Let the Planting Begin!

 These are the ‘tomato houses’ Roger built for me for Mother’s Day.  The idea being they will provide warmth for tomato plants getting them to mature and bear fruit earlier.  The houses are covered in plastic which I open and close to make a ‘mini greenhouse’. Yesterday I planted an ‘Early Girl’ in one and a ‘Juliet Grape’ in the other.  Early Girl has a 50 day maturity and Juliet 60 days.  I’m hoping to have plants bear about a month early in late July rather than late August but we will see…  Last summer was cool all season and tropical plants like tomatoes and peppers didn’t stand a chance.  Warm season, tropical plants like it hot – 80 degrees or more with warm night temperatures.  The average temperature last summer was maybe 80 degrees during the day but nights were quite cool often dipping down into the 50s!  People living close to Lake Michigan were really complaining to me last year about their ‘black thumb’  tomato growing efforts.   I was able to relieve some of their doubt by assuring them the cool weather was to blame.

 The tomato houses are another of my experiments at season extension and manipulation. The purpose of the tents is to collect soil heat during the day and trap it at night.   Growers in this area typically begin harvesting tomatoes in late July but early tomatoes will command a premium price. The price of fresh tomatoes is high early in the season but as soon as everyone’s backyard harvest tomatoes begin bearing the market price drops.  All this depends on how reliable I am in opening and closing the tents! 

I’m also concerned about disease pressure in the enclosed environment.  Last year’s cold stressed tomato plants soon succumbed to Septoria disease, a soil-born fungus which decimated everyone’s plants pretty much before harvest.  This, or other disease issues, could be more of a problem in the enclosed environment of the tomato house. 

I still have boxes of canning jars in my basement that I was unable to use last year.  I was able to harvest some fresh tomatoes but very few and not enough for canning.  The bushes were so horrid and sick looking they were not very apealling to can.

This year I’m trying a new staking method and  training the tomatoes to grow on a trellis  instead of in cages. The foliage is removed from the bottom stem and one ‘trunk’ allowed to grow up a fence.  Branches will be tied to the fence and stretched out horizontally.  This way the foliage will be kept up off the ground and hopefully out of contact with fungal pathogens.  A layer of straw mulch will cover the soil under the tomatoes, keeping it dry and hopefully blocking a lot of fungal organisms from splashing onto the tomatoes.

Tomatoes planted are Early Girl maturing at 50-62 days with a good tomato flavor.  Plants are indeterminate which means they keep growing all season and need to be staked. Indeterminate tomatoes bear fruit continually from the emerging leaf axils.  The tomatoes are medium size at 4-8 ounces or about the size of a tennis ball.  It also is VFF which means reistant to Verticillium and 2 strains of Fusarium disease.  While a lot of people like the flavor of heriloom tomatoes I haven’t had too much luck with many due to disease pressure.  Growers have been experimenting with grafting heirlooms onto disease resistant tomato root stock  but did not get to that yet this year…

Also planted Juliet grape tomato (60 days, indeterminate) a 1999 All America Selection known for its big tomato taste, crack and disease resistance. It known for its high yield of 1 ounce size tomatoes arising early from large clusters.  It is known to have a good tomato flavor without relying on pure sugar taste. 

I also planted a Ball trial tomato called ‘Mango’.  I have no information at all on this hybrid.  I’ll test it out in my home garden and see what happens. Then I’ll contact Ball and find out what they expected it to do.  By the looks of it and name I’m guessing its an orange indeterminate type. 

Celebrity is an old favorite due to its excellent disease resistance (TMV, V,N,F2)  Tobacco mosaic virus, Verticillium wilt, nematodes and 2 races of Fusarium.  I experiment with lot of different tomatoes but always plant one of these just in case the rest don’t work out.

Bonnie Orginal and Bonnie grape are carried by Lowes stores.  Bonnie original is a medium size indeterminte maturing in 75 days with VFN resistance so sounds very similar to Celebrity. Bonnie grape is a disease resistant 1.25″ tomato born in clusters so appears similar to Juliet – not small enough to be a true grape but smaller than a cherry tomato

Peppers this year were purchased from Antons greenhouse here in Pleasant Pairie and one new one from Ball Horticulture.  ‘Mucho Nacho’ is a heavy bearing jalapeno, Sweet cherry and sweet pimento are  small  types that will hopefully ripen early for pickling, freezing and fresh eating. 

Our season is short so don’t always get large red bell peppers.  Bell peppers this year include a new one from Ball called Cajun Bell.  It’s a small pepper with mild heat and at 2 feet is a good container plant that matures in 60 days.

Also planted a couple eggplants – Dusky and Japanese long.  Dusky s a smaller eggplant that ripens early (58 days) for short season areas like WI and has good disease resistance.  Japanese eggplants are also smaller and mature faster.  I plant eggplant primarily because they are so beautiful with their greyish green, felted leaves and purpley white flowers.  The fruit hanging on later like long dangling, shiny pruple earrings.  My family won’t eat them but I love eggplant on the grill better than steak.  Baba ghanoush, parmigiana, oh my!

Other plantings include Genovese basil, celery, Italian soft shell squash (zucchini), ‘Candy’ bulbing onions, cucumbers, carrots, beets, garlic.

Coming along are fennel and dill self seeded from last years plants.  Welcome swallowtail butteflies! And after spending gobs of money on tomato plants, cages and fertilizer I come home to find thousands of sturdy little tomato plants popping up all over the place.  Broccoli, cauliflower and peas in a few weeks

Flowers self seeded – Bells of Ireland, Larkspur, Verbena bonariansis, sunflowers, poppy, centaurea, calendula, snapdragon, petunia, lupine, Nicotiana

Have pulled about 50 pounds of garlic mustard!  I managed to get it before it seeded this year

Now eating: Lettuce!  I need to sow a second crop.  Pulled out the fall planted spinach as spring crop is going gangbusters and I’m harvesting more than I can manage.  Need to get kids out to pick and take to Shalom Center.  Cilantro, onion sets, chives and blosoms, kale, radish

I had big plans for planting flowers today but all has changed with the cool drizzly weather.  It appears to be clearing up and tomorrow’s forecast is sunny and warm.  I have a bout 50 pots lined up for planting this weekend!  Happy planting to all!

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