Rogue Tomato Plants

cherry volunteer 2It should be no secret to anyone that I plant a lot of tomato plants, each year. I prepare and can enough pasta sauce, tomato sauce, salsa, stewed tomatoes, tomato-basil soup, vegetable soup, chili, and hot sauce for my family to eat for the entire year. My parents, who live next door, love fresh sliced tomatoes and tomato-cucumber salad, and Dad and I eat tomato bruchetta like it is going out of style when basil and tomatoes are fresh and in season. I even toss in a few other tomato recipes on occassion. Two years ago, I found a recipe for dried italian tomatoes in my new dehydrator manual that are out of this world (Imagine eating a chewy dried tomato slice which tastes like a piece of pizza as a snack). Needless-to-say, I need many tomato plants to meet our needs.

Each year a few tomatoes rot on the vine or get escorted away by some insect or worm and the seeds end up in my garden beds. The following year, after the beds have been turned and planted, we end up with some volunteer tomato plants growing from those forgotten seeds. Some years those plants have been so prolific that we started calling them “Rogue” tomato plants. Until a few years ago, I just removed them, because they were, in essence, weeds. For the past three years, however, I let them grow to see what would happen.

So how many rogue plants is a prolific amount? Let me see… Last year, I gave away 1150 rogue tomato plants to various organizations and individuals who didn’t mind that they would not know what type of tomato to expect. That wasn’t even half of the plants that grew! I kept some of them and put them in garden beds by themselves in order to be able to keep them separate from the tomatoes I grew on purpose and to be able to rotate my crops to keep the soil healthy. I just wanted to see what would happen, and I ended up with some very good, healthy, delicious tomatoes. Some of the people who took the rogue plants later told me that they were enjoying a variety of types of tomatoes.

This year, I only let the rogues grow in two beds, while I gave away a few plants and composted the rest. My mission, this year, was to grow only certain types, the kinds I knew we would use an abundance of. The rogue tomatoes that I did keep, this year, were only grown in specific beds, last year, so I could guess what they might be, and so far, I am right. The one in the photo grew in my mom’s garden where I had planted only one cherry tomato plant, last year, and it’s a cherry! I also am enjoying the sight of several plants of Romas and a couple of Super Sauce. I am still waiting to hear from recipients of this year’s rogues to see what types they got, and I hope they are as excited to see tomatoes on them as I am.

You might hear about my purposeful tomatoes in a future blog. What did I plant? Yellow tomatoes are my favorite cut tomatoes, so you know I have those. Then, the Rutgers and German Lady tomatoes are the favorite of the parents, next door. I also bought Jet Star plants for a general, easy table tomato. I grew 100 Big Mama plants and 150 Super Sauce from seed for my canning projects later in the summer. mmm mmm mmm

Blossom End Rot Not Shattering Tomato Dreams

End Blossom Rot

Until this year, I have not ever had a problem with blossom end rot in any of my crops. From what I understand, blossom end rot occurs in many different types of fruit-bearing plants. Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and squash are the most common plants which suffer from it in Indiana gardens. After doing a little research on the Purdue agricultural websites and talking to an extension agent (EA), I learned that the problem stems from plants not getting enough or not being able to use enough calcium.

Big mama TomatoWhile I am particularly interested in tomatoes, since this is the only plant I am experiencing blossom end rot, I am finding that only one variety of tomato that I planted is having the problem, the Big Mama hybrid. I planted both Big Mama (photo on the left) and Super Sauce (photo on the right) hybrid tomatoes from seed, this year. I planted the seed directly in the ground as soon as the soil was warm enough. Super Sauce tomatoesI also bought German Lady, Rutgers, Lemon Boy, and Jet Star tomato plants, and have a few Roma and Cherry ROGUE (volunteer) plants, all of which are producing fruit with no problem with blossom end rot.  Last year, I bought Super Sauce plants from Burpee Gardening, and they were, not only tasty tomatoes, but extra-large and with very little extra water and few seeds, so they are easy to use and provide little waste, with less effort, to make sauce and salsa. Super Sauce are heavy producing plants and do well in the Indiana climates. I decided to try the Big Mama tomatoes based on reviews of people who liked the Super Sauce, since it also produces extra large Roma-style fruits. So far, the Big Mama plants seem to be loaded with tomatoes, but I have lost dozens of them them to the blossom end rot.

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Blossom end rot starts out looking like a brown water spot on a ceiling at the area that the flower blossom was when the tomato started growing. The end of the tomato dies off and dries up resulting in the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 of the tomato being discolored and hard.

I have been throwing the damaged tomatoes into the composter, but I read, today, that once the tomato turns red, some people just cut the bad part off and eat or use the rest of the tomato. Maybe I will try to use the good part of the tomato when this issue occurs just to see how it turns out. I stopped counting Big Mama tomatoes at 1200, this morning, and I would hate to throw away all of that goodness just because of the blossom end rot. It’s at least something to think about.

So what can be done about the blossom end rot? Well, it turns out that there is not a hard and fast answer to that. It depends on the reason it is occurring.  For our gardens, it turns out that we have simply had so much water that the plants can’t keep up with or use the amount of calcium being flushed up into the affected plants. It happens that the rest of the tomato varieties we are growing happen to be blossom end rot resistant, so they aren’t having the same issues. Since my garden beds are already raised and filled with great soil which drains well, and we have no control over the amount of rain we are getting this year, I can only pray for the rain to reduce a little and August to dryer.

For others, I suggest you ask an area EA to come look at your beds and test your soil. They are full of great information to help you decide if you should do something or not. For people who have drainage problems, your EA  might suggest you try adding peat moss or large garden grade vermiculite, elevating your garden beds, or  relocating them to support good drainage. For those of you who have a calcium problem not related to drainage or too much water, you might try adding calcium to the soil with a soil suppliment or clean eggshells. If your plants have simply grown so fast they can’t keep up with nutrient uptake, using less nitrogen-based fertilizer might help. While many think that simply adding calcium will stop blossom end rot, you might find that the problem with calcium isn’t about adding it at all, but a simpler change… or Mother Nature’s changes that you can’t help… will be the solution.  I am hoping for happy tomatoes for the rest of the summer!

My Little Place of Pleasure

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LindyMal sent me an email, asking to see some of my garden, so I thought I would share a little of my little gardening world. Many people have different ideas about gardening. When I was a little girl, our family had a garden, because it helped us to eat good food and lower our grocery costs. I was the one who loved to work in the garden and preserve some of our food.

2015 Garden

Much of my adult life has been a challenge. Gardening offered me some relief. Not only is it good exercise, but it provides food as clean and organic as I choose. It helps me save money and have some control over the health of my family. I find gardening to be therapeutic, and it offers the opportunity to be creative (See the potato bags I tried?). My favorite benefit comes when I watch the kids and grandkids working and helping, getting excited when their seeds break through the ground, and spending time with me.

Harvest

I get to try to grow… and eat… food that I may not have ever tried. Sometimes it is an accident! For example, I planted what I thought was zucchini, this spring, but it grew into a beautiful, yellow crook-neck squash. I had to ask my FaceBook friends what on earth to do with crook-neck squash. It turns out that anything you do with zucchini, you can do with crook-neck. My first crook-neck adventure was to make a chocolate squash cake which was beautiful, moist, and delicious. Yummy!

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Another valuable characteritic of gardens is that it gives me the opportunity to share. I created one garden bed for my mom and four smaller ones for kids to grow their own items. Many people who are driving or bicycling past our house, often stop to ask about the garden. It’s always funny when I meet a stranger and say what neighborhood I live in, and they ask me if I live close to the crazy lady with the big garden. Yes, folks. That is me.

Like my garden, I am a work in progress. I spend time there, thinking, learning, and finding ways to better myself. Some days I work hard, and other days I am kind of lazy. Gardening has taught me much about patience and the joy found in delayed gratification. The only thing I don’t do there is sleep. I love my garden, and I hope that you get as much nutrition and pleasure from yours as I do from mine.

Blackberry Bounty

Blackberry Overload

I wanted to share my blackberry brambles with you, this evening. Today, I was able to pick a handful of the lucious, fruit which is just barely starting to ripen. We started this blackberry bed three years ago with two small plants, and today, the entire side of the garage is covered with beautiful, thornless blackberry plants.

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I think this year, we will have a bumper crop. Since blackberries grow on second year growth, We have been cognizant of the number of new stems which are being produced, and I predict that next year’s crop will be even better.

Blackberry size

You can see by the size of the first berries we harvested that these berries will be large and juicy when they become ripe. Last year, I was only able to use about half of the berries that our brambles produced, because they are the favorite snack of my grandson. As I picked the berries, he ate them right out of the bowl. Even with that loss of crop, I still was able to make four pies, half a dozen jars of jam, and 3 gallons of juice. I froze the juice and when I had more time, I used it to make jelly and syrup (both pancake and dessert syrups). From the looks of things, I believe we will have at least double what we got last year! I will keep you posted!

Ketchup & Fries Plant Update

I thought you might like to see the progress our ketchup and fries plant is making. The plant is about double the size it was when I showed it to you, previously. It’sbeautiful and healthy, filled with flowers and some cherry-sized tomatoes.

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We won’t be looking at the roots for potatoes until Autumn, but I can tell you that the tomatoes that I have eaten from this plant, so far, are very tasty and acidic. I can’t wait to share if we actually get potatoes or not, this Fall! Stay tuned!

An Eggplant Gift from Janet

Janet's eggplant and tomato

I just wanted to share the beautiful gift I received from my friend, Janet, today. During a conversation, last week, I mentioned that Japanese beetles were nipping off the flowers on my eggplant, so the flowers were falling to the ground instead of producing fruit. Janet suggested that I apply a soap wash to the plants to deter the hungry little buggers, and it seems to have worked. Today, Janet paid me a visit and brought me a little gift: her first eggplant of the year and a tomato called a Granny Smith which grows to a beautiful shade of green. Thank you for your generosity, Janet!

first eggplant

You can see the damage caused by the Japanese beetles on the leaves of this plant. Since spraying the plant with the soap wash and sprinkling some cayenne papper on the ground around the plant, the insects have fled, and I now have my first eggplant fruit on the stalk! Since I want to avoid using insecticides, I am happy that the soap wash worked!