{ Posts Tagged ‘tomatoes’ }

Bringing in the tomatoes

The time has come, I’m afraid, to end the tomatoes.

We’ve had a few frost warnings already, and I’ve been dutifully covering and uncovering my plants accordingly. But this is not my reason for giving up.

Someone else has discovered that tomatoes will actually grow in my yard. Someone with teeth and very bad manners.

Very suspicious.

They’ve been stealing the nicest, biggest fruit–red or green–eating half of it, and leaving the rest strewn about. Raccoon? Fox? Young deer, possibly?  Anyway, I’ve decided that between the frost and the thief, I might as well bring what’s left inside.

Which leaves me with a bunch of green tomatoes to ripen. Some are too small to mature of course (time to look for some green tomato recipes) but most of them should be perfectly happy to turn red over the next few weeks: they have a little tinge of colour and aren’t rock hard. I’ve got them in a cardboard box in a quiet corner of the pantry. If I get impatient I might throw a banana in there–bananas are super-producers of ethylene gas, which encourages ripening.

I’ve heard you can actually pick your whole plant and hang it upside down, and the tomatoes will ripen nicely on the vine, but I don’t really have anywhere to hang mine that won’t bring me dirty looks from my husband or eye-rolling from my kids. So I went for the middle road: I’ve left pieces of vine attached to the tomatoes in my box, being sure to leave them enough space that nobody is getting poked.

Mostly I’m just relieved that my tomato curse has been lifted. Not sure why I’ve had so much trouble with what is supposed to be an easy plant, but at last, I can hold my head high.

This lovely mess of fruit was all crowded together on one vine, flopped over and unnoticed near the ground. All that red/orange is one tomato!

 

 

Tara’s tomato diaries: The Mighty ‘Mato

This year, when I attended the President’s Choice garden preview, I not only came home with plants to trial in my garden, I also came home with a little box. Inside the box were three grafted tomatoes. Luckily they spoke about this latest innovation for home veggie gardeners at the event, so I knew what to do with them.

Three Mighty 'Matos to try! I can't wait to see how they perform.

How does the whole grafting process work? In a nutshell, a cutting of a tomato plant is attached, or grafted, to hardy rootstock. Eventually the two fuse together into one plant. The resulting plant is pest- and disease-resistant, and more tolerant of temperature swings. You don’t even have to worry about crop rotation! The other bonus? You can double your crop. The plant I saw at the event was about six feet tall!

So, with all this information in mind, I took my Mighty ‘Matos home and planted two of them in my raised beds and one in a new veggie garden I created at the side of my house. I bought the extra-large tomato cages that will support them and I was sure to avoid burying the graft, which would cancel out all the benefits mentioned above. Luckily it was easy to see where the two plants were fused together – which in itself is pretty cool!

These cages looked ridiculous when I put them in the garden (that's my husband standing beside them), but apparently the plants will need them eventually.

I can’t wait to see how these plants turn out. I’ll be sure to report back over the summer.

How do I know when to pick things?

In the spring, when I first started planting my seedlings and sowing seeds, I pictured myself under a deluge fresh produce. I haven’t quite yielded the quantities I would have liked, but it’s still so fun when you can even eat that one fresh tomato. My problem currently is I don’t want to pick things too soon, but I ‘m not sure if a couple of things are ready or not. And I don’t want to waste the precious few specimens that I have!

Here are the veggies I’m unsure about:

onionsMy onions:
This is another tricky one. I have what look like green onions sprouting up, but I remember the tag had a small bulb at the end in the picture. I pulled one out a couple of weeks ago and it just looked like a green onion. I’m not quite sure when to go in and yank out the others.

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hot-pepper
My Hungarian hot peppers:
I’m glad I looked this up on The Cottage Gardener site. My peppers are currently a deep purple, but apparently they will be ripening to red.

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green-pepper


My green peppers:
I have three currently, that are about the size of a Delicious apple. I want to pick them before the squirrels catch on that they’re there, but I’m worried they still might have the potential to grow bigger.

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beets|


My beets: I have four. Some of the beets I’ve purchased at the farmer’s market or at the grocery store have these giant leaves. I’m sure mine won’t grow to be that big, but I’m not sure when to determine if they’re ready yet.
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Sure bets if they would just hurry up!

cucumber1* My tomatoes: Ready any time they decide to ripen!
* My cucumbers: Every time one gets to be the size of a really good dill pickle, the squirrels get it!
* My tomatillos: Still flowering! Maybe I should go out and give them a little shake!
* My eggplant (behind the onion): Still hasn’t flowered.

(p.s. I can’t get WordPress to co-operate, so I had to put those extra characters around the pictures to make them line up!)

Treat your tomatoes to natural fertilizers

I was reading the summer issue of Reader’s Digest’s new mag, Fresh Home, and I came across an article about kitchen-scrap fertilizers for tomatoes. My tomato plants are doing surprisingly well this year, but they’re still shorter than my basil plant. Here’s what the article suggests:

  • Every week, for every foot of height of your tomato plant, add one tablespoon of Epsom salts to a gallon of water to add magnesium.
  • When you first plant your tomatoes, add fresh banana peels to the hole. They will act as a slow-release fertilizer, providing potassium and trace elements. I’d heard about doing this for your roses… will have to try next year with my tomatoes!
  • Every week or two, add about six crushed eggshells per quart of water and sprinkle on your plants. The calcium will help the growth of leaf tips and blossom ends and will prevent blossom-end rot.
  • When your tomatoes start to turn red, add a spoonful of sugar to your watering can to help make tomatoes sweeter and juicier.
  • Try planting your tomatoes around a compost bin. As nutrients break down in the surrounding soil, the tomatoes will benefit.

I might try the sugar trick… some of my tomatoes are just on the verge of turning. I’m excited because last year I barely had any and I was eating the few I did get in October and November!

Drop me a line below and tell me if you’ve used any of these tricks or others!

Eating my way through a veggie tasting

I tried to post this Friday, but unfortunately our sites were down...

Today I had the pleasure of getting out of the office with Canadian Gardening magazine editor Erin McLaughlin and heading to St. Catharines for an event put on by Stokes Best and President's Choice (parents of my zucchini plant). The event was held at Stokes` Trial Farm where they scrupulously test all the different varieties that you may–or may not–see in stores in the next couple of years. Our important task was to provide our feedback on some of the vegetables they were testing for market under the Gigantico brand. We mostly ate tomatoes, but we also got to try some peppers, zucchini and cucumbers.

Erin, myself and Peter Cantley, head of Loblaws Lawn & Garden (photo take by Mark Disero of gardenwriters.ca)

Erin, myself and Peter Cantley, head of Loblaws Lawn & Garden (photo take by Mark Disero of gardenwriters.ca)

Now I'm a very picky tomato eater. The mushy, mealy tomatoes you often find in grocery stores and in restaurants are often left at the side of my plate. That's why I love this time of year! Everything is crisp and sweet and most importantly, fresh and not trucked from hundreds of miles away. I'm excited for my own tomatoes, but I might be eating them in November again at the rate they're going.

What I found funny was that some of the tomatoes I absolutely loved got a lower rating from the other garden writers and the ones I wasn't as excited about ranked as favourites for them. For example, Stokes has a new tomato called `Tumbler` that was bred for hanging baskets. The little tomatoes were crisp and sweet and one of my faves for sure. Some of the feedback was that it was a good tomato for a hanging basket. I guess that means if it was on the vine, it wouldn't measure up. Yet I thought it was one of the most delicious! Some of my other favourites included the `Pepolino` and `Golden Honeybunch.`

The one tomato that seemed to get a unanimous thumbs up was the `Red Candy` grape tomato. It was sweet, firm, juicy and perfect for my picky tomato tastebuds.

Besides the amazing produce, what was also a treat was seeing how both flowers and fruits and vegetables are tested before being deemed suitable for our nearest nursery. The gardens were absolutely beautiful, even despite the excessive rains we've had this summer. I was happy that Stokes got a nice day so they could showcase their gorgeous and tasty gardens.

Tip to help tomato flowers turn into tomatoes

I was reading advice in our forums the other day and one of the posts piqued my interest. A reader was having trouble with her tomato flowers dying before they turned into little tomatoes. “Beeman” came to the rescue and recommended vibrating the flower stem or spritzing the open flowers with a small hand sprayer filled with warm water to encourage pollination. Ten days later, “Crazy4Columbine” reported that the spraying worked! I thought I’d pass along this helpful tip and I might see if it works on my zucchini plant. Some of the flowers have been dying before I get a mini zucchini!

A case of veggie garden envy

I was so excited about my veggie garden this year. We carved out a whole new area in the backyard and I was so optimistic about reaping a bountiful harvest. Sadly, I had a real problem with squirrels… they carried away all but one of my eight cucumber plants, all but two of my eggplants and dug up half my seeds. On the bright side, my two plants that I got at the President’s Choice Lawn & Garden event–a zucchini and a sweet pepper–are doing amazing and I have some hot peppers, onions, tomatillos, beets and bush beans that will hopefully yield at least a couple of vegetables.

But then I went to my sister’s place the other night and her balcony garden is doing amazing! She has green tomatoes already and her plants are all big and bushy. My garden is quite stunted by comparison. I’m thinking maybe I need more nutrients in the soil. Needless to say, I was a little envious of her success. But I still hold out hope that my plants, however stunted, will give me a late harvest. Last year I was still picking tomatillos and tomatoes in November! Fingers are crossed.

Tabouleh from the garden

Last night while I was pondering what side dish I could make out of some tomatoes that were on my windowsill, I remembered a “Super quinoa tabouleh” recipe I had tucked away from Body of Knowledge Healing Arts. Now usually I wouldn’t have had mint or parsley just hanging out in my fridge, but then I remembered, “duh, they’re growing in my garden!” Out I went with my little snips to cut my fresh ingredients from the garden.

It may be awhile until I see a veggie, but it was very satisfying making great use of my herbs in the meantime.

Can you pick veggies after a frost?

As you may have read, I had a real problem with my tomatoes this past season…they were so late! I managed to pick (and eat!) a few juicy, delicious beefsteaks and plums, but there were still some pretty green ones hanging out on the vine.

Then we got a sprinkling of snow and a few days of frost here and there. What to do?

According to Anne Marie, some of the slightly cold-tolerant vegetables can be picked after a frost. Apparently some even taste better (parsnips, rutabaga, kale, chard) if they are harvested after the first light frost (or two). Other cold tolerant veggies include carrots, cabbage, turnip, leeks, spinach, some lettuce, kohlrabi, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Others, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash, do not tolerate a frost and should be picked before the freezing temperatures.

When I was out raking this weekend, I grabbed the last of my tomatillos (which still seemed OK) and a promising looking tomato, which I'm happy to say is turning a happy shade of red on my windowsill.

For the rest, I'm going to try my luck at wrapping them in newspaper as Anne Marie suggested to see if they ripen on their own. Hopefully it's not too late!

Will I have tomatoes before the snow?

tomatoes

Inspired by Barbara Kingsolver's ambitious planting of 14 varieties of heirloom tomatoes in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I set off for my local farmer's market this spring to seek out my own little fruit bearers. A couple of months later and my plants are tall and thick enough to form a nice privacy hedge. However three were very slow to bloom and the fourth stands tall and proud, but with no yellow petals in sight.

Anne Marie Van Nest, Canadian Gardening`s horticultural editor, has reassured me that there is still hope. Here's what could be wrong:

1: Fertilizer issues
If a little too much nitrogen is suspect from a rich soil high in aged manures or from the addition of a high-nitrogen fertilizer, then change fertilizers to one that has a higher middle number. Reducing the nitrogen (first number) and increasing the phosphorous and potassium (second and third numbers) will encourage more fruit and root growth and cut back on the foliage growth.

2: Late bloomers
Tomatoes (depending on the type) can take from 45 (Sub Arctic Plenty) to 85 days (Evergreen) to produce fruit and ripen from the time they were transplanted into the garden. Check the seed package or plant label for this date to harvest number. There are still plenty of weeks for today's flowers to form nice fruit.

3: The weather
Another aspect to consider is the excessive rain in Southern Ontario this summer that has drastically cut down on the amount of sunshine that the tomatoes have received to produce fruit.

I'm going to place my bets on late bloomers and the soggy weather and find the patience to wait for my beefsteaks and Brandywines.

And if I end up with some green tomatoes, Anne Marie suggests picking them before they get frosted so I can use them for pickles, chutney or relish. Or, I can wrap them in newspaper and store them above freezing in single layers on a shallow tray to finish ripening. They will slowly ripen over the subsequent weeks or months. Some people have even enjoyed ripe tomatoes in December that were picked green in October. Now that is great news!

Disclaimer: Sadly, the photo shown above does not in any way accurately depict the current state of my tomatoes. My fingers are crossed I will at least get a few juicy tomatoes before the first frost. Stay tuned!