Tomato Tips From a Commercial Grower

Nathan Hanath and his parents own and operate one of the nicest family farms that I have ever visited.  Magnolia Hill Farm is located just west of Brenham off Highway 290.  They have been filling the stomachs and freezers of Washington County residents with fresh, local, organic produce for the past 32 years.  While Magnolia grows all types of produce, their absolute best selling crop is tomatoes.  Last year, the farm sold 2300 pounds in the spring season and almost that many in the fall.

Magnolia-Hill-Farm-Sign

Magnoli Hill Farm of Brenham has been producing high quality, organic produce for 32 years.

Nathan and I are both members of our local volunteer fire department.  Several of our members are gardeners and the talk at our meetings often turns to vegetable production.  Our little fire department has lots of hobby gardeners who grow tomatoes; and they grow them well.  However, Nathan is the only one of our group that actually makes a considerable part of his living growing them.  Since Nathan depends on his tomatoes to help pay his bills I asked him if he would share some of the things he does to consistently produce almost two tons of tomatoes each and every year.

Grow in Good Soil – Nathan has a 20,000 sq ft bed that has been producing vegetables 12 months a year for the past 32 years.  That is incredible.  He has been able to keep his bed healthy by constantly replenishing it with compost.

Magnolia Hill Farm produces almost a ton of succulent, organic tomatoes every season

Magnolia Hill Farm produces almost a ton of succulent, organic tomatoes every season

Grow Healthy Transplants – Nathan grows over 300 tomato plants each year.  He grows between 10 and 12 nematode resistant determinate or semi-determinate varieties.  He starts his seeds in a commercial mix in January and then again in June.  He starts his seeds in little foam cups and then bumps them up to bigger containers after about 21 days.  He keeps his starts in shallow trays and waters them from the bottom with a solution of “Fish and Poop”.  Some of his favorite varieties include Amelia, BHN1021, Celebrity, Celebration, Carnival, Santa Belle, Top Gun, Phoenix, Tasty Lee and Tycoon.  While these are his favorites he encourages you to try his methods on whatever varieties work best for you.

Fish&Poop

Give your transplants a boost by feeding them with a solution of a soluble organic fertilizer like “Fish & Poop”

Plant Late – Resist the urge to plant early.  Tomatoes grow best in warm soils.  Grow big healthy transplants and do not put them in the ground until the third week of March.  Plant them deep to encourage a large root ball

Fertilize – Each year Nathan has a soil sample done on his beds and each year he gets the same results.  The rich organic soil he has built is perfect to slightly high in all nutrients except nitrogen.  Nathan believes that many gardens are nitrogen deficient because growing plants use so much and rain, heat and tilling all allow it to leach from the soil.  To make up for low nitrogen Nathan works “Sweet Green” into his tomato beds before planting.  Sweet Green (11-0-4) is an organic fertilizer that contains dried cane molasses and beet molasses.  Because of its high nitrogen content Sweet Green is marketed as a lawn fertilizer.  However, the high nitrogen levels of the fertilizer make it an excellent supplement for the organic garden.

fabric-mulch

Nathan use heavy mil landscape fabric to mulch his tomatoes (and cabbage shown here). Be sure to cover it in a heavy layer of hay or wood chips when temperatures begin to rise

Mulch – Keep your beds as weed free as possible.  They rob your plants of nutrients and they attract pests.  Nathan uses landscape fabric to suppress weeds.  While the fabric alone is great to help warm the soil in March and early April, you will need to cover it with a thick layer of mulch once the temperatures start climbing.

Calcium – Blossom End Rot is caused by a calcium deficiency.  Prevent it by spraying them weekly with Nutri-Cal.  Nutri-Cal is a calcium supplement that contains nitrogen.  The supplemental calcium will prevent blossom end rot and the nitrogen will give your plants a little boost to keep them healthy and productive up until July.

Nathan-Hanath

If you are passing through Brenham on 290 be sure and stop at Magnolia Hill Farm. Nathan loves to visit about all of the wonderful things they are doing on the farm

If you are going to be passing through Brenham on 290, be sure and stop in at Magnolia Hill Farm.  They have outstanding produce available every month of the year and they stock a huge selection of his mother’s famous preserves and pickles.  In addition to produce, Nathan collects and breeds daylilies.  He has over 900 varieties for sale from March through June.  The farm is truly a sight to see when all of those daylilies are in bloom and Nathan loves to visit with you about them.

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Nathan has over 900 varieties of daylilies available for purchase at Magnolia Hill Farm

Nathan has over 900 varieties of daylilies available for purchase at Magnolia Hill Farm

Week 45 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

Well, turns out all of our recent rains did not ruin my tomatoes!  Last night I brought in 6 pounds of Celebrity, Stupice and Black From Tula.  Some of them were a little cracked but they were in mostly great condition.  Unfortunately, the cucumbers did not fare as well.  Ever since the big rains of a couple of weeks ago they have shut down and the vines have begun to wither.  I think the combination of high moisture and unseasonably warm temperatures turned on the nematodes.  I will find out tomorrow when I pull them up.

Most of those crops that we planted back in August are ready for harvest.  I am going to focus this week’s tips on the harvest and preservation of the some of the crops that are now in the vegetable garden.  On another note, don’t forget that right now is a great time to plant trees and shrubs.  It is also a great time to over seed your lawn with rye grass.

Dried tomatoes are packed with flavor.  Slowly dry tomates in a 200 degree oven, spinkle with sea salt and drizzle with olive oil.  Anzing flavor and they will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Dried tomatoes are packed with flavor. Slowly dry tomates in a 200 degree oven, spinkle with sea salt and drizzle with olive oil. Anzing flavor and they will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.

  • Harvest fall tomatoes – It is supposed to drop into the 40 next Monday. Since tomatoes do not like temperatures below 50 pull any that are beginning to show color.  I would not pull the green tomatoes yet.  I leave my green tomatoes on the vine until the night before the first freeze.  By doing this I have had years where I was still harvesting vine ripened tomatoes up to the week before Christmas.
  • Harvest squash- I think we are still a couple of weeks away from the first freeze. Be aware that all squash, both summer and winter types, are extremely cold sensitive.  Do not let these crops stay on the vine when a freeze is expected.  I use my fall “summer squash” squash to make what we call “Chow Chow”.  I’ve heard it called other things but it is basically squash relish.  When it gets a little cooler, nothing is better than Chow Chow with those black eyed peas that you still have in the freezer.  Here is a simple and tasty Chow Chow recipe if you want to give it a try:  http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/yellow-summer-squash-relish.

    I love making (and eating) homemade pickles.  There are tons of great recipes out there on the internet.

    I love making (and eating) homemade pickles. There are tons of great recipes out there on the internet.

  • Harvest cucmbers – Before my vines shut down we harvested enough cucumbers to make 10 pints of pickles. Pickles take a little work and a few supplies to make but they are easy to make and taste so much better than store bought.  To me, potato salad, tuna salad and chicken salad aren’t worth eating if they are not made with home made pickles. Here is the recipe my wife follows (kind of) to make our pickles:  http://www.food.com/recipe/claussen-kosher-pickle-copycat-249520
  • Harvest beets – When I tell people that I love beets they usually look at me funny. Because of this I am getting much enjoyment seeing TV chef use the humble beet in many of their very fancy dishes.  While I have not tried them roasted yet I do love them pickled.  Harvest beets when they are about the size of a ping pong ball for best for best flavor and texture.  You can harvest them even smaller than that if you are going to roast them.  Check out my post, Growing Beets, to learn a simple way to turn you beets into so amazing refrigerator pickles!

    Read my article on growing beets and see how my family has made pickled beets for the past 97 years!

    Read my article on growing beets and see how my family has made pickled beets for the past 97 years!

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!