Well folks, I no longer work at the Flea Market, and I closed my both there. I am now a vendor at an open air market south of Burleson. It doesn't have the cachet of an antique mall, but the tents cheaper and the sales are higher. It's also hotter than bejesus but, if the customers ate willing, who am I to complain. Besides, I needed a change.
I was winding up the hose when I found this toad frog snoozing the day away in an abandoned flowerpot.
It's huge size points out that it's probably a female. I'm sure that if I was able to ask some male toad frogs, they would say some thing to the equivalent of "Hubba Hubba"
Usually, the toads dig into the dirt or hide under the mulch for the day. I have no earthly idea why she chose to perch herself in a flowerpot that is precariously balanced a foot and a half above the ground on a stack of other empty flower pots, but I'm sure she has her reasons. Maybe she's hiding from those over amourous admirers, being the amphibious equivalent of Marilyn Monroe and all.
I left her be, there's a couple of dozen out there at least, and they're voracious predators of insects. I'd hate to think how overrun we'd be without them...
So, now I've told you how to turn 3 plants into a dozen, cheap ways to mulch, and provided you've got enough sunshine, you now have tomatoes growing.
Currently, my plants are providing plentiful harvests. I've eaten all I can, given some away to neighbors, and canned the rest. The plants are still growing and producing, but their bottom leaves have begun yellowing at the bottom leaves, and some are even turning brown.
You see, as far as the plants are concerned, they've produced fruit and seed for the next generation, their biological imperative has been fulfilled, and it's time for them to make a graceful exit. Over the next few weeks, they will continue to ripen their last fruits as the plant goes into a general decline, eventually, as the old timers say, 'going to thistle,' an accurate description. The small hairs that line the stems become dry and brittle, and quite aggravating to your skin.
But, as mentioned before, we have a very long growing season, and mid-July to August are the times to plant for fall crops. Plants propagated now bear in September, October, and at least into November. Actually, there's about a 50% chance that frosts will hold off and we'll have few fresh tomatoes for Christmas.
Propogate by taking cutting from the still green plants now, about 12 to 18 inches off the growing tips, and root them in water as described in part 3. You can also plant seeds, and occasionally, not too often though, you might be able to find plants for sale. Check the smaller nurseries rather than the big chains though.
As you can see, it is quite possible to stretch a little bit of money into larger crops.
A few words about insects. The safest pesticides to use are Sevin and any of the Pyrethrum sprays. Sevin, which comes in a dust that can be sprinkled on leaves, (and even cats and dogs if there's a flea issue) or in a liquid spray. Sevin is essentially a plant hormone that is safe around mammals. Pyrethrum is derived from English daisies, and is the primary ingredient in many of the insect sprays on the market. Just look at the label for the active ingredients. Of course, exercise caution and/or good common sense when using these or any pesticides, and I, as a general rule, would only use them with a serious infestation. If it's a few little creapy crawlies, I just pick them off and give them a good stomp underfoot.
Now, I'm sure that several of my usual readers will be glad to know that I'm finally through with the tomatoes for now, and I'll get back to my usual rants.
this post was split into several parts due to limited computer time and to make it easier for the readers.
So... now that I've talked all about the problems with buying the tomato plant early, now I'm gonna make a turn-around and tell you to buy the tomato plants early.
Let's say you want to grow 12 tomato plants.
Also buy a bag of reasonably priced potting soil, and a bag of inexpensive top soil. Then, if you don't have any leftover 1 gallon nursery pots left over from landscaping, get to the nearest "everything for one dollar store and buy three cheap plastic buckets.
The plants you've just bought are going to suffer horribly if they're left in the pots they're in, waiting for planting for weeks on end, rootbound, in soil that's probably about played out, so what you're going to do is pot them in 1/2 potting soil and1/2 topsoil in either the recycled nursery pots or the buckets with a few holes punched through the bottom for drainage.
Put them in their new pots, and here's something you've probably not considered... pinch out the growing tips. Set them outside on warm days, and bring them in when it threatens to frost. Within two to three weeks, the plants will have started growing long side branches. When these branches get 12 to 18 inches long, cut them off and put them in water. Within another two to three weeks, you will have cuttings with roots, and by now it's time to plant both your cuttings and your parent plants, which should have resprouted a couple of new shoots, outside.
So, you now have a dozen plants, and paid for three.
Now, in our area, the average last frost is March 15. The key word in that sentence is 'average.' All the local wise old gardeners will tell you to never plant anything frost tender until April Fools Day.
Northern gardeners, who have a limited growing season, and a limited amount of time to get harvests, may wish to push this envelope, using everything from commercial water wall frost guards to plastic milk jugs with the bottoms cut out to protect their plants, but with our long season, it's just not necessary. It's extra effort, I'm not sure that it's that rewarding, and when you push the envelope, there's always the chance that one morning you will be confronted with a frost bitten garden, which is a frustrating and discouraging sight. Don't set yourself up for disappointment.
Its easiest if you have a good tiller, but they can be rented or borrowed if you have to. Make sure you get as much grass out of there as you can, especially if it's Bermuda grass like so many of our lawns. If it is Bermuda grass, I'm telling you now, you're not going to get all of it,
You most definitely do not have to buy expensive garden soil to till in. Gardeners have been growing in this part of the world for generations without it, and in a new garden, where no tomatoes have grown before, the soil will be fine. If you feel you have to add something, do it later.
Dig a hole deeper than it needs to be. If you wish, you can put a shovelful of compost or composted manure in the hole. There's a lot of fuss about making sure you mix in the manure so it doesn't burn the roots. It's composted, so you don't really have to worry about that, but if that makes you more comfortable, do so. Put your plant in the hole as deep as you can. You can cover a tomato plant or cutting all the way up to within inches of the growing tip, Any buried stem will grow roots, and the top will shoot up within a week.
Now, to conserve moisture, and seriously limit weeding, go out about six inches from the stem and cover the ground with several layers of newspaper or cardboard boxes. Yes, there are commercial weed barrier cloths available. They're expensive and Bermuda grass grows right through them.
This is the beginning of your mulch layer, and it's important. Mulching makes life soooo much easier, and it's seriously good for the plants. It conserves moisture for the plants, making huge amounts of watering unnecessary, it keeps the roots shaded, cooler and healthier, and it puts a huge dent in how much weeding you're going to be doing.
As for the rest of the mulch layer... I can only say that wood chip mulch that you buy really has no place in a vegetable garden. It's fine around your trees and in your flower beds, but it costs too much to be spreading it over a whole garden. What you need to do is make it a practice to passively compost in the garden. This means everytime you mow, grass trimmings do not go in a plastic bag for the trash man, they're spread around your tomatoes. Same goes with hedge trimmings, and the spent marigolds and petunias from the flowerbeds, and what you rake up every fall. I would not put food related wastes, ie: potato peels, apple skins, etc. from the kitchen directly in a garden, as they may attract rodents who have very few qualms about munching on your fresh produce, and there are a few plant diseases that can be spread by them. Basically, just pile your garden and lawn trimmings up, and next year, the dirt will be so rich, you won't have to bother with that shovel full of cow manure at planting.
If you really must buy something, say you don't have enough lawn to produce that many trimmings, go to a feed store and buy a bale of straw. It covers the ground, it decomposes in, and most people think straw smells pretty good.
This post has been divided into parts due to limited computer time and to make it easier for the reader.
Taking a break from the tomatoes, well be right back I promise. Spent the morning taking a long walk in the country. I had some things to think about, it's easier out there.
The great thing about the country is its ability too constantly surprise. Found this by the road growing on an old fence. I'd guess one of the passionflowers... no blooms in sight, just these salmon colored fruits...
Intetesting. Any ideas for an ID?
Recently, I took some homegrown tomatoes into to share with my coworkers. One of them immediately began complaining of the expense and apparent impossibility of growing the things.
This left me rather confused, so I asked her how she'd gone about it. Her answer prompted this post.
First, she'd bought three plants when they'd become available in the spring, some fertilizer, and two bags rather pricey "Moisture Control" garden soil to mix into the 5 x 5 planting bed off of her patio.
She had then mixed this planting mix into her patch, planted the plants, placed her brand new tomato cages, and congratulated herself on a job well done.
A week later, frost killed the plants, so she'd gone and bought three more along with plastic frost guards that you fill with water. The plants survived the next frost, and soon grew beyond covers to be nipped by the frost after that. Rather than cut off the nipped parts and allowing the plants to regrow from the protected main stems, she'd instead pulled them up and bought new plants. These had finally grown. Like gangbusters. Tall, leafy and green. They'd even bloomed and formed a few small green fruits... which shriveled up and fell off the plant, no matter how much she'd fed them.
The problem was simple. I've been to her house, and I knew the planting bed she was talking about. Right outside her kitchen door, wedged between her house and a wooden fence, and shaded by the neighbors elm tree. I'm afraid I had a bit of a problem convincing her that no matter how much plant food you use, tomatoes still need sunshine. Quite a bit of it.
As a general rule, a tomato needs about 12 hours of sun to produce satisfactorily. That's why greenhouse grown ones are so expensive in winter. Between artificial lighting and heating, the electric bills can be huge.
And considering that my coworker is a single lady, she's already spent more on plants, soil amendments, and clever accessories than she would normally spend on tomatoes at the market in a year.
We're going to start with the plants themselves.
The most economical way to get the plants is to grow them from seed, no questions asked. For the price of a seed packet, less than $2.00, you can easily end up with 20 plants. And in our climate, with our long growing season, we have more than enough time to sprout them directly in the ground. As of this moment, I have a row of plants growing in the garden that were planted direct and they're bearing just fine, although they did bear 2 to 3 weeks later than the plants that were transplanted. I can live with that.
However, If you really need those tomatoes 2 weeks earlier, you sprout them inside, but even that can be more expensive than it needs to be.
You can certainly buy peat pots, peat pellets, and plastic sprouting trays, and all manner of things, but it's less expensive, and better for the planet I suppose, if you re-use and re-cycle something you already have. Egg cartons are a common choice, but I personally find that they're too small. Tomato seedlings are robust growers, and egg carton cells are too small... keeping them watered enough will be a challenge.
Cardboard toilet paper tubes can be stood on end in a tray of some sort, filled with soil, and used to sprout your seeds. Strips of newspaper can also be rolled into tubes, and used the same way. With both of these, you can basically plant outside later pot and all. You can also reuse those small square pots that you got other plants in, or you can use tin cans... I tend to reuse the styrofoam cups that coffee comes in.
Use any decent potting soil that has been sanitized by baking it in an oven or the microwave, plant your seeds, put them in the brightest window you got and keep them watered. They'll be ready to plant in 4 to 6 weeks.
However, many gardeners who habitually produce bumper crops of tomatoes, have never grown one from seed in their lives.
My Grandmother Nellie, bought hers at a local feed store, and considering that she was a widow raising 9 children in a 3 room house, she didn't have the time or much available window space to be sprouting seeds for her 1 acre garden.
When I was growing up, the plants were bought at K-Mart in small 6 pack cell pots for about 50 cents.
Now those small six packs are practically non-existent. What is commonly available are 2 1/4 inch plastic pots or 3 inch peat pots, and they're about 2 to 3 bucks each. The reason is simple marketing... Why would you sell 6 small plants when you could sell one large plant for double the price? This is a capitalist country after all, they're trying to make money, and the consumers are willing to pay it, so you certainly can't blame them for that. But it doesn't really help us save money.
Plus, these plants show up in the stores way too early, a good six to eight weeks before it's time to put them out. People eager for spring buy them up and either plant them out with disastrous consequences, or try to hold them inside where they suffer and possibly perish. If you wait until a more reasonable time to buy them, the plants are often picked over, or often stressed from being held in the wrong conditions, or maybe indifferent care from the high school kid in charge of the garden department.
For the beginning and inexperienced gardener, it can be expensive, frustrating, and enough to make you give up.
Fortunately, there is a way to work with this.
this post has been separated into parts due to limited computer space and to make it easier on the reader. Part 1 Part 3 Finale
The economics of growing tomatoes can be rather confusing.
Most people believe that the average home gardener can easily save a few dollars on the home budget by growing and canning at home, and, once upon a time, the average housewife was quite capable of stretching the food budget this way. It's still possible, but it requires a little thinking through.
First of all, the above mentioned term "housewife" is almost obsolete. Increasingly, women work outside the home, and wives, or husbands for that matter, can't manage the time it takes to grow a full garden.
Secondly, if a beginning gardener follows most of the advice available, growing a tomato plant can cost nearly double what it costs at the grocery store. If your growing them because you enjoy home grown, full flavored produce, or because you find gardening fulfilling and satisfying, that's fine, but if your goal is to save a little cash in the current economy, we're going to have to go about this a little differently.
Bear in mind, that I garden in Central Texas, which has been both blessed and cursed with a very long, eight month growing season, and a problematic climate. Most of what I can tell you may not apply to some of my readers, but maybe you can adapt it to your purposes. That being said... Let's start with something that is rarely discussed in garden circles, but matters a whole lot.
Too many people go at this with entirely the wrong attitude. They worry about the exact amount of some trace chemical in fertilizer. They have long internet diatribes about the merits of mulch. I have even once been confronted by a militant vegetarian who insisted that the cow manure produced by the dairy industry grew far superior plants than the manure produced by the EVIL MEAT EMPIRE. I'm afraid I maintain the position that, despite the cows political affiliations, bullcrap is bullcrap, and I was pretty sure that he was full of it.
The point of this is... RELAX.
There is no magic potion required. The plants will survive. as they have been surviving for thousands of years, without the intervention of astrophysicists. They will even survive being subjected to too a few ounces too much or too little water, and you don't have to sacrifice a goat, or do a naked mojo dance under the full moon to inspire growth. Unless of course you enjoy naked mojo dances, then by all means do so. But wear mosquito repellent.
The point is that, believe it or not, the plants WANT to grow. It has a biological imperative to sprout, produce leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds, thereby ensuring its genetic material goes forward into the next generation. You do not have to battle, bribe, cajole, coerce, or threaten to achieve this.
At most your job is to enable, hopefully without breaking your credit rating.
There will be some work involved. Despite what several gardening writers out there have maintained, I really don't know of any way to grow a garden without weeds, digging, watering and basic maintenance. You can minimize this, but you can't avoid it totally. Sorry.
This post has been separated into parts, due to limited computer time, and to make it easier to digest for the reader.
There's definitely a big post coming up. I'll be typing it in this afternoon. I'm one of those old-fashioned types who does their real writing longhand, and the edit as I type. If I eas going for a real publishing submission, I'd do yet another edit after its on the computer, but I'm a little more casual about the blog.
Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know that I said there would be a big post soon. Well, life got in the way. And tomorrow and Friday, I will be doing 15 hour days followed by an 11 hour day on Saturday, ushering for a trade show. All those who have done this show before say it's full of women who feel published to get out of control... joy, joy, joy.
I'm pretty sure that by the time Sunday rolls around, I'll bear a strange resemblance to an extra from the set of Walking Dead. Oh well.
Well it's 2 am and it looks like I finally may get some sleep. We're in an unincorporated part of the county, which means 4 th of July fireworks started last weekend. Threets been some window rattling going on tonight, but it will be only more so tomorrow. Actually the noise isn't that bothersome. I worry more about the fire hazard aspect...
Got a big post coming up, actually may split it in parts. Not sure yet...