Don't bother checking your flip phones or worrying that you missed last night's episode of Gossip Girl. It's not suddenly 2008. I'm aware that kale is not breaking news, and it may well be at the point of "SRSLY???" Nevertheless, I persist with my late-to-the-party and not-cool-anymore love of kale.
I know, you're not new. You know that kale is a superfood. You know it's packed with all sorts of good stuff, including Vitamins A, K, C, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and folate. It can be eaten raw or cooked, and is my favorite smoothie ingredient. But did you know it's kind of pretty, and comes in different textures and colors? Kale is my new experiment in edible decorative gardening.
Last year, I replaced a flower border with rows of red and yellow stemmed swiss chard. The result was that I saved money on buying flats of flowers, and I was able to eat my decorations. The downside was the inevitable, "What's for dinner? Oh yeah. Swiss chard. Again." (Insert deep sigh of resignation.)
Not that we don't love swiss chard, but it was a little bit of a one trick pony in our house. I have higher hopes for the kale, which can be eaten as cooked greens, raw in salads, and baked into crispy chips, as well as the aforementioned smoothie ingredient. This may fail as well, and you can ask me in August how much I still love kale. But it's only April, and right now, I'm fully on board with the kale saturation plan.
To keep things decorative and interesting, I'm mixing it up this year with a few different varieties:
Start kale indoors in flats, or direct sow seeds in early spring. Kale is a cool weather crop and likes moist rich soil and a sunny spot. Although it might get a little leggy and strange looking during the summer, it will still keep producing. It does prefer the gentler temperatures of spring and fall, and will even tolerate frost. I overwintered kale fairly easily last year with a light floating row cover and a mulch of leaves.
Kale is a heavy feeder, so use an organic granular fertilizer when preparing your planting bed, and additional applications of a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer (like a fish emulsion) throughout the growing season. Keep mulched to preserve moisture, and weeded to kale's shallow roots don't have to compete.
Pests, Diseases, and the Like:
As a member of the Brassica family, kale is plagued by flea beetles, cabbage worms, and cabbage loopers. You can read my opinion of (and attack plan for) those little fiends here. Flea beetles eat tiny holes in the leaves but the mature kale can usually withstand the munching. They can be deterred with floating row covers, homemade garlic hot pepper sprays, or just blasted off with a hose.
I don't have trouble with kale diseases, mostly because the caterpillars get them first, but it's possible to experience fungus problems and black rot in damp environments where disease stays in the soil. Use soaker hoses instead of sprinklers to water the base of the plants, mulch to protect infected dirt from splashing onto leaves, and practice crop rotation to escape last year's kale diseases that might be harbored in the ground.
So far, I've got about 50 kale plants in the ground and more seedlings started. I will be the envy of vegans everywhere! See you next time and thanks for playing!
OK, perhaps I’m resorting to preschool name-calling here, but that’s how I roll. Both the cabbage looper and cabbage worm cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth in my garden every year, and this year it ends. Thanks to my friend the internet, I am armed with both knowledge and weaponry, and I intend to defeat these voracious beasts.
And just what do these little hell hounds look like? Well, they look remarkably like tiny caterpillars, and the cabbage moths in particular grow up into a lovely little whitish yellow butterfly looking creatures. Not so scary, right? Wrong. These little jerks can turn your favorite cole crop (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and the like) into a holey mess full of green caterpillar poop. The kale in particular can look leafy and beautiful one day, and then be reduced to a skeletal collection of stalk and leaf stems in no time at all. Since this is my own personal YEAR OF KALE, I must take a two pronged approach to defeating my enemy. First, I have to learn all about it to determine its weakness. Second, I must gather my armaments.
Life Cycle Of a Bad Bug (Or Two):
Both the looper and the worm pupae overwinter attached to plant debris, emerging in the spring ready to ass and take names. As I mentioned earlier, the cabbage worm doubles as an adorable 1-2” white butterfly, while the looper resembles a homely brown evening moth. Both lay eggs on the underside of plant leaves, which then hatch into little green caterpillars.
The looper and the worm are similar in appearance, although the looper moves in a more inch worm kind of way (hence the name). Last year's garden nemesis was the cross-striped cabbage worm shown below, caught in the act of eating and pooping and being a real (expletive of your choice).
Once the caterpillars emerge, they continue their Erik Carle inspired march of death until they pupate for a few weeks, and rise again to continue to be the ruin of my favorite green smoothie ingredient. Following their own personal "can't stop, won't stop" mantra, they can produce three to five generations per year.
Most organic remedies hinge on the use of floating row covers. These should be placed immediately after planting to prevent the moths from laying eggs. This is a good idea, and I might start out the spring with some in place, but I really don't want my garden to look like a bunch of napping KKK members all summer long. I did, however, buy a big old pile of these this year just in case. Budget conscious gardeners might appreciate using plain ole tulle from the craft store would work just the same at a cheaper price.
The next level of defense is about watching for egg and caterpillar placement and picking them off, which is also good, but takes more effort than I'm usually willing to expend. Once the caterpillars strike, the plants can be treated with a sprays containing BTK (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki) or spinosad. The internet also yields a variety of remedies in the realm of homemade garlic and pepper sprays, none of which I can vouch for, but I would certainly be willing to try.
Interplanting crops with other plants that either repel the bad bugs, attract good bugs, or simply grow well together, is known as companion planting. In the case of these caterpillars, heavily scented crops like onions, dill, sage, and rosemary are said to repel the moths. Companion planting is often a matter of "try it and see for yourself" rather than a scientifically researched fact, but if you're growing a variety of crops anyway, it's certainly easy enough to plant some next to each other for a purpose. I bought some onion sets, and have interplanted them with the kale in one of my rows, and plan on giving the broccoli the same treatment.
So that's my bug plan for today. Stay tuned for the results, and watch for more articles featuring me locked in an epic battle for truth and justice with a variety of extremely tiny creatures. Huzzah!
This is THE BEST chai tea recipe from a favorite author of mine, Elizabeth Gilbert. I found her book "Eat, Pray, Love" at a crucial time in my own life, and it inspired me to get down to Business in addressing my emotional and spiritual needs. Six years later, after adopting a regular yoga and meditation practice, I'm embarking on the 200 hour teacher training program at my favorite studio, Yoga Loka in Frenchtown, NJ. And six years later, Ms. Gilbert's words still inspire and motivate me. Therefore, I'm sending a cosmic shout-out to her for her work as a "You Are Here" sign in the sprawling suburban mall of my life.
What does all that have to do with drinking tea? Technically, not a damn thing. But I would say that being grateful is part of a healthful existence, and science is beginning to back that statement up. If gratitude is a mind-tonic, consider this chai recipe the bodily equivalent. Once November hits, I begin regularly drinking versions of this chai, and (perhaps?) enjoy fewer colds because of it.
You can attribute today's recipe share to the fresh beautiful ginger I found at our local farmer's market. I am overwhelmed with the need to see ifI can grow it inside this winter. More chai for ME!
Follow Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook here!
BIG MAGIC CHAI RECIPE!
Dear Ones -
A friend of mine got really sick and run-down over the holidays (I know...weird, right?) so I cooked her up some of my homemade medicinal chai, which I do believe cures everything.*
I know it's unlikely that any of YOU are sick and run-down after the holidays, but just in case you need some hot and healing love in a cup, here's how I do it:
Bring 3 cups of water to boil.
3 Cinnamon sticks
1 to 2 inches of ginger, diced
1 teaspoon of cloves
1 teaspoon of whole black pepper
About 8 - 10 pods of cardamom, crushed.
Bring it all to a boil, let it simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes.
Add 2 black tea bags. (If you like, you can throw a vanilla pod in there at this time, as well. If you want to go really nuts, throw a star anise in there, too. But be careful. Star anise is the beets of spices — it takes over EVERYTHING.)
Simmer again for about 5 minutes.
In the bottom of the biggest mug you've got, put a tablespoon of honey, a teaspoon of turmeric powder, and a tablespoon of coconut oil.
Take a bit of the chai liquid, put in the mug, and whisk it until the honey, turmeric powder, and coconut oil are all blended.
(Alternatively, you can blend it all in a blender, but it works with a whisk nicely.)
Now fill your giant mug 3/4 of the way with hot strained chai liquid.
Heat up (or froth up) some milk or milk-like substance of your choice. (I go old school, like they do in India, and I always use cow's milk — but feel free to use whatever milk-like product you like.) Top off the mug with the hot milk, and stir.
Sprinkle with cinnamon.
Drink that mother down, preferably while reading a good novel.
WILL CURE ALL*
*Requisite legal disclosure from my Chai Attorney: Any claims that this product will "cure all" or "cure everything" are perhaps overblown. But Big Magic Chai will certainly do you no harm, and it make your house smell amazing while you cook it up, and without a doubt, it will make you feel loved! I am Liz Gilbert's Chai Attorney, and I approve this message.
BEAUTIFUL ARTWORK BY KATIE DAISY: www.katiedaisy.com
While traipsing through the Easton Farmer's Market this weekend (that's right, I said "traipse"), on the hunt for new and interesting types of garlic to plant, I happened upon this freshly harvested ginger root. It looks and smells pure and magnificent - the ginger equivalent of the new baby smell, but minus the diaper aroma. And it looks so alive, unlike the gnarled old rhizomes gracing the grocery store shelves. Something about it seems very plantable. I quickly grabbed a handful, planning on planting half my purchase.
Ginger is regularly used in my household in cooking, as well as in home remedies. It's normally associated with stomach upset and nausea relief, but is also used in treatment for the common cold due to it's reputed anti-inflammatory and cough-inhibiting characteristics. Ginger is the main ingredient in my favorite cold remedy drink, author Elizabeth Gilbert's "Big Magic Chai". Or, it's the main ingredient when I make it. That recipe in itself is enough motivation for me to want to have harvestable fresh ginger whenever I want it!
Other natural remedies made with ginger, according to "Herb Companion" magazine:
As a tropical plant native to Southern Asia, ginger has a few basic needs:
A normal growing season for ginger would be ten months, but who has that kind of patience? I'm going to give it a few months and check to see if any of my guys are growing, and then harvest from the new outer growth while keeping the main growing rhizome planted. The ginger plant leaves can also be used as an aromatic in cooking broths and stuffings, the same way lemongrass would be treated.
Will this work? I have no idea. But for a couple bucks, and the possibility of oodles of fresh ginger, it's worth finding out. I'll report back on my highly scientific research project this winter. Thanks for reading!
If you're stopping here from a link in my blog post about planting garlic in the fall, you'll know all about scapes. If not, let me enlighten you a bit about this interesting culinary ingredient.
The garlic scape is actually the flowering shoot of hardneck garlic. Or at least, that's what it is destined to be, until methodical gardeners enter the scene with pruners in hand. Letting the stalk grow and flower would weaken the garlic bulb, so the scape is always eliminated. Not long ago, the scape would then offer it's flavorful delights to the compost pile, but not anymore. The scape has a delicious but less intense garlic flavor, and is excellent to use in cooking just about anything you enjoy adding garlic to. In our house, it finds its way into eggs, soup, meat dishes, and pesto. We tend to keep it in the fridge and add it to dishes during cooking, or puree it with olive oil and freeze it in ice cube trays for easy portioning. If that doesn't give you enough ideas, here are a few more.
Garlic Scape Pesto / Hummus Dip
This was a huge hit at a family party. Note that only a couple recipes I found on the Internet point out that you should cut off the scapes below the bulge where the flower bud begins, and only use the tenderest part of the scape. Use the tops as decorations for the pesto / hummus dip. In the recipe certain ingredients are not essential but enhance the result, making it smoother, richer or both. You may omit the spinach or pine nuts, for example, if you don't have them, but they are nice touches.
1-2 cups of garlic scapes
1-1 1/2 lemons
1 can chickpeas, drained.
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-2 cups extra virgin olive oil
1-2 teaspoons salt
2-3 cups "tender" greens such as spinach, arugula, spicy greens mix
2-3 tablespoons sesame tahini
1 cup or more finely grated parmesan or romano cheese
1 cup pine nuts
Remove tops from 1-2 cups of scapes and reserve as decorations; cut in 2 in. lengths. Process with 1/2 - 1 cup olive oil in food processor for 2-3 min. until finely chopped.
Add drained chickpeas.
Add 2-3 tablespoons sesame tahini.
Add juice of 1 - 1 1/2 lemons, seeds removed.
Add 1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste. You (I) want it to have an edge, but not to be overtly "Hot."
Add 1-2 teaspoons salt - I use kosher, but any will do. Salt to taste, not too much.
Process until chickpeas are finely ground.
You may want to taste at this point to see if more cayenne is needed. Note that the sauce will "heat up" as it sits.
Add 2-3 cups spinach or spicy greens or arugula, whatever you have, for more green color and to lighten the hummus. Process until finely ground and well integrated in sauce.
I also added 1 cup finely grated parmesan and a cup or so of pine nuts, also all ground in for another minute or two.
Lemon Scented Pasta with Garlic Scapes and Veggies
(Serves 2 as a main course or four as a side dish)
1/3 box of spaghetti
5 or 6 garlic scapes sliced thinly
6 Sun dried tomato halves sliced thinly
Â¾ cup fresh corn
Â½ cup flat leaf parsley
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
1 cup chicken stock
Cook the spaghetti till al dente and set aside.
Sauteeâ€™ scapes and tomatoes till fragrant then add the corn, parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice and simmer lightly.
Turn the heat up a bit; add the chicken stock and pasta and toss everything to coat and until the sauce is slightly thickened.
Serve garnished with additional parsley.
It’s that time! There’s a nip in the air, a skip in your step (thanks to school starting back), and you can now buy premium unleaded gas in pumpkin spice flavor. Juuuuuuust kidding. Almost. But you know and I know that fall is here, and it’s time to switch gears in the garden. There go the days of planting your beloved veggies, worrying over every bug and black spot. Instead you can plant Ron Popeil set-it-and-forget-it style with a variety of fall crops, especially my true beloved, garlic.
Garlic is a shamefully easy crop that should grace every kitchen garden. It’s pest-less, disease-less, and is known to repel many garden bugs as well as the occasional Undead. (Note: science fiction writers disagree as to the extent of garlic’s Vampire-repellent capabilities. Please do your own research and educate yourself thoroughly on the subject.)
My favorite garlic tip is to hit up your local fall garlic festival or farmer’s market to get fresh organic stuff to plant, as well as to find out what varieties grow best in your area. In my neck of the northwest NJ woods, hardneck varieties prevail. Softneck garlic prefers milder winters, and the farmer’s in my area don’t bother with them. I don’t have a particular variety I prefer, but usually get a mix of varieties for fun. If you don’t have a local reference, start looking now at plant catalogs to order yours in time for planting. It’s possible to plant grocery store garlic, although they are often chemically treated to retard sprouting – not an ideal trait in something you are trying to grow.
Plant your garlic any time before the ground freezes, but later is better. Unseasonably warm temps can cause garlic to grow above ground before next year, which drains the energy and health of the plant when the hard freeze comes. I plant in November in the loose rich soil of my raised beds, and add compost for these heavy feeders. Mulching with shredded leaves should be done after the ground freezes.
Split the individual cloves from the garlic head and plant each one 4 inches deep and 6 inches apart with the pointy end up. (Note: the “pointy end up” part matters. My Polish Grandfather told me about the year he planted the garlic pointy end down and, guess what? It didn’t grow! Rest in peace, Grandpa Petrosky. I will forever miss your hilarious stories.) Garlic will sprout in the spring along with your other bulbs and be ready to harvest in early summer. Keep weeded, watered, and add more compost for kicks. To harvest, gently pull plants after the first few bottom leaves turn brown, and allow to cure for a few days in a covered area with good airflow. Then braid or hang by the stalk for the duration. Our 4x12 bed yields enough for almost a whole year.
Prior to harvest, hardneck garlic will produce a bonus crop. In May, garlic sends up a hard shoot which, if left untended, will produce a flower and then bulbils (seeds, basically). This stalk is known as the scape, and until a few years ago, it’s only job was to get chopped off to prevent the growing clove from wasting its energy on flower production. Now, it’s an expensive gourmet treat. The mild garlic flavor in the soft part of the scape is useful as a general flavoring for eggs, soup, meat dishes, pesto, and really any other place you personally welcome garlic. We tend to keep it in the fridge and add it to dishes during cooking, or puree it with olive oil and freeze it in ice cube trays for easy portioning.
I’ll leave you with a garlic scape recipe or two in case you're terribly interested. It might not be useful now, but it just might convince you to do some shopping at Easton PA’s garlic fest on October 1st and 2nd. Enjoy!
The first thing you should do in June, is commit to writing a garden blog. Seriously. I am WAY more on top of my gardening game this year than I ever have been at this point, and it's because of my one hundred thousand (or actually eight) readers. With these results, I should start a blog about house cleaning so that my residence stops smelling like a comforting mix of sauteed garlic and feet - or feet sauteed in garlic.
Oh, but who cares. There's plenty of time to clean in the winter months. For now, I can't help but be outside. Here's what I'm doing, and if you're gardening in New Jersey, you might be doing the same...
My nemesis is the squash vine borer. The adults lay eggs at the soil line of the plant, and the babies hatch and burrow into the stem, weakening and eventually killing the plant. Although I always get a squash or zucchini harvest, it's never as much as it should be due to early death. This year I surrounded all my squash plants (and pretty much the whole garden) with marigolds, which is said to repel most pests. I also planted all my squash and cucumber plants in paper towel cardboard tubes, which is another organic approach. I'm also going to keep an eye out for the eggs, which should be appearing soon.
Another tragedy of mine is powdery mildew on the cucumber plants which clobbers them really early too. This requires a home made spray or fungicide which must be applied weekly as a preventative. Will I do it? Who knows. In case I do, here is the homemade spray recipe: 1 tsp. baking soda to 1 quart of water. Milk-based spray is another suggested organic preventative, but I find it VERY unlikely that I will make up a fresh batch weekly, and God forbid I make up the spray and accidentally leave it in the hot garage. Yikes!
Those are just two of my many problems. Hopefully I will find the time to blog about my troubles along the way, providing you with information and entertainment while I do!
These California master gardeners compiled a pros and cons list of every type of heirloom tomato trellis system out there. It's good info to help hone in on exactly what you need.
If you happen to have wooden palettes lying around, you can follow the example of Heather at Green Eggs & Goats to make these cute squash and determinate tomato supports.
You can also get really wacky and plant pole beans at the base of your corn or sunflowers to give them a truly natural trellis. If you try this, plant your support a few weeks before the beans. One year I planted Yard-long asparagus beans at the base of my corn, and it broke out into a vegetable cage match where the beans wrestled the corn to the ground and into submission. I learned my lesson, and this year I'm waiting until the sunflowers are about 6 inches high before I plant the beans near them. No more MMA on my watch!
Finally, Pinterest abounds with all sorts of pictures and ideas for plant cages. I'm going to try a variety of options for my heirloom tomatoes this year, and will do an evaluation in August to see which method is the most supportive and has the best production.
It's not just about the food though. June also shows off my lavender, perfume rose, and overwintered chamomile crop, all of which have have edible and medicinal uses.
As usual, writing this blog post just highlights for me all the stuff that is NOT currently done in my garden, so off I go. I hope to start sharing more information about the medicinal uses of some of my favorite flowers and herbs, so let's see how much I can get done before school lets out. I'm sure I can do all that in one week!
Thanks for reading!
After my last blog post, I know you are chock full of fascination about tomato descriptors. I also know that you are just dying to put your new knowledge to the test, and ask "Laura, what are you planting this year?" Luckily for you, I am just not done blabbing about tomatoes yet, and will be more than happy to share that information in great detail.
In February, I pulled out and arranged by type every tomato seed packet I owned. I decided that some of these seeds MUST be way too old to keep around, and I had just better try to grow them so I can admit they are OK to throw away. My oldest saved seed was from 2004, and those things grew like crazy. Once again, proof for my internal hoarder that nothing should ever be tossed.
Here is the list of tomatoes I decided to grow this year. Pathetically, this is NOT the total amount of tomato seed varieties I own, it's just what I decided to grow. Now, using your new found tomato term knowledge from my last post, let's see if this makes any sense to you. Consider it the reading comprehension review section.
San Marzano - 80-90 days. Indeterminate, Heirloom. Sauce type hailing from Italy with 1-3 oz. fruits.
Polish Linguisa - 73 days. Indeterminate. Heirloom sauce type from the 1800's growing 3-4" and 10-12 oz. sausage shaped fruits. No offense, Italians. We're just talking about tomatoes here.
Sun Gold - 65 days. Indeterminate, Hybrid. Golden/orange cherry tomatoes. Delicious!
Gold Nugget - 60 days. F1, V. Determinate. Cherry. Yet another golden cherry tomato plant. At least I'm consistent.
Sugar Snacker - ? days. Indeterminate. Hybrid or open pollinated? I'm not sure. I would swear when I bought it that it was an open pollinated heirloom, but I've never seen the plant available in the store since then, and have never seen the seed available in a catalog. I've been saving it every year since then, so this may wind up being my very own heirloom. This year, I'm growing the seed saved from the first plant I found in 2004. And guess what it grows? Orange cherry tomatoes, of course!
Balcony Hybrid - Determinate. I don't know much about this guy, because I bought it "The Cook's Garden" a few years ago, and that supplier no longer exists. I'm hoping the name says it all. I have six of these planted in pots and an Earth Box at the moment.
Stupice -60-70 days. Indeterminate,. Heirloom. Dwarf sized for containers. Prolific salad type. This is my first year growing this one, so let's see if the seed catalog lives up to the term "prolific." I also didn't pay attention and accidentally planted it in the garden. Nice.
Ramapo F1- 75-85 days. Semi-Determinate. This is supposed to be known as one of the old hybrid strains of "Jersey tomato" as identified by Rutgers Agricultural Program.
Matina - 60 days. Indeterminate. German Heirloom. 2-4 ounces.
"Large Red" Tomato From Hancock Shaker Village -82 days. Indeterminate. Heirloom. I bought these in MA in 2008 and haven't grown them yet. These are serious business as far as heirlooms go, and date back to the 1800's. They are described as having "extra tomatoey good taste." Can't go wrong there.
Black Krim - 80 days. Heirloom, Indeterminate, Red/Purple coloring, originating from Crimea.
Honey Delight - 87 days. Indeterminate. 4 oz. yellow fruit,
Tigerella - 60 days. Indeterminate, Heirloom. Red with orange stripes. 4-6 oz. fruits.
Big Rainbow - 85 days. Indeterminate, Heirloom. Large yellow fruits with red streaks.
Orange Queen -85 days. Indeterminate. 4-6 oz. fruits. This is another first year plant for me, and I only bought it because I read that orange tomatoes are super healthy. So here we go!
Paul Robeson - 85 days. Indeterminate, Heirloom. Dark red with green shoulders. 8-10 oz. fruits on alleged highly productive vines.
And now, the moment you've aaaaaaaall been waiting for ... (we've been watching a lot of "Little Einsteins" lately) ... the free tomato plant list! These are some gangly mofo's that are overdue for larger pots, but don't be phased. Once you get them into the ground, they'll fill out and get going. The important thing (and this goes for all tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant) is to BURY THEM UP TO THEIR LOWEST SET OF LEAVES WHEN PLANTING. You can even take off the lowest set of leaves and plant them even deeper. Tomatoes will set roots all along the entire stem that goes into the ground, and the establishment of a good root system means more tomatoes later. So here's what I have:
4 Sun Gold
3 Gold Nugget
lots of Sugar Snackers - maybe 20? small seedlings
2 San Marzano
1 Balcony Hybrid
3 Hancock Shaker Village "Large Red"
4 Black Krim
6 Honey Delight
2 Orange Queen
1 Paul Robeson (and one tiny two leaf seedling)
Unknowns - Do you feel lucky? I have 3 of one type and 2 of another. These labels got lost when potting up and I have no idea what they are, but they are something on this list. If you like to live dangerously, plant these and see what happens!
OK locals - leave your plant requests under the comments on this post, or on my facebook page. I'll have them packed up and ready for pick up on my front porch at your leisure. But don't take too long. They need happy homes! Thanks for reading and good luck!
It's time to buy your tomato plants! But what's with all the crazy terminology and what does it mean? The major tomato terms describe growth habit, genetic history, and fruit type. Whether your garden is sprawling, smallish, or in pots, you can find the right tomato for you by understanding these terms.
Open-Pollinated (OP) vs. Hybrid (F1)
These two terms indicate how the tomatoes were bred to begin with, and what you can do with the seeds saved from these plants. Open-pollinated types have been in existence for long enough that the parent plant will have the same characteristics as the child, which takes at least ten generations. The seed is considered "stable" or "true to type." If you save the seeds from this tomato, you can be sure that the plant that grows from this seed will be the same. The term "heirloom" refers to open-pollinated plants that have been handed down from generation to generation, or that pre-date WWII.
Hybrid plants often have the label "F1" following the name, which is short for "first filial generation." Hybrids are an intentional cross between two types of parent tomato plants so that the resulting child has characteristics of each. They are often bred this way for disease resistance, smaller sizing, thicker skins, or other features desirable for mass production. Flavor is not often a goal when hybridizing tomatoes, which is why some people feel that open-pollinated plants are superior.
UNRELATED BUT IMPORTANT TO KNOW: "Hybrid" does not equal "GMO." Hybrid plants could happen in nature on their own via regular pollen transference, although they are happening with human intervention and intention. GMO plants (and there are no GMO tomato seeds on the market in the U.S. at this point) are made by scientifically activating/deactivating/splicing genes in an existing plant to produce seeds with those genetic changes. The changes made could not randomly happen on their own via the regular processes of nature. So don't run away screaming from a plant labeled "hybrid," unless that plant is also trying to eat your leg, or wants to engage in a heated discussion of the 2016 presidential election.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Growth habit is described by these two terms, and your choice in this department can make a big difference when placed in the garden. Determinate plants only grow to a certain height, and their fruits generally ripen around the same time. They don't need any pruning and don't need a lot of staking or caging to stay upright. They are the perfect option for a small gardens, container gardening, or for gardeners that want a large crop harvested at once for canning or processing.
Indeterminate plants, on the other hand, will continue to grow and produce fruit until the cold weather sets in. The up to ten foot (yikes!) vines need to be well trellised to stay off the ground and they should be pruned to have only three main growing stems. Most heirloom types are indeterminate, so buying a dozen heirloom tomato plants for a 3' x 3' plot isn't the best plan.
Slicer, Beefstead, Sauce, Salad, Cherry, Grape, Blah Blah Blah....
There are lots of fun descriptions for tomato shape and size, and they are mostly intuitive.
Slicers and beefsteaks are the medium to large juicy tomatoes that are great for sandwich toppings and platters. Cherry, grape, and saladette tomatoes are the small guys good for popping into your mouth, or making bruschetta and salad toppings. And sauce tomatoes have less liquid and meatier flesh that makes them good options for canning or cooking. It's nice to have some of each type, if you have the space, but let's face it - a fresh home grown tomato is delicious and can be used in whatever way you choose.
Great, so now what do I buy?
First, consider the size of your garden and/or containers. If you are working with a smaller space and plan on planting tomatoes in the same soil every year, you might consider working mostly with hybrid determinate plants. They will be bred for resistance to common tomato diseases, like Fusarium and Verticillium wilts, which will be indicated by an "F" or "W" on the plant tag. Those diseases tend to stick around in the soil once they appear. They also won't get too large and overtake your small plot. If gardening in containers, be aware that indeterminate types will need a 10 gallon pot, while determinate types can grow in 5 gallon containers. Look for varieties referred to as "dwarf," "patio," or "balcony" for even smaller space use.
But don't let a small space stop you from growing one big mother tomato plant. It's fun, it's a talking point when you tour your friends through your garden, and you'll figure out very quickly whether or not you are the resourceful trellis builder type. I suck at that, and invariably walk out in my yard in August to find that an earthquake has struck just my tomato plot. Whatever, I just keep trying and maybe I will get better at it someday. (No, I will not.)
And now, I know you're dying to ask "Laura, what are you planting this year?" Good thing I have a blog and can answer that question in great detail in my next post!
As always, thanks for reading. You're a real peach. Or a real tomato!
It's TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIME! Well, that is, depending on what you're planting, where you are, and your average nighttime temperatures. But still, it's OK to get excited. May 15th is the general planting out date here in zone 6, and my garden is a chaos of half-done projects. May's to-do list looks like this: Do Everything!
Loose-leaf lettuces can be harvested in a few ways. You can take the outside mature leaves and let the growing center continue to do its thing, or you can cut the whole plant back an inch or two above the soil line and let the plant grow again. Either way, you shouldn't pull lettuce out by the root this early in the game because it still has time to produce. If you sprinkled seeds like radishes and spinach over a prepared bed, the plants might be growing too closely to reach a proper mature size. In that case, remove the small plants and use for salad, allowing evenly spaced plants to reach a larger size before harvesting.
Maybe you are not a seed starter or a seed planter. No problem! Most everything you need is already growing and available for purchase. I'm both a seed starter AND a seed planter and I STILL left our local greenhouse with a minivan full of fun. How do you decide what and how much to buy?
First, know how much space you have to work with by measuring the length and width of your planting areas. You can stop there and just head to the store, or you can take some time to draw a design on paper or using garden design software. The software option is nice as it calculates the space requirements for various plants and indicates how many you can fit. Reading your plant tags will tell you what you need to know about spacing as well.
Second, make your veggie shopping list based on what you eat! There's no point in planting those brain-explosion hot peppers if no one is going to get near them. Also, consider the size of your garden space and the output of the veggies. You might love fresh corn on the cob, but corn grows best in 4' by 4' plots for cross pollination, and still only produces a few ears per plant. In a small garden, stick to smaller and higher production summer veggies, like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. If you let your cucumber and squash vines trail over the sides of your raised beds, you can get even more bang for your buck, and can harvest all summer long. Speaking of summer veggies....
Considering the to-do list, the overzealous shopping trip, and the bizarre impulse to start seeds for 15 different types of tomatoes, I gotta go. See you in June!
I am Laura; lover of plants, fan of words, drinker of wine, practitioner of yoga, planner of schemes, and conductor of the family crazy train, Check here for gardening tips (because I can't stand the word "hacks"), harvest recipes, and crafty projects.