Next up - Dow Botanical Gardens this coming weekend. And - planting strategy part 3. Tomatoes!

I can't wait until the weekend - the Know and Grow seminar at Dow Botanical Gardens in Midland Michigan. Speaking topics for me at the event will be tomatoes (title - "Achieving the Holy Grail - Epic Tomatoes from Your Garden....stories and tips for success), and straw bale and container gardening (talk title "Great Vegetables from Straw Bales and Containers - taking your garden to where the sun shines"). It will be quick - flying to Midland on Friday, speaking on Saturday and heading home....breakfast with Sue here Sunday morning. This is going to be a really fast year.

Now - on to tomatoes. Up and growing are the following indeterminate (tall growing) varieties: Aker's West Virginia, Brandywine, Caitlin's Lucky Stripe, Cherokee Chocolate, Cherokee Green, Cherokee Purple, Coyote, Dester, Egg Yolk, Everglades, Hege German Pink, Green Giant, Large Lucky Red, Lillian's Yellow Heirloom, Little Lucky, Lucky Cross, Mexico Midget, Red Brandywine, Speckled Roman, Swokla's Heart, and Sun Gold.  That's 21 varieties (significantly reduced from previous seasons) - but in my opinion, some of the cream of the crop of great tasting, reliably performing varieties.

As for dwarf tomatoes - Dwarf Beryl Beauty, Dwarf Emerald Giant, Rosella Purple, Dwarf Mr. Snow, Dwarf Wild Fred, Dwarf Kelly Green, Dwarf Sweet Sue, Rosella Crimson, Wherokowhai, Dwarf Blazing Beauty, Dwarf Pink Passion, Chocolate Lightning, Uluru Ochre, Sweet Scarlet Dwarf, Fred's Tie Dye, Dwarf Purple Heart, Summer Sweet Gold, Sarandipity, Adelaide Festival, Dwarf Russian Swirl, Dwarf Scarlet Heart, Dwarf Orange Cream, Dwarf Golden Gypsy, Tennessee Suited, Tanunda Red, TastyWine, Dwarf Wild Spudleaf, Loxton Lass, Dwarf Crimson Sockeye, Dwarf Caitydid, Dwarf Firebird Sweet, Dwarf Beauty King, Willa's Cariboo Rose, Loxton Lad, Kookaburra Cackle, Dwarf Lucky Swirl, Sturt Desert Pea, Sean's Yellow Dwarf, Boronia, BrandyFred, Sleeping Lady, and Summer Sunrise - 42 varieties - twice as many as the indeterminate types. You can see what I am particularly proud of!

Oh yes - last but not least, I am germinating seeds of ground cherry Goldie. 

There will also be odds and ends - particularly of dwarf project works in progress (cherries, pastes), for those that are interested.

In future blogs, I will break down the big lists above - some descriptions, rationale for growing, etc. The big question - what I can fit into my garden this year. It will be far smaller. Some of my gardening will have to be vicariously; seeing how others are doing with my seedlings, I am sure!

For details on seedling availability and any questions you may have, please send me an email - nctomatoman@gmail.com 

Thanks to my hosts and audience in Williamston! and...the 2017 season - planting time part 2. Peppers

In my last blog, I talked about my eggplant choices for 2017.  Now I will discuss my strategy for peppers this year.

But before I do, I want to say a few words about my first speaking event of the year - the Sustainability Action Institute, which took place yesterday in Williamston, North Carolina. Thanks so much to Wes Gray for the invitation to speak at the event, and to Dawn Morriston for the great communications during the lead up to the day. Each opportunity to share my tomato stories with farmers and gardeners is special; the first of the year - particularly being in the state where we live - makes it doubly so. Another bonus is that my two best friends, Allen and Bob, made this a road trip - having them there - as well as Allen's brother Doward - was very special indeed. (lunch at the Cypress Grill was icing on the cake!)

OK - on to peppers. Sweet peppers were chosen to further some more dehybridization efforts; Blue Jay, and Chocolate Bell.  Hot peppers focused on some super hots grown fairly recently from plants given to me by a gardening friend.

Here is the list of peppers that were planted on February 11:  Amethyst, Fire Opal, Candy Corn, White Gold, Royal Purple (the 5 named varieties I selected from Blue Jay over the past decade), and an open pollinated green ripening to brown selection from the hybrid Chocolate Bell (originally from Stokes many years ago).

The super hot peppers are Billy Goat, Brown Moruga, Ghost, Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, Seven Pot Brain Strain, Bhut Jokolia, Jamaican Hot Chocolate, Chocolate Habanero and Red Habanero. Additional hot peppers planted are Fish, Padron, Malu Miris, Gemstone and Bouquet. I've also planted a few so-called "seasoning" peppers that look like Habs, have the unique fruity flavors, but no heat; these are Trinidad Perfume, Trinidad, Seasoning, Tobago Seasoning, and Habanero Dulce.

As of today - February 18 (which is day 7), 7 cells of eggplants (out of 19), and 8 cells of peppers (out of 31) show life. This is not unexpected, as germination time for eggplant and peppers is longer than tomatoes, and often quite variable.

I will discuss plant availability and timing once I get through my tomato list - probably within the next week.

Eggplant seedlings emerging

Eggplant seedlings emerging

 

 

Gardening in 2017 - smaller, less, complex, interesting - and underway! Choices part 1 - Eggplant

Time continues to race from me. My goal is to blog about something every week; however, at this point, once a month seems to be the rule. I hope to remedy that - with lots of seeds planted and speaking events about to begin (as in tomorrow, in Williamston NC), it is time to return to weekly blogging.  Don't hold me to it...but let's be optimistic.

I am in the family room, banging away at my laptop on our sofa, flanked by two of our cats (Sam never shows up until later on), Sue knitting in the corner chair, the TED radio hour playing on our Echo. Upstairs, in my office on heat mats in front of one of the windows are four flats of seeds. When seeds are planted, the garden has officially begun.

Seed flats of eggplants, peppers and tomatoes, Work done between Feb 11-15

Seed flats of eggplants, peppers and tomatoes, Work done between Feb 11-15

 

Here begins discussions about my 2017 strategy; I will share the contents of each of those seedling flats, by crop, as well as the reasons for the choices, in a series of blogs. 

The seedling flat planted on February 11 represents my eggplant and pepper choices for the year. There is always a method to my madness. In the case of eggplants, my goal is to try to finish off the development of a set of varieties obtained by dehybridizing the early fruiting hybrid Orient Express, and a chance cross of a variety called Casper.

From Orient Express, I've identified three distinct varieties; Midnight Lightning (dark green purple foliage, long slender black purple fruit), Twilight Lightning (deep green leaves with purple veins, long slender medium purple fruit with a slight brownish cast due to the pale green under-color), and Skinny Twilight (medium green leaves, pale veins, long very slender white fruit with a strong lavender over-wash). 

I planted 6 different selections of Midnight Lightning, 5 of Twilight Lightning, and 6 of Skinny Twilight. Depending upon germination and foliage characteristics, I may grow no more than 2 from each category.

From the creative work of bees on a white variety called Casper, all sorts of interesting colors arose over the last few years. One particularly caught my eye due to its unique and attractive coloring - pale green tear-drop shape with a distinct pale purple over-wash. I've called it Mardi Gras (the color reminds me of a string of Mardi  Gras beads), and am growing the best two leads from last year.

Next blog - the peppers!

How about a bit of unexpectedly early spring color - captured at Raulston Arboretum last week on a warm winter day....and some of our daffodils.

 

 

 

Happy Very Belated New Year....thoughts about 2017 from the Driveway

Here we go again! The snow and ice is melted, the catalogs are arriving, plans are being made. As all gardeners know, the year (for us) isn't a straight line with clear beginnings and endings.  It isn't a circle, either - though we revisit the various activities and tasks, each calendar year feels so completely different. Gardening is a hobby that we integrate into our lives, and there is always something to think about or attend to, always something new to keep it fresh and exciting.

It looks very mid-January outside. Our big side garden, now mostly a place for flowering shrubs, is pretty bare looking except for the silvery green of the butterfly bushes, and the front rows of fall-planted garlic. The driveway holds pots of lettuce, arugula, chard and beets which fared quite well even in our rather harsh recent conditions (one morning showed 9 degrees F). The double layer of floating row cover helped keep everything alive; the reason for the cover was actually a very stubborn and hungry rabbit. 

Mid January is a time to plan for all of the activity to come. I've been sending seeds to fulfill some requests, and pondering what the Dwarf Tomato project will be in 2017. I've begun a book on the project that I feel is dying to be written, and hope to complete this year. It is time to get serious about what to plant, and when (stepping into my office and looking at seedling packets brings that home big time - see a few pics below). Workshops start pretty soon, so I will become very familiar with Power Point again before long.

I'll end this first blog for 2017 with a few bullet points and news items.

  • I am really excited about my speaking schedule for the coming year, and hope to see lots of you while I am on the road. Be sure to bring your questions, and to introduce yourself.  My first is local - Williamston NC - the next is at Dow Gardens in Midland Michigan.
  • As to my rather erratic newsletter (a few times per year), no decision has been made yet on whether to continue, since so much is shared in this blog and on Facebook.  I'll have a chat with my daughter about it (she provides great support for my various communication endeavors).  Breaking news - Yes, the newsletters will continue - watch for one in the next few weeks (thanks Sara for our brief consulting session)
  • Will there be seedlings available in 2017? Most likely...but which, and how many, and when all need to be determined. The best way to find out is to send me an email - nctomatoman@gmail.com . The focus would be on best flavored varieties (and most successful for this area), and our new dwarfs. 
  • We've added more dwarf tomatoes to our releases - and I am delighted to announce that Fruition Seeds has joined Victory Seeds, Tatiana's TOMATObase, Heritage Seed Market and Sample Seed Shop as companies that are featuring them in a big way. 
  • Patrina Nuske Small (my Dwarf project co-lead) and I are working to make sure our Dwarf Tomato project releases are pledged as Open Source varieties (OSSI). Please click the link and read all about it. 
  • It will be a much smaller garden this year (more room for cars in the driveway, perhaps...) - too much travel, writing...and life to bite off anything too significant (probably my smallest endeavor in many years). I hope to define what will be the focus soon, but without a doubt there will be continuing work on our Dwarf tomato varieties in development.
  • More breaking news - just thought of this a few minutes ago. There is so much more interesting work to do in the Dwarf Breeding project and I will be looking for additional volunteers to help - our focus is turning to dwarf cherry and paste tomatoes.  Whether locally or distant, please express your possible interest in helping out via email (see a bullet above for my email address). 

Here's wishing you all a Happy New Year and your best gardens - and tomato harvests - ever!

 

 

 

 

 

Time to take stock of a remarkable 2016....and looking ahead to 2017.

Susan and I are in a really great place to reflect and recharge. We are on day 1 of our week long Christmas visit to Olalla, Washington, spending time as guests of our daughter Sara, her husband Adam and our two grandchildren, Aaron and Aiden. Thinking back over our 36 Christmases together, it has been many years since we've spent this holiday away from our home. We often hosted my parents for Christmas - so Sue and I get to play the part of the visiting grandparents at last. We are already settled in and having a wonderful time.

And now I sit here listening to music, Sue knitting next to me, wondering where the year went. An awful lot ended up packed into the last twelve months. My second book, Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales, started January off with excitement. Speaking events started in early February. Seeds were started, a garden planted and tended, new gardening friends were made. It was wonderful because of the generosity, kindness and interest of my many hosts and workshop attendees.

Thanks to everyone who invited me to speak, helped with arrangements, and brought their attention, questions, and energy. This includes the Apex Garden Club (Apex NC), Master Gardeners of Carteret County (Morehead City NC), Northwest Flowers and Garden Show (Seattle WA), and Chicago Botanic Garden (Chicago IL) in February; Loudon County Master Gardeners Symposium (Leesburg VA), Green Springs Garden Winter Lecture (Alexandria VA), and Durham Gardeners Forum (Durham NC, Duke Gardens) in March, Daniel Stowe Gardens workshop (Belmont NC) and Mother Earth News Fair (Asheville, NC), Piedmont Master Gardeners Symposium (Charlottesville VA), Well Fed Garden workshop (Raleigh NC), and Atlantic Orchid and Garden workshops (Raleigh NC) in April, Flower Shuttle plant sale (Raleigh NC), and Longwood Gardens tomato workshop (Kennett Square, PA) in May, Gardeners of Wake County at Raulton Arboretum (Raleigh NC) and a tomato dinner at The Bridge Club by Ashley Christensen in June, Acme tomato dinner with Kevin Callaghan, a Southern Season tomato-themed cooking school with chef Kevin and an appearance at Tomato Days at the Carrboro Farmers Market and Chapel Hill Farmers market in July, presenting at a major gardening event at Omni Homestead (Hot Springs, VA) and a Pepper cooking school with Alex Hitt at Southern Seasons (Chapel Hill NC) in August, presenting at Tower Botanical Garden (Boylston MA), the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello (Charlottesville VA), and participating in a panel discussion at the Terra Vita festival (Chapel Hill NC) in September, Cape Cod Master Gardeners (Harwich MA), and wrapping things up at the Carolina Farm Stewardship event in November (Durham NC).  Thanks to everyone associated with these marvelous events.

I also got to be interviewed on podcasts, radio shows, magazines, and even filmed for an upcoming episode of the TV show Growing a Greener World (Joe Lamp'l - stay tuned for when and where to watch!) during the year.  So many thanks go to Niki Jabbour, Joe Lamp'l, Daryl Pulis, Margaret Roach, Mike Podlesny, Mike Darcy, Karen Lynn, Jessica Walliser, Andrea Weigl and Jill Lucas for stimulating discussions and wonderful questions. Of course, thanks to my friends at Storey - Carleen, Megan, Deborah, Tina, Sarah, Corey, Alee and Emily -  I know I've probably left a few names off for this or that event or activity due to the complexity of the year, but will edit as they come to me.  

From the various events, interviews, engagements, I've received so many interesting emails. Future collaborations are being discussed. You will be hearing more about these next year. And - as for next year - you can see from my upcoming speaking schedule that it could end up being even more packed with events and opportunities to meet more tomato enthusiasts and avid gardeners. I've begun my next book - detailing and telling the story of our Dwarf Tomato Project. There are proposals in the works for two other books as well. My garden, by necessity of diminishing sun and lack of time, will be much smaller; perhaps the smallest since undertaking this journey back in 1986.

I hope you all continue to come along for the ride - and please spread the word - help me create more and more gardeners...after all, that's really the point!

Here are some pictures from places we went in 2016

 

 

Downtime, right? (not really!). A long overdue update

Let's see...where was I?  Oh yes - digesting all of the feelings, memories and experiences from our October Cape Cod trip. I just noticed it is December 4 - November magically vanished. 

I took down the garden - which for me means recreating our driveway

The fifty plus tomato plants that are no more provided a lot of green treasures holding very valuable seeds. 

Since that picture was taken, at least a few of each type ripened, and most of my seed saving is complete - though there are still over a dozen plates of green tomatoes on our dining room table. The vast majority of these are from the dwarf tomato breeding project, and will provide great starting points for next spring.

Oh yes - there are things growing out there - several rows of garlic, and some pots of lettuce, arugula, beets and chard. 

 

Speaking of the Dwarf tomato project....I've made a decision to significantly stand back from active leadership. 2017 will be a year of delegation, slowing down, and taking a breather. With over 60 varieties released, the pressure is off, and the team can explore those things that seem most interesting and worthwhile.

I've actually started my third book - and it will be the story of our unique Dwarf Tomato Breeding project. At this point, I am considering self publishing. I've got two additional books that need attention - nothing definite and more on those later on (both are at an early, proposal stage).

I've also ended up with an exciting, but packed, speaking schedule for 2017. All of this means a much smaller gardening effort - I simply won't have the time, or be around to provide appropriate care, for the types of gardens planted over the past few decades. 

That's all the news for now....off to write!

20161129_142525.jpg

 

 

Back to our roots for a few weeks...family, friends, and foliage - so much foliage!

It's not that we planned it this way. Sue's brother in law lives on Cape Cod and invited us to visit when we could. The year has been pretty incessantly busy (quilting, gardening, travelling, speaking), and the prospect of two weeks in Eastham sounded perfect. We'd been looking forward to the trip for months - and now it is over, and I wanted to share a few stories and pictures from a really enjoyable, memorable time.

What we didn't plan - or at least I didn't thoroughly consider - was the power of returning home. For Sue, who has suffered many family losses in such a short period of time, it was a chance to heal and spend time with family. For me, it brought me back to a place of many vacations of my childhood. For both of us, New England is where we were born, grew up, went to college, met, romanced, and were married. Though we've lived elsewhere - Washington, Pennsylvania, and for the last 24 years, North Carolina, New England still represents home.

Our two weeks were so full of experiences. A laundry list of impressions: long drives, a regrettable choice for an off-route 95 hotel en route, charming Wickford Rhode Island with clam cakes and lobster bisque.... reunion with family, long walks on many beaches, lots of dogs, great food, lots of ice cream (too much ice cream), a long bike ride, dinner at a garden friend's house.....two great airbnbs, breathtaking foliage, talking tomatoes with Cape Cod Master Gardeners, great local coffee shops. And dogs, dogs everywhere!

A few news items - and current garden status

The year is now zipping by at record speed. Yet, even with November knocking on the door, I have a driveway full of thriving pepper and tomato plants.  Go figure!

News item #1: This is old news, really - but a continued plea for those who are growing the Dwarf Tomatoes that our project created to fill out a brief survey. This important data that you will hopefully provide helps to paint a picture of which varieties do well where - which you love, which you don't....which will become heirlooms (being grown and shared 50 - 100 - years from now), and which will fade into oblivion. Thanks in advance for any data you provide!

News item #2: Imagine my surprise when a few pics appeared on my Facebook news feed late at night on September 19. My gardening friend Brie Arthur, attending the Garden Writers Association meeting in Atlanta, notified me that Epic Tomatoes took the Gold award for best book. I didn't even know it was submitted! Feeling so much gratitude for all who were involved - my editor Carleen, art director Carolyn, photographers Stephen, Kip and Marcie - and all of you who purchased the book. 

Here is the press release From GWA

For Immediate Release

 Craig LeHoullier Receives 2016 GWA Media Awards Gold Medal of Achievement

October 5, 2016 – Craig LeHoullier received the 2016 Media Awards Gold Medal of Achievement for Best Overall Book presented by GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators.

This national award recognizes individuals and companies who achieve the highest levels of talent and professionalism in garden communications. The 2016 competition had more than 250 entries in 56 categories, and Silver Awards of Achievement were given to 59 pieces of work making them semi-finalists for Gold Awards. A total of 11 Gold Medals were awarded at the 2016 GWA Awards & Honors Dinner, held on Monday, September 19.

Craig LeHoullier received the Gold Medal of Achievement for his book entitled Epic Tomatoes (Storey Publishing). 

“The GWA Media Awards showcase the writers, photographers, editors, publishers and trade companies that have pursued excellence in gardening communication in print or electronic communications,” says Kirk Brown, president of GWA.  “The Media Award winners have been judged by industry experts and show significant distinction and merits that exemplify exceptional work.”

Craig, who lived in Raleigh NC, is well known as one of the foremost experts on heirloom tomatoes, and has advised the Seed Savers Exchange on tomatoes for decades. Epic Tomatoes is his first book. His blog, calendar of speaking engagements and projects can be found at www.craiglehoullier.com.

Since the early 1980s, the GWA Media Awards program has recognized outstanding writing, photography, graphic design and illustration for books, newspaper stories, magazine articles and other works focused on gardening. In recent years, the awards program has expanded to include on-air talent, production and direction for radio, television, video, Internet and other electronic media.

To view all the 2016 GWA Media Award recipients, visit www.gardenwriters.org. For more information about this award, contact Caitlin Norton at 678.298.1177 or cnorton@kellencompany.com.

About GWA

GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators, formerly the Garden Writers Association, is an organization of professional communicators in the green industry including book authors, bloggers, staff editors, syndicated columnists, free-lance writers, photographers, speakers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, publishers, extension service agents and more. No other organization in the industry has as much contact with the buying public as GWA members. Learn more at www.gardenwriters.org

News item #3 - my 2017 calendar of events is getting pretty interesting...and busy!  More are likely - keep checking it out...I hope to see you somewhere, some time next year!

Garden update - I returned from our two week Cape Cod trip to find a mix of very good and a bit of sad. With the rain from Matthew and my absence, fungal diseases and some pest issues took hold on some plants. Still, after working on the plants for a few days, there are still more than 50 tomato plants that are loading up with fruit, and all peppers are still doing fine. The eggplant are now history. Garlic is beginning to emerge in the front rows of our side garden. I will blog in more detail about the tomatoes that I hope to harvest in the coming weeks; most are part of the Dwarf Tomato breeding project, and are starting points for future releases.

Making sense of my 2016 tomato garden by reflecting on the weather

The idea for this blog entry came from a discussion with Daryl Pulis during a recording on Tuesday of an upcoming podcast for her show America's Home Grown Veggies. We were discussing what we both observed over the most recent season with our tomato efforts. Daryl keeps track of the daily weather as a way to anticipate her outcomes. 

I've always paid attention to the weather, but not to the extent of capturing the data regularly; I just use my memory (always dangerous!) to create an impression of the season. But Daryl planted a seed (pun intended?), and I carried out some data collecting and analysis. The exercise was quite worthwhile, because it seemed to reinforce the strong connection between seasonal weather and results.

Tomatoes can be troubled by temperature (too high and too low), humidity, and lack, excess, and timing of rainfall. Once seedlings are in the ground, low temperatures and wet foliage can, in the presence of the appropriate fungal spores, lead to Septoria leaf spot. Turn the temperature up, and a different fungus raises its ugly head - Alternaria, also known as Early Blight. Plants under stress, such as a heavy fruit set, extreme temperatures, and a deficit or excess of moisture, accentuate such issues.

High temperature and humidity at the time of tomato flowering can lead to poor fruit set and subsequent blossom drop. This is especially true as tomato size increases, with the large beefsteak varieties the most vulnerable of all. Many a seedling customer shares stories of tall, healthy plants of large fruited varieties with very low yields in summers that are very hot.

I put my plants into containers in early May. Given that, in general, the average tomato ripens in 70 days, harvest will begin on July 10. Since it takes about three weeks from open flower to ripe fruit (on average), flowers begin to open about 40 days from planting, or June 10. Since the plants grow about 1 foot per week (in the case of indeterminate varieties, with half that rate for dwarfs or determinate types), the plants will be between 2-4 feet tall, depending upon tomato type, by June 1, and 4-8 feet tall by July 1.

Given all of the above, the months most critical for maintaining healthy growth are May and June. The time span most critical to fruit set is early June throughout July.

And what happened in 2016 in my particular location? May was relatively cool, humid and rainy, setting up conditions for Septoria. June was moderately to very warm and wet, perfect conditions for Early Blight. June was, however, suitable for good fruit set, as the heat was just short of extreme. This matched very well my outcomes; sporadic lower foliage attacks of the two fungi, but very good fruit set. Only my disciplined mulching and removal of lower spotted foliage kept the fungal diseases reasonably at bay.

July and August had modest humidity, but very high heat levels. Fruit set of large tomatoes should have been an issue - and it certainly was. Add to that my frequent travel taking me away from daily care of the garden, which meant less discipline in removing lower spotted foliage, and the reason for the need to remove all plants by early August were very predictable based on the weather.

Finally, here is the data from the growing season that I used for the analysis spelled out above.

May - no days at 90 degrees or above, 16 days at 75% or greater average relative humidity, 12 days of significant rainfall (.2 inches or greater).

June - 11 days at 90 degree or greater temps, 10 days of high humidity, 6 days of significant rain.

July - 24 days of 90 degrees or above, 11 days of high humidity, 7 days of significant rain

August - 23 days of 90 degrees or above, 9 days of high humidity, 7 days of significant rain

September (so far) - 11 days of 90 or above, 7 days of significant humidity, 4 days of significant rain. 

What I will do over the coming weeks and months is think about this data - the weather we received, the impacts experienced - and ponder what to do differently. That's a real challenge, because of course the weather is likely to be quite different next year. I will be thinking about timing, possibly staggering, spacing, and other things that can be modified. It is really mostly about arming ourselves with tactics we can employ, no matter what weather we experience, to help us better succeed.

I will certainly share whatever I come up with in terms of a modified set of tactics for next season.

View of my late summer/fall 2016 garden - 76 tomato plants!

View of my late summer/fall 2016 garden - 76 tomato plants!

A peek into my Saturday talk at the Heritage Harvest Festival - 5 Must-Dos for Tomato Success

Love is in the air.....I love the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello....and creating and trying out brand new talks. (of course, I love my wife, daughters, pets, and all sorts of other things - but let's focus!).

A garden friend asked me on Facebook to expound on my Saturday tomato workshop, but I didn't want to post "spoiler" information, and give it away prior to the show. Well, the show is over, and I wanted to carry through on my promise and share the essence of that talk. It won't be anything earth-shattering, and more than likely, many gardeners will do these things. Plus, there is a bit of trickery going on - underneath each of the 5 things are many components. (in truth, I added a 6th - and will share that as well).

1.  Reflect on the season that has just come to an end. Sit with a pad and pen, look through your pictures and records. Think of your original objectives, and what you actually achieved. Think about what may have caused the differences between plans/expectations and reality.

2. Spend time planning for the season to come, using what you learned the prior year. Flip the page, take some time, and create a good garden plan. Incorporate changes based on your reflections in #1 above. Think varieties, timing, location, culture. Don't short change yourself on time spent on either of these first two steps.

3. Use high quality materials every step of the way. Be sure of your seed source, or seedling quality. Seed starting mix, planting mix for containers, and straw bales are just a short list of gardening "tools" that should be of the highest quality. 

4. Preemptive - preventing or spotting issues very early on - works better than reacting to serious problems. Be aware of your sun exposure, drainage, and growing conditions just ahead. Space plants adequately. Mulch well to keep soil off of the lower foliage. Water at the base of the plant. 

5. Spend time with - read - your plants, to get a sense of how they are doing and what they need. Walk the garden at least daily. Look for signs of trouble - spotted or discolored or wilted foliage, insect and other critter damage, toppling due to the weight of developing fruit. 

and - the one I added at the end of my workshop...

6.  Explore...try new things (methods, varieties, recipes) - have fun....and eat well as a result.  Set a different theme for your garden (for tomatoes, they are infinite - colors, shapes, sizes, flavors, growth habit, stories - just to name a few). Try containers, or straw bales, a different staking or caging technique. Have fun - and realize that there are no guarantees - each season will be different, and there will always be more to learn, more to try, and more to anticipate with great eagerness.

As you can see, I've put but a few examples in each of the points above. You are limited only by your time, energy and imagination.