- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
Back in February, I wrote a blog that was a bit of a love letter to our three hens. Today we planted our tomatoes, so the love story has, sadly, come to a screeching halt.
This year’s tomatoes went into one of two raised beds, which have sat fallow for two years. I have always had to create a “dome of protection” with bird netting over the raised beds, as they abut a large open space where coveys of hungry quail lurk. And now we have to worry about our hens raiding the garden boxes, too.
Bird netting is hateful stuff. It catches on everything — branches, leaves, earrings, eyelashes. We wanted to make our lives easier, when it comes to bird netting, by building semi-permanent frames onto which we could wrap netting. I found a thorough online description for building PVC frames, and the construction began.
Our two raised beds are 4 feet by 10 feet. We started out making one rectangular frame to fit over the top of the beds. This was unwieldy to build, and would be too heavy and wobbly to move out of the way for harvesting and such. My husband decided to construct two frames, 4 feet by 5 feet each, and they went together much more easily. The beauty of two frames is they’re light. I can raise one half of the cover to harvest, add mulch or pull weeds. Knowing how tall indeterminate tomatoes can become, we plan to make two more frames that will stand taller. For now, the 3-foot height is fine.
Our hens are a bit miffed. They saw us put in the tomato seedlings this morning, and rushed over to gobble up those sweet new leaves. After much shooing and distracting with fresh, wormy piles of compost thrown their way, my husband and I were able to cover our new plants with our new frames. I’ll keep you posted on how well they work.
- Author: Erin Mahaney
For the past several years, I’ve had problems successfully growing tomatoes bigger than cherry tomatoes. This year was no exception. Whether it was the cool weather or the increasing shade in my maturing yard, my tomatoes would grow and maybe set fruit but the fruit simply wouldn’t ripen. But finally, in September, one variety—Mr. Stripey—showed some promise by turning color. The few I tasted were delicious. Success at last! But then I noticed that each tomato, without fail, had concentric cracks around each stem. Well, this was a disappointing turn of events that I hadn’t seen before.
After a little research, I learned that these cracks, also known as “growth cracks,” are associated with the tomato’s growing conditions. Concentric cracks circle the top of the tomato around the stem while radial cracks extend in a straight line down the side of the tomato from the stem. Both types of cracks are caused when a plant receives too much water after a dry spell, either through excessive watering or after a rainy period. In essence, the plant receives too much water too fast, causing the interior of the tomato to expand too fast for its skin to stretch enough. The skin then cracks to relieve the pressure.
My plants are watered regularly by timed drip irrigation, so I was a little surprised to learn that this system could result in excessive watering (if anything, I’ve been fairly sure that they get under-watered.) But then I learned that some beefsteak-type varieties, like my Mr. Stripey, are prone to cracking. Perhaps that explains it!
Cracked tomatoes are still edible, but are prone to rot or disease setting in quickly. The cracked portion can simply be cut away. In my case, once the cracking appeared, I never was able to beat the rot before picking the tomato.
What can I do to avoid this problem next year? First, try a crack-resistant variety with more elastic skin (e.g., Early Girl, Jet star, Mountain Spring or Mountain Fresh). Second, mulch plants once they are established to help retain soil moisture. Third, pay closer attention to my plants’ irrigation needs, particularly after a hot spell. Although, given my luck with tomatoes lately, I may rethink my summer vegetable garden entirely!
- Author: Susan Croissant
Two years ago in mid-August, the fall semester had just begun at Solano Community and I got pretty busy with Horticulture classes and work projects. I knew the time was nigh to wrap things up on my seven tomato plants. They were starting to look ratty but were still producing and, since temperatures were in the 80's, I continued watering but was not in the yard much and not monitoring for aphids. Two weeks later, they were covered with 20-30 hornworms. Wow, what a sight! First time ever. I had no idea I should have been watching for them.
My plants did not do well this year (I've heard that from a lot of people), and it seems I was cutting off "dried up" leaves all season. I'm glad I only planted two. The cherry tomatoes were making a comeback in September after cutting them back (see photo). But it was definitely time to pull the other plant that seemed particularly debilitated all season. Well, there they were, two little buggers feasting and, seeing their size (2½") and the "trails" on the tomatoes, they'd been at it awhile. But, then, they don't need much time to gobble things up. I was just glad to see only two.
So, take heed. As August develops and September is nigh, as the season wanes and plants weaken, stay on top of things and continue to monitor ALL of your plants for damaging insects. Hornworms drop to the soil and burrow and, although many will not survive, some will emerge again next year.
I tried to include specimens, various views and measurements in a single photo, but they squirmed and moved toward one another (for comfort?) as I tried to manipulate them. It’s fascinating to see such creatures close-up.
These beasts are Tobacco hornworms (Manduca sexta) , which have 7 diagonal stripes on each side of the body. The Tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata) has 8 chevron-shaped stripes (chevron is a "V" or boomerang-like shape).
GUIDELINES = http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/r783301111.html
TOMATO vs. TOBACCO HORNWORM = http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/field/hornworm.htm
TOMATO HORNWORM PHOTO = http://www.colostate.edu/Depts/CoopExt/4DMG/Pests/tomato.htm
OTHER TOMATO DAMAGE = http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/C783/m783hpothrpests.html
- Author: Betty Homer
For those of you who read my blog entry last year around this time, you know that I had attended the first annual Heirloom Expo at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa last year. Having trouble keeping away, I attended the Heirloom Expo again this year on September 11, 2012 (the Expo usually runs for 3 days in early-mid September, from Tuesday to Thursday). It was just as well organized and entertaining, as it was last year. What made it especially memorable this year, was because some of the heirloom vegetables on display were grown and harvested by my former neighbor (see the pics featuring melons and eggplants). To clarify, the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company has a research plot just 2 doors down from where I used to live in Suisun Valley, and it is there that they grew umpteen varieties of eggplants and melons which they displayed at the Expo.
One of the vendors at the Heirloom Expo, was Paul Palmer of the Los Olive Homegrown Gourmet Garlic company (aka the “Garlic Guy”) located in the San Ynez Valley, which grows, according to an August 2010 blog post by the company, over 61 varieties of rare garlic (see pics). Check out Paul’s website here-http://www.garlicguy.net/99639385, which contains sample photos of some of the amazing varieties he grows. I spoke with Paul regarding what his secret was to successfully growing garlic, and he told me that he amends his soil with at least 25-30 tons of high quality compost per acre. Now most of us city-dwelling garlic lovers do not have an acre to do what Paul does, but we can take that same principle and scale it down to our backyards (where we can exercise greater control over our growing environment than on a farm) and produce some amazing, beautiful, and rare garlic every year which you can then save and trade with friends and family, and replant each year.
As for me, I grow garlic each year and have found success in growing several varieties such as German Hardneck and Ichelium Red. This year, in addition to the Ichelium Red, I will be planting seed garlic from Paul, varieties which include Spanish Morada (hot), Spanish Benittee (hot), Thai Purple (less hot), Red Razan (medium, all-around variety) and Fabermadour (a baking garlic which, according to Paul, is good for spreads). I will report back the results next June when I harvest!
- Author: Danielle Wilkowski
This summer season has been interesting for growing tomatoes. First of all, the weather was too cool for the tomatoes to ripen, then it became so hot that they cooked on the plants. Fortunately, I was able to save enough of the fruits for my family, other relatives and a few neighbors to enjoy. And when I say enjoy, I MEAN IT! I ask you is there anything better than a fresh picked tomato BLT?
According to Wikipedia the word "tomato" may refer to the plant (Solanum lycopersicum) or the edible, typically red, fruit that it bears. Originating in South America, the tomato was spread around the world following the Spanish colonization.
I was surprised how much I learned about growing tomatoes because I am a "newbie" Master Gardener (2012). Based on my recent knowledge, I was pretty successful growing tomatoes. First of all, I purchased resistant plants such as 'Ace Hybrid',' Better Boy',' Celebrity', and 'Early Girl'. I did experiment with a plant of miniature fruits called 'Black Cherry'. which turned out to be a large plant. I saved the seeds and next year will not plant it in a large pot; but will plant it in the ground as I did the others.
I had such fun recognizing the beneficial insects such as California native bees and lady beetles crawling and flying on the plants. The only pests I had to deal with were a few aphids which a good stream of water was a quick solution. Speaking of water, I am certain that watering the plants deeply and less often than I used to helped them to stay healthy and strong. Of course, in Vacaville which can record temperatures of triple digits in June and July does mean more watering. However, by concentrating the water into the roots and not the leaves appeared to be helpful in preventing other problems.
Another fun project was using tomato's in a new recipe a friend sent me called, Chunky Tomato Basil Soup. It was quite tasty. At the Fairfield Tomato Festival I was given directions for a Tightening Tomato Facial Mask. Oh, how much fun one can have with this little round fruit!