Tomato Time!

Friday, May 14th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Mother’s Day is the perfect time to give a gift of a living plant. Roses, lilacs, hanging fuchsias and ivy geraniums or even a delicate African Violet will be sure to please her.
    • Gladiolus make wonderful cut flowers throughout the summer. Plant some every two weeks for continuous blooms.
    • Plant the vegetable garden this month, but remember that late frosts can still nip tender young plants.
    • Colorful Gerberas with their large, daisy flowers are a standout in containers. Water them infrequently and give them plenty of sun for flowers all summer.
    • Wisterias are large, vigorous vines that are blooming right now with their long clusters of purple, pink or white fragrant flowers. Give them a strong arbor to climb on.

Delicious, Homegrown Tomatoes

There are still a few things in the world you cannot buy: one of them is the full flavor and juicy texture of a vine-ripened tomato. Perhaps this is why the tomato is the most widely grown vegetable in American gardens. There are varieties which will grow wherever there’s at least 6 or 8 hours of warm sunshine a day.

Admittedly, Willits isn’t the best tomato-growing area, but by choosing the right varieties for your situation, you can count on delicious, juicy tomatoes by late summer. We have a short growing season here because spring frosts can occur through May, and a killing frost usually arrives in October. In addition, the summer nights are generally cool, with temperatures often falling into the 40’s, which slows down the growth of warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers.

For these reasons, short-season varieties like ‘Early Girl’, ‘Champion’, ‘Heartland’, ‘La Roma’, and ‘Oregon Spring’ are popular. You can always try a few of the longer-season varieties like ‘Beefsteak’, ‘Beefmaster’, ‘Brandywine’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, and ‘Giuseppi’s Big Boy’ if you have a good, warm spot for them.

Then there are the midseason favorites like ‘Ace 55’, ‘Better Boy’, ‘Big Beef’, ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Park’s Whopper’. Planting several different types will give you lots of delicious fruit for fresh-eating and canning.

Tomatoes are divided into two types. Determinate varieties grow on strong, stocky bushes that don’t need staking. All the fruits on a plant ripen at about the same time, making these good canning tomatoes. ‘Ace 55’, ‘Celebrity’, ‘Homestead’, ‘Heartland’, ‘La Roma’, ‘Patio’, and ‘Oregon Spring’ are determinate varieties.

Most tomatoes grow on vines, and these varieties are called indeterminate, which means that they would keep growing indefinitely, if frost didn’t kill them. They need strong stakes or cages to hold the plants up off the ground.

For variety, be sure to include yellow and orange tomatoes in your garden. Many of them are low in acid, which some people prefer, and all of them are colorful in salads. ‘Golden Jubilee’ is the standard, low-acid tomato. But try ‘Lemon Boy’ for its bright, lemon-yellow fruit and ‘Hillbilly’ or ‘Pineapple’ for a red-and-yellow slicer that is sweet and fruity.

“Cherry” tomatoes are nice in salads. Try ‘Yellow Pear’, an heirloom variety with small, pear-shaped fruit, and ‘Sun Gold’, a golden cherry-type with delicious flavor. ‘Black Cherry’ is sweet and rich-flavored, and ‘Juliet’ and ‘Jelly Bean’ have grape-shaped fruits with sweet flavor.

One of the most common tomato problems is “blossom end rot.” It leaves a hard, brown splotch on the bottom of the fruit. It is caused by sudden changes in soil moisture, or lack of calcium. Watch your watering practices and be sure to throw a handful of bone meal in the bottom of each hole at planting time.

Tomatoes are subject to two serious diseases: Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilt. They cause the leaves to yellow and drop off from the bottom up. The best way to avoid problems is to “rotate your crops” by planting your tomatoes in a different part of the garden each year. If you have had trouble in the past, look for disease-resistant varieties, designated by the letters V and F after the variety name.

Try planting 3 or 4 different varieties of tomatoes this year. Plant mostly the “tried and true” varieties and then try something new. You just might find that perfect tomato this year.

It’s Potato Time

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Spring vegetables love cool, moist weather and don’t mind a little frost. Set out lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, spinach and Swiss chard starts now.
    • Plant potatoes! St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day to plant potatoes, so the season is upon us now.
    • Sweet peas, with their memorable fragrance, can be planted now from nursery starts or seeds for wonderful bouquets later this spring.
    • Thin raspberry canes to 4-6 inches apart. Cut back remaining canes to 3 feet tall.
    • Apple trees are still available as bare-root trees, but only for a short while longer. Start your orchard now!

Home Grown Potatoes

The versatile and nutritious potato has been a staple crop for hundreds of years. Native to the Andes mountains of South America, the early European explorers brought the first potatoes home to Europe in the 1500’s. Ireland became the first country to adopt them wholeheartedly partly because potatoes were so well-suited to their cool climate. Irish settlers brought them to America in the early 1700’s, and they eventually became an important vegetable here as well.

Potatoes grow from other potatoes. You can plant a whole, small potato or a piece of a larger one to grow a new plant. The potato you plant is called a “seed” potato. A potato has several slightly recessed, dormant buds or “eyes” on the surface. When conditions are right these eyes will sprout, whether the potatoes are in the ground or in the kitchen cupboard. When planted in the ground, these sprouts develop into plants.

As the potato plant grows, it develops new potatoes above the original seed potato. This starts to happen about six weeks after planting. When the plants flower, the first “new” potatoes are usually ready to harvest. Once the foliage starts to wither and die back, the tubers will be full-grown.

Potatoes should be planted as soon as the soil has dried out enough to turn it. Potatoes like cool weather, especially when the tubers start forming. The best crops are produced when the daytime temperature is in the 60°-65°F range. When the temperature goes over 84°, tuber production stops.

Potatoes can also be grown in large containers. Fill the container about one third full with potting soil. Put the seed potatoes on top of the soil, spaced about 6 inches apart, and at least 4 inches away from the sides of the container. Then cover them with two inches of potting soil.

When the plants reach 6 inches tall, add two or three inches of potting soil, covering the lower leaves of the plants. Repeat this every time the plants reach a height of 6 inches above the soil, until the soil is 2 inches from the top of the container. Try to keep the soil evenly moist through the growing season.

It is best to plant certified, disease-free potatoes sold at nurseries. About eight to ten pounds of seed potatoes will plant a 100-foot row and yield 50 to 100 pounds of potatoes.

Early varieties will do best in our climate, so that they mature before the summer heat. Red LaSoda is a bright red, round potato that is good for boiling and potato salads. Red Pontiac has a thin reddish skin and crisp white flesh, and is an all-purpose potato that does well in heavy soils. Red Gold is a high-yielding, red potato with yellow flesh that is excellent boiled.

Yukon Gold is a round, light-skinned, yellow-fleshed potato with a buttery flavor. Yellow Finn is a delicious, yellow-fleshed tuber that is good for boiling or baking. California White has smooth white skin and smooth, creamy flavor that makes a great potato salad.

Russet Burbank is the familiar Idaho baking potato with a heavy brown skin that is excellent baked. All Blue has deep blue skin and flesh that is blue all the way through. It is novel but fine flavored and can be served in different ways but is particularly attractive in salads.

Plant your favorite varieties now, and look forward to those delicious, home-grown flavors.