Tuesday, June 30, 2015

3 Simple Ways to Trellis Tomato Plants

If you made a list of all the wonderful vegetables you can grow, tomatoes would surely find themselves a place near the top of the list. Unfortunately, they would also fall close to the top on a list of plants that need lots of care and love while growing. 

Given their vining structure, tomato plants can quickly become a mess if left to fend for themselves. Lying on the ground can lead to disease, rotting fruits, and pesky pests eating your tomatoes. Luckily, there's an easy fix - trellising!

This simple process helps your plants stand up straight while they grow, making them healthier and more manageable. Here are three simple ways to trellis tomato plants...

1. The first method is simply to use a stake to prop the plant up. Any t-post, wooden stake, or tall bamboo stalk will work - so long as it's sturdy!

To use this method, drive your stake into the ground far enough down that it feels steady when you lightly push it. Then loosely tie the tomato to the stake. While you want the tomato to be held sturdily up, the ties should also be loose enough that while the tomatoes continue to grow, they aren't constricted by the string.

2. The second option is to use a tomato cage. These cages come in many shapes and sizes, but they all serve the same purpose. They contain your plant!

The upside of a tomato cage is that by keeping your plant contained, it makes it far more manageable, and can also help avoid the spreading of disease by preventing plants from touching each other.

The downside is that often cages are small, and can make harvesting more difficult.

 To use this method, put the cage around your tomato when it's still young, taking care to get all branches inside the cage. Push the cage into the ground until it feels sturdy, or if it doesn't have legs, use a stake or two to secure the cage in place.

3. The third option is called a Florida weave, and it involves both stakes and twine. With this method, stakes are placed at the end of rows, and in between every 2 to 3 plants. Then, as the plants grow, twine is woven back and forth between the tomatoes, creating a structure to hold them upright and in place.

The upside of this method is that plants are directly held on both sides by twine, meaning they have ample support. It's also helpful to be able to adjust the twine accordingly as your plants grow.

The downside is that it requires a fair amount of attention to maintain. New twine needs to be woven on at least once a week to keep tomatoes well trellised, which takes time and effort.

While we've found that these three ways to trellis are tried and true, there are many other methods as well! The bottom line, however, is that regardless of which trellising method you choose, your tomatoes will thank you for it!

Pruning Tomatoes

We all love a summer tomato, freshly ripened on the vine, juicy and red. Which is why it's worth it to make sure that this summer, your tomato plants are regularly pruned and trellised! 

It may seem crazy, but cutting off extra branches will actually help your plant divert energy into making bigger, tastier fruits. It also makes your plants more manageable - 1 stem instead of 10 is much easier to care for and harvest from. And yet another benefit of regular pruning? Well-pruned tomato plants are less susceptible to disease! With less leafy material that's likely to fall onto the soil, tomato plants are less prone to falling victim to soil-borne disease.

With all these benefits, the only question left is how to actually prune your tomatoes! Here's how it works...

First, find the tomato's main stem by checking where the plant meets the soil. Once you've identified it, start from the bottom of the plant, and move upwards until you find a branch. The branch should stick out from the stem at roughly 90 degrees.

Then, check if there is a secondary branch at a 45 degree angle in between the branch and the stem - if so, you've found a sucker! (They're called suckers because all they do is suck extra energy from your plant.) Depending on the size of the sucker, either pinch it off with your fingernails, or use bypass pruners to cut it off of the stem.

The illustration below demonstrates the angles at which branches and suckers generally sit, and how to pinch off a sucker.

Generally speaking, the best practice is to prune your tomatoes at least once a week. It may seem like a lot, but the faster you catch suckers, the easier they are to prune! It's much simpler to pick off a small sucker like the one illustrated above, than to have to cut away a sucker that may be 1/3 the size of your entire plant. You can see this below, where a sucker that went unpruned has become the same thickness and height as the main stem! 

Another detail that will make a big difference is cleaning your pruners or fingers between working with different tomato plants. As disease is easily passed from plant to plant with tomatoes, it's better to make sure that each time you're starting fresh!

So there you have it! Now you know how to prune your plants, and in turn get the healthiest, most delicious tomatoes you can!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Colorful Carrots

Think carrots can only be orange? Think again! 
All these beauties are delicious, garden-grown carrots - yellow, orange, red and white! 

To grow carrots: For a spring/summer crop, sow seeds into your garden soil 3 weeks before the last expected frost. For a fall crop, sow 2-3 months before the first expected crop, or sow later and plan on utilizing heavy mulch or a low tunnel! 

Once your seeds have germinated, thin them to 3 or 4 inches apart (be thorough! crowded carrots will be crooked!)

Harvest carrots when the tops seem large and are protruding from the soil. Though they can be eaten at any size, larger carrots tend to have more taste - so be patient! If you pull one out, and it isn't fully mature, let the rest keep growing to their full size. 

Beautiful and Bountiful Basil

It’s that time of the year when everything seems to be rising from the ground at such an incredible speed. One of our favorite plants that seems to be expanding at that rapid pace is basil - the delicious herb that makes your pesto, pasta and pizza taste fantastic! Luckily, just by harvesting and pruning your basil correctly, you can end up with a fuller, bushier, and more productive plant!

Because basil is in the mint family (aka ‘Lamiaceae’) you should always be harvesting and pruning down the stem near where the leaves branch out. Start at the top of the plant and look down the stem to where the leaves branch off, and if there are two smaller leaves that have formed against the stem.

A lemon basil (L) and a leaf lettuce basil (R) showing the smaller leaves you should look for when pruning.

This is where you will want to pinch or snip! Always snip off the stem about a quarter of an inch above your two little leaves! By cutting there you will be sending more energy to those smaller leaves which will grow larger and produce more basil! You can go as far down the stem as you want, as long as there are those smaller leaves between the branches and stem. If there are none, worry not! Your basil plant just needs some more time to soak up those nutrients and grow- your patience will be rewarded.

By harvesting and pruning regularly you will avoid having your basil start bolting and producing seeds. When the plant starts to produce seeds, it will start to grow small leaves in a pyramid shape upwards, and will cause the other larger leaves to develop a bitter taste. Not at all what you would want for your Italian or South Asian meals! To remove the bolting part, simply snip off the little pyramid bundle and prune down the stem a branch or two.

What new growth will look like if harvested correctly (L). A bolting basil will form lots of little leaves in a pyramid shape (R), which will go to seed and change the taste of the leaves.