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Yes, I know we still have tomatoes on the vine and some are just getting ripe, but it’s never too soon to plan for next year’s crop. If you were lucky enough to attend the Master Gardeners’ Tomato Extravaganza in San Luis Obispo on Saturday, you would have come away with valuable information on what varieties to plant next year. As part of the event, they hold a tomato tasting. Inside the meeting room attendees were able to peruse table after table of delicious tomato tidbits. They even had a basil sampling and basil lemonade. But in case you weren’t able to attend, read on.
You can find the best, most disease resistant cultivar to grow in our area, but what good is that if the tomato doesn’t taste good? Sure, we want production, but we also want something tasty enough to warrant the effort we put into growing it. Here are a few of the standouts:
Sara Black. Hands down my favorite. A black tomato (similar to Black Krim) from Germany. The skin was soft and the flavor was strong with a bit of sweetness. The flesh was fairly firm, yet still juicy. An heirloom from Germany, this variety is said to be more crack resistant than Cherokee Purple.
Brown Sugar. A close second to Sara Black this variety was sweeter, but didn’t have quite as strong of a tomato taste. The color of this variety is classified as black, but it really did appear more brownish than most black tomatoes. This indeterminate variety has a slightly softer, more juicy flesh than Sara Black.
Stupice. A great variety to grow on the Central Coast because it can tolerate our cooler summers. It’s also considered one of the Winter Tomatoes. Medium in size (similar to Early Girl) with a nice tangy taste. This indeterminate variety takes 55-70 days to produce.
New Girl. Billed as better tasting than Early Girl and it was. A much stronger tomato flavor with a nice soft skin. Gorgeous red tomato color. This F1 hybrid is indeterminate.
Jubilee and Sungold. Both are small yellow cherry tomatoes. Both are sweet and less acidic than most red cherry tomatoes. I give a slight edge to Jubilee for having a slightly firmer, yet juicy, texture than Sungold. Sliced on the plate Sungold wasn’t a pretty sight. Then again how many cherry tomatoes actually make it into the house?
Yellow Pear. Slighty larger than both Jubilee and Sungold, this yellow tomato is sweet and firm.
Basil Greek Yevani. This was a really interesting basil. It has a strong basil taste with a hint of sage and cinnamon. What really stood out, however, was the texture. It was more succulent than most basils. Sometimes fresh basil can be a bit chewy when eating it fresh. Not this one. It fleshy leaf was crisp and delicious.
Please note that some of these varieties may take a bit of online searching for seeds as they aren’t commonly available as starter plants and we won’t know until spring if our growers will have them.
Kudos to the Master Gardeners for putting on such an informative event. You can find more information on their events here.
Most folks have wrapped up their big spring push to get their gardens planted and are normally looking at a bit of a lull in their garden chores. June can be a great month to relax or with a little effort you can really extend your harvest. Here on the Central Coast we truly are blessed with a very long growing season. Our average last frost date is late March and our first frost date is sometime late October-early November. If you’ve planted everything in your garden at the same time in late March, a lot of vegetables will actually be done by August. Some things like lettuce and cilantro may even be starting to bolt. This leaves holes in your garden that with a little planning now, you will be able to fill.
Planting crops in succession, that is one batch after the other spaced out over time, is a great way to keep your garden producing. By planting successive crops you can make sure that you have plenty of the things you use often. For things that mature quickly it makes more sense to plant small batches spaced a couple of weeks apart. For example, radish take about 23 days to be ready from seeding to harvest. If you plant your entire seed packet at once, you have a lot of radish eating to do. If you have plans for a large number of radishes, go ahead. But if you are like me and like to add them to a salad a couple of times a week, it makes more sense to plant them in batches. I like to harvest a couple of bunches a week so I like to have about 15 radishes mature each week. This means that when I seed them, I plant 15, wait a week, then plant 15 more. Rather than having a bunch of radishes go to waste, I have just what I need, fresh and ready to go when I need it. Some plants that benefit form successive planting because of harvesting are beans, beets, carrots, bunching onions and corn. With plants that bolt quickly (flower, set seed and die because of the heat) it’s best
to plant and few early crops in the spring, wait out the heat, then plant a few more in early September. Plants that work with this type of schedule are cilantro, lettuce, (most greens actually) and dill.
Another way to keep it going is to plant more herbs. You are probably harvesting zucchini by now and looking for ways to make them into an interesting meal. Herbs like oregano, thyme, garlic chives and savory can help make this squash go from boring to delish in a snap! Plant more basil. Can one really ever have enough? And what about some herbs that you may have not thought about like lemongrass for Thai recipes or tarragon for some French cooking? How about growing your own sugar substitute? Stevia thrives in warmer weather and the leaves can be used to sweeten your iced tea.
You’ve already done most of the work by prepping your flower beds, weeding and mulching. Why not take advantage of all that effort by taking the time to tuck in a few more seeds or seedlings now to keep your garden producing until first frost?
When you go to the fertilizer section in any garden center, you are confronted with an array of different types of fertilizers and it can be hard to know if you are getting what your plants need. Understanding how to read the ingredients listed and what they do for your plants can help you make the best decision when buying fertilizer for your garden.
First the most important part of label to understand is those three numbers, normally on the front of the package. You will find fertilizers where all three numbers are the same, 10-10-10 or 16-16-16. You will find them where they vary, like 5-7-2 and even ratios like 13-0-0. These are the ratios, expressed in a percentage by weight, of the three major nutrients plants need: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (often abbreviated as NPK). To understand why these ratios vary, we need to understand what each nutrient does.
Nitrogen: Helps promote foliage growth and health.
Phosphorus: Helps promote root growth and health. It also aids in the formation of flower buds.
Potassium: Contributes to the overall vigor and health of the plant.
So which fertilizer do you need? The best way to determine what your plants need is by testing your soil. Just as deficiencies in a particular nutrient can cause problems, excess nutrients can cause problems as well. Also, if your soil pH is incorrect for a particular plant (too alkaline for an acid loving plant), the plant will not be able to access the nutrients until the pH is corrected.
Short of a soil test, using your understanding of what each number does can also help. For plants where you require mostly leaf growth, like a lawn, you would want a higher first number, Nitrogen, in the ratio. This will promote more of what you want which is healthy, green growth. For plants that require flowers and fruiting plants, a higher middle number, Phosphorus, is required. And we all want good health and vigor in our plants so some of the last number, Potassium also helps.
So you are probably thinking, “What if I want it all?” Good green leaf growth, good flowering and a nice healthy plant over all? Why not just use something with the ratio of 16-16-16? Here is where having a soil test comes in handy. Just like too little fertilizer can cause problems, too much can also hurt our plants. Too much nitrogen on tomato plants will not only cause excessive leaf growth over flowers, but can also cause problems with the plants ability to take up Calcium. This can lead to the yucky blossom end rot. Phosphorus contained in fertilizers can actually kill some of your South African plants like Proteas, Leucodendrons, etc. Too much Potassium can block the uptake of other nutrients and cause problems that way. Excessive Nitrogen can cause plants to grow too rapidly, leading to too much soft new growth which is like setting up a banquet for bugs. Bugs like thrips, aphids and leaf miners just love all that tender new growth.