Tomatoes: Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor even after Harvest Season

Your summer veggie garden is in full bloom, and your tomatoes are doing great. The only problem? Your garden may be producing more tomatoes than you can eat! (What a catastrophe!)

Don’t waste your harvest.

Preserve tomatoes now to enjoy the sweet rewards of your summer veggie garden long after harvest season is over.

Step-by-step Instructions to Can, Save and Preserve Tomatoes:

Perfect Picking for Preservation

You’ll want to allow tomatoes to ripen on the vine, so they reach peak flavor.

Harvest when they have colored evenly and are a tiny bit soft when squeezed. Remember, tomatoes stop ripening in temperatures above 86º F. If your area is consistently warm, tomatoes may stop ripening when they reach an orange/yellow color. So, don’t wait for them to turn completely red before picking.

To remove tomatoes from the vine, grasp them gently and firmly. Twist the tomato until it snaps off the vine, or slice the stem close to the fruit.

Freeze Tomatoes

  • Remove tomato skins by cutting an X through outside skin and carefully lowering the tomato into boiling water for 30 seconds. Then, plunge it into ice water for a few seconds. Skins will slide right off.
  • Allow tomatoes to cool. Cut into quarters and fill freezer bags, removing as much air as possible before sealing.
  • If you don’t mind the skins, stick sliced tomatoes or whole cherry tomatoes in a freezer bag and place in the freezer.
  • Season tomatoes after they are defrosted and right before they are served.
  • If prepared correctly, tomatoes can last in your freezer for up to one year!

Preserve tomatoes now to enjoy the sweet rewards of your summer veggie garden long after harvest season is over.

Can Tomatoes

  • Sanitize jars in boiling water. Keep warm until ready for use to avoid breakage.
  • Blanch tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds.
  • Cool, peel, core and halve or quarter tomatoes in a strainer placed over a bowl to catch juices. Remove the seeds.
  • Add salt and herbs such as basil, tarragon and oregano to each jar. Include 1 teaspoon of each.
  • Place tomatoes in jars and fill the jars with leftover tomato juice, leaving 1/2” head room. Press down to remove the air bubbles. Wipe the rim, put on lid and screw on ring until fingertip tight.
  • Place tomato jars in boiling water and cover them with 1-2” of water. Then cover the pot and let simmer for 40-45 minutes, or until the lids pop.
  • Remove the pot from heat and let it sit for 5 minutes.
  • Place the jars upright on a towel undisturbed for at least 12 hours.
  • Test lids within 24 hours to make sure they don’t pop. If a lid pops, you can immediately reprocess after making sure the jar is full, the rim is clean and the seal is tight. Or, you can refrigerate them for use within a few days.

Dehydrate Tomatoes

  • Slice paste tomatoes such as romas into 1/4” thick rings.
  • Arrange pieces on dehydrator trays so they are not touching.
  • Sprinkle with salt and herbs of your choice. Use herbs grown in your own garden for the freshest flavor.
  • Dehydrate tomatoes until moisture is removed. Dehydrating can be done in a dehydrator or conventional gas or electric oven.
  • Time varies based on the moisture in the tomatoes, thickness of the slices, the dehydrator itself and the humidity in the air. They’re finished when tomatoes are flexible, but not brittle.
  • To store, seal in an airtight container or plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Keep Tomatoes from Cracking and Splitting

Cracking and splitting are one of the most common problems when growing tomatoes. The good news: those unsightly cracks aren’t caused by pests or disease!

Tomatoes split open when the fruit outpaces the growth of the skin — usually after a heavy rain. The bad news: split tomatoes can introduce bacteria into the fruit and cause them to rot.

But wait, there is good news: this is an easy problem to remedy and you can start now.

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How to Reduce Tomato Splitting:

1. Water: Water tomato plants once a week with about 1-2” of water. Keeping them regularly watered reduces the chance they will be shocked by a hard rain.

2. Mulch: Mulch does wonders for all plants, but especially for preventing cracking tomatoes. Add a layer of mulch 2-3” thick around plants to hold moisture.

3. Feed: Fertilize tomatoes with organic Tomato-tone every other week during the growing season. Fertilizer keeps the soil healthy so plants produce as many tomatoes as possible.

4. Location: Growing tomatoes in raised beds or containers with drainage holes will lessen the problem because heavy rain will drain away faster in the loose soil.

5. Pick: As a last minute fix, you can always go out after a heavy rain and pick any almost ripe or ripe tomatoes.

While it may be too late now, you can plant varieties that are less likely to crack. Look for things like ‘crack-free’ in the description.

Looking for more info on tomatoes, such as easy tomatoes to growhybrid tomatoes or non-red tomatoesplease visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grow Delicious Strawberries in Your Own Garden

Strawberries are a favorite summer fruit. Yet store-bought berries can’t come near the intense and fresh flavor of those picked right off the vine from your very own garden.

Packed with Vitamin C and fiber, strawberries make a great nutritious and delicious snack. Eat them alone or add to jams, pastries and smoothies.

Find out how you can get the most out of this year’s strawberry harvest.

Runners are long stems that “run” off the main strawberry plant to create new plants. Some are good but too many left unkempt will draw nutrients from the main plant and cause it to stop producing fruit.

Stop the Runners

Runners are long stems that “run” off the main strawberry plant to create new plants. Some are good but too many left unkempt will draw nutrients from the main plant and cause it to stop producing fruit.

Snip excess runners off at the base of the plant. Encourage wanted runners to root by gently pressing the end of the runner into the soil.

Beware of Mold

Strawberries are especially susceptible to a gray mold known as Botrytis that makes berries rot. Remove affected leaves and fruit ASAP to prevent further spread.

Keep fungi at bay by planting strawberries in a sunny spot and only watering at the base of the plant in the morning. A layer of straw mulch will also reduce fruit rot.

Temperature

Strawberries love warm weather, but berries suffer once temps rise above 85 degrees. Give them some shade by using row covers that can be found at your local garden center.

Fertilize

Encourage strawberries to grow by adding Espoma’s Holly-tone, an organic plant food perfect for these acid-loving plants.

Check the soil to make sure it’s loose and at an ideal pH of 5.5 to 7. If the pH level is too high, add Espoma’s Soil Acidifier for ideal soil conditions.

Now just sit back and wait to enjoy the harvest!

Espoma products to help you grow your best strawberries yet:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvesting Tomatoes Made Easy

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for – tomatoes are ready to harvest! You can almost taste the delicious flavors of that first bite.

Whether you’re cooking, canning, freezing or simply eating your tomatoes raw, you’ll want to pick them at the perfect moment. These harvesting tips will ensure your organic tomatoes are ripe when picked.

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Timing is Everything

One of the first steps to a successful harvest is keeping a close eye on your tomatoes to determine the best time to pick. Tomatoes are typically ready to harvest 60-85 days after planting seedlings outdoors. However, timing can change depending on your climate and the variety of tomatoes you’re growing.

If you’re planting determinate tomatoes, be ready for a large harvest all at once. These varieties typically set and ripen their fruit within about two weeks.

Indeterminate tomatoes can ripen all summer long, so keep an eye on these varieties throughout the season to ensure peak harvesting times.

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Color is Key

When the tomato has even color throughout, it is typically ready to be harvested. Tomatoes often ripen from the bottom up, so check the bottom of the tomato first for mature growth color. Once the entire tomato has reached this color, it is ready to be harvested.

Tomatoes need heat to harvest, and not necessarily light. They continue to ripen on overcast or cloudy days, as long as the temperature is warm. Tomatoes can even continue to ripen off the vine. If you live in an area with an especially hot climate, it’s better to pick the tomato from the vine before it reaches its mature color. Tomatoes will continue to ripen and change color as long as they are stored in warm temperatures.

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Trust Your Instincts

When it comes to harvesting tomatoes, trust your intuition. Ripe tomatoes should feel firm, but not hard. Overripe tomatoes will be soft and can be composted. Ripe tomatoes should feel full and heavy. Under ripe tomatoes are often lightweight and need more time on the vine before harvesting.

Keep a close eye on your tomato plants as harvest times come near. Overripe tomatoes typically become too heavy and fall from the vine. This can lead to disease and rot, causing you to lose a large portion of your harvest.

When tomatoes are ready to harvest, simply twist off the vine by hand or use clippers for larger tomatoes. Cut the stem close to the fruit and enjoy!

How do you plan on using your fresh tomato harvest?

Protect Your Plants – 4 Common Tomato Pests

When it comes to insects in your garden, don’t be quick to kill. Not all insects are enemies. In fact, most insects are essential players in your organic garden’s success. Others are neutral and don’t cause any harm. Yet some will ruin your harvest.

Spotting the difference between the good and the bad can be tricky, so keep your eyes peeled.

It doesn’t matter if you’re growing hybrids or heirlooms, there are a few pests you don’t want around. Identify harmful pests early before damage is done.

Four Common Tomato Plant Pests:

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If you spot a hornworms, spray with water or remove by hand.

Hornworms – These destructive caterpillars can grow to about 3-3½” at full size, but their green color makes them difficult to spot. If you spot hornworms, spray with water or remove by hand. However, where there is one, there are usually more. If there is a large infestation, consider spraying tomato plants with an organic approved pest control.

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Photo courtesy of courtesy of Flex at en.wikipedia

Fruitworm – Adult tomato fruitworms are moths, typically yellow or olive in color. They often lay eggs near the leaves of the plant. If you see fruitworms, check leaves for eggs. Larvae feed on leaves and foliage before moving to the tomato, giving you more time to stop potential damage.

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Photo courtesy of Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Potato Aphids – These tiny insects are usually found in dense clusters. Potato aphids are typically not serious enough to kill plants, but a large enough infestation can stunt growth and lead to mold and disease. If you spot an infestation, remove it and be sure to throw in the garbage. If thrown on the ground, aphids will re-infest the plant. See controls here.

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Photo courtesy of USDA.

Beet Armyworm – Similar to the fruitworm, beet armyworm adults are moths with gray and brown upper wings and white or pale gray lower wings. They typically lay eggs on the underside of leaves. When larvae hatch, they feed on foliage before attacking the tomato itself. Remove beet armyworm caterpillars by hand before they become moths.

When it comes to tomato pests, the best way to stop damage is to spot pests early. Keep a close eye on your tomato plants, especially in the early stages. Introduce beneficial insects such as lacewings or ladybugs into your garden to naturally control common pests.

Pruning tomato plants and giving them the right support can also make pests easier to spot and keep bugs at bay.

Tomato Woes – How to Solve Common Tomato Diseases

No other flavor in the garden can compete with sun-ripened tomatoes! Just seeing their bright, shiny color emerge gets us giddy!

We want to make sure you get to experience the joy of your homegrown, golden delights this year.

So, if you spot a worrisome sign on your tomatoes, here’s how to identify and fix it – the organic, natural way!

Dr. Tom A. To: How to Identify and Fix Common Tomato Diseases and Problems

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Photo courtesy of Dwight Sipler.

The Mark of Dark Spots. First, you’ll see tiny spots on tomatoes’ lower leaves, usually after the first fruit has set. From there, the spots grow larger and begin to look like a target. That’s early blight.

To fix, remove infected leaves as well as lower leaves. Water in the morning to prevent further spread of this fungus. Low nitrogen levels often cause early blight, so feed with Tomato-tone monthly.

Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

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Photo courtesy of Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

The Bruise Blues. If small, sunken spots or what looks like bruises appear on your ripe tomatoes, that’s anthracnose. This fungus emerges as the weather gets hot and humid – usually 80° or warmer.

So, harvest ripe tomatoes as soon as possible. These are safe to eat if you cut off the bruises. Then water tomatoes in the morning.

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Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden.

So Many Spots. If tiny, greyish-brown dots cover your tomato leaves, Septoria leaf spot is to blame. Soon, leaves will fall off. Though, a harvest will usually still happen.

To remedy, remove all infected leaves. Then apply a copper fungicide – if you’re organic gardening.

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Brown Bottom. See circular brown spots on the bottom of your half-grown tomatoes? That’s blossom-end rot, which is usually caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. Blossom end rot should only happen to a few tomatoes early in the season, not the whole bunch.

To fix, use an organic tomato fertilizer with calcium.

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Photo courtesy of Victor M. Vicente Selvas

Built to Wilt. Wilting, curling leaves could be bad news for your tomatoes. If paired with stunted grown or browning veins or blotches, your tomatoes have Fusarium or Verticillium wilts. These diseases are caused by a super vicious fungus in the soil.

And, there’s no cure for it. Remove and rid your garden of these tomatoes. Do not compost. Then, solarize the soil to kill the fungus. Otherwise, when you plant veggies in the same area, they, too, will get this disease for the next 4-6 years.

Next time, when you’re growing tomatoes, select disease-resistant varieties to avoid some of these common problems.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Fertilize Blueberry Plants

There’s nothing like fresh-picked blueberries to add to a smoothie, salad or dessert. Rich in many health-benefiting nutrients, anti-oxidants, and vitamins, blueberries don’t just taste delicious, they’re also nutritious.

The secret to grow delicious, thriving blueberry plants: feed them, a lot.

Maximize your blueberry bushes’ health, help it resist insects and diseases, and boost your harvest by providing the right kinds of soil amendments.

When to Fertilize Blueberries

Fertilizing is recommended in early spring before the leaves have grown in. This gives the fertilizer time to be absorbed by the roots of the blueberry before it enters its active growth stage during summer.

Feed new plants once in early spring and again in late spring. Healthy, established plants should not need to be fed more often than once a year.

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Photo courtesy of Bushel and Berry™

The Best Fertilizer for Blueberries

Blueberry bushes respond best to acid fertilizers such as those for rhododendrons and azaleas. Holly-tone has long been used by professional gardeners as the best source of food for berries.

From blocking weeds to conserving water, mulching goes hand in hand with fertilizing and is also very important for blueberry bushes. By feeding as it decomposes, mulch helps to maintain soil acidity. The best mulch options are oak leaves, pine straw or pine bark. Gardeners should spread it in a 3-4” thick layer.

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How to Fertilize Blueberries

For established plants, spread one cupful of Holly-tone per foot of branch spread. Double the quantity if branch spread is 3’ or larger.

If the area to be fed is mulched, remove as much mulch as you can, feed, and then restore the mulch on top of the plant food. If you can’t remove the mulch, just double recommended feeding rates.

To lower the pH of soils for optimum growth of acid-loving plants such as blueberries, you can also mix in Soil Acidifier as needed.

Always water well after fertilizing.

 

Espoma Holly-tone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Where to Buy

How Much Water Do My Tomato Plants Need?

Imagine having a successful, bountiful tomato harvest every season — juicy, red tomatoes ready for the kitchen.

The good news? You can! Tomato care isn’t hard.

When it comes to growing tomatoes in your organic vegetable garden, the secret is in the soil. Maintaining consistent soil moisture is crucial for a successful harvest.

When, and how frequently, you should water your tomato plants depends on the variety, size and location.

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Start Your Seedlings

When starting tomatoes from seed, the soil can dry out quickly since seedlings are typically in small containers or trays. Check soil daily to ensure it has not dried out.

However, seedlings require very little water. Use a spray bottle to mist seedlings and keep just the top of the soil moist.

If the soil becomes too wet, move the seedlings to an area with increased air flow and hold off on watering again until needed. Never let seedlings sit in a puddle of water.

As seedlings begin to sprout and grow, they will need more water. If the soil in the tray dries in less than 24 hours, it might be time to move your seedlings to the garden or a larger container.

The best way to give your tomatoes the care they need is to closely monitor the plants and the soil moisture weather.

Growing in the Garden

When you plant tomatoes right in the ground, the roots can extend deep into the soil as they seek out water. Water newly planted tomatoes well to make sure soil is moist and ideal for growing.

Early in the growing season, watering plants daily in the morning. As temperatures increase, you might need to water tomato plants twice a day. Garden tomatoes typically require 1-2 inches of water a week.

Container Tomato Plants

Tomato plants grown in containers need more water than garden tomatoes. Soil in containers heats up faster which leads to more water evaporation.

A good rule of thumb for containers is to water until water runs freely from the bottom. Water in the morning and check the soil moisture levels again in the afternoon. If soil feels dry about 1 inch below the surface, it’s time to water again.

Keep Tomatoes Well Fed

Adding organic mulch to tomato plants reduces evaporation in the soil. That means less watering, so you can save time and resources.

Add Espoma’s organic Tomato-tone, a slow release premium plant food, for bigger, healthier roots that can withstand a little drought and excess heat.

There are many factors that affect how much water tomato plants need, such as weather conditions and the size and growth rate of the plant. Every plant is different! The best way to give your tomatoes the care they need is to closely monitor the plants and the soil moisture weather.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Way Blue Jay! Keep Birds from Eating Berries

 

Sun-kissed, slightly tart blueberries. Sweet, juicy raspberries. Scrumptious strawberries as sweet as candy. Sugary, tart blackberries.

Who can resist such delightful, fresh flavors right from the garden?

Certainly not local birds! Crows, blackbirds, robins, jays and more swoop in and eat your berries right from under you!

If you’re growing blueberries (or any berries!), you want to make sure you get to enjoy them, not the birds. Here are our tips for protecting your berries from those hungry birds — while still being kind.

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If you’re growing blueberries, make sure you get to enjoy them, not this sparrow. Here are our tips for protecting your berries from those hungry birds — while still being kind.

Take Back the Patch — How to Protect Fruit from Birds, Naturally and Organically

1. Location, Location, Location. Plant or move berries away from hedges and larger shrubs since birds like to rest there.

2. Take Cover! When your berries are immature, add a row cover or bird netting. Make sure the netting is secure, so the birds can’t undo it. This is, hands down, the best way to protect berries.

3. A Sprinkle of Sparkle. Tie a shiny bird scare tape, or foil tape, around your berry bushes or plants to deter birds. Birds don’t like the movement or the tape’s bright reflection.

4. A Dash of Pepper. Sprinkle cayenne pepper around your berry plants as they begin to ripen. This method is super easy, but makes it hard to enjoy eating berries as you pick! You have to wash off the berries before eating to remove any remaining pepper.

5. Snack Attack! Install a few bird feeders to encourage birds to eat there — and not your berry bushes!

Victory! Now, make sure your blueberries continue to thrive by feeding with Holly-tone. Keep the soil acidic, too, with Espoma’s Organic Soil Acidifier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Where to Buy

3 Ways to Support Tomatoes

Soon your tiny tomato plants will transform into gigantic bushes. Help them grow by giving them some extra support.

Tomato plants often bend, lean or even break as fruit matures. To help your plant from being damaged, get to know the tomato you’re planting. Indeterminate plants will continue to grow and will benefit from some support, while determinate tomatoes may be just fine on their own.

Use tomato cages, wood or metal stakes, or a trellis to give plants extra support. It’s really a matter of preference which one you choose. The most important thing is that you’re keeping plants off the ground to avoid pests, diseases and rot.

Put supports in your garden before or at the same time you plant tomatoes. Tomatoes will be easier to maintain, prune and harvest.

Stake

Choose 6’ to 8’ tall stakes made of wood, plastic or bamboo. Or, create your own from recycled materials.

  1. Pound stake firmly into the ground, about 12” deep, beside tomato plant.
  2. Tie stalk loosely to the stake using twine as soon as flowers appear. Stakes will bear the weight of plants as they grow, preventing branches from tipping and breaking.
  3. Continue tying plants to stakes as they grow.
  4. Water tomatoes regularly and fertilize with Tomato-tone every two weeks.

Cage

Cages can be purchased at your local garden center and they’re easy to remove at the end of the season and store for next year’s use. Choose metal, wooden or plastic tomato cages. Metal cages often hold up better and last longer, but are prone to rust.

  1. Choose 6’ cages for indeterminate and heirloom varieties.
  2. Plant tomatoes and center the cage over the center of the plant.
  3. Depending on the full grown size of your tomatoes, set cages about 4’ apart.
  4. Push the tomato cage legs into the dirt until the bottom rung is even with the base of the tomato plant.
  5. Water tomatoes regularly and fertilize with Tomato-tone every two weeks.

Trellis

Trellising your tomatoes offers them support and is a great way to maximize small spaces. They keep tomatoes off the ground and allow for easy pruning.

  1. Push two 6’ poles or wooden posts into the ground, about 10’ apart. Poles should not wobble.
  2. Tie wire or twine between posts, adding lines across the top, bottom and middle.
  3. Plant tomatoes along the length of trellis.
  4. Water tomatoes regularly and fertilize with Tomato-tone every two weeks.
  5. As plant grows, train stems by attaching stems to the trellis using twist ties, wires or twine.