Thursday, July 21, 2016

Tomato Talk: Tips & Techniques for a Healthy, Tasty Crop

Tomatoes are probably the most popular crop grown by American home gardeners. With their high success rate and offering the rewards of incomparably delicious fruit, you’ll find tomatoes growing in the vast majority of gardens, patios and farms. Talk to any avid tomato grower, and you’ll undoubtedly be offered a heaping earful of personalized cultivation tips that will guarantee a bountiful harvest. These will range from the logical to the outlandish, which is enough to bewilder even the most seasoned gardener. The following tips represent a few of this gardener’s own guidelines from years of personal and professional experience and experimentation.

Since we’re currently well into the tomato growing season, we’ll skip seed starting & transplanting and move directly into cultivation of established plants, focusing on some basics that will hopefully aid in refining your tomato-growing techniques. One initial clarification is the difference between the two types of tomato plants: determinate and indeterminate.

Determinate plants tend to grow bushy and stay short, producing a single, concentrated flush of fruit.

Indeterminate plants grow more like vines. They will grow very tall and full (if not pruned) and will continue producing blossoms and fruit until the plants succumb to the frost.

Most tomato varieties are indeterminate and require support to keep the vines off the ground and healthy.

Now that we’re clear on determinate versus indeterminate and have already mentioned support, let’s discuss the options for trellising. Providing support for your plants will help keep the tomatoes off the soil and reduce stresses on the vines that are bearing the weight of ripening fruit. If you happen to be growing short-statured, determinate plants, even they can benefit from support. The simple, small ring tomato cages are fine for most determinate varieties, although they’re usually too small and flimsy for most indeterminate plants.

Indeterminate tomatoes require taller and more heavy-duty support systems. These plants can grow 6-8 feet tall or more depending on the variety and growing conditions, so a 4-6 foot tall structure is not unreasonable. There are innumerable trellising structure designs available for indeterminate tomatoes, and I’ll break them down into two main categories depending on your pruning practices (we’ll delve into that next).

From an employee garden: A creative way to trellis using some leftover pea & bean string
If you don’t prune your indeterminate tomatoes, we found the most practical support system is a folding cage with a square footprint that’s made of heavy gauge wire. Designed to support the weight and accommodate the height of a well-developed plant, these long-lasting cages fold flat for easy storage in the off-season. They contain the plant and offer easy access to the fruit, too. I’ve seen similar cages made of 1 x 1 wood slats, but these usually don’t fold. If you’re handy, have some scrap lumber and room to store them, they’re a great option since they’re cheap and easy to make.

Cattle panel trellises at our trial farm.
A nice alternate is constructing a cage from cattle panel. This sturdy stuff is available at farm or building supply stores in 4 x 16 foot sections. I’ve found it to be very versatile. Bolt cutters make quick work of turning it into smaller size sheets, and it’s easy to connect together with zip ties.

From a customer garden: Zig-zag structure
You can make A-frame cages for multiple plants or upright zig-zag structures that will support entire rows of pruned or unpruned plants. The wire lasts for years, but you may have to replace the ties after a few seasons.

This leads us to the topic of pruning. Pruning your tomato plants keeps their structure and growth organized, focused and controlled. It also encourages air circulation, which will help reduce fungal infections, and it opens the fruit for even sun exposure, which can aid ripening. Determinate plants don’t require pruning, but indeterminate types can benefit from it.

If you choose to prune, there’s a very simple method to optimize production, fruit quality and plant health. Maintain two to three main stems from each plant. Doing so changes the natural growth of the indeterminate plants from super jungles to easy-to-manage vines and lends the plants to flat, espalier-style trellising. 

To prune, look at your indeterminate plant and identify the main stem coming out of the ground. Moving upwards, notice that at each joint where a leaf emerges from the stem, there’s a branch sprouting. These branches are suckers. Select all but two of the lower suckers and pinch them off. Those two remaining suckers will become stems and produce more suckers at their leaf intersections. Remove all the suckers as they appear on all three stems. The resulting triple-vine plant (or double if you choose to prune down to two main stems) can be supported on stakes, flat panels, walls, fences, or on suspended strings or wire.

Before being pruned

Pruning the "suckers"

After being pruned and supported.
My final tomato growing tip is the most fundamental and also the most important: watering. Tomato plants are fairly resilient and can thrive under a wide range of conditions, but you can potentially improve the health of your plants and flavor of the fruit if you follow some basic guidelines. Tomatoes don’t mind going fairly dry between watering. Once established, it’s best to give your plants very deep, infrequent irrigation. At our trial farm we typically water about once per week. The water is delivered very slowly to allow it to seep into the ground and encourage the plants to produce deep roots.

If you’re growing your plants in pots; choose large containers (ten gallons or larger for indeterminate plants) and regulate your watering schedule by the size of the plant and weather conditions. Always provide enough water to see the excess releasing from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, and don’t allow the plants to stand in water.

One final flavor tip: withhold irrigation in the final weeks of the season. This forces the green fruit to ripen, concentrates the flavor, and helps prevent splitting.

Since everyone’s garden conditions and techniques are unique, I like to stress that gardening tends not to be an exact science. The rules are fairly flexible, and each gardener discovers what works best for them through trial and error. Do what works for you and your garden, and keep an open mind. I recommend experimenting with different techniques or products when you’re looking to improve your results, and try new varieties every season. You never know what or how it will work until you grow it! 

Author: Kat B. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

4th of July Layered Smoothie

I don’t know about y’all, but it’s hard for me to think about cooking in the middle of summer. When it is a sweltering 90° outside, the last thing you want to do is run your oven or stove—making the house even hotter! And, besides, summer is the time to eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible. There’s nothing more refreshing than a smoothie for relaxing outdoors or sipping on the go. 

So, here we go—a recipe that quenches your thirst, gives you that fresh fruit and veggie fix and – yes – will even bring out your down-home patriotic side.

I always use three base ingredients in my smoothies – cucumber (preferably Armenian), agave nectar, and plain Greek yogurt. The cucumbers add a hydrating aspect to the smoothie, the yogurt provides substance and the agave, of course, adds extra sweetness. 

To begin gather all the tools necessary: a blender, pitcher, knife, cutting board, freezer (you can leave your freezer where it’s at—don’t actually try to move it), plenty of ice, and most importantly, a glass to taste-test each layer.

Blue Layer
  • 1 cup ice (I find that adding the ice first helps with the breakdown)
  • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • ½ Armenian cucumber (peeled and chopped)
  • 1 tsp agave – feel free to add more for desired sweetness!

Add all ingredients to your blender and pulse.

Note: You can use all fresh blueberries if you want. If so, you might want to add another ½ cup of ice for thickness.

Pour the blue layer into the pitcher filling it up a third of the way. Then, put it in the freezer to solidify while making the next layer.

Rinse blender.

White Layer
  • 2 cups ice
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup loosely packed chopped Napa cabbage
  • ½ Armenian cucumber (peeled and chopped)
  • ¼ medium sized honeydew melon (peeled and chopped)
  • 1 banana
  • 1 tsp agave – feel free to add more for desired sweetness!

Add all ingredients to your blender and pulse.

Note: It’s hard to not add more honeydew, but try to refrain! Adding more will turn the layer a light green rather than keeping it white.

Pour the white layer on top the blue layer and place back in the freezer.

Rinse blender.

Red Layer
  • 2 cups ice
  • 1 medium sized beet (washed and chopped)
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • ½ Armenian cucumber (peeled and chopped)
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp agave – feel free to add more for desired sweetness!

Add all ingredients to your blender and pulse.

Note: If you are using frozen strawberries or raspberries, that second cup of ice may not be necessary.

Pour the red layer on top of the white and place back in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes.

Your 4th of July smoothie is almost ready. Garnish with fresh honeydew, white grapes, strawberries, and blueberries. Serve up and enjoy!

Share with friends and family.

Happy 4th of July!

Author: Dana M.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Fall & Winter Gardening Catalog Sneak Peek!

Cover art by Joneile Emery:


Many of you grow a summer garden every year, but perhaps have been unsure about planting a winter garden. We’ve developed this winter catalog as guide to help you extend your food gardening season, and thus be as self-reliant on your own food supply as possible even during the winter season.   

Why depend on tired supermarket vegetables that are two weeks old and traveled perhaps thousands of miles when you can be eating fresh-from-the-garden food even in the winter? Plan on sowing the winter garden mid-summer and you’ll be harvesting a nutritional powerhouse of vegetables starting in late summer, to autumn, through winter and then over winter into spring! 

Some of the most antioxidant rich foods on earth, those packed with anthocyans and fiber can be harvested and enjoyed in the cooler seasons!

Here is a look at some of the new items you will be able to add to your garden this summer:

Mulberry Cauliflower: 85–95 days. One of the most unusual and exotic cauliflowers we’ve encountered. Strong, upright plants produce nicely wrapped pastel purple colored heads. A cross-section piece has the appearance of being a white cauliflower that’s been dip-dyed in lilac. After cooking, the color deepens to a blue-purple, and a dash of vinegar on a raw floret turns it to a brilliant magenta.

Dazzling Blue Kale: 50–60 days. If you’re a fan of the ever-popular Nero di Toscana or dinosaur kale, you’re going to be spellbound by Dazzling Blue! This Oregon-bred variety is a striking twist on the strap-leaf style kales. It sports puckered, brilliant blue-green leaves highlighted with shocking pink midribs. Along with its showy appearance, Dazzling Blue proves to be especially cold-tolerant, surviving sub-freezing temperatures better than other lacinato types.

Socrates Cucumber: 52 days. Right at home in the winter greenhouse, Socrates thrives and produces even in cooler temperatures and lower light conditions that are common in winter greenhouse environments. Produces very refined, 7 inch long, Beit Alpha type fruit with dark green, delicate skin and a crisp, flavorful snap. Plants show good disease resistance.

A parthenocarpic variety (has the ability to set fruit without pollination. Triggered by low temperatures, short day length, and plant age). Resistant to Powdery Mildew and Scab.

Tye-Dye Mustard Blend: 60–70 days. These fast-growing, specialty mustard varieties have a mildly spicy, signature mustard flavor that sweetens when lightly cooked. A festival of colors, shapes and textures make Tye-Dye pretty enough to be an ornamental. We suggest spreading it around the yard—in containers, the edible landscape, and in the garden in successive plantings, so you’ll have a continuous harvest throughout the late summer, fall and winter. Contains an equal blend of Tye-Dye, Ragged Red and Red Fingers mustards.

Sweet & Spicy Blend: 30–50 days. Having a constant supply of fresh greens during the winter keeps your meals nutritionally balanced and delicious. This flavorful blend of kales and mustards will help you do just that! Scattering the seed in open flats indoors every couple of weeks, then transitioning the plants to the outdoors or cloches will provide non-stop harvests of fresh, tender greens from baby green size on up to full size. Contains Southern Giant Curled, Dragon Tongue, Ruby Streaks, Sawtooth and Tah Tsai mustards mixed with our Wild Garden Kale Blend.

For anyone who has never had a winter garden: here is our Winter Gardening Chart (or click here to view it on our website) to give you an idea of what you can start planting this summer. Happy gardening!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Winter Gardening: Minimum Effort—Maximum Reward

It might seem a bit out of step to be talking about winter gardening when we’re just getting comfortable with springtime. But, to be fair, winter gardening is fresh in our minds here at Territorial Seed because our fall and winter catalog just went to press. We think it’s a perfect time to think about the winter garden, since this time of year is when planting fever is at its peak. We just need to save a little bit of this powerful impulse for the summer/early fall when winter garden planting time hits. If you've never tried a fall & winter garden before, we're here to tell you that it's easier than you think!

Winter trials: September 2014

Nothing beats the flavor of fresh veggies right out of the garden. Why rely on the supermarket produce section when, with a little planning, you can be eating out of the garden year-round. The range of cold-tolerant crops spans from delicate greens to hearty root vegetables with flowering types like broccoli and cauliflower in between. These veggies taste extra sweet when they’re grown in the fall and winter. If you’ve ever tasted kale after the first frost of the season, you’ll have noticed a remarkable difference in flavor. What you’re tasting is the plants’ physiological response to cold. The complex carbohydrates stored in the plants’ cells break down when temperatures drop. The resulting simple sugars dissolved in the cells serve as an antifreeze, protecting the plant from frost damage and bringing a smile to your lips with one taste! 

Kale after a deep frost: December 2013

Interestingly enough, root crops like carrots, beets, radishes, and parsnips can size up and then remain in the ground until you’re ready to use them. It turns out that the winter garden is the ideal storage spot for these crops!

Not convinced yet?

Did we mention the undemanding nature of a winter garden? Cool-weather gardens require very little work once they’re established, a good thing since most gardeners we know prefer to spend the majority of their time indoors when it’s cold and wet outside. In fact, aside from grabbing some harvest as needed, there’s almost no maintenance required. 

Side note: Depending on your particular climate and the crops you choose, you may need to provide some protection such as floating row covers or cloches. 

But, here in western Oregon where our winters are fairly mild, we’re able to enjoy a wide range of delicious crops that can be cultivated in the open field with no protection.

Veggies harvested: 12-29-14
Once the cool weather sets in, we can leave the irrigating and pest control to Mother Nature. Aphids and other pests aren’t very active in colder weather. These bugs can wreak havoc on garden staples such as brassicas, but once the temperatures dip, the insect populations drop too, leaving the plants to grow and thrive. 
Broccoli: October 2014

Weed control is also easy with the use of mulches, and planting short-statured cover crops in between the rows of veggies, which not only suppresses weeds, it helps prevent erosion and improves the soil.

Okay, are you ready for the real secret?

The key to a successful winter garden is simply to plant one. 

Summer/early fall is the time to plant the winter garden—when it's really easy to just sit back and enjoy the tomatoes, squash, peppers, and melons that are flooding the kitchen. But, putting a little effort in will mean fresh-picked food for holiday meals and throughout the early months of the New Year. And it is, indeed, very little effort.

So, consider this a seed that we're planting in your mind. Next month when our Fall & Winter Gardening Catalog is released, that seed will have taken root and you’ll be prepared to really begin planning for your second-season garden!

Veggies planted in the summer and fall, then harvested just in time for Thanksgiving.

Author: Kat B.