Aug 282012
 

by Avis Licht

A ripe Brandywine tomato

There is something very interesting about the green shoulder on this tomato.

It’s often hard to find a ripe, delicious tomato in the store. For that reason, tomatoes are one of the most popular plants to grow in the home vegetable garden. Tomatoes for large scale agriculture have been bred to have tough skins and are picked unripe in order to ship them in large containers without getting squished.  These tomatoes have nothing in common with an old fashioned, well grown tomato, picked ripe.

This blog is not about how to grow a tomato, of which there are many varieties and can be grown in many locales. That’s for another day. What I will talk about  is the meaning of the surprise markings on many heirloom tomatoes.

We usually think about ripe tomatoes in terms of red.  Green means not ripe.  WRONG! The green shoulder on a tomato  influences the amount of sugar in the ripe fruit. If green shoulders don’t sound familiar, that’s because most commercial tomatoes don’t have them anymore. The dark green parts have more chloroplasts, which turn sunlight into sugars. Scientists think that increases the amount of sugar in the tomato by about twenty percent. You can read more about it in this article from UC Davis Food and Science Department.

Many colors and kinds of tomatoes

Tomatoes come in many colors and shapes. They have different flavors as well. It’s worth growing your own.

 

Watch your tomatoes as they grow, and when they start turning color, whatever color they’re supposed to be, pick them while they’re still a little firm.  If possible hold back on the irrigation before harvesting.  It makes them sweeter.

 

Pick your tomato carefully

There is a little section near the top of the tomato. Pick it at that section and leave the cap on. The tomato will keep better and you won’t be as likely to rip off the whole branch.

 

There’s so much to learn about growing the healthiest and best tasting fruit and vegetables, but the most important part is to just start! Let me know what your favorite tomato varieties are.

Aug 232012
 
Pick em ripe

by Avis Licht

String beans and cherry tomatoes are ripe and ready to harvest

 

As if it isn’t hard enough to grow your food, you also have to figure out when to harvest it.  This may not seem like such a hard thing to do, but there is a big difference in taste and nutritional value when you harvest at the correct time.

It is not always obvious when to pick your veggies.  Here are some tips.

BEANS

Green Beans, whether bush or pole beans are harvested the same.  This green bean is long and slender.  It has not started to puff out where the bean seed will be forming.

green bean ready to pick

Slim, yet juicy, this bean is ready to eat.

Once the bean starts getting rounded, it will be tough to eat and not taste as good. The bumps mean that seed is forming and the plant is getting ready to reproduce.  Check out this photo of the beans side by side.

ripe and over ripe beans

The beans on the left will be tender and juicy. The ones on the right have started to form bean seed and will be tough.

a good bean and a bad bean (well, not bad, but you wouldn't want to eat it)

From this cross section you can see that the bean on the left has not started to form its seed and is tender. The bean on the right will be quite tough. I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.  Once beans start to produce, they come on fast and furious and it can be hard to keep up with the picking.  It’s a lot like a treasure hunt.  Keep lifting those leaves up and look for your ripe beans.

One reason I really like people to harvest at the right time, is that the taste is so much sweeter.  Kids, in particular are really sensitive to taste and sweetness and we want them to LOVE their veggies.  Come back and find out about tomatoes.  There is some very interesting information I bet you don’t know.

A ripe Brandywine tomato

There is something about the green shoulder on this tomato. Come back to find out what it is.

 

 

Apr 242012
 
Delicious homegrown tomatoes
Delicious homegrown tomatoes

We love a salad of different kinds of tomatoes

by Avis Licht – A fresh picked, ripe, delicious tomato is one of the best foods in the garden. They are soooo much better than store bought and so easy to grow, that they are one of the most widely grown vegetables. Here are a few tips that will help insure you get the best, tastiest and healthiest tomatoes.

1. Pick a sunny site. You can’t make up for lack of sun.  Look for at least 7 hours of sun per day.

2. Tomatoes prefer well drained, neutral  to slightly acid soil.  Add lime to acid soil and sulfur to alkaline soil. Make sure your soil drains well. They don’t like sitting in water.

3. Pick several varieties that are suitable to your climate.  For instance, if you live near the coast and fog, it’s better to grow cherry tomatoes that don’t need a long, hot season.  The larger the tomato, the longer the season. There are plants known as determinate and indeterminate.  Determinate types are bushier, need little or no staking and tend to bear all their crop at once.  They do well in pots or containers. Indeterminate grow taller and need staking.  They bear their crop over a longer period of time.  If you plant some of each you will have tomatoes over a longer period. Check out this site for varieties of heirloom tomatoes.

Young tomatoes

Stake your tomatoes early and keep them off the ground to reduce rot and pests

4. Set out your plants after all danger of frost has passed.  The biggest mistake people make is putting out their tomatoes too early, during a warm period in early spring. They get whacked by a late frost, or just cold weather.  Tomatoes like warm soil.  Put the plants in and after the weather warms up a little, then mulch them.

5. Give tomatoes well aged manure or compost.  They don’t need a lot of nitrogen, but do need the micronutrients in the compost for good flavor.

6. HERE’S AN IMPORTANT TIP: Give your tomatoes regular water.  If the roots dry out, they don’t take up the calcium in the soil, which results in cracked fruits and end rot.  However: when the plants are getting ripe, you can cut back on the amount of water. Mealy, watery tomatoes are usually a result of OVER WATERING!


moisture meter

Best tool ever. This will save you time, water and money. Click on the picture to buy it!

I use this simple, inexpensive gauge to let me know how moist the soil is.  You can’t tell by looking at the surface if you need to water.  The top of the soil can be dry and the soil at a few inches below may be wet.  Check first before you water. Believe me, this is one of my most used tools.

 

7. When you finally get your delicious tomatoes – DON’T put them in the refrigerator.  It ruins their flavor. Keep them out on the counter out of the sun. Hardly anyone knows this. But you know it now.

Cherry tomato

These cherry tomatoes start bearing early, give a lot and last until the first frost.

 

Apr 192012
 

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Blue Forget Me Nots

Weeds come in many disguises like this invasive Forget me Not

This always happens every Spring. I think I’m on top of the jobs I need to do in the garden, and then boom, I look out the window and the weeds have grown overnight like the bean in Jack and the Beanstalk. Although some of them actually look kind of pretty, like these Forget-me-Nots. This innocuous looking plant is actually an aggressive, invasive plant. Have you ever tried pulling out these “innocuous” plants when they’ve gone to seed? Their seeds stick to you like glue and it can take hours to get them off your clothes and socks.

In general we mean a plant is a weed when we don’t want it in the garden at all, or at least not where it has shown up.  Certain plants are always unwanted.  These are the category of pernicious weeds such as poison oak, creeping morning glory, bermuda grass and the plants that are harmful to you or impossible to get rid of. Let me  say right off the bat, that I never use chemical poisons. Weeds in my yard need to be removed by hand, digging them out, or by barriers to cover them and keep them from getting sunlight, or by spraying them with nontoxic potions, such as, Dr Earth Weed and Grass Herbicide or vinegar/soap/ solutions. (Use white vinegar: Add 2 tablespoons of dish soap to vinegar. Pour this mixture in a spray bottle. Spray your weeds!)

In his book, On Good Land: Autobiography of an Urban Farm, Michael Abelman wrote this great bit on weeds.  “When dealing with “weeds,” timing is especially critical.  Remember that “weeds” are merely plants out of place and that weed competition is primarily a problem in the early stages of crop development.

“Three things resolve weed competition easily: early cultivation, the right tool and attitude.  The goal is to never weed but to cultivate.  Cultivation aerates the soil around the plants, and cuts off or buries young tender weeds.  If you have to actually weed, your are too late and will have created far more work for yourself.”

Don’t be too late – start weeding now!

If you want to find some great tasting heirloom tomatoes, Burpee is having a sale. You can get them on special just through this site:$10 off orders of $40 or more with code AFFTOFF thru 4/23 at Burpee.com!

TOOLS  I RECOMMEND.

My favorite tools for cultivating weeds out of your garden:

Long handled hoe

Best use of time and energy - use this hoe early and often

The Hoe : This long handled, double edge weeder, lets you go back and forth for most efficient use.  When the weeds are young and the blade is sharp, you just put it lightly below the soil surface and it cuts them off cleanly, leaving them in the ground.  You don’t have to bend over and it is easy on the back.

Corona Clipper SH61000 Diamond Hoe

The Triangle Hoe: I use this hoe to go between plants that are close together, especially good in vegetable beds and flower beds. Like all other cutting tools, you should keep the blade sharp.


Truper 30002 Tru Tough 54-Inch Welded Warren Hoe, 4-3/4-Inch Head, Wood Handle

Long handled triangle hoe

Great for tight places: vegetables and flowers. The Triangle Hoe $22.99

Hori Hori Japanese Weeding Tool

The Hori Hori: This strong tool is useful for many tasks $27.95

Japanese Hori Hori Garden Landscaping Digging Tool With Stainless Steel Blade & Sheath

Hand Weeding: The Japanese Weeding Knife: Hori Hori Tool

I love this tool and use it all the time. It’s good for weeding, planting, and scarifying the soil. I have a confession, though. I put it down in the garden about 6 months ago and can’t find it. I know it’s there and am sure each day that it will turn up. I’m afraid I’ll have to get another one.  Is there a GPS tracking app for lost hand tools?

SPRAYS: Usually a last resort, sometimes we have to go there.  For particularly pernicious weeds like poison oak, bindweed and bermuda grass I use Dr Earth Weed and Grass Herbicide.  Ingredients include Citric Acid, Cinnamon Oil, Clove Oil, Soybean Oil, Rosemary Oil, Sesame Oil, and Thyme Oil. You can buy this from Organic Green Roots, which donates a portion of every sale to school gardens.

Safe weed spray

Sep 072011
 
Apples on the Tree

A bumper crop of apples in the Fall

In California, the Fall is synonymous with apples. For Edible Landscaping we have many varieties that will grow, from the coast up to the Sierra Foothills.  My own trees have four varieties of apples on one tree.  With two trees, that gives me a grand total of eight varieties, in one small area.  They ripen at slightly different times, to extend the season.  Check your nurseries for types that work in your climate. If you go to Smart Gardener you can type in your zip code and they’ll tell you what your growing season is.

Sun Gold cherry tomatoes

Sun Gold cherry tomatoes

Of all the vegetable crops, tomatoes are one of the few that almost everyone wants to grow at home, because they ALWAYS (almost) taste better than store bought. If you live in a cool climate, as in the California northern coast, or a short season climate, as in higher elevations, then you want to grow Cherry tomatoes, which ripen earlier, faster and longer than larger tomatoes.  Check out the varieties of heirloom tomatoes that give wonderful taste, great yields and all kinds of colors. Organic gardening is more than a buzz word, it’s way to enjoy life.

One of my favorite Edible Landscape plants is the delicious Strawberry. Strawberries can be early, middle and late producing.  Some varieties give two crops, such as the one pictured below. Some are everbearing and some are Wild Strawberries. You will get a lot of information from this site, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, and you can order plants from them as well.

Strawberries

It's Fall and the Strawberries keep on coming

More on Fall Plants Tomorrow!

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