develop green shoulders.

Dr. Tomato probably wasn’t listening, because the links never materialized. Then, yesterday another commenter “sided” with Dr. Tomato. This left a bad taste in my mouth: I hate arguing about facts. If something is so, then opinions about it are meaningless. When a yardstick is 36 inches long, you seem a little silly to say, “In my opinion, the ruler is 37 inches long.” A simple measurement can settle the issue, so why take sides? I went in search of facts about tomato nutrition.

What Science Says

Turns out food science enthusiasts have done some research on ripening tomatoes off the vine. I read several (incredibly dull) studies full of science-writing gobbledygook and have reduced the obtuse language to a few simple factual statements:

1. There is no stastically significant nutritional (including vitamin C and Lycopene) difference between vine-ripened and picked-pink tomatoes. (Conclusion of the study Colour of post-harvest ripened and vine ripened tomatoes
(Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) as related to total
antioxidant capacity and chemical composition
.)

At the peak of tomato season and then some, there are hundreds of tomatoes ripening on my dining room table. In this photo, the youngest tomatoes are in back, with the oldest – ready to eat – in front.

2. Some picked-pink tomatoes develop MORE lycopene (the antioxidant) than vine-ripened tomatoes do, others develop LESS lycopene. This seems to depend, in part, on the temperature at which you ripen the picked-pink tomatoes, and, perhaps, on whether you’re growing the tomatoes hydroponically.

3. You can harvest tomatoes well before they become fully ripe without loss of lycopene. (Conclusion of the study Lycopene Content among Organically Grown Tomatoes.)

So, you won’t become malnourished if you eat picked-pink tomatoes. Because there are so many advantages to harvesting tomatoes this way, once again I encourage you to try it and decide for yourself: When a tomato starts to turn from green to red—when it already has pink skin—pick it and set it in your house to finish ripening (I fill bowls with picked-pink tomatoes). When it’s fully-ripe, taste it next to a freshly-picked vine-ripened tomato.

If you taste a difference, is it enough of a difference to make you pass on the advantages of picking pink? Whatever you decide I hope we can still get along… and thanks for considering this heretical suggestion.

 

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