Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Return Of The Blog

I looked outside today and saw the decaying state of my vegetable garden. I harvested the last of my vegetables last week. I even harvested a Black Russian tomato that was so good it made me get all excited about this coming Spring.
I brought in one pepper plant; the Chiltepin plant. I hope I can overwinter it successfully. I will be pruning it back this week and I plan on moving it to a bigger pot --it's in a 4 gallon bucket right now. Hopefully this won't kill it.
This coming Spring I think I will only plant on 5 gallon buckets. I go back and forth on this since the tomato plants that were in the ground did better than the ones in containers, but, as it is evident right now, getting the vegetable garden ready for next year is a lot easier if all I have to do is empty the buckets, wash them, and store them away. Who knows what my final decision will be!
One thing I know for sure; I won't start my seeds in January like I did this year. I will wait until the end of February before I put any seeds into any dirt.
Come on Spring!!!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tiger Lilly burning bright

This Tiger Lilly grows by the front door. It's blooms every year. First one, then two, and this year, three. The plant produces bulblets that grow at the base of each leaf. I took some this year and put them in dirt. Hopefully I get some new plants that I can put somewhere in the back yard. These bulbs were planted over 10 years ago. They were planted by the original owners of this house. The plants are in a very bad spot and they still grow.

Summer continues its assault on my time. I do get to the garden but not as often as I'd like. I have harvested much and enjoyed all of it. My Sugar Baby watermelons are sweeter than ever and my Minnesota Midget canteloupes are pretty darn good too. I have eaten my fill of tomatoes, squash, peppers and now, the cucumbers began to mature. I have learned lots of stuff this season!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The return of the pollinators

I went to harvest Galina tomatoes (cherry type, yellow, low acidity) for my dinner a couple of evenings ago and found myself immersed in a sea of buzzing creatures busily going about their business and pollinating all the blooms while they were at it. Hundreds of wild beasties hovered about me and not a single one attacked me. Lots of small wild bees and other bee-like creatures formed a surreal cloud of life and it gladdened my heart that my garden, imperfect as it is, allows them to feed and live their short but so important lives.

Over and out.

Lessons learned

With Summer well upon us, I find myself with precious little time to blog. This deficiency however, does not mean that things are quiet in the garden. Oh no! Early June brought a list of bad news and new lessons to this semi-novice grower of plants.

First, the garden I had planned and the garden that came into being are two very different enterprises. The advent of my new dog forced me to change my plans midstream and to direct my efforts to mostly futile attempts to keep my puppy from destroying all growing things.
With that said, I allowed grass to grow in my onion and garlic bed which caused poor ventilation conditions. I believe this is the reason why my onions developed what I believe to be Fusarium Basal Rot. I should have taken pictures but I did not so all I can do is describe what happened to my onions. All the onions with the exposed tops appeared to have been eaten from outside in leaving hollow bulbs for me to harvest.

I will blame the grass for competing with the garlic for moisture which resulted in very small garlic bulbs.

The last thing that happened to my onions and garlic was an unintended assault by my puppy Lexie. In her efforts to get a squirrel inside the fenced area, she ran at bullet speed (witnessed by my stay-at-home neighbor)and jumped the fence landing squarely on the garlic and onions, leaving a definite dog-shaped crater in the middle of it.

So I find myself planning next year's vegetable operation already while I harvest peppers, tomatoes, butternut squash, and cucumbers.

Oh, and the weather has been hot and humid leading to blight on a couple of my tomatoes (not my hanging tomatoes which are healthy as a horse though a bit small)

I hope to return to blogging regularly with pictures.

Over and out.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Asiatic Lilly?

My neighbour gave me this plant this Spring and this is what it looks like when it blooms. My sister-in-law says that it looks like an Asiatic Lilly. This flower is so beautiful that it looks fake.
The real kicker is that it spreads like a weed. My neighbour thought these were dead so she discarded them in her yard only to find them thriving later. She dug them up and gave them to me.

And here is a bit of a mystery: I don't believe this to be Blossom End Rot because all the tomato plants were planted on the exact same soil and none of the other tomato plants are exhibiting this problem. Unless, of course, that Perestroika tomatoes have a higher need for calcium. This plant is growing in a self-watering bucket so as an experiment, I stopped filling the reservoir and began watering the plant from the top. I may be imagining things but the new tomatoes seem to be less affected by this. I will try to add lime to it tomorrow to see if the problem disappears altogether.

In other news, it's been in the 100's for the past week or so and it promises to be the same for the foreseeable future. My melon bed has grown Jurasically and the Sugar Baby vines, which are supposed to be 3-4 feet long are now close to 7 feet long! I have baby watermelon and canteloupe.
I harvested my first tub of potatoes. I got about 5 pounds out of it. Not bad.

Over and out.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

First ripe tomato

The first ripe tomato of the season was picked this morning and quickly consumed. The winner is the Galina Tomato (yellow cherry type). The flavor was mild.

Second place goes to the Amateur's Dream. I picked the tomato even though it was not 100% ripe. If I was to guess, I would say that it was 85% ripe; red with no green areas although the red was not deep. I picked it because I am going out of town for a couple of days and I did not want to miss on the first red tomato of the season (really, my wife would just let it sit there, at the mercy of bug and bird!)

Sorry there are no pictures to go with this as I picked these early in the morning as I was rushing to go to work.

Over and out.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The importance of persistence.

Persistence. As humans, we need it badly. We live in a universe in flux and if we want to succeed we need to keep trying.

This is the year when I decided to jump on the re-use wagon. Mind you, I was already reusing some stuff, like my empty plastic soda bottles; but this year, I decided to do more. With that in mind, I began to collect 4 and 5 gallon buckets for my sub-irrigated containers, I scavenged for wooden pallets, and I began to think of new ways to use other stuff.
Then I ran into Peter from Wichita Rain Barrels at the Wichita Garden Show and this encounter expanded my ideas on reuse.
I originally set out to buy a rain barrel from Peter but then I decided to learn how to make one.
So I need a 55 gallon plastic barrel.

This is where the persistence comes in.

I called the local Coca-Cola bottler and they told me they only give their plastic barrels to the State of Kansas. Next I called the local Pepsi bottler; they told me to come and get one or two if they were available. I've made two trips out there (they won't tell me over the phone if they have any barrels available) to no avail. Apparently, demand for the barrels has increased dramatically. "Check with us later" the guard at the guard gate told me. And I will.

The same thing happened with the 5 gallon buckets. At first, I tried and tried and no restaurant in town would give me any buckets. I kept at it until I found a restaurant that would. Now, every two weeks or so, I go and have lunch there and come out with a few buckets in hand.

I am also trying to locate a steady supply of wooden pallets. I have gotten some here and there but I will continue to look for a place where I can get them steadily. You will be surprised how many companies pay to dispose of them.

Then there's Craiglist. I know serial killers lurk in there but there are so many cool things you can get for free!

So remember; if at first you can't get what you need for your gardening needs for free; Persist.

Over and out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A definite lack of pollinators

Where are my pollinators? I have yet to see a bee in my garden. In years past, I've had to contend with bees, wild and otherwise, wasps, yellow-jackets, bumblebees, and a number of other winged creatures that are fond of exploring the inside of a flower.
This year? Only flies and mosquitoes.

Yesterday, for the first time, I saw a wasp exploring around the lettuce and a butterfly was hovering around the blackberry bush. That's it!

One of my neighbors has a HUGE honeysuckle bush that attracts all kinds of living things but this year I haven't seen any.

So the mystery is: What's pollinating all my veggies? Is it possible that all the fruit in my plants is the result of wind pollination?

Only the Shadow knows....

Over and out.

Monday, June 8, 2009


I love Tamarind pods. They are sweet and sour and I ate them often as a boy. Tamarind trees grew large in the hot sun of the Sonoran desert. A couple of years ago, I ate some pods that I bought at the store and threw the seeds into a flower pot. Some months later, I was surprised to find baby tamarind trees growing in the pots.
I've managed to keep them alive in the hopes that they will grow in a container and maybe, just maybe, give me a pod or two. Here's one of them in a pot outside loving this 90 degree weather:

Here is a picture of my only Mini-Bell bell pepper plant. I originally grew a number of these from seed but I lost all of them except for this one. Next year I won't be so careless. This picture doesn't really show the number of peppers growing on this plant.

I have baby Brandywines! Last year, I did not stake my Brandywine plants properly and I came home one day after a storm to find them broken in half. I don't remember now if I even got to eat one Brandywine tomato last year.

Here's a picture of one of my Galina tomato plants. For some reason I have 4 of these plants. I hope the tomatoes are tasty.

My melon bed got wiped out early in the Spring during all the rain we got. I replanted Sugar Baby watermelon, both Red and Yellow and Minnesota Midget cantaloupe. They are doing ok so far. Some of them even have blooms.

I continue to have trouble growing radishes to full size. This is as big as they get for me. A lot of them never grew a bulb. I've heard several theories regarding this. I will keep on trying though because I love radishes.

I checked on my rain barrels and I have two full barrels (95 gallons). Cool.

Over and out.

2 minutes of rain

Last night a thunderstorm dropped a kazillion gallons of rain in about 2 minutes and some of it managed to get into my rain barrels (yeah baby!). Right before the deluge, we got a sprinkling of pea-sized hail which sent me like a mad man into the lightning to move some of the tomato plants under the covered porch in the back of the house.

My two dogs looked at me as if I was crazy, which I was. The puppy was scared of the thunder and lightning but my old dog Bo, has seen plenty of storms and he was more interested to see if I was running out into the yard with treats in hand.

Luckily, the hail was a dud and after the super strong gale of wind that knocked power out in parts of the city and broke many tree branches, there followed a gentle rain, the kind that soaks into the ground to the merriment of plant and gardener alike.

What kind of life do people who don't garden live? Believe you me, I am beginning to develop a deep vocabulary regarding weather much like the Inuit's many names for snow. I swear to you that my sense of smell can now detect things that only dogs were privy to before. Oh, I am no superman but hanging around plants, and bugs, and air, and sun, I am becoming part of an ancient club; a club we left a long time ago but which beckon us to come back.

By the way, the Mini Bell pepper plant is LOADED with peppers. I'm just too happy for words when I find a plant like that. It surely will be planted in my garden for years to come.

Over and out.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

As organic as it gets

Those commercial farmers that spray pesticides never have to see the enemy in the eye like I did today. For the second time, bugs have attacked one of my tomato plants. Again, they went for one of the weaker plants. Last time, I sprayed some pepper wax spray that worked. This time however, I, with blood-shot eye and with rage in my heart, crushed the spider mites and the aphids and the ants with my bare hands; and the last thing those poor creatures heard was me muttering something about sending them to the deepest hole in hell.
Yep, it doesn't get any more organic than that.

But enough about violent gardening acts and on to some pretties:

Behold this beauty. Until today, I was claiming that this was the Amateur's Dream plant. However, this plant is not growing like an indeterminate tomato but rather it is behaving more like a determinate; in which case, I may have put the wrong label on it. This one could be the Market Miracle plant. At any rate, it has been my best tomato plant this season.

And here is the lone Jet Star tomato. The Jet Star plant is growing on the Topsey Turvy hanging planter. I sure hope this plant produces more fruit so that this tomato doesn't cost me $30 dollars! This tomato is now 1 month old. I thought for sure it would have ripened by now.

These are tomatoes from the Urbikany plant. All my Siberian tomatoes are doing well. Next season I hope to plant more of them.

This is the Perestroika tomato:

Last but not least is my Anaheim pepper (only one so far):

I finally dug all the volunteer tomato plants growing in the melon bed. It was a tough decision but the melons are now getting plenty of sun and they don't have to fight for the moisture. I also dug up all the carrots. I had to concede that they did not have enough depth to grow properly. Still, they are delicious at 3 inches long.
I have lost hope for my garlic and onions. Some of the onions went to bloom already and my garlic looks weak.
My black beans look sad as well as do my peas. My green beans however, are doing really well.
I have about twenty strawberries in two plants and my blackberry bush has lots of blackberries.
Now if I could only get some decent rain!

Over and out.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


We finally got a little bit of rain yesterday and today the sky looks promising for some more of the wet stuff.

It's been in the high 80's to mid 90's around here with full sun for a couple of weeks and now my lettuce has bolted and some of my onions are blooming.

And while in the subject of rain, the people in Colorado are apparently reconsidering their ban on collecting rain water. What!? (you may exclaim). Yep,
it is considered stealing in Colorado, what, with all the water politics out West.
Our own rain barrel maker here in Wichita keeps making it in the news because rain water collecting is taking off like a rocket along with gardening and raising your own food.

Now, I called one of the local soda pop bottlers in town to ask if I could get a couple of 55 gallon drums where the soda syrup comes in and I was informed by a very friendly lady there that the State of Kansas is collecting the drums for a state-wide rain barrel project. Mmmmm... I immediately went to the State's web site but all my search efforts turned nothing about this. I guess I'll just have to wait.

Over and out.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Don't know when to shut up

Community garden. A shared space where a group of people decide to grow plants together. As a group, they decide what to grow and how to grow it and then everybody works toward making it happen. There are no individual plots in this scenario. I've have seen this work, season after season, successfully in a community garden here in Wichita.

Garden Club: For lack of a better description, I call this a garden club. This is a large(ish) piece of land, owned or leased by an organization whereas a person can rent a plot to grow whatever his/her heart desires. Generally there are some rules about what to grow (no marijuana, for example) but mostly, the renter of the plot can do as he/she pleases.

In recent discussions in the blogosphere, these two seem to have gotten mixed up. Someone in another blog suggested that in the good ol' US of A we don't know what a Community Garden really is. The problem is that in the US we call Garden Clubs Community Gardens. Because of this confusion, folks were all up in arms about the idea that someone would tell them what to grow.
In a true Community Garden, there are no individual plots.
Now in England, and maybe Australia, people get Allotments. I don't know that we use that term here but we should.
This would eliminate the confusion.
Like I said. Here in Wichita, I know of one Community Garden that is truly a community garden worked by people in the neighborhood. I drive by it and it seems to work fine.
Then, we have at least one Garden Club where one can rent a plot. It's not really a Community Garden but rather people who gather together to do what they love which is to grow stuff.
I would love to belong to a Garden Club and have my own plot and in fact I may do just that soon, if there are any plots open. I have a big yard but the plot in the Garden Club would be away from curious dogs and children and unencumbered by tall mature trees that shade everything.
I would also LOVE to belong to a Community Garden where I could work shoulder to shoulder with other like-minded people to bring in a harvest that we could all share.
When it comes to these two gardening options, I see them as offering different benefits. In one, I can grow my stuff in my lot and not ever have to interact with another human being (after I pay my dues that is) in the other, I am forced to talk and cooperate with other people.

Over and out.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


It is May 30 and the thermometer reads 95 degrees. The sun is fully out and here's the status of my plants.

The Amateur's Dream tomato has 10 medium sizes tomatoes. It is by far the best tomato plant in my operation.

The Urbikany tomato has 4 medium sized tomatoes.

The Galina plants all have cherry tomatoes.

The strawberry plants all have strawberries.

Every tomato sucker I planted has rooted and all are doing quite well.

The weakest and smallest of my Black Russian tomatoes has been attacked (viciously) by spider mites and other nasties. I sprayed a hot wax pepper spray on it and that killed 99% of the attackers.

The flowers on one of my potato tubs died about 1.5 week ago.

And, by far, the best watering technique is the cloth wick system. In terms of simplicity, this technique beats all others. Today, the wick is still moist in spite of 80+ temps all week with full sun. The soil is moist but not soggy. The original wick pot dried out but that one has a very narrow cloth wick.

Of the self-watering containers, the 18 gallon totes are doing the best, followed by the 5 gallon buckets. The 4 gallon buckets are requiring water every day. In their defense, the 4 gallon buckets have the largest plants, loaded with fruit.

My onions and garlic seemed to have stopped growing.

My beans and peas are in desperate need of some kind watering solution. I am working on the D.R.I.P. system (Diminished Rate Irrigation Process).
Ok the name is supposed to be a joke but the method is as serious as a heart attack.

The peppers on the ground have refused to grow but the ones in the containers are doing ok.

Corn, squash, zuchini, melons, carrots, lettuce, sunflowers are all doing as expected.

Over and out.

P.S. It's HOT!!!!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I am feeling hot hot hot

It's been 80+ for the last few days and my new wick-watering experiment is a total success. I planted a couple of Marygolds in a pot and this time I put a much wider wick connected to a bigger water container -a plastic milk gallon jug. Not only has the wick stayed wet during the very hot, very sunny days, but the soil is moist throughout. Now, there is one itsy, bitsy issue with this method of watering and that is it's sheer ugliness. So, I don't imagine that it is going to take with the population at large but for growing vegetables such as squash, or maybe a cucumber plant, this method should work great.

My Amateur's Dream tomato plant continues to outperform all the others with the Urbikany coming a close second. The Amateur's Dream is loaded with tomatoes. The fruit is a medium sized, red tomato. I can't wait to taste it!

The first pepper plant to produce this year is my Mini-Bell. These are supposed to be miniature bell peppers. All my pepper plants decided to start growing this week. They were small for the longest time. Here's the first pepper of the season:

I love my volunteer plants this year. This is the first year I've had any volunteer vegetables.
First I saw what appears to be a cucurbitas of some kind. I grew Sugar Baby watermelon here last year so this could be a watermelon. I also grew cucumbers here so it could be a cucumber as well.

Then, all of a sudden, this tomato plant just appeared! I swear I did not see it 2 days ago. I grew Galina cherry tomatoes and Black Russian tomatoes here last year so it could be either of those.

I ate my first lettuce of the season. It was a Thumb Tom and it was delicious. A squirrel dug up all my second batch of radishes. I have a third batch doing well in a container so I am ok.
I planted my sweet corn in a spot that doesn't get full sun all day and they are leaning a bit. I will leave them be to see what happens.
My puppy chewed on my new rain barrel and spilled all my rain water. So now I have two barrels I have to fix. We are supposed to get rain tomorrow so hopefully I will refill them.

Over and out.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A short poem

Gratitude To A Vegetable Plant

Thank you,
for speaking to the elements
on my behalf.
Thank you for reaching deep
and reaching high;
that through your efforts
I may bite
into the soil and the sky.

© 2009 David Borboa

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Out of Phosphorous?

The June 2009 issue of the Scientific American magazine has an interesting article of some relevance to those of us who grow plants. The article by David A. Vaccari explores our present situation regarding this very important mineral and raises the idea that we may face a shortage of phosphorous in the next few decades.
As with many debates of this type --running out of stuff, that is, there are two sides to the story. Whereas Mr. Vaccari contends that the economically extractable phosphorous is running out, others believe that we have plenty.

Phosphorous is the middle of those three numbers on every bag of fertilizer. You've seen it: 5-5-1 or N-P-K (Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium). Commercial growers depend on it to grow the huge amounts of food it takes to feed our ever-growing human population.

Mr. Vaccari explores the various scenarios that contribute to this coming shortage, including how we have disrupted the Phosphorous renewal cycle. What Mr. Vaccari doesn't mention is the effect vegetable gardens may have on the demand for food on commercial growers. What would happen if, for example, 30% of Americans grew their own vegetables on their yards? What would happen if 30% of the world grew their own vegetables using sustainable methods?
By the way, I chose 30% based on the fact that when I drive around my neighborhood, only about two out of every ten houses has vegetables growing in their backyards (where I can see anyway). I figured, hugely un-scientifically, that 20% of my neighbors grow veggies, so I just increased that by 10%. I would be interested to find out how wrong I am.
And what about small farms that can supply food locally?

This article cemented my commitment to growing my own food using sustainable methods. I will continue to explore the possibility to grow vegetables all year round using cold-frames and green houses.

Over and out.

Monday, May 18, 2009

2nd Aspirin spray plus updates

Today I did the second Aspirin spray on all vegetable plants plus the fruit trees and the berry bushes. It wasn't quite 3 weeks yet but I figured since we had so much rain I better spray in hopes of forestalling any fungus episodes. For more info on this experiment, see here.

The watering through a wick experiment --see here, seems to be a success. The wick has not dried and the soil is moist even after a number of hot, sunny days. the surface of the pot has dried but the subsurface is moist. Now I need a plant growing in there to stress the system. So far, none of the herbs I planted in that container has sprouted.

And speaking of watering, something has come to my attention that I had not been aware of. Apparently, a sub-irrigated container, aka a self-watering container (swc), may prove too much for a young seedling. Small tomato plants especially may fail to thrive if they are in a sub-irrigated container that is moist all the time. I have noticed this myself with the smallest seedlings; they just won't grow in these containers. The larger seedlings had no problem whatsoever and turned into full plants and are now producing fruit (yeah!). I know of at least one post in a blog whose link I unfortunately lost, where this problem was reported. That case involved a self-watering container made with 2 liter bottles. I personally think the swc was constructed incorrectly but I can't prove it.

This next tip was reported a couple of years ago by someone else in a forum and I ignored it (typical!) at my own peril. It was advised to place a piece of garden fabric at the bottom of the sub-irrigated container to keep the roots of the tomato plant from reaching into the water reservoir (you place the fabric at the bottom of the bucket containing the soil).
The largest of my Brandywine tomato plants has already shot roots into the reservoir. When the plant does this, there is a danger of root rot and other things.
I have learned my lesson.

Last, I have an idea to fix my plastic watering spikes. The problem I am experiencing stems from the fact that last year I punched three wholes in them that were too large. The result of this is that the water seeps out too fast and the 2 liter bottle empties too quickly. I had hoped for a slow release of water that would allow me to water less often.
My proposed solution is to stuff garden fabric or an old cotton rag into the cone to slow down the flow of water. I will implement this later this afternoon and report on the results.

Over and out.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tomato techniques

If you don't want to stake or cage your tomatoes, here are some overlooked techniques for keeping them upright:

Hold them upright yourself:

Implant Adamantium skeleton:

Alter them genetically:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Various and sundry things

My big potato plant has flowers now. I know it's way to soon for any potatoes so I don't know why it's flowering already. This is one of the potatoes that I started inside in a peat pot and that may be what people where talking about when they said that potatoes do not do well when started inside. The flowers are pretty though.

Update on the self-watering, wicking experiment. It's been 2 full days and the wick is still wet and although the soil is not dried, I am not confident that enough water is moving across the wick. I must say though, that the day before yesterday was hot, 80+ and sunny and the fact that the wick did not dry may be proof that indeed, there's plenty of water moving. I still think that a wider piece of cloth may deliver more water.
Interesting thing about capillary action. The reason water moves is that water molecules are attracted to water molecules and that is why both the wick and the soil must be wet when you first build a system like this, or when you build a self-watering container (or sub-irrigated container as I and other people preferred to call them). So the water molecules in the soil pull the water molecules on the wick which pull the water molecules from the bottle creating a flow. There are more things under heaven and earth that are dreamt of in our philosophies indeed!

Last, here is where I am on the road to Ollas (for slow-watering purposes)

I have taken 3 pottery classes now and I finally began to understand centering the clay and pulling the clay up into a tube. I say I began to understand, which is to say that I still have some ways to go before I can throw an Olla. I think next class, I will learn how to fire this cup and a couple of bowls that I've made.
Much like capillary action on water, learning how to throw pottery has attracted a desire to make my own potter's wheel since the ones I use at school cost about $1200 dlls.!!!!!!
I've seen several designs online for wheels and I just have to decide which one is simpler. Also, I want to build a kiln that uses wood because A) I am very scared of propane B) I want to fire my own stuff whenever I want to.

Over and Out.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Grow your own for your own good

Here is a list of various fruits and vegetables graded according to their pesticide load.

Notice Peaches are at the very top. Have you ever tried to grow Peaches organically? Phew! If someday these darn late freezes stop killing all my blooms, I plan on bagging each Peach to try to get one or two not sampled by a legion of bugs.

Please visit http://www.foodnews.org/fulllist.php for more information. Meanwhile, by growing your own of the stuff listed here, you can be sure to control what you are eating.

1 (worst)Peach100 (highest pesticide load)
3Sweet Bell Pepper83
10Grapes - Imported66
13Collard Greens60
16Green Beans53
17Summer Squash53
21Grapes - Domestic44
28Winter Squash34
31Honeydew Melon30
33Sweet Potato29
41Sweet Peas - Frozen10
45Sweet Corn - Frozen2
47 (best)Onion1 (lowest pesticide load)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tomato question

I just learned that determinate tomatoes fruit once and then they kind of stop. Obviously, to get fruit from determinate tomatoes all season long, we need to stagger their planting.

My question is; if I pinch a sucker off a determinate tomato, can I fool mother nature and get a plant that will fruit? Or will the tomato genes know that they are done fruiting for the season?

What if I do some extreme pruning? Will that allow me to coax another set of fruit from the plant?
Extreme pruning is just that, pruning the plant to the extreme. I read somewhere that a tomato only needs three leaves to live (that is leaves, not leaflets) and that by pruning extremely, all of the plant's energy goes into producing fruit.

Has anyone tried either one of these techniques?

Inquiring minds want to know!

I am off to pinch a determinate tomato plant's sucker.

Monday, May 11, 2009


2 liter bottle. Check.

Cloth scrap. Check.

3 dollar container from Dollar General (from last season). Check.

Add soil. Wet soil. Add wet cloth.

Cover with soil to the top of container. Wet soil. Insert other end of cloth into 2 liter bottle. Fill 2 liter bottle with water.

As I was finishing this project, it occurred to me that it would improve my chances of success if I made the wick (cloth) wider thus increasing the surface area to deliver water to the soil.

Also, to avoid growing algae in the water bottle, it would help to shield it from light somehow (duct tape perhaps)

I planted Dill, Oregano, and Spinach. I'll report on my progress.

Also, I was preparing a couple of sub-irrigated containers and I thought it would be useful to show what they look like before the dirt goes in.

This is my fill tube. I hope you can see the notch I made in one end. (I used my cell phone to take these pictures)

Finally, this is what it looks like before I add the dirt.


I have been thinking about the best way to re-use 2 liter bottles to water my plants. Here's an idea:

Step 1: Take a standard 2 liter bottle.
Pepsi for me, thanks!
Step 2: Take an empty 5 gallon bucket donated kindly by a local restaurant. Drill or punch drainage holes on the bottom.
Prior BBQ sauce vesselStep 3: Take an old cotton t-shirt and cut a 1 - 2 inch wide x 1.5 foot swath from it. These measurements are totally arbitrary. Do what works for you.
Groovy!Step 4: Fill 1/3 of the 5 gallon bucket with potting mix.

Step 5: Get the t-shirt scrap wet. Really wet.

Step 6: Lay one end of the t-shirt scrap inside the 5 gallon bucket on top of the potting mix. Add enough water to moisten the soil.

Step 7: Fill the rest of the bucket with potting soil and add water to wet the newly added soil. Put your plant in.

Step 8: Insert the other end of t-shirt scrap into 2 liter bottle and fill bottle with water.
Put capillary action to work for you!
I just thought of this when I awoke this morning. I haven't tried it but I think it will work.

The magic here is provided by capillary action. The water travels up the cotton fibers as water from the soil vanishes.

Our nemesis here is evaporation. We don't want the t-shirt scrap to dry. I think I could wrap the exposed fabric with a plastic grocery bag to keep it wet during the hot days of Summer.

Unknowns are: Will it work at all? Will the water wick fast enough for a big plant like a tomato?

  • Although the sub-irrigated container using two buckets works well, it uses two buckets and requires more drilling, cutting, and assembly. A new method that requires a minimum amount of cutting, drilling, and materials is nice.
  • Burying a bottle or olla in a container takes up precious space needed by the plant.
  • I apparently do not have enough to do.
I will implement this design and report on my progress.


Yesterday, in the evening, I finally planted some herbs:

Basil (Genovese)

I planted the Basil in the tomato sub-irrigated containers. This will not work if I don't keep the tomatoes neatly pruned.

I sowed more bush watermelon (Sugar Baby and Sugar Baby yellow). I hope these don't die like the others.

I also planted the Catalina flower (Torenia) in a nice partly shady spot. The flowers are blue/purple. I hope it takes.

I sowed the last of the seed of French Marygolds from last year. Last year they sprouted and grew large but did not bloom. I wonder if I waited too long.

I finally put a suggestion of a fence around the Hollyhock bed to see if my dogs get the hint.

The Black Beauty Zucchini and the Butternut squash are up. I love Butternut squash. I just slice it, saute it in olive oil with onion, garlic, and then I add some cheese. Yummmm.....

The Yellow Pear and the Golden Jubilee tomato plants have been up for a week now but are not getting bigger. They look healthy however.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

All the mothers in my life woke up to, what else...rain. Sigh!

And if you bought your mom one of these upside-down tomato planters (hey, you never know, some moms may want one :-) ) here's something they don't tell you on the commercial: The tomato plant will want to grow UP.
This is a problem because, as the plant gets bigger and produces fruit, the weight of the tomatoes may break the plant. This was actually reported by some acquaintances of mine who tried this planter a couple of years ago. I don't know if this happens to all varieties of tomatoes. It is happening to the Jet Star growing in my upside-down planter. I think putting a bamboo stake and training the plant when it is young may solve the problem.

The tomatoes in my containers are finally getting taller. I thought they may not grow anymore since I started them so early and left them in their small pots for so long but they are showing vertical growth at last. Some of them are bearing fruit now.

Because of all the rain we've gotten lately, I am growing small mushroom forests on some of my containers:
Mushroom Forest
The Tom Thumb and Tin Tin lettuce are doing ok in the square-foot-gardening beds

And look at the pretty squash flower! This plant won't survive unfortunately as it has been attacked by some borer. I would show you the beast but I sliced it when I extracted it from the stem of the plant and it just looked like goo afterward. I may have killed the plant as well, although the leaves are not droopy anymore.

Flower six packs were on sale so I picked a few.

The largest of my potato plants is budding. I can't imagine that there are potatoes in there already so I am going to let it sit for a while longer.

Here is my 3 year old at breakfast. Later, he will go and dig in the yard for the sheer pleasure of it and I will dig alongside him (for the sheer pleasure of it).
My 5 year old was unavailable for a photo shoot.
Also, the sweet corn is as high as a cricket's eye, the giant sunflowers are all up, the giant kale has sprouted, black bean seedlings are making their appearance as are the sweet peas. I planted green beans and more radishes. I harvested and ate all my radishes except for a few that just did not grow.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ruminations on sub-irrigated containers

Now that I've made a few sub-irrigated containers (SIC) and planted a few plants in them, I have a few opinions:

Sub-irrigated containers or Self watering pots are called so because you fill their reservoir with water and the plants get the water from this reservoir as they need it. Actually, water moves from the reservoir up through the soil to the plant's roots although it is not uncommon for the plant to shoot the roots all way down into the reservoir.

I don't like making and using SICs from 18 gallon totes.

For one thing, they are harder to make, at least when compared to the SICs made from 5 gallon buckets.
For another, the totes that I can get from Target, Dollar Store, etc, are not UltraViolet light stabilized. The SIC I made from a tote last year is already getting a little stiff and brittle this year.
They are also harder to move once you fill them and put plants in them.

No, for me, 5 and 4 gallon buckets are the way to go. I finally found a restaurant where they told me to come any time and get 5 gallon buckets. Score! You will be shocked to learn that they throw them away if no one gets them!

  • It is easier to make a SIC with two 5 gallon buckets.
  • SICs made with 5 gallon buckets can be moved relatively effortlessly
  • They last longer, season to season.
  • They are big enough for just about any plant.
  • You can get 5 gallon buckets free from restaurants.
With 5 gallon buckets, you can standardize the making of your SICs. I bought one of those drill bits that are round (2.5 inches wide) that are used to cut holes into drywall and stuff and used it to make the big hole at the bottom of the 5 gallon buckets.
**NOTE** Make sure you buy a guiding bit that goes with the hole-making bit. You will need the guiding bit to attach the hole-making bit to the drill and to stabilize the hole-making bit when drilling the hole

For the 1 inch hole, I used a 1 inch "paddle" bit. I don't know the proper name of these bits but when you see them you will know why I call them paddle bits.

For the air holes, I used a plain 1/4 inch drill bit.

It takes two 5 gallon buckets to make a SIC.

Take one of the 5 gallon buckets and drill holes at the bottom as indicated in the graphic. This is your TOP bucket:
Stack the TOP bucket into the second bucket. 5 gallon buckets conveniently fit into each other to leave a space approximately 3.5 inches deep at the bottom. This space serves as the water reservoir.

I drill two holes in opposites sides of the BOTTOM bucket, about 1/2 inch from where the bottom of the TOP bucket would be. These holes are needed to allow air into the reservoir. Air is essential for the proper functioning of this system. Air comes through these holes and it gets sucked in by the soil.

Next, I take a small plastic cup and cut four evenly spaced slits around its sides and two small slits at the bottom. This cup acts as the wick by which the water from the reservoir gets delivered to the rest of the container. We have a bunch of small plastic cups we get from restaurants with our boy's drinks.
Originally, I drilled a bunch of holes into this cup and then I secured it to the bucket with plastic ties. This a lot of work and it took the joy out of making a SIC. I got the idea of cutting the slits into the cup and just letting the soil weigh it down from the Homegrown Evolution blog or maybe it was the Green Roof Growers blog. I apologize for not remembering!

Once you have cut the slits, drop the cup into the 2.5 inch hole . It will protrude a little and that's ok. If you want the cup to sit deeper, make the hole in the TOP bucket larger than 2.5 inches. The thing to avoid, is making the hole the same size as the mouth of the cup because if you do, the cup may go all the way through and move in the reservoir, messing up the wick idea.

Finally, put the fill tube into the 1 inch hole and make sure it goes all the way to the bottom of the reservoir. Cut a notch in the end of the tube that goes into the reservoir to allow for better flow of water when you are filling the reservoir.
Before I go on I want to talk about the fill tube some more. I have mentioned in this blog that I don't recommend using PVC pipe as a fill tube. PVC is easy to work with but I've read discussions on the web regarding the possible leaching of harmful chemicals into the soil of the container which then are taken up by the plant, ending up in your plate. It sounds plausible to me but I have no proof whatsoever that it is true. Still, I don't want to take unnecessary risks, especially when there are alternatives. I chose Aluminum as the material for the fill tube only to find out that the same thing may happen with Aluminum ions getting into the plant and into my food. Again, why take a risk. The nice thing about PVC and Aluminum pipes is that they come in big sizes, like 2 inch diameters, which make putting the water in the reservoir easier. Alas, being the paranoid type, I chose to use an old watering hose to make my fill tubes; thus the 1 inch hole for them in my SIC's.
I hope that because the 5 gallon buckets I use were made for food storage, they are safe for growing edible plants in them.

So now that the cup and the fill tube are in their respective holes, I pour the soil in. It is not recommended to use yard soil. The soil that works the best is the stuff you can buy at your Mega hardware store like Lowe's. This type of soil mix allows for the air and water to move freely from the reservoir to the plant. I fully intend to use less and less store-bought soil and use more and more of my home-made compost for these containers
When adding the soil to the container, make sure that the cup (wick) gets soil in it. I fill the cup first and pack the soil firmly with my hand. Then I add some more soil and pack that firmly as well. Then I add some water to make sure it is wet. I repeat this process a couple of more times. The soil has to be wet all the way down to the cup for this to work. If the bottom soil is dry or if you allow it to become dry, water will not travel up the soil mix to the plant. I have no direct experience with this since I haven't allowed the soil to dry but this is the warning I got from the people who did this before me and I don't want to test it.

Some people add dry fertilizer to the very top of the soil after the plant is in. Magically, the fertilizer travels down the soil mix. There is a very erudite and complete explanation as to why this is so in the GardenWeb forums. I don't use dry fertilizer in my containers because the soil I bought comes pre-fertilized. Eventually, when I no longer buy soil, I may consider feeding the plants or not.

The last things to do are to put your plant in and fill the reservoir. Since I use 1 inch wide tubing, I found it easier to fill the reservoir using a funnel. I keep filling until water comes out of the air holes.

I found out last year that I only had to re-fill the reservoir about once a week even in the hottest part of the Summer. I saw tomatoes growing abundantly in sub-irrigated containers in Phoenix Arizona during their Summer, which is brutal!

Also, there are other websites that show you how to make a SIC. I have seen some very fancy SICs with built-in tomato cages and all manner of improvements. I stick to my simple SICs. Once you make a couple of them, it gets very easy to make them. Especially if you standardize your procedure and make them all at once.

Hopefully I will get to take some pictures this weekend to show you how my tomatoes and peppers are doing in these containers.