Category Archives: Heirlooms

Pruning Tomato Plants

Pruning Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

Over the years I have evolved into a completely different gardener.  Maybe a little more disciplined in some regards and a little more unruly in others.  There are a few crops that have received much more attention, such as my garlic and heirloom tomatoes.  When I first started growing heirloom tomatoes I would not stake them or prune them, I just let them bramble about wildly, while losing a few of them to rot, due to them touching the ground and just plan out ‘losing’ them in the thick mass of foliage.   They did produce more, but took much more room and tomatoes were in deed smaller.   There was definitely good and bad to this method, but I am totally converted now to training and pruning indeterminate tomatoes. Pruning definitely takes more time, but I think it’s well worth it.

Pruning tomatoes increases air flow and allows me to plant a larger variety of heirloom tomatoes closer together.  While I have a fairly large garden, it isn’t big enough for all the varieties of heirloom tomatoes I like to grow so I trellis my plants on cattle panels, spacing them about a foot apart.  That’s close, huh? By pruning tomato plants, it will put more energy into a concentrated area, increasing the size of each tomato produced.  It increases light, which helps with ripening and air flow that will help prevent diseases.  I like to leave 2-3 main stems that start close to the bottom of the plant.  Stems that start higher up will create fruits higher up and makes the plants rather top-heavy.   You can prune to one main stem, but here in the desert our sun is hot and a little more foliage helps the tomatoes from getting sunburn.

I keep all boughs from touching the soil (about 8-12″ off the ground).    By doing this, it helps protect the plant from soil-borne pathogens that might splash back onto the leaves during watering.  Also we have had better success with conquering curly leaf virus by doing this.  Because the soil is exposed more by pruning and training this way, it tends to dry out faster, so I will plant nasturtiums and other herbs that both repel bad insects and attract beneficial ones while keeping moisture in.  Kinda like what a mulch would do.    Plus, it’s very attractive in the garden.


Where to Prune a Tomato Sucker

Pruning tomatoes should really only be done to indeterminate tomatoes and not to the smaller growing determinate varieties.  Pruning means pinching off the shoots/suckers that sprout from the stem in the crotch right above a leaf branch.  A sucker left to grow, simply becomes another large stem with its own blossoms, fruits and suckers.  Pruning is best done with staked or trellised tomatoes.  As the weather warms up, new suckers pop up all the time, even in the same place you may have already pinched once before.  I find myself once or twice a week pinching and securing the vines to keep the plants tidy and the chore not so overwhelming.  Pinching is easily done by bending the suckers over when they are very small, but once it becomes the size of a pencil, you might want to use a pair of garden snips so you don’t hurt the main stem.  Be sure to wipe or spray your snipers with a simple disinfectant each time you move to a new plant to “be on the safe side” and not spread any disease that could possibly be present.  Never work with you tomatoes when they are wet as well!

You can pinch off the tip of the main stem above the top blossom of indeterminate tomato varieties to keep a flourishing plant from getting taller, such as when a plant out grows its support or toward the end of a growing season when a taller plant won’t help much with increased production.  Pinching at this point will put the plants energy into ripening the tomatoes already on the vine rather than producing new tomatoes that more than likely become large enough to save.



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July’s End

What a busy month! We jumped into July with sailing temperatures at 112 degrees. Pretty typical for July in Southern Utah, just always hard to get used to! Our garden stressed, wilted, but somehow it again survived. The heirloom tomatoes have produced like no other year! I would like to think my new planting mix did the trick. But I can’t dismiss the fact that I was very diligent about spraying kelp tea and liquid bone meal, covering with row cover and treating them like a baby.  We have had beautiful heirlooms of every color shape and size. I have my favorites again this year. Golden King of Siberia, a HUGE yellow heirloom. Although it has only produced a slight bit more than a dozen tomatoes, they have all been over 1-1/2 pound fruit. This one is not acidic, but it is very sweet. Bread & Salt is another huge tomato that produced heavy with several weighing in at just over 2 pounds. One of my most productive tomatoes so far this year was the Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge. The purple smudge, is just that, a fun little smudge on the shoulders. Off of one plant we probably picked over 4 dozen tomatoes, and it’s still going strong. Beautiful, although it’s not my favorite, others who tried, enjoyed the flavor. There is a tomato for everyone! Everyone’s favorite this year is the Kiwi. Resembling its color, not so much the flavor. Mild, but still that great old-fashioned tomato flavor with a twist! You might think it is not ripe, but once convinced green is ripe with this guy, you will be hooked!

Just when we thought we couldn’t take the heat any more we were hit with moisture and lots of it! We did get hail the size of a nickel, but luckily this year there was not much damage. Before the July rains, our rainfall for 2012 was only 3″! We have received over 3.5″ of rain within the last few weeks. Oh, the vegetable garden has greened up, grown like crazy with the lightning storms which has helped the plants grab the nitrogen!

Our dairy goat, Ivy is producing over 3/4 a gallon per milking. This is her first year, so she is doing super.  She does get the best hay, organic grain and plenty of healthy bites from the garden. Both her twins are growing like weeds. If you have never had a baby goat, you are missing out in the amusing show of jumping around the barn yard full of energy (energy I wish I could bottle).  We have made kefir, feta, summer cheese and buttermilk. This is when the chores pay off!

We had chaos in the milking barn when our mother rabbit escaped, and when I opened the door to the barn she bolted in and disappeared behind the hay storage. Yup! She’s a rabbit! 5 new babies. We had little fast hoppers running in an out of the hay until my daughter sat patiently with me till we had them all caught. Even though we have homes for all of them, well…..She’s mama is a AGAIN! You know that old saying…They breed like rabbits. It’s true, she certainly has it figured out!!!

Casper (the perfect cat) wasn’t feeling well, so off to the vet we went.  The poor little guy had to have all but a few teeth removed. The few that are left are for decoration purpose only. It’s only been three weeks he is back to normal. Sleeping on the cash register, roof of the barn, and tomato patch and screaming for food. Not up to being a farm cat, but then again, he never was! Maybe this will slow him down on chewing my nursery stock of herbs! Doubt that!

Bottling tomatoes, drying fruit, preserving currants and roasting peppers have been big on the list of chores with peaches, pears, figs and apples on their way to ripen. The constant fallen fruit pick up is a must so we don’t get brown rot in our fruit in years to follow. Good hygiene in the garden is added work right now, but well worth it in the long run. We have fewer disease, pest and problems when old fruit and veggies are removed and tossed into the compost pile. Tomatoes, or anything else for that matter that has dead leaves, should be removed in case of blight or other disease. This stops or at least slows the problem. Don’t use diseased plant matter as a mulch!  Remove it from the garden.

Believe it or not the greenhouse is back in swing! Several flats of brassica are started and getting sized up for fall planting. Keeping the little seedlings wet is so important! Brassica family, especially cauliflower does not produce well later on if they are allowed to dry out at any time of their life!

This is the time of year where the heat ‘peters’ us out, but if we can preserver, fall is just around the corner and this is sometimes the best of all the harvests. Tomatoes aren’t as watery, peppers don’t get sunscald and flavor seems to improve. Keep weeds in check to save yourself time later. Even if all you can do is cut off the seed heads. Deadhead your perennials for lasting blooms. Start to fertilize again when new blooms develop. Remove diseased plants so as not to spread. Side dress with compost. Compost will help keep the soil moist, cool and add tilth. If you have plants that are struggling, give them a hair cut to revive them and boost them with some kelp tea.

Enjoy the rest of the summer. Sit down in the evening with a glass of lemonade in your garden and watch the sunset.

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Have You Ever Grown a Fava Bean? Would You?

What the heck is a Fava Bean?  For the last several years I have added this delicious legume to my garden.  Not only is it great to add nitrogen to the soil, very cold hardy, but it is very nutritious as well.  Fava beans are one of the oldest plants under cultivation, and they were eaten in ancient Greece and Rome.  Fava beans are in the pea family, even though their name suggest they are a bean.  This is why they are cold hardy unlike other true beans.  They are popular in Mediterranean cuisine with a distinct creamy flavor.  You can eat them fresh or dry.  Dried they store well and can be added to soups or any bean dish.  Fresh, they can be added to salads and pasta dishes.  Fava beans are great steamed and served with olive oil, salt, and lemon.

Fava beans do not tolerate hot temperatures, therefore plant them as soon as the ground can be worked in the early spring or in my case in USDA zone 8,  late winter, January to be exact.  Fava bean can be planted in heavy soil as long as there is good drainage and the soil has been amended with compost and a well-balanced fertilizer.  Fava beans will improve your soil, so it’s a good idea to plant them in less than perfect spots in the garden.  Soak the seeds a few hours before planting to help with germination.  Plant 1 1/2 – 2″ deep 6-9 inches apart.  I like to stake my fava beans with some old branches 2-3 ft tall stuck into the soil on either side of the plant.  Usually this is enough unless we have high winds, then a little hemp twine around the plants and stakes will do.  Fava beans are usually ready in 4-6 months to harvest.  You will be surprised how neat they look in the garden.  The beans grow on bushy plants with tapering leaves, yielding anywhere from 25 to 50 pods per plant. The pods resemble pea pods in shape, although they are much larger and lined with a pillowy white material that protects the seeds inside.  Give plenty of water throughout the growing season.  Pinch off the tops of the plants when the first pods have begun to form.  This aids pod formation and discourages blackfly.  Pick the pods when they have become swollen.  You can see a slight definition of each bean inside the pod.  Do not allow the pods to be too mature because they will become leathery and tough.  Continuous harvesting will extend the crop season.  Broad beans (another name for fava) are beast picked and used fresh.  Any extras can be frozen or dried.

Once your plants are tired, retire them back into the soil.  You may need to chop them up a bit, but you can just till them in or add them to your compost pile.  Whatever you choose, don’t toss them into the trash.  These guys are valuable!  The smaller the pieces the faster they will decompose.  Favas are commonly used as a cover crop. They are big nitrogen fixers.   Now why wouldn’t you grow these beauties? 

Try this:

Quinoa, Avocado and Fava Been Salad

1 cup quinoa, 1 lb shelled fresh or frozen fava beans, 2 med. lemons, 2 ripe avocado, 2 garlic cloves, 2 bunches of breakfast radishes halved lengthwise, 1 cup purple basil leaves chopped, 1 T ground cumin, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/4 tsp chili flakes, salt and pepper to taste.

Cook quinoa and rinse with cold water and leave to dry.  Toss fava beans into a pan of boiling water and boil for 30 seconds and immediately drain in colander and leave to dry, then press each bean with your fingers to remove the skins and discard these.  Take the lemons and use a small sharp knife to slice off the top and base.  Stand on long end and cut down the sides, following the curve to remove the skin and white pith.  Over a large mixing bowl, cut in between the membranes to release the individual segments into the bowl.  Squeeze the juice from the membrane into the bowl with the segments.  Peel and stone avocados.  Slice thinly, then add to the bowl and toss to cover in the lemon juice.  Once the quinoa is dry, transfer it to the bowl.  Add the fava beans, garlic, radishes, half the basil, cumin, olive oil, chili flakes, and salt and pepper to taste.  Toss gently and garnish with remaining basil.  Great Healthy Spring Recipe!

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Long Winter’s Nap, Not So Long

I love this time of year when I can settle down with a good book or seed catalog, near the crackling wood burning stove.  Casper (the perfect cat) nestles into my lap, my dog Sage warming my feet and wanting more attention then the cat is getting.  Inside projects are getting finished that got pushed aside for several months of the year for gardening chores.  I love winter months.  But the real side of me is still yearning for those warmer winter days here in Southern Utah.  Freezing by night and comfortable by day.  These are days I gather leaves, turn compost and will be on the look out for that first narcissus to poke its leaves through the cold hard ground.  Sometimes we get an early bloom at the first of January on the Southeast facing side of the house.  What a welcome sight and a sweet fragrance they put off.  This is the time when I take mental notes of what needs to be done, what I aspire for next year and what beauty I can add to the garden or flower beds.  I watch over my fruit trees seeing what branches need to be removed due to old age or wind damage.  It’s time to prune the grape vines and make grape-vine wreaths with the long spindly cuttings, feed those hungry birds that depend on me for their winter food.  The vegetable garden still has many living things that require watering during dry spells such as the leeks, garlic, and the greens that are under row cover.  One can get so much enjoyment walking through a winter garden, you just have to look a little deeper.  A garden gives so much this time of year and asks hardly nothing in return.  Not much care required.  A break from weeding and what seems like constant watering.  With a root cellar full of a bountiful harvest from summer  saying,  job well done and all the fresh greens we can eat from under protective cover in the garden during the cold winter months gives us satisfaction until new spring crops.  I spend much of my time in the greenhouse this time of year.  It won’t be long before hundreds and sometimes thousands of little pots will be sprouting there first little leaves so green and healthy.  The first session of early crops were just started from seed this week such as brocoli, kohlrabi, kale and other greens.  The smell of the citrus blooming while the Meyer lemons are almost ready to pick entices me to come back soon to the greenhouse.  Who says winter is dull.  It’s only as dull as we make it.  Grant it, I don’t live in a very cold climate where the snow drifts make it impossible to visit the garden.  I think a winter garden should have interest and a mysterious side to it. 

This is such a great time to plan your next years garden.  This year I will be planting only heirloom varieties in my vegetable garden and careful planning will ensure I don’t miss a beat.  Sketch out your garden.  Include crop rotation, succession plantings, leave room to try a new variety this year, add some interest to your usual planting by adding herbs here and there.  Go walk through your garden and get inspired.  Plan on the best garden ever!  Try new flowers in your flower garden, pop some in your veggie beds.  Add veggies to your flower beds for even more interest.  I love to see Tuscan Kale grown amongst pink, red or purple flowers.  Eggplant is such a colorful and outstanding accent. What a better way to make an edible flower garden.  I love perennials, but you can’t beat some old-fashioned heirloom flowers like ‘Kiss Me Over The Garden Gate” over the garden gate!  Try some new long-term shrubs this spring for next years winter garden like dogwoods popped in a few places.  Their beautiful red twigs on cold winter days add so much visual color to an otherwise bleak garden.  Choose shrubs that have berries through the winter time like Winter Berry, Holly or Snowberry.  They are great summer time fillers, but flashy winter time thrillers.  Enjoy winter, embrace it, because spring, summer and hard work are just around the corner!

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