Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tomatoes Are at the Top of my List!

When it comes to tomatoes it's hard to beat a Roma. Meaty and flavorful it is one of the most versatile tomatoes I know.

And ask any gardener, they'll tell you, nothing beats homegrown over store bought like the flavor of a tomato.

As far as being clean (talking chemicals in the commercially grown tomatoes) the tomato is on the clean list, being 14 out of 15 with #1 being the cleanest. So off season if I had to choose where to spend my organic dollar it might not be on a tomato.

Growing Tomatoes

Tomatoes are one of the easiest garden plants to grow from seed. The fact is they grow so fast that you often run out of space for them before you can safely put them out in the garden. If you start tomatoes from seed in early spring be prepared to transplant multiple times and have plenty of space for them in a sunny area. Most important to your success, once you get them out into the garden, is to not let them get root bound. Keep transplanting into bigger pots until you can safely plant the tomato plants outside.

You can also purchase seedlings from local nurseries and get an even faster start. I personally would purchase from my local farmer's market. You will get plants that are hardy for your area, have the benefit of the knowledge of the farmer who grew it and you will be supporting your local industry. An added benefit is that you will easily be able to try different varieties without having to purchase multiple seed packs and ending up being over run by tomatoes. Remember that tomatoes need plenty of room and full sun pretty much from the time they are germinated. (The local farmer's market is sounding better all the time, right?)

There are two types of tomatoes, determinate and indeterminate. Determinate types are bushier and more compact than indeterminate types. Indeterminate types have sprawling vines and need support. Determinates are better suited to smaller growing areas.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so it's important to make sure there's plenty of good organic matter mixed into the growing area. Here again, home made compost or better yet, worm compost or vermicompost is far superiour to the bagged stuff you buy at a big box store. When I drive by and see all that bagged material sitting out in that hot sun just baking, I know there's not going to be a speck of life left by the time the bag gets home and gets used.

When transplanting your young tomato plants bury them deeper than the previous soil level. You can even remove a good portion of the lower leaves, dig a deep trench and bury the whole stem, leaving just the upper portion of the plant sticking above the soil. The stem will root all along it's length. Planting your tomatoes deeper encourages healthily initial growth and stronger plants.

Watering is probably the trickiest part of growing tomatoes. It's important to not allow the soil to dry out or keep it too wet. Too dry and they will develop leathery shoulders and just one over watering will cause the fruit to split. Remember to water deep.

Caution: When growing Tomatoes always remind yourself - they do not like their leaves wet. To prevent diseases, water only the soil below and around your Tomato plants.

Here is a great book on organic gardening that I highly recommend. I always enjoy his approach to the earth. Eliot Coleman will become one of your most valuable resources.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Multi Tasking

To have a successful garden, a gardener must be a multi-tasker. In other words, it's not enough to get your seeds started.

Once the weather has warmed a bit and the soil has dried out too, early prep of the garden bed is necessary. Once you have a season in the garden under your belt, then much of this prep work will have been done in the fall, when you put the garden to bed for the winter. As a matter of fact that is the best time, as you can add copious amounts of organic matter in the form of leaves, grass clippings and other organic waste along with some valuable organic fertilizer like alfalfa meal and leave it all for winter to work its' magic. A late fall cover crop will add to the quality of your bed come spring as well.

However, if this is your first garden or like me you have had to neglect your garden because life just got in the way, then prepping your bed is something you want to get done as early in the season as you can.

Raised beds will warm up faster in the spring, you can cover the bed with material to help warm the soil as well. This morning at 7:30 a.m. when I took this picture the soil was 48 degrees F. The day will warm and warm the temp up to about 60.

Note: When you are thinking of planting and/or transplanting you always want to take into consideration the night time temperature of the air and soil.

Hoops can be placed over the bed for the placement of plastic over the beds to help heat the soil and to help hold the heat in over night.
Lengths of rebar are driven down along side the beds and PVC pipe can then be bent over the bed and slid down over the rebar.
This creates a great skeletal structure for plastic in the early and late season and shade cloth in the hot summer months.
In this picture you can also see how I used Hog Wire bent over and placed inside the bedding frame. This can be an alternative method to the PVC or the wire can be used to grow vining plants up on. This method can be used to companion plant. Plants that need more shade can be grown on the north side of this vining plant. That way in the hot summer months, once the vining plant has covered the wire a wonderful area of cool shaded area is provided for something like your favorite greens which need the cooler temps provided by the shade.
Think about what you are growing and how they can compliment each other. Use your space wisely and you will be able to grow more in less space.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Starting Seeds

There is nothing more miraculous than watching a seed push it's way through the surface of the soil towards the light, other than the birth of a child.

Seriously, a seed so miniscule and seemingly inert when put to soil with added moisture, heat, and sometimes light (depending on the seed) will suddenly erupt into a power of life that can move mountains compared to it's size. That must be where God's meaning behind "faith the size of a mustard seed" stems from.

The conditions must be right in order for the seed to awaken from its dormant slumber.

  • moisture to soften and swell the seeds tough outer shell

  • heat to awaken the life inside from it's slumber

  • light to show the way and beckon it forth

Just about any container will work if it will hold soil and allow excess moisture to drain away.

Trays that have fitted domes will help keep the environment moist and warm creating a incubator effect for the seeds. Once the seeds have germinated the lids will come off.

A heating mat will help create the right amount of heat for fast germination so the seeds do not sit in the soil and rot.

Lighting must be supplied, as even the light from a southern facing window will not provide enough light for an emerging seedling in early spring.

It's best to water from the bottom up, keep the soil moist but not soggy, and keep the lights within inches of the upper most leaves.

Read your seed packets so that seeds planted together will share the same needs for moisture, heat, light and space.

Take good notes and any mistakes made the first time around will not be repeated.

Once you know exactly what you will be growing you should sit down and make the final plan for your gardening space. Pay close attention to specific requirements for each plant and check to see if certain ones would be happier together or far apart.

I know I promised a video but I will be much more careful in the future to not promise something that is not already in the making. The person I was to video today opted not to involve herself. Maybe another time.

This should get you started, and start you must if you are in the North. The season is short and any way you can extend it will help you get the most out of your crops.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dusting off the Organic Gardening Blog

I look at the date on my last post and I think, OMG, where did all that time go?

So now it's time to dust off this blog and get back to business.

It's spring in my neck of the woods, and that usually means being busier than a one armed wall paper hanger.

We've talked about it before, if you're an organic gardener you know that the gardening season really begins in the fall with lasagna style sheet composting and getting that organic matter into your gardening space for the spring, which is now.

Over the winter, while the weather outside was frightful we all curled up with our favorite hot drink and our seed catalogs, dreaming of warm spring days with the sound of song birds on the air and the scent of something sweet blooming nearby.

Now, while spring fights to get her foot in the door and ol' man winter struggles to keep hold just a little while longer, it is time to get the seed starting mix out, sort through all the seeds that have arrived on our doorstep and get to planting.

The biggest mistake made now is planning a garden too big for the time and energy we have to invest AND not having the right seed starting environment to get our plants off to a healthy start.

Seeds have a specific requirement for heat and light. If either of these requirements are not met, the whole process may never even get off the ground, let alone thrive.

Heat can be provided by heating the whole area where you are germinating seeds or you can simply heat the soil the seeds are planted in by providing a germination mat. Light needs to be a full spectrum bulb that is adjustable so that it can be kept within a few inches of the plant.

I have a video planned for tomorrow which I will post here that will show you an example of how simple a set-up you need and the small space that should accomodate you.

Until then,