Tag Archives: tomatoes

The Challenge of Growing Tomatoes

Aug. 3, 2012
The Challenge of Growing Tomatoes

A favorite of home gardeners—urban, suburban or rural—are tomatoes.
Yet, to be perfectly honest, it can be tough to grow perfect tomatoes,
especially in Southern climates.
Often,  the problem is uneven irrigation. Too much water, and you can get  fungal and root maladies. Too little and leaves wither, fruit fails to  develop or grows unevenly (with split skins, though some varieties split  more than others). Add high heat, and the plants can just shut down on  fruition.
Here are a few hints for growing tomatoes in problematic conditions.

Tomatoes Shut Down?
Mississippi’s  high heat and humidity play havoc on vegetable crops, especially  tomatoes. But you can extend the production of your plants by using an all-natural plant hormone, kinetin, that keeps blossoms from falling off  when the heat index soars.
The  active ingredient is kinetin, but it’s sold under a variety of brand  names, the most popular being Blossom Set Spray. It’s available at local  stores, or visit tinyurl.com/c5w98q5. (Cytokinins are OMRI-approved for organic
growing as a type of fertilizer.)
When  your tomato plants flower during high heat and humidity, just squirt a  little mist in each one. Essentially, the spray keeps the flower  attached long enough so that bees and other pollinators can do their job  fertilizing the
plant. And fertile flowers become tomatoes.

Blossom End Rot
Another  common tomato malady is blossom end rot. There’s a popular spray on the  market that is essentially just calcium chloride (available at local  stores). It’s not OMRI-listed, so I can’t recommend it for organic  growing.
However, blossom end rot is usually an indicator of a lack of  calcium in the
soil. You can remedy that by adding bone meal or egg  shells.

Tomato Blight
Unfortunately,  tomato blight pretty much spells doom to tomatoes. It usually appears  after heavy rains or toward the end of the growing season. In the South,  blight often isn’t a matter of “if,” but when.
The  best solution to blight is to rotate your crops; don’t grow tomatoes  where you had tomatoes the year before. That’s good advice for any crop,  not only to fight the various viruses and fungi that live in the soil,  but for insect control, as well.
Blight  can be treated, but it’s difficult. First, always wash your hands after  touching a blighted plant, and never put blighted plants in your  compost. Keep plants mulched and open so that air can pass between the  plants reducing humidity.
You can use some copper- or sulphur-based fungicidal sprays. Visit tinyurl.com/7f2j8yd for some examples on the Ohio State University website.
VeggieGardener.com also offers some homemade, natural remedies for plant maladies on this page: tinyurl.com/7l9ymw5.

Don’t overwater
Overwatering  is the cause of many problems, along with poor soil conditions. Just  water thoroughly every week or so and allow the soil on top to dry out.
Well-tended soil will hold moisture and stay springy (lots of “tilth”),  while poor soils will harden if dry. Work on your soil after you harvest  your plants by plowing under vegetation and adding compost. Work your  soil year round to
make growing in the warmest season easier.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Organic flowers, fruit

March 25, 2011

Flowers, fruit can be grown organically, not just veggies

This weather has me all messed up plantwise. Everything I know about weather is topsy-turvey with temperatures now averaging 14 degrees above normal.

Usually, here in central Mississippi, we have a few warm days in March that get everyone excited about planting gardens, then a hard frost comes, and some folks have to start all over again.

But this year, it’s been hot in March. Our spinach, collards and other cool weather fall-planted crops are going to seed, yet I just can’t get myself to risk planting so early (before Good Friday).

Annette’s been busy in the garden, planting cool weather plants such as onions, garlic, herbs, peas, arugula, kale, chard, red salad greens, Asian stir fry mix, carrots and snow peas, and in the greenhouse getting tomatoes, squash, peppers, melons and other warm weather plants started.

We’ll probably set them out in the next couple of weeks (going by weather rather than calendar and hoping for the best. Remember, we have had ice storms before at the end of March!).

We have Wall ‘o Waters for the tomatoes (plastic rings that you fill with water to hold heat at night) and Agribon covers for rows if there’s a chance of frost.

Right now, if you’re going to gamble on the weather, treat it like the stock market: Don’t risk more than you can afford to lose.

Tips and reminders:

•Use certified organic seeds;

•Use OMRI, the Organic Materials Review Institute, approved garden or potting soil (Miracle Gro makes one called Organic Choice that’s sold locally, even at Walmart);

•Use ecologically sound containers, such as those from recycled paper (Peaceful Valley -www.groworganic.com – even sells a kit to make your own pots from old newspapers);

•Or, use reusable containers such as smart pots and grow bags (from recycled materials);

•Or, use pots that can be planted, such as “cow pots,” made from composted cow manure, or Coir (coconut fiber) that can be used instead of sphagnum peat moss, which is being depleted from the Earth (large-scale peat harvesting is not sustainable as it takes thousands of years to form the peat “bricks” that are harvested in just a week; look for companies with sustainable harvesting methods).

•Think: Sustainable!

Fruits, berries, roses … As stated previously, it was my honor earlier this year to be elected to the board of the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, but I’ve found that quite a few of my colleagues are unaware they can easily “grow organic,” just as gardeners can.

One prominent grower in Mississippi told me that he would love to be organic, but “you can’t do it without fungicides.”

I was so flabbergasted, I didn’t know what to say, and just stood there with my mouth open.

Obviously, there has not been enough information promulgated about organics in general or fungicides in particular.

Not only commercial fruit, berry and vegetable growers, but even folks who grow such temperamental flowers as roses can grow organically without damaging the environment, spreading or breathing toxic waste or poisoning the air, soil and water.

Now, Annette and I are what’s called “deep organic” (in Eliot Coleman’s terms) or purists, maybe: that is, we don’t use any chemicals, period. It takes a little bit more thought and effort (and occasional setbacks), to be sure.

But there are a number of weed, disease and pest control applications that are certified organic by OMRI that meet all National Organic Standards. They are easy to use, safe, widely available and affordable for hobbyists as well as commercial growers.

A sampling from just one catalog lists:

•Cease – a bacterium that eradicates powdery mildew, several leaf spot and soil diseases;

•OxiDate – a broad spectrum bactericide/fungicide that uses rapid oxidation to kill unwanted bacteria and fungi;

•Liquid Copper Fungicide – targeting diseases on grapes, vegetables, fruit, berries, roses, pine and cedar trees and more;

•Safer Brand Garden Fungicide – for fruit, vegetables, flowering plants and ornamentals;

•Plantshield – Fungicide protects roots, can be used for seeds, cuttings, transplants, and can be used as a drench or spot dressed directly for foliar-infecting fungi.

Mind you, these are just fungicides (addressing my friend’s concerns). You can find whole sections of natural, biodegradable, non-toxic products for a range of issues specifically for fruit trees, berries, vegetables, flowers and what have you.

These examples are from: Arbico, Box 8910, Tucson AZ, 85738-0910. Phone: 1-800-827-2847. (It even offers natural, plant-based, non-toxic bedbug killers).

So, it’s not as if the resources aren’t out there; they just aren’t being advertised or promoted by the agri-biz conglomerates.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.