Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How Do You Support Your Tomato Plants?

Many of us are just entering one of the most favorite times of the year for gardeners; The Tomato Harvest!

The tomato is to the vegetable garden what the lion is to the jungle - The King! Many gardeners who don't grow any other vegetables still raise a few tomato plants.

There is more written in the blogosphere about tomatoes than any other vegetable. Ottawa Hortiphilia documents this well with an Ode to the Tomato. Further proof is the fact that Veggie Garden Info has had 74 posts about tomatoes in just the past two months. Bloggers like myself write about harvesting and eating tomatoes, growing tomatoes, types of tomatoes, early tomatoes, tomato pests and heirlooms versus hybrid tomatoes among other tomato topics. The topic we seem to leave out most of the time however is how we support those massive tomato vines. Moving back to our King of the Jungle analogy, tomato plants without the right kind of support can turn into a jungle!

So how do you support your tomatoes? Stakes or cages? Stake and Weave or some other system? Do you tie them up or use a trellis? Do you have your own creative way of keeping those tomatoes off the ground? From what I've seen so far, my vote for the nicest looking tomato support goes to Skippy's Vegetable Garden's Tomato Tepees.

I grow over 40 tomato plants each year. They are all spread out in my garden so I end up trying many different means of support. With some of the plants, I lazily plop down a store-bought cage around them. Except for determinant plants or bush patio types, this is a bad idea. They tend to eventually fall over like the one below on the left!

So other than store bought cages, I use three different types of support: The Florida Stake-and-Weave, Wood topless tomato tables, and a tie up each plant to a trellis method.

The Florida Weave is probably the easiest to do.

You put stakes in between each plant or every few plants depending on how closely spaced you tomatoes are. You then tie twine or clothesline from post to post, weaving in and out of the tomato plants. With subsequent twines above one another weaving the opposite direction, you can easily "suspend" your tomato plants.

My main advice here is to put the system in while the plants are still small like Steven from Dirt Sun Rain did. I waited till the plants were about to fall over and it was much harder to "weave" the plants.

Probably my favorite tomato support to use is my home-made "topless tables".

These don't look pretty, but they keep the tomatoes off the ground without any pruning, staking or tying. You could call them wood tomato cages. They are basically like frames for a table without a solid top. The tomato plant grows through the middle and the branches sprawl over the sides. I have experimented with making them double-decker like the one on the left, but I don't think it is necessary.

Lastly, I have what my family calls the tomato tower.

It is basically a very tall trellis in which you tie twine or clothesline from the top and then loop the other end around the base of the plant (you do not tie it to the plant). You then wind the twine around the central stem as the tomato plant grows.

This keeps the plant growing straight and upright. It works best if you keep the suckers pruned off of the central stem. I have used this method for years, but you can only support a limited number of plants this way.

Hannah from This Garden Is Illegal is using this method this year. In May, she posted a very nice (and entertaining) video about building the structure. You can find it HERE.

Well there you have it. This post ended up being longer than I expected but when it comes to tomatoes, I just can't stop writing about them. If you are still reading, chances are you too are a tomato gardening fan!

So I would love to hear from you. How do you support your tomatoes? What are some ways you have tried that worked or didn't work? Let's make this a poll of what kind of support is most used by gardeners who blog or read blogs.

Thanks and Happy Tomato Picking!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Black Krim Wins For First Main Season Tomato!

We have picked over 100 Early Girl tomatoes so far from the extra-early planted tomatoes, but finally we had another variety ripen!

Black Krim, one of my new heirlooms is the winner for the earliest main season tomato.

I am growing over 20 different types of tomatoes this year, and a number of them, like Black Krim, are heirlooms.

So does Black Krim make the grade?

I'm not going to give it a exhaustive evaluation like Hanna at This Garden Is Illegal does with her Hanna's Tomato Tasting, but giving Black Krim a pass or fail grade, it passes!

I do have to report that Hanna's 2006 Tomato Tasting entries did inspire me to try more heirlooms this year.

So what are my observations about Black Krim so far? It IS a darker tomato, but it was difficult for me to tell when it was ripe.

I had two ripen at the same time and I think I may have left them on the vine longer than I had to. The shoulders were still pretty green though.

The plant is still fairly small, but seems healthy. After slicing the Black Krims, I noticed that they are pretty meaty and the outside ring is almost black.

As for the taste, they were pretty good. Far less acid than the Early Girls we have gotten used to (have become almost sick of). The flavor reminded me of the Amish Brandywine. I wish I had a Brandywine right now to do a side by side comparison. We ate both Black Krims in our taste test and all four of us in my family wanted more. I say that is the sign of a good tomato!

I will report more at the end of the season about yield and comparison with the other varieties. I wonder what variety will ripen next?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cosmos Seashells and Bee Close-up Picture

These are Cosmos Seashells from my older daughter's flower garden. It is looking very pretty right now. I will show more pictures of the entire bed in a later post. She chose to grow the Cosmos Seashells because they are so unusual. I guess the bee doesn't think they are unusual. He was camping out on that flower!

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Veggie Garden Harvest

One of the things I love about having a vegetable garden is that for the rest of the summer you can harvest fresh veggies for dinner.

I'm not talking about the big harvests of beans or tomatoes or zucchini that occur. I'm talking about having the ability to pick just enough for that days meals. My daughter enjoyed harvesting all of this but she thought the composition of my picture was all wrong. She rearranged the veggies to look like this:

She's right, that looks better.

Either way they are arranged, these vegetables will be eaten by my family in two meals. The eggplant is going into spaghetti sauce for a meal. The tomatoes, cucumber and pepper went into last nights salad and the potatoes and onions were cooked with a ham. The only thing that would have been better is if we had our own fresh green beans to go with it. We are growing beans, but they were planted late.

Its probably a good thing that I was late in planting so many things because I wouldn't have time for a big harvest right now. I have still been spending quite a bit of time with my Dad, helping him wherever I can since he is in the latter stages of cancer. When I do have time, the garden is a great place to go to get cheered up. Especially now that my wife weeded it (since I haven't done that enough) and since my daughter enjoys it too. Hopefully soon she can harvest another smiley face!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Big Change in Garden Plans

I re-built my entire raised bed vegetable garden this year.

It was a lot more work than I expected and it has put me behind schedule on much of my planting. At the end of June I had one major construction left; building the corn bed and the fence to go around it. It was one of the things on my 2007 garden to do list, and was to provide protection for the corn and trellis space for cucumbers, melons, pole beans, miniature pumpkins and flowers. It was an idea that began when snow was on the ground and I was excited to do it. Even though I was way behind schedule, I set out to build my 6 foot tall fence.

It was hard work driving the fence posts in with a sledge hammer. The posts were so long that I had to get up on a step ladder to drive them!

Finally the fence posts were in and it was time to attach the fence.

I had never done this before and had no idea how to do it. I tried attaching the fence with the little hooks built in to the post but that didn't work. It was also near impossible to stretch the fence taught by myself. I kept getting scratched by the end of the fence. Also the posts were level and straight but the ground sloped. Bottom line, I was in over my head.

By now it was almost the 4th of July and time for our family vacation. So what did I do? A pessimist would say I admitted defeat and threw in the towel. An optimist like me would say I improvised and switched to plan B for the garden design.

I took down the fence (getting scratched even more) and dug out the fence posts.

I rounded up my scrap wood and built two more garden beds.

I decided we would have to wait another year to find out if Mirai 301BC corn is really the corn that everyone talks about. I planted my root-bound cucumbers in one of the beds along with another sowing of bush green beans. I used the other bed to solve another problem. I had planned to till an entirely new area for a pumpkin patch but hadn't done it yet. So instead of engaging in all of that extra work, I planted my pumpkin plants in the other bed where the corn was to go. It is at the far end of the garden so the pumpkin vines will grow out into the yard. I will try to stay ahead of the vines and put down tarps and old carpet to kill the grass and allow the vines to lay on top. Next year, I will then make more garden beds in that spot.

So here is the finished product:

You can't see the plants very well but they're there. In another month they will take over the entire area!

These changes are indeed a compromise from what I had hoped to have, but isn't that how gardening goes? Does it ever go exactly as planned? I am just happy that finally - in July - I'm finished with my spring plantings. I hope its not too late to get a Fall harvest before frost.

It is just about time to begin the Fall planting for the Winter harvest!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Foggy Forest - Natural Beauty!

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Your Garden Still Grows While You're On Vacation!

I am back from our mini vacation where we shot off many fireworks, ate out a lot, watched some movies, went to a museum and an aquarium, and went boating and fishing on the lake!

Isn't it amazing how your garden seems to grow faster than usual when you leave it for a few days? Wow! Everything got bigger. Just before vacation I made some big changes to my original garden plans and finally planted my pumpkins, cucumbers and more green beans. I will write more about that in my next post.

This post is just to let you know that I'm still here - I'm not stuck on the 4th of July. I also want to direct your attention to a post from Stuart at Gardening Tips 'n' Ideas, although most of you have probably already seen it (unless you have been on vacation too). Stuart named his top 14 bloggers to watch, and somehow I made the list. What an honor! I think it was more for my work with Veggie Garden Info than with Garden Desk, but either way - thank you Stuart!

I have just put many posts on Veggie Garden Info to get us caught up from my vacation. Now I have to get Garden Desk caught up!

The garden may take care of itself while you are away, but your blogs sure don't!

Happy Gardening - I'll be back soon!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A Fun, Food, Family, Fireworks Fourth!

The only gardening today will be picking veggies for the grill! I will be filling my Fourth with family, fun, food, and fireworks!

Happy Independence Day and may God Bless America!

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Perfect Pepper!

For some reason, I have never been able to grow adequate bell peppers. I know, I know, peppers are easy to grow. Bell Peppers have never been easy for me. It's a curse. Well this year, the curse has been lifted!

It's a big and beautiful green pepper! To be exact it is a Park's Whopper bell pepper. We ate half of it in stir fry last night, and the other half in a salad today and it was delicious. The plants have several more almost ready too. So what did I do different this year? The only thing I can think of that helped break my curse is my Great Big Plants liquid compost that I got from greatbigplants.com.

You can read more about Great Big Plants in my previous post about it.

I can't wait till the next whopper pepper is ripe. The next one is getting grilled with some garden fresh onions! I'll stop there. This is supposed to be a gardening blog, not a cooking blog.

Happy gardening! (and cooking and eating!)

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