Epsom Salts and tomatoes

 

Costuluto Genevese tomatoes

I’ve always used powered Epsom Salts in the bottom of my hole when I transplant my tomatoes in late spring. I read it helps with producing more blossoms and hence more tomatoes. It’s also good for peppers and roses. Epsom salt is a natural mineral that was originally found in a well in Epsom, England. It is magnesium sulfate. Magnesium is critical for seed germination and Sulpher is used for lowering the pH level in alkaline soils like we have here in New Mexico. Sulfur, is also a key element in plant growth.

What I didn’t know was that it is more immediately available to tomatoes and peppers when sprayed on your plant’s leaves vs sprinkling it on the ground. Dilute 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts with one gallon of water, and applied as a foliar spray. When applied this way,  Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants.

Here is an internet article on Epsom Salts that goes into more detail about it, a trial using it, and how to use it. From now on I will be spraying it on my plants instead of adding to the soil.

I do not add Epsom salts to my other vegetable plants, just my tomatoes and peppers.

Here is the complete article from Garden.org on Epsom Salts.

 

 

2020 tomato review-the ‘darlings’ of the veggie garden

2020 Tomato Review

As the Tomato Lady of Santa Fe, this year was a great tomato year in the garden especially compared to last year’s tomatoes which were dismal. This year I started with 38 plants, lost 2 right away to curly top virus and lost several more to a soil fungal disease but overall the disease level was very low due to it being such a dry year.  I think I had good production because I started them super early this year-May 6, which is the earliest I’ve ever put them in the ground and I gave them the water they needed.

Here are the tomato varieties I grew this year. If you haven’t even heard of some of these, I encourage you to try some new varieties for yourself-keeps it interesting!  Some of you may have had a great year with some of these varieties, so use your own experience when selecting which varieties to grow. All varieties are heirlooms or open pollinated unless otherwise noted.

Moby Dwarf cherry tomato trial project-This is a wonderful larger yellow cherry tomato. Wonderfully intense flavor. I was involved 2 years ago growing this out for Craig Lehouiller, author of Epic Tomatoes. I found some of the plants I grew had a anthocyanin blush (purple blush) on its shoulders so I’m continuing to see if we can get this trait to stabilize for future generations. The plant is only 4 feet tall, very prolific and would be great in large pots as well in the ground as I do. You can get the original seeds now online at Victory Seeds. A must try.  63 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

Black Cherry-I only grew one plant but boy was it prolific! This is one of my favorites that I grow every year. No disease. Very dependable. Purplish color. Great intense full bodied flavor like a good wine. 64 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

Virginia Sweets-A yellow tomato with red blush inside that is sweet, sweet, sweet. This year they did well although in some years not as good. But I always come back to them because when they do well, they are great! 80 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

Lucky Cross-One of my all-time favorites. This year the mice seem to really like them so I didn’t get as many as I would have liked. Great sweet flavor. Yellowish peachy color with marbled red interior. Wish I had more plants since I was sharing with the mice! 74 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

Ananas Noire-One of my favorites. Don’t be put off by the colors-green with a red blush but the flavor is sweet like nectar. Takes all season to get them but worth the wait. 85 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

Large Barred Boar-NEW THIS YEAR! A wonderful tomato from Wild Boar Farms that is slighter larger than Black and Brown Boar which it came from and is a mid-season ripener. It is a med-large mahogany color with green stripes tomato. Great flavor and only 65 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

Black and Brown Boar-I’ve always loved this oval shaped tomato from Wild Boar Farms because it has super flavor and is a good producer. Mahogany with green stripes. 68 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

Cherokee Lemon-NEW THIS YEAR! This is a new Cherokee variety for me. Its color is a pure yellow with yellow flesh inside and has good sweetness. It was not very prolific though, so I will see if it makes it into next year’s roster but I usually give a new tomato two years to try. 75 days to harvest. MAYBE will grow this next year.

Cherokee Purple-I come back to this tomato every year. A great producer with outstanding flavor.  Purple with green shoulders. 75 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

Cherokee Green-A green tomato that turns a yellowish-green that is green throughout with suburb sweet flavor but was not as prolific as last year. 75 days to harvest. MAYBE will grow this next year.

Cherokee Carbon-I adore this hybrid. A cross between a Cherokee Purple and Carbon. Great flavor like Cherokee Purple but bigger and less cracks. Purple with green shoulders/ Great producer too. 75 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

Pink Berkley Tie Dye-Usually this is a good producer with great flavor but this year it was a disappointment for me as it did not produce many tomatoes. 65 days to harvest. NO will NOT grow this next year.

Captain Lucky-NEW THIS YEAR! I liked this mostly green with red blush tomato. All around good flavor. 75 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

Goliath-One of a few hybrids that I grow every year. Great old fashioned tomato flavor and it rarely gets cracks or blemishes. A good producer. 65 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

Pantano Romanesco-This year I was disappointed in this tomato when normally I like it. Good old fashion flavor but not very prolific. 75 days to harvest. NO will NOT grow this next year.

Mushroom Basket-NEW THIS YEAR! I’m kinda so-so about this one. Great big shape with many flutes but ripened unevenly for many of them. Also not a good producer. 75 days to harvest. NO will NOT grow this next year.

Paul Robeson-Another of my all time favorites-this ‘black tomato’ has a rich flavor that wins many tomato contests every year. 75 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

BKX-NEW THIS YEAR! An improved version of the Black Krim tomato that did not produce very well. For me the original Black Krim is never a good producer and this one is about the same. If I’m going to grow a tomato it has to be a good producer. 80 days to harvest. NO will NOT grow this next year.

Purple Calabash-NEW THIS YEAR! This is an heirloom from Thomas Jefferson’s garden so I was excite to try it. Sorry to say, I wasn’t impressed. They were small fluted purplish tomatoes with lots of catfacing flaws on bottom. Nice flavor though. 75 days to harvest. NO will NOT grow this next year.

Big Zac-Another good hybrid that can grow some colossal sized red tomatoes with old fashioned tomato flavor. One slice will fill a BLT sandwich. 80 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

Goldman’s Italian American-the only paste tomato I grow. It has the best flavor of any paste tomato I’ve ever tried. Makes wonderful pasta sauces. 85 days to harvest. YES will grow this next year.

 

 

 

Saving Green Tomatoes

Now is the time to finish picking your ripe and green tomatoes as next week it will be in the 20s at night. If you wait till after a hard freeze, it will be too late.

How to save green tomatoes

If you have an abundance of green tomatoes on the vine, you still can bring them inside your house to finishing ripening them (not in a cold garage). Here’s how I do it although there are many ways to save them, I find using paper bags from the grocery store (yes that’s why you’ve been saving all those bags!) works really well.

How to pick tomatoes that will ripen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First you can tell which green tomatoes will probably ripen fully by looking at them. If you see the green is getting lighter on the sides, it will probably ripen as it has started the ripening process. Some have very dark tops and that is ok as long as the sides are a lighter shade of green. Also I just pick the bigger tomatoes as they are usually further along in the growing process versus the small totally dark immature tomatoes.

 

Use paper bags to ripen them

Place 2-3 layers of rock hard green tomatoes in bags as shown above-no more  that a couple of layers because as they ripen, you don’t want the ones ripening underneath to get crushed. Also discard any that have blemishes.

 

Place tomatoes that are just starting to get color in another bag and move the ones that are starting to color up from the ‘green’ bag. Look into your ‘green’ tomato bag every few days and move them to the ‘just starting to color’ bags.

Important tip: Put a slice or two of apple (any color) in each bag. The apple slice will release ethylene gas which is a natural ripening hormone that is in many fruits. It will speed up the ripening process of your tomatoes in your paper bags. Replace apple slices as needed. It really works!

Close up all the bags so the apple does it’s work and none of the gas is released. I fold the paper bags over several times and then I put either something on top of the bags to keep them closed or I shove them under a rack to help keep them closed as shown above.

The trick is you must inspect the bags every few days and move them to another bag as necessary. If you just put them in the bag and forget about them, you might wind up with a bunch of the ripen ones squished with the heavier unripened ones on top.

Once they have changed color but still hard, you should take them out of the bag and put them on the counter to finish ripening. Never put a ripe tomato in the refrigerator. A cold refrigerator dampens the taste.

This method is really good on extending the tomato season once the weather is too cold. They will never be quite as good as the sun-ripened ones but are still about 200% better than store bought ones. I use a lot of them that get a little too soft for pasta sauces and eat the rest.

PS: Not all the green tomatoes will ripen but many will.

July 18-Unveiling the girls!

I’m a little behind in my posting. Here we are unveiling the girls on July 18th which is very exciting for me as I can finally see them without the row cover on them.

I remove the row cover after the beet leafhopper leaves. I think four of the tomato row covers blew off and then the tomato plant got bit by a leafhopper which gave them curly top virus (CTV), a fatal virus. I will pull those plants once I make sure they do have CTV. It is a vector disease which means it’s is passed from insect to a plant and is not contagious between plants. The leafhopper disappears after the monsoons come.

Monsoons are here!

Monsoons are finally here! Check out this weather forecast below-this is what I was waiting for!

I will be taking the row covers OFF! my tomato plants this weekend.

With the cooler temperatures and rain predicted everyday for the next 10 days, it appears that the monsoon pattern has set up. Best news in quite a while! People might wonder why I get so excited over rain patterns out here in New Mexico but if we didn’t get the monsoon pattern in the summer, it would be miserably hot as we all just experienced with the 100°F days we experienced. Not unbearable heat like in Arizona but still hot for us and being a native Phoenician, I remember how hot it can get. I even tried to fry an egg on the sidewalk in Phoenix when I was a kid (it didn’t fry but evaporated instead.)

Can’t wait to see the tomato girls without having to peek inside the row covers. Hmm, I wonder if I have more tomatoes ready to eat under those row covers…

 

Tomato growing-Beet Leafhoppers and Curly Top Virus (CTV)

I have written about this problem a few times on this site and it might be worth a visit to one of my previous posts if you are interested in learning about CTV:

Identifiying Tomato Curley Top Virus

In addition there is more info on this problem through New Mexico State University (NMSU) here.

The reason I put row cover over my plants is to have a physical protection to keep the Beet Leafhopper off of them. I remove the row covers when the monsoons come in July as they seem to either leave or become suppressed and then I usually don’t have any problems with leafhoppers and CTV. No insecticides seem to work. If it seems that I harp on this problem, I do! I just want you all to be successful with tomato growing here.

Tomato Plants-when to take row cover off

Many of you are asking when can you take your row covers off your tomato plants. NOT YET-be patient

Leave row covers on tomatoes for now-I know we are all anxious to take them off. I leave mine on till the monsoons come and they are NOT here yet—occasional rain is not considered the monsoons and will not drive the leafhopper away. The leafhopper likes dry, hot, windy conditions (which we have now) so I’m sure it’s still around. The leafhopper kills tomato plants by biting your plant, giving it Curly Top Virus (CTV) which is fatal to your tomato plants. The row covers are a physical barrier so the bug can’t get to your plant. So for now, (sigh) I will leave them on even though I’m dying to remove them like you. Historically, the monsoons come somewhere around the 2nd week of July but it could come later too. Hopefully we won’t have to wait much longer.

I will post as soon as I take mine off so you all know…

Tomatoes are in-May 3rd-woo hoo!

Today we put 31 tomatoes in the garden. Enjoy the time lapse!

This is the earliest I have ever been able to put them outside. We always put them in Wall-of-Waters (green cylinders) to protect them from the chilly nites or if we have a late freeze.  Now I’m dirt tired-time for a cocktail!

Leave row covers on tomatoes for now

Many of you are asking when can you take your row covers off your tomato plants. Leave row covers on tomatoes for now-I know we are all anxious to take them off. I leave mine on till the monsoons come and they are NOT here yet. One of our local weather stations said that the monsoons might be delayed till July 25 and so I will leave mine on till the monsoons really come-this occasional rain we’ve been getting are not the monsoons and will not drive the leafhopper away. The leafhopper kills tomato plants by biting your plant giving it (CTV) Curly top virus which is fatal to your tomato plant but should leave when the monsoons come. The row covers are a physical barrier so the bug can’t get to your plant. So for now, (sigh) I will leave them on even though I’m dying to remove them like you.

I will post when I take mine off so you all know.

Snow/freezing temperatures on May 20th, 2019

Tomato plants waiting to be planted outside

Here it is May 21st and I’m now glad I waited to put my tomatoes in. I have wanted to get them in the ground since early May, but it was not to be. Last year was much warmer and I got my tomatoes in by May 6th. What a difference a year can make. Last night, it got down to 32°F and snowed. Not enough to stick on the ground but we are past the magic date of May 15th which is suppose to be the first frost FREE date here in zone 6b according to USDA. We’ve had a different spring here in Santa Fe with colder temperatures and lots more precipitation throughout winter and spring than last year.

So my babies are waiting to go into the ground in wall of waters till this Friday when it looks like this cold snap will be over. Wait. Wait. Wait. It will be in the 70s in the day and 40s at night for the next week and hopefully last nite will be the last of the freezing weather. And even though we will hopefully be past any more freezes, it still gets plenty cold for a tomato plant at night. They hate the cold. A good way to ensure they won’t get stressed or die if we get more cold weather again is by planting them in wall of waters. Here is a post on Wall of Waters 101. Meanwhile I wait—ahh crumba!

apricots this year? first time in 12 years!I hope my apricots will be ok. I’ve got a treeful of them right now and haven’t had an apricot harvest in 12 years! I will keep my fingers crossed that this freeze didn’t kill them. Ahh mother nature, whata ya going do?!

Tomato plants transplanted into pots

This past Friday, April 19, all the baby tomato seedlings were transplanted from the germination trays into 2.25 pots where they will stay until we plant them outside. There are 155 total tomato plants.

My main helper, Linda Archibald has been doing this with me for about 4 years and this year Tom Pollard joined us to learn how to do it all. It took us 4 hours to transplant them. Thank you folks! There were 4 tomato no shows which isn’t bad for how many we planted. It is amazing how fast the seedlings grow since it has only been 16 days since we planted seeds.

We use Moonshine potting soil from Agua Fria Nursery to grow them in-amazing stuff as everything grown in takes off really fast. So now they are off the heat mats and still inside under lights that will be 3 inches away from the tops of the tomatoes. I put the lights close so they grow sturdy stems. If you put the lights higher they can get too tall and lanky. As the plants grow, I raise up the lights with them. I will actually have around 28 tomato plants and Linda will have 59! The rest are orders. Looks like it’s going to be a big year for tomatoes for Linda! I hope she buys another freezer to store all that sauce she’s gonna be making! I’m hoping to get them out in early May again this year but Mother Nature will decide when they will go out, not me!

Tomato seeds starting to come up April 9th

The tomato seeds are starting to germinate in their trays. It has taken only 5 days!  Still more to germinate but many are already up. A few haven’t germinated so I will replant if they don’t come up in a few days. They are under fluorescent ‘daylight’  T-8 lamps that are in a standard 48″ fluorescent light fixture that I got from Home Depot. They are also on heat mats and I have a heat mat thermostat set to 80 degrees. The heat mats and thermostat I got at Amazon. I never use to use a thermostat but one year without it, the temperature went to 100 degrees and the seeds fried. With a thermostat, it controls the temperature perfectly to whatever is the optimum temperature for each crop. In this case, the optimum range for tomato seeds for germination is between 70-85 degrees.

Hang in there!

My tomato plants are covered with row cover now but soon they will come off.

Hang in there! According to the weather apps, we are almost into the monsoon season here in Santa Fe. Historically it starts around the second week of July-let’s hope so. I for one am looking forward to it-we need the rain plus I would like to see my plants.

So be patient if you have your tomato plants covered with row cover. Some of you may be tempted to take them off early but we’ve waited this long and we are almost there.

The row cover is providing protection for your plants by acting as a physical barrier between your plants and the beet leafhopper that carries a deadly virus called Curly Top Virus (CTV) if it bites your tomato plants. Some of you haven’t done this and you may be lucky or not. You will know in about 3 weeks. But the good news is the bug either leaves or gets suppressed when the monsoons come in earnest and only then do I take off the row cover. I wait till it’s gone. Growing tomatoes should not be this hard, but it is here in the southwest. The northeast coast has their Late Blight (which is worse) and we have CTV.

I’ll post when I take the row cover off the plants and we can actually enjoy watching them grow and produce tomatoes!

Dwarf Tomatoes started!

Dwarf tomatoes in foreground and on right side in background. The two taller ones in background are Lucky Cross tomatoes which are regular size indeterminate tomatoes

 

Since I’m involved in growing dwarf tomatoes for Craig Lehouiller in his project, I decided to grow some of his varieties of open pollinated dwarf tomatoes that have been released to the public. I got the seeds from Victory Seeds. I’ve never grown dwarf tomatoes before. All the dwarf tomatoes will get between 3-4 feet tall and are stockier than regular tomato plants. They are indeterminate variety so the they will grow like all other indeterminate tomatoes only slower throughout the season and will be shorter. Indeterminate tomatoes keep producing fruit till it freezes. The actual tomatoes on dwarf tomatoes aren’t necessarily smaller just because the plants are. The days to harvest can go from 65-80 days depending on the dwarf variety. I am trying 10 released dwarfs plus 6 more unreleased in trials for Craig. So I am heavily invested in the dwarfs this year but I am growing some of my all-time favorites as well.

I noticed right away that the dwarf tomatoes pictured above are shorter and stockier even just after germination. I start all my tomatoes in shallow seed propagation trays on heat mats with a thermostat and under lights inside the house. Because of their shallowness, the soil heats up faster so germination is faster but you must water them 2x a day.  The two taller tomato plants in the background on the left side are regular indeterminate tomatoes called Lucky Cross, which is one of my favorites but notice the height difference with the dwarfs being much shorter and stockier. For earlier post on dwarf tomatoes, go here.

Early Blight on Tomato Plants

This tomato plant has severe Early Blight as it has worked its way up the plant

Now that the monsoons are in full blast, tomato fungal diseases are showing up with all the moisture. One of them is Early Blight. It is caused by a fungus called Alternaria solani. Early Blight is a fungal disease that attacks tomato plants starting on the bottom leaves of the plant and works it’s way upwards. The leaves start turning yellow and get blotchy. If left unchecked, it can take over your plant killing it although it won’t die immediately. Where does it come from? It comes from water splashing soil up on the lower leaves, allowing the fungal spores to colonize on the leaves. The culprit is a bad soil fungus (there are good soil fungus as well). That’s why you always see it start on the bottom leaves. Early Blight should not be confused with Late Blight which is prevalent in northeastern United States. We don’t have Late Blight out here in the southwest (at least not yet).

Here is a close up of Early Blight on the leaves

-There are several things you can immediately do to help with this disease if you get this. The first thing you do is trim off the affected branches where the leaves are yellow. Keep trimming up your plant as needed and spray with an organic fungicide like Serenade.

-Disinfect your shears between plants by dipping the shears and your hand in a container of water with about 10% bleach solution. Alcohol also works. Be sure to disinfect your shears between plants because you can spread Early Blight.

-I like Serenade, an organic fungicide which provides protection from a broad spectrum of common fungal and bacterial diseases. It is a biological fungicide, meaning it uses other spores that crowd out the Early Blight spores. Spray it on when the leaves are dry. It is rainproof, non-toxic for bees and other beneficial insects. Respray every 5-7 days. Spray all parts of the plant-both on top and underneath till dripping. Serenade is also good to spray on other vegetables. Spray for powdery mildew on squash, cucumbers and melons and leaf rust on beans. I use it for all my vegetables. Don’t wait till you get the disease—it works best as a preventative but you can control many fungal diseases with Serenade.

-In addition to trimming the affected leaves, trim off any branches or leaves that touch the ground. I never let any leaves or branches touch the ground, trimming them up about 12 or more inches.

-Another option is to stake or tie up any branches that might touch the ground.

Mulch with straw underneath the plant so the soil can’t splash up on plant when it rains or if you water overhead. This is key to help prevent Early Blight on your tomatoes. I do it the minute I plant my tomato plants in the spring and add more straw as the plant spreads till eventually the whole bed is covered with straw. If you didn’t do it this year, you can still add straw now. Besides it’s also great for keeping moisture from evaporating in our hot sun.

-If space allows, rotate susceptible crops every 3 years. Just change where you plant tomatoes every year.