Tomato Staking 101

by Heather StoneTomato plant in a cage for support.

 The ways in which to support tomatoes are as varied as the gardeners who grow them. Staking your tomatoes is important for many reasons. Keeping your plants upright and off the ground helps keep not only insects and critters at bay but can prevent many tomato diseases as well. Click here to check out our comprehensive guide to tomato diseases. Staking maximizes growing space, makes harvesting easier and keeps the garden looking tidy. Here is a little information about three different methods you can use to successfully stake your tomatoes.

Tomato plant supported by a cage.

Cages

Caging tomatoes is an easy and efficient way for the home gardener to support tomatoes. Store bought cages come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. The smaller cages are more appropriate for determinate tomato varieties which are more compact in size averaging around 3-4’ tall. The larger cages will best suit the large, sprawling indeterminate varieties which can range in height from 6-12’.

 

You can make your own tomato cages too. Hardware stores sell rolls of wire fencing or mesh that when cut in 5’x5’sections can be rolled into a circular cage and placed over the plant. This is best done while the plants are still small. Pin the ends together with wire or zip ties and anchor the cage into the ground with stakes. Make sure your grid openings are at least four inches in diameter. This will make pruning and harvesting a breeze. These cages are sturdy and will last for years.

Tomato plant supported by a section of wire fence.

Stakes

Staking tomatoes is also an effective way to support your tomatoes. This method simply requires driving a stake into the ground near the plant and tying the plant up the stake as it continues to grow. To avoid any root damage, place stakes in the ground before planting or when plants are still young.

For indeterminate tomato varieties, stakes should be at least 7 feet tall and driven a good foot into the ground. This will keep the stake from tumbling over with the weight of the plant. Stakes can be wood, plastic, metal or made from salvaged materials. When tying up your tomatoes, it is best done loosely and with a soft material. I like to use old t-shirts cut into strips.

The Florida Weave

http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/supporting-cast-for-tomatoes.aspx

In the Florida or basket weave technique you are essentially sandwiching your tomato plants between two walls of twine. This technique works best when you are planting in rows. Begin by placing one stake at the end of each row, or space stakes every 3- 4’ apart for longer rows. Drive stakes into the ground at least one foot deep. Next, tie your twine to your end stake about 8-10” from the ground. Pull the twine past one side of your tomatoes to the front of the next stake. Loop the twine around the back of the stake and pull tight. Keeping the string taught continue down the row until you reach your last stake. Tie off at the last stake. Now, loop back the other direction until you are back where you started. Tie the twine to the first stake. As your tomatoes grow you will need to add another layer of twine about every 6-8” to keep the plants upright.

Check out this video demonstrating the Florida or basket weave technique.

 

Guide to Common Tomato Diseases

by Sam Doll

Nothing is better in mid to late summer than the taste of a garden-fresh tomato. However, it takes a lot of hard work and care to help your tomatoes survive their perilous journey from seed to fruit. Here are nine common tomato diseases and what you need to do to treat them.

Fungal Diseases

Many common tomato diseases are caused by fungi. These diseases often are caused by specific environmental conditions like high moisture and certain temperature ranges. They are most often spread by contaminated soil or water and are usually manageable with vigilant prevention techniques and various fungicides.

AnthracnoseRed tomato showing the fungal disease Anthracnose.

What is it?

Anthracnose (Colletotrichum coccodes) is a fungal disease that primarily attacks the tomato fruits. It will affect both green and ripe tomatoes and will appear as small, sunken water-soaked area on the outside of the tomato.

As the disease progresses, the spot will widen and turn dark and expand. Infected unripe tomatoes will not show symptoms until the fruit ripens and the disease progresses faster the closer the tomato is to maturity.

Septoria Leaf Spot

Tomato leaf showing the fungal disease Septoria Leaf Spot.

What is it?

Another fungal disease, Septoria Leaf Spot is caused by Septoria lycopersici. Unlike Anthracnose, Septoria attacks the leaves and stems of the plant but does not affect the fruit. The disease is more likely to appear on leaves closer to the ground and appears as the plant begins to fruit.

The primary symptoms are numerous round and small spots on the leaves that are dark on the outside and lighter in the center where the spore-producing bodies are. Highly infected leaves will yellow and fall off, which can expose the tomato fruit to the sun and cause sunscald.

 

Early Blight

Tomato leaf showing the fungal disease Early Blight.

What is it?

Caused by the fungus Alternaria solani, Early blight affects older leaves and appears as a small brown spot with concentric rings. As it spreads throughout the leaf, it will cause it to yellow and wither. This can weaken the plant and expose the tomato fruit to sunscald and reduce yield.

The fungus can also attack the stem and fruit but is less common than in the leaves. It often progresses upward from the bottom of the plant.

Late Blight

Tomato stems showing signs of Late Blight.

What is it?

Late Blight (Phytophthora infestans) is a disease found in tomatoes and potatoes and is most infamous for causing the Irish Potato Famine.

Late blight thrives in humid, cool weather ( >90% humidity and <80°). It appears on all parts of the plant, usually starting on older leaves and then spreading to fruit and stems. It appears as a dark, water-soaked patch that will soon enlarge and grow a white moldy substance.

Late Blight is a slightly different beast than the other fungal diseases. It can move quickly through the garden and is spread by both water and wind. You can do all the prevention in the world, but a nearby garden with infected plants can blow spores over into your yard!

Use the treatment prescribed bellow but be prepared to pull and destroy plants if it spreads too far to save to rest of your garden and your neighbors’ gardens as well.

 

Fusarium Wilt

Tomato plant showing signs of Fusarium Wilt.

What is it?

Fusarium Wilt (Fusarium oxysporum) is a warm-weather disease most common in southern regions. It appears as a wilting or drooping of the lower leaves, followed by the wilting and death of the entire plant. Oftentimes, leaves on one side of the plant will turn yellow.

The disease attacks the roots through the infected soil and will clog off the vascular system of the plant. It usually hits younger plants and there is no known treatment. The best way to prevent wilt to ensure that any soil or material you place in your bed is clean, including the soil from starts. There are also some disease-resistant hybrids.

The yellowing is a telltale sign, also check the soil. If the soil is dry, the wilt is most likely from lack of water. Water the plant to see if the wilting persists. If you are sure it is fungal wilt, the best thing to do is destroy the plant

Our blog on keeping tomatoes in hot weather will help you tell if your plants are sick or just thirsty!

How To Prevent and Treat Most Fungal Diseases

Fungi thrive in warm wet environments. The spores are transmitted primarily from splashing water, either from rain or irrigation. Poorly drained soil, overwatering, and lack of air circulation around the plant can all create conditions for the spread.

To prevent most fungal diseases, only purchase certified disease-free seeds and don’t replant seeds from afflicted plants. Make sure your bed or container is well drained, do not overwater, plant the tomatoes in full sun. Space and stake or support the plant with cages to make sure that the plant can air out properly after watering. Also, avoid overhead watering to limit water splash, which would spread the spores

If your seeds are healthy, you can save them for future use. Here is our blog on the subject.

If you do see Anthracnose in your tomatoes, make sure to harvest the fruits as soon as they are ripe. Copper-based fungicides and a few organic fungicides can be effective for treatment of infective plants.

If you see infected leaves, feel free to remove them to help slow the spread of the disease. Make sure to wash your hands and tools after handling infected plant material.

After seeing any fungal diseases in your garden (besides Late Blight, which does not overwinter), make sure rotate your planting sites on a three-year cycle with plants that are not from the Solanaceae family (i.e. tomatoes, eggplants, peppers), which are closely related to tomatoes. Make sure to remove all plant material at the end of the season and do your best to keep the site weed free. If you do not have another planting site to rotate with, switch to containers instead.

The best prevention possible is to keep the plants as healthy and vigorous as possible. Like us, unhealthy or weak plants are more likely to get sick

Check out the Clemson Cooperative Extension Tomato Disease Factsheet for more information on fungal diseases like Leaf Mold, Buckeye Rot, or Southern Blight

Bacterial Diseases

Unlike funguses, which are multicellular organisms with complex cells (eukaryotes), bacteria are simple, single-celled organisms (prokaryotes). Bacteria are the most common form of life on earth and are, for the most part, harmless.

However, there are some bacteria that specialize in infecting and living in other species. These can be harmless, like the natural bacteria in your gut that helps you digest things like cellulose, but are sometimes dangerous, or pathogenic. Just like you can get strep throat from bacteria, your tomatoes are susceptible to them as well.

Tomato Pith Necrosis

Tomato plant showing signs ofTomato Pith Necrosis.

What is it?

While mostly seen in greenhouse conditions, Tomato Pith Necrosis can occur during the early growing season in periods with cool temperatures and high humidity. Plants are especially susceptible in areas with high nitrogen levels, when the tomato starts are growing rapidly.

The first noticeable symptoms of this disease are usually wilted leaves followed by black lesions on the stems. As the disease progresses and the bacteria become more established in the stems, splits, cracks, shrinking, and other deformations are common.

If there are green fruit, the disease can cause a greasy, water-soaked spot on the blossom end of the fruit.

What do I do?

The best prevention of Tomato Pith Necrosis is to have control over your soil conditions. The main factor in pith necrosis is excess nitrogen in the soil. Don’t over fertilize early in the season and keep tabs on your soil quality.

Check out our Guide to Soil Management

Also, like with the fungal diseases, make sure your plants are properly spaced so they have room to breathe and dry out and avoid overhead watering.

If your plants do become infected, you can wait until warmer, dryer weather to see if they recover. If not, remove and dispose of them.

Make sure that you are rotating your plots on a three-year cycle and do not plant in plots that have had closely related plants like peppers. Do not put them in your compost because the bacteria can live on the diseased plant material for years.

Bacterial Spot

What is it?

Bacterial spot attacks the leaves and fruit of the tomato plant. It occurs during wet and warm conditions and can cause leave wilting, leaf and fruit spots, and defoliation. The leaves will show small and irregular spots as well as yellowing and browning as the disease persists. The fruit will have multiple dark specs that are dry and rough to the touch.

Fruit inflicted with Bacterial Spot, as with any diseased fruit, should not be consumed. While the disease itself isn’t dangerous to humans, it provides openings for dangerous pathogens to enter the fruit.

What do I do?

Spot often appears after heavy summer rainstorms. Make sure your plants are well spaced and pruned so they can air out effectively. Do not use overhead watering. If you are in an area where Spot has been seen, make sure you are cleaning your tools and rotating your plants. Preventative applications of copper-based fungicide can be effective in controlling spot.

If your plant does have Bacterial Spot, make sure that you immediately remove and dispose of it. Clean any tools you use with a 10% bleach solution or rubbing alcohol. Remove any plant debris.

 

Bacterial Canker

Tomato leaf showing signs of Bacterial Canker.

What is it?

Bacterial Canker is one of the most difficult to identify and control tomato diseases once it takes hold. It can affect plants of all ages and has a variety of symptoms that are easily confused with other diseases.

Early symptoms are spots, browning, and wilting of leaves. Later symptoms include raised spots on the stems and fruit, which often include a white “halo” around a brown spot in the center. On older plants. The stems will show cankers or open “sores”. Once this disease takes hold, the plant is essentially doomed.

What do I do?

Prevention is the best defense against bacterial canker. Buy only certified disease-free seeds. Avoid overhead watering and space plants appropriately. Copper-based fungicides can be effective in prevention.

If you notice this disease on your plant, make sure to remove it, any plant debris and its neighboring plants immediately. Bag the removed plant material and dispose of it. Clean your tools and do not plant tomatoes on the site for a few years as the disease can live in the soil.

Viral Diseases

Viruses are pathogens that are usually a piece of genetic material surrounded by a protein. Not technically alive, these diseases are usually spread by “vectors” or living things that carry the disease. Think mosquitoes carrying West Nile.

Since each virus is spread differently, each will need its own prevention plan. There is no treatment for viral infections and the best course of action is often to remove and destroy infected plant material.

Mosaic Virus

What is it?Tomato leaves showing signs of the common tomato disease, Mosaic Virus.

Mosaic Virus is a family of viruses that can affect tomatoes, peppers, and other plants in your garden. The most common one that might impact your tomatoes is the Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV), the Tomato Mosaic Virus (ToMV), and the Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CMV). Despite their names, all of these can seriously infect your plants.

The symptoms of both TMV and ToMV are varied and difficult to tell apart. The most common symptoms include irregular growth, strange leaf shapes, and mottled coloring in the leaves and fruit. You may still get yield from tomato plants infected with Mosaic Virus, but it will likely be stunted and fewer than you would have gotten normally.

CMV is spread by aphids and create a stunted, bushy, sometimes yellow plant with severe leaf malformation and mottling. Tomatoes with CMV produce very few fruits.

What do I do?

TMV and ToMV can be easily spread through touch and soil. Even handling tobacco products like cigarettes can contaminate your garden with TMV. Monitor seedlings closely for signs of the disease and make sure to remove any possibly infected plants.

If you are concerned at all, you can make a solution out of skim milk to spray the plants with. Proteins in the milk bind to the virus and make it unable to attack the plant. If you know you have handled any plants, wash your hands and tools with the same milk solution or soap and water to prevent transmission. The virus can live for over two years on surfaces and in the soil, so do not replant in soil that has been infected and make sure to remove all plant material from the site.

Since CMV is spread through aphids, the best prevention is to control the weeds in your garden to prevent aphids from jumping from plant to plant. Insecticides are not effective because new aphids can easily pick up the virus and spread it seconds from coming in contact with the plant. Surrounding the tomatoes with taller plants that are not attractive to the aphids can create a buffer and using aphid predators, like ladybugs, can keep the general population of aphids in check.

 

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV)

Photo of tomato thrips on a leaf.

Thrip

What is it?

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV) is a highly contagious pathogen that can infect over 1000 different species of weeds, native plants, and ornamentals. It is transmitted through an insect pest known as thrips, which will feed on a variety of different plants.

See this video on the Thrip lifecycle

The symptoms of TSWV vary from one variety of tomato to another, but often result in stunting and dead (or necrotic) spots on the leaves. They can also cause low plant yield, mottled fruit, and wilt.

What do I do?

Unless your garden is contained within a greenhouse, it will be difficult to control the spread of TSWV. The most effective management is to eliminate the weeds in your garden that can harbor thrips throughout the winter. Remove any remaining plant material and weeds, then till and mulch the garden for winter to remove any habitat for the thrips.

If you have plants that are infected with TSWV, you can remove it to prevent it from spreading the disease to nearby plants. Insecticides are relatively ineffective against thrips because applied insecticides are unlikely to come in contact with thrips on the plant and systematic pesticides are not fast enough to stop the thrip from infecting the plant. Insect predators like ladybugs, minute pirate bugs, and lacewings will all feed on thrips.

 

Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus (TYLCV)

What is it?

Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus (TYLCV) is a virus that is spread through seeds and whiteflies that causes yellowing and curling of leaves, stunting, flower drop, and severely reduced yield in tomatoes and peppers.

While TYLCV can be spread between seeds, the primary risk factor for your garden would be the spread of the virus through whitefly pests. Whiteflies are small, white flying insects that feed on the undersides of leaves.

What do I do?

Like TSWV, the best prevention is to keep whiteflies off of your plants. Do your best to keep weeds under control to limit available habitat for the whiteflies, till and mulch during the winter, and introduce natural predators.  Products that use canola oil or horticultural oil can act as a whitefly repellent. For how to make your own, check out this article.

Another option you may want to consider is to use reflective mulches. These mulches reflect light back up at the plant and disorient insect pests.

Learn more about reflective mulch here

If your plants do become infected with TYLCV you really only have two options. You can wait it out to see if you do get any harvest, and then remove all susceptible plants at the end of the season. The other option is to remove infected plants immediately to try to limit the spread of the virus.

When you do remove your plants, bag them as soon as you can to contain the whiteflies on the plant that are carriers for the virus.

 

Disease Prevention Checklist

 

  1. Buy only disease-free seeds
  2. Rotate your tomatoes and like crops on a three-year cycle
  3. Make sure the plants are properly spaced and pruned so they can dry out properly
  4. Avoid overhead watering
  5. Remove diseased plants
  6. Control weeds in and around the garden bed to prevent pests from harboring in them
  7. Do not compost infected plant material
  8. Sterilize your tools
  9. Keep vigilant
  10. If you are unsure about something, check with your local extension office

 

Are your tomatoes healthy and beautiful? Read this guide on how to tell when they are ready to pick!

 

Radical Ratatouille

A plate of tomatoes and other vegetables used to make Ratatouille.

Photo courtesy of Dgraph88 / pixabay

From the Kitchen of Engrid Winslow

Ratatouille screams to me of summer and there are dozens of ways to make it. The only real essentials are tomatoes, onion, eggplant and zucchini cooked down into a stew and seasoned with salt and pepper.  It is delicious as a vegetarian main dish and can be served hot, room temperature, or even cold. You can also top it with cheese, add chunks of chicken and serve it over rice, or roll it up in a lettuce leaves or a tortilla. It can be cooked in a crockpot, baked or stewed. Here is a “classic” preparation followed by a few variations for you to play with.  You can learn more about the history of this dish here.

 

Classic Ratatouille

Serves 5 to 6

3 TBL olive oil                                                             3 medium tomatoes, chopped or 14 oz. canned

2 medium onions, chopped                                        2 large crushed cloves of garlic

1 medium eggplant, cubed in 1” chunks                    1 medium green bell pepper, in 1” chunks

5-6 medium zucchini, sliced                                       1 medium red bell pepper, in 1” chunks

½ cup chopped fresh parsley                                      ¼ cup chopped fresh basil

½ tsp salt                                                                     2 TBL tomato paste

¼ tsp pepper                                                               1 cup shredded gruyere cheese (optional)

In a 4-5 Quart pot, heat olive oil and add garlic, eggplant, peppers and onions.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often until onions are crisp-tender (about 5 minutes). Stir in zucchini, tomatoes, parsley and basil.  Heat to boiling, then reduce to medium, cover and cook for 15 minutes.  Remove cover, season with salt and pepper and stir in tomato paste. Continue cooking, uncovered, for another 10 minutes. Serve as is or over hot cooked rice. Top with a sprinkling of cheese.

VARIATION #1

Make it Middle Eastern by omitting the basil and cheese and stirring in the following spices when you add the zucchini and tomatoes:

½ tsp ground cumin                ½ tsp turmeric                                    ¼ tsp coriander

VARIATION #2

Change up the vegetables in the classic recipe or just add more.  Some favorites are corn, peas and beans, or other summer squash such as patty pan.

VARIATION #3

Make it Italian: Melt a couple of anchovies into the oil along with the garlic and tomatoes.  This adds a layer of umami flavors that is quite good. Then add a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar just before serving.

VARIATION #4

Consider serving it with a different grain besides rice. Quinoa, farro, couscous and others are a delicious and very healthy twist.

 

 

SUMMER HARVEST

by Engrid Winslowsummer harvest

At last, the bounty of your summer garden is at its peak and you can gather all of those glorious tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, corn, chard, kale, summer squash, onions and other vegetables to enjoy at their freshest and most flavorful. But, ahem, some of us may plant more than we can eat in a day. Well, whether that is planned excess or not, here are a few tricks for preserving that bounty using just your freezer and pantry.

Onions – When the tops flop over onto the ground it’s time to pull them out and let them dry out in the sun or inside in a cool, dry location. Some onions, such as cippolini, are great storage onions but for the ones that aren’t…Ever tried onion jam? How about bacon and onion jam. You can refrigerate them and use them up quickly or pop a few jars into the freezer for a festive addition to a holiday cheese platter. Here are the links to two delicious recipes you can try:

http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/recipes/onion-jam https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1015978-bacon-onion-jam.

You’re welcome.

Ears of Corn

Corn – Shuck as much as you can and then flash boil for about 2 minutes. Let cool and then scrape off the kernels into a large bowl and scoop out two cups into a plastic bag or container for freezing. Add them to that turkey soup you make after Thanksgiving every year along with some of the frozen shell peas you harvested and froze in the spring.

Tomatoes – This technique works best with cherry tomatoes and is a little bit of trouble but OMG are these delicious. Add them to pizza, pasta, soups, sandwiches or serve on grilled bread as a quick crostini. The flavor of these will make you want to plant even more tomatoes next year. Heat oven to 200 degrees. Arrange cherry tomatoes on a lined, rimmed baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Let them “oven dry” for up to 2 ½ hours, checking frequently at the two-hour mark. You can also do this with large tomatoes which will yield a “saucier” result.

Fresh Zucchini

Zucchini – Use small, tender skinned, deep green ones. Shred and steam for 1-2 minutes. Freeze in desired quantities for adding to slaw, pasta, soups or your famous zucchini bread.

 

American Caprese Salad

From the Kitchen of Engrid WinslowHeirloom Tomatoes

This quick and easy take on the classic Caprese salad makes excellent use of the fresh tomatoes from your garden. It’s especially pretty when you use a variety of colored, heirloom, beefsteak tomatoes such as Cherokee Purple, Aunt Ruby’s German Green and Yellow Brandywine.

Serves 4

1 TBL extra virgin olive oil
1 TBL honey
1 TBL white Balsamic vinegar (or you can use cider vinegar)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
4 sliced heirloom tomatoes
4 ounces sliced or crumbled Humboldt Fog or Maytag blue cheese
1 cup torn herbs – just basil or a mix of basil, chives, cilantro and parsley
Flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together the honey, vinegar, Dijon and olive oil. Arrange tomatoes on a platter, drizzle with dressing and top with cheese and herbs. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper.

 

Stop the Powdery Mildew Cycle this Fall

by Sandy SwegelPowder Mildew

Powdery mildew had a grand time in my garden this year. I often have a nonchalant attitude to it growing on a few leaves and don’t mind a little bit. But it started early this year on roses, then showed up on the bee balms and finished out the season inundating the sweet peas and squashes. By the time I paid attention, it was out of control.

But now it’s Fall and my inner lazy gardener says…ah well this season is over. Next year it will be different. But if we want to make progress against disease in our gardens, now is the time to act.

Powdery Mildew

Do you Want Less Disease in your garden next year? Then take these steps now:

In the Vegetable Garden
As your squash and cucumbers and pea plants are dying back, remove those leaves and put them in the trash. Not in the compost pile. Don’t let them overwinter and deal with it in the Spring. Fungus and disease spores are sitting passively on the backs of those leaves, just waiting for rebirth next Spring. They do not reliably die in home compost piles. Powdery mildew survives the winter by forming minute fruiting bodies called cleistothecia And tomatoes? I put the whole plants in the trash after frost. There are just too many diseases on them to risk.

In the perennial beds, leaves infected with powdery mildew like rose or phlox or bee balm often drop before Fall. Before the big tree leaf fall, I use the blower to blow the diseased leaves out of the bed and PUT THEM IN THE TRASH.

This vigorous sanitation is a good idea for all pests too. If you had bean beetles…get rid of those leaves that might have next year’s eggs.

But don’t be too clean.
That’s the important lesson here. In the non-diseased parts of the garden, lady bugs and lacewings and lots of beneficial insects are going to lay eggs and overwinter. We want them. I learned last year especially to let willow leaves be…there were dozens of beneficial babies at the base of willow plants last spring.

Powdery Mildew

And next year…be attentive to the powdery mildew. I now promise to treat early and often with something gentle but effective such as a horticultural oil or a baking soda. I lost a lot of production in my vegetables this year because I let the powdery mildew have its way. And the roses and phlox really took a hit. I’l do better next year. I promise.

 

 

Photo Credit:
ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7406.html
startorganic.org/tips-for-treating-powdery-mildew/

 

How to Have Fewer Green Tomatoes

by Sandy Swegelgreen tomatoes

First Frost is fast approaching and we’ll be reaching for our green tomatoes recipes when all those green tomatoes are hogging our countertops. No matter how clever, green tomatoes aren’t as wonderful as red tomatoes. So act now to get those green tomatoes to turn red on the vine.

Now is the time to prune off the tops of your tomatoes plants in order to get them to focus on ripening the tomatoes they already have. After the blistering heat of August that brought pollination to a stop, cooler temperature plants confuse tomatoes into growing new leaves and flowers. Tomatoes are multi-tasking to an extreme now, ripening old fruit, setting blooms, pollinating, etc. Any new blooms won’t have time to even become edible green tomatoes.

So be brave and CUT OFF the top foliage especially stems with new flowers.

CUT BACK excess foliage through out the plant to expose the current bigger tomatoes to more light.

Keep your tomato comfortable in its dotage:

*Keep the soil evenly watered.
*Wash off aphids if they start up again.
*Lightly fertilize with a liquid fertilizer a few weeks before frost.
*Have frost cloth or old bed sheets ready to throw on overnight. Sometimes if you can protect from one or two nights frost, you’ll have a couple more weeks of warm weather.

not green tomatoes

You want your tomato to focus on one thing only: ripen the remaining tomatoes while they are growing on the vine. That’s how they taste the best!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits

http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/wellbeing/summer-vertical-gardening

 

Tomatoes in the Heat

Tomatoes in the heatTomatoes in the heat

by Sandy Swegel

My neighbor is panicking and frantically watering all her plants and trees that have droopy wilting leaves. The leaves weren’t getting any better and she feared there was some horrid disease killing everything. But there isn’t some disease…the plants are just stressed by our heat wave with temperatures in the 90s and above. One way plants cope with heat is to let their leaves droop or fold so that they aren’t losing so much water from the leaf surface.

Sunburned tomatoes

Still, plants coping or not, a heat wave means you are getting few tomatoes. Plants quit setting fruit when the temps are above 92 or so no matter how many pollinators you have. So what can you do? When temperatures are a little lower, July is the time when I usually recommend a good fertilizing to keep the tomatoes at production. But in the heat, tomatoes are just struggling to live and fertilizing may just add to the stress.

What can you do for your heat-stressed plants?

Make sure you keep your watering consistent. You don’t need to drown the plants. No amount of water is going to compensate for temperature.

Mulch any exposed soil exposed to direct sun. Some tomato plants have already shaded the entire surface with leaves, but if there is garden soil getting hit by full sun, put some mulch or grass clippings or old leaves over the soil to keep it from baking in the sun.

07.11.16 tomatoshade

Shade cloth for tomatoes

If it looks like the heat wave will last quite a while, try to shade your tomatoes. The most effective shading blocks the hot afternoon sun. You can try hoops with shade cloth or throw some row cover over the plants. One frugal local farmer stretches old bedsheets on T-posts on the western side of the plants. Any protection helps until the temperatures lower again. The shade also will help protect the fruit from sunburn.

Shade for garden

 

 

 

 

 
http://reaganite71.blogspot.com/2013/07/helping-your-tomatoes-survive-brutal.html
http://www.organicswgardening.com/article4.html
http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t3224-watering-during-a-heat-wave
http://www.ipt.us.com/produce-inspection-resources/inspectors-blog/defect-identification/tomatoes-sunburn

 

Five recipes for your ice cream maker that aren’t ice cream.

by Sandy Swegel

It was really hot yesterday. I tried to stay working in the shade but by the end of the day, I was dehydrated and light-headed despite drinking water all day. This was my wake-up call to put the ice cream maker freezer bowl into the freezer where it stays the rest of the summer. If summer’s going to be like this, I need instant access to frozen goodies. The freezer bowl has to be hard frozen to work well. I have an extra bowl or two I picked up at the thrift store.

Now I’ve heard you can use the ice cream maker for ice cream or frozen yogurt, when I’ve gotten overheated, I don’t want dairy….I want frozen water and sweetness and maybe some vitamins and nutrients thrown in. I don’t want “natural flavors” and high fructose corn syrup like the so called healthy treats at the grocery.

I want concoctions from fruits and or vegetables. So the first task of my ice cream maker is to turning fruit and or vegetables into cold frozen thirst quenchers.

1. Slushies are my favorites: yummy, thirst-quenching slushy drinks when water just isn’t enough.
All the aqua fresca drinks of Central America make excellent slushy drinks.
The recipes are simple: Blend fruit and/or vegetables, water and sugar to taste. Traditionally people just throw ice cubes into the blender, but I strain the blended juice-water for a less pulpy drink. Then, I want the drink even colder than ice cubes can make it, so I pour it all into the ice cream maker and drink when slushy.

Great aqua fresca combos:
Cucumber and lime and sugar
Watermelon,
Hibiscus Tea
Raspberries
Tomatoes,
Basil

2. Sorbets

Make double batches of slushies, and put some aside into the freezer to freeze solid. Voila: Sorbet.
Sorbets are great for desserts, but I like them as surprise mini-servings between courses, to “clear the palate” for the next course. Cucumber sorbet anyone?

3. Cold soupsCold Cucumber Soup
On hot days I love cold soups…but summer meals are often last-minute preparations so if I didn’t remember to make and refrigerate the soup ahead of time, it isn’t going to be very cold. But with my VitaMixer or a good blender and my ice cream maker, I’m set for a cold soup in the hot evening air.

The recipes are simple:

Gazpacho: throw tomatoes and other ingredients into VitaMix. Blend to slurry. Pour into ice cream maker until nearly slushy. Top with cilantro. By the time the gazpacho gets to the table, it’s very cold without being frozen.

Cucumber soup. Cucumber, skin optional, into Vita Mix. Chill to near freezing in the ice cream maker. Fresh dill and a big spoon of sour cream.

Many other vegetables work too like carrots of even beets.

4. Frozen cocktails
Need I say more? Pour limeade into ice cream maker. Once it’s freezing, pour tequila in. Done!

5. Frozen Coke
Ok so this is the treat from my childhood. I know, Coke’s terrible for you. Too much sugar and caffeine, the acidity rots your teeth. But when it’s hot outside, nothing hits the spot like partially frozen coke. As kids, we’d put the bottles in the freezer and hope to remember them before they froze and exploded. My mother would pour flat coke or root beer into dixie cups to freeze. So it is a natural progression for me just to pour coke into the ice cream maker and make my own Coke slushie.

And of course I’ve heard the ice cream maker makes great ice cream.
Photo credits

http://realhousemoms.com/skinny-watermelon-agua-fresca-slushie/

 

Weeds Are Our Friends

by Sandy SwegelDock Weed 

Say what? Well Spring weeds ARE my friends. August weeds not so much. But Spring is finally overcoming winter and the big leafy weeds are the proof.

So what’s to love about Spring Weeds? The most important thing is they are an abundant source of food for pollinators. They are also delightfully pretty if you don’t think of them as weeds. I especially love the wild mustards. Invasive in lawns and on bare garden soils, blue mustards’ very tiny blue flowers are everywhere and are an excellent food source for awakening bees. Bees can’t live on dandelions alone you know.

Musk mustard flowers
To a gardener, the best part about spring weeds is WEED TEA and COMPOST.

Weeds, especially the perennial ones like dock and thistle, are an excellent source of nutrients because of their deep tap roots. To capture these nutrients in a usable form, you have to break down the plant tissue. The easiest thing to do is just keep throwing the leaves on the compost pile. This time of year your compost bin has too many “browns” anyway with all the dead winter material. The “greens” of spring coupled with warm weather jump starts your pile.

But if you want to really get all those nutrients available to your plants and soil, you’ll want to make some Weed Tea.

Weed Tea RecipeWeed compost tea

Get a big container . A Rubbermaid garbage can works, or make a small batch in a 5 gallon bucket. Put in all the weeds you can gather. I throw in cut leaves and whole plants. Put this container someway far away from your back door where you can’t smell it!

Here’s what’s going in my bucket:
Yellow dock leaves…these are everywhere.
Pulled or dug thistles.
Comfrey if you have it….these are especially full of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Nettles. Wear gloves.
Crabgrass with clumps of dirt still attached.
Dandelions, salsify, prickly lettuce, even bindweed if it’s up already. Nothing’s going to survive this stew.
Pond scum.

Compost tea

Now fill your container with water at least 12 inches over the plant material. And let stand until it is a disgusting gooey stew of fermented and stinking rotted material. Stir weekly. That smell is anaerobic decomposition. If the weather is warm, this takes maybe 10 days or as long as 4 weeks if it’s cooler. That’s it. You’ve made the best fertilizer you will ever use. Capture the liquid to use to pour directly (I dilute about 1 part weed tea to 4 parts water) on your garden beds. Strain some and put it in a sprayer for foliar feeding. Hold your breath and throw the stinking mess of weed material on your compost pile.

My favorite use of weed tea is to use it as a foliar feed and watch the treated plants green up overnight. This is especially good on tomatoes.  Spring Weeds really are a gardener’s friend!

 

Photo credits

http://wildfoodgirl.com/2013/denver-mustard-mania/

http://www.hightimes.com/read/how-make-phosphate-friendly-garden