Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tomato Plants, Does it really make a difference?

I have had more questions about how to grow tomato plants than probably any other vegetable in my garden, so hopefully I can shed some light on what I've learned here in my own garden.  First off, I AM NOT professing to know everything there is about tomato growing.  I'll leave that up to the farmers and horticulturists.  I am but a humble home grower, who has tried many different varieties, and solved MANY problems that I've encountered and have had moderate success in growing some juicy red tomatoes.

The first thing I ask someone who wants to grow tomatoes, is what type of tomato are you looking for, and how much space do you have.  I ask this, because some people just want a tomato to eat on a sandwich, and others like myself, want a meatier tomato to make sauce or salsa with.  The second part of my question will determine what type of tomato plant you want for the space you have available.  This is usually when I get the glazed over deer in the headlights look :-).  I say this, because most people, myself included, are pretty much clueless when you first start growing tomatoes, and just purchase what you see in the box stores.  I have since learned that these box stores are not very good at letting customers know what they are buying, and setting you up for failure making you give up completely in frustration.  I almost fell into that category, but am by nature a determined person, and would not give up until I've figured out what I was doing wrong.

To this end, the question is determinate or indeterminate tomatoes?  Ahhh I can see it now in your eyes :-)  That quizzical look.  Well, let me clue you in.  Tomatoes are classified by their growth habit, and fall into two categories; determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties.  Once you know the characteristics, it will be easy to tell which tomatoes are determinate and which ones are indeterminate.  So the next time your in the plant section of your local store, take a peek at the tag on the tomatoes.  It's actually there, in small type, that identifies what you are purchasing.  So, what is the difference between these two categories?

The most simple explanation of the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes is that determinate tomatoes bear their crop all at once, usually over a period of 2 weeks, and then the plant will die.

Determinate Tomatoes (Bush Type)

While indeterminate tomatoes bear their fruit over the course of the entire season.  Also, indeterminate varieties tend to grow longer vines, can be staked, and grow from 6 to 10 ft. tall with proper suckering.  I personally use this category of tomato because I can pack up to 32 tomato plants in one 4 X 8 raised bed.  Yes, thats what I said 32 plants, though I typically plant 18 to 20 plants and I do it very well too!

Staked Indeterminate Tomatoes on Left
In addition, determinate varieties tend to be more compact and bushy, requiring a cage or some other structure to keep it from falling over on the ground.  For SWFL, I found that the determinate category of tomatoes tends to have more problems with fungal disease, because it doesn't allow for proper air ventilation between it's branches and leaves, and here in FL the humidity can tend to be high, already setting tomato growers up for problems.

Suckering your tomatoes 

If you decide on the determinate category, then you do NOT sucker the tomato plants.  You let them grow bushy, without pruning or any type of training necessary.  You may want to use a tomato cage so that the branches and fruit do not fall on the ground.

If however you'v decided on the indeterminate category of tomatoes, then there is a few things you should learn.  First is how to sucker your plants.  This is very simple actually, and I'm going to provide a link to a wonderful video that gives a great demonstration of what to sucker and what not to sucker on the tomato plants from Front Porch Farm:

So now that we have determined which category you're going to choose, next is choosing when to start your seeds and plant your seedlings.  Typically I start seeds in early August, and set the seedlings by the second week of September.  This will be the beginning of the fall garden, and your harvest will be around November/December.  If I loose plants during those colder December/Jan Months, I will again start my seeds in pots in December, and plant seedlings no later then the second week of February, depending on the weather for the spring crop.  I've actually set some seedlings out in January because we were so warm, but be careful doing this because we could get a frost still during the next few months.  I always leave a few reserve seedlings still in the pots protected in case this happens, and I loose some plants that I've set.  I also use frost covers for the seedlings, just in case.  In addition, I do like to add some bone meal to the beds where I'm planting tomatoes, just to provide extra calcium and prevent blossom end rot.  The soil is the same mixture for all the other beds, as I've described in my previous post:  It's All In The Dirt

Care and Maintenance 

So now that you've chosen your plant category, set your seedlings, and are watching them grow, how do you take care of them?  I spray my plants regularly with liquid copper fungicide as a prevention measure against fungus.  I say prevention, because that's exactly what it does; prevents disease.  It does not cure, and if you have a problem, then you need to move to something else.  I use Serenade, and have heard of some other organic fungicides you can choose from.  My best shopping experience has been  I always find the best choices, and the best prices on the internet.

Well, there you have it, the basics of growing tomatoes in SWFL.  I cannot stress to you enough that timing is everything here in the SWFL garden, and don't expect to grow tomatoes here like they do up north.  I just won't happen.  We are too hot, and between the pests and disease you will not have the best outcome.  Also remember that in order for tomatoes to set their fruits, you need temperatures around 70 degrees or so.  Anything warmer and you may get blossoms, but they will likely fall off the vines and not produce any fruit.

Good Luck with your garden, and please feel free to ask questions, or tell me your SWFL tomato gardening tips/tricks!

What I like to Grow:

Paste tomato:  Granadero is my favorite with very good disease resistance
Grape:  Juliette is by far the best there is, and has such great disease resistance while producing an abundance of fruit all season long.

This is UF's recommendations for specific varieties that they have tested for the SWFL garden:

Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide

Large Fruit:  Celebrity, Heat Wave II, Better Boy, Beefmaster, BHN444-Southern Star, Amelia, BHN 640
Small Fruit: Sweet 100, Juliet, Red Grape, Sun Gold, Sugar Snack, Sweet Baby Girl
Heirloom: Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple, Eva Purple Ball, Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, Delicious

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Summer crops and fall preparations

Here in SW Fl the summer heat is in full swing along with those summer rains we are so well known for. However things in the garden are continuing to do well despite the heat. The okra is blooming and I've had my first harvest, but the aphids are beginning their attack. 

Also, I've had 3 watermelons so far but picked the first too soon so it was in edible.  Learning curve since this is my first time growing watermelon and I'm going to give it the full 80 days the package states to harvest. I have 2 more weeks to go so I will let you know how it goes. 

Also, I've begun to pot up my fall crops and am feeling a bit nervous because during the busiest time for fall planting I'm going to be unavailable, so I'm trying to plan ahead and will either set my direct seeds the first of September or the last week of September. 

The Juliette tomatoes worked out so well last season, I'm going to do some more but will also be experimenting with other indeterminant varieties. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

And Into the Summer We Go.....

So for the most part I had a wonderful spring garden.  I took the advice of some other Florida bloggers, and planted varieties of veggies that seemed to be working for them and it paid off.  My tomato crops were just astounding.  Now I did plant more mini Roma tomatoes than the bigger beefsteak or slicing tomatoes, and it seemed to work out well.  I'm still having problems though with the varieties of large tomatoes that I'm growing, as most of them had some fungus on them, along with the dreaded stink bugs this season.  My cucumbers were just pitiful.  I tried the Marketmore 76, and Poinsett and do not feel that I made the best choice there.  I would like to find a more disease resistant variety.  Also, I had problems with the pickle worms this year as well, almost every cucumber had a hole in it, and I had to fetch the little buggers out, rendering the veggies not suitable for sale.  Mind you I'm only selling enough to just pay my water bill, and I haven't even done that so far.  I'll keep plodding along though and see what I can do to increase production and profits.

Here are a few pictures of whats left in the garden.  Some Juliet tomatoes, and the Grey Pearl tomatoes, along with eggplant, sweet green peppers, jalepeno peppers, cayene peppers and the watermelon.  I've planted some okra, and black eyed peas for the summer crop, and am beginning to think about the fall garden.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The pickle worm commeth

Well, the spring garden is in full swing, and for the most part, I have been lucky with regards to pests in the garden.  I've seen a few stink bugs, but in just a few days, my summer squash is in desperate needs. I've noticed several of my squash with these tiny holes, as shown in the photo, and knew exactly what it was.... the dreaded pickle worm.  These little buggers are very difficult to deal with, since the eggs of the moth are so tiny, they are barely visible.  Here is a website, that goes into great detail about the pickle worm, and it's many attributes :-).

So, what do you do for these little creatures?  Well there isn't much to do.  I've been trying Thuricide, however in order for this to work, the larvae have to be actively eating, and what they are eating is inside the squash, so not much help there.  But I'm still going to try this, and add Pyrethrin into the mix to attempt to prevent the moth in the first place.  Row covers can work too, but then you have to open them up during the day for pollination by the bees, then cover up again in the evening before the moths are more active.

Anyone else have any further ides?  Please post comments, and give me your wisdom!

Update (9/16/14):  Ok, so I've found a great way to keep the pickle worms down.  Own chickens!  It has been my experience, that if you let the chickens out in the yard, around the garden not in it, then they are fantastic at eating all the bugs on the ground including moths, and my pickle worm problems have almost disappeared!  Now I know this isn't going to be an option for some, but its at least one method available.  I've also started using Dipel dust, which is the same bacteria found in the Thuricide, but in powered form and will last a bit longer and can get into the throats of the flowers.  The pyrethrin did help also, but this fall will tell the truth of this method too.


Pickle worm holes in squash

Monday, March 25, 2013

Potato Tower Experiment

So I've been reading on Pinterest, my favorite site of course, on how to grow potatoes utilizing the "tower" method.  There are many different opinions on this subject, however I've combined some, and just made my own version so here it goes.  I bought some fencing wire, which really is dangerous by the way, it has thorns and prickers on them so USE GLOVES!  After clearing the bottom of the area out, I placed a nice bed of hay on the bottom, made like a bowl out of the hay, and layered in some compost I bought from Green Planit.  I did not add any ammendments, manure etc, just simply the compost. 

A few days prior, I bought a bag of red seed potatoes from the local Wal-Mart, cut these up into cubes, making sure each cube had at least 2 eyes on the potatoes.  Most had already started to sprout, making this task easier than I had anticipated.  I placed the cubes in a circular pattern around the compost I had placed over the hay, making sure to face the eyes outward towards the wire.  I then followed the same pattern, of hay, compost, potatoes, hay compost, potatoes etc. until I had not more potato sets left.  I toppoed it all of with some more compost, and then hay and watered the devil out of it after each layer of potatoes.  Below is the picture of the finished potato tower. 

February 2013
This is the potato tower as of March 23, 2013.  The potatoes are growing up and as they grow, I will continue to add some compost, and hay, layering just like before.  Supposidly this will increase the yeild of potatoes.  Time will tell.


What's going on in the garden

Well things are really shaping up in the springtime garden. The tomatoes, started from seed, have really taken off and have flowers and baby tomatoes all over the plants. I've prunes all the branches below the first set of fruit and am really keeping a diligent eye out for fungus and insects.

As you can see, the squash is perfect for picking.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Extra, Extra Read All About It!!

Last week I had a visit from a news reporter from the Charlotte Sun-Hearald Newspaper.  She was interested in my garden, and had heard about me from a local worm farmer (Greenleaf Worm Farm), who had happened to see my garden.  Anyway, she must have been impressed with it, because they wanted to do a piece about local vegetable gardening, and were especially interested in my organic gardening methods.  Now, you have to understand, that I've just begun my vegetable gardening journey, and although I did make it into a business, I really haven't had much success so far with selling any of my product, but will keep plodding along.  I've done so much research, and have made so many wonderful contacts throughout the county, as I've mentioned in previous posts, and feel so strongly about sharing all that I've learned with those who wish to grow veggies in this rather challenging climate.  Hope I'm helping everyone, and that they are benefiting from all that I've done.

So I'm sharing the article here, and hope you enjoy the read!

Here is the link to the garden article: