tomatoes

Tomato 101

Tomato 101

By Jim Hole

There’s no shock as to why tomatoes are so well-loved. Whether it be salsas, sauces or salads, their versatility is unmatched by other garden vegetables. Tomatoes are actually quite simple to grow with the right technique, patience and care. This “Tomato 101” will send you on your way to producing a bountiful yield of this summer favourite.

Varieties

With the vast number of tomato varieties, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. For cherry tomatoes, some of my favourites include Sun Gold, Minimato and Rapunzel. For eating tomatoes, Primo Red, Mortgage Lifter and Stupice. And of course for cooking, be sure to try San Marzano, Mamma Mia and Sunrise Sauce. Stock up on your favourite varieties soon–as many sell out fast!

Soil

Proper soil is crucial for a successful tomato yield. It may be tempting to purchase the “cheap stuff” at your big box stores, but these brands lack the richness needed for tomatoes to thrive. Soils lose organic matter if it is not added back in regularly, so my recommendation is using a 1:1 ratio of Sea Soil and Jim’s Potting Soil. Avoid using manure in your soil as the salt content per bag is inconsistent. More often than not, you will end up scorching your plants and be forced to start over.

Fertilizer

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, which means it is important to fertilize them regularly. I recommend using Garden Pro Tomato Food (5-10-5). This granular fertilizer is also supplemented with calcium to prevent “blossom-end rot”. Simply mix Garden Pro Tomato Food in with your soil and water thoroughly. Another product I like to use on my tomatoes is Epsom Salts. Epsom Salts contain magnesium and can be applied every couple of weeks.

Watering

We often have customers come to the greenhouse with wilted leaves, brittle stems and yellowing tips. After a quick look, I know they aren’t watering enough. I use the analogy of filling up your car with gas to help explain the importance of watering. When you go to the gas station, you don’t put $5 worth in your car, drive till it’s empty, fill up $5 worth again and so on. The same goes for watering your tomato plants. When you water, ensure that you water the entire root zone completely with a good soaking.

Weed Control

There is nothing more frustrating than pouring time and energy into your garden, only to have it scattered with weeds. Not only are they an eye sore, but they also draw the essential nutrients out of your soil, leaving nothing for your tomatoes. Before you plant, I recommend encouraging the weeds to grow–watering like you would for any garden. Once they are a mature size, spray the soil with Bye Bye Weed to kill off any vegetation that is present. Wait 7 days, and plant your garden as you normally would. NEVER APPLY BYE BYE WEED TO YOUR GARDEN PLANTS. IT IS RESTRICTED TO APPLICATION ON WEEDS ONLY. Pulling weeds throughout the summer is an obvious technique for eliminating weeds, but spraying saves you the headache altogether. 

Pruning

Tomatoes come in two growth types–determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes usually grow wider, do not need pruning and grow well in a cage. Whereas indeterminate tomatoes grow tall, require staking and pruning, but usually have higher yields than determinate varieties. Pruning indeterminate tomatoes is quite easy–simply pinch off the shoots or “suckers” that grow out from the stems. This redirects energy to the fruit of the plant rather than the shoots. In turn, this produces much larger, healthier tomatoes. Watch our video on how to prune tomatoes here: www.holesonline.com/blog/how-to-prune-tomato-plants.

 

Still not feeling quite confident on growing your own tomatoes? Be sure to check out our e-book on tomatoes at www.holesonline.com/ebooks/tomato-favourites.

Q: What causes black or brown rotten spots on the bottom of my tomatoes?

A: This condition is called “blossom-end rot” and it is caused by water stress and calcium deficiency due to heavy clay soil or irregular/inadequate watering. Watering regularly is key to preventing blossom-end rot. Even if the soil contains lots of calcium, without sufficient water, the plant cannot absorb essential minerals.

Heirloom vs. Hybrid

Heirloom vs. Hybrid

By Jim Hole

The tomato is the most popular garden vegetable just about everywhere. It can easily be grown organically and there are a huge number of outstanding varieties available. Here is what you need to know to grow juicy, delicious and nutritious tomatoes.

Heirlooms or hybrids?

I love the names of heirloom tomatoes. Mortgage Lifter, for example, conjures up such great imagery. But do awesome sounding heirloom names translate into awesome tasting fruit or are hybrid tomatoes really the best choice for our gardens? To answer that question, it helps to understand what the terms heirloom and hybrid really mean.

The way I like to think about the difference between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes is that heirlooms arose primarily through serendipity whereas hybrids arose by calculated design.

With respect to heirloom varieties the story usually goes something like this. Historically, families - or even entire communities - would grow several tomatoes in their fields or gardens and then collect the seed in the fall to provide seed to sow for the following year. Since all tomato varieties are primarily self-pollinated, the fall harvested tomato seed collected from a specific variety would be pretty much be identical to the plant from which it was harvested. But, occasionally, a tomato might be cross-pollinated by bees, as the pollen was moved from the flower of one variety to the flower of another. The resulting new variety of tomato grown from that cross was often nothing spectacular but, occasionally, a new outstanding variety would  emerge and become a cherished variety that was handed down from generation to generation. Thus a new heirloom was born.

Now, we can’t give all of the credit to the bees for great heirlooms. Some heirloom enthusiasts developed a love of the delicate and tedious task of ‘crossing’ one tomato variety with another in pursuit of the world’s next great heirloom. Today, many of our very best heirloom varieties were the result of passionate, dedicated and patient amateur breeders who crossed many varieties in their gardens before finally creating a new, delicious heirloom.

Hybrids on the other hand, are more like a designer tomato. The journey developing hybrids is one that is more purposeful and carried out by breeders who are specially trained in plant genetics. They have very specific goals in mind like breeding a variety that is resistant to a particular disease or one that has superior storage qualities. If they are successful – which often takes many years of painstaking work - the resulting hybrid tomato will express those traits and still be flavourful. 

What should you do?

Having spoken with many tomato aficionados over the years, the overwhelming majority of gardeners just want to plant great-tasting tomato varieties regardless of whether they are heirlooms or hybrids. Thankfully, there are truly outstanding tomatoes in each category.

When it comes to juicy, meaty, true tomato flavour, I’m a huge fan of heirloom tomatoes like Mortgage Lifter and Stupice. If you have a sunny spot on your deck or in your garden, you should try them.

On the other hand, there are some incredible hybrid tomatoes, particularly in the cherry category. Minimato is a small hybrid bush tomato that I like to call bulletproof. If you plunk it in any old pot, give it water and a bit of fertilizer, it will reward you with fruit all season long

Sungold is another great one. It was one of my Mom’s favourites because it is tasty, sweet and it grows like a weed. The biggest challenge with Sungold is that it is so prolific you’ll need to create some new recipes to deal with the onslaught of fruit!

So let’s go back to the heirloom versus hybrid debate. Frankly, I’ve never felt the two were diametrically opposed. I’ve grown all kinds of heirloom and hybrid varieties over the years and both categories yield some fantastic fruit and both types deserve their place in the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Thumb's Guide to Containerized Vegetables

The Black Thumb’s Guide to Containerized Vegetables

By Earl J. Woods

Using Your Imagination

Some culinary containers can get pretty wild—you’re not limited to potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and the other standard vegetable crops. While working on Herbs and Edible Flowers in 1999, we mixed edible nasturtiums, fuchsias, parsley, calendula and pansies in one huge hanging basket. It looked and smelled great, and provided plenty of flowers for garnishes and salads. 

I confess. Even though I’ve been working at Hole’s for almost four years, I’m still not a successful gardener. In fact, if I were a comic book super villain, I’d have to use the name “The Black Thumb,” malicious murderer of all things green and growing.

But as a thirty-something bachelor who usually alternates between pizza, cold cereal and microwave dishes, I do appreciate the fresh vegetables that Mom and Dad bring from their bountiful garden. A steady diet of fast food will numb your taste buds as quickly as it expands your waistline, and biting into one of Mom and Dad’s tomatoes is an all too rare treat.

So I’ve made a resolution—I’m going to start growing my own vegetables in balcony containers. One of the advantages of working at Hole’s is that I have a good head start on how to proceed.

Rule One: ­­­Big Pots

Lois Hole drilled into my head a very important rule of container gardening: always, always, always use large pots. The bigger the container, the more space there is for water, soil and roots. That’s not to say that you can’t grow a perfectly good pepper plant or two in a 25- cm pot, but for really impressive yields, go for the large pots.

Rule Two: Good Soil

Always use the best quality potting soil, never garden soil. Quality potting soils are free of weeds, pests and the most serious diseases. They are light and easy to use. Garden soils are much too heavy, and get compacted easily (besides, living in an apartment, I would have to steal garden soil from someone’s yard in the dead of night. It’s far less of a hassle to buy a bag of the good stuff).

Rule Three: Grow What You’ll Use

Any singles attempting to change their lifestyles must know their limitations. I love potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce, so it makes perfect sense to pick up tubers and seeds for these. On the other hand, the only use I’d ever have for eggplant (gag) would be to toss it off my balcony at innocent bystanders below.

Start small. There’s no sense in growing far more than you can use. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with growing extra produce to donate to charities or local food banks and Grow A Row charities.

Rule Four: Quality Seed

Make a point of tracking down the best varieties. Quality seed is more expensive, but well worth it in the end. Germination is much better and the plants will be more vigorous.

Rule Five: Water Daily and Fertilize 

Vegetables in containers are like pets: they depend on you to provide for their every need. This means you need to tend to your plants with far more frequency than, say, you vacuum the carpets. Give each container a good daily soaking of water and add some 20-20-20 fertilizer to the watering can once a week. This will keep your plants healthy and increase the bounty you harvest. If the weather is hot, sunny and windy, you should probably soak the containers heavily in the morning and again in the evening.

From Black Thumb to Green?

Growing vegetables in containers is really quite simple. In fact, I’m almost convinced they’re bachelor-proof. Maybe it’s time for “The Black Thumb”— to turn green—after all, even super villains have been known to turn over a new leaf.

Edmonton Frost Warning - What to Harvest, What to Cover, and What to Leave Alone

Edmonton Frost Warning: What to Harvest, What to Cover, and What to Leave Alone

A frost warning is in effect and we've received a lot of phone calls and emails from people asking about what can stay outside and what needs to come in.
Here's our quick guide:

 

  • Apples: A light frost will not affect the apples and may even make them sweeter. Barring a severe September storm, leave your apples on the tree until they are ripe (mid- to late- September for most late bearing apples).

  • Beans and Peas: Will not tolerate frost. Harvest these guys and eat them up!

  • Beets, Carrots, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes: Protected underground, these vegetables do fine in a light frost and their flavour will likely improve with the cold. That said, harvest them before the ground freezes.

  • Chard, Kale, and Cabbage: These plants should all survive a light frost. Cold temperatures will even intensify the colour and flavour of chard, and may sweeten cabbage.

  • Corn: Corn is frost sensitive. If your corn is ready, pick it now. If it is not yet ready to harvest, cross your fingers and hope for the best. A hard frost will reduce the shelf life of corn to 3 to 4 days.

  • Lettuce and Salad Greens: Cold will affect the look and texture of lettuce and salad greens, but they can survive a light frost. If you’d like, harvest the tops of the lettuce and see if they come back afterwards.

  • Strawberries: If they're ready: harvest them, if not: cover them. Frost can affect the texture of the berries.

  • Tomatoes and Peppers: Harvest any ripe tomatoes and all peppers. Unripe tomatoes are bit more complicated. If you’re feeling cautious and would rather not deal with any stress, harvest them all now—ripe or not.

    If your tomatoes are in containers and you’re feeling daring (and if the forecast cooperates), you may be able to get away with moving and covering your tomatoes. Bring the tomato vines close to the house (preferably on the south side of the house) and cover them with some light fabric to protect them from the frost.

    However, if the forecast dips below -2°C, the tomatoes will probably end up covered in frost anyways even with these precautions. Keep an eye on your local temperature, and harvest the unripe tomatoes if necessary. Green tomatoes can be ripened inside on sheets of newspaper.

  • Pumpkins, Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers: Cucumbers, zucchini, and summer varieties of pumpkin and squash should be harvested now, wiped dry, and cured in a hot, dry room for a few days to improve shelf life.

    Properly cured, they may store for a few weeks. Avoid storing these fruits on concrete or metal surfaces as it can cause them to rot.

    Thin skinned cucumbers will not store as well and should be eaten within a few days.

    Some pumpkins and squash are "winter varieties" and can store very well if properly cured. Harvest any mature “winter variety” gourds before a frost (they will have a nice tough skin when mature) and do your best to protect the immature ones by covering them with a sheet. Immature gourds will not ripen off the vine or once the vine has died, so protecting them and hoping for the best is the best strategy. Be careful not to crush the vines.

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For protecting your plants, our best product recommendation is frost protection blankets. NuVue's Insulating Winter Blanket is great for long garden rows as it is already cut at 42 inches by 25 feet.

For square & rectangular gardens, use DeWitt's N-Sulate Frost Protection Blanket which is 12 feet by 10 feet. 

You can also use Crop Cover Fabric to protect sensitive plants. While lighter weight, Crop Cover Fabric protects against insects, freezing rain, frost and snow damage, while allowing air and moisture to reach the crop.

Podcast: Growing Tomatoes

Are you wondering about growing tomatoes but couldn't make it out to one of Jim's free talks this spring? Well, you're in luck! Jim Hole has recorded a tomato podcast on the Hole's Radio Network, available here.

In episode 1 of the Hole's Radio Network, Jim Hole chats with Brad Walker—the reluctant gardener—about what everybody needs to know about growing the best tomatoes.

Play it below or download it by clicking here and When you're done checking it out, please let us know what you think (by replying in the comments below). Also, let us know if you'd like to see more podcasts or video tutorials in the future.

Autumn Tomatoes

The end of the 2016 tomato season is rapidly approaching. That doesn’t mean that you need to run out to the garden and strip every last fruit of off each plant, but you do want to keep a close eye on the weather. If frost threatens, keep some "Cloud Cover" fabric handy and drape it over the tomatoes. The fabric will provide a few degrees of frost protection for the foliage and fruit.
 
When it comes time for the final harvest both ripe and green fruit can be gathered. Green tomatoes will ripen inside your home provided it has reached the "breaker" stage. The breaker stage is the point where the fruit has reached sufficient maturity so that it will change colour once indoors. Fruit that hasn’t reached the breaker stage–indicated by a deep green colour–will not mature inside regardless of what treatments you provide. Light green tomatoes have excellent flavour but the deep green ones are, typically, inedible.
 
One technique that a lot of people love, is to cut-off the entire tomato plant at ground level–fruit intact–and hang the plants upside down in a heated shed or garage. The tomato plants continue to send sugars to the fruit–if only for a short period of time–allowing some of the fruit on the "fringe" to ripen. The other good thing is that hung tomatoes are less inclined to rot while hanging because of better air movement.


~Jim Hole

Harvesting Tomatoes

  • I think tomatoes have the best flavour when they are picked just before they’ve reached their colour peak. At this stage, they are still firm and will last several days on your kitchen counter. Tomatoes that are already slightly soft will be at their best for only a day or two after picking.
  • Red tomatoes left hanging on the vine will not taste as good as those harvested earlier, because the primary flavour components, sugar and acid, start to decrease.
  • I always recommend that gardeners write on their garden calendars which varieties they like best. This certainly helps me out, because I sometimes find it tough to remember from year to year which of the new varieties are best.
  • Harvest ripe tomatoes by gently breaking the stem just above the fruit at the knuckle. Always try to keep this bit of stem attached so that tomatoes will keep longer after picking.
  • If you plant has an entire truss (branch-full) of ripe tomatoes, cut the whole thing off with scissors. An intact truss of tomatoes lasts longest of all!
  • Pick often to encourage the production of more fruit.
  • If any of your tomatoes have developed blossom-end rot, pick them anyhow. Just cut off the rotten parts after harvesting—the remainder of the tomato is fine for eating.
  • A good friend told me of a “harvesting” method which allowed her to keep on picking ripe tomatoes until early December. Try this if your container-grown plants are still bearing fruit at the end of the season. Move the entire pot into the garage, soil plant and all, and don’t do anything else to it, other than pick off ripe tomato as you need them. Don’t worry about water or light. The plant will soon begin to look terrible, but tomatoes will continue to ripen on the vine.

Nature's Best Pollinators

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When I was growing-up, we had thousands of tomatoes growing in containers in our greenhouses. One job that had to be done daily was to grab the electric pollinators and pollinate the tomatoes.

Electric pollinators were like a glorified toothbrush. A small motor was attached to a battery and when the machine was turned-on, a long metal probe would vibrate. The probe was placed beneath a truss or cluster of flowers, for about a second, to shake the yellow pollen from the anthers and onto the stigma.

Tomatoes are, by and large, self-pollinating, but if the pollen isn’t transferred thoroughly within the flowers, the fruit will often be a bit misshapen. 

But while these electric pollinators were pretty much standard greenhouse equipment, some clever people eventually turned to nature to eliminate the tedious and time-consuming job of hand pollinating.

Today, bumblebees are released into tomato greenhouses and they visit tomato flowers and transfer pollen within and between tomato flowers. Bumblebees are some of nature’s best pollinators and are extraordinarily good at "working" the flowers. 

All that I can say is, "Where were the tomato-loving greenhouse bumblebees when I was growing up?"

I suppose that one could argue that they were always around, but no one was clever enough to invite them in

~Jim Hole

Something Almost Magical

We once planted a large patch of tomatoes right next to our house, on a south-facing wall. As usual, we planted extra, since it wasn’t unusual for only a portion of the crop to come to fruition. Wouldn’t you know it—the season turned out to be perfect! The summer was long and hot, with just the right amount of moisture. As a result, we wound up with tons of tomatoes, more than we could ever hope to use or sell.

One day, a friendly Italian man was driving by and spotted the tomato motherlode. With a grin, he offered to take away any extras we had. Well, we filled the box of his 1958 Chevy half-ton right to the brim. He told us he was going to make the load into sauce—surely enough to last a lifetime! A tomato or two bounced out of the back of the truck as he drove off with a happy wave. 

I’ve always believed that no other vegetable can produce such spontaneous joy in people; there’s just something magical about tomatoes.

A Good Start

Tomatoes need a lot of care, and choosing a location for them is just the first step. I always make sure to give them one of the garden “hot spots,” along our south-facing wall. With our climate, I put transplants into the garden, and I always use top-quality plants. Buying poor plants never makes sense; use good quality plants that are sure to bear lots of fruit rather than poor plants that won’t yield well. I always ensure that the plants have been “hardened off,” that is, acclimatized to the harsher conditions they face outdoors. Plants that haven’t been properly hardened off will be set back.

I’m alert to cool night-time temperatures and ready to run to the rescue when necessary. If there is any threat of frost, I cover the plants with blankets or towels: tomatoes simply can’t take the cold.

I use cages for my determinate (bush) tomato plants. Although it isn’t strictly necessary, I find these plants benefit from the use of cages, since bush tomato plants tend to spread across the ground. The foliage becomes quite thick and bushy, protecting the fruit from sun scald, but fruit often lay on the ground. Cages hold the fruit of the soil, decreasing the threat of slugs and soil-borne diseases. Tall-growing indeterminate tomato plants, of course, must be staked and pruned.

Caring for tomatoes may be demanding work, but biting into the sweet, red fruit makes it all worthwhile.

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

One Bad Potato

Around mid-September, we would always keep a close eye on the forecast to figure out the best schedule for harvesting our vegetables. Squash, pumpkins and tomatoes had no frost tolerance so there was always a bit of panic to get them out of the field before temperatures dipped below freezing. 

At the other end of the spectrum were vegetables like rutabaga and parsnips that could not only tolerate hard frosts, but actually tasted better when they were hit by a hard frost. These vegetables were always the last to be pulled from the field. However, I do remember a few years when we would get caught by an unseasonably early snowfall and these frost hardy – but not winter hardy vegetables - remained in the field all winter.

The one vegetable that always worried me were our potatoes. A light frost would kill the potato foliage that, in turn, would cause the skins of the tubers to "set". Without the tops being killed, the tuber skins would remain thin and slippery and were only capable of storing for a few weeks rather than throughout the winter. 

But the problem with waiting for a hard frost was that cold air could penetrate down through the cracks in the soil and damage the odd tuber that was near the soil surface. The old adage, "One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch" applied equally well to potatoes.

I remember storing huge piles of potatoes in our barn one year where just a few tubers had been exposed to frost. These small pockets of frost-damaged potatoes did spoil the "whole bunch", and the following spring I remember literally pumping potatoes out of our barn. 

 Imagine wading into the middle of a huge pile of rotting, stinking, "potato soup" and dropping a sump pump in the middle. It’s a vivid memory that sticks with me to this day.

OK, sorry about that imagery! You won’t have to contend with any potato storing disaster like this but keep in mind that garbage-in equals garbage-out. Store only high quality vegetables and use those that don’t quite make the grade within a few weeks. If you don't adopt this strategy, I think it is safe to say that you need to keep your sump pump on standby. 

Perish the thought.

~Jim Hole 

Live And Learn

Ninety-nice percent of the things you worry about don't happen; the other one percent you can't do anything about, so why worry at all? That's one of my favourite sayings: it sums up how I feel about life in general, and gardening in particular.

That explains why I'm always telling people to put their gardens in early. Plants like peas, spinach, and lettuce can take a spring frost in stride. Others might represent more of a risk, but most years it's a chance worth taking. The frost will come if it comes; if it does, you can't stop it, and if it doesn't, you have an early crop.

Of course, when disaster does occur, gardeners must be philosophical. No one can predict the weather with absolute accuracy. When it does take a turn for the worse, there's no point taking it personally.

One spring, we planted an entire acre of tomatoes. It had been unseasonably hot the day we put them in - I remember the boys getting sunburns! The plants were growing beautifully. The nights had been warm, the days sunny, and with the end of May approaching, frost seemed out of the question.

As we stepped out the front door one morning, though, the nip in the air was unmistakable. Ted and I immediately ran to check the tomato plants. Sure enough, when we got to the field, we were greeted by row after row of withered, miserable-looking plants.

Yet the carnage wasn't quite complete. The frost had been strangely selective, killing some plants to ground level while leaving others next to them untouched. Still, we had lost about 85 percent of them.

Of course we were devastated. Our bumper crop had been taken away with one cruel, unexpected blow. By then, even our cautious friends had their gardens planted and like us were shaking their heads in disbelief.

All you can do with an experience like that is try to learn from it. We ended up getting quite a good crop of green tomatoes off the surviving plants, although nowhere near what we had hoped. The plants that had been nipped at the top grew out bushy and wide, and eventually bore some fruit. Even some we thought were completely destroyed somehow grew back from the roots, although, with our short season, they barely had time to flower before fall.

The experience also made us take a long second look at where we were planting our tomatoes. Because they were at the top of a hill,  they were far more exposed than they should have been. They lay at the mercy of spring frosts and summer winds.

At the same time, we decided it was time to upgrade our operation. That summer, Ted set to work on a new greenhouse, where the tomatoes were grown from then on, so we would never again have to take that kind of risk with such a large crop of tomatoes. If you plant a half dozen tomatoes in your back yard, you can easily cover them if you're hit by a late frost. If you have a whole acre, however, the bed sheets aren't nearly big enough! I like taking risks, but there's such a thing as being foolhardy.

The most important lesson we learned from those tomatoes, though, was the truth of that old farmers' adage: "There's always next year." Sure enough, we survived to try again.

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer

Gladiolus, gladioli!

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When I was growing up on the farm, Mom always planted a single row of gladioli in her vegetable patch. She just loved the beautiful flowers and would often head out to the garden in the summer and gather up a bunch of gladioli stalks to stick straight into a tall, clear, glass vase. The large flowers set on the tall straight spikes were always spectacular and looked incredible all on their own, without the addition of any other flowers or greenery. 

I was always amazed that these little brown corms could grow so quickly and produce such tall, magnificent spikes in such short order. Gladiolus grows best in rich, loamy soil and we had plenty of them by our old farmhouse.

For 2015, it’s exciting to see so many wonderful gladioli varieties available to plant in our yards. Everything from purples, blues and greens, to colourful mixed varieties like "Tutti Frutti", "Tropical Blend" or "Chocolate & Banana Blend".

If you haven’t planted gladiolus before, give it a try. It is unsurpassed as an outstanding cutflower for summer weddings, backyard BBQs, or simply to liven-up the kitchen or livingroom. And don’t be afraid to put a row in your vegetable patch if you have the space. Just remember to place the row of glads to the east side of the patch so that the tall spikes don’t block the sunlight for the vegetables.

The north to south row on the east side of the garden always worked out great in Mom’s garden.

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~Jim Hole

p.s. There are still a few spots left for my tomato workshop on Saturday, April 18th. You can sign up by clicking here or using the button below.

 


Tomatoes! Unique Seed Varieties

Tomatoes are Canada’s favourite garden vegetable (botanically, tomatoes are a fruit, but since they’re used as a vegetable in eating and cooking they’re usually categorized as such.) With such a myriad of sizes, flavours, and varieties, it’s easy to see why they're so loved. Tomatoes can be enjoyed in many ways, including: raw, in sauces, salads, and drinks, and as an ingredient in countless dishes.

heirloom tomato edmonton st albert greenhouse

The tomato species originated in the South American Andes, but its use as a food originated in Mexico, and spread throughout the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

Because of the vast choice of tomato varieties (more than 7,500!), choosing a favourite is no easy task. But here are a few unique seed varieties I find particularly interesting, and delicious:

banana legs tomato edmonton st albert greenhouse

Tomato - "Banana Legs"

This fun and tasty tomato is similar in shape and colour to a small banana. The fruit has a mild taste and a meaty flesh, making them fantastic for slicing into salads.

Banana Legs is an extremely prolific tomato with 4" yellow fruits that ripen to a golden yellow with distinctive pale stripes.

With enough light, Banana Legs produces so much fruit, that late in the season you can barely make out foliage amongst the tightly clumped fruits!

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Tomatillos - "Two Colour Fiesta"

When thinking of salsa, tomatoes are usually the first ingredient that comes to mind. But, believe it or not, the essential ingredient in the green salsas of Mexican cuisine is not the tomato but the tomatillo: a fruit with a sweet and tangy flavour.

Easy to grow, tomatillos look like large green cherry tomatoes. And, similar to candy, tomatillos are individually wrapped in a thin papery husk.

By late summer, what seems like thousands of fruits dangle from the plant's branches, ensuring that you can more than satisfy your salsa cravings by summer's end.

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Tomato - "Sweetie" 

"Sweetie" tomatoes are an incredibly sweet, red, cherry tomato with a high sugar content and full bodied tomato flavour. They produce masses of grape-sized round fruit in large clusters that keep coming all summer long. Sweetie tomatoes make fantastic additions to a raw vegetable tray and are ideal for salads and garnish. You’ll love them!

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If you're interested in learning more about how to grow tomatoes, join Jim Hole for an informative workshop on April 18th or May 9th 2015 at the Enjoy Centre.  The workshop will cover the best planting techniques, correct soil and nutrients for our zone, tomato seed varieties and types, diseases and prevention, pests and how to protect your harvests, watering and much more.

Frost Warning: What to Harvest, What to Cover, and What to Leave Alone

One of our customers woke up to this today! Did you get snow in your area?

One of our customers woke up to this today! Did you get snow in your area?

A frost warning is in effect and we've received a lot of phone calls from people asking about what can stay outside and what needs to come in. Here's our quick guide:

  • Apples: A light frost will not affect the apples and may even make them sweeter. Barring a severe September storm, leave your apples on the tree until they are ripe (mid- to late- September for most late bearing apples).
     
  • Beans and Peas: Will not tolerate frost. Harvest these guys and eat them up!
     
  • Beets, Carrots, Onions, Potatoes: Protected underground, these vegetables do fine in a light frost and their flavour may even improve with the cold. That said, harvest them before the ground freezes. 
     
  • Chard, Kale, and Cabbage: These plants should all survive a light frost. Cold temperatures will even intensify the colour and flavour of chard, and may sweeten cabbage.
     
  • Corn: Corn is frost sensitive. If your corn is ready, pick it now. If it is not yet ready to harvest, cross your fingers and hope for the best. A hard frost will reduce the shelf life of corn to 3 to 4 days.
     
  • Lettuce and Salad Greens: Cold will affect the look and texture of lettuce and salad greens, but they can survive a light frost. If you’d like, harvest the tops of the lettuce and see if they come back afterwards.
     
  • Tomatoes and Peppers: Harvest any ripe tomatoes and all peppers. Unripe tomatoes are bit more complicated. If you’re feeling cautious and would rather not deal with any stress, harvest them all now—ripe or not.

    If you’re feeling daring and if the forecast cooperates for the next day or two, you may be able to get away with bringing the tomato vines close to the house (preferably on the south side of the house) and covering them with some light bed sheets to protect them from the frost.

    However, if the forecast dips below -2°C, the tomatoes will probably end up covered in frost anyways even with these precautions. Keep an eye on your local temperature, and harvest the unripe tomatoes if necessary. Green tomatoes can be ripened inside on sheets of newspaper.
     
  • Pumpkins, Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers: Cucumbers, zucchini, and summer varieties of pumpkin and squash should be harvested now, wiped dry, and cured in a hot, dry room for a few days to improve shelf life.

    Properly cured, they may store for a few weeks. Avoid storing these fruits on concrete or metal surfaces as it can cause them to rot.

    Thin skinned cucumbers will not store as well and should be eaten within a few days.

    Some pumpkins and squash are "winter varieties" and can store very well if properly cured. Harvest any mature “winter variety”  gourds before a frost (they will have a nice tough skin when mature) and do your best to protect the immature ones by covering them with a sheet. Immature gourds will not ripen off the vine or once the vine has died, so protecting them and hoping for the best is the best strategy. Be careful not to crush the vines. 

The Story of the Mortgage Lifter Tomato

This spring one of our most popular heirloom tomato varieties was "the Mortgage Lifter."

This plant practically flew off our shelves and people were coming from far and wide to purchase this famous variety of tomato.

Why?

Well, as the story goes "the Mortgage Lifter" was developed by M.C. Byles of West Virginia in the 1940s.

After crossing different tomato varieties for 6 years and selecting the best producers,  he sold the resulting new variety of plants for $1 each and paid off the $6,000 mortgage on his house!

The result of all of his hard work was a huge, meaty tomato the size of a small pumpkin—amazing for canning and for sandwiches. The tomatoes produced are so big that the tomato vines often require extra staking to support the excessive weight.

Today, one of our staff brought in a mortgage lifter tomato from her own garden to share with us. Look at the size of this thing!

It almost didn't fit on this piece of toast!

It almost didn't fit on this piece of toast!