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Posts Tagged ‘growing tomatoes’

k0284391I should be nestled all snug in my bed as visions of sugar plums dance in my head, but I can’t sleep. Hey, it happens.  This time it’s all about seasonal allergies.  All the weed pollen floating around Georgia found its way into my lungs and I have some kind of chest infection.  As a result, last night my lungs were exploding and I didn’t sleep at all.  Mostly I just panicked.  Then today, I pretty much slept all day. Now tonight, I can breathe well enough to sleep, but I’m not sleepy. Figures. So…I have a cup of tea at hand and decided to talk to you a bit about what I learned from this year’s gardening season. That way, if you can’t sleep either, you can use this post as a sedative.

I learn something every year. Sometimes it’s a lot, sometimes a little, but always something.  If you don’t already keep some kind of a garden journal, I encourage you to start doing so. It can be elaborate, or very simple. I choose the simple route. I use a spiral notebook and a mechanical pencil. Maybe it’s my age, but for whatever reason, the information sticks better if I write it rather than enter it into the computer.

Usually in December I start planning my garden for the next spring.  And here’s a tip to save you some coin.  Many seed companies have end of season sales in December and you can pick up some pretty good deals. 

Anyway, I always write out my garden plan including all the varieties I intend to plant and when I will start the seeds. At the end of the season, I like to take note of what I learned.  That’s what I’m up to tonight as I sip my late night English Breakfast tea.

1.       This was a hard year. In part it was because it was so hot and dry.  Many of the plants really suffered. Besides the heat, my health has been up and down due to some back issues so I didn’t keep up on the weeding very well.  In all honesty, that got out of hand. All in all, it was pretty discouraging.  But I have a plan. Lesson: regardless of experience, some times you’re going to have a bad year. Live with it.

2.       This year it finally sank in that buckets are not very good as containers except for a few select items like snap peas or maybe a cucumber.  For several years I’ve used them for tomatoes, and except for the occasional cherry or grape variety, the results have been marginal, at best.  I like container gardens because of the flexibility, and I’ve always had a lot of buckets because they’re cheap. My logic was that buckets are deep and the roots can really dive deep, but in reality that’s not what most veggies, including tomatoes really want.  This year, my veggies in half barrels and self watering containers did much better than anything in buckets.  I could see the difference as soon as I pulled up the plants after they were done. The roots want to spread out more than go deep.  For example, I had a single zucchini in a 3 ft by 5 ft. 8 inch deep concrete block raised bed that out performed any three zucchini in buckets. The roots spread through the whole bed, the plant was at least 7 feet across and I maybe got 24 or 25 fruit off of it.  The ones in the buckets were a foot tall, 2 feet across and gave me 3 or 4 fruit each.  Soil, nutrients, water were all the same.  The plants in buckets couldn’t spread out.

Similarly, I have one Yellow Moruga Scorpion pepper plant all on it’s own in a container with a wide top and it is twice as large as any other pepper plant, and it has much larger fruit. 

As for tomatoes, I use a popular brand of self watering container that says grow two plants per container.  I always do that, but this year, as an experiment, I took two containers and planted just one tomato and a basil plant. The difference was extraordinary. This revelation has changed my gardening forever.  Lesson: some crops benefit from intensive planting, others want room to spread out. Buckets have limitations. Sometimes spending a little more on larger containers saves in the long run.

For the record, my snap peas and cucumbers did great in the buckets. 

3.       I learned the hard way, that Deep Water Culture hydroponics is not the best way to grow tomatoes outside in Georgia.  The plants got off to a fast start in the green house and were huge and lush.  I had 13 in total. They filled with fruit early. I have never even come close to having tomatoes start off like these DWC ones did.  I was expecting to be canning tomatoes by mid June.  Then the hot weather hit and my hydro tomatoes disappeared as if by dark magic,  despite adding extra oxygen.  The water just got too hot and the roots cooked.  It was ugly and I was extremely disappointed.  Lesson learned.  Lesson: If I’m going to grow hydroponic tomatoes in Georgia, use Dutch Buckets, or another drip system.

4.       Speaking of hydroponic tomatoes, I learned that for me, they don’t taste nearly as good as soil grown ones.  The same is not true for green leafies or cruciferous ones.  I found that if you flush the system of all nutrients and run just water for a few days, like you do with aquaponics, it helps. Lesson: Always flush Hydroponic tomatoes with fresh water for about a week before eating.

5.       Let me stick with tomatoes for one more lesson. On the whole, cherry tomatoes are hardier than slicers. This has been true for me since I started serious gardening many years ago. Whether we’re talking about water shortages, heat index, or even calcium deficiencies, cherry tomatoes have always handled adversity better than their larger, more glamorous cousins. For that reason, I recommend ALWAYS having a few in your garden.  Lesson: Make Cherry Tomatoes a garden staple.

6.       It’s always better to oversize the water pumps on your aquaponics systems. I’ve found that with the exception of very small aquarium type systems, systems don’t turn over as quickly as advertised on the packaging, so It’s valuable to go a size up. The cost increase is marginal and the results are worth it. Lesson: Saving money on the front end, sometimes costs a great deal on the back end.

7.       I’m going to offer one more aquaponics lesson. This year I tried some water fountain/pond filter combinations as an experiment.  Essentially, they are great as a pre-filter or sprayer for oxygenation for the fish tank, but I had no luck using them as stand alone filters.  I tried a 1250 gph combo in a 300 gal system (150 gal fish tank, 2 x 50 gal raft beds, plus sump, and couldn’t keep up with even 30 common goldfish. It was a pretty water feature, but didn’t work as a filter.  Adding a small trickle filter between the Fish tank and first raft would have helped. Alternatively, swapping the sprayer for a media filter would have worked, too.  Fish waste simply requires more filtration than those little boxes can handle. Lesson: While it’s possible to have too little filtration, it’s virtually impossible to have too much. Make sure you have enough space for strong beneficial bacteria colonies.

8.       Mulching matters.  This year, despite having a couple tons of tree mulch available, I didn’t use it.  And I paid the price. Weeds were terrible, and with the dry summer, my watering needs were off the chain. 

In July, I was losing my roses. They were baking.  So I fed them, watered them thoroughly and mulched them well with some pine straw I had in the greenhouse. The benefits were almost instantaneous.  I had no more problems and twice the blooms of last year.  Similarly, I have 3 blackcurrant bushes that positively hate Georgia summers. I mulched two of them and they have tolerated and endured this season despite being on the face of the sun.  The one I didn’t mulch, died.  I fed it and watered it regularly, but it failed.  Lesson indelibly marked on my brain; Mulching is a part of garden essentials. It is not optional.

And there you have it; eight lessons that will make my future gardening endeavors more successful. They will work for you, too. I encourage you to incorporate them into your plans, immediately.

I’d love to hear what you learned this year. Just use the comments section and let’s talk.  Next week will be the first annual ‘Fertilizer issue’.  I will review 3 different commercial products I use(d) and make some recommendations.  Until then, have a great weekend. And remember, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

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suncartoonWe’ve had one heck of a hot summer here in Georgia; and it’s wreaked havoc on our garden.  The heat came early, in late April.  Oh, I forgot to mention, it’s also been dry.  Our summer squash really struggled. I had to harvest the zucchini and cucumbers much earlier (and smaller) than normal to ensure good texture and flavor.

Our strawberries were good and plentiful, but came in much earlier than the last two years.

Frankly, the corn was a disaster. I made some mistakes with it that I will confess in another post, but for now, just know I couldn’t keep enough moisture on it.

I lost my battle over our tomatoes.  They started better than ever.  They were gorgeous until early May.  Once the heat got crazy, I couldn’t get them to produce. They simply don’t like to make fruit in hot weather.  We had an excellent early harvest, but now, only the hardiest cherry tomatoes are prospering.

The green beans and potatoes have been fine.  Harvests were not as big, but quality was good.

Oddly, most years I have real trouble with winter squash. This year, I only planted ONE butternut and ONE acorn squash. They produced like crazy.  I think they liked the warmer weather.  They would have done even better, but our free range rabbits developed a taste for winter squash. 🙂

It’s our peppers, though, that have been most dramatically impacted by this crazy summer.  First, for reasons I’ll explain another day, we didn’t plant at many plants this year.  I planted three bell, 3 mini bell, 8 jalapeno, 4 Doux des Landes, 3 Thai, 3 yellow ghost, 1 yellow Moruga Scorpion, and 4 roasting peppers.  Oh, I almost forgot, we also have 5 habanero plants.

First, only one of my bell peppers survived the heat and a rabbit invasion. To my surprise, the one that survived turned out to be a Giant Aconcagua and not a bell at all. I was elated, because I prefer Aconcagua.

Not a single mini bell survived. I’m pretty sad, because they tend to be so very sweet.  On the other hand, we prefer Aconcagua, Roasters, and Doux des Landes anyway, so it’s all good.

Stumpy, but Potent Jalapeno

Stumpy, but Potent Jalapeno

With the single exception of the Yellow Moruga, all the pepper plants are stunted. Before you ask, they all had plenty of nutrients and compost.  It is my suspicion that the lack of rain played a role. I was forced to use the garden hose from late April, and our water is loaded with chlorine and chloramines. The only water I dechlorinate is for the aquaponics systems and they did very poorly. It was so hot, that even with extra oxygen the raft beds were too warm for the plant roots. Again, more in another post.

While the plants were small, they have been prolific, providing an abundance of pods. The pods on the sweet peppers have all been smaller than normal. The Doux des Landes, for example have mostly been only a little larger than a long red cayenne. They have also had more heat than one would expect. Instead of just a little warm aftertaste, these have had an actual kick.  A few have been full size, but only about 10%.

Ironically, the Moruga plant is gorgeous, large and green.  For whatever reason, though, the rabbits love the taste and we haven’t gotten a single fruit.   They are the only peppers we’ve lost to the bunnies.  Oh well.

The Ghost and habanero plants are smaller than normal, but the fruit is full sized.  The Jalapeno fruit is about half the size of normal summers. The big thing, though, is the heat. Oh my Gosh, are the hot peppers hot.  It’s like everything has been sized up.  My wife and in laws swear the Jalapenos are like Habaneros.  I don’t think they are quite that hot, but boy howdy, they pack a punch. Most years, I snack on them like a sweet pepper.  Not this year. No sir, not this year.

As for the Habaneros, although they are common orange ones, I’d compare them to Red Savina. And as for the Yellow Ghost, they are hot like red ones. The first one I ate, I was disappointed at first, because it didn’t hit at all for about 20 seconds. Then it suddenly turned to shock and awe. I love that. It’s deceptive.

All I can guess is that the extra heat stressed the peppers which often intensifies the heat. And this year’s heat is INTENSE. Yay!

Miniature Doux des Landes

Miniature Doux des Landes

My disappointment in the early setbacks has been replaced by delight due to the flavor.  All varieties hot and mild are bursting with it. And there are a lot of flowers and young pods still developing.

How has your garden done?  I’d love to hear about it.

Talk to you soon.

 

 

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Time to transplant into cups, but too early for putting in garden

Time to transplant into cups, but too early for putting in garden

As winter comes to a welcome close, it’s time for me to fire up all engines and get this site moving for the season. I do hope you had a great off season and are ready for spring planting; but not too ready!

Here in our part of North Georgia (zone 7b), we’ve had a glorious end to February and an even better beginning to March. As I understand it, other parts of the country have had similar experiences. As a result, the seedlings in our greenhouse are way ahead of schedule.  They’ve had lots of sunshine and nice weather to keep them happy in their nursery.

Our snap peas are already starting to climb their trellises and our tomatoes look about three weeks ahead of normal.  It will be near 80 here today, with gentle breezes and a good mix of sun and cloud. It’s hard not to love this. I’m not even going to try. It’s awesome.

The problem is, I’m already hearing people discuss putting out their gardens.  Please don’t.  Sure, your kale and cabbage, etc. will be ok, but keep those tomatoes, peppers, squash and such inside until you have passed the final ‘frost date’ for your area. You can GOOGLE your dates or you can contact your local extension office.  Here in Bartow County, GA the last frost date is April 15.

We are blessed to have a small greenhouse where we can keep seedlings and young plants to give them a head start, which makes it easy to be patient, but I remember the days before the greenhouse when early spring weather saw us out in mid to late March setting tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe and all the other starter plants that should have waited another month.  More than once, my wife and I have had to rush out and cover plants because we heard the weather was changing. And, more times than I care to recall, we’ve been surprised by sudden frosts that have forced us to start over. Starting over can get pretty expensive.

Cucumbers will stay safe in the greenhouse until Mid April

Cucumbers will stay safe in the greenhouse until Mid April

urge you to enjoy early warm spells. Get outside and get your hands dirty. Prepare your beds, build new ones. Get your compost bins going. Work up the soil, but don’t set out anything that can be damaged by frost.  Frankly, even though I could put out my brassicas, I tend to leave them in the greenhouse as long as possible. Because we grow mostly in containers, it’s easy to do. Alternatively, I can bring my containers inside at night and put them out during the day.

I’d love to here how you handle the temptation to set plants out early. Feel free to share your successes AND failures. Just hit the comment button and join the conversation. And…if you need me to talk you down, just ask. After all, we’re in this together.

 

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seedsOver the weekend, I had a couple of people ask whether or not it’s too late to plant some things like squash, tomatoes and pumpkins. Someone also asked about lettuce. I was able to advise them to ‘go for it’ (although here in Georgia, I’d wait until September for the lettuce). August is a great time to plant a second harvest of many vegetables and in some more northern areas it’s time to get your fall crops in. Here in the south, we’re just getting started. August and September are both fantastic month for planting. I did some research and came up with the following list of crop ideas, depending on what part of the country you live in. The list is not exhaustive by any means, but should give you a good start. Don’t sit back and say, ‘Darn, I have to wait until next spring for my garden.” Heck no. Go get some dirt under your fingernails TODAY.

Remember, we love feedback. Please send us your comments, questions, suggestions and idea. Remember, we’re all in this together.

August Planting Ideas:

CENTRAL U.S./MIDWEST REGION
Arugula
Basil
Beans
Beets
Broccoli (Transplants)
Brussels sprouts (Transplants)
Cabbage (Transplants)
Carrots
Cauliflower (Transplants)
Cilantro
Cucumbers
Kale
Lettuce
Mustard Greens
Peas
Parsley
Radishes
Rutabaga
Spinach
Summer Squash
Swiss Chard
Turnips
Winter Squash

NEW ENGLAND + MID-ATLANTIC REGIONS
Arugula
Basil (Transplants)
Beans
Beets
Brussels sprouts (Transplants)
Cabbage (Transplants)
Calabrese Broccoli (Transplants)
Carrots
Cilantro
Collards
Cucumber
Kale
Leeks (Transplants)
Lettuce
Mustard Greens
Parsley
Radishes
Spinach
Swiss Chard
Turnips

NORTH CENTRAL U.S./ROCKY MOUNTAIN REGION
Arugula
Beets
Carrots
Cilantro
Dill
Kale
Kohlrabi
Lettuce
Parsley
Radishes
Rutabaga
Scallions (Transplant)
Spinach
Turnips

PACIFIC NORTHWEST REGION
Arugula
Beans
Beets
Broccoli (Transplants)
Brussels Sprouts (Transplants)
Cabbage (Transplants)
Carrots
Cauliflower (Transplants)
Cilantro
Collard Greens
Dill
Kale
Lettuce
Mustard Greens
Parsley
Peas
Radishes
Spinach
Swiss Chard
Turnips

SOUTHEAST/GULF COAST REGIONS
Arugula
Basil
Beans
Beets
Carrots
Cilantro
Collard greens
Cucumber
Dill
Eggplant (Transplants)
Southern Peas
Bell Peppers (Transplants)
Okra
Pumpkins
Summer Squash
Spinach
Tomato (Transplants)
Watermelon
Winter Squash

SOUTHWEST REGION
Arugula
Basil
Beans
Beets
Carrots
Cilantro
Collards
Corn
Cucumbers
Dill
Kale
Peppers (Transplants)
Summer Squash
Swiss Chard
Tomato (Transplants)
Winter Squash

 

 

 

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Zephyr Squash. Did it make the list?

Zephyr Squash. Did it make the list?

As I was looking through my seed library the other day, I finally accepted the reality that I’m a hoarder. I not only have seeds for varieties I’ve never planted, I have seeds of things I’m not even sure what they are.

Mostly though, the excess comes from the fact that while I know I’m going to grow certain standard, favorite varieties, I like to try a few new things each year. Unfortunately, seed packets come with too many seeds for most of my ‘tests’, so I end up with lots of left overs.

Seed catalogs don’t help. All they do is make me want to try more and more, encouraging my experimental nature and feeding my hoarding tendencies.

In nearly every type of fruit and vegetable, there are so many varieties to choose from, I could almost become indecisive. If that’s true for an experienced gardener like me, what’s a beginner supposed to do?

Since ‘Our Edible Suburb’ attracts a large number of beginning gardeners in addition to all you crazy garden addicts, I decided it would be a good idea to add a new twist and review new varieties from time to time. I will do the reviews as YouTube videos and link to them here on the blog. I’m kind of excited about it. Stay tuned.

Today, though, I’m going to highlight some varieties that would be my pick if I could only grow one type of each veg. To be fair, these might not necessarily be my favorite, but for one reason or another, if I could grow only one, these would be my choices.

  1. Tomato. Most years I grow from 15 to 30 varieties because Brittan and I love tomatoes. We love them
    Large Red Cherry Tomatoes

    Large Red Cherry Tomatoes

    fresh, canned and dried.  We like to can as much of our own sauce and paste as possible, and variety is the spice of live.  I would be hard pressed to choose my favorite, though ‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’ comes to mind as a real possibility. If I could only grow one variety it would be ‘Large Red Cherry’.  Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Large Red cherry is an indeterminate variety so it keeps growing and producing all season. The tomatoes grow in nice clusters of usually 4 to 8 one to two inch fruits. They are full of great tomato flavor, with enough juiciness to enjoy fresh, but meaty enough for roasting, grilling or canning.  They are small enough to put in your salad, yet just big enough to slice onto your summer sandwich. The plants are extremely hardy and seem to be resistant to blossom end rot.  And, because they are indeterminate, they get lots of suckers, so I’m able to get all the cuttings I want for second season tomatoes (yes, we have two seasons here. Three if you start your seeds in a greenhouse in January, like I do.)

  2. Hot Pepper. Everyone who has read this blog for very long knows I’m a true heat lover. Growing hot peppers is my very favorite part of gardening. I grow a wide variety of them, from Early Prolific
    Biker Billy Jalapenos

    Biker Billy Jalapenos

    Jalapenos to Carolina Reapers, and I think I love them all.  If someone stuck a gun to my head, I would say yellow Jolokia (ghost peppers) or yellow Moruga Scorpions are my favorite and that Serrano peppers are the most versatile for cooking.  If, though, I could only grow ONE hot pepper, I would choose the ‘Biker Billy Hybrid’ Jalapeno. Biker Billy’s are prolific producers with a heat level somewhere between a Cayenne and a Habanero.   They make outstanding poppers, and if allowed to completely ripen are great for roasting. They make a darned fine pepper jelly.

  3. Sweet Pepper. I’m only just now learning to appreciate all the nuances of the different sweet peppers, having spent most of my gardening years thinking ‘a sweet pepper is a sweet pepper’. Though I have grown several varieties, I’ve grown mostly California Wonder and other mixed colored Bells. Still, if I was limited to only one variety, I would choose the Giant Aconcagua, due to its size, versatility and sweetness. Aconcaguas are the perfect stuffing or roasting peppers and are fantastic sliced into rings for a salad.
  4. Zucchini. This one is really easy for me. I would choose Partenon hands down if I only had one choice. That’s because I’m really lazy and Partenon has been bulletproof in the three years I’ve grown it. Partenon is, as the name suggests, Parthenocarpic, meaning it can grow fruit without pollination. Because of this, I can plant early and often.  I frequently start planting in January in my greenhouse and with a good plan for sequential planting I can harvest through Thanksgiving.
  5. Cucumbers. Right now I would choose Socrates for the same reasons I’d select Partenon as my Zucchini/Squash.  Plus, the plants produce heavy numbers of cucumbers, so it only takes a few plants to keep us in Cukes all year. I love cucumbers and truly enjoy many varieties, but Socrates would be my pick if I could only grow one type.
  6. Beans. I’m not sure I could name all the varieties of beans I’ve grown over the years. It’s mind boggling to think about how many kinds there are. I know most people seem to prefer pole beans for small spaces, but I’m a bush bean guy. I like the low maintenance and the fact that I can continuously plant in different parts of the garden after other crops finish, which is good for the soil and good for our larder.  As I thought through which would be my ONE choice, I came up with a tie, because ‘beans’ is such a generic term. I would pick Fordhook Lima and Kentucky Wonder, both in their bush varieties.
  7. Lettuce.  I absolutely hate salad. In fact, I don’t have the vocabulary to describe how badly I hate salad. But I love growing lettuce more than I hate eating it. I enjoy growing ‘blends’ because there are so many surprises that come from the seed packets. Romaines are fun because they get so big and impressive in the garden. Buttercrunch is another visually appealing variety, but if I could choose only one, it would be Black Seeded Simpson. BSS is a well known, but often neglected heirloom. It can be picked as a leaf lettuce or grown out as a head lettuce. It grows beautifully, gets quite large, and for a lettuce, tastes pretty good.
  8. Cabbage is almost too easy to include. My choice would be Baby Bok Choy. It is ready for harvest about 30 days after germination. It germinates easily and I can grow it all year in my hydroponics systems.
  9. Potatoes. I know that potatoes seem to be politically incorrect in our low carb world, but I think that’s rubbish. If potatoes are grown organically, they are full of vitamins and minerals to keep us healthy and the right kinds of carbs to keep our energy levels high during those winter months when we need plenty of fuel to stay warm.  The pages of history are filled with stories of societies and people groups that have been literally saved from extinction because of the lowly spud.  And if I could choose only one type, it would be Yukon Gold. It grows well, has a good balance in its texture, tastes great and is versatile in how it can be adapted for cooking.
  10. Herbs. I think I’ll make this the last one for this entry, because it’s getting pretty wordy. I don’t think there is a single herb I dislike. Some are tastier than others. Some are prettier than others, but all are wonderful additions to our gardens, larders and/or medicine cabinets. If I had to limit myself, I would
    Oregano

    Oregano

    choose Sweet Basil from that family, Garden Thyme from the thymes and Common Oregano.  All are beautiful, fragrant and delicious.

Ok, it’s time to stop. There’s just not enough time to cover every type of vegetable. Perhaps I’ll come back to this theme another time.  If you’ve read through to the end, I hope you’ve heard some of your favorites and maybe learned of some new ones. Now it’s your turn because I’m desperate to hear about your favorite varieties.  Please add your comments and share what tickles your taste buds and shows up regularly in your garden.

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Fresh-Garden-Vegetables_Natural__IMG_5191-580x386It’s garden planting season all over the Northern Hemisphere; aka, Spring.  Seasoned gardeners have been pouring over seed and plant catalogues for months, deciding which old favorites will grace their gardens for the umpteenth time and which new varieties we’ll try.

Those of us in the more moderate to warmer climates have the majority, or even all, of our gardens totally planted. A few of the most fortunate are already enjoying early harvests.

For thousands of beginning gardeners, and those in the northernmost zones, it’s just now decision time.  We’ve studied our hardiness zones and prepped our beds, but deciding on plant varieties seems almost overwhelming.

As we look through catalogues and websites, the options make our heads spin. How can there be this many kinds of tomatoes, green beans, or cucumbers, etc. to choose from?

Among the areas of confusion for new gardeners is the misinformation that hybrid varieties are all bad, while heirloom varieties are all good.

The confusion lies in the mistaken idea that hybrids are synonymous with GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) varieties, which is simply not true.

Hybrids are merely cross bred varieties that are created to emphasize certain traits like size, shape, seedlessness, disease resistance, or any number of other characteristics. While hybridization crosses different strains, it does not introduce foreign DNA into the plant.

A GMO, on the other hand, has had its DNA tampered with in a laboratory environment. The most hyped kind of GMO is ‘Round Up Ready’, which means the DNA of the seed has been ‘enhanced’ chemically to resist the introduction of the herbicides found in Monsanto’s ‘Round Up’.  Fields of Round Up Ready crops can be freely sprayed with Round Up, without, theoretically, damaging the crop itself.

A hybrid tomato, then, is comparable to a designer dog, like a Labradoodle, while a GMO tomato would be more like something from ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’.

veggiesCurrently, there are no GMO seeds being sold to the general public from seed catalogs or garden centers. The same is true for starter plants.

Most gardeners are familiar with Bonnie Plants, who seem to have displays in nearly every garden center.  Bonnie offers a wide selection of both heirloom and hybrid varieties.  You are perfectly safe choosing which varieties you like.

The biggest downside of growing hybrids is that they are not good for seed saving. Chances are, the seeds will not breed true to the same characteristics of the plant the seeds were saved from.  Apart from that, the only other negative is that some people think hybrids lack the flavor complexity found in heirloom varieties.

I disagree.  While it used to be true, and in a few tomato varieties, hardiness trumped flavor; these days many of the hybrids taste just a great as open pollinated, heirlooms. I would go as far as to say, the sweetest sweet corn and melons come from some of the hybrids. My absolutely favorite Jalapeno is the ‘Biker Billy’ hybrid, which has great Jalapeno flavor with more than double the heat of the traditional ‘Early Prolific’ variety.

My favorite cabbages are heirlooms, while my favorite cauliflowers are hybrids. I love heirloom basil and hybrid cantaloupe. I could go on, but you get the point.

Grow the varieties of fruits and vegetables you and your family love to eat and don’t worry about the heirloom vs. hybrid myths. Unless you’re planning to save seeds, the whole catalogue is open to you. Have fun. Experiment with different types. Find your old favorites and see if there are some new favorites out there.  Rest easy. Hybrids are not the devil.

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tomatoesI was reading some ‘tomato growing tips’ online this morning and realized yet again how many myths and how much inaccurate information is out there.  I know that much of it is well intentioned material that’s been handed down by good people over the years, but I still feel compelled to bust these myths and free you up to grow the best tomatoes ever, and to grow the varieties you want, even if you’re limited to tiny spaces.

Myth 1. If you’re growing in buckets, you are limited to determinate varieties.   I’m not sure where that came from, but it simply isn’t true.  I’ve grown my tomatoes in buckets and other containers for years,  and I grow lots of indeterminate tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets.  In fact, I grow the smaller determinate varieties like Tumbler and Tiny Tim in 3 gallon buckets.  In the commercial hydroponic world, many growers use 3 gallon ‘bato buckets’ for indeterminate varieties.

The secrets to successful container tomatoes are: a. loose soil/growing media for root development, b. plenty of moisture and good drainage, c. consistent nutrient supply, d. good support for the plant and fruit.

My soil mix is a blend of rabbit manure worm compost (with lots of straw) from my worm bins, coco peat, sphagnum peat and perlite.  I do sometimes supplement with potting mix purchased from a local garden center. The key is to keep it nice and fluffy so the roots can spread and grab moisture/nutrients.

My containers are simple 3 and 5 gallon buckets sourced from local grocery store bakeries, big box stores and leftover buckets from my wife’s soap business.  I also use Earthboxes purchased off the internet or from the Earthbox Center in Florida (it’s right down the road from my in-laws).

Myth 2. You need to drill lots of holes in the bottom of your buckets for drainage.  This timeless myth has cost us all many gallons of water and many pounds of nutrients as it drains away into the earth beneath the buckets.  (Full disclosure: I used to do this and a few of my old buckets that are still in use have bottom holes.)

I’ve found that self watering/wicking containers  are more water and nutrient efficient. I will make a video of this very soon, but all you need to do, is drill two quarter inch holes about 3 inches up from the bottom of the bucket.  Fill the bucket up to the holes with lava rock, river rock, or whatever you have access to. I find lava rock to be inexpensive and light weight. This layer becomes a reservoir for holding water. If the water level gets too high, the water drains out through the holes, but doesn’t all run out through the bottom.

Cover the rock layer with some landscape fabric, burlap or even an old tee shirt. This forms a barrier between the grow mix and the reservoir.

Put about a one or two inch layer of coco peat or sphagnum peat for wicking, then fill the rest of the bucket with your favorite grow mix.  You will save gallons of water this way and your plants will love you.

In a future update, I’ll explain how and what to feed your tomatoes to maximize your harvest.  For now,  because I know most of the country is getting their tomatoes out, I  wanted to dispel a couple myths that keep container gardeners from enjoying their favorite indeterminate varieties.

I love to hear from you, so please use the comments section send your questions and favorite tomato tips to me. We’re in the together.

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