Friday, December 23, 2011
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Monday, October 24, 2011
- Neem oil. I've not used neem on tomatoes, but overall it's kind of wonderful stuff. It's an insecticide with anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It's very safe for humans, and I've already started treating the plants once a week with it.
- Copper fungicide. This is an organic fungicide. I'm using it as a weekly spray to prevent early season fungus from taking hold (hopefully).
- BT (bacillus thuriengiensis). This is the mother of all anti-caterpillar treatments. I use the powder and sprinkle it on the plants liberally maybe once a month or so.
- Fafard 3B Professional Mix, which is basically just composted peat moss, perlite, pine bark fines, and dolomite lime
- Composted cow manure, for a slight organic food boost
- Perlite, to air out the mix after I add the cow manure (which is too heavy for good drainage, and good drainage is ESSENTIAL for good plant growth)
- Dolomite lime, just a few tablespoons to boost the calcium and counteract the manure's acidity
- Blood meal, for nitrogen
- Bone meal, for another boost of calcium
Thursday, October 6, 2011
I know that's the same photo I just used, but I wanted it for contrast. This plant already has several sets of mature leaves and is as tall as my hand.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
- Green Zebra tomatoes (25 gal. container)
- Brandy Boy tomatoes (25 gal. container). I understand this is a controversial choice among many serious tomato growers. Brandy Boy is a hybrid created by Burpee seed company. It supposedly has the taste of the Brandywine, which is stellar, plus better disease resistance and vigor. The problem is, many people who are serious about heirlooms really detest Burpee, for a whole bunch of reasons. I get it. But I've heard good things about this tomato and I figured I'd give it a try.
- Kellogg's Breakfast tomatoes (25 gal. container). Giant orange beefsteak tomatoes. They're a bit trendy, sure, but they're Giant Orange Beefsteak Tomatoes. I'm in.
- Paul Robeson tomatoes (25 gal. container). I'm ridiculously excited about these. The Paul Robeson is a black tomato, similar to the Cherokee Purple, with a supposedly excellent flavor. I can't wait to see if these live up to the hype.
- Laroma III paste tomatoes (2 x 15 gal. containers). I like a lot of paste tomatoes for salsa and whatnot. These are VFFNA, so they should have good disease resistance.
- Various lettuce greens. This includes a mescal mix, mustard greens, and Swiss chard. I've been on a big greens kick this year. Not only are leafy greens great for you, they're just good.
- Strawberries (AgroTower stackable containers). I'm doing another tower of strawberries, but this time a smaller one. We shall see.
- Broccoli (Earthbox). This is a no-fail way to produce awesome broccoli.
- Habanero peppers (Earthbox). Chocolate habanero (see above: salsa).
- Bell peppers (Earthbox). Because they rule.
- Herbs. Probably a full herb garden ... plus I established lemon grass over the summer, so I've got lots of Thai food growing in my yard.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Monday, April 4, 2011
One of the great things about running this blog is getting pictures from fellow gardeners all over South Florida of their own tomato gardens. This year in particular, I've gotten a few from gardeners who are doing pretty incredible things ... including Brian. Brian grows hydroponic tomatoes in a set-up he created himself, and he's probably too modest to say it, but he strikes me as a mad genius. So I asked Brian if he'd be willing to share his method and he agreed.
For the uninitiated among us, hydroponics is the practice of growing plants in a water/nutrient solution, without soil or potting media. The plants are rooted in a sterile mixture for support, and they obtain their nutrients directly from the water. In addition, root-zone aeration is increased, sometimes dramatically, depending on the type of hydroponic setup you're using. But I'll let Brian tell the rest ...
1. So you're growing tomatoes hydroponically outdoors. How did you decide to go that route and what's your basic set-up look like?
In a nutshell, my local soil stinks. I already had a 440-gallon rain barrel collection setup, so trying hydroponics made sense. I researched hydroponics on the Internet and it sounded promising. I decided to set up a test garden and see how it went. I chose the ebb and flow method as it seemed to meet my needs with the least hassle. The growing medium I chose was coco coir with a layer of red lava rock under it for added drainage. For my test setup, I used eight 5-gallon buckets, which I connected together using 1" PVC pipe and fittings. I used an old 15 gal. fish tank for my nutrient tank, and with some creative pipe work, I came up with a system that fills, drains, and controls overflow all from one point.
2. How many plants do you grow in each container? What kind of harvest are you getting?
My test garden consisted of five buckets with two tomato plants in each, one bucket had six silver queen corn plants, one bucket with basil, one bucket with six blue lake green bean plants, and on a whim, I planted a pumpkin seed from the Halloween jack-o-lantern I carved. All plants were started on November 1 from seed indoors using Rapid Rooter plugs and a fluorescent light. The harvest was beyond my expectations. Let's just say all the neighbors on my street received tomatoes. I never counted exactly, but the ten plants yielded close to 100 tomatoes, and there are still a few on the vine. Most were in the 1 lb+ range with a few coming close to 2 lbs. The six corn plants produced four usable ears, two of which filled in close to 100 percent. The basil grew like a weed; I would top it in half, and a week later it looked like I didn't touch it. The green beans produced four double handfuls of beautiful beans. The biggest kick I got was the pumpkin plant. I didn't even expect it to sprout. Not only did it sprout, it actually produced a pumpkin!
3. What was the hardest part to get right? I've heard that outdoor hydro is hard because of rain water, animals, etc., encroaching on the growing containers. Did you have issues like this?
My hydroponic garden is a work in progress so I can't say I've got it right yet! I have had great results so far with a few bumps. I think the most confusing issue I had was which nutrient solution to use. There are hundreds of them: powders, liquids, two-part mixes, three-part mixes, etc. It can be overwhelming to a novice, which I was. The other critical factor in hydro is the nutrient tanks' PH level. It's very important to monitor it and keep it within the range for what you're growing. It's easy to do, but must be done if you want great results.
Rain really hasn't been a issue up to this point. I'm a bit of a weather junkie so I check the radar daily. When rain is heading my way, I simply disconnect a fitting and the rain water flows through the buckets and onto the ground instead of back into the nutrient tank, which would dilute it. In reality, having your plants get a good rain is benificial, as it's recommended you flush your buckets with fresh water every week or so. This eliminates the buildup of unused nutrients and salts that can settle in the bottom of your buckets. Salts will block the roots from absorbing the nutrients they need. Surprisingly, the local critters have ignored my garden completely. We have racoons, opossums, and of course, birds. I haven't seen one bite or peck up to this point, knock on wood. My best guess is the neighbors leave enough dog/cat food outside to keep the wild critters content.
4. If someone wanted to start growing hydro tomatoes, where should they go for good information and resources? How can I get started?
Try www.simplyhydro.com. It's a great resource for the hydroponic beginner. It's a cleanly designed website with easy reading and clear information. Ive done my travels through the hydroponic web and their website is on target.
As far as tomato-specific websites, there are too many to remember, all with varying opinions. I took in as much information as I could and tried to balance it with my situation. You have to remember what works for a gal in Ohio might not work for us here in South Florida. Bugs, weather, etc. It's all different.
One great local resource for hydroponic information and products is Greentouch Hydroponics in Davie (5011 S. State Rd. 7, suite 104, 954-316-8815). Carey and Mike who work there are both very knowledgeble and helpful. Mike can go into detail on micronutrients like nobody's business. His nickname, Ozone, is well deserved. It's by far the best local Hydroponics store in Broward in my opinion. For online shopping, another great resource for hydroponic stuff is Grow Smart Hydroponics. They have fast shipping and great pricing and helpful staff as well.
5. What varieties of tomatoes are you growing? Do you have problems with fungal and bacterial diseases, etc.?
My first test setup, I planted Burpee Super beefsteak hybrids. They did great. The flavor was OK, and the size and quantity were outstanding. I currently have a second setup with another Burpee beefsteak variety just starting to flower. In the nursery, I have Heinz and Brandywine varieties almost ready for transplant. To me, the Brandywine will be the real test of my hydroponic setup. As you know, they can be finicky so I'm excited to get them going. Up to this point, powdery mildew has been my biggest fungal issue. It went untreated in the first test setup of tomatoes due to it showing up so late in the plant's development. The plants had already given me 50+ tomatoes, so I decided to let it go as the plants would be replaced soon with new ones. I've since been using preventitive spraying of Neem oil and seem to have the issue under control. Like everyone it seems, I have had some mystery leaf curl issues as well, but no real harm done there.
(From Jon ... if you have any questions about the particulars, leave them in the comments section and I'll make sure they get answered!)
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
- Brandywine: Amazing taste, beautiful tomato, the rightful queen of TomatoLand. After fending off massive disease problems with an aggressive spraying program, I got a medium yield of medium to large fruit. Still, just on bragging rights alone, this is a winner, and my friends and family loved them. My advice: if you're going to grow these, plan on spraying from the beginning.
- Cherokee purple. Beautifully colored, excellent fruit. I'll definitely grow these again—people regularly ask me if I have any more to give away. I also got a pretty heavy yield for an heirloom, although the fruit were generally a bit smaller than the Brandywines. It was somewhat more disease resistant than the Brandywine and ripened earlier, although they were also sprayed. The same advice applies here: if you're going to grow them, plan on spraying.
- Yellow pear. Slow to start, but once it kicked in, I got loads and loads of fruit. Whole baskets full of these things. They are very sweet and delicious and I got in the habit of leaving them around in bowls as snack food. I lost two plants, though, to yellow frizzy top disease.
- Victoria Supreme. Excellent disease resistance. Of all the tomatoes I grew this year, these were the only ones that didn't get sprayed at all. It's a great cooking tomato with very few seeds and quickly cooks down into a thick, rich sauce. I made up a sausage and pepper tomato sauce midway through the season, with fresh parmesan and a handful of basil, that was a big hit this winter. I'd grow these again as a standard paste tomato.
- Big Boy. Well, they grew at least. I dunno. These are pretty dependable producers, aside from some splitting, and they have great disease resistance. They're quite lovely, too. But in a side-by-side taste test with Brandwines, they just ... squish a bit in comparison.
- Early Wonders. I can see the appeal of a tomato that ripens in fifty days. It's really pretty amazing, especially considering that some of the others went WAY past their anticipated harvest dates before I started getting fruit. But these ... well, I don't want to speak ill of a tomato. Let's just say the flavor was insipid to middling and the skin was vaguely reptilian. I won't grow them again.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
#1: I've had a problem w/something eating the tomatoes (see photo above), usually the day before I planned to pick the fruit. Is there something I can spray/put on the tomatoes to repel pests?
Answer: I've had the same problem before ... to me, this looks like rat damage from Norway rats (or roof rats or fruit rats). If you live in a neighborhood with lots of fruit trees, there are going to be fruit rats outside, and guess what? They like tomatoes. Rats typically eat tomatoes at night, leaving dime- or quarter-sized holes in the fruit, ruining that piece of fruit. Personally, I don't spray for rats—it's never got bad enough that I had to worry about it, and I figure they can take a few and it won't really hurt me much. If I had to spray for them, I'd probably test a homemade garlic or cayenne spray on a few tomatoes to see if it hurt them, then try that as a deterrent.
#2: About the container size. I see where you suggest 10 gallon. What would be a good source of something
Answer: I buy used 25-gallon tree containers from a local tree nursery for $5 each. I'm not overly concerned about the look of my tomato containers, and I like the big ones, so it's usually a simple matter of asking if they have any old ones laying around that I can take off their hands. You can also buy large (and much better looking) containers at most big-box stores. Remember that a cubic foot equals about 7.5 gallons, so it will take about two cubic feet of soil to fill a 15-gallon container. If the container isn't labeled for size, use its soil-holding capacity as a general guide and remember: the bigger, the better.
#3: Will picking your tomatoes on the earlier side reduce pressure on the plant and allow it to set more fruit? I have a bunch in the light red phase right now, but due to the cold weather, not a ton of green fruit coming on. Wondering if picking will allow the plant to make more tomatoes?
Answer: Not really. Indeterminate tomatoes will continue to produce fruit as long as the vine is still growing. However, you can produce larger fruits by removing some of the flowers so the plant puts more energy into the fruits that remain. Also, topping your plants will encourage larger fruit and (obviously) stop new tomato production.
#4: My biggest frustration is with my tomato plants the past 2 years. I grow them in ground, they grow up as healthy large plants. They produce plenty of flowers-but before they have opportunity to fruit-something is eating them. Whatever it is seems to occur at night-the buds are nipped off one after another, only the flowers-the rest of the plant is fine. I have sprayed 'Safer" organic spray over the flowers and is not helping-more flowers have been eaten. I reviewed your blog but did not see anything mentioned regarding what pest could be causing this.
Answer: This was a stumper for me. I figured maybe some kind of beetle or caterpillar was active, so the standby treatment is bacillus thuringiensis (BT) for chewing insects. But honestly … I never did find a bug that targets tomato flowers specifically at night. If you are the author of this question and feel like jumping in, I'm very curious: whatever happened in the end? Did you take care of the issue and set some fruit after all?
#5: I'm worried about the cold front coming through early this week.What is the best way to protect them?
Answer: Ah, cold damage. This is persistent concern for us as we typically have at least one or two cold fronts pass through each year (although we've probably seen the last of our cold weather this year). In general, tomatoes can withstand down to 50 degrees without too much trouble, although they will likely stop setting fruit. If the weather is going below that, water the plants before the night sets, then cover the plants during the night. I've also seen people wrap their plants with LED holiday lights, which give off just the tiniest bit of heat, and it really seems to work.
#6: Since you use concrete reinforcing mesh for your cages, I'm curious if the rust on them is a concern?
Answer: The rust itself isn't a concern, but it's definitely best to keep your tomatoes off the wire supports. A tomato rubbing against its cage will cause misshapen, scarred and rough fruit.
And #7 … This question has been posed in various ways by lots of people, so I won't print any particular letter. And (just because I'm difficult like that) I'm not going to answer it right now either because it's a 10-pound question in a 2-pound bag. But here it is: "What are the best varieties of tomato to grow in South Florida?" You'll immediately see why it's such a big question—it's a bit like asking a parent which of their children is their favorite (the tall one? the smart one? the one that looks like you? or the one that doesn't look like you?). And it's also highly personal, because my taste in tomatoes might not be your taste in tomatoes. Nevertheless, in the near future I'll give you my two cents, for what it's worth. Which, in all reality, is just about two cents.
Monday, February 21, 2011
I have a mystery. Yesterday, I noticed the leaves on the upper half of my plant are starting to curl into burritos. I have changed nothing. I even brought the plant in when we had a very cold night a week ago. Can you diagnose for me?
Answer: Ah, leaf curl. It drives me crazy too, and I've spent untold hours trying to figure out what causes leaf curl and how to stop it. I ended up finding a lot of conflicting information and very few solid answers. In the end, though, leaf curl is a generally harmless condition and it won't affect your fruit set or harvest. As long as leaf curl is the only thing going wrong, no big deal. If it's accompanied by yellow leaves, brown spots, black spots, stunted or frizzy growth, or any other symptoms, that's a different ballgame and there's a problem.
#4: My local nursery sells their own mix of potting soil that sounds like what you get.
I don't have a list of the exact ingredient but from what I remember it contains
peat, fertilzer, dolomite, perlite. It comes in 2 cu/ft bags. Would this be good in my pots? Would you use only this or mix in something like Black Kow? How many bags are needed for a 25 gal. container?
Answer: At first glance, it sounds like a pretty standard potting mix and that's a good thing (with one caveat). The soil mix I typically use includes these same basic ingredients. But let me back up a few steps. A good potting soil mix has a few characteristics we care about: structure, water-holding capacity, nutrient-holding capacity, and an acceptable pH. Thus, a very basic mix might just contain peat (water and nutrient holding), perlite (structure, to allow drainage), and dolomite (a pH balancer). In higher end soils, you might also see pine bark fines (more structure). Anything after that is fertilizer or bonus ingredients, along with wetting agents to keep the soil moist in the bag. In general, I don't buy soil that has fertilizer already added to it—it's typically a balanced fertilizer and not geared for vegetable growth. Instead, I add my own fertilizer elements, like blood meal, bone meal and composted cow manure (Black Kow) to enrich the soil. I never recommend using soils with water retention crystals for tomatoes. So in answer, the question of adding organic fertilizer elements, like Black Kow, is a personal one. Personally, I do. BUT also remember, compost is heavy and reduces the soil's structure. So if you add stuff like compost to bagged soil, throw in 1 part perlite for every 2 parts of your compost addition. Keep the soil light, fluffy, airy, and able to drain quickly. You can always feed later in the season, but you can never correct for heavy, soggy soil.
Lastly, that's a good question about conversion rates, so here it is. There are 7.5 gallons in a cubic foot. So I use 25-gallon containers, which means it takes about 3 cubic feet of soil to fill them up and leave a little space at the rim. This can get pricey if you're buying custom mixes, so I tend to buy all my own bulk ingredients and usually spend about $100 in soil ingredients each season.
Whew. OK, so that's it for today. More coming, and if you have any questions, send 'em over and I'll add it to the list.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Monday, February 7, 2011
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
- Green: Most commercial tomatoes (except greenhouse tomatoes, which are allowed to fully ripen on the vine and marketed as "vine ripened") are picked at the "mature green" stage and either allowed to ripen during shipping or gassed with ethylene gas to promote rapid ripening. Tomatoes picked at this stage haven't had time to develop all the complex flavors yet, and gassing them only shortcuts the slow, complex ripening process. Ick.
- Breaker: A breaker is a fruit that is just beginning to change from green to yellow, pink, or red, with about 10 percent of the fruit's surface changing color.
- Pink: Tomatoes at this stage are covered with red on about 30% to 60% of the fruit.
- Light red: Between 60% and 90% of the fruit is red.
- Red: Fully ripened, with 90% of the fruit being red.
- Early in the season, I tend to pick tomatoes that are not yet fully ripe because I get impatient. Then I let them ripen inside while I stand over them yelling, "HURRY!" When they are fully ripe, we eat them. But sometimes, I'll break down and eat them before they are fully ripe, with a little salt and pepper.
- Later in the season, when we have so much fruit that I'm out of counter space, I let the tomatoes ripen fully on the vine outside and inevitably lose some beautiful ripe fruit to the various beasts that have been watching me grow their dinner all season.