Feb 25

4 Ways to Get Tomatoes Sooner

It probably dates back to the Victory Gardens, or even before, that suburban gardeners have unspoken competitions as to who would get that first ripe tomato.

For us country dwellers, it is more a matter of feeding the need to taste a sun ripened tomato again ASAP that drives us to find ways to make that a reality.

Here are a few things you can do to make it happen in your garden.

1. Starting Seeds Indoors

It is really easy to start your own seeds, and there is a lot of help online to make your efforts more successful. Usually you start 6-8 weeks before your last spring frost date, by starting sooner you can get results earlier. Keep in mind that with most tomato varieties you will need to use at least one additional method to protect those seedlings.
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2. Season Extenders
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These can range from a simple inverted liter soda bottle to more elaborate cold frames, row covers, and even greenhouses. What you choose depends on your budget mostly, but also on how much you want to extend the season. Wall O' Waters are relatively inexpensive and a very effective tool, plus they last for years. You can use clear plastic garbage bags or commercial plastic, just be sure it doesn't touch the plants.

Clear plastic can also be used to warm up your soil sooner, a good idea if you are trying your hand at planting out earlier, most tomatoes need warm enough soil to thrive.
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3. Patio Varieties
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If size doesn't matter to you, consider trying patio tomatoes. Larger than cherry types but smaller than full size tomatoes, these container friendly varieties can be brought indoors if frost threatens. Time them accordingly, but you should be able to get at least a few weeks on the season. If a Wall O' Water fits your container, even better.

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4. Grow Oregon Spring or Legend Tomatoes

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These varieties were developed by Oregon State University through normal plant breeding to be exceptionally cold tolerant. They can be planted outside as much as a month before the last spring frost. Barring a very hard frost, they can take the cold with out additional protection. They produce a nice tomato too.

So here's our plan:

We have started seeds indoors for Oregon Spring and 2 types of Patio Tomatoes. We will use clear plastic to get our bed ready for the Oregon Spring, and will be transplanting the Patio Tomatoes in the greenhouse. If we didn't have that, we would use Wall O' Waters.

We expect to get tomatoes more than a month sooner than we usually do.

One year we actually had some in mid-June, where late July to early August is the norm.

Can we get them even earlier than that?

We'll keep you posted.

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Feb 21

Garden Planning – 5 Resources

Gardening Jones looks at a few good sites for gardening info, besides her own of course.

Even though I have been gardening for 30 years, and blogging about for over 7, I still turn to others to learn more. Like any good pursuit, the quest for getting better and more successful at it never ends.

There are a few sites that I value BAE 😉 that I would like to share with y'all.

1. Mike the Gardener's site, pictured above, is a wealth of real info from real people. His podcasts and videos on YouTube are a great way to learn more than you would even think to ask. He gardens and keeps chickens himself, and with his family, in New Jersey.

2. Johnny's Select Seeds' website, as well as their seed catalog itself, offer great info in print. A copy of their seed starting calculator sits prominently on my bulletin board year end and year out. Their catalog is one I keep every year as a great resource to questions I get asked. I never answer a question without double checking my information.

3. Again with seed starting, Mother Earth News will send you an email reminding you what you can start indoors or plant outside based on your area. If you don't want to be on another email list, you could get a general idea of what seeds to get ready based on your region here. Not as specific though as an email or as the Johnny's seed starting calculator.

4. For in-depth vegetable gardening information, check out Cornell University. They really are a good source for double checking the information you were given by someone else.

5. And for something a little different, print out these free coloring books from Botanical Interests. Whether you use them to teach kids the right colors of plants, or to simply reduce your stress level while waiting on spring, they are a good resource to use and share. Go to the bottom left on the home page and click on Botanical Interests Coloring Book.

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Feb 07

Garden Planning – 7 Tips for Stocking the Larder Shelves

Himself and I are about as different as any two married people can be.

Gardening Jones looks at planning a garden with storing the harvest in mind.

A sure sign of Spring - the onion drawer is almost empty.

He's coffee, I'm tea. He's salty, I'm sweet. If it is a choice between going left and going right, we won't go the same way.

For years after we got married we would buy two different brands of toothpaste.

You get the idea. And so it is with the gardens. He thinks the priority should be fresh eating, I lean more towards stocking the shelves for the winter.

So our harvest ends up being a compromise of both; something we have gotten very good at these last 40 years.

Here are some of ours (my) thoughts on planning a garden for stocking up:

  1. Check out this book review on Preserving Food Without Canning or Freezing. There are so many ways to safely hold your harvest that you may not know of.
  2. Consider growing plants for Lacti Fermenting. These are the real probiotics you hear about. Pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut are the best known examples, but you can preserve many veggies this way. We're adding napa cabbage , for his stir frys and my kimchi.
  3. Plan your garden according to what you expect to use. This planning chart from Johnny's Seeds is a wonderful way to figure it out. Of course, hands on experience is the best way to learn. We know for example that one baby watermelon plant is enough for us, but it takes a full tower of dry beans to meet our needs.
  4. Although there is nothing like a veggie freshly picked to eat, there are ways to hold your produce that comes quite close. Did you know you can store carrots fresh in sand? Read about that here. Besides carrots, we also store onions, potatoes, winter squashes, cabbages and other coles, without preserving. If you have the room to grow corn, perhaps with your squash and beans, consider trying Stowell's Evergreen. It can be hung upside down and picked as needed for months after harvesting.
  5. Short on holding space for your veggies? With no basement and no garage, we got creative. This spare corner can hold a lot.
  6. Wherever possible, grow up. Many vegetables can be grown vertically, or at least have a variety in their arsenal that can. Consider growing Tromboncino zucchini instead of the more typical bush varieties. Bonus: It's squash vine borer resistant.
  7. Read the seed descriptions carefully, both online and in catalogs. Look for terms such as 'prolific' and 'abundant', also 'stores well' and 'good keeper'. If you intend to do succession planting, look for 'early', 'late' or 'fall' and 'short season'. All of these terms indicate that you can get more bang for your gardening buck.

So this summer he'll have his fresh snow peas and salad greens, and next winter I'll have squash.

And of course, we both get tomatoes.

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Feb 02

Garden Planning – 18 Tomatoes Making the Cut

Seeds from tomatoes can remain viable for 10 years or more, so it's easy enough to develop a collection of varieties.
Especially if you also save your own.

Gardening Jones shares which tomato varieties made the cut for 2017.

When I tell you, and this isn't bragging, that I have 43 packets of seeds that were given to me, saved, or purchased... well if you know me or have been reading here for a while, you won't be surprised. It's even worse when the oldest are only from 4 years ago.

It does present a problem though, as we don't own a farm and there has to be a cutoff.

So we narrowed it down to those listed below, a note as to whether they are heirloom (inc. open pollinated) or F1 hybrid, determinate or indeterminate, with a link where you can find seeds, and an explanation as needed.

Not that we need to be tempted into trying more varieties, but which have you chosen for this year?

Variety HL or F1 Habit Notes
Roma* HL Dt Great sauce type.
San Marzano* HL Dt One of our favorite sauce types.
German Johnson* HL Ind Our all-time favorite red/pink brandywine variety.
Pompeii F1 Ind Another delicious sauce type with good disease resistance.
Tiren F1 Ind Very early sauce type fruits.
Sungold* F1 Dt We saved our seeds from this hybrid and it will be fun to see what happens.
Jersey Devils* HL Ind This is one of those varieties we originally got from a friend.
Pineapple* HL Ind Have had these seeds for 2 years it's about time.
Kellogg's Breakfast* HL Ind Heard so many good things about this one.
Goliath F1 Ind What can I say- it sounds perfect.
Big Rainbow* HL Ind Caught me eye sometimes it is just that simple.
Cherokee Purple* HL Ind Tried these once before with little success- but everyone else raves so we'll give it another go.
AAS Chef's Choice Yellow F1 Ind Can't wait to try this latest AAS winner.
AAS Chef's Choice Green F1 Ind We trialed these last year and loved how they add great color variety.
Oregon Spring* HL Dt Can take our cold Pa. springs better than any other.
Pink Oxheart* HL Ind We just love the heart shape.
Cream Sausage* HL Dt Our only white variety this year.
BHN-589* F1 Dt We grew this last year and it did very well in the wee greenhouse.

*We were very happy to see these varieties were also recommended by Craig LeHoullier in his wonderful book Epic Tomatoes.
More about All-America Select Winners

NOTE: We are not financially affiliated with any of these seed companies. We do freely trial seeds for All-America Selections.
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Jan 30

Garden Planning – Using Visuals

Gardening Jones shares how she plans out the gardens each year.

Gardeners know the winter months are made more bearable by planning for the upcoming gardening seasons.

We like to use visuals to get a feel for what we will plant. It also is a great way to remember for the following year, in case some crop rotation is needed.

Usually we start out with a spreadsheet. Years ago we used to draw the gardens by hand, but since we often make changes even at planting time, we found planning on the computer easier.

This is an Excel spreadsheet, but any one would do. You could also use a word document.

To set up your spreadsheet:

1. Draw the basic garden design using borders and/or fill colors over the cells.
2. Type in any perennials.
3. Add in any perennials you will be planting this year.
4. If you plan to use this program for multiple years, copy your basic diagram and save to another sheet.
5. Rename your sheets accordingly.
6. Add in your annuals.
7. Notate any succession planting you intend to do.
8. You can also add in your transplanting and seed sowing dates.

Pretty basic stuff really. As the weather gets warmer and we have seedlings about ready, we write in the specific varieties that had not be noted yet. We like to print out the sheet when we begin to plant, to make sure we plant the specific variety we are supposed to.

Sometimes we will add in anything unusual, like a new bug infestation. Bllck.

We keep our printed sheets in a binder. It is fun to see how the gardens have changed over time. 2017 will be the 21st. garden at this house.

Of course, like everything else nowadays, there are aps for this. Here are a few to consider.

My Dad is in his 90's, and although very tech savvy, he still uses a pencil and graph paper.
After 30 years of growing, spreadsheet is about as modern as I care to get. :-)

More on succession planting.
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Jan 23

12 Random Things to Know About Saving Seeds

how to save seeds

  1.  Let cucumbers get over ripe, even turn yellow, before saving the seeds.
  2. Know that veggies can only cross with their same species. So a zucchini might cross with a pumpkin, both are C. pepo, but not with a hubbard squash, C. moschata. More on that here.
  3. Tomatoes can cross pollinate, but it is much less likely than squash. The same holds true for their relatives, eggplants and peppers. These plants usually provide their own pollination.
  4. Beans and peas self-pollinate as the flowers open up. Let the seeds inside dry, and you are good to go.
  5. The seeds found in the first tomato on the plant are the same as the last tomato. So don't worry about trying to keep the best one for its seeds.
  6. Know that parsnips and carrots are perennial plants, and will only provide you with seeds the next year if they survive your winter. We're still pulling out parsnips from this experiment.
  7. Many people freeze seeds, but we don't. Once they are dry, we just store in a container that allows for air-flow, like a plain envelope. This also keeps them in the dark. We use a room that is only minimally heated.
  8. If you have a critter problem like mice, you will need to store in a metal or glass container. In this case, add a silica desiccant packet to keep your seeds dry. You can get them fairly cheap online. You can also use rice or powdered milk, just keep an eye on it.
  9. Be sure to date your seeds. Most seeds will last for years. Here's a list of the very minimum storage times. Many gardeners have successfully used seeds much older. Here's our take.
  10.  As seeds age, their germination rate lowers. This just means that they may not all sprout as they would if they were only from last year. If you have an abundance, you can check their germination rate yourself. Simply place 10 or more seeds in a paper towel or napkin, and keep it warm and moist. See how many seeds sprout. If the percentage is low, plant more than you would normally.
  11. You can get seeds on the cheap from the grocery store. Dry beans and un-roasted peanuts are two examples. Buy them once and you'll have seeds forever.
  12. Most commercial squash is grown in large fields, so there is less chance of cross pollination than you would have in your garden. We suggest you buy a winter type squash, and remove the seeds before cooking. This is another cheap way to get a lot of seeds. We buy Fenugreek seeds in bulk for sprouting, and then use some of those seeds in the garden.
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Jan 13

13 Varieties of Sweet Peppers

 

Gardening Jones shares some varieties of sweet peppers you may want to check out.

We haven't tried all these sweet peppers yet, but thought we would share what got our attention. Note that we are not affiliated with the companies we have linked. We just added those in case you wanted to get a look at the fruit.

Note the DTM or Days to Maturity are for transplants. HL stands for heirloom and would include open pollinated plants. F1 refers to any hybrid.

Variety HL or F1 Color Size DTM Notes
Cornito Giallo F1 Orange 5" 75 AAS Winner
Sheepnose Pimento HL Red 3-4" 70-80 Very thick wall
White Cloud HL White - Redish Orange Average 70 Container
Gypsy F1 Yellow - Red 4" Tapers 60-70 AAS Winner
Baby Belle F1 Green - Red 2" 80 Container
Horizon HL Orange Average 75-80
Purple Beauty HL Purple Average 75 Turns green when cooked
Chinese Giant HL Red 5-6" 80 Thin fruit for largest peppers
Sunbright HL Yellow Average 70
Early Sunsation F1 Yellow 4-5" 70
Red Belt F1 Red 5-6" 60-70 Tapered bell
Sweet Pickle HL Multi-colored 2" 65-70 Container
Red Majesty F1 Red Average 80

Learn more:

Do's and Don'ts of Growing Peppers
What Days to Maturity really means.

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Oct 30

Chef’s Choice Green Tomato

Gardening Jones shares her experience trialing the All America Select winner Chef's Choice Green Tomato.

Chef's Choice Green

 

Chef's Choice Green is another in the line of wonderful AAS winning hybrid tomatoes. We tried Orange also, read about that here.

 

We really liked the taste, very homegrown tomato much like any good red variety. But the color lends itself to more interesting dishes than the typical tomato recipes.

Please note that if you intend to process ripe green tomatoes to use a recipe for red tomatoes, not one meant for unripe green tomatoes such as some Salsa Verde recipes. The reason is the acid level in a ripe green tomato is different from that of an unripe tomato. Since acid is what is helping the fruit stay safe it is important to be sure. We combined the orange and green varieties for delightful salsa that's both pretty ans tasty.

So anyway we found this variety to be our third to ripen, about 3 months after transplanting, and quite prolific. It is an indeterminate variety, producing 8-10 ounce fruits right up until frost. It held up pretty well to our early blight, better than others, and is resistant to Tomato Mosaic Virus as well as a few other diseases.

Gardening Jones shares her experience with the AAS winner Chef's Choice Tomato.

Photo by All-America Select

One of the most common questions we get asked is how to tell when a green variety of tomato is ripe. As you can see in the picture above, Chef's Choice Green gets yellow shoulders upon ripening. Of course you can also tell by squeezing the fruit, but this visual is much easier.

We are looking forward to testing the Pink this summer. Some of our fellow gardeners tell us they feel that variety has the best flavor. No sense just taking their word for it. 😉

We'll be sure to let you know our opinion.

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Oct 23

7 Random Gardening Tips

Gardening Jones shares a few gardening tips, including info on making these Tomato Shooters.

Wash, stem, and soak.

Here are a handful of gardening tips to help make your experience just a little more successful, and therefore, enjoyable:

  1. Your tomatoes can still ripen on the vine even when frost threatens them. Simply dig them up, trim off the dirty end or wash, and hang the plants upside down in a warm area. They will ripen slowly and taste almost as good as if they ripened in the sun,
  2.  Avoid dealing with Squash Vine Borers by planting varieties that don't have hollow stems, like any found in the species C. moschata. We intend to try some new ones this year, including Organic Pilgrim, Organic Texas India Moschata, Chirimen, and Honeynut. Learn more about these varieties here. Here are some more C. moschata you might like. If you have a long enough growing season, you can plant your squash a little later after the threat has subsided.
  3.  You can help prevent cutworm damage by placing paper or cardboard collars around the bases of you plants at planting time. You can make them from sturdy paper, or simply cut down paper towel or bath tissue tubes to size. Push them into the soil slightly. Later in the season they can be removed if need be, If you have never had cutworms, lucky you! They can do a lot of damage eating through the stems of young plants in a very short period of time,
  4. Plan on succession planting, especially if your season is limited. Following one crop with another increase your yield dramatically. Be sure to replenish your soil, and take into consideration any disease or pest issues. It might be hard to find plants later in the season, so learning how to start seeds is a good idea. In the long run, it will save you money as well.
  5. Similarly, know which crops can take the cold and either plant them early, or later in the season, to extend your growing time. Carrots, for example, can be harvested until the ground freezes. Some greens, like mache aka corn salad, can survive most winters.
  6. Good organic compost is essential to plant growth. Too many gardeners over-fertilize, when all they really needed was some well balanced compost. A healthy soil will have lots of little life forms in it, and smell healthy. If your soil looks dead, it probably is.
  7. Check out alternative ways to preserve your produce in addition to canning and freezing. Pictured above are tiny tomatoes soaking in alcohol. They can be used as a adult beverage garnish, or if cooked the alcohol will burn off. Similarly we make our own extracts. Here's more on that.

More Gardening Tips

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Sep 04

Chef’s Choice Orange Tomato

Gardening Jones shares her thoughts on the AAS Winner Chef's Choice Orange Tomato.

Artisan style pizza with orange marinara? Multi-color Tomato Salad?

Yep, You Can Grow That!

This is the first time we have ever grown an orange tomato, hard to believe I know. So we cannot compare it to another orange type, but just share our thoughts.

We love this 2014 All America Selection for a number of reasons:

  1. It was one of our earlier maturing tomatoes, coming in even before the San Marzano.
  2. The plants held up pretty well to the Septoria that developed in the beds. Not all the other plants did, some even developed spots on the fruit. Yuk.
  3. The fruit is a decent size, and pretty meaty. Ours ranged from 10-14 ounces each.
  4. Quite productive, and still going strong even in September.
  5. The flavor is delightful. It has the taste of a tomato of course, but then again not. Difficult to describe, it is much milder than a typical red tomato, but certainly not bland; sweet and less acidic.
  6. The flat shape lends itself perfect for slicing.
  7. Didn't crack like some of the varieties we are growing.

We added it to a colorful salsa and the orange color held up well. We're going to keep the remainder of the crop to make an interesting marinara. I can just picture the pizza with brightly colored red peppers, black olives, and green onions. Yum.

The Chef's Choice Tomatoes also come in green and pink varieties. Soon we will be reviewing the green, and plan on trying the pink next summer. One of our social media friends says the pink is also well worth the try.

Days to Maturity: 75 from transplants

Height: 5 Ft.

Habit: Indeterminate

Fruit Size: 10-16 ounces

Heritage: F1 hybrid of an Amana Orange

you can grow that is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage everyone to get growing.

 

 

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