I have enjoyed reaping the benefits of my experiment in Straw Bale Gardening this year. Even though I made a mistake and placed the bales on pallets, the tomato plants adapted. As the hay decomposed and fell between the spaces, the tomato plant roots followed the trail of soil. In the photograph, you can see the plants grew to a terrific size. Their growth rate was so fast, I had to change my mind about letting them grow on the straw as vines, and used standard wire tomato cages instead. The fruit the plants produced was large and flavorful. They are beginning to decline now, but so are the tomatoes in the gardens of friends and family. If you have the space, consider giving this unique way of growing vegetables a try next year.
Plants – Garden Update/Straw Bale Tomato Garden
I posted in the Spring on “Planting Straw Bales” with tomato plants. The technique has been more successful that I had even hoped. The tomato plants are soaring above my head and loaded with tomatoes of all types. Thus far, I have harvested many grape tomatoes, but so has the neighborhood chipmunk. Growl….
These little guys are adorable until they are ravaging your garden beds or digging dens under your concrete foundations and porches. One of the chipmunk gang in our yard has learned how to raid my suet cage and bird feeders. Double Growl…
I sprinkled chile powder in the chipmunks favorite dining area, but he just brushed it away and kept on feasting. Triple Growl…
One mistake I made with the Straw Bale Garden was placing the bales onto palettes instead of on newspaper. The palettes did keep the area neat at the start, but as the bales have decomposed they have sunk to low levels. I am hoping that somehow the roots of the tomatoes will find their way into the gaps of the palette and reach the ground underneath. I will update again further along in the season.
Planting – Belling the Tomatoes
My tomatoes are beginning to set fruit and ripen. This is prime time for squirrels and other wildlife to begin taking a bite here and there, ruining countless tomatoes over the course of the summer. My neighbor, a terrific gardener, told me the squirrels do this to quench their thirst when the weather becomes dry. I have a bird bath in the center of my Square Foot Gardens this year. Hopefully, the squirrels will use this rather than nibble at my beautiful, red tomatoes.
In case this doesn’t satisfy them, I have “belled” the plants with large Christmas bells I set aside in December. I have red ones to mimic the red fruit, a few greens to resemble the unripe tomatoes. If biting into a hard piece of metal doesn’t deter the squirrels perhaps the “ting-a-ling-ling” will scare them away. If none of this works I will cut a few pieces of fresh garlic and push it inside the bell.
I’ve tried this same idea with plain Christmas balls in the past, and had a bit of success mixed with a few half-eaten casualties. I am hoping the addition of what I think might be a “scary” sound to a squirrel will work even better this year.
Planting – The Great Tomato Saga Part III – To Fertilize Or Not To Fertilize?
I have over a dozen tomatoes planted in my Square Foot Garden. I started them from seed in the house this year. The tomatoes are doing okay, but not producing growth to rave about.
The potted tomatoes were sown from the same seed packets, and grown in exactly the same conditions. The only difference is that these tomatoes are planted in pots of Whitney Farms Organic Potting Soil. This is a terrific soil loaded with natural fertilizers. OH MY! Compare the color of the leaves to the first photograph, and take a look at the size of the plants. The tomatoes in the pots are much greener and in some cases more than double the size. The potted plants are already setting blossoms. In hopes of helping them catch them up, I side-dressed the Square Foot Garden plants with organic fertilizer. I think in the case of the tomatoes I need to do a little bit more than the manual recommends. I’ll update in a few weeks.
Quirkiness – The Great Tomato Saga Part II – The Junque Trellis
I was inspired by the video I posted yesterday on suckering and stringing tomatoes. Over the weekend I decided I MUST try stringing, suckering and fertilizing my tomatoes more diligently this year. The fertilizing was easy. I already had an organic tomato and vegetable fertilizer from Whitney Farms on hand. I side-dressed the tomatoes with the fertilizer, tilled the soil a little, and the first part of my goal was complete.
Suckering turned out to be pretty easy too. After watching the video I easily suckered every plant in only a matter of minutes. Figuring out how to string them for growing…hmmm…not so easy.
I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on creating/building a permanent trellis. I gave the problem some thought and remembered the mop handles I had saved from another project for garden stakes. Would these work? No, when driven into the ground they would be too short. What if I attached two together? I’d have plenty of height if this solution worked. How to attach them together though? Aha…DUCT TAPE!
I went to the dollar store in search of more mop handles. I couldn’t find them, but I did find brooms that would unscrew easily leaving a handle for me to use. I also purchased some plastic spoons and two packets of thin little screwdrivers. This all cost me less than $20.00. The duct tape I had on hand.
I constructed the trellis piece by piece from the ground up. I had no plan to follow, the process was a little bit like putting together Tinker Toys. (Oh my, I’m giving away my age) To strengthen the structure I added some old curtain rods taped on at the diagonal. My son, who is a builder, told me I needed to do this to keep the base steady. I also used curtain rods across the tops of the handles. Duct-taped again! An old sectional window frame was taped on top of the structure for stringing the tomatoes.
My junque trellis is not pretty, but oh my, it is interesting! Best of all, the basic concept works perfectly. We have already had heavy rains and not a curtain rod or handle has budged a millimeter. I LOVE DUCT TAPE!
How to anchor the sisal string beside each tomato plant was my next problem. I used spoons for the soil. I looped string onto the window frame first with a type of slip-knot then let the free ends dangle down and tied them to a spoon. I pushed the spoon into the soil beside the tomato and the string was anchored. I used small screwdrivers driven into the wooden slats for the tomatoes near the border of the garden.
I’m hoping for hundreds of tomatoes. I want to give them away to everyone I know. If this one-season fix works for me then I will consider spending a larger amount of money for a more aesthetically appealing structure. Something portable, but also permanent in durability. I know that what I’ve built for this season will not last forever. Happy Gardening!
Gardening Tip: Dollar stores are terrific places to find unusual items to use in gardening. Take a look around your home too…you’ll be surprised at some of the “stuff” you have stashed away that will work as trellises, etc., in the garden.
Phrustration – Tomato Decoys
My tomatoes are loaded with green fruit. They are just beginning to show deepening yellow, orange and red tones. Unfortunately, the squirrels have noticed too, and to my great “phrustration” I have realized I waited too long to thwart their voracious appetites for fresh tomatoes. I am annoyed with myself for I was prepared in advance for this problem. This past Christmas season I remembered the gardens of summer and bought what I had read was a preventative for hungry squirrels stealing tomatoes…cherry red Christmas Ornaments. I bought three packs at the Dollar Store and set them aside ready to be put to good use.
The trick: Before your tomatoes set fruit place “Decoy” tomatoes on the branches. The squirrels supposedly will try to bite them and learn they are inedible. It’s a great idea, but I blew it…I waited to put the balls in place until the fruit was already showing red color and unfortunately had already been sampled several times.
I used up all my pungeant spices and baited the Christmas balls with a peanut butter glue coated with garlic, salt, onion powder and Adobo spice. For good measure I pounded a clove of garlic with a hammer and strew it in between all the tomato plants.
I hung my decoys near the lushest and best looking tomatoes. The variety above are Amish Paste. The next day to my dismay I found one of the decoys on the grass, torn off the plant and tossed around as if the squirrels had a late night soccer game.
Adding insult to injury, later in the day…
I spied this cheeky fellow on my lavender adirondack, eating one of my cherry tomatoes with another one waiting at his feet.
Perhaps my ploy might have worked if I had “followed the directions,” something I’ve always had a hard time doing, and placed the decoy tomatoes on the branches of the plants a few weeks earlier in the season.
Projects – Square Foot Garden Update
This is an early morning photograph of my Square Foot Garden. I have to say, hopefully without sounding like I’m bragging, this method of gardening has been a major success for me. I have lettuce daily, my broccoli and bread seed poppies are ready to begin budding. I have cooked and eaten my kale and swiss chard, and though I have always loved fresh greens cooked in various ways, I can now feel a “fresh greens fanatic” point of view taking me over.
The Square Foot Gardening Website can be found here: Square Foot Gardens. Take a look and browse the information and photographs. Better yet, buy the book and create your own little area of vegetable heaven.
This is a view of the back of my Square Foot Garden. I know my pea trellis leaves a lot to be desired, but the peas come and go quickly, and I will be replacing them in a few weeks.
Because I didn’t want to give up too many of my squares to the dozen tomato plants I am growing I planted half in containers. These are doing very well too, the stems are beginning to look like tree saplings. I already have some flower buds on a few plants. O Happy Day…tomatoes in a month or two. Hooray!
I was honored to see one of my Square Foot Garden photographs was featured in a Mel Bartholomew Blog Post. Take a look: My Square Foot Garden Squares On Mel Barthlomew’s Website.