Tag Archives: Tomatoes

Two Tiny Tomatoes Perfect for a Tiny Space

For the past couple of years I’ve kept my tomato growing to the balcony. The 50sq foot space gets almost all day sun in which tomatoes thrive. In addition to the one large salad tomato planted in a half barrel, our balcony supports a dozen or so different herbs in pots, several fig trees I started from cuttings brought out from KY and several pots of geraniums and pansies. I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with a single tomato plant so I set out to find something small that wouldn’t take up much of our little remaining space. This year I opted for an old favorite and a new variety I had never grown. Both were started inside under lights in the early part of April. A couple of weeks ago I transplanted them to their final containers.

Tiny Tim Tomatoes

Tiny Tim Cherry Tomatoes
Tiny Tim is an old favorite of mine. An upright heirloom variety that grows just about a foot tall, this open pollinated tomato was introduced in the 1940s and does really well in containers. I’ve had luck planting 3-4 plants in a 3 gallon container. They are a little crowded which means a little more work keeping up on the watering and feeding but I find it worth the extra effort and the yield is great for the amount of space required. I trellis the plants by cutting the bottom ring off of a 3 ring tomato cage and using the two two rings to contain the plants. They end up looking like little green bushes full of small red fruit. The taste is tangy sweet.

Litt’l Bites Tomatoes

Renee’s Litt’l Bites is a new variety for me. An English tomato that also grows to about 12 inches in height but tends to spread sideways more than TT. The two I planted should be spilling over the side of the railing planter they are sharing with some trailing nasturtiums and pansies before too long. Since this is a new variety for me I can’t attest to their taste but The plants are very sturdy and already sport a number of blossoms and a few small tomaotoes despite the 50-60f temps we have been having recently. Our weather here in the Seattle area is a lot like some parts of England so I have high hopes that this will become another favorite of mine. I’ll update this post once I actually get to taste them.

Growing Tomatoes Using the Post and Twine Method

Newly planted tomatoesOne of the great things about gardening is that most of us are always open to trying something new.  How else can you see what works and what doesn’t if you don’t experiment?  Of course what works and what doesn’t is a moving target depending on the year, variety or general mood of the cosmos.  Today while working with Anita at the Rock Farm Community Garden she and I had a discussion on different ways to grow tomatoes.  I shared with her the way we used to do it in Kentucky, the post and twine method also known as the ‘Florida Weave’.  PnT involves driving posts between every second or third plant and criss crossing twine around the plants and posts at about 12″ intervals up the posts as the plants grow.  I learned this method from a friend who grew tomatoes commercially.  It uses very little in the way of equipment and time, a must for a farmer. My friend tobacco sticks which were about 6′ long and 1″ square.  I used 6-7′ t-posts, more expensive but longer lasting AND I was in short supply of tobacco sticks.  In PnT we never pruned or pinched the tomatoes.  Anita shared a method she has found works well, tying the toms to netting stretched between posts.  Anita says that she always pinches and prunes and that it has worked well for her here in the PNW.  In hot and humid Kentucky, the leaves were retained in order to protect the fruit from the summer sun.  I could see how in the cooler summers we have here the fruit might appreciate being able to ‘see’ the sun rather than be shaded under the leaves.  Anita was open to trying the post and twine method with a couple of short rows.  I’d be interested to see how pruning worked on one of those short rows of PnT.

Tomatoes after the first round of tying.I decided to dig out some old photos from my Kentucky garden describing this method.  I had a fairly large garden in KY, about 40’x60′ so lots of space to play with.  I spaced rows 5′ apart and plants 18″ apart.  Depending on the variety I might put two or three plants between posts, three if they were determinate and two if they were indeterminate.  I usually planted VERY deep, stripping off the lower leaves leaving only one or two leaves above ground.  This encouraged the roots to grow down in the more moist soil which would help to protect them from the bone dry hot days of summer.  I almost always mixed a couple tablespoons of Epsom salt and a 10-10-10 fertilizer with the soil that I dug out of the 8-10″ wide hole.  After the plants grew another 6-12″ I would do the first tying.  The twine, (think thin jute) was strung in a figure 8 fashion.  Starting on one end of a row, the twine is tied to the first post, criss crossed around the  two or three plants, (left side of first plant, right side of second etc) wrapped around each post down the line before coming back on the other side and meeting back at the first post.  In the end the plants are surrounded by twine.

Tomatoes ready for the second round of tying. Throughout the season the tying happened about once a foot or so.  The first tying was always very narrow as there was only a small stem to encircle.  As the plants grew and had multiple stems the twine would be tied tight enough to pull the plants up off the ground and loose enough to leave them enough space to grow.  The occasional stem that would sneak out could be tucked in behind the twine as necessary.

Harvesting was easy and the fruit was clean as it was held up off of the ground.  The expense was minimal, if you already had the sticks, just some twine.  At my friend’s farm, workers in the field made short work of tying the tomatoes using a piece of pvc pipe.  The ball of twine would be hung from their belt and the end of the string would be passed through a 3′ section of pvc pipe.  After tying the twine to the first post, they were able to hold the pipe and direct it around the plants, around the pole and around more plants all while standing and walking beside the row.  It was much easier than stooping at every plant and post.

Unfortunately I won’t be using this method on my own tomatoes.  I have one of the shadier spots of the garden and I’ve found that for me, tomatoes do much better on our balcony in pots than they do taking up space in my garden plot.  While I love green tomatoes, I’m not willing to give up the space for them.

Out with the Old

I really can’t be trusted when it comes to garden centers. I’m like an addict. Each visit I swear I don’t need any more plants or seeds and just about every week I find myself there looking for my next fix. Today I ended up with two horehounds plants and some California poppy, sweet pea and zinnia seeds. Ask me where I’m going to plant them. :-/

I had a big day planned in the garden today. The kale was coming out and some goodies were going in. The chard and kale that I started under lights back in March needed a spot. Finding somewhere to put them was no easy task. I ended up harvesting the rest of the overwintering Kale, digging in some peat moss and fertilizer before putting four of the chard in its place and another one elsewhere. I tucked the four kale in next to the chard. I had one left over of each but not where to put them. They are now on the table in the center of the garden waiting to be adopted. I spread some Sluggo around here and there. I was told that slugs love dahlias and mine are just now coming up. My first attempt at dahlias and I don’t want to lose them to the slimy ones. I ran across a huge ant while watering my bed post planting. Pretty sure it is a carpenter ant. Probably there to for the wooden rails that line the beds.

When I initially joined the garden, the routine was that for every plot you rented you grew a row in another plot for the local food bank. It worked that way for the first two years and was a great way to get fresh veggies onto the dinner plates of folks who might not otherwise be able to afford it. In addition to our rows, Anita managed several VERY large beds that grew pretty much everything. It was a TON of work I’m sure. Rarely was I at the garden that I didn’t see her watering, planting or fixing hoses. This year instead of growing a row we signup for one or two time slots a month to, weed, help work the food bank rows or whatever else needs to be done. They actually started this later last year and it seems to work really well. It helps to take some of the load off Anita and we get to be part of the process in the areas that really need the work. I’ve weeded, cut back raspberries, harvested blueberries, watered and planted corn. Today was my first day this season. After working in my own plots for a couple of hours I watered several very large (10’x50′) food bank beds. Everything is looking great. The plants all seem very happy.

At home it was time to plant some of the Tiny Tim and basket tomatoes I had started from seed. I ended up putting a couple of the basket tomatoes in a long planter that sits on the balcony railing. I added a couple of the variegated nasturtium seedlings too. Not sure how they will do but worth a shot.

Dirty Knees and a New Toy

Today was my first REAL day in the garden. The rain had finally stopped long enough to dry things out enough to get down to business. I planted some “Palco Spinach” next to the overwintered Kale. Some ‘Cut and Come Again Lettuces aka Renee’s Baby Leaf Blend” went in between a couple of rows of garlic. I opted for two types of beans this year. Today I planted a single 5’ row of the long cylindrical beet and two rows of “Red Baron Dutch Beets”. I don’t know what makes them Dutch beets or if that really means anything. I picked these two varieties because they were among the offerings at the local garden shop and their days to maturity were 10 days apart.

On the ‘because one can’t have too many greens’ front I planted a mild mesclun blend. It is in Territorial Seeds ‘Groumet Greens’ group. We shall see. The greens I planted last fall were a bust. Too late I suppose. My goal was to cover them and tend them through the fall. Life had other plans and they were left on their own. Perhaps this year.

The mystery greens I discovered in late Jan are going to town and have been identified. I looked back through my photos and notes to discover that I planted Roquette in that spot in early October. Looks like they are probably going to go to seed. If the arugula that went to seed last year has its way I’ll have enough of that in a while to furnish all of Kitsap County.

2' Grow light In the name of getting the starts I really want when I want them I purchased a small 2′ grow light. Living in a condo I don’t have NEARLY the room I had in my last place. There I had a double 4′ light in the basement where I could start to my heart’s content. Now I have to find a corner (on the office floor) to place a small light that will allow me to start some hard to find (and not so hard to find) goodies for the coming season. I eneded up choosing this unit. I ended up getting two 1′ square flats with the little peat pods rather than a 1’x2′ flat. This way the shorter starts can be lifted a bit to raise them to the same height as the taller ones if need be. My first seeding was a row of each “Litt’l Bites Windowbox Cherry Toms”, “Persian Carpet Butterfly Zinnias”, “Bandit? Bunching Onions”, “Italian Pesto Basil”, “Bright Lights Rainbow Chard” and some more “Russian Red Kale”.

Downtime

September came and went without much going on garden wise. The temps cooled and the rains made a regular showing. Fred kept creeping along to the point of needing his own zip code. Helda kept putting out beans like crazy, more clubroot was found in the broccoli planted this spring and the zucchini kept getting larger and larger as the number of visits per week declined. One a positive note, large zucchini can be treated like eggplant (bake the slices instead of frying them) and made into a wonderful zucchini parmesan.

The milder temps were not soon enough for the spinach tho. It all bolted and ended up being dug into the garden to help enrich the soil. That is new for me. Typically garden refuse would go into the compost pile. This year I made trenches and dug it back into the garden. Everything went in except the brassicas (clubroot) and anything with seeds like the few large cucumbers I ended up missing over the summer. The lettuce I planted at about the same time also bolted. I cut it off at the ground level to see if there would be any chance of getting anything decent once the temps cooled. Doubtful but worth a try.

figlets2015-09-13 All of the three fig cuttings I started last Spring have figlets and are about a foot tall. I started with a bag of dormant 6″ long cuttings from the Brown Turkey and Petite Nigra container plants a dear friend adopted. Looking at these I’m thinking they are all BT. This is fine as I do prefer their flavor over PN.

The second round of carrots I planted ended up with little holes through most of them. A root maggot of some kind. Need to research that one. I’m thinking a floating row cover would be a good idea next time.

The Iditarod tomatoes took forever to start producing but once they did were pretty consistant and had a good flavor. The Celebrities were gone at about the time they started so we have had a good run of tomatoes from the two plants on the balcony.

The horseradish I planted in a clay pot and buried is HUGE. While I did have a horseradish plant I had never harvested any of it so that will be new for me. I know it is one whose ability to regrow from the smallest piece of root left behind. For this reason it was planted in a clay pot and buried. It remains to be seen whether or not that will work. There is, after all, a drainage hole at the bottom.

Lessons learned: 1. Wait to plant spinach and lettuce for fall. Mid July was much too early.

Garlic! and Other Garden Goodies

Garlic Harvest I’ve been eyeing a rather large plot of garlic being grown by one of my fellow gardeners at Rock Farm. He seemed to know what he was doing so I was taking my cues from him. I came in this weekend and saw that he had harvested his garlic. I had read to harvest when half of the leaves have started to die back but mine wasn’t to that point yet so I was really unsure if they were ready. I ended up asking him to look at my plot and he felt they would be ready to harvest. I pulled a couple and was very pleased with what I found. Nice big heads of beautiful garlic. Only one head was split open and past its prime. I am so glad I didn’t wait.

Nigella

Very early in the season I had planted some Nigella and Dill together. BIG mistake. Their leaves are so similar it would be easy to mistake the nigella for the dill. Not sure if it is poisonous but thankfully I didn’t harvest any. I had thought it odd that my dill seemed to die off and then come back. I guess the nigella waited to come up till after the dill was all but gone. Still, I won’t make that mistake again. I love their beautiful flowers and hope to save some seeds from this batch.

Sowing carrots in July

July has been fairly warm so far. I’ve been at the garden watering EVERY day. Trying to get carrots to sprout in this heat is an exercise in futility. They just lie there and laugh. Wanting to keep the soil shaded and cool I decided to try to cover them loosely with some kale branches from the overwintering kale I recently removed to make way for some cucumbers. I can water through the branches but the soil should stay cooler than the surrounding soil and help with germination. At least that is the idea.

First tomato of the season.

I tried growing tomatoes in the garden last year but while I got a lot of green tomatoes, there just didn’t seem to be enough heat or sun. My plot is in a far corner that doesnt’ get late afternoon sun. I also tried a container tomato on the balcony last summer and that seemed to do really well. I’ve opted to do the same this year. I have one Celebrity and one I’ve never tried. A dwarf indeterminate called Iditerod. The Celebrity, as expected, will have the first tomato. Makes my mouth water just looking at the photo.

Lady Beetle

One of the garden protectors hanging out on a zucchini leaf. Hello little lady.

Lessons Learned: NEVER mix plants with similar looking leaves if one is edible and one is not.

Cleanup, New Additions, Harvest and the Case of the Missing Zucchini

Recycled mango container for starting seeds.
A mango container from Costco mangos makes a great little greenhouse for starting zucchini and cucumber. Complete with drainage and venting holes.

The zucchini I seeded a couple of weeks ago had been peeking through the ground the last time I was at the garden. Now it is gone and empty shells remain. Not sure if it was birds or the raccoon whose footprints I see in my plot on occasion. Grrrr. I’m guessing the former as the remains looked a lot like what was left when I tried starting some cucumbers in a 4″ pot on the back patio. The birds relieved me of the seed, leaving the shell behind.  Needing something to protect the seed from the birds,  I fished a mango container out of the recycle bin after a recent Costco trip. The six celled contraption complete with lid and drainage should be enough to get the zucchini and cukes started out of harms way. I think once they get up and get some serious leaves on them the birds won’t be interested. At least that is my hope.

Container Tomatoes
Container Tomatoes

I potted up the two tomato plants on the balcony. One is Iditerod, a ‘dwarf indeterminate’ whatever that means. The other is….lost the tag and have no clue. :-/ Both look great and are enjoying the new digs.

I tried a cut-and-come-again type harvest on the Palco Spinach. I was able to get 3 cups of cooked frozen spinach and enough fresh to last us for a while. It wasn’t showing any sign of bolting but the leaves were large and tender and it was time. This was my first time growing this variety. Love the flavor and lack of bolting as quickly as the Bloomsdale. I’ll grow it again.

I pulled two of the three overwintering broccoli. I needed the space for the pole beans and we weren’t able to keep up with the harvest. The one I left is located on one end of the bed, tied to the tbar and leaning out of the bed somewhat. There are a couple of shoots coming up at its base. For now all are staying.

I planted Hulda pole beans. I opted for pole beans this year in addition to the bush beans. The idea was that the bush beans would give me a larger initial harvest to allow for some dilly beans while the pole beans come on more slowly, allowing for beans over a longer season. I planted them very thickly as the birds tend to like bean seed about as much as they do seed of the zucchini. I scattered some radish seed along the row of beans, they should be up and out before the beans need the space.

If the fridge wasn’t packed with lettuce, spinach, broccoli and kale I would thin these beets. Holding off till there is more room. No sense in pulling them and not eating them.

Beets in need of thinning.
Time to thin some beets.

I picked up another basil plant at the local garden center. One cannot have too much basil… At the same garden center I found a horse radish plant. I planted it in a clay pot that I sunk into the garden. As I understand it this will help insure no bits of root are left behind to regrow when it comes time to harvest.

Much of the garden time was spent cleaning up. This year I started burying anything that isn’t diseased back into the garden if there is bare space. The garden is a few ounces lighter when it comes to slugs too. In addition to the ones I found lurking about I applied another application of Sluggo. Bwahahahaha!

Summer

For my two Helpline rows I was assigned broccoli. I was given the seed and a planting date. Each section would have two rows on a hilled area about 18″ x 10′. I weeded, thinned and watched for pests.

Kale, Swiss Chard, Broccoli, Beans, Basil, Beets
Sept. 19, 2014

From what I had been reading, there is a fly (Delia radicum or D. brassicae) that lays its eggs at the base of cruciferous plants. There are 2 or more generations per year in the PNW according to PNW Insect Mgmt Handbook. I had lost 2 of my own broccoli plants kind of early on. As this was an organic garden I was limited in what I could do about it. I decided to make sure to plant more than I need and bag up any plants and surrounding soil that would succumb. Fortunately I only lost one of the helpline plants.

The garden was as lush and colorful as I’ve seen. The temps never seemed to get warm enough to go without a jacket through about June. I was amazed at how quickly and large the veggies grew. The days were very long in the Summer and the plants seemed to take that extra daylight and run with it. Nasturtium leaves in a neighboring plot were almost as big as dinner plates!

I planted bush beans in June. Two rows of Topcrop, my favorite. They performed wonderfully. Another two rows of beans, one of Roma and another row of Topcrop when in three weeks after the first. I had wanted to get a third planting done but it wasn’t going to happen.

Biiiig Nasturtiums
Biiiig Nasturtiums

The bean harvest went well. I canned some dilly beans and had a lot of beans to eat, give away and freeze. In 2015 I want to make sure I get that third planting in.

From everything I had read and been told tomatoes can be quite challenging in this part of the county. The Summer days are long but not typically hot like tomatoes like. The soil never really warms up till much too late for long season varieties. Early tomatoes and cherry tomatoes are about all that one can reliably grow in the garden here according to fellow gardeners unless there is a micro-climate to warm things up. I ended up trying three different varieties. Celebrity, a short season paste tomato and a short season grape tomato. I ended up getting maybe a dozen or so from each and it was a fairly decent tomato season from what people say. My plots are on the side of the garden that doesn’t get direct sun quite as long as some of the others, probably hurting my yield even more. It was hardly worth the effort. I did grow a Celebrity in a pot on the balcony and got the best yield I’ve ever had from a container grown tomato. It is the only way I will attempt it this year.

Finally…Tomatoes

First there was the weather, then there was the broken tiller, then… did I mention the weather? My fool self forgot to empty the gas tank on the tiller last year. So… assuming that all was well I didn’t think to test out the tiller early in the season while it was still too wet to till. Nope, I waited till the day I wanted to get the tomatoes in to try the tiller. Realizing my mistake I tried carb cleaner, disassembling the carburator, emptying the tank etc all to no avail. Of course this was a Sunday and nothing was open.

Several weeks and rainstorms later I picked up the carb rebuild kit at the local mower shop and rebuilt the carb yesterday. I went ahead and added a fuel filter inline between the tank and the carb. It took a bit of tweaking so that the filter wouldn’t interfere with the linkage but I was able to get it worked out. Within a couple of seconds of putting everything back together we were running. Well, sort of. Actually running wasn’t the issue. Stopping seemed to be a problem. It turned out that the cable had seized up and didn’t want to allow the machine to idle. Much 3in1 oil (no wd40 around), cursing and begging and the cable was again working as it was supposed to.

yarden_6-7-09

The tomatoes are in as are three short rows of Topcrop beans. All of the toms and two rows of beans are in a couple of fenced areas. Hopefully the deer and rabbit will honor the chicken wire. Either could get in if they really wanted to. One of the rows of beans were planted outside of the fence as kind of a test. Lets see how long they last. Typically they are removed as they get their first set of true leaves.

The rain we have been getting has really helped everything look great. I just love all the colors this time of year.

More Yellow, Tomatoes and Gooseberries

This is the third spring for this rose. I believe I am going to try my hand at propagation this year. I’m leaning towards bending one of the branches over and burying it after a light scraping of the bark and a touch of rooting powder. Perhaps by next spring I will have a second plant.

This weekend saw the transplanting of the basement tomatoes into their individual cups. I’m a little late with the tomatoes this year. I started them in the basement as usual but didn’t realize that the light in the prop bench had gone out not long after they all came up. The cooler soil temps delayed their growth and I was too busy to notice. So… I am probably a couple of weeks behind where I would be. It is probably for the best though as it has been so wet here, I still have yet to get into the garden to get it tilled. The weeds are loving it. I am going to have to mow the weeds prior to tilling and before they bloom if I have any hope of getting anything to grow out there.

It is going to be another AWESOME year for gooseberries. They are some of the most rugged little plants I’ve ever seen. Very thorny but well worth the work of picking. The fruit ripens over time so there is a longer harvest than many of the small fruits. When I planted these several years ago, I had never tasted a gooseberry. I had good reports and, as they could grow in partial shade, I decided to give them a try. They are getting full sun in the spring till the leaves of the locust tree fill in. For the rest of the summer they only get about 2 tor 4 hours of sun in the morning and perhaps a little filtered sun late in the evening. They are loaded with fruit again this year. There are the original two bushes that are about 4′ tall and a third I planted last spring or the year before. One is a Poorman (my favorite for flavor) and two are Pixwell. One was purchased locally (Highlands Garden Center) and the others may have come from Indiana Berry though I am not sure. The latter has fewer thorns but the former has larger sweeter berries. If you are feeling adventuresome and have a 5′ square semi-shady area you can part with they are well worth the little work they require.

by: kerry