Posts

Fresh off the Vine – Harvesting Tomatoes and Recipes

Harvest is upon us! Those big juicy tomatoes are taunting you on the vine, waiting for you to enjoy!

Garden tomatoes are jam packed with flavor compared to grocery store tomatoes. Make sure to pick them when they are just right to enjoy with your favorite tomato recipes. These harvesting tips will ensure you get a flavorful tomato every time.

Harvesting

Harvesting tomatoes isn’t complicated; it’s just all about timing!

Leave your tomatoes on the vine as long as possible. Wait until your tomatoes have completely changed color. If it is red (or yellow) on one side and green on the other, your tomato isn’t ready yet. It needs to have an even color all around it. If your tomatoes have started changing color and are starting to crack, bring them inside and place them in a paper bag to finish ripening.

Trust your gut. If you think the tomato is ready for harvest, pick it! You can also do the squeeze test. Gently squeeze your tomatoes,  tomatoes ready for harvest will be firm, but not too hard.

Recipes

After you’ve harvested your tomatoes, try one of our favorite recipes!

  1. Tomato Salad with Edamame Succotash: This Midwest delight has a variety of vegetables you can find in the garden. Make this nutritious meal and pair it with some delicious bread!
  2. Tomato-Phyllo Tart: Take your tomatoes to another level when making this delicious recipe. Use your own garden fresh herbs to keep it close to home.
  3. Eggs in Purgatory: This one may sound a little dark, but take it from us, it is delicious! It does say cherry tomatoes, but any tomatoes will do.
  4. Corn Soup with Tomato Bacon Toast: Try a twist on the classic grilled cheese and tomato soup with this recipe.
  5. Cheesy Stuff Tomatoes: Whip up some stuffed tomatoes in a jiff. This simple, yet yummy, recipe is perfect for a late night meal.

If you want more delicious tomato recipes, check out our Top Tomato Recipes! And be sure to download our Tomato Guide to answer all of your tomato growing questions.

5 Ways to Give Your Summer Garden a Boost

There’s no better way to enjoy your garden than by encouraging it to grow bigger and better. Before your summer veggies and flowers peak, take your garden to the next-level by refueling it.

Knock-out these 5 essential tasks and your garden will thank you. You’ll extend your summer season and ensure that your lawn and garden are in tip-top shape.

 

5 Ways to Give Your Summer Garden a Boost

1. Hydrate. When it’s hot, dry and muggy, the best thing is a nice cold drink. Your plants need some H2O, too. The trick to keeping your garden hydrated during the hottest days is not to water more. It’s to water smarter. Water plants deeply in the morning so they have the entire day to soak it up.

Image courtesy of Garden Answer

2. Keep plants fed. Your summer veggies and flowers are hungry. Feed hanging baskets, container gardens and annuals with liquid Bloom! plant food every 2 to 4 weeks. Vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers are heavy feeders. Continue to feed every 2 weeks with organic fertilizers Tomato-tone or Garden-tone.

3. Prune and deadhead. Extend the life of perennials by deadheading flowers as soon as they are spent. This will encourage plants to keep blooming as long as weather permits. Your roses will thank you. Prune tomato suckers and shrubs now, for fuller plants later.

4. Mow lawns strategically. When mowing, keep the mower blades high (3” or higher) to encourage healthy roots. Cut grass in the evening to give it time to recover and keep yourself cool.

5. Plant more! There are many quickly maturing plants that will thrive in summer gardens and be ready for harvest in the fall. Try planting radishes, cucumbers, beans and more.

Sit back and relax! Take a good look at your hard work and dream about the rewards and bountiful harvests you’ll enjoy in the months to come.

If you’re looking to get a better tomato harvest this summer, be sure to check out our complete tomato guide!

6 Secrets for Growing the Tastiest Tomatoes

A good tomato is hard to forget. You know you’ve hit the jackpot in that first, juicy bite.

Every tomato has the potential to be great and some extra attention now will pay off big time come harvest. Set the stage for a stellar performance by this year’s crops with these tips.

How to Get The Best Tomatoes:

  1. Healthy soil, healthy plants. Enrich soil with Tomato-tone and compost every other week to keep plants supplied with essential nutrients.
  2. Remove damaged plants. Remove any fruit that shows dark patches on their bottom. These leathery patches, known as blossom end rot, cannot be reversed.
  3. Water well. During hot weather, tomato plants need deep waterings. Tomatoes are also less likely to crack when the soil is kept slightly moist.
  4. Cover the soil. Mulch blocks weeds, saves water and protects your fruit. Adding it is a no-brainer! Spread a 2-3” layer of organic mulch around plants, leaving 2” of room around the stem so water can reach the roots.
  5. Protect plants from heat. Hot sun can cause sunscald, leaving tomatoes with pale, leathery patches on the fruits that pucker when they should be ripening. Bushy plants with lots of leaves naturally shade fruit from sun, however, plants with less leaves are more vulnerable. Cover plants with lightweight cloth covers through the first few heat waves.
  6. Remove tomato suckers. These small shoots sprout out from where the stem and the branch of a tomato plant meet. Though harmless, tomato suckers do drain energy away from the main stems.

Pick tomatoes when you’re ready for them, avoid letting them get soft and mushy. Tomatoes picked at the breaker stage, when they first show signs of changing color, are considered vine-ripened. These tomatoes will continue to ripen off the vine and on your kitchen counter. Plus, tomatoes picked at the breaking stage can still have the same flavor as one that has fully ripened on the vine.

Whatever you do, just don’t put tomatoes in the fridge to ripen.

Want to know more? Check out our tomato growing guide for all the details on getting your best tomato harvest yet!  

The Best Heirloom Tomatoes to Grow

Have you wondered why heirloom tomatoes taste so much better than those conventional ones from the store?

Conventional tomatoes have been bred for long shelf life, disease resistance, high yield and even for their looks! Some say all the flavor and taste has been bred out of them, too.

So whether you say to-may-to or to-mah-to, we’re here to help you choose the perfect heirloom tomato variety for you.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

 What is an Heirloom Tomato?

Heirloom tomatoes come from seeds that have been handed down from farmer to farmer for generations for their special characteristics and varieties must be 50 years old at least. Because of this, heirloom tomatoes have minimal disease resistance.

Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated–meaning that the seeds you collect will produce plants almost identical plants year after year. That’s key to their survival.

Many heirlooms have been passed down generation to generation. Seeds, once considered valuable property, traveled country to country in pockets or through letters. Varieties come from Central America, Russia, Italy, Japan, France, Germany and Kentucky. Here are a few of our favorites.

Best Heirloom Tomatoes to Grow

 

Pink Brandywine– This is hands-down the yummiest and most popular heirloom. Dating back to 1885, these tomatoes ripen late in the season, but delight with huge tomatoes with even bigger flavor. Plus, Pink Brandywine tomatoes grow well in containers.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 85-100 days
  • Taste and Texture: Intense, full flavor with a rich, velvety texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4-9’
  • Spacing: 24-36” apart
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

Black Cherry – This black, heirloom cherry tomato is somewhat disease resistant and easy to grow – even in containers. The truly striking color makes these cherry tomatoes an instant conversation (or kabob!) starter.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 65-75 days
  • Taste and Texture: Sweet meets smoky flavor with a meaty texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 5-8’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

Cherokee Purple – Cherokee purple tomatoes may look eccentric, but boy, do they taste good!  Believed to be passed down from Cherokee Indians, this variety produces significantly more tomatoes than other heirlooms.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 75-90 days
  • Taste and Texture: Sweet, juicy and savory with a thin skin
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4-9’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

Striped German/Old German – This sizzling red and orange tomato looks like a work of art. Slice it open, and you’ll be delighted by its intricate texture and pattern. Also called “Old German,” this sunny tomato produces huge beefsteak tomatoes. It does need constant, proper care to thrive.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 75-85 days
  • Taste and Texture: Incredibly juicy with a faintly tart flavor and meaty texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4-8’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Yes –  Cage or stake

Wapsipinicon Peach – Bright in color and flavor, these tiny, fuzzy yellow tomatoes make the perfect snack. Named for the Wapsipinicon River in Northeast Iowa around 1890, Wapsipinicon Peach tomatoes are resistant to rot and field blight. Plus, they are quite prolific!

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 75-80 days
  • Taste and Texture: Sweet flavor with little acidity and fuzzy, thin skin
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Recommended – Cage or stake

Why Should I Grow Heirlooms?

We believe the flavor of heirlooms is so superior that no garden would be complete without them. Try a variety this year, and we’re sure you will agree. You will be tasting a little bit of history all summer long.

When you’re organic gardening, be sure to feed tomatoes lots of Tomato-tone during the growing season.  

And if you’re looking for more info on tomatoes, such as easy tomatoes to growhybrid tomatoes or non-red tomatoes, please visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

Tomato_info

6 Fruits and Veggies for Kids

Convincing kids to eat healthy may seem like a constant battle, but it doesn’t have to be. What easier way to get kids excited about fruits and veggies than by having them plant their own?

Growing food with kids is a great interactive learning experience. Not only will they get to spend time outdoors getting their hands dirty — what kid doesn’t love that? — they also have the chance to learn more about eating healthy and the science of growing.

For best results, choose a food that you already know your child enjoys, but isn’t too difficult to grow.

6 Plants Perfect for Kids

1. Strawberries

Trick kids into eating healthy with nature’s candy! Strawberries are a deliciously sweet snack and are also extremely high in vitamin C. Plant strawberries in your garden or start inside and then transfer outdoors.

2. Blueberries

Another sweet snack kids are sure to love, blueberries are nutritional powerhouses. These little berries are packed with antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins C and K. They can be grown in containers or freely in the garden. Blueberry bushes can grow very tall, maybe even taller than your little ones!

3. Peas

This cold weather crop can withstand lower temps, so start planting in early spring. Sweet peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas are easy to grow and kids will love watching them grow tall on a trellis or vine. Simply snap off and pop in your mouth for a healthy snack on the go.

4. Tomatoes

With all the different varieties of tomatoes, there is bound to be at least one your child likes. Try planting bite size tomatoes, such as cherry or grape varieties, making it easier for kids to pick and enjoy. Smaller tomatoes like these are often sweeter, too, making for a better healthy snack. Don’t forget to feed with Espoma’s Tomato-tone, it is formulated specifically for boosting tomato growth. The best part is, it’s completely organic, making veggies safe to eat for you and your family.

5. Carrots

Growing carrots can teach kids another lesson in the garden – patience. Allowing your little ones to dig up these underground veggies will be well worth the wait. It’s almost like hunting for hidden treasure! Try growing in a variety of colors to create a rainbow of veggies.

6. Cucumbers

Cucumbers grow long and fast, making it exciting for kids to watch their progress. Have each child choose a cucumber and start a contest to see whose grows fastest. When ready to be picked, cucumbers are the perfect refreshing snack on a nice warm day.

No yard? No problem! Watch this video to learn how to grow edibles in containers.

Which fruits and veggies will you plant with your little ones? Let us know in the comments below!

Fall Gardening Checklist

September marks the turn of a new leaf. The hot summer weather is fizzling out in favor of cool, crisp fall breezes, prompting bonfires, football games and pumpkin everything.

For gardeners, fall can be one of the busiest seasons. Often, gardeners juggle wrapping up their summer harvests with the responsibilities of preparing for the coming seasons.

With this to-do list from Homestead Gardens, you’ll be ready to fall in love with fall; and with some extra preparation, you’ll be better prepared for winter and spring, too!

organic vegetable gardening, edible schoolyard project, top reasons to start a garden

7 Things To Do in the Garden This Fall  

1. Deadhead to get Ahead. Freshen up flowerbeds by deadheading and removing plants that have stopped blooming. Do maintenance in the morning before the weather gets too hot.

2. Don’t stop Planting. After you’ve harvested your remaining summer veggies, you can plant fall crops and begin transplants!

3. Serve… or Preserve. Have more vegetables and herbs than you know how to handle? Preserve your harvest. Experiment with making jams or pickles, and try freezing raw fruit, veggies or herbs. Make sauce out of your tomatoes, or slow-roast them.

4. Flower Power. Keep your annual flowers blooming as long as possible! The key to success? Use Espoma new Bloom! liquid fertilizer.

5. Watch out for Winter! Start winterizing your garden’s watering system. Keep an eye out for the first few frosts of the season, and cover plants when necessary. Gradually transition your summer houseplants back indoors.

dahlias-1642686_1920

6. Divide and Conquer. Divide and split your perennials, dig and store tender bulbs like dahlias and caladiums, and start planting spring flowering bulbs.

7. Red, Dead Ahead! Are your tomato plants lacking fruit? Producing dull leaves? Sprinkle some Tomato-tone to give them a final boost.

With these tips, your fall landscape will be looking better than ever. Have a picture of your fall garden that you want to share? Drop by our Facebook page!

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.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

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-toneevery 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 for more tips and tricks.

How to Plant Fruits and Veggies in Containers

Short on space? Grow fruits and vegetables in galvanized buckets! Laura from Garden Answer shows you how to plant the perfect companion plants for containers. Try zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and marigolds or raspberries with strawberries.

July Garden To-Do

Lazy days of summer? Think again! July can be a busy month in the garden.

While watering and deadheading may seem like tedious tasks, harvesting and enjoying the bounty are the reward for months of hard work.

Here are seven things to do in the garden this month.

summer gardening tips, garden checklist, summer garden

1. Follow the Watering Rule

Follow the primary rule of summer watering to ensure garden plants get the right amount of water. Water thoroughly and deeply in the morning by making pools in the soil around the roots. Deep watering allows roots to grow deeper and stronger, making them less likely to dry up and die.

When you water will depend on your weather. Check dryness by touching the soil. It should be moist at least 1” below the surface.

Water containers and hanging baskets daily until water runs from the drainage holes.

2.Pick, Eat and Replant

You can finally enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Harvest tomatoes, peppers, peas, carrots, cauliflower, beans, broccoli, leeks, onions, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, Brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce, melons, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, pumpkins and rutabagas.

Harvest tree and vine fruits when they are able to be gently plucked or twisted from their stems. Berries, apples and stone fruits should all be ready for picking in July.

Pick, dry and freeze herbs for use later in the year.

Sow seeds of cool-season crops such as greens and root vegetables for harvesting throughout August and September. Plant garlic for harvest next season.

Prune tomato suckers weekly and cut off any leaves growing below the lowest ripening fruit trusses to improve air circulation and prevent diseases. Thin fruit trees for a more robust harvest.

3. Plants Need to Eat, too

Continue to feed hanging baskets, container gardens and faded annuals with liquid fertilizer Bloom! every 2 to 4 weeks.

Vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers are heavy feeders. Continue to feed every 2 weeks with organic fertilizers Tomato-tone or Garden-tone.

Feed roses monthly through the summer with Rose-tone.

Houseplants are actively growing now and will benefit from monthly feedings of Grow!.

summer gardening tips, garden checklist, summer garden

4. Continue to Create a Safe Paws Lawn

Using an organic lawn food, as well as organic mulch will eliminate the hazards that chemical fertilizers, pesticides and synthetic mulches present to you, your family and pets. July is the time to feed your lawn with the summer revitalizer from our annual feeding program.

Water lawn regularly, slowly and deeply. Mow to 3″ to protect from summer heat.

5.Keep an Eye out for Pests

Watch for insect or disease damage as the weather gets hotter and plants become more stressed.

Beetles, aphids, slugs, snails and spider mites are just a few of the pests that visit your garden in summer. For best solutions ask your local garden center for suggestions and consider the Earth-tone Controls.

Keep an eye out for powdery mildew. Remove any affected leaves to prevent further spread.

6. Weed, weed, weed

Clear weeds regularly, as they fight your plants for nutrients and water. Plus, you’ll want to pull before they have a chance to flower and go to seed. Otherwise, you’ll fight even more weeds next season.

Cover freshly weeded beds with a layer of compost or mulch to conserve water and blanket weeds reducing their spreading.

summer gardening tips, garden checklist, summer garden

7. Prune and Deadhead

Prune summer flowering shrubs as soon as the blossoms fade. Deadhead annuals to promote more growth. Pinch fall blooming flowers such as coneflower and asters in mid-July to promote a fall garden full of color.

Try to hold off on planting anything new until the fall as the hot temperatures and dry conditions can strain young roots. And you’ll benefit because most stores  offer major end of season sales. If you do plant or transplant, make sure to fill the hole with Bio-tone starter plus and keep well-watered.

Bonus: Enjoy! Take time to slow down and enjoy your garden with friends and family. We sure will be!