Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tomato Cages

Caging tomatoes makes it sound like tomatoes are wild and ferocious beasts. But as I said in the previous post, you really can grow tomatoes. It isn't rocket science or brain surgery. My husband prefers "caging" tomatoes in the garden, but you don't need to do that. He likes to keep them up off the ground to produce a ripe, healthy fruit.

Check to see if the variety you are growing is a bush (determinate) or a free growing, vining tomato (indeterminate). The bush plant is a compact plant, but the vining tomato plant needs to be confined as it can spread out into the garden and grows tall needing substantial support.

You can purchase cages at a nursery/greenhouse center, but hubby likes to make his own because they are very sturdy and can hold a large plant. He uses 4 x 6 concrete re-enforcement wire and encircles the plant with it. He stakes the wire to help hold it securely so that when the winds hit, it won't blow over. Be sure that the openings in the wire are large enough so that you can get your hand in to the plant to harvest tomatoes and big enough to withdraw your hand holding onto that huge, ripe, juicy tomato....mmmm, yummy.

I can just envision this treat in my salad. And, don't you know, there is no taste comparison to a ripened-on-the-vine tomato to a hot house tomato. The vine tomato wins every time. I guess that is what keeps gardeners going knowing what tasty rewards we get at harvest time.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Terrific Tomatoes

Terrific, tantalizing, tasty tomatoes describe this juicy fresh fruit. But when thinking of planting tomatoes in the garden, people may describe them as terrifying, troubling, trying. Puh---leeze...Growing terrific tomatoes is not rocket science.
A tomato plant will thrive in a pot, in a small plot, or a field if it has lots of sunshine, water, and of course another necessity for living is well-drained soil. (People overlook the importance of a good growing medium, so I will always lecture on it whenever I get the chance...Don't dig up dirt from your yard and throw it in a pot to start or grow your tomatoes. Starting soil and garden soil in a bag is, excuse me, dirt cheap.)

Deciding on which tomato to grow is probably the most difficult step in the process. Do you want tons of little tomatoes for salads? Then choose the cherry or grape tomato. If you can't wait for the first tomato or you want to be the first on your block with a tomato, then plant Early Girl so that in about 45 days from transplanting to the garden, you will have one on your plate for lunch. (Do you like salt or sugar or nothing on your slices?)

Many of the old stand-bys like Rutgers, Beefsteak, Big Boy are the tastes you have grown up with. But there are so many more tomatoes available for you to experience. The newer tomatoes are resistant to disease, produce more fruit, and may be tastier. Try Tastee Lee and Fabulous.

I would also encourage you to shop at a garden center that actually labels the tomato plant with the variety name instead of a generic tag that says "Tomato." After the growing season make a note about each variety so you will know what you liked and didn't like by name. When you shop next year, select the varieties that performed well or tasted the best, etc. You can't do that if you only know that it was "Tomato."

Pay attention to the length of time it takes to produce a ripe tomato from your plants... Early Girl can be ready in July in our area, but some plants won't produce an edible fruit until September. Read the information on the tags to help you have a successful and satisfying experience in gardening.

So far my husband is planting Early Girl, Way Ahead, Super Boy and Husky Red. The large tomato in the photo is Husky Red. He raised it from a cell pack to this large 8" pot in a month in the greenhouse. The price for this size plant at one of the big box stores this weekend was $10.00!!!

If the acid in tomatoes bothers you, try planting yellow tomatoes.
Planning this spring for a harvest of terrific tomatoes this year is essential. Enjoy!!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day Thoughts

This Memorial Day weekend that in our area is perfect for working in the garden, attending parades, and enjoying cookouts with friends and family. Please take some time to remember those who have served and are serving our country. We honor those who have sacrificed their lives in order to allow us the freedoms and rich lifestyle that we enjoy in the USA.

When you see our servicemen and women and veterans, take time to say thank you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Favorite Strawberry Pie Recipe

My friend, Trude, gave me this recipe for Strawberry Pie. It is so easy and so tasty. This is the season for the best-tasting strawberries. We also enjoy strawberries in February in Florida, so I make quite a few pies then too. If you make it, let me know how you liked Trude's Strawberry Pie.

Trude's Strawberry Pie
Recipe for a 9" pie

Place about 1 pint of strawberries whole, not cut up, in a 9" pie shell.

Stir together in a pan--1 3 oz box jello, 1 cup sugar, and 3 T. cornstarch.

Add 1 1/2 cups water to the mixture and cook till thickened--It will start to boil and get clear. Stir constantly. This takes awhile, so be patient.

Pour mixture over strawberries. Refrigerate after one hour.

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream or both!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Frosty Nights in Michigan

We had to cover up the lettuce, cabbage, and peas last night. We had a frost the night before, but these crops can take some frost. However last night, the weatherman predicted a hard freeze for our area of West Michigan. My husband saved the aisle runner from our daughter's wedding a year ago just for the purpose of using it as a cover. And did it ever work well! So go scavenge the aisle runners from any weddings you are attending this spring/summer. LOL

He does save gallon milk jugs to put over plants too to protect them from frost. Just remember to remove them the next day if you have sunshine or you will cook the plant for sure. Never use plastic sheets to cover your garden. The plastic traps the cold and lays on the leaves of the plant. If you are an early riser, you may save frosty plants by sprinkling them with water early in the morning before the sun comes up.

The frosty nights certainly try the patience of Northern gardeners who are chomping at the bit to get the garden planted. But after several years of fighting it, it really is better to wait to plant. However frosts can occur after the frost date in MI. Grrrrrrr......

Friday, May 8, 2009

Critters Keep Away

This time of the year looks like a fantasy land in my neck of the woods. The abundant blooms on the flowering trees, the colorful spring flowers, and the eye popping green grass combine to make a gorgeous setting much like something Disney himself would paint for one of his animated movies. Add the great sunshine and blue skies today to make it an Oscar winning day!

Unfortunately there always has to be the bad guy in a movie, and the ones spoiling our setting are the deer. They love to nibble on the tulips. We put a netting over them earlier this spring to save them but removed it recently to allow the tulips to rise and open. Needless to say other varmints are in the area too such as rabbits and squirrels. They are also apt to make our garden their number one dining room this summer, so what do you do?

My husband has learned to put up a fence around our garden early in the spring, even before he plants. It is only about three feet tall, but somehow it trains the deer not to step in or bother our plants by being up early. I know it sounds crazy, but we had real good luck with this little fence last year.

Some gardeners rely on liquid sprays to keep the animals away, but the rains will wash them off. I have never used them. I wonder how effective they are and how costly.

I have heard that some folks plant a special plot for the deer, but I don't know how they would stay in that one area after tasting the goodies in the plot. Unfortunately they can't read a sign that says "Deer Only." LOL

Blood meal, urine, dirty hair clippings, marigolds around the perimeter of the garden are suggested ways of keeping away the hungry critters. Have you found anything that works?

Birds love to hit our strawberries, but we have learned to place netting over those plants, and it helps. Simply hanging aluminum throw-away pie tins also helps to keep the birds away when the plates blow around and flash in the sunshine.

So what are your stories about critters in the garden? Good luck on keeping your plants and produce for you and your family and not for the wild animals.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

It's Holland Tulip Festival Time

Talking about tulips in a Vegetable Gardening blog? Yes, because I can't help to digress once in awhile to include flowers. Afterall, this is springtime and the tulips are gorgeous.
Holland, Michigan is the site for the Tulip Festival, May 2-9, 2009. If you are near that area and you have never attended, go see all the colors and varieties of these lively floral landscapes. You will be amazed. A little tip for next year--go a few days before or after to catch all the beauty, but miss the crowds. (However, you'll miss the dancers, the food, and the parades too.)
For more information click this link--
While visiting Tulip Time, check out beautiful West Michigan--

Friday, May 1, 2009

Trusting the Plant Hardiness Zones

Have you ever seen a palm tree on a Michigan Main Street? How about a Bird of Paradise plant in Wisconsin? Why are Texans already harvesting tomatoes in May? That certainly points out the different growing climates in North America.

The USDA has classified eleven plant hardiness zones to indicate where plants will thrive. The low numbers are the northern zones and the high numbers are warmer areas. For example, I live in Michigan in zone 5. As you travel south, the numbers increase. If you end up near Tampa, FL, you could be in zone 9.

A zone number is found on the backs of seed packets indicating that the plant grown from that seed is hardy for that zone. Tags on nursery stock also include the zones that are best for that plant.

Have you heard of microclimates within certain zones? The presence of a river or lake, the low lying areas, the protection from trees all change the growing climate for plants. Some plants could be hardy for your zone, but due to a microclimate in your location, the plant won't make it for another growing season. Be aware of all these factors when planting this spring.
To find out what zone you are in, click on the link below, then enter your zip code.