Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Season's First Bite

It seems we've made it through the first cold snap(s) okay ... Overall, I had a little bit of leaf burn and some browning, but it wasn't all that bad for the tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, herbs or strawberries. The peppers are another story [draws finger across throat].

But today is good for more reasons than the return of warmer weather. It's always kind of a momentous day when you get to harvest and eat your first fruit of the season. Delayed gratification has never been my thing, so the whole idea of working at something and waiting for three months ... well, let's just say it's not the most natural posture in the world for me.

Today, I finally harvested and ate my first tomatoes of the season, and they were yellow pears. Actually, not only were they my first tomatoes of the season, they were also my first yellow pear tomatoes ever and HOLY CRAP, THESE ARE GOOD! They are juicy and tender, and easily one of the sweetest tomatoes I've ever eaten. It's not hard to picture people eating these things out of a bowl like candy ... they're that sweet. The only problem I can foresee is we won't have enough of them. I enthusiastically recommend these little guys.

I've also started my second planting of the season, and I'm hoping to get them outside in the next week or two. This time around, I'm doing Early Wonder (an early harvest variety, about 55 days from planting to harvest) and I'm doing another round of Brandywines. I've got lots of plans for the Brandywines this go round, but I'll save that for another post. I've been talking to some professional tomato growers, and let's just say my thinking is evolving on certain issues. If anybody is having success with Brandywines, I'd love to hear how you're doing it. So far, I've set one measly tomato on the two Brandywine vines I'm growing. So a quick word to the squirrels, caterpillars and rats: touch that tomato and die. You can have the paste tomatoes, the Big Boys, even the yellow pear and Cherokee purple (which are setting fruit like maniacs). But paws off the Brandywine.

Anyway, my final thought: in the interest of experimenting, I'm going to plant this next round into homemade self-watering containers. I poked around the Intrawebz and found some basic plans for EarthBox-like containers, and honestly, it doesn't look like rocket science. Let's just say the whole principle of the thing isn't too complicated. I think all it will take is a few buckets, a few pieces of PVC, and a drill. I'm on it. I'll post pix and plans when I'm done.

Finally, thanks to everybody who has written me. I'm ridiculously envious of some of the growing set-ups I've seen. We're all dealing with the same thing down here—frequently poor soil with nematodes, cold weather protection, and lots of disease. So it's pretty cool to see all the ways people have figured out how to deal with it.


  1. My plants are doing quite well at the moment. I live in Deerfield Beach, east of dixie/ west of US1. My eggplant has a little burned leaves, only minor burn on tomatoes, beans good. Lemon boys are coming in great right now, looks about 2 weeks away from picking. Giant Belgum are doing better than in the past, so far so good. Love your blog !

  2. Hey, Bob, you're right around the corner from me ... which means you also have close access to Nu-Turf, my by-far favorite garden center in Broward for supplies.

    I'm surprised you got eggplant through the cold without much problem. They are notoriously sensitive to cold weather. You must have a nice protected microclimate there!

    I love Giant Belgiums. They're very impressive tomatoes and make awesome sandwiches. I got a few last year that must have weighed around 2 lbs. Good luck with yours.

  3. Jon - I have a question -- might be a dumb one. I know it is important that tomato plants get enough calcium and that you make sure to supplement your soil with it in some form. I plant in ground. I added tons of compost to my garden plot, but it started with the existing white sandy soil we have in South Florida. Isn't that white sandy stuff made of limestone?..and isn't limestone primarily composed of calcium? If so, should I be worried at all whether my soil has enough calcium?

  4. Grrr ... I typed a long comment, but it got erased, so I'll try to recapture the magic.

    In a nutshell, yes, Florida soil is mostly limestone, which is derived from calcium so there's no reason to add minerals to native Florida soil. However, it's also high pH (alkaline), infested with nematodes, and has poor nutrient-holding capacity.

    To get around this, people add organic matter like compost or peat, which are more acidic and drop pH (tomatoes like a slightly acidic environment), have better nutrient-holding capacity, and deter nematodes. However, these organic amendments lack the minerals that are naturally found in Florida's soil. It's a bit of a trade-off.

    In my case, I don't "amend" the soil as much as I "replace" it. I dig a giant hole and backfill with my own mix, which includes dolomite to correct the pH and supply minerals. If you are truly amending native Florida soil, you probably don't need to add minerals since they are there already. In this case, you're looking to strike the right balance between pH, nutrient-holding capacity, and mineral content. The only truly accurate way to figure out if you hit it right is to have your soil tested ... which seems a little nuts since it costs like $70.

    In this case, I would skip the dolomite, use a really good balanced fertilizer, and watch the tomatoes closely. If they start to develop blossom end rot (a calcium deficiency), you can treat with a calcium spray that should correct the problem on future tomatoes.