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Putting Your Garden Beds to Bed for Winter

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Prepping your garden beds for winter will make it easier to get a jump start on planting in the spring because working in a soggy, spring bed is a difficult task! It’s far smarter to do that work in the fall when the beds are dry and the weather is nice.

So, if you’re wondering how to tuck your garden beds in for a long winter nap and have them wake up refreshed, start with these five tasks:

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drying chilis

Dry Your Peppers with Ristras

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It’s that time of year, when there’s a chili in the air.

The ristra, a strand of dried peppers commonly seen in the New Mexico area, is a symbol of abundance and hospitality. This time of year, they decorate the walls and doorways of homes and restaurants as peppers air dry on strands of string or twine. Some say drying outside enhances the flavor, but you’ll have to find out for yourself.

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fermentation

Fermentation 101: Preserve Your Veggies and Your Health

Fermentation was the original way to preserve the harvest, and it’s very easy, said Cat Swenson, the fermenter-in-chief and managing partner of Great Ferments. It predates canning and pickling, and is even more fool-proof than those. People have been fermenting foods for 7,000 years under some very unsanitary conditions, she said with a laugh, and fermentation can preserve food for longer than you ever thought possible. (Look below to see Cat demonstrate her process to Allen. Or click here.)

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Cabbage Patch Kid: How a plant inspired one girl to feed needy families

Many years ago, the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program — where third-grade students are given a cabbage plant to tend either at home or at school – inspired one young student in South Carolina to create an organization to feed those in need.

Katie's-Crops-1Katie Stagliano was given a plant in third grade. It grew to be almost 40 lbs! Her cabbage was too big for one family. So, she donated it to a soup kitchen, where it fed more than 275 people. Amazed by how many people her cabbage fed, Katie started a vegetable garden specifically to donate to hungry people in her community. Her initiative continued to grow and expand, and  in 2012, at the age of 14, Katie became the youngest person to receive the Clinton Global Citizen Award.  She met Matt Damon at the awards ceremony!

Katie's-Crops-2Today, she’s the founder and chief executive gardener at Katie’s Krops, a nonprofit organization that continues to grow food to feed the needy. Offering grants to students and schools, her organization has expanded into 51 gardens run by kids in 21 states. Those gardens produce thousands of pounds of healthy produce for families. We are so inspired by what Katie is doing, and to think it all started with a small cabbage plant donation.

The Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program is open schools across America. This program aims to connect children to their food and nature. Sometimes the cabbages grow up to 50 lbs! Principals and teachers can register here.  Plants will be delivered at the optimal time for your growing zone. Once the cabbages are grown, classrooms can submit entries for a chance to win a $1,000 scholarship. See previous winners here. Warning: They’re adorable.

Health Benefits of Five Fav Vegetables

This is the perfect time to plant vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash and more, for a big summer harvest. There’s nothing more gratifying that walking out to your garden to pick a ripe, fresh tomato to slice up for that evening’s menu. Homegrown vegetables taste better than anything you’ll find at a supermarket, and are loaded with great vitamins and nutrients. Here are a few of my favorite Sakata vegetables and their amazing health benefits.

 

‘Aspabroc’-Baby-Broccoli

‘Aspabroc’ Baby Broccoli
This early spring or fall crop resembles a broccoli raab with an asparagus stem, and offers a mild taste. Aspabroc is easy to grow and requires little space. It is fat free, cholesterol free, very low sodium, and an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin C.

 

 

Tomatoes

Tomatoes
This delicious, savory fruit is always welcome in my vegetable garden. Tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes, from small cherry tomatoes perfect for salads, to big, beefy ones you just want to slice and eat. They are low in sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol, and are a good source of vitamin E, Thiamin, Niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin A
and dietary fiber. As an excellent source
of vitamin C and other antioxidants,
tomatoes can help combat the formation
of free radicals known to cause cancer.

 

 

Zucchini

Zucchini
This summer squash is a great addition to salads, pastas, pizza—just about any dish really! It has a versatile flavor and is low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol. It is a good source of protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, Thiamin, Niacin and dietary fiber.

 

 

Swiss-Chard

Swiss Chard
This colorful greenery packs a powerful nutritional punch. One cup provides more than 700 percent of your daily vitamin K, and more than 200 percent of daily vitamin A. Swiss chard is rich in the antioxidants alpha and beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and choline.

 

 

Winter-Squash

Winter Squash
These hearty vegetables harvested in the fall are nutrient-dense and low in fat. The most popular winter squash, butternut squash, is heart-healthy and delivers tons of dietary fiber. It is super rich in potassium and vitamin B6 for bone health and proper functioning of both the nervous and immune systems.

What Causes a Tomato to Crack?

What causes tomatoes to burst while growing?

Tomatoes can burst or crack when the plants go through a dry spell and then receive excessive moisture. The water causes the fruit to expand faster than the outer skin can grow so it splits. These cracks often radiate or encircle the stem.

It’s pretty easy to prevent your tomatoes from cracking. Just give them consistent moisture, especially when the fruits are forming. A layer of mulch will help keep the soil evenly moist.

You can also try varieties that are breed to be less prone to cracking. A few crack resistant tomatoes include Cherry’s Delight, Creole FA, Mountain Pride VFF, Marglobe, Peron and Red Calabash.

Cracked tomatoes are edible. They don’t keep very long and should be eaten quickly, but that’s not much of a problem for a homegrown tomato, is it?

How to Treat Blossom End Rot

Every year I try to grow tomatoes with little success. The undersides always turn flat and black. A neighbor told me they had blossom end rot. What causes this problem and how can I prevent it?

Blossom end rot is a deficiency of calcium. The problem starts at the bottom of the tomato as a pale, brown spot that turns black and flattens the bottom of the fruit making it look most unappetizing. It’s certainly no tomato I would want to eat. We’ve all heard the old adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." There are several things you can do to prevent blossom end rot from destroying your tomatoes.

Planting. When you plant your tomatoes add a few crushed eggshells to the planting hole. This will add calcium to the soil.

Watering. Another condition that seems to contribute to blossom end rot is irregular levels of moisture in the soil. Tomato plants take in nutrients, including calcium, through moisture. Inconsistent watering deprives them of these nutrients. So water regularly, every 4 to 7 days is usually sufficient. During droughts or if you are gardening in containers you may need to water every day. To prevent leaf diseases, water the soil, not the leaves, keeping the foliage as dry as possible. To keep the soil consistently moist, cover it with a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch. You’ll find this also helps keep weeds down. Keep the mulch away from the stem of the plant.

Spraying. Now these are things you can do for your plants at the time of planting or when they are young. Once the plants mature a bit and actually set fruit, another thing you can do is spray them with liquid calcium. This is readily available at garden centers and nurseries. Just follow the directions on the label and spray it directly on the plants.

Selecting the Right Tomato for You

Have you ever found yourself at the garden center staring at rack upon rack of tomato plants all begging you to take them home? With so many choices it’s hard to know which variety is best for your garden. Well, I have three questions to ask yourself that will make picking out a tomato easier.

What size is your garden?

Limited Space or Raised Beds

If you grow vegetables in raised beds or a limited space, choose a variety that stays fairly small. Look for determinate, bush and dwarf varieties. Although these plants stay more compact than some of the indeterminate varieties plan on staking them to give them the support they need and make room for more vegetables.

  • Better Bush (Determinate) – This plant produces medium-sized tomatoes on sturdy stems. It’s also a good choice for growing in a container. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Matures in 68 days.
  • Husky Cherry Red (Indeterminate) – This is a dwarf, indeterminate variety that will produce sweet, cherry-type tomatoes in continuous waves all summer. Grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Matures in 65 days.

Large Area

If you have plenty of space then you can grow any tomato variety, but you are in the unique position to select those that need room to sprawl and sturdy support. Many of these tomatoes are indeterminate and will give you tomatoes to harvest all summer.

  • Mr. Stripey (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – How about a beefsteak tomato that can weigh as much as 24 ounces? In addition to the hefty size, the fruits are an attractive yellow to orange with irregular red stripes. The high sugar content makes Mr. Stripey tomatoes extra tasty. Grows 8 to 10 feet tall. Matures in 80 days.
  • Sungold (Indeterminate) – These cherry tomatoes are so sweet you will find yourself eating them right off the plant. Sungold produces through summer and into fall. Grows 4 to 5 feet tall or larger. Matures in 55 to 65 days.

Containers

You can grow tomatoes even if you only have room for one container. For the best results select a container that is at least 20 inches in diameter and a tomato variety that stays compact.

  • Bush Goliath (Determinate) – This variety produces large 3 to 4 inch tomatoes on compact, robust, 3 foot tall plants. Fruits are sweet and perfect for serving sliced with a dash of salt and pepper. Give this plant support with a tomato cage or stake. Grows 3 feet. Matures in 68 days.
  • Sweet n’ Neat Cherry (Determinate) – Diminutive plants that will produce clusters of tomatoes in the smallest of spaces. Plant in a 10-inch pot and enjoy homegrown cherry tomatoes. Grows only 10 inches tall and 8 inches wide. Matures in 48 days.

Choosing a Tomato Variety

What is the climate like in your area?

Mild Summer Weather and/or Short Growing Season

Most tomatoes need warm temperatures to set fruit and time to ripen. If your garden is in a region where summers are cool and/or the growing season is short, select varieties with an early ripening season that are known to set fruit in cool weather.

  • Black Prince (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – This tomato hails from Siberia so you know it will do well in a cool climate. Dark fruits have a rich flavor. Grows 6 to 9 feet tall. Matures in 70 days.
  • Early Girl (Indeterminate) – Harvest vine ripened tomatoes in only 50 days. Fruits are a good size for multiple uses including that summer classic the tomato sandwich. Grows 6 to 8 feet. Matures in 50 days.

Hot Summer

Tomatoes like warm weather, but they don’t like it too hot. When the day time temperatures stay consistently above 95 degrees F many tomatoes will stop setting fruit until the heat breaks. Gardeners in hot summer regions can get around this by planting heat tolerant varieties.

  • Heatmaster (Determinate) – Both heat tolerant and disease resistant, this tomato is perfect for the hot, humid garden. Firm, medium-sized fruits are good for eating fresh from the garden. Grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Matures in 55 to 75 days.
  • Solar Fire (Determinate) – This is a tomato that was bred to take the heat. Plant it in spring for a summer harvest and, if you live where the growing season is long, again in midsummer for a fall harvest. Grows 4 to 5 feet. Matures in 72 days.

Tomato Arkansas Traveler

How do you like your tomatoes?

I don’t know about you, but I can eat tomatoes prepared in any number of ways. Fortunately there is a tomato for every recipe.

Sliced

  • Mortgage Lifter (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – Huge beefsteak tomatoes with a mellow taste. A slice of Mortgage Lifter makes for the perfect BLT sandwich. Grows 6 to 10 feet tall. Matures in 70 to 90 days.
  • Arkansas Traveler (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – This plant will keep on producing fruit through heat and drought. Crack-resistant tomatoes are mild in flavor. Grows 6 to 8 feet tall. Matures in 75 days.

Salads and Salsas

  • Super Sweet 100 (Indeterminate) – Bite-sized, sweet tomatoes are ready for picking 65 days after planting. This tomato will continue to produce until the first fall frost. Great for gardeners with space and those who live where summers are cool. Grows 8 to 12 feet tall. Matures in 65 days.
  • Celebrity (Semi-determinate) – This plant stays 3 to 4 feet tall and produces fruit right up to the first frost. A large, all-purpose tomato with good flavor and a meaty texture. Matures in 65 to 70 days.

Sauces, Soups and Canning

  • Bradley (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – If you’ve ever been to the Bradley County Tomato Festival you know this plant produces some delicious fruits. Pink in color and mild in flavor. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Matures in 75 to 85 days.
  • Roma (Determinate) – This is the classic tomato for paste, sauces and cooking. The fruits are meaty and flavorful with less juice and fewer seeds than other varieties. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Matures in 73 to 80 days.

Tomato Terms

Determinate – Tomatoes are produced on the end of stems and ripen at roughly the same time. The plants tend to stay more compact.

Indeterminate – Tomatoes are produced all along the stems. These types of tomatoes will continue to grow and produce fruit until the first fall frost.

Heirloom – A variety of tomato that has been passed down from one generation to the next or open-pollinated varieties that were introduced more than 50 years ago. Seeds from an heirloom tomato will produce the same tomato.

Hybrid – A variety of tomato that is the result of a cross between to other varieties. Hybrids are developed for certain qualities such as disease resistance. Seeds from a hybrid tomato will not reproduce that same tomato.

Tomato Sungold

Good to Know

Still not sure which tomato is right for you? Check out the Bonnie Plants Tomato Chooser on BonniePlants.com.

Growing Tomatoes

TomatoesIt may be hard to believe, but Americans once shunned this now classic fruit because it was thought to be poisonous.

The tomato is native to South America where they have been around since prehistoric times. Spanish explorers brought the plant from Mexico to southern Europe in the mid 1500s and from there it spread north and east.

Early Americans first grew the tomato as a curiosity, but thought that eating the fruit would be deadly because of its resemblance to nightshade. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that it became widely known that they were safe to eat, and since then it has become a one of our most popular fruits in the United States.

There are two broad categories of tomatoes, determinate and indeterminate. Now determinate just means the size of the plant grows to a determined height depending on the variety, say in the 2 to 4 foot range. Because of their compact habit they are perfect for growing in containers. Once they grow to a certain height, they flower and set all their fruit within a short period of time.

On the other hand indeterminate types of tomatoes don’t grow to just a limited size, they keep growing and growing, often 8 feet or more. As you can imagine these require more room to grow and they need to be staked. The plus side of growing indeterminate type tomatoes is that they produce fruit throughout the entire season. You can also find dwarf indeterminate varieties that produce the same amount of fruit, but as the name implies, are smaller in stature.

The best time to plant tomatoes seedlings is a few weeks after the last frost date in your area, when the soil has had a chance to warm up and night temperatures stay above 50 degrees F. In my zone 7 garden, located in the upper South, I plant tomatoes in May.

If you are going to grow your tomatoes from seed, start them indoors 5 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost.

When you purchase tomato plants from a nursery select those that are about 10 to 12 inches tall with a deep green color. You should avoid any that have blooms, holey leaves or crowded root systems.

Tomatoes need full sun to really thrive. Site them in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. To steer clear of problems with disease choose a new location in your garden each year.

The soil should be medium-rich, loose and well drained with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.

How far apart you space the plants depends on the type of tomato you’ve selected. Dwarf varieties should be spaced about 12 inches apart in a row. If you plan on staking your plants, space them about 24 inches apart. Set sprawling, indeterminate tomatoes about 36 to 48 inches apart.

Plant your seedlings about 1 inch deeper than they are sitting in the nursery container. This will help strengthen the root system and a better root system means healthier plants. Just be sure to remove any leaves below the soil line.

To discourage cutworms from taking out your young transplants, you should wrap the base of each seedling with a piece of aluminum foil. You can also protect them with a cardboard collar placed over the seedling and pushed 1 inch into the ground. A paper towel roll cut into sections works pretty well.

Building a Twig Teepee
Twine and Twig Teepee
Building a Twig TeePee
Secure the Top
with Wire
Building a Twig TeePee
Wrap Twine
Around the Legs

It is important to support your tomatoes as they grow. A simple wooden stake or bamboo pole will work. Use twine or some other soft material to tie the vine to the support. Tomato cages are also useful, especially for determinate and dwarf varieties. For the larger indeterminate types I find that commercial cages are a bit on the flimsy side, so I make my own out of concrete reinforcing wire. A 5 foot wide piece will usually do the trick. Simply bend it into a circle and hook the tines together where the ends meet. You want it to be about 16 inches in diameter. As a final measure I clip nylon netting to the cages to keep pests at bay.

Once you have planted your tomatoes keep them well watered until the roots are established. After that, deep soak them every 4 to 7 days. If it is hot and dry you may need to water every day, especially if they are in containers.

When you water, take care to not splash soil onto the leaves and stem as this promotes disease. And don’t skimp on the mulch. A good layer of mulch, 2 to 3 inches, will help keep the soil consistently moist, cutting down on blossom end rot, as well as prevent weeds from taking over. Just keep the mulch away from the crown of the plant.

Feed your tomatoes once a month with a blend that is high in phosphorous and low in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will result in lots of leaves, but not much fruit. A ratio of 5-10-5 is good. Start fertilizing when the fruits first start to develop and stop as they reach maturity.

By following these simple guidelines you can make this the best tomato season ever.

Good To Know

Tomatoes will drop their blossoms when night time temperatures drop below 55 degrees F or exceed 75 degrees F.

If you live in an area with a short growing season choose an early maturing variety that will produce fruit in 50 to 65 days. Early Girl, Jetsetter, and Vita Gold are just a few varieties to try.

To avoid sunscald, do not remove leaves that are shading fruits.

Blossom end rot appears as a pale, brown spot that turns black and flattens the bottom of the fruit. It can be caused by lack of calcium or inconsistent moisture.

A Tomato for Every Recipe

If you plant three types of tomatoes – cherry, paste, and
slicing – you’ll have the right type of tomato on hand for
salads, sandwiches, sauces and canning. All you need are 3 large pots, potting soil, stakes, twine, fertilizer and the tomatoes.

Materials for Growing Tomatoes in Containers

  • (3) 20-inch Containers with Saucers
  • Potting Soil
  • (9) Bamboo Stakes
  • Twine
  • (3) Different Types of Determinate* Tomatoes

Steps for Growing Tomatoes in Containers

  1. Place empty containers in a spot that receives a full day of direct sun and in easy reach of a source of water.
  2. Fill containers with potting soil leaving 1 inch of head room. This space will make it easier to water.
  3. Plant 1 tomato plant per pot. Plant deep; bury 80 percent of the tomato for the best root development.
  4. Insert 3 bamboo stakes in each pot so they surround the tomato. Tie the tops together with twine. Wind the twine around the stakes to create a teepee trellis.
  5. Water the plants well.

Determinate Tomato Varieties

Determinate Cherry Tomato Varieties

  • Husky Cherry Red (Dwarf Indeterminate)
  • Patio FASt (Resistant to fusarium wilt (F), alternaria stem canker (A), and gray leaf spot (St).)
  • Baxter’s Early Bush
  • Cherry Grande

Determinate Paste Tomato Varieties

  • Rome Patio
  • Roma

Determinate Slicing Tomato Varieties

  • Better Bush
  • Bush Goliath
  • Bush Early Girl
  • Celebrity
  • Marglobe Improved

* Determinate tomatoes stay compact and produce an abundance of
fruit for a determined period of time. They are great for containers
because they don’t grow as tall as indeterminate tomatoes.