Tomatoes and Basil. They sound like they were meant for each other. In your spaghetti sauce, in your caprese salad and now in your garden!
Tomatoes are so prone to pests and disease. Aphids and a variety of caterpillars and beetles can take out a crop. There is a technique called companion planting in which certain plants that are known to deter certain pests can be used to reduce infestation. For tomatoes, Basil is just one of those companion plants.
This is the first year we tried companion planting by alternating tomato plants with basil plants. It really worked. We had far fewer pests problems. The issue we did have was the basil grew so fast it shaded some of the tomato plants which resulted in fewer tomatoes. Luckily we still grew enough to meet demand.
Next year we will plant the tomatoes farther apart and give them a head start before we plant the basil. We may also plant garlic and/or onion in a few spots as they are also considered great companion plants for tomatoes as well. Stay tuned because we may try companion with a few other sensitive plants.
There will always be excess crops after the end of harvest sales. After donating we preserve some for using in the winter.
Tomatoes are my favorite to save for use. Canning tomatoes is labor intensive. Tomatoes have to be cleaned, peeled and in some cases de-seeded. In our case we don’t mind the seeds as long as we’re not making tomato sauce or paste. With tomato sauce you just puree and cook until the thickness is correct. For paste you need to cook even longer. I always lose my patience and stop at the sauce.
Pickles are much easier. Refrigerator pickles can be made by simply slicing cucumbers into spears and putting them in jars with pickle juice made from a simple flavor packet. They only last a couple months this way but if you only have a few it’s a great way to do it. Regular canning of pickles isn’t just for cucumbers. We also pickled beans.
We prefer not to pickle our beets. We like the sweet cooked slices as a side dish. Beets are almost fully cooked until they are easily pealed. After peeling we cut the larger ones into thick round slices and use a vacuum sealer to freeze them in a single layer. Small beets are frozen whole. When we are ready to eat them we let them fully defrost before lightly microwaving them just enough to warm them up. Overcooking makes them rubbery.
Freezing carrots does not require any cooking. Just peel and cut into thick slices, vacuum pack and freeze into single layers. We drop these into stews and casseroles. They aren’t good eaten by themselves. The texture doesn’t hold up.
Finally, we cook all the pumpkins, puree them and freeze them in one cup quantities. That measurement is usually the amount used in a pumpkin bread recipe. Two cups makes a pumpkin pie. Containers are better than vacuum seal bags. When ready to use, defrost them and pour into a sieve to let any excess liquid drain out. I’ve made the mistake of not draining and had a very soft pumpkin pie.
I hope this gives you some ideas on how to save your fresh veggies. The next thing we are working on for next year is drying herbs to sell as seasoning. We can’t wait to try it out.
The hail storm must have damaged the Florida Weave string that was holding up the tomatoes. A month after the storm we woke up to this.Tomato plants falling against each other and back over the next row of pepper plants. After finishing the clean up after the hailstorm mess now the tomatoes are giving us a hard time.
It’s so late in the season an extensive fix just seems like a waste of time. Besides, the plants were already starting to die off before winter hits. At this point we just took a look around and used whatever was available to lift the tomatoes off the ground just to get them past the final ripening of the green tomatoes.
A few old tomato cages and T-posts later the plants were pushed up just enough to survive the fall. We still managed to get quite a few tomatoes which made it well worth the effort. It’s not pretty but still paid off.
I was tying up my newly transplanted tomatoes when I noticed some flea beetle damage on the leaves. We had flea beetles last year but they didn’t attack until later in the season. What do flea beetles do to the plants and how do we fix the issue?
You can see the damage a flea beetle can do in the picture above. The black spot is a flea beetle. They eat the plant between the veins making it look like lace. They will also lay their eggs on the leaves.
When plants are small it’s easy to look at every plant and squish the beetles between your fingers. As the plants get bigger we try spraying plants with a water hose to knock them off and then crush them as they land on the fabric. We’ve also found that trimming off any leaves that almost touch the ground really helps. If the access to the leaves is more difficult, the less likely they will take hold. You have to stay on top of it though. It’s really hard to get it back under control if you don’t look through the plants every couple days. Since we will never use pesticide there is a big commitment to prevent a full on invasion. May and June is mating season so now is the best time to focus on it.
Look at flea beetles mating on the tomatoes on the farm’s YouTube channel:
My favorite thing to grow is the Cherokee Purple Heirloom tomato. It has an amazing flavor beyond your best beefsteak tomato. It’s a very ugly tomato which grows lumpy with a variety of coloring ranging from a yellowish brown to it’s infamous purple color. Another challenge with this tomato is it’s thin skin. A trait that is common on heirloom tomatoes. When it’s hot and a cool rain comes, the water is pulled by osmosis into the skin and many times creates cracks. All in all the taste is worth the risk.
In our area this tomato is easy to grow and many times grows much larger than the other tomatoes. The one pictured grew so fast it grew around the tomato stake. I had to extract it. You can see where the thin skin peeled partially off. This tomato was huge!
The only problem with this and other heirloom tomatoes is it’s hard to sell to the average person. Customers expect their tomatoes to look perfectly round and red. The majority of Cherokee Purple tomatoes grown do not meet that expectation. I came across a discussion online about the challenges with growing and selling Cherokee Purple and someone recommended a hybrid with a thicker skin that increased successful yield and increased sell-ability. Although I am insistent on only growing and selling heirloom varieties, I plan to try this new hybrid next year and see how it works. It might make a big difference for our customer’s expectations.
“I love heirloom tomatoes” everyone said. We were worried we wouldn’t have enough tomatoes to meet the need! So, like everything we’ve done before, we went overboard to be sure we had plenty of product to sell. We planted three 50 foot rows of 7 different varieties.
One of our neighbors was admiring the tomatoes as they were growing and told me about his friend who did small space indoor hydroponic tomatoes. He said she had incredible yields by pruning off excess leaves and focusing on keeping the central lead stalk without allowing it to branch out or become bushy. With the tight quarters it also kept good airflow to prevent disease. We decided to try the technique and as you can see we had a lot more tomatoes growing than ever before!
The tomatoes became so heavy on the stalks the tomato twine couldn’t hold them up anymore. We had to add additional stakes and more ties and started to pull the tomatoes once, sometimes twice a day.
When the first freeze was announced we pulled all the tomatoes off the vine and stored the ripe ones in the cold room. The partially red tomatoes were set out on tables covered with paper to minimize moisture. The green ones were refrigerated and used to make fried green tomatoes.
The final step with our excess tomatoes was to try our hand at canning. We made 45 jars of canned tomatoes and 27 jars of tomato sauce. There is nothing better than making Italian food from canned heirloom tomatoes straight from the garden.
We’ve already decided to grow fewer tomatoes of our favorite varieties for next year.
The tomatoes are starting to grow tall! In our old plot we built industrial tomato cages for each tomato plant but once you have hundreds of tomato plants that’s not possible. With the intensive planting they are too close together to have individual cages.
After doing some research we found a method called the Florida weave. This process holds tomato plants up and keeps them under control by weaving twine back and forth between plants. This is done at every 12 inches of growth.
It was a little difficult getting used to doing the weave and took awhile to do it but it seems to be pretty effective. Unfortunately with the tomatoes growing much larger than last year and although one sides of the plants were held up, they still slid sideways on the some of the tomato bound plants. In the end we ended up putting large stakes on 50% of the plants to keep them from leaning. It was a good problem to have with all tomatoes, but just an added chore. Next year we will stake every tomato plant right away and should not have that problem again.
You can see us try out the Florida weave on the farm YouTube Channel:
I know you haven’t heard a lot from us lately. That’s because we’ve been very busy! Most of the work is keeping the weeds at bay. We are also carefully managing the water with the alternating hot and bone dry weather to heavy thunderstorms. Lots of extra hand watering one day and then turning off the irrigation the next day.
So, what’s coming up in the garden? We’ve been tasting items out of our test plot before selling to be sure they are good. Some are good enough we aren’t willing to let go of them! Our favorite is beets. We’ll eat our fill before letting them go.
The biggest seller is the beans. At first we were pulling them so fast we couldn’t sell them fast enough, but now we are begging the plants to grow more.
The lettuce mix just keeps growing no matter how much we sell. The collards are finally at a good size, although I don’t think they grow very well outside of the south.
The snap peas and cucumbers are on a roll now.
We are finishing harvesting the corn for ourselves. It takes too much space and resources for what little you get.
The heirloom celery is amazing! It’s thinner than the grocery store celery but the flavor is strong so you don’t need as much. We’ve also been harvesting broccoli, basil, gold squash and zucchini.
Finally, the tomatoes are starting to turn red, the peppers are taking off and the Okra is just starting to get to a size of harvest.
There is still a lot more that is growing and we can’t wait to share it with our customers!