Category Archives: Sustainable Landscape

The Secrets of Growing Great Tomatoes

By Carol Rossi, The Bounty Garden’s Seedling Instructor

The best thing about home-grown tomatoes (besides their delicious flavor of sweet sunshine) is that they can be grown pretty much anywhere you have a patch of reliable sunlight. You just need to know the attributes and requirements for your particular growing situation.

If all you have is a couple large pots on a balcony you are still set to produce some beautiful tomatoes. Just ensure the pots are located so they receive a minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight – this is one growth requirement where tomatoes will not compromise. Next, replace the soil in the pots every growing season with a fresh batch of potting soil that is rich in nutrients and organic matter. Tomatoes are nutrient gluttons so you can use a mix that is high in nitrogen and phosphorus and without worrying about over-feeding them. Now select the proper variety for your pots. Look for dwarf (or patio) size, or small-fruited “determinates” such as cherry, grape, and pear tomatoes. Determinates grow to a certain size and then stop so they are perfect for small spaces and also don’t require much support. The small, cone-shaped tomato cages should suffice but instead, I recommend the heavy-duty kind instead of the spindly wire type. Train determinates to support their stems on the cage but don’t prune them. They will reward you by covering themselves with wonderful, tasty tomatoes.

If you are a lucky gardener with lots of room you definitely have more options!  Tomatoes come in early, mid-season, and long (or main) season varieties, so for an extended harvest period all you have to do is mix up the varieties. Choose early cultivars for half your plants, one intermediate, and the remainder long season. Because the early varieties put a lot of energy into quick production, the fruit tends to be smaller and less flavorful than the long season types that luxuriate long summer days on the vine. But put in some Early Girls and you can be eating tomatoes in late June or early July while looking forward to the August arrival of Big Boys, Mortgage Lifters, and Brandywines. You can also choose “paste” varieties, such as Black Plum and San Marzano, which make great sauces, but are less juicy and tangy than the “table” or “slicing” types. Just be aware that while small and intermediate size tomatoes can be grown in 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight per day the standard and big sizes require a minimum of 12 to 14 hours daily.

With all that room you may select indeterminate cultivars which, theoretically, can grow as large as conditions allow. They will require a strong trellis where vines can be tied, or a heavy-duty cage 5 to 6 feet high and 2 feet around. Google “tomato cages” and get some inspiration, but don’t skimp on support because broken vines result in far fewer tomatoes. Pruning an indeterminate will also reduce the amount of the crop, although some gardeners still trim them back to increase the size of individual tomatoes and keep the vines manageable. The choice is dependent on your philosophy!

Tomatoes like their space. You can plant dwarfs and cherry tomatoes 18” apart but all the others need at least 24” between plants. Don’t crowd them because they are heavy feeders and compete for soil nutrients. They are also sun lovers and sun blockers so you must ensure each plant gets the sunlight it needs.   They will produce well if grown in a single row (never in a block) where they each get an equal share of sunlight and nourishment.

Care and cultivation are the same for potted or in-ground tomato plants.  Tomatoes don’t need (and don’t like) a lot of water. Water them well at planting and you should not have to water them more than once weekly. One weekly deep watering is MUCH better than regular shallow watering. Uneven watering will also promote a condition known as blossom-end rot—consistency is key. Don’t get water on their leaves because this promotes disease.

Tomatoes are also the nutrient gluttons of the vegetable world, so you will need to supplement their feeding throughout the long growing season. Spray plants with compost tea, seaweed extract, or a similar fertilizer two weeks after transplant. Spray them again at flowering, after first fruit is set, and then weekly when plants start producing. You can use a foliar feed or a soil-soak to keep them happy. The mid to late season varieties should produce until the first rains of fall start in October. Then you can clip any remaining vines with green tomatoes and hang them in your garage to ripen.

Tomatoes define the summer!  There are no excuses not to get growing! Learn more about The Bounty Garden at https://thebountygarden.wordpress.com/  and Sustainable Danville Area at http://www.facebook.com/sustainabledanvillearea

 

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News/Alamo Today:

http://yourmonthlypaper.com/current.html

 

 

 

 

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MOW NO MORE

tip of the month – august 2012

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President

My family has always been grateful for the ‘dog day afternoons’ of August.  Sure to be filled with hot, sunny skies its’ time to leave lawn chores behind and head to the beach.  For years, we made sure to lighten our burden by following prudent grass growing techniques to make our escape easier and less guilt ridden.

Long ago we stopped using synthetic fertilizers because they are a threat to the bay as they wash down storm drains. Of the 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem and others are toxic to birds, bees and humans, htttp://beyondpesticides.org/lawn/factsheets/30health.pdf .   Additionally, these chemicals are formulated to stimulate a lot of grass growth quickly, demanding more water and even more mowing! Using organic products and grass clippings that work with the soil and feed the lawn slowly over the season makes for less work.  Every spring until after Labor Day, we’d set our lawnmower blade higher to leave our grass at least 3 inches long after each ‘haircut’. The taller grass shaded the surface of the soil preventing crabgrass and other weed seeds from taking root, helped conserve water and thus, encouraged deep root growth to allow our lawn to become more drought-tolerant.

When my youngest son shared EPA statistics learned in his high school AP Environmental Science class about gas powered lawnmowers representing 5% of the US air pollution before 1997, we had our excuse to look for alternatives.  Unregulated for emissions until the late 1990’s, gas powered garden equipment emit high levels of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide – in other words pollution in your backyard. In fact, the EPA states that a new gas powered lawn mower produces enough air pollution in one hour as 11 new cars each being driven for one hour. http://www.epa.gov/air/community/details/yardequip_addl_info.html

The solution seemed apparent after a trip to the local hardware store where my husband ‘oohed’ over the latest ‘push’ mowers that definitely are not your father’s lawnmower.  Touting high-grade plastics, lightweight metals, precision blades that rarely need sharpening and promising the cutting of grass cleanly and evenly, we were almost there.   And then, the water emergency of 2009 hit us.  EBMUD penalized any resident that didn’t cut their water usage by twenty percent.  Given that we were already using an on-demand water heater, a high efficiency washer and dryer and a foot peddle that controls the water faucet in the kitchen sink to turn off the water when not needed, it was up to our garden to give up ‘it’s drink’.  This only made sense since more than 30 percent of all urban fresh water is used for watering lawns.  Imagine how much is wasted because of inappropriate timing, dosage or misdirected sprinklers.  I went outside and explained the situation to the grass and plants, “Look guys it’s been lovely, but you either flourish on once a week watering or be composted”.  More than half the garden made it, including my favorite rose bush, now entering its 32th year of precious yellow blooms.  However, I needed replacement for the other half of plants and the ‘California Golden’ lawn.  Luckily that’s when I came across an EBMUD program to convert my garden grass to a native plant landscape.

The EBMUD rebate program (extended to December 31, 2012) provides up to $500 dollars to help transform your lawn into water permeable and drought-resistant landscape.  Converting our front and back lawns through the EBMUD program was very simple.  The first step is to measure the lawn area you want to convert than complete the application form which can be found online at https://www.ebmud.com/for-customers/water-conservation-rebates-and-services/watersmart-residential-lawn-conversion.

The best time to start the physical work of the project is mid-to-late September since new plants will benefit from the approaching winter dominancy and rains.  However, August is the perfect time to start the design process by familiarizing yourself with drought tolerant plants that will thrive in your microclimate.  A wonderful resource is EBMUD publication Plant and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region.  EBMUD also has a resource list of bay area nurseries, demonstration gardens, classes and books where you can learn about and view native plants.

As part of the lawn conversion program, an EBMUD representative will meet with you both pre and post-conversion.  The representative shared great resources and explained that using the process of sheet mulching would spare us the hard work of tearing out the lawn.  Sheet mulching is a layered mulching system that suppresses weeds and in the case of a lawn conversion, grass.  This process also made it possible to plant over 60 small plants in the front yard in one afternoon – alone.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Death of My Lawnmower: One Homeowners’ Journey to Replacing Our Lawn, visit https://sustainabledanville.wordpress.com/save-water-and-energy-with-a-lawn-conversion/.   And if you’re not quite envying our mow-free weekends, then consider this watering guide for water smart tips for landscape: http://www.ebmud.com/sites/default/files/pdfs/WateringGuide_0.pdf

Remember to visit us at www.sustainabledanville.com and on Facebook for more tips, information and upcoming events, like:

Kathy Kramer of Bringing Back the Natives has organized a series of fall events including two workshops on how to sheet mulch your lawn and install native gardens.  Dates: September 16 in Livermore and October 21 in Lafayette and Concord.

Read more at the Bringing Back the Natives website.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News