Tag: tomatoes

Tomato Growing Guide Printable

Tomato Growing Guide Printable

There are tools that I bring into the garden with me, like a shovel, clippers, and gloves. These things are meant to get dirty or wet. Gardens are not “clean” places. For that reason, I find it very difficult to have my reference materials, like 

Cuore di Bue Tomatoes

Cuore di Bue Tomatoes

One of my new-to-me plant varieties this year has been the Cuore di Bue Tomato, a paste/sauce variety. The insides are dense, with oxheart-style lobes, and have very few seeds. As with any plant variety you attempt to grow, the fruit is a result of 

My Garden Plan for 2018

My Garden Plan for 2018

After much deliberation, I finalized my garden plan for this year. I used the map I created using Google Maps (see how to do this yourself here), organized my seed collection, and purchased the new seeds I need.

The Plants

I’ll be growing many of my old favorites, like Di Ciccio broccoli, Borlotti beans, Gold Medal tomatoes, and Italian Basil, but I’m also adding some new varieties to the mix.


Cosmonaut Volkov: Besides the cool name, it has won a taste contest. And, Russian varieties of tomatoes are often touted as perfect for foggier neighborhood. My garden isn’t in the fog belt, but some summers are colder than others, so I wanted to give it a try. Cuore di Bue: The images look amazing for this variety: huge, red, multi-lobed (“Oxheart”), and with few seeds. Perfect for sauce and canning.


Red and Chocolate Miniature: Since peppers don’t do great here every year, I looked for short-season peppers, and these seem perfect. I plan to grow them in black containers to help them heat up during the daytime heat, so they’ll be less sad about the evening wind and cold we get here in Brisbane.


Mexican Strain: Like peppers, these will want more heat, so I’ll be trying them in pots as well, and, hopefully, get some tasty green salsa out of the experiment!


Snow Crown F1: This is a different variety than I’ve grown before, and it claims to stay ripe for a few days before flowering. I like that extra leeway, since I don’t always manage to visit my garden daily. There’s nothing sadder than a vegetable you’ve cared for and watched going overripe before you can even enjoy it.


Apple: This one may be an exercise in futility, since gourds need long growing seasons and lots of heat and sun (much like melons). I just really want to grow these, so I am willing to take the risk. If we have one of those intense summers here, I could get lucky, and, if not, I’ll come up with another longshot for next year. Note: All these seeds (except the Apple Gourd) I’m trying this year are from the Territorial Seed Company. This is my first year buying from them, so I’ll be sure to review the results at harvest time! The Apple Gourd seeds are from Seed Savers Exchange.

Seed Starting

I’m starting many of my seedlings indoors, and indeed, in my home office. I used to have my seeds start in our dirt-floor basement, but after having some pesky rats gnaw my seedlings down to nubs, I don’t feel safe leaving my babies down there.
My setup this year. Space is limited in my little office, so I’m keeping my indoor seed starting quantities small.

The Seed Tray

I’m using this “Speedling” Tray from Peaceful Valley that shapes the seedlings into upside-down pyramids as they develop. This supposedly makes them easier to transplant, and, if nothing else, means using less seed starting mix and ease when getting the seedlings out of the tray. They come in many different sizes, but for these seedlings, I’m using the 72-Cell version. This kind of tray would be impossible to label, given I have ten different varieties of plant seeds in there. To keep track of the plants in my tray, I am using a tiny portion of my garden map’s grid to make a map of the whole things and identify where each variety is located.
My simple map for my seedlings in their tray, made using the grid from my Garden Map. I have a blue dot on my actual tray, and you’ll see a dot on my mapping, so the orientation is never in question.
  I do have a few large yogurt containers under my lights for the gourds, since they will need more root space than the little tray cells can provide.

The Lights

I’ve used fluorescent lights in the past, and with the variety available, and warmth, they can be great for seed starting–but that warmth has also scared me. Fluorescent lights can burn plants and, in my worst nightmares, start fires. For all those reasons, I really like these LED Shop Lights I got at Costco. They also use less energy and I haven’t replaced a single bulb in 4 years (whereas I have a whole pile of burnt-out fluorescents to be disposed of from my use of those). I haven’t noticed a lick of difference in my seedlings when using LEDs vs. fluorescents, and while there may be a difference if I grew them under both kinds of lights side-by-side, for my purposes–getting plants ready to be planted outside–it just doesn’t matter. Happy plants are happy plants.   I hope your garden plan is well underway as well! If you aren’t sure what to try to grow here in the San Francisco Bay Area, be sure to check out 5 Plants to Get the Most Gardening Bang for your Buck and my Bay Area Planting Calendar.
5 Plants to Get the Most Gardening Bang for your Buck

5 Plants to Get the Most Gardening Bang for your Buck

In my last post, I talked about the benefits of gardening that help outweigh the expense. Gardening takes time as well as money, in the form of equipment, soil amendments, fertilizer, and water. One of the ways I noted that makes gardening worth it anyway 

Is Gardening Worth it?

Is Gardening Worth it?

In his humorous memoir, The $64 Tomato, William Alexander devotes an entire book to the existential question every home gardener has to face: is the cost of my gardening worth it, in the end? Cost here is not just money (though that is a significant 

Stop Blossom End Rot

Stop Blossom End Rot

You’ve done the dirty work. You’ve raked, dug, and planted. You’ve fertilized and watered and weeded. You’re ready to reap the (literal) fruits of your labors, and harvest some ripe, red tomatoes from your garden. But instead of plump, soft-skinned gems, you find stunted, leathery-bottomed, rapidly shriveling mutants. Ugh!
Blossom End Rot in an Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomato
Blossom End Rot: It ain’t pretty.
You are freaked AF because of the devastating tomato diseases you’ve read about. Like Verticullum Wilt, which would mean no homegrown tomatoes for years while the disease dies down in the soil. Ahhhhh! But it’s Okay. You’re dealing with Blossom End Rot (which I will abbreviate as BER), a condition caused by an inability of your plant to absorb the calcium it needs while setting fruit.

So you’ve got Blossom End Rot

To deal with this problem, you need to understand a few things:
  1. There may be plenty of calcium in your soil, so simply introducing more by adding calcium-rich fertilizers may not help. Also, these calcium sources must break down to be available to your plants, so it would not make a change quickly anyway.
  2. Inconsistent moisture, temperature fluctuations, and other stress when your plant is young and/or setting its fruit can be a major cause.
  3. Over-fertilization or using a fertilizer with too much Nitrogen (The first number in the “N-P-K” trilogy on fertilizer packaging) can make it difficult for your plant to absorb calcium.
  4. Some varieties of plants are terribly prone to Blossom End Rot, and you will likely always find a few of the first fruit of the season suffer for these.
  5. The non-rotted remainder of the affected fruits are still edible.
San Marzano tomatoes, one of my favorites to grow in the Bay Area, consistently produce several stunted and rotted early fruits. Then, usually, for the rest of the season I harvest only large, healthy fruit (and eat lots and lots of fabulous marinara). This year has been particularly bad for BER, as the condition has persisted, on and off, for much of the summer. The extreme heat waves are probably to blame for some of it, and my own overcrowding of my tomato plot will take responsibility for the rest.
A healthy San Marzano next to one suffering from BER.
A healthy San Marzano next to one suffering from BER.
The condition can affect other Nightshades (plants in the tomato family, like peppers and eggplants) as well as squash and cucumbers, and the same factors apply.

What you can do about Blossom End Rot

  1. De-stress your plants. You can’t control the weather, but you can control watering. Try to be as consistent as possible. I swear by a drip irrigation system, and you can get simple ones that attaches to a normal garden hose. Pair that with a timer that runs on batteries, and you’ll never forget to water again.
  2. Fertilize with less Nitrogen. There are even fertilizers made just for tomatoes and fruiting vegetables that should be perfect.
  3. Learn your Varieties. Some just get BER, and you can accept that and expect it, and move on. Or, don’t grow those varieties at all. I like to grow several varieties of tomatoes every year, which also helps makes BER less devastating.
  4. Add more calcium to your soil. It can’t hurt, but because sources of calcium need to break down to become water soluble and available for plants, expect this to take months. You have many options for adding calcium, including crushing eggshells yourself, or purchasing fertilizers.
  5. Eat what’s left. Cut off the bottom and enjoy anyway. I’ve never noticed a taste difference in the healthy part of affected fruit, and it is not harmful to ingest.
Blossom End Rot is not as devastating as it may appear, just a real annoyance. Do what you can, and hope it doesn’t last.
Side-by-side comparison of the effects of Blossom End Rot on San Marzano tomatoes
Another view of the effects of Blossom End Rot on a San Marzano tomato.
Waste in the Garden

Waste in the Garden

Garden waste is unavoidable, but there are ways to reduce it through better planning and understanding of both your consumption and the plants you grow. I am not a farmer. My yield in the garden does not determine whether my family eats or not–we don’t 

Concerning Aphids

Concerning Aphids

One of the things that makes gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area so amazing is the lack of a “true” winter. In most areas, we don’t get those deep freezes that kill so many vegetables–and all those nasty bugs. This temperate climate lets many invasive