Archive for May, 2009

The KC Tomato Times Edition #3

It’s June in the Garden and the Living is Easy

The wildest thing about raised bed gardening with drip irrigation is the immense amount of time and work to install them in the beginning of the season, but this results in a virtually maintenance free garden from this point in the year on.  I am actually getting a bit bored with nothing to do (NOT!)…ahhh the sweet life!

I think we’re set with the Saturday, August 22nd date for the tomato tasting so mark your calendars!  I’ve yet to come up with a good name for the event, but am open to any suggestions.  I’m thinking of either having it in the 435/Roe area at Roe Park or possibly at Lee’s Summit or Blue Springs Lake.  It will be a family event, so bring the kids and grandparents…and the tomatoes!  I’ll have a lot more details in July…stay tuned!

We’ve been enjoying salads 2-3 times a week with lettuce, radishes and green onions.  The romaine is almost ready to harvest so we’ll have some lettuce wraps and Caesar salads soon as well.

With the warm temps, the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant have all taken off!  Most of my tomato plants are now between 2 and three feet tall and growing fast.  I stopped pinching blooms last week and am now waiting for my first fruit to set.  I have a total of 55 tomato plants in the garden this year with 14 varieties represented I think.

Some things you might want to be doing in your gardens now are:

Fertilize when plants have been in the soil about a month. Use a fertilizer with a low nitrogen level.  I use a 5-10-10 or sometimes a 10-20-10 version.  Just sprinkle a little of it around your plants and scratch it into the soil with a small rake or trowel and water it in well.  You can also foliar feed your plants with fish emulsion.  This is the only time you should ever water the foliage of your plants.

As for watering…water deep and only when needed! Plants need their soil to dry out a little so they can send roots down deeper. If you water a little every day, you’ll end up with plants with very shallow and weak roots.  Plants don’t like to live in soggy soil.  If your plants look a bit wilty at the end of a hot summer day, water them the next morning.  Avoid watering in the evening if you can as this encourages slugs and snails to visit your plants at night.

Mulch those plants! Mulching does so much to help the plants and the gardener.  It retains moisture in the soil, insulates roots from hot summer heat, and discourages weed growth.  Use whatever mulch you want; straw, wood chips, grass clippings, or plastic film.  Just make sure that the mulch does not touch the plant’s stem.  Grass clippings that are allowed to touch the stem of a plant can actually generate enough heat as they decompose to kill the plant.  Put them in a nice ring around the plant with a few inches between the clipings and the base of the plant.

Weed!  Weed! Weed! I really dislike weeding…I do everything I can to avoid it, but it still has to happen.  The plastic reflective much helps a lot as it only allows weeds to grow around the edges where they are easy to get.  I use a gooseneck hoe to wack most of them.  This is the one I’ve had for years and it is by far my favorite garden tool: .  Weeds steal water and nutrients from your plants and can spread fungal diseases and insects to your plants.  Pigweed is my worst enemy, but is easy to pull.  Bindweed is probably the most damaging weed I have as it grabs on to my plants and chokes them.  They are both pretty much impossible to get rid of, but can be managed with hoeing or pulling.

Watch out for bugs! Aphids and flea beetles tend to be the worst enemies out there.  Early detection is the best way to keep them from damaging your plants.  I used to use Sevin Dust, but have switched to a far more effective and organic  product the last few years called Pyola.  I keep a spray bottle of this in the garden at all times and as soon as I see any aphid or flea beetle damage, I treat the plants and all plants around them.  Make sure you get under the leaves where the aphids like to hide!  The reflective mulch I use has been extremely effective at preventing the aphids from hitting my plants, but when the foliage gets thick and covers the film, aphids can pop up.  Pyola to the rescue!

Fungus is no fun! Spotted wilt, fusarium wilt, blight, mildew and many others can devastate our gardens if we’re not careful.  I’m doing my best to prune all leaves and branches that touch the ground as a prevention for fungal diseases.  Watering the foliage is a huge no-no!  Wet plants will get fungus!  Water the base of the plant and preferrably in the morning.  If that fails, there are anti-fungal sprays you can use Daconil spray to kill and prevent fungus.

Take the time to enjoy! Gardening is a lot of work, but you must take a few moments each day to sit down and enjoy your garden.  Every day, I just sit on my bench at the entrance to my garden and just soak in the serenity.  Having an oasis of green in the middle of the city is wonderful mental therapy.  Don’t work, work, and work all the time or you’ll come to dread being in the garden.  Work in small increments, then take a break and enjoy the beauty.

Here’s a few more pictures from the garden, feel free to enjoy them and comment or ask any questions you might have.

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KC Tomato Times Edition #2

KC tomato Times

Edition #2

WOW!  The response from my last mailing has been incredible!  It seems that you KC tomato gardeners are not only hungry for tomatoes, but also ravenous for information on making that tomato patch as prolific as possible.

Most of the questions seem to revolve around fertilizing it seems.  Everyone sees all the ads for ferts that will make your thumb magically green and your garden the stuff of Jack and the beanstalk legend!  Nothing could be farther from the truth though.  In fact, a good garden will need little if any fertilizer throughout the year.  If you build good soil, it will have all of the things your plants need with few if any amendments.

Start will good compost…make your own if possible or buy it in bulk from Suburban Lawn and Garden in the south side of town or Missouri Organic if you’re farther north. or I’ve dealt with both of these companies and have had great service and a great product from both.  Put a big tarp in the bed of your pickup truck or trailer and buy a yard of compost for around $30-$35 a truck load.  This is WAY cheaper than the bagged stuff.  Mix in some perlite and/or some vermiculite at about a 8-1-1 compost/perlite/vermiculite ration and you’ve got a great filler for your raised beds or you can till this into your existing garden.

If you absolutely need to use fertilizers, make sure you use ones designed for vegetable gardening.  Ferts all have a 3 number system which designates Nitrogen-Phosphorous-and Potassium.  They are represented by 3 numbers.  ##-##-##.  Make sure the middle number is higher than the other two numbers.  For example 5-10-5 or 2-6-2.  If you use a fert with a high N number, you’ll have great big, green plants, but very little fruit on the vines.

This winter, get a soil test.  Go to for information on how to do this.  Then you’ll know exactly what your PH and nutrient availability is next year and can adjust your gardens accordingly.

Another question I get a lot is about mulching.  I am a firm believer that mulch MUST be used in the garden.  Whether you use plastic film, straw, grass clippings, or wood chips etc is up to you.  I use all of them at some point in the year, but my primary mulch is a silver reflective plastic film.  I used to use the red film, but switched to the silver last year as a solution to the aphid problems I was having.  I was amazed at how well it worked at keeping aphids from using my plants as a shad area/buffet.  The silver bounces light up under the leaves and causes the aphids to go elsewhere to take a nap and have some lunch.  This is what I use: It’s hard to find though, and a bit expensive, but well worth the effort due to the great results.  It can be used for 2 or more years depending on how rough you treat it.  My garden looks like a science fiction garden or perhaps a disco, but I do very little weeding, have great water/soil retention, and use almost no pesticides anymore!

One last note for everyone that is interested in rain barrels, if you want to get involved with them, do it for the right reasons.  Using rain barrels will not save you any money for many, many years unless you can get all the materials for free and don’t count the labor in setting them up and building them.  Get involved with rain barrels because you want to use the best possible water for irrigation and keep some water from running down the sewers.  City water has chlorine and other chemicals in it that are not good for your plants or your soil…using rain barrels will cut back on your use of city water and improve the overall health of your garden, but perhaps not your pocketbook.  I currently have 4 barrels for a total of 220 gallons of available rain water.  I bought all of my barrels from Rhae in Raytown.  She has an excellent design system for building them is great to work with and her prices are very reasonable.  Send her an e-mail at and she’ll be more than happy to help you out.  Tell her I sent you!

I’ve also had some requests for pictures of my gardens.  I’m a very cluttered person, so forgive the scattering of tools and other miscellany around my beds.  Enjoy the pics and feel free to comment on them with any questions or suggestions.

Finally, the response for having a tomato tasting in August has been overwhelming!  I’ve got some great people willing to help me out already (Right Judy and Camry!?!?) and we’ll work out the details as summer arrives!  For now, mark August 22nd on your calendars.

I’ll send out another newsletter in June to talk about tomato plant support, drip irrigation, and any other ideas you folks have questions about.  Until then…keep those thumbs green!


(The Tomato Man)

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Hello world!

KC Tomato Times

Edition #1

Fellow Gardeners,

I trust that all of you have had plenty of soil under your fingernails the past week or so. The cold and rainy weather has finally left us it seems and next week’s forecast is for 70+ degree highs and lows in the low 60’s. Those tomato, pepper, and eggplant plants should take off really soon!

As for my garden…well, it’s finally starting to look like a garden again. We’re anticipating our first salads next week with buttercrunch and black seeded simpson lettuce, green onions, and French breakfast radishes being almost ready. The raab, spinach and romaine lettuce won’t be far behind and I made a second planting yesterday of lettuces and radishes so we can enjoy salads well into late June before it gets too hot for these spring veggies.

My tomato beds are slowly getting filled up with plants. I’m personally growing about 15 of the 22 varieties I started this year. I just don’t have room (or the time/energy) to grow several of each so we had to make some tough choices. Cherokee Purple will be the big star of the year this season…I’m planning on putting in at least 20 of them so I’ve got enough to share of these amazing fruits! I also can’t wait for that first pico de gallo with Opalka and Brandywine tomatoes along with some lilac and California Wonder peppers as well as a few jalapenos to kick it up!

I am planning on organizing a tomato tasting picnic of sorts this summer. I was thinking mid-late August would be best so everyone would have enough of several varieties that we could all share. I’m thinking a picnic shelter somewhere in town where we cold all bring a few of our tomatoes of different varieties that we could all sample and try different ones. They have these events all over the country…I think it’s time we have one here in KC! If you have ideas for a location or would like to help out with the planning of this event, please let me know.

I plan on sending out a monthly or so newsletter to answer some questions that I get frequently and provide some advice for making your garden successful. If you have any ideas or questions for the newsletter, feel free to ask me or let me know what I could do to make this better. I may consider creating a gardening blog if that’s the format most of you would like to view.

If you are on this list and would like to be removed, please let me know and I will remove your name. I know we all get way too much spam and I don’t want to clutter your inbox with something you don’t want to read. If I mistakenly sent you two copies, please let me know as well so I can remove the duplicate. I’m much better in the greenhouse than I am creating mailing lists!

Well…thanks again for your continued support and as always, feel free to ask me anything you might be curious about and I’ll do my best to help make those thumbs as green as possible!



(The Tomatoman)

P.S. Next week I’ll be posting some tips on staking and fertilizing tomato and pepper plants!

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