Fall-Time to trim tomato blossoms off

As the tomato season starts to wind down in the fall, I believe it’s time to redirect the plants’ energy so I trimmed off most of my blossoms on the tomato plants. This helps ripen the remaining tomatoes on the plant.  I also cut off those crazy branches that are overgrown (and have blossoms) back to the last tomatoes that have been set on that branch. The idea here is to redirect the plant’s energy to stop making blossoms and put its energy into ripening as many tomatoes as possible before it freezes.

I also trim off any diseased branches where the leaves are dying or turning yellow and spray with Serenade again (probably for the last time). Late in the season, tomato plants are getting older and are more susceptible to diseases so my hope isn’t to cure any diseases but just keep it under control so we can still get many tomatoes. Besides we want all those green ones still on the vine that we have been patiently waiting for!

‘The Tomato Lady’-sold out

Today was a good day! First day back as The Tomato Lady’ at the Santa Fe Farmers market sold out. A great big thank you to all my patrons who waited for my tomatoes to ripen!  Many thanks! Only a handful of tomatoes and 1 zucchini left. Behind my table are some other vendors at their tables. See you next week!

Video: Early Pruning of Tomato Plants

Last Saturday I taught a vegetable class on Organic Pest and Disease Control for Home Grown New Mexico. It was held at Milagro Community Garden. Part of the class was how to trim your tomato plants to help thwart soil-born fungal diseases like Early Blight. Most people don’t trim their tomato plants enough in the beginning. Here is a video I found from Vegetable Gardener site that shows exactly how to do it. Don’t be wimpy about it-trim them all the way up to the first blossoms.  As a preventative, I will spray Serenade organic fungicide on all the leaves both on top and underneath  about every 10 days. Doing all this should get your tomatoes off to a healthy start. Here’s a link to the video.

Video: Early Pruning of Tomato Plants – Vegetable Gardener.

Make a great tomato cage

Tomato in cage, drip underneath, trimmed up off the ground, straw mulch in well and staked to t-post

You need to ‘cage’ your tomatoes before they get unruly. I hate those tomato cages they sell in the store. They are too little and flimsy and the tomato plant will quickly outgrow them. I found a great way to make cages in ‘The New Victory Garden‘ by Bob Thompson.

First use concrete reinforcement wire to make your cages. It is heavy-duty wire that has 6 inch openings so you can get your hand through the openings with a fat tomato. Think optimistically – you’re gonna get a 2 lb giant juicy tomato on you plant and need to get out of the cage! You can buy it by the sheet, which is 4 ft high, or by the roll which is 5 ft high. One sheet will make one cage. The only trouble with the 4 ft height is it is too short for many heirloom tomatoes but some people stack two of them together to make an 8 ft high cage!

I buy the roll, which isn’t cheap, but is a one-time cost and the cages you will make can also be used for beans and cucumbers, in fact almost anything you want to grow vertically and will last a lifetime. A roll is 120 ft in length and will make about 18 cages so if that is too many than I suggest you go in with another gardener friend (or 2) and share the cost. Cut the wire with bolt cutters or an angle grinder not hand wire cutters-your hand will be wrecked-I speak from experience. Here’s how I do it:

1. If using a roll unwind it and hold it down with some BIG rocks or bricks so it doesn’t wind back up. Count 13 squares and cut off one side of the wire leaving it long.

2.  Then bend the long wire into a ‘u’ and hook it back on itself as shown in this photo.

The cage will be approximately 24 inches in diameter when finished. Then I cut off the bottom leaving all the ends pokey (not shown) so I can push the ends into the ground so it won’t blow over.

3. If using a sheet, I wouldn’t cut the bottom edge as I do with the roll to keep as much height as possible.

4. Stake either cage with a 3 ft high green t-post pounded next to the cage and tie the cage to the green post to keep the cage from falling down from wind as shown in the top photo.  This is important when the plant gets top heavy. If you are next to a fence, you could tie it to that. The point being that you don’t want your tomato plant to fall over. Some people growing in pots just put the cage over the whole pot and the pot keeps the cage from falling over as the plant gets bigger.

What have I been doing?

I’ve been busy in the garden! It is ALMOST  finished. I have 8 more tomatoes to plant tomorrow that I forgot to get that are some of my standards at the SF Farmer’s Market. OPPS! But they will be ready in time.

Two weekends ago I had 7 friends/family help with planting the majority of the tomatoes. A great big THANK YOU to all that helped-Elodie, Flynn, Ronnie, Lava, Tom, Sharon and myself! I couldn’t have done it without you! I also have a few more flower seeds to plant by the entry. Otherwise it’s done-FINITO! Yea right-there is always something to do in the garden! Here are some of the things happening in the garden:

The fava beans are looking good. Here they are flowering. I like the black and white flowers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen black and white flowers on a plant before. They had some aphids so I sprayed them with insecticidal soap and they are looking better. They have baby fava beans on them now.

The beets and carrots are coming along quite nicely. They are outside the pole bean tent area and will fill in nicely

Here are some beet greens I harvested while thinning out the beets to give them room to grow. They are yummy in a salad and are so beautiful.

In the shadiest part of the garden I planted some bok choi and lettuce and have had it covered with row cover since planting to help keep them from the heat and bugs. They both are looking great. I’ve never grown bok choi before so I’ll have to research when to harvest as they are getting to be pretty big and won’t like the heat for too long.

The fennel bulbs are getting bigger and are almost ready to harvest. Maybe another 2 weeks. They also won’t do well in the heat. I wonder if they will get as big as the ones in the grocery store..

About half of the tomatoes I previously planted are growing out of the top of the wall of waters and I need to take them off before it gets too difficult.

It’s been fun growing some early stuff. The bok choi, fava beans, fennel and lettuce are more cool season crops and will have to be harvested soon because of the heat. Probably all of them will be harvested BEFORE July.

I also have potatoes that are growing through the roof, strawberries that are being harvested and rhubarb that is ready to pick but will save that for other posts.

Reflections on Vegetable Gardening-A Lesson in Patience

Dalai Lama mediating. Photo courtesy of factsanddetails.com

I think one of my biggest challenges in this life is patience. Vegetable gardening is a lesson in patience. In the late winter I want to start all my seeds early (like right away) that I will transplant later, BUT NO, I MUST WAIT till the timing is right. Plant too early and I have these leggy things. Then after I get the seeds planted and they come up, I want them ready to plant BUT NO, I MUST WAIT and transplant them up to the next size pots to get bigger.  Then they are ready to transplant into the garden (I think) BUT NO, I MUST WAIT till the weather temperatures are above freezing at night. Then the days and nights are perfect and I think I can put them out, BUT NO I MUST WAIT till I harden the plants off outside.  Then once they are in the ground I want them to explode in growth immediately BUT NO, I MUST WAIT till they get acclimated. I watch while they sit there awhile. After that I want to immediately get those big juicy tomatoes that I have been WAITING FOR since the end of the previous season (think November), BUT NO, I MUST WAIT and watch the tomatoes stay green while they grow. I WAIT AND WAIT AND WAIT and then the garden kicks ass and really produces those veggies but it is now MID JULY-AUGUST and the picking season is JUST STARTING. Then I want to pick all those huge long-growing tomatoes that are still green BUT NO, I MUST WAIT till October and then a freeze is forecast, I run out to pick them and the season is over! BUT WAIT not quite because then I bring all the huge green tomatoes inside and I MUST WAIT till they finally turn red. WAIT, WAIT, WAIT! Finally when the season is over I will have canned a zillion pickles and  tons of spaghetti sauce and froze a gazillion gallons of plain tomato sauce and dried millions of pounds of apples (yes I think so this year) and made thousands of pounds of pumpkin soup, pumpkin pies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins (you get the picture) and I’m exhausted and CAN’T WAIT TILL IT’S ALL OVER.  Then I recover all winter and can’t WAIT TO START the whole process again. Yes, I think gardening is a lesson in patience.

500 lbs of tomatoes..

There must be 500 lbs of tomatoes all over the house in different states of ripeness now. Little paths throughout the house to walk around! With all the freeze scares each day for the nights, I went out and picked almost all the tomatoes that can finish ripening. I started picking hard on Wednesday and then my good friend Mernie came over and helped picked the rest on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday I had one of my best days ever at the Farmers Market as “The Tomato Lady’. It has been cold and had rained in Santa Fe and snowing on our mountain and I think everyone started thinking OMG- the tomato season is almost over! It was like a shark frenzy. My patrons didn’t want anything else-only tomatoes. I completely sold out. Now I just have to manage the remaining tomatoes in the house to make sure they ripen nicely. While I’m gone on Saturday at the giant pumpkin weigh-off, Caleb will be ‘The Tomato Lady’ again and then I will be back the following Saturday!

giant tomato megablossoms

Single blossom on left and double megablossom on right

GIANT TOMATOES-I got my first 2 megablossoms off my Big Zac tomato plants and they are not even in the ground yet. All giant tomato growers are looking for megablossoms. Some varieties tend to produce more than others. Since megablossoms usually come earlier on a plant I will leave these on as I don’t know if I will get more off each plant. A megablossom is at least 2 or more blossoms that fuse together to make one big tomato.  That is why giant tomatoes are so knarley and bumpy. It is kind of like twins, triplets or quadruplets that are all conjoined together. Recognizing these megablossoms is the key to growing giant tomatoes. It doesn’t happen all the time so it is exciting when we get some megablossoms and the potential for a BIG TOMATO.  Since they are made up of many blossoms, oftentimes they abort if they don’t pollinate well.  Most tomatoes are self-pollinating so you don’t have to worry about pollinating them unless you get a megablossom. That is when we should hand pollinate them although I didn’t on these. Using a small soft paintbrush, you can take some pollen off of the stamen part of one blossom and paint it onto the megablossom pistils. Kind of sounds like Luther Burbank doesn’t it?

The top picture has two blossoms-the one on the left is a normal single tomato blossom and the one on the right is a megablossom made up of two flowers. Notice how big it is.

megablossom with three blossoms fused

This second picture  has even more blossoms fusing together. Looks like maybe three blossoms. Starting to look knarley! I’ll see if it aborts or starts to grow into a giant tomato on it’s own as I didn’t hand pollinate them. I will pick off all the normal blossom off of each plant. I might grow 2-4 tomatoes from megablossoms off of one plant. You don’t let all of the normal tomatoes grow so all the energy goes into these potential giant tomatoes. Obviously I am growing these for size and I have other varieties where I let every blossom become a tomato to grow for food.

planted 35 tomatoes today

Yep-went ahead and planted tomatoes with the help of Beto, Mernie, Lava and her friend Mo. Together we planted 35 tomatoes, added amendments, put up wall of waters for every tomato we planted, placed the drip system around each tomato and gave them a drink of seaweed/thrive mix. Hope they make it as it was sooo blasted windy (no pun intended) here today and it is suppose to get cold but not freezing tonight. Many were wind thrashed but we did the best we could. I guess the hardy will survive. Many thanks to all of you good friends! Then I went into the house and planted up to the gallon size all my giant tomatoes that will go in the ground in a couple of weeks. I also planted up the rest of my 4 inch pots into gallon sizes that I will give to friends. Phew, what a power out day…I’m fried.