Autumn weather is a few weeks away, but our tomato crop is throwing in the towel. We’re facing a brutal heatwave with triple-digit, record-breaking temperatures this weekend. Unfortunately, it seems to be the world’s trend this summer, either brutal heat or devastating floods.
San Jose had the driest January on record, followed by an equally-dry February. We average 14.9 inches of rainfall annually, with 6 inches falling in the first two months of the year. It’s disheartening.
Given these drought conditions, we can no longer justify a large vegetable garden. So instead, we limited our planting to three tomato varieties and watered them exclusively with captured rainwater. Unfortunately, I mistook some watering advice and let them dry out for too long between watering. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our small harvest in salads and supplemented from a local farm stand.
Tessa finds the warm soil in the raised bed irresistible, so I wrapped the front of the box with tulle to keep her out. As you can see, she simply figured out a way to gain access from the back of the box.
Our Bushman tanks hold 130 gallons each, and we have three. Unfortunately, the tanks are nearly depleted and are unlikely to fill again for several months.
We’re ending the season reflecting on our meager crop and a serving of humble pie. Better luck next year.
We planted our tomatoes in the VegTrug a few weeks ago, then promptly covered it with a net canopy. I wanted to keep Tessa out of the box if possible
There are a pair of tomato plants in the box, and an oregano plant from my friend Mary who inadvertently bought two.
Tessa’s a clever feline, so she figured out a way to lift the cover and climb inside. I tried tightening the velcro strap, but to no avail. So far, she’s only sleeping in there. Hopefully, she’ll take care of her other business elsewhere.
A handful of strawberry plants grow along the perimeter. I noticed today that a few stray geranium plants are back. They’ll fill the box if left there, so eventually I need to take them out.
I stuck my head under the netting to take photos, and I have to admit that it’s cozy in there.
I bought the VegTrug five years ago so that I could expand my growing area. It fits perfectly over the business end of the garden that houses the low-voltage transformer and an irrigation manifold intake valve.
The VegTrug is a marvel. The base is shaped like a V, allowing for deeper planting in the center and shallow-rooting herbs along the perimeter. It works perfectly on the gravel bed near the other two planting boxes and has added a lot more planting space for sun-loving vegetables.
In about a month, I’ll add some basil to the mix. I used to plant the tomatoes and the basil simultaneously but the basil started to flower. I kept pinching back the flowers, but you have to stay on top of it. Once the basil flowers, it bolts. Once the plant bolts the energy goes to the flowers instead of the tasty basil leaves. We love making Caprese salads, so with luck, I’ll get my timing right this year, and we’ll have lots of salads on our summer table.
I’m off to bed. I hope you’re enjoying your weekend so far.
I haven’t had much success growing tomatoes these past few years, but I refuse to give up. Fresh garden tomatoes off the vine are a treat.
My dad grew tomatoes in our garden in Canada. I grew up eating tomato sandwiches for lunch. In California, people add tomatoes to things like salads and sandwiches, but we enjoyed eating tomatoes as the main event.
When I write or type the word tomato, I can hear my mother pronouncing it tuh-mah-toh. Most Americans use the hard a or tuh-mey-toh. Are you saying it in your head now, too?
A year into the pandemic, my husband Mike, is showing an interest in gardening. Who knew? We headed to the nursery together and diplomatically chose two plants each. I frequently buy the brand Bonnie Plants, a company that has been around for over 100 years.
We decided on two cherry tomato plants and two Early Girl. For some reason, the term Early Girl gets on my nerves, but it didn’t stop me from buying the plant. It sounds vaguely patriarchal somehow.
I have a raised bed in the back garden which has grown a variety of things over the years. I planted geraniums at the end of the summer a few years ago so that Tessa wouldn’t use the raised bed as her personal “litter” box. We eventually transplanted one geranium to a pot, a second one in the front garden, and I think I may have taken the third plant downtown.
With the bed cleared, and the tomatoes planted, I covered the plants with a mesh netting intended to keep out bugs. It won’t be in place for long, as the plants will need to be staked, but I had hoped it would serve as a deterrent while the plants get established.
A few days later my son found Tessa sleeping under the mesh canopy. That cat!
The other two plants are in an Earthbox in the front garden in one of the few sunny spots. Earthboxes are all-in-one growing systems, intended for growing vegetables in small spaces. They’re great for moving around. The box has casters, a watering tube, a perforated watering tray, and even comes with a bio-degradable cover. You stuff potting mix into the bottom corners and soak to create a wick of sorts. Then you add potting mix, some lime, and some fertilizer, mix it all together and plant. You can plant seeds or small plants in the box. I’ve used mine for several years.
Now we sit back and wait to see if our plants will produce those delicious red tomatoes of my youth.
It’s the autumn equinox here in the northern hemisphere, or in simpler terms, the first day of fall. It’s also our wedding anniversary.
Today (September 23) sees the 2019 autumn equinox, the moment when the planet’s northern hemisphere swaps with the southern hemisphere to become the one furthest from the sun.
Autumn is a good time to reflect, especially in the garden. While the perennials remain robust year-round, summer annuals are closing up shop.
We had a second year of disappointing tomatoes. Despite my best efforts planting the EarthBoxes with fresh soil and fertilizer, moving them to a new location and ensuring they got full sun, production was blah. My garden mojo took a hit.
This stripey variety took months to set fruit. While they look interesting, I didn’t care for the thicker texture. All in all, one plant produced half a dozen tomatoes. Sigh.
This was also my first season without pumpkins. We’ve relied entirely on the squirrels to plant them each year, even if their planting methods are unconventional. By the time I fully noticed, it was too late to plant on my own.
I had brief hope. After amending the mix in a planting box with heavy, sandy soil, a few pumpkin plants appeared. It seemed unlikely that they would amount to much, but while I was traveling in July they took hold. Alas, they didn’t establish in time. Although the plants became vines and proffered a few blooms, there was no time for setting fruit.
On a brighter note, I received this gorgeous yellow calla lily in a pot last year. Mike transplanted it for me in the front garden and it’s spreading its proverbial wings.
It’s flowered twice and is now showing off its interesting seed pods as the plant goes dormant.
Our garden is densely planted now, requiring careful thought when a new plant joins the mix. This calla lives in the shadow of the Magnolia tree, not far from the deck. I love the cheerful display.
Nepeta, also known as catnip or catmint reseeds every year. It’s an herb, pleasing to cats, and humans alike. It produces a subtle scent in the garden unless of course, you’re a cat.
Our cats become quite possessive of the plant near the patio, though Mouse likes to visit the plant in the side yard as well. We all have our favorites.
As the temperatures change, the nasturtiums return
End of season for the pink hydrangea
Succulents and nasturtium
Anemone in full bloom and really tall this year
The path is passable once again
As for anniversaries, I married this wonderful man 24 years ago today.
It was the first day of autumn that year as we wed on the grounds of Wente Brother’s winery in Livermore. The day went by in a blur, so I’m grateful for the photographs that help solidify the memories. I’m grateful for Mike every day and for our life together.
I’m grateful for you, too, dear reader, for continuing to show up and read my posts.
It feels good to be back in the garden. I did something to my back a few weeks ago and for a few days the pain was unbearable. It subsided and then my neck went out. Good grief, I am so over it! It’s spring for gosh sakes. This is no time to be sidelined from the garden.
I pulled a few weeds sitting in a folding chair, making it official: I’m an “old woman gardener.”
Last weekend, in between back pain and neck pain, we got things done. Mike hung the shade sails on both patios which we leave up for six months of the year. Shade sails make the San Jose sun bearable, while at the same time creating “rooms” in the garden. Once our shade sails are up we spend more time outdoors.
I repurposed a decorative shower curtain once again to cover the swing cushions. After sewing two or three replacement covers over the years, only to see them in ruin, I no longer dedicate any sewing time to a swing cover that is generally faded by the sun and gnawed on by squirrels at season’s end. It’s a decent compromise.
A mix of geraniums and sage
A mixture of colors and textures in the garden
Pink geranium about to bud
Last summer’s sage going to flower
I hung a few mirrors from a local shop called Not Too Shabby along the back fence. I’ve always wanted to do something like this. It creates a focal point while covering up the boring fence. The mirrors are in the shade of the fruit tree and reflect different plants in the garden, depending on where you sit.
I planted tomatoes in my EarthBoxes® this year. Last summer’s crop was a bust, so I’ve moved the boxes into a more open space. Wind is more important for pollination than bees, so I’m hoping the new location on the gravel path pays off in delicious summer tomatoes.
Astoundingly, this is the first time in ages that I don’t have any self-seeded pumpkins. That said, as the garden fills in, there is less and less room for the seedlings to take hold. I’m going to plant pumpkin seeds in the front garden this year, so as the sweet peas die back in June, the pumpkins can fill in the space. It just doesn’t feel like a garden without pumpkins.
We had above-average rain this year, so everything looks healthy and refreshed.
My favorite, self-seeding flowers are back this year including Nigella (love-in-a-mist),
Nigella just about to break bud
Sweet peas with poppies in the background
A variegated pink sweet pea
Pastel pink sweet pea
Soft white sweet pea
A sea of white sweet peas
Assorted sweet peas
Sweet peas in the front garden
Nasturtium growing near the New Zealand flax
A rich orange nasturtium
Soft yellow nasturtium
Almost red nasturtium
and our state flower, the California poppy. I liberally scattered poppy seeds at the end of last summer and it paid off.
California golden poppy
California golden poppies spread throughout the garden
Poppies closed for the night
Mixture of poppies and sweet peas at the curb
Front garden natives mix with annual self-seeded cornflower, California golden poppies, & sweet peas
For any of you royal watchers, here’s a bit of California poppy trivia:
Perhaps the most important plant in the garden each spring is the Nepeta. Nepeta, also known as cat nip or cat mint is briefly intoxicating to cats. Lindy likes to eat it, Tessa dives in head first and all three cats take turns using the plant as a lounge.
Hot August days invite a certain melancholy. As July comes to a close, an ancient grief rises to the surface and the more I swat it away, the more it demands my time. My nine-year-old self rises to the surface and reminds me of my terrible loss: the death of my father on an oppressively hot, early August day.
Dad was a horticulturist by trade, but his love of gardening came home with him as well. He built our Ontario garden from scratch, changing a mound of dirt into what felt like paradise.
Daddy’s easel, hung on the wall of my crafting area. Photos of his model of the Golden Hind, Dad with a dog on someone’s porch, the flower shop he once owned with my Mum in Seaforth, Canada
If he were with me today, I would place my hand in his and we would walk through my garden together.
A bee gathers pollen from the chocolate mint in bloom
I once captured bees in a jar to show my dad I was brave. He explained in his kind way why I should set them free. They’re good for the garden he said. I was six at the time but for some reason that memory remains sharp and clear. Perhaps when memories are scarce, we hang on to what we can.
A bee travels the garden
We had a shorter growing season in Canada, but Dad was able grow tomatoes each summer. What fun we had harvesting the fruit and bringing it through the back door for our lunch.
Three green tomatoes, coming along nicely in the curb garden
Tomato plant in bloom
Dad didn’t grow pumpkins in our Ontario garden. It would be especially fun to show off my beautiful specimen and to smile about the squirrels that most likely planted them.
A tree rat helps himself to some bird food late one night
Dad loved all animals, once rescuing a mouse from a group of boys on the street in his home town of Oldham, England. I too rescue rats and mice and though most people cringe, I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Mouse surveying the curb garden
Daddy would surely get a kick out of a different kind of mouse: Mouse the Cat. Mouse is a rescue too, in his own way.
I descended from a long line of people who rescue strays. It’s a wonderful lineage.
These hot days will pass and my mood will lift, but for now I’m making room for that ancient loss and grief.
I’m not sure what to think about this season’s garden tomatoes. The expression “failure to thrive” comes to mind. Sadly, the basil and the corn in this box aren’t doing so hot either.
VegTrug planted with basil, tomatoes and corn. They’ve all remained small
Generally speaking, tomatoes are fairly easy to grow. The plant is part of the nightshade family, so their poisonous leaves remain untouched. The small yellow flowers attract the bees and before you know it (usually!) you have a vine of ripening tomatoes. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the production as they fruit all at once. That has not been a problem this year.
I planted half a dozen bedding plants in the spring. Some years I start from seed, but I didn’t save any last year so I went the lazy route. I put several small tomato plants in my raised VegTrug and three more in my vegetable box.
May, 2017. Everything looked healthy in May. The nasturtiums surrounded the tomatoes, until the heat set in
I had one more plant in need of a home, so I popped it into the curb garden where it would get plenty of sun in the company of the perennials.
It’s taken nearly four months for three of the plants to produce.
The first of the tomatoes
The first of the tomatoes in the planting box. They’re small but delicious
The plant in the curb garden never grew more than a few inches tall and the same goes for the plants in the VegTrug.
Tomatoes growing on the left side of curb garden box…all five of them!
I amended the soil, and watered faithfully once the rain stopped. The plants aren’t drooping or diseased and there is no sign of garden pests. They’re just small and sad and completely unremarkable.
Poor soil could be the culprit though I amended the soil with coffee grounds which I got for free at our local Starbucks. I kept an eye on the water and I know they’re getting full sun.
Since I really wanted at least one healthy tomato plant, I bought a larger bedding plant in a different variety and planted it in the curb garden. It’s too late in the season to start over with a small plant or from seed. All the perennials are thriving in the box so I know the soil is robust. The new plant looks healthy so far, no thanks to my mad gardening skills.
Newly planted curb garden tomato plant
Flowers on the newly planted tomato
Time will tell.
Meanwhile, fire season is upon us. Locally, we’ve seen three small fires, two in San Jose and one in nearby Saratoga. They were all extinguished within 24 hours. A fire in nearby Saratoga burned on the other side of the ridge from the camp where my son volunteers. That definitely gave me pause. The emergency alert system sent out a text saying to shelter in place, but when I checked on my son he said all was fine. We learned the following day that the alert went out to everyone in the county! I’m glad the system works, but the error unnecessarily alarmed a lot of people, including this worrywart of a mom. The largest active fire is in Mariposa/Detwiler. It’s burned 76,000 acres so far, but crews have it 40% contained. My hat is off to these firefighters that work tirelessly under unimaginable conditions throughout the fire season.
The heirloom tomato plants pumped out fruit all summer long. We ate them raw and in salads, sliced between sandwiches and Mike made the surplus into salsa. Oh yum.
Alas, tomatoes are a summer annual and they’ve come to an end. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, fall is just a couple of weeks away. It’s time for the tomato swan song.
The plant is still pumping out fruit, but the lower leaves are browning and the fruit isn’t nearly as sweet.
Tomato plant in decline
I collected a huge bowl earlier this week, washed them and popped them in the freezer. We’ll be able to enjoy them in another salsa or sauce. I harvested some green tomatoes as well, and put them in a paper bag. If green tomatoes have released a gas called ethylene then they’ll continue to turn red. Otherwise they’ll remain green. The bag simply traps the gas and allows nature to follow its course.
The main determiner in how fast a tomato turns red is the variety. It will determine how long it takes for a tomato to reach the mature green stage. Tomatoes cannot turn red, even forced by modern technology, unless it has reached the mature green stage.
Another factor is the outside temperature. Tomatoes will only produce lycopene and carotene, two substances that help a tomato turn red, between the temperatures of 50 and 85 F. (10-29 C.) If it is any cooler that 50 F./10 C., those tomatoes will stay a stubborn green. Any warmer than 85 F./29 C., and the process that produces lycopene and carotene comes to a screeching halt.
Tomatoes are triggered to turn red by a chemical called ethylene. Ethylene is odorless, tasteless and invisible to the naked eye. When the tomato reaches the proper green mature stage, it starts to produce ethylene. The ethylene then interacts with the tomato fruit to start the ripening process. Consistent winds can carry the ethylene gas away from the fruit and slow the ripening process.
If you find that your tomatoes fall off the vine, either knocked off or due to frost, before they turn red, you can place the unripe tomatoes in a paper bag. Provided that the green tomatoes have reached the mature green stage, the paper bag will trap the ethylene and will help to ripen the tomatoes.
This year’s crop planted themselves. I call them ‘volunteers’, seeds unintentionally planted thanks to the wind or a bird dropping seed. They’re often the healthiest plants in the garden. So while I’ve saved some seeds, I’m also lobbing the occasional tomato back into the veggie box, hoping they’ll plant themselves again next year. Sometimes, a gardener just needs to get out-of-the-way.
Tomato Plants: the long view Dear Reader, I wish you were here! This is a recent shot of my tomato plants. I’ve been harvesting tomatoes all summer long and putting them to good use. If you were here we could make a salad together while we caught up on our news. Until recently, that ugly pipe was hidden with cherry tomatoes. Just behind the tomato plants are the recently pruned raspberry vines. Let’s catch up soon. Cheers, Alys
In case you missed it, my first attempt at growing basil this season failed miserable. The basil grew fine, but then the snails ate it to the quick. Turns out basil is one of their favorites.
Two tiny ‘sticks’, formerly known as basil, right
Today I planted more basil, but with additional precautions. I bought a packet of copper tape and wrapped it around the planter bed. A small electrical charge will keep them from crossing the copper tape. One package was just enough. The new basil is now planted next to the tomatoes. The plants do well together, so they already have synergy going for them. Last year’s basil grew close to the tomatoes and remained healthy all season.
Since snails are resourceful, I needed to take additional steps to keep them out of the bed. Clippers in hand, I removed all the lower, over-hanging tomato leaves. There is no sense wrapping the box in copper, only to provide a nice bridge into the box for tasty dining.
Snail bridge? All Clear.
With my gloves firmly in place, I ran my hand along the under side of the upper box, making sure any hiding places were clear. You don’t want to box the snails *inside* the planting bed. I’m going outside one more time around dusk to be sure I haven’t missed any interlopers.
Meanwhile the tomatoes, no doubt confused by our warm winter, are growing like weeds. They volunteered in the planter box…
Self-sown (volunteer) tomatoes
in the gravel walkway…
I’ll just set seed here if you don’t mind
and they volunteered in the compost bin.
Tomatoes growing through the cracks of the composting barrel
No shortage of tomatoes this year.
On the subject of compost, I’ve stopped turning the bin for now. I want those adventurous tomatoes to have a fighting chance. I scooped out handfuls of compost and used it to dress the tomatoes and basil. I’m still amazed when I see the rich, black compost, knowing it came from dried leaves, twigs and kitchen scraps. It feels like my own little magic show in the garden.
Newly planted basil, dressed in organic compost, surrounded by copper barrier tape
Now that basil, round two is safely tucked in and the tomatoes are sporting a few flowers, I’ll soon have the makings of a delicious caprese salad.
We focus on reliable information and natural, tested solutions that really work. We never recommend anything that isn’t safe for children, pets, wildlife and the environment. You can control these pesky pests and still enjoy a beautiful, safe and natural yard and garden.
The site provides a list of slug and snail resistant plants, many of which already grow in my garden. Of course I’m trying to grow three of their favorites too: basil, lettuce and strawberries (the fruit, not the leaves).
For a chuckle or at least a guffaw, take a look at Slugapalooza. You’ll find clever poems, drawings and photos and (I kid you not) an ‘interview’ with a snail. Enjoy!
Great cooks make it look easy. They pull together a variety of dishes and manage to have everything on the table at the same time. It’s all in the timing.
For three years now, I’ve tried to plant the tomatoes and basil so that they’re ready to go at the same time as well. I love caprese salad, and the novelty of growing two of the three main ingredients is fun.
Here’s one of our salads from last summer.
In prior years, the basil took off, and the tomatoes took a long time to catch up. This year all the tomatoes self seeded in late winter, sending me scrambling for basil. I purchased a small plant from the nursery, and planted it near the volunteer potato. It was about the same size as the tomatoes when it went into the ground, so I patted myself on the back and figured a job well done.
Scene of the crime
Something devoured my plant! I’m not naming names or anything, but their initials are ‘S’ and ‘S’. Those slippery, slimy garden pests noshed my lovely plant down to the nubs. Boo!
Now here we are three weeks into spring, the tomatoes are taking off and the basil is…well…gone.
Once upon a time I was a Basil plant
I was chatting with my friend Kirra today and she mentioned planting her basil by mistake too close to the tomatoes. Then it hit me. Last year I planted the basil and the tomato side by side without any problems. Since tomato leaves are poisonous, I wonder if the proximity kept the S’s away? It’s worth a try.
Just before hitting the publish key, I searched the term ‘tomato companion planting’ and you’ll never guess what came up: basil! Last summer was a happy accident. So I’ll be headed to the nursery for another small plant, and now I know exactly where it should go.