Monsoons are here!! Free your tomatoes!

Some of my new dwarf tomatoes-about 3′ tall, loaded with blossoms and some tomatoes and looking good!

TOMATOES ARE FREE! FREE AT LAST!

Now that I’ve had 3 days with some rain and lots more in the forecast, and no leafhoppers in sight, I decided to free the tomatoes. If you still see leafhoppers in your garden, I’d wait a few more days. And of course some of you have already taken the row cover off but I like to err on the side of caution.

Now that they are free, I placed straw over the ground around the tomatoes so no dirt shows. This is done to keep the Early Blight fungal spores from getting on the lower leaves from overhead watering or even the rain. I noticed two tomato plants had Early Blight starting so I immediately cut off the yellowing leaves on the bottom, and trimmed all lower branches, making sure no leaves touch the dirt or straw. I disinfect my trimmers between trimming plants with 10% bleach-about 2 tablespoons in a container big enough to put my hand and the trimmers inside it since I’m reaching in around the leaves and it is contagious between plants.

Tomorrow I will spray all the tomatoes with Serenade, a biological fungicide that will help prevent Early Blight. Sure looks good to see the tomatoes instead of row cover! Finally I can see my garden grow!

Back home in the garden

Beans from Italy coming up nicely under row cover in a bamboo teepee

After a wonderful trip to Italy, I’m now back in the garden trying to get it finished. Seems I got a lot of dry beans in Tuscany at a Florence Farmers Market and have planted 4 different varieties-Fagioli Zolfini, Fagioli Piatellini Nuova, Fagioli con L’Occhio (a black-eyed pea) and Borlotti. These are dry bush beans. I love dry beans as I just have to plant them and after they are up, give them water and you don’t pick them till the end of the season after they dry. Not too many bugs bother them either at my place. They make great soups and stews in winter. So looks like this is the year of the bean.

But I have planted many other interesting crops this year as well.  Other new veggies/fruits include the Bradford watermelon, Tahiti Butternut, a yellow zucchini called Rugosa Fruilana, Craupadine beets and my Fuggle hops and artichoke came back from last year and are doing well. Also 15 bare root raspberries I planted this spring are all up and doing nicely-the variety is Polona-I got them from Nourse nurseries online. My dream is to have so many raspberries I get sick of eating them (never!) And I’m starting a new thornless blackberry (Triple Crown) area in the garden. I got some beautiful 2 gal plants from Newmans for only $15.

And of course I have more tomatoes than I need but have cut down drastically since I am not at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. This year I’m growing more dwarf tomatoes than regular tomatoes and some of them are trials for Craig Lehouiller. All my tomatoes are caged and have row cover wrapped around them to protect them from the Beet leafhopper which passes a deadly virus to them here in the southwest called Curly Top Virus. The row cover is also great for protection from hail storms. It will come off when the monsoons arrive. Hope they do well and can’t wait to taste them. I haven’t eaten a tomato since last November when my crop finished as I won’t eat store-bought tomatoes. Guess I’m a tomato snob.

I’ve actually cut down the garden by 30% this year due to our drought. Pray for rain (no hail please!)

 

Root Trainers-unique propagating trays

Fava beans in Root Trainer

I started using ‘Deep Root trainers’ last year for my fava beans and other bean crops that need deep cells or for plants that don’t want the roots disturbed when planting. The cool thing about them is that the cells are 5 inches deep and shaped like a clamshell, with two sides that open up like a book.  There are 8 sections total that fit snugly in a tray to hold them upright that comes with the kit. They are great as they have grooves that keep the roots growing straight instead of circling in the cell and strangling the plant. They also air prune when they hit the bottom of the cell.  No need to transplant into another pot, just plant them out in the garden. You just put seed starting soil in each cell, pat it down and put the seeds in. The only drawback is the plastic clamshells are very fragile and must be handled super carefully to keep from cracking but knowing that, I am careful and have them for three years so far. You can get them through Amazon. Get the 5″ deep ones, NOT the 3″ ones.

Pictured above are fava beans in their cells, 6 are already planted in the ground. Just carefully open the clamshell and slide them out into your hole in the ground with no root disturbance for those sensitive plants that hate to be transplanted.

Craupadine beets started in Root Trainer

I also used root trainers with a hard to germinate french variety of beet called ‘Craupadine’. It is probably the oldest beet in existence. I have not had much luck with germination when planting these seeds directly in the ground so I decided to try them in the rootrrainers this year and have much better germination although still spotty. I thought being a root vegetable, they probably would not like to have that main root disturbed. I think they will do well. I won’t wait till the plants are too big.  I am planting them outside after the first true leaves (cotyledon leaves) come out. So far 27 have germinated which is more than I have ever grown at one time.  They are ready for transplant above. I am so excited as these are the sweetest beets I’ve ever eaten. The french farmer markets cook them over a smokey fire in foil and serve them still warm.

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.

Dwarf Tomato Project Trials

One of the things I’ll do in the garden this year is I’ve been invited to become involved in the Dwarf Tomato Project trials. They needed some tomato growers in the US to grow out some of their tomatoes from seeds from their project and keep detailed info on how they do in our short growing season. These are open-pollinated tomatoes that are not released to the public yet as they need to stabilize these new tomato varieties before they get released.

I became interested because  Craig Lehouiller, a tomato grower who wrote the book, Epic Tomato and created the Purple Cherokee tomato, is in charge of the project here in the Northern Hemisphere. Someone else is in charge of the Southern Hemisphere down in Australia. They gave me 3 different cherry tomato seed packets to grow for this season.

Dwarf tomatoes are not determinate tomato plants but are indeterminate tomato plants that stay shorter but the tomatoes are not necessarily smaller, just the plant. I thought this would be a good for people who have a limited space or maybe just a patio. They can be grown in the ground or even in five gallon pots. And you won’t need a huge cage. Many are created with crosses from tomatoes I love, like Brandywine with another variety.

In addition to trialing these tomatoes,  I also got some of his already released dwarf tomato seeds (about 20 varieties have been released so far) that I bought from Victory Seeds. I am anxious how they will grow and taste too. Stayed tuned when I report back about how this project develops. Very excited!

Watering in early spring- how much in a greenhouse, hoop tunnel, or cold frame?

Just got a great question from the earlier post. How much do I water in winter-early spring in my greenhouse? Not very much. Since I don’t have the drip systems on and I don’t want to empty hoses that might freeze, I fill up 5 gal buckets, leave them inside the GH and then fill up my watering can from them and water the plants. Five gal buckets are kinda heavy for me (40 lbs) so I prefer to transfer the water to a watering can. Or just fill up a watering can from your house and refill as needed. The only problem is my greenhouse is too far from my house to keep refilling a watering can from the house. Notice the white row cover on the side, ready to go back on the greens tonight when it gets cold.

This time of year is called the ‘shoulder season’—not quite winter and not quite spring-with extreme temperature swings from day to night. There is no set formula for watering because one day the temperature can be 60°F and the next day in the 40’s°F or even 30’s°F. Same with nighttime temperatures.  Or you structure might really heat up in the day if you forget to open the doors or plastic on the ends or open the cold frame. So there are lots of variables that will affect how much to water. I really watch the plants and the soil in regards to watering when I have to do it by hand. Does the soil appear damp after your last watering even though its been maybe 4-5 days? Don’t water. Do the plants look like they need water? Are they looking stressed? Wilted? Water! The cooler it is, the less you have to water. I don’t water till the soil FEELS dry when I put my finger in it around a plant. But I can tell you this, you will be watering much less than in the heat of summer.

 

Greens in the Green House!

So my greens made it through the worst of winter (I hope) and have really started to kick in growing. They went on hold (stopped growing) from around Thanksgiving to mid-January when we had less than 10 hours of daylight. But since then the daylight hours keep increasing daily which is a signal for the plants to grow again in earnest. In case you are wondering when I planted all this, I planted the carrots, arugula and spinach last September inside the greenhouse, and the red and green lettuces I started from seed under grow lights inside my house on January 2nd and then were put out in the greenhouse in early February.

To keep the greens from freezing in the dead of winter in the greenhouse which is unheated, I’ve cover them with one layer of winter weight row cover every night and on some really cold nights (when temperatures got down to 14-17° F), I put two rows of row cover over them. One night the lettuce actually froze. But I read in Elliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook that if you don’t harvest it when it’s frozen, it may be fine by the afternoon when it warms up and sure enuf, it thawed out and is still growing great. You just can’t harvest it when it’s in a frozen state.

My Greenhouse a few summers ago

In the greenhouse are some carrots which aren’t very big yet (about the size of a pencil in circumference) some green and red lettuces, arugula and spinach, all of which will be harvested before the Green House (a play on the word greenhouse since my greenhouse was painted green) gets too hot. In fact when the day temperatures reach the 50’s, I put fans on to blow the heat out of the greenhouse.

 

Pray for heat, girls!

You see, I don’t worry about it being too cold but worry about it getting too HOT which will cause the lettuces and spinach to bolt (make flowers) which will cause it all to go bitter and then it is only good for our chickens who don’t seem to mind the bitterness at all. In fact I think they pray for the heat!

Looks like some of the lettuce and spinach are now big enough to pick the outer leaves while leaving the inner leaves to continue to grow. And a big bonus for me is to see so much green now already at the start of March! I love going into the greenhouse right now. Refreshing when the outdoor plants are still sleeping…