Friday, 26 October 2012

The Terrible Tomato Year ... Heirloom At Fault?

Black Seaman Heirloom Tomatoes

I had a friend tell me the other day that she was not going to grow heirlooms next year... :( Sob!

This was her first year growing heirlooms tomatoes over hybrids... and we just happened to have a really terrible tomato growing year...
Sadly, most tomatoes did not ripen till late in the year, and some with less tomatoes than usual....

Our May was lovely and warm this year, kinda like the way things used to be in the good old days, and a real treat after last years cold and wet May:)

However, then came June...  June this year was very cool and very wet ...  this meant trouble for things like cucumbers and tomatoes that need heat in order to take up the nutrients from the soil and start producing. It took so long for the soil to warm up this year, that the plants were severely set back in both growth and productivity.

In reality, that tomatoes did so poorly had little to do with whether they were heirloom or hybrid, but rather with the poor season we had....

Now, it is possible that she might have had more fruit if she had grown a hybrid this year, as hybrid tomatoes often have a shorter growing season and produce more.
So after that hybrid recovered from our cooler than normal June, it indeed might have grown more fruit than the heirloom.
However, I say it might, because hybrid tomatoes are also known to require more water than heirlooms, qutie a bit more, and we recorded the driest summer this year! Four months with little to no rain.

Here is a break down of the pros and cons of hybrids and heirlooms.... In this case, I am talking tomatoes, but it applies to most other veggies, also...

The Advantage of Hybrids ...
Insurance! They are the back up plan! If you want to make sure you have tomatoes, grow a hybrid.
~ Higher yields ... they often produce more fruit in a shorter amount of time.
~ Uniformity ... the fruit tends to all be the same size and shape.
~ Stability ... they tend to be more firm and so hold up better in transport or at the market stand
~ Breeding .. bred specifically for cold hardiness, colour, size, shape and/or shelf life.
~ Compact Plants .. they tend to be determinate, meaning they grow as a bush, requiring no trellis to grow on.

Drawback of Hybrids..
~ Flavour .. The biggest drawback with the hybrid is that they were bred for farmers and shipping, so sadly taste became less important than high yields. However, it has been said that some hybrids are beginning to taste better ...kind of.
~ Cannot save seeds  ... when the zombies come, you will not be able to get the same fruits from the hybrid seeds you saved. Though you can plant the seeds you saved, you will have no way of knowing which traits from which parentage will come through. It may not be at all to your liking.
~ Requires more water ... in order to produce those higher yields, they require more water. If it does not get enough water, the plant will wither and die.

The Advantage of Heirlooms ...
Flavour! If you want to make sure you have great tasting tomatoes, grow heirlooms.
~ Flavour  ... this is the number one reason to grow heirlooms, they taste like tomatoes! and there are so very many different tastes to choose from!
~ Looks ... they are unique in colour or shape, or both... coming in striped versions, black , yellow, orange, purple, pink, red and orange. They make the prettiest salads and platters.
~ Seed Saving ... you can save this seed when the zombies come, and you will get that same tomato each and every time.
~ Less Water ... heirlooms can go longer without water, even as little as once a week, and will still survive and fruit, though perhaps less than they would with regular watering. 
~ The Story ... this one is important to me, and many heirloom lovers, we want to know about Charlie Byles and his Mortgage Lifter, or about The Cherokee's that saved the seed from that funny purple coloured tomato, the little old lady (Ludmilla) from Kazakhstan who took her tomato seeds with her when she emigrated ... There is always a reason, some trait or traits as to why that particular heirloom was chosen to be carried through the years ... and therefore, there is also a story!

Drawbacks of Heirlooms
~ Less consistency ... fruit may come in varying shapes and sizes on the same plant.
~ Less productivity ... you may have less fruit per plant.
~ Longer growing season ... most varieties require a longer time to produce fruit. Of course, there are shorter season ones, as well. Just ask! I will help, I promise!
~ Height ... many heirlooms are the vining type, indeterminate, and so get very tall and require a stake or trellis to grow on. There are determinate (bush) types though, and I usually make sure to grow at least 6 types a year, so if you have less space, please ask me for the bush types.

Martina's Roma heirloom tomato
A paste tomato that is a determinate (bush) type
Produces loads of fruit on a compact tomato cage size shrub

Sadly, there is more to this tale of a woeful tomato year ... 

This friend also said that she had so much blossom end rot and cat facing, and felt that that was also due to the fact that she grew heirlooms...

So let me explain how and why tomatoes get these two afflictions...


Blossom End Rot ... is a watering issue or an inconsistent watering issue, which causes a calcium deficiency in the plant.
The blossom end (bottom) of the tomato (or pepper) then gets water-y, squishy and then rotten looking ... this is Blossom End Rot.

Letting the plant go dry during a period of rapid growth will cause BER, as it interrupts the plants uptake of nutrients. Meaning, if you happened to miss a watering or two while the plant was rapidly growing or setting fruit, it was unable to access the calcium in the soil ...that time of deficiency shows up as BER.
It may also be a water-up-take issue, meaning that the roots are unable to take up the water, and therefore cannot take up the nutrients.
This can be due to the soil being too cold.
Or may be because of root damage caused by weeding too close to the feeder roots.

Generally, one only gets a few early tomatoes with BER and then the plant adjusts to the conditions, or we simply get better and more consistent at it as the year goes on ;) and so the rest of the tomatoes that follow are just fine.

BER is more common in potted plants than in garden plants, as the pots may dry out in between watering faster and more often than ground grown ones do... I had a few BER tomatoes this year, early on, in the greenhouse, but then the plants adjusted (and I became more consistent) so I had no issues for the rest of the year.

To prevent BER ...
Plant your tomatoes good and deep in the ground, or the pot, so that they develop a really long root system, and are then more able to go after the deeper ground water in between watering's.
Do not cultivate around the root system, instead mulch to help retain moisture, heat, and to prevent weeds.
Do not plant too early while the soil is cool, or plant into a cold frame, wall o water, or cloche, so the soil has been warmed and stays warmer.
Sprinkle Epsom Salts on top of the soil which gets to the roots every time you water... providing magnesium and calcium. Or water with Epsom Salt Water (1/2 cup per gallon of water) once a week.  

And... Water lots! and often! consistently! If in pots, you may need to water twice a day sometimes, in the heat of summer.

Also, cherry tomatoes are much less susceptible to BER than the others and paste types are most susceptible. Does not matter whether they are heirloom or hybrid types.   

Cat facing occurs in spring during blossoming time,
however, you will not know that you have it until much later,
as the fruit begins to size up and mature...

Cat-facing ... is caused mainly by two things, cool weather or bugs. It can also be caused by too much nitrogen in the soil. However, in our case, on the island in the PNW this year, it was absolutely the cool weather during flowering and fruit set (June) that caused the problems.

If temps are too low during blossom set, under 10 C, you are likely to get cat-facing. Sadly, you will not know about the cat facing though, until a month or two later, as the fruit matures.

There are just two things you can do... One thing is to remove any blossoms on the plant if temps dropped below 10 C for several days in a row. The tomato will produce new flowers and the fruit from those flowers will be fine.

The other thing is to protect them from the varying temps with cloches, wall o waters, cold frames or greenhouses.

Though I had some cat facing in my garden this year (I should have removed those flowers!) there was none on the tomatoes grown under cover. I grew 30 different varieties of tomatoes under cover this year, some in the greenhouse (heated) and some in the hoop house (unheated). No issues in either one.

The most susceptible type of tomato for cat-facing is the beefsteak, yes, especially the heirloom beefsteak. A hybrid beefsteak is less susceptible, though may still be affected. Cherries and pastes rarely have any problems.

Dix Doight's Des Naples ... an heirloom paste (Roma) tomato
Rarely, if ever, gets cat-facing!

Now you all know that I am super passionate about heirlooms and therefore, to me, there is no contest. There is nothing that will make me ever grow a hybrid over an heirloom.

Here's the thing though, a concession of sorts ...

Gardening is simply and absolutely NO fun at all, if you get very little to no yield for all your hard work! and I really, really want you all to love growing your own food!

Therefore, if you only have room to grow 4 or 6 plants ... sure, you possibly should grow a hybrid or two...  for insurance!
Just in case we have another terrible tomato year! That way, you will be fairly certain to get a decent crop of tomatoes.
Though they will not taste the same, okay, I really mean they will not taste as good, however and regardless, you will still have some fruit to eat and process.

However, if like me, you have room for lots of tomatoes, or you grow them under cover.. meh, why bother wasting any space on a hybrid ;)

This spring, in the greenhouse, I let folks wander about, choosing whatever size, shape or colour tomato they wanted to try.
Hmmm, perhaps I should have been asking more questions, helping them find the 'right' tomatoes for their particular situation?
I assumed that folks like to try new things and see how they do, but perhaps I should be finding out their situations first, so that I can offer suitable varieties to trial? Please feel free to give me advice and feedback on this thought? Help or no help?
Sigh, I just hate to feel like that pushy salesgirl, lol....

For my dear friend I hope that she will try heirlooms again next year. If she does, I will highly recommend only short season varieties of cherry and slicer tomatoes, staying away from the beefsteaks completely.

Check out The Hardy Pak for 6 heirlooms that are very hardy and early fruiting! This package and the others listed on this site were for 2012 and the varieites included may well change in 2013.

Heirloom tomatoes 2012 at the Nitty Gritty Greenhouse and Potager

Monday, 22 October 2012

Greenhouse Ramblings in October

Brr, what a chilly day outside today. Thank goodness for the warmth of the greenhouse ;)

Candles melting out on the deck in mid-October

Autumn weather came to the island with a bang this year... over night, we went from mid 20's C with candles melting on the deck ... to rainy and only 10 C!

Brr! Seems so cold as it changed so quickly.

Inside The Greenhouse ...

The greenhouse at this time of year is used to house the cleaned up annuals, half hardy and hardy herbs, new cuttings, and seedlings ...

It does not go into real production mode until after Christmas. That is when I haul in all the tables again, the heating cables for seeding, lighting, etc...

Till then, the greenhouse is mostly just a lovely place to linger amongst the scent of summer .....

Geraniums are re-potted and tidied up for fall... cuttings have been taken of the favourites... I do love geraniums.


The Rosemary has also been re-potted and cuttings taken for new babies next year.

The year old topiary is looking amazing, I am currently trying to decide if I want to cut it back to thicken it up or keep it with longer arching branches...

I start one or two new topiaries every year, this years newbie is on the right hand side of the potting bench, coming along so well!

In the larger pots, on the ground, are the new acquisitions, the tropical fruit trees.
A lemon, a lime, and a mandarin orange tree!
The lime has amazing foliage, when you rub the leaves you get the glorious scent of lime!

Glads have been lifted, dried and will be stored in the greenhouse through the winter ...

Dahlias were just lifted, so need to dry out a bit before I put them into storage...

Blue Jarrahdale pumpkins, a New Zealand heirloom, is curing in the greenhouse.

Outside In The Nursery Courtyard... 

The ever bearing strawberries are still flowering and fruiting amongst the edible Dianthus and Hot Cocoa floribunda roses... 
The strawberries fruit in spring for about 2 months and then again in fall.... still going strong and sweet as can be :)

The hoop house is all cleaned up to over winter perennials, fruits, and roses.

This Tree Form Weeping Rose (Scarlet Flower Carpet) is still blooming at the end of October!

It has bloomed continuously since June with no dead-heading whatsoever.
Seriously! 5 months of blooms and no maintenance! Holy doodle!

Still blooming like mad earlier in the month....

The nursery beds have been topped up with more garden soil as the level sunk a bit this summer.
Dahlias have been lifted, perennials cut back, and bed weeded.
The roses I do not touch at this time of year, except to take out the 3 D's - dead, damaged, or diseased.
I also remove any branches that are really hanging low with blooms or foliage as the heavy rains and/or snow may pull down those branches, perhaps damaging them or even ripping them off of the main stem.

As the foliage dies back I will be placing these guys into the hoop house to over winter...
Much transplanting is in the works right now, too.

Look at those crazy fuchsia baskets, eh?

Bacopa, blue and white, still blooming crazy in the greenhouse!  


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

October Ramblings

Hey you all, I know, I know, I missed the Ramblings in September.... somehow with the busy garden clean up and greenhouse being open, I totally forgot to share what was up!

Here is a catch up on what is going on this month...

Rain! Finally! We have just now had two days of drizzle.
Is not much yet, not nearly enough, but it sure helps :)

But then!!! We got a whole bunch of rain during the night :) Whew!

That's a lot of rain in one night!

In The Potager ... The Raised Beds

The nicotiana's, zinnia's and garden peas are still going strong!
The Red Mammoth cabbages are amazing!
(Except a wee bit of slug damage! Grr!)
Though they may soon start splitting with all this rainfall!
The new strawberry bed has been planted up...
I start with new plants or runners (daughters from the mother plants)
every 3 years to ensure great fruits.
Planting this time of year allows the plants to root in ...
So that we are able to harvest lots of berries already next spring.
Garlic beds! 
Our family loves garlic...
We make pesto, hummus, stir fry, bruschetta, and actually, we tend to add garlic to just about everything ..
And I LOVE to grow the garlic... It is so super simple to do with an amazing pay off!
Therefore, this year I planted up three 6' x 6' beds with just garlic  ....
This one has tons of Legacy garlic surrounding the one, single, lonely Globe Artichoke plant ;)
The other two beds have Musica and Red Russian garlic.
The garlic planting how to can be found here!
You all know that the house is up for sale, eh?
Sooo. if it were to sell before harvest time next July ...
 The new owners will have nearly 300 head of garlic to deal with!
The kale is also loving this cooler weather! 
There are two types growing in the potager this year ...
These little plants are the new ones,
Were planted just a bit ago, in late summer....
Mmm, kale chips anyone?  
The herb bed is going strong ..
Chives, Sages ( I have three different ones!) and the Greek Oregano are really thriving...
Sadly, my Tarragon seems to have nearly died back :(
Was slightly choked out and nearly swallowed by the Oregano!
It is still there, but is not very bif, so am really hoping that it will over-winter!
Things are starting to colour up for fall... 
The Big Leaf Maple is turning yellow, as is the Beauty Bush
while the Bloodgood Maple has turned bright red! 

The shade planter Hostas are really pretty this time of year!

Heuchera is taking over...
(Psst, love the wooden flowers from Home Sense, eh? Super Cute!)
 Burnished red on this deer resistant Dwarf Fothergilla :) Stunning!
Rosa 'Queen Elziabeth' is still all abloom.
All of the roses seem to be loving this cool, wet weather :)
This is George Vancouver, a hardy Explorer Rose.

I love roses with big hips :)

The heirloom pumpkins are super awesome this year!
They could have been a bit bigger... if only they had received water more often..oops!
But...  so much fun to grow!

The blue heirloom pumpkins, Jarrahdale's, are amazing this year... Huge!
They were a bit later than the others ...
As they were seeded in June while the others went into the ground as transplants!


Sunday, 7 October 2012

Stuff To Do In October

What to plant this month ...everything!

- Roses
- Pansies
- Tulips, daffodils, alliums, muscari, hyacinths ....

- Rhubarb
- Strawberries
- Blueberries
- Fruit trees

- Garlic!
- Onions from sets or transplants

Garlic in June...

Toss your annuals into the compost bin as they are likely looking pretty tired now...

Dahlias and Gladiola's
Lift Canna, Calla, Gladiola, and Dahlias bulbs....
Cut off most of the tops and place to dry in a shady yet warm area (like the furnace room). Do not place right onto the concrete, instead spread them out on newspaper..
Let dry for a few weeks, cut off remaining tops, and place in buckets, ice cream pails. boxes, etc... topped with some potting mix or peat moss.
Lightly mist, label, and put away into dark, dry, cool area. Check on them every month or two, to see if they need a light misting again.
Lift and plant in spring when new pale green shoots begin to emerge.
Clean up the small fruits... blueberries do not like to fight with weeds for water,so weed, prune back if needed, and mulch. Raspberries should be cut down, top dressed with compost or manure, and watered well for fall.  

Gardens really benefit from 3 to 4 inches of organic material each and every year. Helps to build up sandy soils, break up clay soils, adds nutrients to the soil, brings in earthworms, all good stuff happens when you amend you gardens annually :)

It does not all have to be done at one shot though, so I try to add 2 inches in spring and 2 more in fall.
One can add compost, manure, dry grass clippings, leaves, alfalfa hay ... anything that will compost down and add nutrients to the soil.

Mmmm, compost! Smells so earthy!

Weed! Get rid of all the annual and especially the perennial weeds in your beds! This step is crucial as you know the perennials ones will stay on plus seed more, so it gets out of hand in no time...

Cut back any perennial plants that have finished for the year... Best if they are already starting to go dormant, but can also be cut down earlier if time is a crunch. It will not kill them or hurt them, but the longer they stand, the stronger they get.

You can also leave any grasses or plants with seeds for the birds, and any plants that will add winter interest to your garden... either through colour (Sweet Flag) or shape (ornamental grasses with seed tufts) , or both ( Sedum).

Sedums and grasses add fabulous fall and winter texture plus colour
 to your gardens and planters ;)

Also, some perennials do not even start to 'come into their own' until later in the season, like roses with orange foliage and bright coloured hips. Pansies, violas, mums, asters, rudbeckia's, penstemon's, cone flowers, etc... are all loving the cooler weather, this is their time to shine! Leave them till spring or cut them back in early winter.

Cappuccino Rudbeckia ... this is the time for fall flowers to shine...

Do not prune your shrubs, trees, or roses ( no dead heading either!) though, as pruning promotes new growth, which will cause winter kill if it happens at this time of year!

Mayor of Castorbridge English Rose 

This is a good time to do a soil test, check your pH level and also the levels of your N-P-K!

If your pH is too low, add lime to the top of the soil. During the winter months it will slowly begin to raise your pH levels. Most plants grow best at a neutral 6.5 to 7 pH level. Rarely in our coastal BC area do we have soil that is too sweet, as in having a high pH level, needing to be acidified. However, if you live in an area with lots of clay, like the Edmonton area, you can add pine (evergreen) needles, oak leaves, and maple leaves to your soil and as they break down they will acidify your soil. You can also add sulphur but I prefer to only use natural materials. Peat moss is also acidic, but as it is not a sustainable resource, I hesitate to recommend that, too.

If your N (Nitrogen) is low, you will have poor and spindly growth ... chicken manure, blood meal, seaweed, alfalfa, and fish meal are all good amendments to improve your nitrogen levels. Careful though, as too much nitrogen will give you lots of lush greens but little in the way of blooms, fruits or vegetables!

If your P (Phosphorous) is low, you will have poor root growth and little to no fruiting on your veggies, fruits, etc... adding rock phosphates, bone meal, and chicken manure will help raise your levels.

If our K (Potassium/Potash) is low, you will have few flowers and may have more disease problems.... adding seaweed, manures, kelp meal, green sand, and wood ashes will help to slowly raise your levels.

Pile on the organic material! Lots and lots! It will add all kinds of nutrients, plus great structure and friability to your soil.

P.S.... It is time to pot up your paper whites and hyacinths for the yule tide celebration's!


Thursday, 4 October 2012

2012 Garlic Planting

I have blogged several times about garlic...
A recent 'How-To' on planting ...
Last years planting of garlic ...
And tons of garlic growing updates that can be found in the 'Ramblings' throughout thelast year, up until harvest this summer.

This is how this years garlic planting went down....

This year, I planted 3 types of garlic, about 100 cloves of each :) Music, Red Russian, and Legacy.

You all know that the house is up for sale ...Hmmm, I kinda wonder what the next peeps would think about that much garlic if they were to buy before harvest time ;)

Amend your soil.... I highly recommend that you do a soil test to find out what your N-P-K levels are like, and then amend accordingly...  I tested mine, the levels are all good, and so just added lots of compost and some rock phosphates, plus a bit of high nitrogen blood meal. I will top dress once again with compost or manure later in the year....

I amend my soil spring and fall, adding organic matter to it year round, like grass clippings, leaves, manure and compost.

I lightly mixed it all into the top layer of soil with my trusty garden fork....
With all the rains that we get in winter, one can simple top dress with the amendments and the rains, plus the worms, etc... will work them down into the soil.
This year our soil is dreadfully dry, we have not had rain for three months and so the ground is easy to turn as it is just powder...

Break apart your bulbs, leaving the papery skin on the cloves. Remove the hard stem in the middle and break apart all the cloves from each other...

Be choosy with the cloves that you plant... the larger the cloves, the larger the bulbs next year!
Here you can see that I am holding one clove that is just as large as the entire bulbs beside it!
On the bottom right are the cloves I planted, and the smaller ones that you see on the left hand side are going to be used for cooking, not planting ;)

Plant the cloves about 2 to 3 inches deep, pointy side up, into the bed. I spaced mine out at 6 inches between cloves and about 8 inches between the rows. You can plant much closer, however, the closer you plant, the smaller your bulbs will be in summer next year.

In general ... Plant each clove, 2 to 3 inches deep, 4 to 6 inches apart, in rows that have a 6 to 8 inch spread between them.

Water in very thoroughly, especially this year as it is so very dry... continue to water every couple of weeks till the rains begin.

This winter, this is what they will look like... This was taken in January... shows the garlic up by about an inch or two ...

In cooler climates, and even here, you can cover the garlic with a layer of straw to protect from the elements of a harsh winter. Make sure the bed does not get weedy, as garlic does not compete well with weeds .. meaning it will be smaller.

The garlic bed in May :) What a lovely sight!

Soon you will start to get scape's, which you should cut off and use in all your stir fires, in roasting, in all your foods, as the greens taste mildly of garlic. Delish!

In July sometime, you will have this :)
Lovely bulbs of garlic that you pull, place in shade with the tops on, for a few weeks to cure...
Of course, you could, and should!! enjoy eating the fresh garlic during this time!
The curing is to ensure that it does not rot during storage... So that you can save some for planting next year, and also store it for eating all year long!

Moving Thyme

Sadly, the Nitty Gritty Potager blog is no more... but the good news is that I can now be found at my new blog called the Olde Thyme F...