General Update - and answers to some recently asked questions

The Burlington VT/Sunset Lake NH trip is over, but in no way forgotten. Speaking at Mother Earth News was fun - thanks to my audience members for coming to hear me talk tomatoes and straw bale and container gardening. It was wonderful to reconnect with friends - Carleen and the Storey gang, fellow authors Shawna, Melissa, Ira and Pam, to name but a few. Aside from the Fair, this trip will be about great pizza and beer and biking and a totally unexpected Diana Krall concert in Burlington, and a few days listening to loons and Kayaking at a cute tiny house location on Sunset Lake (also the biggest ice cream cone in history at Alton Bay).

Here are a few pics from our trip


Our neighbors Kim and Tom took splendid care of the is so, so difficult to leave a vigorously growing, much loved garden in early June. All is well! At this point, it is about regular watering, regular feeding, removing lower diseased foliage, and pruning. I am also starting to do a very few crosses...more on that in a future blog. The main issue is bacterial spot on pepper plants, the origin (and widespread nature) of which is a complete mystery. I've had just a few seedling deaths to what appears to be bacterial wilt (again, origin of which is a mystery). Oddly, one Sun Gold plant in a bale is starting to wilt. Issues in a garden seem to random!

I put a brief video update on my Facebook author page yesterday, which raised some good questions - which are listed below, along with some answers.

Rose asks "Craig, do you like the plastic bags? We have that tomato disease again in the beds--wilt? If so, what size and where did you get them! Thanks"

Answer:  I love the plastic grow bags, which I get from Peaceful Valley mail order. They are inexpensive, last for years, have bottom holes - perfect for my needs.

Daryl asks "Do you find that you have more disease with the tomatoes staked closely together around the center pot? We've had rain nearly every afternoon and I've been picking off so much foliage that the plants are going to be sans leaves before too much longer."

Answer: Crowding plants always seems to cause issues. Last year I had four containers around a central large pot - too many. This year I am going with one (10 gallon pot indeterminate), two (released dwarfs I need seed from), or three (R&D dwarfs that I am less concerned re yield). Still, foliage on the back of the plants - away from the sun - is always first to get spotting from the fungal issues Early Blight and/or Septoria. The more room you give tomatoes, the more sun and air flow completely around the plants, the more lower foliage issues can be minimized.

David asks "Compare results on tomatoes of straw bales vs black plastic?"

Answer: From my experience, equivalent yields can be achieved whether in pots, bales or a traditional dirt garden.  It becomes more about how you care for them - the containers right-sized for the varieties and fed more frequently than ground-grown tomatoes. For bales, there is plenty of root room for two plants - so, again, keeping up with watering and feeding is critical. But a Cherokee Purple in the ground, 10 gallon minimum container, or straw bale can each yield 20 lbs of tomatoes per plant if happy.

Jim asks "Question, do u pinch off the suckers on all your tomato plants or just leave then on?"

Answer:  It depends!  I don't sucker cherry tomatoes because I want lots and the plants seem to be able to handle such productivity - I just let it all grow and use twine to loop the plant around the stake every 6-12 inches vertically up the stake. For indeterminate large fruited types, my plan is to top the growing leads when they get to the top of the stake. As far as how many suckers I let go, it depends upon fruit set on the clusters. If I can get 2 or 3 or 4 tomatoes to get per cluster, I would aim to let 3-4 suckers develop - giving me 4-5 fruiting stems. If I can get 2-3 clusters to fruit on each stem before topped, that would be a range of 16 to 30 tomatoes per plant - if the ave fruit size is 12 oz, that is 12-20 pounds of fruit or more per plant, which would make me happy in this challenging climate. The key is then to remove suckers regularly...they appear each night, it seems! 

Garden color

Garden color

Tomato blossom reaching for the sun

Tomato blossom reaching for the sun