June 2009

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We all have our problems.

When it comes to garden pests, some of us are plagued with slugs and others stand down plagues of grasshoppers.

Perhaps raccoons level your corn or squirrels uproot your lettuce.

Aphids might infest your cabbage, prompting a cabbage nausea from which you will not soon recover. Trust me.

And cats:

From www.freephotosbank.com and spotted at eHow

Come on, you have a bathroom at home. It’s just rude.

The truth is that sooner or later we all come eye to eye with a critter that insists on eating our food or messing up our garden, and even though we all have to live together here on Earth, they can be a real pain.

Here at Headquarters, our nemesis is the flea beetle.

Flea beetles are small critters that often attack members of the Brassica family (broccoli, kale, collards, mustards). They chew holes in plants and can completely defoliate and kill a plant if it is young and tender.

Three years ago they descended on a crop of fall-planted collard greens and then overwintered in the soil only to attack the potatoes that were planted there the following spring. And then they went for the tomatoes. They went back down into the soil, overwintered, and…repeat.

Panicked queries to garden hotlines produced heavy sighs of sympathy and recommendations to pick up and move. Once they’ve moved in, they tend to stick around. Luckily I work from home so I can go outside, sneak up on them, and squish them several times a day.

They are fast so this approach takes cunning and a bit of training.

It’s not so bad

Everyone has to eat though, and it is always a good idea to plant a little extra as insurance against nature’s hungry. Sometimes a pest sticks around just long enough to do some damage and bring you to the edge of panic, and then they disappear as quickly as they came and the plants recover and all is well with the world again.


Whew.

Remain calm

Accept some damage. Would it have been worth it to spray the heck out of those hard-bodied-impossible-to-kill flea beetles with a pesticide and in the process kill beneficial bugs like ladybugs and bees that were lurking around and probably give my nearby lettuce a good coating, too?

Well, no. From past experience I knew that the potato plants would get eaten a little bit, I’d squish a bunch to make myself feel better, and then the flea beetles would go away and the plant would outgrow the damage.

The idea that you can wipe out pest populations completely is a bit of a pipe dream, anyway. A better approach in our opinion, and in the opinion of the people who hand out the World Food Prize no less, is Integrated Pest Management - a step-by-step approach to pest control that uses least toxic methods first. For more information and pretty pictures on controlling pests naturally, download this handy Natural Pest, Weed, and Disease Control guide.

When it comes to pest control, keep in mind that the first defense against pests is a healthy, diverse garden.

Here’s how it works:

1. Healthy soil = healthy plants. When you feed the soil (compost), you get plants that are strong, lush, healthy, and less attractive to pests (and diseases, too).

2. Start off with healthy plants. Not all plants are created equal. Here are some tips on how to buy healthy plants.

3. Keep things neat. Don’t leave weeds and old, dead leaves and plants lying around. Critters like slugs love to burrow in and munch on decaying plants.

4. Be vigilant. And by vigilance I mean Crop Tour.

Just like eating supper with your kids, daily crop tours help you to keep track of how things are going and whether anyone is being gnawed or bothered.

5. Plant a diverse garden. Mix perennial and annual flowers in with your veggies. Some flowers - Bachelor’s Buttons, Sweet Alyssum, and Anise Hyssop - do a great job bringing in beneficial insects like bees, butterflies, and ladybugs.


Bachelor’s Buttons

Others, like French marigolds, repel annoying insects.

We’ll cover how to encourage biodiversity in the garden on another day. Today, we offer up some information about common garden pests and how you can defend the homefront.

The Slug

They figure there are about 40 different kinds of slugs currently residing in the United States. When I pulled up one of the romaine lettuces in the Grow It Yourself garden, this is the kind of slug I found lurking inside:

Bleurgh.

The outer leaves were covered in slug slime and had to be chucked into the Yard Waste bin. I didn’t put the lettuce in the compost bin because I’m not taking any chances having slug eggs hatch in there and then having slugs spread themselves hither and yon when I spread the compost. No, sir.

Profile

You can spot slugs by their creepy soft bodies and shimmering slime trail. Lovers of lettuce and other soft-tissue plants, slugs take big chomps and leave jagged holes in your plants or, if it’s a small lettuce, they might strip the whole thing down to the stem. They may be slow, but they do not mess around.

Keep an eye out for them, but remember that big ugly slugs were cute kids once too. This is what a baby slug looks like:

From: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yogi/287839424/

And even smaller….

Slug eggs look like clear, shiny pearls.

From www.vegetablegardener.com

It gets worse.

We dare you to look up slug reproduction on Wikipedia.

Sigh, yes, slugs do some good. They feed on decaying leaves and plants and help recycle organic matter into the soil. They are also food for bigger critters like raccoons, and chickens and ducks really like them too.

How to get rid of slugs

Slugs are sneaky sorts and come out at night, so they can be a bit of a challenge to find. On the bright side, the most fun you can have in pest control is strapping on a headlamp and going slug hunting! Some people swear by the therapeutic benefits of a slug hunt.

Simply shine a spotlight on them (just follow the slime trail), pick them (did we mention you might want to wear gloves), and:

a) Dispose of them in a plastic bag and throw them away

b) Toss them into a pail of soapy water to drown and then toss somewhere else

c) Throw them into an open area or, if you’re not on good terms with your neighbours, over the fence.

Note that all of these options are gross and we’ve personally never hunted slugs at night, but we’re all for it. What did we do with our slug? We tossed it into a densely planted area - a slug wilderness of sorts - at the back of the yard.

What else can you do to get rid of slugs?

Don’t encourage them. Slugs like to lurk under stones, boards, plant debris, low-growing plants, compost bins, and the like, so keep these kinds of things away from your garden.

Copper barriers (slug zappers), beer traps (use the cheap stuff), and Diatomaceous earth (rough on their bellies and fun to spell), are all recommended as ways to control slugs in your garden. Read more about these and other slug-stopping methods here.

If you’re a Seattle/King County resident you can also direct your pest questions to the outstanding Garden Hotline: 206.633.0224 (They also take emails)

What about other critters?

To learn how to deter squirrels, check out these suggestions from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Raccoons giving you trouble?


Copyright The Oregonian

Quality tips here.

Epilogue

Our pest control philosophy is to not grow any plant that is a repeat pest offender. Nasturtiums always seem to end up crawling with aphids. Cabbage - ditto. We have diligently hosed off the aphids with water everyday (works great but you have to keep at it), but honestly it is a bit gross and we have bigger fish to fry.

On the other hand, aphids are loved by ladybugs everywhere and when you have an infestation, the ladybugs will come. So you could think of them as a food source for those little fellows.

Next up: Container gardening!

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This spring we wandered around the Saskatchewan homestead and took a few pictures.

If you’re like us and partial to tools, shop supplies, farm equipment, serial number plates, and old farmyards, then check out the rest on Flickr.

Colour-coded to be easy on the eyes.

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“Even during the rationing period, during World War II, we didn’t have the anxiety that we’d starve, because we grew our own potatoes, you know?”

- James Earl Jones, voice of Darth Vader

James Earl Jones is right on.

A huge amount of security comes from knowing that potatoes are in the ground. We expanded the garden at Headquarters by a good 30 percent this year - part of it became the Grow It Yourself garden (with 3 rows and 3 kinds of potatoes) and the rest of it became…potatoes.

This is where things just get illogical. Potatoes take up quite a bit of room and are pretty cheap to buy so, to a hard-headed pencil pusher, it is probably not cost-effective or efficient to devote so much land to them.

But on Canada Day, when your arm is buried to the elbow and your fingers bump into that first potato of the year and you hold it up in triumph while your mom cheers from the patio and your dad pulls out more and more even though you just dug there and found nothing, and then you cook and eat them up with butter and just-snipped chives, well…

Oh Canada.

The potato schedule

If you planted your potatoes when we did - in late April - they are probably just starting to flower.

You should be able to dig down and find the first little potatoes in early July. (We’ll show you how this is done.) Through the summer you can rob just what you need for supper (take from different plants) and let the others grow to full size and harvest them in the fall.

In the meantime, you need to be watering and hilling - or piling up mulch (soil, straw, compost) to cover the leaves and stem of the plant as it grows.

You will need to hill 2 or 3 times through the season, and you ultimately want about a 12 inch mound. You can also think of it this way: mound it up so that 8 inches of the plant is showing at all times and the rest of it is covered.

The point of hilling is to create enough room for the potatoes to grow nice and big, and to keep them well covered - if they are exposed to sunlight they turn green and actually become toxic to eat.

Don’t freak out. The green is just chlorophyll and is not bad for you at all, but the colour indicates that a natural toxin in the potato - Solanine - has become concentrated in that part of the potato and this is what you don’t want to eat. If you ever see green on a potato, just cut it off. The rest of the potato is fine.

The same logic applies to storing potatoes - keep them in a cool, dark place rather than on a sunny, cheerful kitchen counter.

How to hill potatoes

Remember when I dug trenches to plant potatoes and I wanted to pack in so many that I didn’t have room to pile up the soil I dug out and I had to put it in pails? Good times.

Now we need to haul out our pails and return this dirt from whence it came.

Gently pile the soil next to the plant, right on top of the leaves.

Pile it up. Remember that you ultimately want a mound that is about 12 inches high.

If you actually have piles of soil on either side of your potato trench (normal), grab a hoe or use your own paws to scoop the soil over.

If you don’t have enough soil to do such a thing, you can also use compost (which has the added benefit of providing nutrients to the plant) or straw. Straw is nice because it keeps the potatoes nice and clean and they are easier to find. Mulching potatoes with straw is huge in Scandanavia.

How to water potatoes

To be honest, watering potatoes is one of those things that makes us a bit nervous. When they are hilled, it is hard to know whether they are getting enough water, too much, or what the heck is going on down there. Not enough water causes knobby potatoes worthy of entry in your local newspaper’s Weird Vegetable contest, and it also produces a smaller crop. Overwatering, on the other hand, can cause black or hollow centers in potatoes.

Shock horror!

It remains a bit of a mystery, but we’ve always ended up with good crops, so maybe it is not rocket science, after all.

This is what the potato people recommend:

During warmer summer weather, keep your potatoes well watered. We tend to give ours a good drink a couple of times a week, or 3 times if it’s really hot. (Note that we have pretty sandy, fast-draining soil - if your soil holds moisture longer you might be able to water less than this.)

We put the garden hose in the trench between the rows and let it run on a slowish trickle. How long depends on your soil and what you think is a trickle, but try 15 or 20 minutes per row. (You will probably have to move the hose to make sure all the plants in the row get watered.)

It is especially important to water when the potatoes are flowering and just after they have stopped because this is when the plant is actually producing potatoes. After this point the plant can tolerate a little more drought, so you can probably cut back to watering once or twice a week.

As always, watering in the cool morning is best.

Up next: Dealing with critters

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Watering is one of those things that is a bit misunderstood.

As you stroll through your neighborhood in the spring and summer, you are likely to spot well-intentioned people staring blankly ahead, pointing a spray nozzle straight at their plants and hitting them with a full, deafening blast of water. Or, the sprinkler on the front lawn is also watering the sidewalk and unsuspecting terriers and pedestrians.

Inside, these people are thinking, man, watering stinks. I hate gardening. My flip-flops are soaked.

For some good information on watering your lawn, trees, and shrubs with less time, expense, and runoff, check out this handy guide: Smart Watering.

As far as the vegetable garden goes, we are here to help take the mystery out of watering with a handy device we use here at Headquarters:

The soaker hose:

The soaker hose is a form of drip irrigation. The hose is punctured with small holes that allow water to drip through it. When the water is turned on, the hose looks like it is weeping, or perhaps sweating.

Soaker hoses wind through the garden, placed about 12 to 18 inches apart.

What’s so great about a soaker hose?

Laying a soaker hose next to the base of your plants delivers water straight to the plant roots - right where you want it.

No more moving hoses.

No more standing there spraying plants and thinking about what else you could be doing.

You save money. Soaker hoses use much less water and deliver water more efficiently than sprinklers or the “point and shoot” method. So you get a lower water bill in summer when water rates are the highest.

You have healthier plants. Watering at the root level instead of from the top cuts down on moldy leaf diseases.

Soaker hoses are a recycled product. Now you can water and be a do-gooder at the same time.

The specs

You can buy soaker hoses at hardware stores, nurseries, and the like, or if you’re really lucky you can find them cheap or free on Craigslist or at garage sales.

They come in various lengths - 25 feet, 50 feet, 75 feet, 100 feet. You can buy adapters, gaskets, timers, and other gadgets to go along with them, so if you end up with one that has a leaky section or one that is too long, you can fix it right up. (Tip: we used a 50 foot hose in the Grow It Yourself garden, which is 13 feet long and about 6 feet wide and packed full of plants.)

Soaker hoses emit enough water to soak about 6 to 9 inches of ground on either side of it, so lay your hoses 12 to 18 inches apart.

Keep the hose at least 1 to 2 inches away from the base of plants.

These hoses have an open end at one end to attach to the garden hose…

…and a cap at the other end.

You can extend the length of your hose by unscrewing the end cap and attaching another soaker hose to it. Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn’t have a hose longer than 100 feet - at this length the water pressure gets pretty weak and it won’t emit as much water as the plants need.

How to install a soaker hose

Now, the plants are getting pretty tall and bushy, so this is a little late in the game to be installing a soaker hose in the garden, but sometimes you just have to do the best you can.

Warning: You are going to get wet and a little dirty, so ready yourself.

1. Unroll the hose and spread it out nice and long.

You will be inspecting the hose for leaks and to see that it works properly. Also, getting it a bit wet makes it much easier to carry and control. When these hoses are dry they tend to be unwieldy, flying about and crashing into plants, houseguests, and your own head.

2. Attach the soaker hose to your garden hose…

…turn on the tap, and wait for the entire hose to begin seeping. You do not want it to be spraying, straining, and making a sound that makes you think, “Is it supposed to sound like that?” With decent water pressure, you shouldn’t have to turn on the tap very far at all.

3. Gather up some sticks of some sort. As you lay the hose, it is helpful to put some sticks in the ground to help guide and secure the hose and keep it away from the plants. There is a risk of plant crush here, and you need to be careful.

4. If you have a helper, go collect them now.

Friendly advice: If you do not work well together on projects requiring patience and cheerful, collaborative problem-solving, maybe pick someone else. Or, just do it yourself (recommended).

Also keep in mind that this is only a job for the most precise and even-tempered of children.


Copyright Smart Family System

5. Consider your terrain. If your garden is on a slope, plan to lay the hose in a way that minimizes uphill travel for the water - instead of it going straight up, then down, try laying it across the slope.

6. You want to be able to attach your garden hose to the soaker hose in a convenient spot - at the edge of the garden and probably in a spot closest to the tap. So figure out where you want the hose to end. Probably the easiest thing to do is attach the soaker hose to the garden hose at the beginning, lay the end point where you want it, and then lay the rest of the hose.

Note: We have found that soaker hoses do not work particularly well with potatoes, since they are hilled up with soil and it takes a long time for water to penetrate through to the roots. We water those separately with the garden hose, so we skipped the potato section.


Potatoes in foreground

The Job

Secure the end you are starting with. A heavy object keeps it from getting pulled around and ending up where you don’t want it to be.

Starting at the edge of the bed, carefully lay your hose in between rows and next to plants, staying at least 1 to 2 inches away from the base of the plants. Secure the hose with sticks as you go.

Keep winding it through the garden, spacing the hose about 12 to 18 inches apart.

Gently…

When you are satisfied that the hose is laid out evenly and that all of your plants are going to get a drink, attach the garden hose and turn on the tap to test it out.

We ended up with a bit of overlap, but ah well.

Life isn’t perfect

And neither are soaker hoses. The hose can degrade if it is bent or exposed to the sun and the elements for long periods of time. This can cause the hose to spring a leak, creating a fountain effect whereby it sprays your plants with abandon instead of dripping calmly. If you have a new hose you should be ok, but our second-hand one needed some work.

Tomatoes are particularly sensitive about getting their leaves sprayed - they can develop leaf diseases if sprayed day in and day out, so check to make sure they are not getting hit.

If your hose has some leaks, just mound up some soil on top. This is usually enough to smother the leaks but still let water through.

Sometimes, a few strategically located leaks can be a good thing: if the hose doesn’t quite reach a plant, it might spray in its general direction and give the plant the water it needs.

This hose had a few leaks next to the lettuce, but I just left them alone because lettuce likes a little top watering.

As with most things in life, you need to take care of your stuff. To keep the hose in fine working order, keep a layer of mulch over it through the season. At the end of the season, remove it from your garden, carefully wind it up - lasso style - and hang it in the garage.

How long and how often do I need to water?

This will take a bit of testing and will depend on the weather and the type of soil you have, but try watering for 20 or 30 minutes once every 2 or 3 days. In really, really hot weather you might have to water every day.

To check to see if your plants are getting enough water, carefully dig down next to the plant into the root area. If it is moist, they’re good. If it’s dry, water.

Up next: Hilling and watering potatoes

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That’s right, we are now social networking with you, too.

So come see us on Facebook and join the fan club, eh?

Posters for your room coming soon.

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I’ve been hearing an ugly rumor that people think it is too late to start a vegetable garden this year. Not true!

There are still loads of vegetable plants at nurseries and by this time they are a fairly good size, so you can get your hands on some pretty advanced tomatoes, eggplant, and maybe even squash. Depending on where you live and how big the plant is, you should probably choose ones that mature in less than 70 days. (Check the plant tag or ask.)

An herb garden is easily within reach - in fact, basil is a slow-starter and doesn’t reach its prime until later in June or July. Buy herbs like basil, chives, oregano, thyme, and so on, as plants (not seed) from your local nursery or other quality plant seller.

Lettuce, beets, beans, and carrots are all fast growers and can still be planted. In fact, you can plant these every few weeks through the summer, all the way up to July or August for a fall crop (at least here in Seattle). If you find lettuce and beets in plant form at a nursery, all the better - you’ll be eating them in no time. Beans and carrots will need to be planted from seed.

Plant onions to eat as green onions - green onions are simply an immature onion. Plant these as a bulb - sold in bags as “onion sets”.

If you have time and moxie, there is still time to rip out your lawn and get a garden in. We show you how.

If the prospect of converting your lawn or building raised beds seems overwhelming or unlikely to happen this year, do not fret: you can garden in containers this year. A container can be pretty and expensive or as cheap as a bucket found in your garage. Both do an equally good job - just make sure to drill or poke holes in the bottom for drainage, add potting soil (not dirt from the garden), and fertilize regularly (ideally with liquid fertilizer). More to come soon on container gardening. In the meantime check out Bucket Brigade - an Urban Land Army project that rescues unwanted buckets and turns them into vegetable containers.

So put on your boots and get out there! You can still have a first rate garden that would make your grandma proud. Just check out posts on fixing up your soil, how to choose seed and plants, and getting the garden in.

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Less than a month ago, we stuck some plants and seed in the ground and now we have food for supper. It was a heck of a theory, and it worked!

Around here, the lettuce, parsley, and green onions are ready to eat. We know this because they’ve grown to a considerable size and look just like the food at the grocery store.

Picking food seems like it should be pretty easy, and it is, but there are some finer points worth mentioning.

As has been reported in the news:


Saskatoon Sun, June 2, 2002

It’s official, so get out there, man! If your lettuce leaves are at least 4 or 5 inches long and resemble a key salad ingredient, then grab a knife and get picking.

How to pick lettuce

There are a few different techniques for picking lettuce. Simply choose the one that suits the lettuce type and your personality.

Romaine or butterhead lettuce

Easy.

When the lettuce has formed an inner heart (romaine)…

…or a good sized head (butterhead)

…simply grasp the lettuce at the base and pull it gently out of the ground, trying not to disturb the surrounding plants.

Knock off the soil…

…and break off the root ball, disposing of it and any ugly leaves in the compost or yard waste bin.

Done.

Loose-leaf lettuce

Two approaches:

1. Leaf by leaf. Wait until the leaves grow to a decent size - at least 4 or 5 inches. With a sharp knife, cut the biggest outside leaves at the base. More leaves will grow from the inner bit.

2. Grasp all of the lettuce leaves and cut them off in one fell swoop right above the center bit (a couple of inches), from which new leaves will grow.

This is known in gardening circles as the “cut and come again” method. In other words, you cut it all off and it grows back again.

Holy lettuce!

Some additional notes

If you have a variety of lettuces planted close together like we do, harvesting the lettuce that bump up next to each other gives everyone more room to grow.

Cutting the outer leaves - and pulling out the romaine and butterhead types completely - also gives light and space to the little lettuce plants that have been lurking below.

These little ones should be ready to eat in a few weeks, so it’s not a bad idea to get your lettuce packs and seed some more for a late-July crop. The miracle of lettuce is that you can seed it every few weeks through the growing season and have a constant salad supply.

Washing and preparation tips

Free advice:

For best results, soak the lettuce in a bowlful of water for a few minutes. The dirt will sink to the bottom and the extraneous garden bits, and yes, the occasional bug, will rise to the top.

If the lettuce is warm and wilty, throw a bunch of ice cubes in the water and give it a few minutes - it will perk right up.

Pull out the leaves and give them another quick rinse if you like. Proceed with salad spinning or other favoured drying method.

But save the water! Water is one of those precious natural resources, eh, so instead of pouring it down the drain, step outside and water something with it.

If you are eating it right away, tear the lettuce into bite-size pieces. If you are bagging it up for later though, don’t tear it up - keep the leaves whole for maximum freshness. A resealable plastic bag with the air squeezed out works real well.

The first salad of the year!

And it’s a good one. Mr. Urban Land Army is a cook (and a baker), so he’s got the presentation down pat.

Parsley

Now, doesn’t that look appetizing?

To pick, select the biggest (oldest) leaves…

take hold of the stem at the base…

…and pinch or cut it off.

That would be it.

First parsley-inspired supper of the year:


Copyright Mollie Katzen, The Moosewood Cookbook, 1977

Forgot to take a picture of the end result, but it was really tasty.

Green onions

Their time has also come.

Um, pull.

We usually either wipe the dirt off with our hands and then on our pants - we’re pretty casual around here - or we clean it off on a paper towel and put it in the compost pail, then give it a rinse.

Whatever your method, the point is that you don’t really want to send a bunch of dirt down the drain.

On the menu this morning: Salmon Scramble on a toasted English muffin.

Gardening is delicious.

Up next: Installing and watering with soaker hoses

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Ladies, you understand that proper support is essential, and the same goes for tomatoes.

Tomatoes are a vine and need to be securely staked to avoid falling over and breaking along the stem. Technically you could let them trail along the ground - and some people do this - but getting them vertical saves space, gives the plants room to breathe, and protects the fruit from turning bad whilst sitting glumly in a wet spot or getting chomped by a strolling or crawling critter.

Once your tomatoes are about a foot tall and getting a little leany, it is time to get going on staking.

Tools for the job

To stake a tomato you will need a sturdy support of some sort and something to tie the tomato to it, like twine, women’s pantyhose, or any number of specialized tomato ties that you can buy at a nursery or from a mail order catalogue.

Most anything with a bit of height (4 feet+) and reasonable strength will serve as a tomato stake, so get creative. We’ve used pipes, bakery racks, thick pieces of bamboo, and tall 1″x1″ wooden stakes.

That is, until we discovered….cue soaring music….the tomato spiral!

Copyright Lee Valley Tools

Now, not only do these spirals look fantastic in the garden, you also don’t need to cut up all your pantyhose to tie up the tomatoes - you simply wind the plant around the spiral and it supports the tomato all on its own. As Lee Valley Tools explains, “This is the most popular way to support tomatoes in many European countries”. Clearly, much of Europe knows its stuff.

How to stake a tomato

Gather your tools: stakes, ties, and a knife or scissors to cut the ties.

If you have a temporary stake like we do, gently remove it, holding the plant as firmly and carefully as you would a small baby’s head.

Take your stake and place it parallel to your tomato plant about 1 or 2 inches from the stem, gently separating the leaves to get it in close.

Make sure the stake is standing up straight and then push it into the ground a good 8 inches or more. You want this thing to stay put in a windstorm and to be able to take the pressure of a plant heavily laden with tomatoes.

Examine it from a distance to make sure it is straight and make any necessary adjustments.

Then we simply wound the plant around the spiral. If you are tying it to a stake, place the tie below a strong side stem near the bottom of the plant and then tie another one to a strong side stem higher up.  Be sure to tie it firmly but not really tight - keep in mind that this plant is going to keep growing and develop quite a thick stem so you don’t want to choke it.

Done!

For now. Your tomato might outgrow its stake and require additional ones. If they get long and heavy branches and start to wander later in the season, just put in another one and tie it to that.

Tomato Pruning

Listen up: this part is really important for people who are growing indeterminate varieties of tomatoes.

Vocabulary

Indeterminate tomatoes are vining types that grow branches, leaves, and fruit until they are killed by frost in the fall.

Determinate tomatoes, on the other hand, are a bush type of tomato that grow to a certain size and then stop. They produce all of their fruit at once and do not need pruning.

How do you know if the tomatoes you are growing are indeterminate or determinate? Check the plant tag, seed pack, or google the name of the tomato. (If you can’t find a good answer, you can ask us, too.) In our garden, Sungold and Black Prince are indeterminate and Glacier and Green Moldovan are determinate.

Back to the pruning…

What do you want from a tomato? Tomatoes. Therefore, it is important that you prune your indeterminate tomatoes regularly so that the plant puts its energy into growing tomatoes rather than a bunch of unnecessary side shoots and stems that will only produce leaves. The goal is to have one main stem and to limit the number of wandering, lanky side shoots. Who wants foliage when they can have fruit?

Here’s what you do:

When on Crop Tour, watch for these little side shoots, or suckers, that grow between the main stem and the leaves.

Double triple check that you’re in the right place and that they don’t have any flowers or flower buds on them, and then just pinch or snap them right off.

Also watch for any new stems that are trying to grow up from the base of the plant. You really just want the main, original stem, so pinch these off too.

Easy!

Fertilizing your tomatoes

Now, you should have fertilized your tomatoes when you planted them, but if they have started to flower it is time to give them another shot.

Read the directions on your fertilizer pack, but probably you will want 1/4 - 1/2 cup.

Sprinkle it around the base of the plant and then gently work it into the soil with your fingers.

Water it in, filling your tomato moat. We took the spray spout off the watering can because we didn’t want to spray water all over the tomato - we wanted to fill the moat only.

Let it soak in.

If you used this direct pour method, you may have created a hole in the soil that can expose the roots of the plant. You don’t want that so just backfill it  and reform the moat if necessary.

That’s it! You’re done with tomato upkeep for the time being. Tomatoes grow fast, so keep an eye on those side shoots that need pruning and be sure to keep tying up the plant as it grows.

Before we sign off, check out the new paint job on the bean trellis:

Pretty, no?

Up next: Harvesting, or how to pick your food

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It’s gonna be a hot one. Supposed to hit 90 degrees here in Seattle today, so a few words about watering and coping with hot, cranky vegetables.

First, when you get up in the morning, water the heck out of those plants.

When it’s this hot they will take all the moisture they can get and will probably be ready for more tomorrow. Watering everyday in this heat is important (but do check to make sure you definitely need to - gently dig down around the plant roots to see if it is moist or not. Your goal is to have the water penetrate right down into the root zone).

I also give the lettuce - and only the lettuce - a shot of water from the top with the watering can. I don’t know if it helps, but it sure makes me feel better.

Early morning watering is best, but can be tricky when you’re getting ready for work, so watering in the evening is also ok. The reason why watering in the evening isn’t as ideal as the morning is because plants that sit through the cool night with water on their leaves are more susceptible to fungal diseases.

If you have plants in containers, you definitely want to water everyday on hot days like this. Pour it in until water runs out the holes in the bottom of the container.

Plants get the blues, too

In the heat of the day - noon/afternoon - your plants will start to flag and look a bit wilted. Don’t panic - they are not dying and will perk up later in the day when the sun starts to go down and it cools off a bit.

When they are floppy and sad in the hot sun, resist the almost-impossible urge to water them. Getting sprayed unannounced with cold water can be quite the shock, and they’re already having a rough day.


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Put yourself in your plant’s shoes.

Harvesting in the heat

If you were to pick food like lettuce in the heat of the day, the leaves would be rather warm and floppy instead of crisp and alert. Like watering, you should pick food in the morning or evening for best results. We don’t live in a perfect world though, and if you forgot to pick lettuce for your lunch date with grandma, then you can revive the leaves by soaking them in a bowl of ice water for a little while.

Now, go get a popsicle and an Archie comic and head to the basement!

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