Thursday, November 1, 2012

You Are Being Redirected!

To my new tomato website. Same content, better site! Enjoy!
So here's a bit of blog update ... I've been working on a tomato-growing website other than this one for a while now (including importing the old content from this site over to that site). The new site is bigger and will hopefully be better, and it doesn't have the same restrictions as a blog. ALSO, I'm getting closer and closer to starting my late-season garden (the move is progressing nicely), and I won't be updating this blog anymore. Instead, I'll be blogging over there ( So the upshot is that, very soon, I'm going to be automatically redirecting this page to the new site. Which means if you come here in the next day or so and get bounced over there, you'll know why.

And thanks everyone for visiting this blog and helping me build it. I know I've been a bad blogger this season, but life upheaval has intervened. But I've enjoyed every minute of the growing and blogging experience.

See you at the new place!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Am I Like Where's Waldo?

Happy fall, Tomato People! Just a quick note ... I've gotten a few letters from readers asking what was going on with this season. Well, here's the bad news. We are really and truly moving now. We spent all summer house-shopping, found a place six weeks ago, and are closing next week. Then moving. So obviously, I couldn't move a huge veggie garden (it already feels like I'm moving a ridiculous mountain of boxes). This means I have not started any plants this year. The good news is that I'm hoping to still get a late-season garden going at the new place. I've already been scouting around for good light and whatnot. So I hope everyone's season has gotten off to a good start, and hopefully you'll see me around later.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Update from TomatoLand

Hey, everybody! Happy hot weather ... So I've been getting the occasional email with variations on the same question: "Did you get run over by a bus? What happened to you?"

First, no, I did not get run over by a bus. I'm still alive and kicking, although I'm eating a lot fewer fresh veggies because I had to take the garden out already this year. This last season, though, was just wonderful. I grew fewer plants than normal and had to scale back some of my loftier ambitions, but still had one of the most spectacular harvest years I've had in a while. The four main varieties I grew--Better Boy, Paul Robeson, Kellogg's Breakfast, and striped zebra--all performed like mad. I had to give a special notice to the Better Boys, which must have put out 30 pounds of fruit quickly. The Kellogg's Breakfast were also pretty amazing ... huge, juicy orange fruit. Now, it turns out I'm not the world's biggest fan of orange tomatoes (I like my tomatoes a little more acidic), but I'd still grow them again just for the sheer novelty of tomatoes that look like small basketballs.

But why, then? Why did I take the garden out early?

Well, referencing my last post (ye ole robbery), we are in the process of moving. We're relocating locally, but we've been getting the house ready and doing repairs, etc. That unfortunately included taking out the winter garden. Like many people, we have a small yard, so every winter I build an edifice to veggies in the backyard, but every trace of it disappears in the summer so the family can actually use the yard and pool without dodging containers. This year, it happened a bit early so we can have people through the house.

I am also getting a fair number of people enquiring about starting veggie gardens now. Here's my answer: resist the urge. I can already anticipate there are those among you who are outraged at the very idea. "But I've been growing veggies in South Florida summers for years!" Yes, yes. I know. I know people who do it too, and do it well. But in my opinion, that's a game for the experienced grower because there are many more challenges. Nevertheless, if you must plant veggies this summer, stick with hot-season crops like okra, African long beans, and eggplant. In terms of tomatoes, you can also grow the tiny and quite tasty Everglades cherry tomato. The trick is finding seeds, but they're rampant growers even in the summer.

Anyway, thanks everybody for sticking with me this season and it's been great to hear that so many people had great harvests this year. Take that, bland mass-produced tomatoes! We're coming for you ...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Best One-Day Harvest in a Long Time

Judging from the pictures that have been popping up in my in-box, I'm not the only one who's having a good year. I tell you, aside from that cold snap a few weeks ago, this season has been sprinkled with some kind of magic dust. The weather has been perfect, the pests have been well in hand, and even the diseases haven't been too bad.

Yesterday, my six-year-old and I went out after school and we had the best one-day harvest I've had in a long time. We've been getting fruit every day now for a while, and there is still tons and tons more left on the vine, but this was just yesterday:

It's hard to see, because I didn't include a ruler for scale, but those big ones are all in the 1.5 lb. range. Also, the Kellogg's Breakfast (orange) have started to come in, and the Paul Robesons (dusky, upper left corner) are beginning to bear more heavily. The star of the day, though, were the Brandyboys. This plant is a champion performer, with beautiful and huge tomatoes. True, they aren't as tasty as the Brandywine, but it's hard to argue with piles of gorgeous fruit.

Before I sign off, though, a word ... I've been a bit slower to respond to emails these last few weeks, and my posting schedule has been thrown off. I've been sitting on a tremendous guest post from a pepper-grower who has all kinds of good advice about growing peppers (something I clearly haven't mastered yet). And I've got some truly eye-popping harvest pictures from fellow growers. Also, I've been collecting questions for a Q&A post—those are always nice.

But ... these last few weeks have been a karmic disaster around here, and it's gummed up the works. I started wondering last week if we had somehow pissed off the Big Guy Upstairs. In these last few weeks, we had a new pet kitten die, our family room flooded with two inches of water thanks to a faulty washing machine, my wife got in a car wreck that caused $8,000 in damage to her car, and our house was broken into and we were relieved of most of our electronics and jewelry. They even took a jar of quarters I'd been saving for 15 years, the bastards. This helps explain in part why I stopped posting photos for a while. No camera.

I tell you, I'm thankful first of all that everyone near and dear has remained healthy throughout (except that poor week-old orphaned kitten we tried to nurse). No one was hurt in the car accident, and thankfully no one was home when they broke into our house. Our misfortunes have been of the purely material kind (again, except for the kitten, who we named Lucky but turned out not to have luck on her side after all). And I'm thankful too that these are temporary misfortunes: we are still gainfully employed, etc. I would never presume to rank this rough patch with the more serious misfortunes that lurk out there—I am lucky, and I know it.

That said, the garden has been a bright spot in my winter. It's true, what they say about the restorative effect of growing things. It's been nice to go outside and see something working right. And I confess: part of me has wondered. To get into our house, the thieves had to walk past my tomato patch. And I wonder if they noticed the vines laden with enormous, lovely fruit, and if somewhere in their fuzzy, criminal brains, they didn't stop for one second to think, "Wow. Those are nice tomatoes."

Probably not. But it's still a nice thought.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Quick Harvest Picture

Not a bad morning ... I'm starting to harvest big tomatoes pretty much every morning now. This picture shows green zebras, two Paul Robesons (woo hoo!), and a whole lotta Brandyboys. One nice thing: the Kellogg's Breakfast are slow to ripen, so I'm not getting my whole harvest at once, which is annoying because one household can only eat so many tomatoes.

I'll post on the Brandboys later, but so far, I've been very impressed with the yield on these suckers. These are very productive plants ...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day Two: Tomatoes and Cold Weather

There must be a better way ... I'm right now thinking of developing a way to better protect tomatoes than sheets and bags. Maybe I'll give LEDs a try. Or maybe I'll invest in a small heater of some kind to put under the sheets. Anyway, going on Day Two of this cold snap, I thought I'd update on the damage. And be prepared: today's blog is full of dead things. It's not a great day in TomatoLand.

Cold damage to tomatoes is an insidious thing. It tends to creep up on the plant, so it might take hours or even a day or two to see the full effects of the damage. It might be tempting to cut away wilted, dying or dead growth right away, but it's important to resist that urge. First, there's no sense in shocking the plant. Second, you don't yet know the true extent of the damage. So I say wait until the damage is completely revealed, then cut away the dead parts of the plant. And don't worry if you have tomatoes on the vine—they will still ripen, even on vines that are heavily damaged. Also, you might be surprised: the plants will often bounce back surprisingly well as soon as the weather warms up.

Anyway, last night I did the best job yet of covering my plants. I first covered them in giant bags, then wrapped them in sheets. The worst damage from last night appeared where the plants actually touched the insulation material, which acted as a conduit for cold temperatures. Otherwise, all of the damage in the pictures below is from the night before, when the plants blew over. The first picture shows the north exposure (direct exposure to a cold wind); the second picture shows the southern exposure on the same plant. So you see ... the damage is extensive but limited to the northern side.

And lastly, this isn't tomato related, but also kind of a bummer. I'm a pretty dedicated lover of lizards. I was the kind of kid who begged for things that slithered and caught snakes by the bagful in the forests and swamps around my house. While other kids were dressing their puppies in adorable hats, I was breeding praying mantis. So I was kind of saddened to find this knight anole dead on our porch overhang last night. Yes, I know he's an invasive species, etc., etc., etc., but still ... that's a tough way to go.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Damn Wind

Remember how I said that, barring some kind of disaster, this was a magical season? Ha ha. I suppose this is what I get for getting greedy and growing 10-foot top heavy vines. I was prepared for the cold, but not the wind. Or at least not prepared enough. I woke up this morning to see that two large towers of Paul Robesons and Kellogg's Breakfast had blown over. Fortunately (I guess), their fall was broken by our patio furniture, so I don't believe the plants were actually uprooted. Just very annoyed. So I don't know if you can see very well, but I stood the towers back up and ended up tying everything off to my fence. For reference, that's a 7-foot fence (below).

In better news, though, I did harvest my first ripe tomato this morning (below). There's something wonderful about that first tomato of the season. It's a Brandyboy, so I'm really looking forward to lunch--and not just because I'm hungry. Let's see how these Burpee hybrids stack up against the Brandywines they were bred to imitate. It doesn't have the same ribbed shoulders exactly, but it's a lovely fruit.

And just to make myself feel a bit better, I've posted a few pictures of tomates still on the vine (Brandyboys, Paul Robeson, first and second pictures below). The fruit is still mostly green, but the tomatoes are fist-sized now and starting to lighten up (the first stage in ripening). So assuming the cold isn't too bad tonight and nothing else blows over, I'm thinking the harvest will start in earnest in about two weeks.

But really? Did they have to blow over?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Cover 'Em Up

Well, I guess we were bound to hit some bumps sooner or later ... and tonight is going to be one of those bumps. With temperatures expected to drop well below 50˚F tonight, it's time to take preventive measures. (Any temperatures below about 50˚F begin to interfere with tomatoes setting fruit.)

So, here are the steps I'll be taking tonight:

  1. Deeply water the tomatoes as night sets in. Water is a great insulation and protects tender roots. As you water at night, though, make extra sure not to get any water on the leaves.
  2. Cover the tomatoes with sheets. Try to get as much coverage as possible.
And I've never done this myself, but I've heard of people using LED holiday lights with great success. The LED lights put off just a tiny bit of heat, just enough to keep the plants warm. Professional growers also use misters to prevent frost, but I don't think we're at that point yet.

I've already got a little bit of cold damage on some of the leaves (purplish blotches) from these last few nights, but I expect tonight to represent the first real challenge to the healthy plants. So cover 'em up and cross your fingers ...