It took years for me to have a successful garden. I thought all I needed to do was till up the ground, plant seeds and water. When I built this house in 1989, my garden did a lot better because I have truly great soil. I got serious about gardening and did pretty well for a few years. But I wasn't putting anything back into the soil and my veggies stopped doing well. These are the things I've figured out that work for me.
1. You need to add amendments to your soil to have the right combination of nutrients for your plants. Get a soil test done. It costs about $20 to have it done and it tells you exactly what you need to add and how much. If you call your county extension office they should be able to tell you the best place to get an analysis done
2. Water deep and regularly, and don't get your plant leaves wet on a hot day! I used to hand water and it just wasn't enough. A few years ago I put in a watering system in my raised beds and it has made a big difference. Some beds have mist sprayers, some have drip lines. I set it to water very early (like 5am) so the water on the plant leaves has evaporated by the time the sun is up and hot. If the plant leaves are wet in the hot sun they will burn, and Tomato plants should always be watered at the ground. Tomatoes hate to get their leaves wet!
3. The seeds you get at the grocery store are crap:) Good seed makes a big difference. You get stronger plants and better germination from good seed. There are great seed companies online, Territorial and Johnny's are good, but the best seed for a decent price I have found is Fedco seed. One of my local plant vendors at our Farmers market clued me in to Fedco. Their website isn't as fancy but their prices are great and they have a huge variety of seeds.
Some of my favorite seed varieties I get from them are: Maxibel beans, Zephyr yellow squash, their Arugula seed, and Fortex pole beans (sells out fast and hard to find). I don't bother to try to grow tomato plants from seed. I buy them at the farmers market. I grow a mixture of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes. Over the years I have discovered that heirlooms just can't be counted on for a successful harvest. Planting a few hybrid ensures I have tomatoes, even in a bad tomato year.
June was a very boring month in the garden, I was able to harvest some snap peas, lettuce and arugala but July is when things start to get interesting!
I picked the first tomato, a Stupice of course, on July 6th. I didn't get a picture because it went directly into my mouth before I even thought of taking a picture. A few tomatoes are starting to ripen, mostly Stupice but I am pretty impressed with the Hybrid Goliath. So far it has produced baseball sized fruit, looks like they are a couple of weeks from being ready to eat.
All my lovely Broccoli is gone, one moment they were strong sturdy young seedlings and then all of a sudden they started to wilt. I was suspicious that this was more than just a case of thirsty plants as I had been keeping them watered well. So I pulled one of the plants up and sure enough the root system had been almost totally devoured by these little white worms.
The Cabbage Root Maggot
I immediately pulled up the whole row of Broccoli, every one of the plants were infested. Really disgusting!
After doing some research on the web I found that the only good way to control these critters organically is with beneficial nematodes. So I found some fresh nematodes at Garden Fever in Portland and sprayed them on the soil.
It takes a while for them to eat all the worms and larvae, hopefully I acted soon enough to save my kohlrabi and Kale.
There are so many new and heirloom varieties that taste so much better! Moskovich and Stupice are two early heirloom varieties that I am in love with. They love the cold wet springs in the Northwest and they reliably produce wonderful sweet tomatoes that taste almost like beefsteaks.
Seems like all the nurseries carry just the old standbys like Early Girl. I have never met an Early Girl that I liked, a very bland sometimes sour flavor, a pulpy mealy texture, just not worth the space in my garden.
Tomatoes have been my favorite vegetable (in actuality tomatoes are a fruit) since I was a child. My father taught me that the best way to enjoy a tomato was arm yourself with a salt shaker, pick them in the garden, and just let the juice run down your chin.
I have tried many varieties of tomatoes, every one has a unique taste and texture. I happen to like rich sweet tomato with just enough acid and a smooth texture. Heirloom tomatoes have grown in popularity in the last few years and I tend to grow mostly heirlooms for their flavor. This year I am trying a few hybrids for comparison. The heirlooms taste wonderful but many of them do not produce as much fruit.
These are all tomatoes that grow well for me in the Portland Oregon area.
My Favorite Tomatoes
- Sudduth's Brandywine
- Pruden's Purple
I grow way too many tomatoes, but that's the way it should be, a gardener should always have leftover tomatoes to share.
Kale, Snap Peas, Broccoli and Kohlrabi all in the same raised Bed
Well actually it's the 9th, but I really meant to do this yesterday! Wow, the weather in the Pacific NW is finally starting to feel like spring. Most of the garden is planted, just trying to stagger my plantings now so I don't end up with everything ready to pick at once.
Here is the list of the Vegetables I am growing this summer:
- Early Green Broccoli
- Buttercrunch Lettuce
- Maxibel Filet green beans
- Fortex Pole Beans
- Zephyr Yellow Squash
- Eder Kohlrabi
- Sugar Ann Bush Snap Peas
- Spicy Mesclun mix
- Bunching Green Onions
- Lacinato Kale (see the picture below)
How I plant my Tomatoes
I plant all my tomatoes deep so just the top is sticking out of the dirt, and then I cut a length of cardboard toilet paper roll and surround the stem to act as a cutworm collar. I add a mixture of steer manure, lime, bonemeal, worm castings and organic fertilizer to a 1 foot planting hole and mix with a shovel before placing the tomato plant in the whole. Water well with a B-12 Starter fertilizer to reduce transplant shock and your tomatoes are off to a great start!
Here in the Pacific NW, zone 7-8 with our sometimes cold and wet spring weather, we need to help out our tomatoes a little. I use Wall-O-Waters around most of my tomato plants. I think they do help force an earlier harvest. Early varieties planted around the 15th of April will usually give me a few tomatoes the first week in July. I have picked tomatoes as early as June 20th, but that is pretty rare.
I get my Tomatoe plants mostly from Millennium Farms
in Ridgefield, Washington. Mike Stucky has been a great resource for me over the years. Millenium Farms always has a nice selection of heirloom tomato varieties, plus they have lovely fresh eggs.
I was able to pick up some Stupice plants and I also am trying out a new grape tomato called "Jelly Bean".
2009 Tomato Varieties
- Pineapple (my very favorite heirloom tomato) Large yellow tomato with a sunburst of red stripes inside, very sweet, lovely texture, not at all mealy.
- Brandy Boy
- Jelly Bean Red Grape ( new to me this year)
- Stupice, first to produce, last pick of the season
- Pruden's Purple, great heirloom flavor, earlier than Brandywine
- Goliath, new to me this year
- Sungold, also new to me this year, everyone I know raves about it.
My Lazy Tomatoes in their Wall-O-Waters
If you want to get technical the correct term is “Vermicompost” or Worm Castings. But really it’s just worm poop. Great stuff for your garden, full of micronutrients as well as the usual Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potash. Vermicompost adds organic material that helps to build your soil structure as well. It can be applied safely to all plants, it will not burn them. The nutrients in Worm castings are immediately available to your plants and don’t need to break down as some other organic fertilizers do. I did a search online to find a worm farmer in my area and found http://northwestredworms.com.
It was very reasonable cost wise to get some fresh worm poop, $5.00 for 5 gallons. You also get some baby worms and worm eggs that happen to be left behind with the castings. So as you add it to the garden you are building a future worm colony to improve your soil.