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Archive for July 2011

Blossom-End Rot—How to Recognize and Prevent It

July 25th, 2011

tomato plant with blossom end rotYou’ve heard about Blossom-end rot, but have yet to see it. Or, you’ve experienced it, and just did not know what it was. Hopefully this article will clear up the murky waters of one of the most common tomato diseases to occur, and, armed with this knowledge, you may be able to prevent it from happening, though even the most experienced gardener has seen it on their tomato plants. (It also occurs on pepper plants and on eggplant, though it may start on the sides, near the blossom end, on these vegetables.)

First, you need to be able to identify it, and the name itself creates no small bit of confusion, especially for novice gardeners. The blossom end of the tomato is so-called because as the tomato grows, it actually emerges from under where the blossom was. The fruit grows between the calyx and the blossom, the calyx being the modified leaves you see at the top of the tomato. You will see the brown end of the blossom at the bottom of the growing tomato, not at the top where it is attached to the stem.

Blossom-end rot will start as a small beige or tan patch on the blossom end of the tomato while the fruit is still green, often appearing water-soaked. And then it becomes sunken and turns leathery and dark brown or black as the fruit matures. It looks really, really ugly and rather disgusting, but you can eat the parts of the tomato that are not affected, as long as no secondary pathogens or pests have invaded the lesion and spread throughout the rest of the fruit. In severe cases, the whole fruit is a loss and it is not uncommon to lose 50% of the fruit on your tomato plants to this curse. I wouldn’t recommend giving these unattractive fruits away, even if the upper part of the tomato is edible. Better to use them in salsa, make tomato sauce, or at least slice them before anyone can see what they look like, discarding the rotted portion, of course.

To prevent blossom-end rot, you need to know what causes it. There is no “magic” solution or spray that will keep it from happening or that will cure it. Blossom-end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency, which is required in fairly large quantities for normal cell growth. Blossom-end rot results when the demand for calcium exceeds the supply, which can be caused by…

  • Moisture fluctuation, which can reduce a plant’s calcium uptake.
  • Low calcium levels in the soil, often the result of improper soil pH.
  • Drought stress.
  • Over fertilizing with nitrogen-based fertilizers, which causes rapid vegetative growth, but does more harm than good when the plant starts to bear fruit.

…and which can be prevented by:

  • Tomato Grower's Soil Test KitMaintaining the pH of your soil right around 6.5. An inexpensive soil tester can quickly give you the pH of your soil, and then you can take the necessary steps to adjust it. This is not only good for preventing blossom-end rot; it is beneficial to the majority of your garden plants. 6.5 is the recommended soil pH for successful organic gardening.
  • Maintaining consistent moisture for your tomato plants. All garden plants require about one inch of moisture per week. If you are fortunate enough to have plenty of rainfall, this will not be an issue, unless you are getting way too much. Otherwise, irrigation is necessary, and I recommend a soaker hose on a timer. A soaker hose ensures that the moisture is going to the roots where it is needed, not landing on the leaves (especially in a crowded garden) and then evaporating. A water timer just makes it easier on you. You can set the timer to water every day for a short time for the most consistent moisture, or to water deeply on one day per week, being adjusted of course, for the eventuality of very hot temperatures and no rain. You also might benefit from a moisture tester that can quickly assess the moisture content of your soil, alerting you to the need for watering.
  • Avoiding nitrogen-based fertilizers as your tomato plants start to fruit. There are actually two kind of nitrogen fertilizer available. Nitrate nitrogen is preferable to ammoniac forms. Excess ammonium ions can reduce the calcium uptake of your plants. All nitrogen fertilizers should be used lightly and with the knowledge that the run-off from synthetic fertilizers can Nutri-Cal Pintpollute water sources, including wells and ground water and are not entirely safe for use around your family, children and pets.
  • Ensure adequate calcium levels in your soil. Applying lime to your soil is one way to add calcium, but it will also lower the pH. This would be the ideal solution if you also need to adjust your pH down. Additionally, you can use a product, such as Nutri-Cal® Liquid Calcium supplement. Highly concentrated, it is applied in a fine spray every couple of weeks, though root absorption of calcium will be the most beneficial. Some gardeners crush egg shells and mix it into the top inch or so of soil, right around their plants, experiencing quite a bit of success, though the exact amount of egg shell needed is not really known.
  • Using good, rich soil is the ultimate way to prevent blossom-end rot from occurring. Soil rich in organic matter is naturally rich in calcium, and is also much more able to retain moisture, which means maintaining your soil’s moisture content is much easier. You can mix compost into your soil prior to planting or you can even top-dress your soil and as you water and cultivate, the compost will become mixed with your soil. Worm Castings are also a source of the richest organic matter and can either be mixed in, top dressed or side dressed.Earthworm Castings

All of this may sound like a lot, but the truth is that these are fairly easy steps to making sure that all of your garden plants grow healthy and strong. Good gardening habits go a long ways to ensuring not only a productive harvest, but less effort on your part, in the long run. In particular, that your tomatoes are not lost to blossom-end rot. That would be a tragedy! We all know how much we love those fresh, home-grown tomatoes and you can hardly afford to buy them in the grocery store anymore.

Happy Gardening Everyone!

Kale Juice – Some Real “Great Stuff!”

July 22nd, 2011

My son Jim  ordered 10 Blue Curled Scotch Kale Plants for me, his mother. I am 91 1/2 years old and for many years I have had a backyard garden where I grow tomatoes, beans, peas, celery, peppers, parsley and kale. In addition to eating all the vegetables I also juice. That’s where kale comes in. I have a wonderful juicer which Jim gave me, and I drink some juice every day. My mix for the juice is:

  • Kale
  • Collards
  • Celery
  • Parsley
  • Other “greens”
  • Oranges, apples, grapes or other fruit for sweetness

This is “great” stuff!

I thank you for being so careful with my Blue Curled Scotch kale. It arrived in perfect condition because of your expert means of packaging – great stuff!

For some reason I have trouble finding kale plants each year for my garden. I even have neighbors driving around various nurseries for me. This was a particularly bad year. So, I am very appreciative of your speed and efficiency in getting this kale to me.

“Old ladies do go on” but I want you to know the value of juicing each day to the human body. Last year I overheard a voice in my next door yard. It was a young worker building a wall. He said to one of his associates “how tired he was.” At the time I was ‘juicing’ and I took a fresh juice glass to him for energy. He asked first “what was in it” and I told him. Then he drank it down, one half hour later he came back to me to again ask me what was in my juice. I repeated it all to him. Then he said “you put a kick in this stuff didn’t you?” I assured him the “kick” came from the veggies, etc in the drink. He said he felt “a kick” in the mix. Hooray kale!

Thank you again for your care!

Dorothy G.

“Incredible Delicious!”

July 18th, 2011

Garden Harvest Supply vegetable plantsI am very pleased using Garden Harvest as my main source for all my vegetable plants. All my plants came very well packed and shipped in a timely manor. I am so amazed to watch their growth. Ears of corn looks so tempting to pick now, but when they are ready, can’t wait to say Incredible Delicious…..thanks Tina for going the extra mile.

Lawrence J.

Worm-Made vs. Man-Made

July 14th, 2011

Before I tell you about the benefits of using worm castings or vermicompost, you need to know why you should not be utilizing chemicals.

If you watch the news at all, you are well aware of the environmental crises that occur around the world involving hazardous materials and chemicals. The components of chemical fertilizer have even been used to make life-destroying bombs, which should be a big hint to all of us that they are not the best thing to be using on our lawns; and especially on our vegetable gardens that supply the food we feed to our family.

Chemical fertilizers are considered potentially harmful to both humans and to our planet. They are completely inorganic, synthesized to mimic the minerals and nutrients that plants need to grow. Yes, they work; but at what cost? Chemical fertilizers can pollute wells and ground water and eventually ends up in the rivers, lakes and oceans as rain washes it to these water sources. How many times have you seen someone overwatering their lawn to the point that it is running in the gutters? How many times have you stopped to think that whatever he or she has used to kill weeds on their lawn or to make their lawn grow is being washed, along with the wasted water, into the storm drains? Where do you think the water from the storm drains ends up? Yep, I’ve been guilty too, but I’ve made learning about the best ways to garden while leaving the world a better place for my children, my personal goal and my business, and that does not involve using harmful chemicals.

I’m sure you’ve heard how important it is to wash your fruits and vegetables Strawberry Plantsthoroughly; in fact, in some instances the experts are now recommending that you remove the skins completely. The same skins that your Mom always told you has so many more healthful vitamins and nutrients than the flesh of the fruit, is now being contaminated. Some of the most common fruits, such as strawberries, have some of the highest concentrations of fertilizer-borne chemical concentrations.

And if that isn’t enough, chemical fertilizers can actually, over time, cause mineral depletion of the soil, a loss of humus content and fertile top soil, as well as increasing pest problems due to the destruction of beneficial bacteria and microbes that help the plants to defend themselves against diseases and pests. Long-term use of chemical fertilizers may mean that you have to water more and that you also may have to use more chemicals to destroy the pests and diseases that have been enabled by the use of chemicals to begin with.

This vicious cycle has been perpetuated, not only by us, but by the chemical companies that heard our demands for the “instant” picture perfect lawn. That was the American Dream, after all. But the perfect lawn takes time, which is something we all seemed to have run completely out of as the race was on to keep up with the Joneses and then with the Rockefellers and the American housewife put shoes on and started carrying a brief case. It was all we could do to raise our 2.5 children and bring home the bacon, but we still wanted that perfect lawn. Necessity is the mother of invention—which is how chemical fertilizers came to be.

Growing produce togetherNecessity is the Mother of Invention again—as we now know at what cost our “instant” green lawn was achieved. Today, as more and more Americans are out of work or struggling to make ends meet, the return to gardening is like a tidal wave spreading across this country of ours. Even vacant city lots are becoming community gardens to feed the citizens, but the by-product of this movement is that people are learning to care again. They are getting to know their neighbors as they band together so that more can eat. They are getting to know their children as they opt out of the movie theater and opt in for family gardening. The dancing shoes are being put away and being replaced by a hoe; after all, who can afford to go out AND pay a babysitter? The backyard garden is becoming what the sit-down family dinner used to be in the 60′s.

And people care. They care more about the environment because they are thinking twice about what they put on the home-grown vegetables that they will put in their mouth. They see our natural resources shrinking, right along with their bank account, and hope that we are all not doing too little too late. And they are looking for solutions.

Worm casting fertilizerHere is a HUGE solution—an army of people working together to raise an army of worms that can supply the U.S. with all the natural, organic and chemical-free fertilizer that is needed to rebuild our tired soil and to fertilize every backyard garden, every community garden, every farmers’ crops and every acre of produce commercially grown.

Worm castings, worm compost, vermicompost and organic fertilizer are all terms for the same thing. It is the result of different types of worms, usually earthworms, particularly red wigglers, and white worms, being used to create nutrient rich compost. The worms break down organic matter, passing it through their digestive system, the end result being an organic fertilizer and soil amendment with 60 different minerals and nutrients essential to growing healthy plants. No dairy, meat, fats or oils are fed to the worms and what IS fed to the worms also determines the quality of the worm castings, as does the worm itself. Regular earthworms are not generally utilized for vermicomposting. The common earthworm cannot survive the heat that is necessary for the efficient decomposition of the organic materials. The Red Worm, on the other hand, has a voracious appetite, often eating one-half to one times their own weight in food every day, and thrives in the temperatures necessary to help their composting. Well fed worms also reproduce quicker, which means even more compost.

And what is fed to these worms? Every type of organic matter available. A lot of it would end up in landfills or down garbage disposals if it was not rescued for worm food. For example, the leaves removed from the outside of the head of lettuce and the core. Any type of perishable fruit or vegetable, even breads can be bound for the worm’s gullet if it is going to waste or has become overripe. And then some bedding material is added, to make the worms comfortable and to get things started. We have a selection of compost bins designed specifically for worm composting if you’d like to try this at home, but we also sell Earthworm Castings, made by that army of people and worms that I mentioned earlier, and which will require much less work on your part.

So, now that you know how the worm castings are created, let’s get to the benefits of using them.

Where chemical fertilizers destroy, the worm restores. Completely 100% planet-friendly, this whole process is naturally-occurring. Man is just here to help the worm do their job better, to distribute this worm-made black gold and to spread the word that worms can save the world! Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but I made my point.

Growing an organic gardenNaturally rich in microbes, humus and nutrients, vermicompost improves and then maintains the fertility of your soil. Humus is quite complex, and I won’t even attempt to explain it, but to say that humus is what allows the roots of your plants to access the necessary nutrients from the soil. It allows your plants to feed themselves, rather than having to be “force fed” with a chemical fertilizer. The humus aides the soil’s ability to hold more moisture, air and nutrients, which then feeds all of the microbes that bring the nutrients to the plants’ roots. Wikipedia does a much better job of breaking it all down, but suffice to say that humus is the key to the most successful organic gardening.

You also won’t find humus in most manures or compost for sale commercially. Most of these products are simply dried manure or composted organic matter and once it looks like dirt, it can be sold to fertilize your lawns and gardens. The trick is to build the compost up to contain a high level of humus, which is exactly what the worms do!

And the list of benefits goes on:

  • Many fungal diseases are suppressed, such as phythium, fusarium, dollar spot, etc.
  • The use of worm castings reduces algae in lagoons, ponds and greenhouses because there is no nitrogen run-off. Using worm castings will not contaminate ground water.
  • You can reduce water consumption up to 50% and increase drought-resistance.
  • Worm castings improve the structure of the soil, allowing for better aeration, root development and nutritional uptake.
  • Worm castings can even be applied to phosphate sensitive areas.
  • Beneficial enzymes are produced by the plants that are fed by the worm castings, enabling them to naturally repel many of the pests that feed on the juices of the plants.
  • It is odorless. You don’t have to wear a mask while applying it, indoors or out.
  • You can even dissolve it in water and use it as ‘compost tea’.

The worm restores what chemicals have destroyed. I can’t think of any better reason to quit using chemical fertilizers and switch to worm castings.

Poopeas Compost-What It Is!

July 12th, 2011

Composting at homeHave you ever passed by a large cattle operation and grumbled at the smell? Some of those feedlots and dairies look like a never-ending field of manure. Their owners will argue that it’s a necessary by-product, which it is, but in reality it is a huge problem that feedlot and dairy owners have to deal with, while they go about the business of feeding and clothing America. Cows poop—plain and simple—but what do you do with all that poop?

Yes, some people will gladly spread fresh, or not so fresh, manure all over their lawn. It is a fantastic fertilizer! But it is messy, it is clumpy, it takes weeks to finally work its way into the soil supporting an established lawn and landscape plants…and it stinks! Just ask your neighbors!

Poopeas Granulated Manure CompostPoopeas compost is the answer to having a beautiful landscape without the smell and the clumps, and also without resorting to chemical fertilizers.

In today’s world, instant gratification has become a way of life. Patience is a virtue, and we may have developed that trait with our children and coworkers, but when it comes to our lawns and gardens, we want instant beauty with as little work as possible. We just don’t have the time to devote to the slow nurture of our personal outdoor spaces. So, we resort to chemical fertilizers, which even as we apply them, many of us are having pangs of guilt over the fact that we know the runoff is not good and we worry about the harm that may come to our children and pets, so we keep them off the lawn that is supposed to be a place to play, not just a neighborhood fashion statement, and we experience another guilty pang when we hear a report about how chemical fertilizers have gotten into the ground water and over time the concentrations of chemicals will make the environment extremely unhealthy, threatening even our way of life, as our water supplies are polluted. We then justify it by the fact that “I am just one person…my little piece of real estate is not going to spell the end of our single most valuable resource.” Or—”What am I supposed to do? Everyone else is doing it. It must not be that bad”” Or—”Just more scientific mumbo jumbo to confuse us.” Sound familiar?

Well, you can quit having this conversation with yourself and you can quit feeling guilty about the way you fertilize your lawn, landscape plants and gardens. Poopeas to the rescue!

Poopeas has solved both the agricultural feeding operators’ problem of what to do with all that poop, while also solving your problem of how to have a guilt-free, lush lawn, at about the same price you’re already spending on chemical fertilizers and with the same amount of effort.  Poopeas has made it easy for you!

Earthway Ev-N-Spread 1950A special process of aerobically (relating to, involving or requiring free oxygen) composting and processing manure products into a more usable product that can be spread using any broadcast fertilizer spreader, has provided a solution to the chemical fertilizer conundrum and a means to be an “earth healer” while also getting that ‘perfect’ looking landscape.  These little, dry peas made of poop are part of the solution; not a part of the problem!

Poopeas is dry, easy to spread, an all organic fertilizer solution and it does NOT smell! No more wearing a medical mask as you spread (and maybe for days afterwards); no more ticked off neighbors, no more “stay off the lawn kids” over and over and…. Instead, you can spread it and forget it! You don’t have to test your soil and you don’t have to worry about giving your lawn or plants too much of anything. This all organic fertilizer has everything they need, in just the right amount, just as nature intended. You can even use it on your houseplants. Either mix it with your potting medium when planting new plants, or dissolve it in water and feed as you normally feed your house plants…and it does NOT smell!

Growing the Best Tomatoes

July 8th, 2011

Tomatoes ripening on the vineSo, you’ve planted your tomatoes, you’ve been watering them religiously and hopefully you’ve left plenty of room for big growth, because these tomato plants won’t stay little for long.

If you have not already mulched, now might be the time to do so. It is important though, that the soil is nice and warm; tomato plants LOVE warm soil. (In fact, if you didn’t do so this year, next year put down plastic sheeting for a few days and up to two weeks before you transplant your tomatoes or peppers. They will love it and you can transplant right through the plastic if you want to!) But, if you didn’t and your tomatoes seem to be struggling, use some plastic mulch to warm up the soil before you put down wood mulch. Loose mulch will shade the soil and keep it cool, as well as deterring weed growth, conserving water and looking pretty. Mulch also helps to keep soil-borne diseases from splashing onto the plants when they are being watered. It is well worth the little bit of extra effort and the rewards more than pay for the cost. If you are planting a fall crop, the soil is already warm enough, so you can mulch as you plant. Another option is to use the Gardeneer Tomato Tray. It also prevents weeds right around the plant, but with the added bonus of being able to add fertilizers like Tomato-tone® directly to the roots where your plants can more efficiently use it. Just use the recommended amount and add water to the reservoir to gently feed. Tomato-tone® will not force rapid growth, but will feed your tomatoes with the essential nutrients necessary to optimize the production and quality of your tomatoes.

Once your tomato plants are 2.5 to 3-feet tall, remove the leaves from the bottom set of leaves. If you don’t have the benefit of strong fingernails with which to pinch them off, then use a sharp pair of scissors; you don’t want to tear them off, leaving a wound for diseases or pests to enter. These leaves get the least amount of sun and will eventually yellow and die anyway and are almost always the first to develop fungus.

sucker stem growing on a tomato plantYou may also start to see tiny stems and leaves (called suckers) starting to grow at the joints of the main branches and/or from the bottom of the main stem. Pinch these off; they are just taking energy away from the rest of the plant and ensure your tomatoes grow to their full potential. If, after fruit starts to develop, you notice that your plants are exceptionally bushy, it is also okay to prune a few leaves in order for the sun to reach the fruit, but go easy. The leaves, through the process of photosynthesis, are providing valuable sugars to your tomatoes, giving them that wonderful flavor.

Watering is extremely important, throughout the growing process. Watering regularly, both when your plants are becoming established after transplanting and once they mature, is one of the tricks to having beautiful, blemish free tomatoes. Irregular watering is a contributing factor to blossom end rot, dropped blossoms and cracked fruit. You should have been keeping them moist, but not wet, during the first 2 to 3 weeks. Now you can start a regular deep-watering regimen. Watering deeply will allow the roots to take better hold, as they will grow deeper and stronger to reach the still moist soil below. It all depends upon your soil conditions; whether or not you mulch, and of course, the moisture you are receiving from Mother Nature, but a good rule of thumb on an average year is to thoroughly soak sandy soils every four to five days, soaking heavier soils and clay every Rapitest Mini pH/Moisture Meterseven to ten days. You want the soil to be moist at a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Also be aware, if you are growing your tomatoes in containers, the watering requirements will be much different. Your containers should have good drainage. You can still deep water them, but the time-span will be shorter between watering. The absolute easiest way to determine the moisture content of your soil at any given moment is with a moisture tester. They are really inexpensive and you can get one that tests for pH, moisture, fertility and sunlight, or one that tests just for moisture. Many people new to gardening have found these to be an invaluable tool. Also be aware that as the days heat up, it is perfectly normal for the leaves on your tomato plants to wilt a little in the hottest part of the day. They will normally perk up over night. On the other hand, if they are wilted first thing in the morning, water them quickly. And always water early in the day. Tomato plants should not be wet overnight and watering during the heat of the day results in evaporation, a real waste of our natural resources.

It is always a good idea to take a short walk to the garden, even if there’s nothing to pick, a few times a day just to see what’s new. It is always exciting when the first blossoms appear, and then again as you are able to see the first small tomatoes. If you make it a practice to check your garden regularly, you will be able to get a quick jump on eliminating tomato horned worms, or discovering a fungal infection, or even take steps to keep that hungry rabbit, that you didn’t know existed, from eating any more.

Blight, the most common fungal disease for tomatoes, is actually preventable with the application of Serenade Garden Disease Control. Approved and recommended by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), it safely controls many fungal, foliar and bacterial diseases on your tomatoes and in your garden with absolutely no harm being done to you, your family, your pets or Gerenade Garden Disease Controllivestock, or the environment. You also might benefit from reading The 10 Most Common Tomato Plant Problems, in our Latest News blog section. This article covers the 10 most common problems, how to recognize them, how to treat them and most importantly, how to prevent them.

And, if you take your daily stroll, you will know when to harvest! As the fruit develops, it will first be spring green, developing a yellow cast just before it starts to turn its mature color. Once it starts to turn yellow, some tomatoes will ripen very quickly, especially the cherry or grape varieties. If the temperatures are well over 100, you may want to pick the fruit before it is completely ripe. Sometimes extreme heat can cause cracking and though that doesn’t mean the fruit is no good, it will look much better if you let it ripen on the kitchen counter. Don’t refrigerate until they’ve become fully ripe.

And…finally…Enjoy! If you’ve never experienced it, there is nothing quite as good as a warm, ripe, fresh tomato right from the vine. (Don’t forget the salt shaker if you like them salted!)

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