2013 Garden Experiment-Companion Planting of Marigolds and Tomatoes

Each year I like to try some kind of experiment in the garden.  I truly believe that the best way to become a better gardener is to try new things.  This year I will be putting one of the most commonly talked about organic pest control methods to the test.  I am going to try a companion planting of tomatoes and marigolds to keep the stink bugs away.

One of my "porch grown" marigolds is about ready to bloom

One of my “porch grown” marigolds is about ready to bloom

If you believe everything you read, then you no doubt believe that marigolds are miracle plants.  It is truly amazing to me how many articles/posts there are on the internet making incredible claims about their bug fighting abilities. One of the more recent things I read swears that all you have to do is plant a marigold in each corner of your garden and all of your bug problems are solved.  While there may be some truth to the marigold’s bug fighting abilities, I really don’t believe they are going to very successful at riding my tomatoes of their stink bugs.

The above marigold two days after opening

The above marigold two days after opening

Now don’t get me wrong.  I really want my experiment to work.  In fact, I have gone out of my way to give the marigolds as much of a chance as possible.  Instead of trying to plant four plants in the corners of my garden, I am going to completely surround the tomatoes in marigolds.  For this experiment, I grew about 100 marigold plants from seed in my new back porch seed starting rack.  Once the little plants got up to about four inches tall I used them to line the triangular beds of my potager.  I planted the starts six inches in from edge and spaced them at six inches.  It took about 20 plants to line each bed.

My first "bug fighting" marigold of the year

My first “bug fighting” marigold of the year

Once the flowers were in, I planted the tomatoes.  For this experiment I am using romas.  Romas grow on nice, neat determinate bushes.  My thought is, those nice, compact determinate bushes will give all of those pesky bugs fewer places to hide.  I am also hoping that their relatively open form will allow whatever magic bug fighting qualities the marigolds possess to waft freely deep into the bush where the bugs are hiding.

Holidays mean free labor.  My daughter jessie helps me plant the marigolds for my experiment on Easter Sunday

Holidays mean free labor. My daughter jessie helps me plant the marigolds for my experiment on Easter Sunday

I apologize a little about my attitude here.  I really, really, really want the marigolds to run all of the bugs off.  However, I am very skeptical.  Even though I am doubtful of the marigold’s bug fighting abilities, I do truly expect they will keep any nematode issues at bay.  It is a proven, scientific fact that marigold roots secrete alpha-terthienyl.  This compound has insecticidal, nematodial and anti-viral properties.  It also stops nematode eggs from hatching.

I love my larkspur.  This has absolutely nothing to do with the experiment but it is lovely and i just wanted to include it!

I love my larkspur. This has absolutely nothing to do with the experiment but it is lovely and i just wanted to include it!

My last big garden experiment was growing potatoes in a box.  That one was a complete failure.  I had very high hopes for that one when the experiment started.  For this one, my expectations are a bit lower.  I expect to have almost aero nematode problems but I really don’t expect the marigolds to be very successful at keeping the bugs away.  Only time will tell.  Check back at the end of the season to see how it goes.

Red & Green – The Colors of Fall

This weekend was undoubtedly one of my top weekends of the year.  The weather was unbelievable.  My wife and I took advantage of this weather to go and help my buddy Greg Grant harvest sugar cane. Then, on the way home we stopped at the Sale Barn in Crockett and shared steaks with old friends and watched the end of the best game of the year.  Yes, I am talking about the Aggies and their totally awesome victory over the Number 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.  Whoop!!!!

Sally and Greg cutting sugar cane

After church on Sunday, Sally made us a fabulous pot of peas that we had frozen back in the summer.  She also made a pot of pinto beans straight off the vine.  To me, there is nothing better than fresh beans and peas from the garden.

Fresh picked pinto beans

After lunch we headed out to the garden to harvest.  Since it is supposed to be in the thirties this week I wanted to get as much in as I could just in case.  I picked pinto beans, acorn squash, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, cayenne peppers, pimento peppers and tons of tomatoes.  I am so glad that I nursed those tomato plants through the summer.  They have been so productive in the past couple of weeks.  As I put all of these peppers, tomatoes and squash in an old bread bowl, I was taken by how beautiful all of the reds and greens were.  I know that to tree watchers, the colors of fall are reds, yellows and oranges.  However, to us that garden, I am convinced that red and green are the real colors of fall.

The colors of the fall garden

After our harvest we planted three short rows of Louisiana Blue Ribbon sugar cane that I got from Greg.  While planting the sugar cane my wife discovered the biggest horn worm I have ever seen.   This thing was as wide as my hand and as thick as my thumb.  He was happily stripping what was left of the foliage on one of my vitex.  After a few pictures, he became part of my garden forever.  We also planted a ton of spider lily bulbs that he gave us as well.  I put them all in a single small bed by my backdoor.  I now cannot wait for next fall.  This bed is going to be spectacular.  Thanks Greg!

The biggest horn worm I have ever seen. Since it is deer season and the taxidermists are working overtime, I thought about getting this guy mounted!

Yes this weekend had everything that makes life worth living and celebrating; great friends, great food and great weather that allowed for great gardening.

The corn crib at Greg’s parents house

See MOH on TV This Weekend!

Nine months ago, the folks at KLRU’s Central Texas Gardener (CTG) came and filmed my potager for an upcoming fall gardening segment on CTG. Well, that “upcoming time” is finally here!  I am so excited to have this opportunity and I want to say a great big thank you to Linda Lehmusvirta and crew for all of the hard work they did on this.  Click on the link below to watch it now.

Central Texas Gardener now airs on five Texas public television stations and is coming soon to New Mexico. Check the station link listed below for the most recent local schedule.

KLRU / 18-1, Austin

  • noon & 4:00 p.m. Saturdays
  • 9:00 a.m. Sundays (repeat)

KLRU-HD, Austin

  • noon & 4:00 p.m. Saturdays
  • 9:00 a.m. Sundays (repeat)

KLRU-Q / 18-3, Austin

  • 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays
  • 7:00 a.m. Wednesdays
  • 9:30 a.m. Fridays

KAMU, College Station

  • 5:00 p.m. Saturdays

KNCT, Killeen

  • 1:30 p.m. Saturdays
  • 5:30 p.m. Sundays

KLRN, San Antonio

  • 11 a.m. Saturdays

KWBU, Waco

  • 3:30 p.m. Saturdays
  • 12:30 p.m Thursdays

KPBT, Midland (Permian Basin)

  • 12:30 p.m. Mondays

KBDI, Denver

  • 2:00 p.m. Sundays
  • 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays

2012 Fall Gardening Tips

Right now it is so hot outside I work up a sweat just walking to the garden.  Photo by Heather White

August 1 is the official kick off date for fall gardening in my part of Texas.  In reality, I actually start working on my fall garden around the middle of July.  Like most of us in zones 7-9, my tomatoes are basically done by July 4th.  When your spring tomatoes stop setting fruit you have two choices.  Pull ‘em up and replace with new plants in August, or trim your exisiting vines up, give them a little shade, a few nutrients, and wait for the temperatures to drop.

In my opinion, the best way to ensure a fall tomato harvest is to keep your spring plants alive through July and August. These mature plants will flower and bloom much faster than new plants put out in August.

Ever since the November night that I was late to my anniversary party because I was building cold frames out of old windows around the tomato plants I planted in August, I have been in the tomato trimming group.  Little tomato plants planted in the 100 degree August heat will not always produce red ripe tomatoes before our first freeze.  Because of this, I try and keep my spring tomato plants alive through July and August.  To keep my spring tomato plants alive, I prune them by about a third to a half in mid-July.  I then add a thick layer of composted chicken manure, mulch and put up some sort of shade.  For me, this has been the best way to ensure a harvest of a few fall tomatoes.

While I am out trimming tomatoes I also do a good garden clean up.  July is when I pull down any vines on my trellises that have stopped producing.  This can included beans, gourds, cucumbers, cantelopes and squash.  I also pull up any old mulch that is still lying on top of the ground.  I take all of this dead vegation directly to the burn pile.  Many of those bugs that caused you so much grief earlier in the year are sleeping and laying eggs in the mulch and plant liter under your plants.   Because of this, removing it and burning it twice a year is a good pest control measure.

Put out a fresh layer of compost on your clean Fall beds. Animal manures like cow manure and chicken manure are a little higher and nitrogen than the palnt types. I use these to give a boost to my newly trimmed tomatoes.

After my beds and trellises are clean, I amend the soil.  I add about 3″ of whatever compost is on sale to the tops of my beds.  I don’t usually till this compost in.  I actually kind of use it as mulch.  The compost will eventually get worked in when I plant or it rains or through the natural processes of all of the tiny little animals in the soil that feed off of the compost.

Finally, to conserve moisture, cool remaining roots and protect all of those micro-organisms in the soil I add a fresh deep layer of hay mulch.  If you mulch with hay you need to be careful.  Alot of herbicides that farmers use to control weeds in their hay crops are very persistent.  There can be enough residue is some hays (particularly bermuda hays like coastal, Tifton and Jiggs) to kill your new plants that are trying to germinate or become established.  I typically use rice straw as my mulch.  In my experience rice hay has no residual herbicides and very few weeds.

A large $70 roll of rice hay will supply me with all of the mulch I need for an entire year of gardening

After doing all of this prep, I spend a lot of time on the internet figuring out what I am going to plant and when I am going to plant it.  This year, I found the best planting guide/calendar I have ever seen.  This guide is on the Austin Organic Gardeners  website.  (they also have one for herbs).  Instead of a list of dates, this calendar is a graphical representative of the entire year.  It’s easy to read format allows you to quickly look up any plant you want.  The headers show every month broken down into weeks and the rows are an alphabetical listing of all of the vegetables we can grow in this area.

This very good planting guide is on the Austin Organic Gardeners website. This graphical guide is the easiest to use that I have found. They website has one for herbs as well.

My grandmother used to say you could find something nice to say about anything.  So, I am going to say something nice about Texas summers.  Even though it is 106 in the hot Texas sun right now, that sun is what is going to allow me to grow some of my favorite vegetables over the next six months.  I know it is hot out there, but now is the ideal time to get that fall garden going.  All of the sweat of July and August will pay off big in September and October.  So suck it up and get busy.  You will forget all about how hot July was when you are OUTSIDE in your garden harvesting broccoli, cauliflower, collards, and cabbage in January!

Planting the 2012 Spring Potager

March 15 is the ultimate go date in the Zone 9 garden.  At this point there is an almost 0% chance of a freeze.  Because of this you can now plant just about everything.  I have to admit, I am a little behind the curve this year.  The rain, while much needed and much appreciated, has seemed to come at times that have interfered with my time off.  Who would believe that after last’s year’s drought, I would be delayed in my planting by rain?

A "found" Cherokee rose that I propogated from cuttings now spills over the fence of my potager

As soon as it dries up a little, I am going to plant the potager.  I love selecting and designing with the plants that are going to go into the potager.  Each year I replant it gets a little easier.  I learn which plants do well and I also figure out their size and scale when mature.

A lot of my outside beds are now filled with perennials.  I have lots of salvia, roses and dianthus.  I also have lots of herbs like rosemary and Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida).  There are also Egyptian Walking Onions, larkspur and hollyhocks.  The only thing that will need to be pulled this spring is the garlic.  In the open spaces in these outside beds I am going to plant several herbs.  On a recent visit to Texas Specialty Cut Flowers, my wife bought several varieties of peppers.  I have also grown some pimento peppers and Napoleon Sweet Bell peppers from seed.  These will go toward the back of the beds with a few varieties of basil that we have saved from seed.  Along the front, we will be planting parsley, oregano, lavender and thyme.

Salvia and daiseys in last years potager

The center beds are going to be all for vegetables.  The look of the triangular beds will not change dramatically.  As a “spiller”, I will replace the spinach and lettuce with Contender Bush beans.  Beans are a pretty quick crop so when they fade around June 1, I will pull them up and replant with purple hulled black-eyed peas. For my “filler” I will divide the shallots that are there now and leave a few behind the beans so they can divide for replanting in the fall.  Finally, I will plant Black From Tula heirloom tomatoes that I have grown from seed as my “thriller” on the trellises in the center of the beds.

The last bed in the potager is the center diamond shaped bed.  Right now it is full of byzantine gladiolus.  Once these bloom and fade I will plant a lovely red okra.  The okra needs to be planted in June anyway so this work out well for me.  I selected okra for this bed because it grows a pretty, nice, tall and structural plant.  Okra is in the hibiscus family.  Because of this, it produces very large and lovely flowers that look just like hibiscus.

The hibiscus like flowers of okra

Right now is a great time to be outside.  The martins have returned, the bluebonnets are in full bloom and the fruit trees are in bud.  Why not get outside this week and plant your garden?  Below is a list of some of the veggies that you can plant now.

Five Must Grow Tomatoes by William D. Adams

I am truly blessed to be able to call many of the top horticulturists in the country friend.  My work at A&M has exposed me to so many people that are truly experts in their fields of study.  I call these people “Masters of Horticulture”.  I started this blog because I was so inspired by these experts and all they were teaching me that I wanted to be able to document it and share it with others.

Today’s guest author, William (Bill) D. Adams, is one of these Masters of Horticulture.  He and I became aquainted through a theater group we both support.  Soon after we met, Bill read a little article that I had written for Hort Update.  He encouraged me to write more and even acted as my sponsor for the Garden Writer’s Association.  The rest as they say is history.

Bill spent 31 years honing his craft as an extension specialist in Harris County.  Upon retirement he set out to learn everything there was to know about the tomato.  His efforts have resulted in the publication of the “Texas Tomato Lover’s Handbook“.  This best selling, comprehensive work tells you everything you need to know so you can grow the best tomatoes possible in the difficult and unpredictable Texas climate.  As you will see when you read his book, Bill’s extensive research (which means growing EVERY tomato he mentions) has made him the UNDISPUTED tomato king of Texas.  Because of this, I am thrilled to share this article about the best tomatoes for your Texas garden from the King himself.  Enjoy!

Five Must Grow Tomatoes by William D. Adams

Tomato varieties come and go but the ones with great flavor, a juicy, melting flesh and healthy, easy-to-grow vines are the ones we treasure.  Narrowing the list to five is almost impossible for a true tomato lover so forgive me if I throw in a few alternates.

Medium to medium-large slicer—a tomato that will make you burger zing, your BLT complete and your neighbors envious.  Champion Hybrid is still at the top in this category but you could make do with Celebrity, Talladega or Tycoon.  Any of these tomato varieties makes the grade when it comes to nice acidity (though not just sour), complex sweet tomato flavors and a melting to firm flesh (no grainy or brick hard tomatoes in this bunch).

Here is a pic of Bill in his 2010 trial garden. He grew, tested, compared and documented 89 varieties that year!

Medium size and so scrumptious you will lick the juice from the plate.  Momotaro, a Japanese pink tomato was the hit of the tomato patch in 2010 (one of eighty nine varieties in the authors test garden-only tried about 50 varieties in 2011).  This tomato had acidity, sweet tomato flavor and a wonderful melting texture.  It’s as good as any heirloom with less cracking and more production.

Persimmon is an heirloom that my wife Debbi insists I grow every year.  It is a big, orangery-red, persimmon colored tomato that will lap over a burger.  Total yield isn’t that great but we don’t care.  This year we are growing it grafted on hybrid rootstock to see if we can produce more of these delicious beauties.

Plant one of the Black tomatoes or a yellow, green or white one just to be different.  The black tomatoes—often referred to Black Russian tomatoes are very tasty—they are often described as “having Smokey undertones”.  They also have some acid zip and a depth of flavor that the most accomplished wine connoisseur will be challenged to describe.  Recent favorites include Cherokee Purple, Black from Tula and Black Sea Man.  The plum-shaped Nyagous has been a hit in previous years.  Green Zebra is refreshing, Flamme is an orange “golf ball” with lip smacking flavor and Snow White cherry is sweet and mild (best when pale yellow).

Cherry tomatoes are typically delicious but one of the best is Sweet Chelsea.  Sweet 100, Sweet Million, Rite Bite, BHN 624, Sun Cherry and Sungold will also wake up your taste buds.  Don’t set out too many cherries or you’ll be picking fruit every night until dark.

Watering in several “Black From Tula” seedlings that I started from seed.

The $70 Vegetable Garden

I recently read the 2009 survey results of the gardening world by the National Gardening Association (http://www.garden.org/).  One of the stats that I found very interesting was the amount of money the average person reportedly spends on their food garden.  According to the NGA survey, the average vegetable gardener only spends $70 per year on their garden.  Now I realize that I am not the average gardener, but $70?  Really?  I spend an average of $30 per month on just compost.  So this got me thinking.  Could I create a vegetable garden (on paper) with just $70 worth of supplies?

There really is nothing better than home grown tomatoes

To do this, I had to make some assumptions.  Using the NGA data, I decided to be average.  According to their report the average vegetable garden in the US is 600 square feet.  Using this I decided to have a 21’ X 30’ (I know that is 630 square feet, but go with me) virtual garden.  This garden would contain 4-30 foot rows.  Each row would be 3 feet wide and there would be 3 feet wide walk paths between the rows.  In this space I would plant the Top Ten vegetables grown in US gardens (based on results from the same survey).  Those vegetables are tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, beans, carrots, summer squash, onions, hot peppers, lettuce and peas.  I also assume that this $70 experiment only covers the spring garden.  Finally, since I garden organically, my $70 garden will use organic principals as well.

Below are the four rows that I have designed.

Row 1 –English peas the 10th most grown veggie in the American garden.  Normally I plant them in January.  For this garden, I am going to recommend putting them on Feb. 1.  A little late here, but this is just an experiment and they will probably still produce when planted this late (especially if you live north of Dallas).  Carrots can go in at the same time.  Beans are a little less cold hardy so I am going to virtually plant them Feb. 15.

All of these veggies will be planted by seeds.  The beans and peas will be spaced at 6” and I will get three rows in each three foot bed.  To plant this many beans and peas, you will need to buy two packs of seed for each.  I selected “Contender” bush beans from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  They were $2 per pack so the beans will cost $4.  I found 100 “Green Arrow Peas” from Seed Savers Exchange for $2.75. The carrots will be planted in a staggered grid plan at 4” spacing.  You will need 2 packs of seed for this many carrots.  Since the seeds are so tiny it is difficult to get just one seed per hole.  I chose “Danver” from Seed Savers Exchange.  The two packs were $5.50.

Row 2 –Around here, we plant our onion sets in November or December.  For this garden, we are going to assume that we planted 300 10-15Y onions in November.  They are stagger planted 6” apart in three rows that are 20’ long.  This would require two bunches of sets and would have set us back about $6.  Now 300 is a lot of onions.  However, I love them and they keep well so I also plant a lot.  I planted the onions in the middle of the row.  This leaves two 5’ beds on either side.

In both of these beds I am planting lettuce from seed.  I love lettuce and there are a ton of varieties.  All do well in the cool season so you can plant whatever variety you choose.  I always plant two different varieties of leaf lettuce.  To plant beds this size, you will need about four packs of seeds.  At $1.50 each, that is another $6.

Row 3 – This whole row is dedicated to cucurbits.  30 feet is a lot of room for our squash and cucumbers,  especially since they are both so productive.  Each of these plants need about 3’ of space.  I will plant six  hills of squash (2-yellow crook neck, 2 zucchini, and two patty pan).  I will then plant four trellises of Poinsett cucumbers.  I grow these every year and they are awesome!  They are very productive and are great as slicers and for pickling.  I build thee-legged trellises for them out of cedar limbs.  Four trellises will allow us to have 12 vines.  This will be more than enough.  For this row we will be using 4 packets of seeds at $2.50 each so the whole row will cost just $5.

Row 4 –Tomatoes are the stars of most summer gardens.  They are the number one grown vegetable in the home garden. For the last row of our gardenwe will buy and plant six tomatoes, two Jalepenos and two Bell pepper plants.   I usually buy plants because it is much easier than planting from seed in January and then nursing to April.  I always plant my tomatoes and peppers the first week in April.  I usually make sure and plant at least two plants of each tomato variety that I select.  My favorite for slicing tomato is an heirloom called “Black From Tulia”.  I also usually plant a cherry variety and a grape variety.  We also love Romas so we grow a yellow variety called appropriately “Yellow Roma”.  I do not have a favorite Bell or Jalepeno variety.  I typically plant whatever they have at the nursery.  I buy well established tomatoes in quart containers.  Each of these usually cost about $4 a piece so you are going to have to part with $24 for this row.  I buy peppers in 4’ pots and they are usually about $1.5 a piece.

My little experiment has proven that you can have an average garden with the ten most common plants for under $70.  Including the 8.25% Texas sales tax, my total came out to $64.13.  That leaves enough for 5 bags of compost (which I highly recommend).  I know this doesn’t account for water or mulch or about a million others things you can spend your gardening dollars on, but it does prove that if you have decent soil you can have a very nice garden for a small amount of money.  According to the NGA survey, this $70 garden will produce $600 dollars worth of food.  So, this garden is good for both your health and your pocket book!  February in Central Texas means it is time again to go outside and get dirty!  Happy gardening y’all!

P.S.  If gardening stats fire you up then you can read my full analysis of the results of the NGA survey in next issue of Texas Gardener.

A Garden Shower

Andrew and Bridget with their new container garden

Bridget O’Brien and Andrew Hoyt are getting married!  Bridget is the Tours Program Manager at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and her betrothed is an English teacher at the Christo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School in Houston.  To celebrate their upcoming nuptials, my daughter Heather and her friend Lindsey Smith threw them a “Garden Shower” this past weekend.  Now from what I gathered, a “Garden Shower” is much like any other bridal shower.  Invitations were sent, punch was made, cakes were baked and gifts were presented.  However, where this one differed was in the entertainment.  Now I have to admit, I have never actually been to a bridal shower before.  But, from what I am told, the entertainment usually takes the form of silly party games.  Not this one.  This shower, being garden themed, featured a very engaging, entertaining and educational garden speaker. 

If you haven’t guessed by now, that garden speaker was me.  While I am not really all that famous, I do love talking to others about gardening.   Most of the attendees were young museum professionals that have the desire to garden but are somewhat lacking in the space.  So, we covered several topics related to container gardening.  As one of Andrew and Bridget’s gifts, the group worked together to create a 15 gallon veggie/flower garden that they got to take home.  In that garden, they will be growing and harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers and marigolds. 

The yupneck explaining the finer points of plant selection

Most of the attendees are recent college graduates that work for non profits (translation-they are still poor), so we also talked quite a bit about plant selection and propagation.  My friends at A&M donated a very large coleus that we proceeded to chop up and turn into about 20 new plants.  Each guest got the opportunity to take cuttings and root them in their own 5” bio-degradable peat pot. 

The betrothed and a large portion of the Education Department of the MFAH. From left to right: Andrew Hoyt, Bridget O'Brien, Lindsey Smith, Sarah Wheeler, Margret Mims and Heather White

All in all, it was a lovely event.  We laughed, we learned and we gardened; a perfect afternoon!  I would like to thank everyone that came and say a special thank you to my daughter for inviting me to participate in this celebration.  Andrew and Bridget, I wish you all the best.  May your life and your garden be bountiful!

Garden Experiments

I love to experiment in my garden.  Every year, I grow something that I have never grown before or I try to grow an old stand-by in a new way.  This year, I am doing both.

My first experiment this year is potato boxes.  I am currently growing white potatoes (Kennebec) and new potatoes (La Soda) in wooden boxes that I “add to” as the potato plants grow.  According to the website that I found (http://www.re-nest.com/re-nest/gardening/how-to-grow-100-pounds-of-potatoes-in-4-square-feet-081760), these 2’ X 2’ boxes can yield about 100 pounds of potatoes each.  While I am a little skeptical of these numbers, I will let you know how accurate that estimate is in a few weeks. 

One of my two potato boxes

The process for this is pretty simple (see the drawing below).  Basically, make four corner posts 33” long ( I used 4X4’s).  Cut two 1X6’s 24” long and two more 25 ½ “ long.  Screw them to the corner posts.  Place your seed potatoes (I used 12 whole potatoes) in the bottom of the box and cover with soil (I used mushroom compost).  As the plants grow, keep covering with soil or compost so that no more than 6” to 12” of plant is showing.  As the planting area gets full of soil, add another row of 1X6’s and continue the process until the box has sides that are 33”.  Once the box is full and plants are coming out of the top, you can remove the bottom layer of 1X6 and harvest as you need. 

 So far, my experiment seems to be working just as it has was described.  The Kennebecs are doing great.  I already have three layers of 1X6 in place and I will probably have to add another this weekend.  The new potatoes had a slow start but they are beginning to take off now.  I can’t wait to finally weigh my harvest and report my results back to you.

 I am also trying an experiment with my tomatoes.  Normally, I plant my tomatoes in my potager.  However, since I have decided to grow mostly herbs and flowers in the potager, I moved my tomatoes to the row garden.  While visiting with my friend Bill Adams, I learned that he grows his tomatoes in pure mushroom compost.  Since Bill is a true Master of Horticulture and the undisputed Tomato King, I decided to follow his lead and do the same thing.   I took my Mantis tiller and dug a furrow about 9” deep.  I then took my tomatoes out of their pots and placed them in the bottom of the furrow.  Next, I back filled with the compost and watered them in.  I am supporting them with a cattle panel and I gave the whole area a thick layer of straw mulch.  So far, everything looks like it is doing great.  I planted the same varieties this year as last so I will have some ability to judge which method did the best.  (Check out Bill’s book “The Texas Tomato Lover’s Handbook -http://www.amazon.com/Handbook-AgriLife-Research-Extension-Service/dp/1603442391). 

In addition to these two “method” experiments, I am  growing three new vegetable varieties this year.  The first are daikon radishes that were given to me by blogging friend “The Gracelss Gaijin”.  Daikon is a staple of Asian cuisine and I can’t wait to try them.  I am also growing “Chinese cucumbers” that were given to me by my friend Emy Chen.  This variety of cucumber is supposed to have a very mild skin that makes it great for slicing.  Can’t wait.  My final “new veggie” for this year is the “Tigger Melon”. 

 

I got my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (http://rareseeds.com/shop/).  Tigger is a small melon with very sweet, white flesh.  These one pound melons have a great aroma and taste and are perfect for a single serving.  However, the most exciting thing about this melon is it’s orange and yellow stripped skin.  This heirloom has such a cute name and attractive wrapper that my wife had her second graders plant it in their school garden.  Check back in the summer to find out how these experiments went.

Green Strawberries (or fun with ethylene)

This picture of green strawberries is courtesy of gardenphotographs.com

 Have you ever purchased a green strawberry? We buy green bananas all the time.  Sometimes we even buy green tomatoes.  But why haven’t you ever bought a green strawberry?  

All fruits (and many vegetables and nuts) fall into two categories based on their ripening characteristics: climacteric or non-climacteric.  Climacteric fruits will continue to ripen after the fruit has left the plant.  Non-climacteric fruits stop the ripening process the minute they leave the plant.  That is why you have never bought a green strawberry.  A green strawberry will always be a green strawberry.  It will never turn red, it will never get juicy and it will never taste good.  Strawberries are the quintessential non-climacteric fruit. 

This chart from postharvest.ucdavis.edu shows how ethylene turns green bananas yellow

Bananas, on the other hand are the quintessential climacteric fruit.  Bananas are the most consumed fruit in America.  According to a 2006 report by the USDA, each American eats a whooping 25.14 pounds of bananas per year.  This is amazing when you think about how perishable bananas are and the distances they have to travel to get here (the top producer and exporter of bananas is India).  An understanding of the science behind this climacteric/non-climacteric thing is what allows us Americans to eat so many things that come from so far away.

Ripening is controlled by several variables.  One of these is ethylene.  When fruits start to ripen they produce ethylene.  Knowing this, we can hasten ripening by exposing the fruit to ethylene or we can slow down the ripening process by chilling the fruit (which suppresses ethylene production and is how they keep bananas fresh for so long). 

The last of the yupneck's 2010 tomatoes

O.K. I know you are thinking “This is a pretty cool horticultural fact and all, but what can I do with it?”  Well, it can help you save your fall tomato crop, that’s what.  Tonight, it is supposed to get down to 28 degrees at my house.  I am fairly certain this is going to finish off my fall tomatoes.  I have nursed them through two light freezes already.  Each time a little more of the foliage got burned and I had to cut it back.  Not much protecion left for the tomatoes that are still on the vine. So, tonight I am going home and picking what is left of my green tomatoes.  I will then take them in the house and put them in a brown paper bag with two or three ripe bananas.  I will fold the bag shut and leave it for three or four days.  When I open it up this weekend, I should have a bag full of red tomatoes!  The ethylene that is being released by the bananas will save my fall tomato crop!

Poinsettia grown by me in my Greenhouse Management course taught by a real Master of Horticulture, Dr. Terri Starman. Our poinsettia's were wrapped in brown paper sleeves for shipment.

Here is another useful ethylene tip.  If you bring home flowers or potted plants this holiday season that are wrapped in plastic or paper  (this is common with poinsettias), un-wrap them ASAP.  You see, those plants are producing ethylene as well.  The wrappings will trap the ethylene and your flowers/plants will drop their leaves/petals pretty quickly if you do not get them out of their protective coverings.

Now that you have the facts about ethylene you can use the handy chart below to determine which fruits you can buy while they are still “green” and which fruits will never get ripe for you once they leave the plant.

Climacteric Non-Climacteric
Apples Bell Pepper
Apricots Blackberries
Avocados Blue Berries
Bananas Lemons
Cantaloupes Limes
Figs Oranges
Nectarines Grapefruits
Peaches Raspberries
Pears Summer Squash
Persimmons Egg Plant
Plums Pumpkin
Tomatoes Strawberries
Watermelon  Grapes