Friday, August 24, 2012

Single Stemming Tomatoes: Does it work?

 Since out tomato plants are winding down I thought I would do a review of  the new approach we tried with them this year. Instead of cages, we grew them on a trellis and we "single-stemmed" them.

What the heck is single-stemming?

Single-Stemming requires you to pinch off the suckers (those extra tomato stems that grow in the notch between the stem and branch of the plant) so that the tomato grows mainly on one stem with only main branches. This allows the plant to focus on setting fruit instead of growing more greenery. When the tomato reaches the top of the trellis you top it off so that the plant focuses the rest of its energy on the remaining fruit below.

We have tried to do this in previous years but it is much more difficult to get to all of the plant when it is caged and after a week or two we usually forget. Then overnight the plant sprawls everywhere and we give up. Not this year. After we saw the youtube video below we were convinced that if we did this religiously it would yield us more tomatoes.

Even though we don't square foot garden (after our very bad experience year 1 of community gardening), this convinced us that in addition to the single-stemming we should also try trellising again. We made really inexpensive trellises year 1 from conduit we bent to shape at Home Depot. But unlike years past, we bought trellis netting this year instead of using single strands of jute, nylon cord, and other trellis materials we have used before (which have all buckled under the weight of the plant before the end of the season).

How did it all work out?

Following this method we were able to fit many more tomatoes in our tomato bed. The trellis netting held the plants up exceptionally well as long as we stayed on top of weaving the new branches through the squares in the net. The single stemming kept the plant looking lean and orderly and still allowed it to set tons of flowers that turned into many, many tomatoes. 

Also, we had better air flow that I believe prevented the spread of disease. Our garden neighbor usually crams 20 tomato plants in his 4x8 beds and invariably they are disease ridden by early June. This doesn't bother him because he has so many plants that enough survive to meet his needs, but to us, with our handful of plants, this is very worrisome. This year it was particularly bad, and I feared that it would quickly spread to my heirlooms (which have no specially bred disease resistance) that were only a few feet away.

But lo and behold, it is the end of the summer and whatever was affecting our neighbor's didn't bother ours. We did eventually end up with a little blight but even that took a long time to spread to all our plants, and I believe the air flow made the difference.

The final verdict:

Single-stemming plus deep watering (post coming soon) is the way to go. This is definitely how we plant to grow all our tomatoes in future seasons.  The results make it worth the extra work.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

15 Non-Traditional Things to Compost

Let me just start out by saying, I heart compost. Love it. You are making the best soil on earth, supporting an ecosystem, and reducing the amount of garbage you send to the landfill. Total win-win.

However, as much as I love composting, I am often disenchanted (or downright alarmed) by the advice given online for things you can and cannot include in your compost pile. We all know the common things you can compost: egg shells, coffee filters, kitchen scraps, garden waste, etc. But some people get so excited that they encourage others to compost all sorts of things that won't work for all gardening situations.

For example, I disagree with some common guidance like composting pizza boxes because the grease is sure to attract critters that I DO NOT want in my garden (raccoons, anyone?). Same goes for old bread products and left over cooked rice. You could compost wood ash but my soil is already too alkaline, so I don't want to make it worse. In my situation, more pine needles would be helpful (but if you have acidic soil, stay away from these).

Here are some things you may not have thought about composting but should be safe in nearly every compost pile. Most of these would be considered "brown matter" items:

  1. Dog or cat hair (finally put that stuff to use! Grab the hair from the swiffer or the vacuum and throw it in)
  2. Your hair (grab the hair off your brushes)
  3. Finger and toe nail clippings (yours and the dog's too)
  4. Cardboard tubes from toilet paper, wrapping paper or paper towel rolls (ripped up into smallish pieces)
  5. The contents of your paper shredder (as long as it is mostly normal paper and not cut up credit cards or glossy things)
  6. Brown paper lunch bags (we make our own microwave popcorn using lunch bags and organic kernels and whatever doesn't pop gets composted along with the bag--again rip it up into pieces)
  7. Paper egg cartons (break into small pieces)
  8. Tissues (if they have no lotion/aloe)
  9. Some paper towels (if they were just used for light kitchen clean up and don't have cleaner or lots of grease on them--use your best judgement)
  10. Wooden toothpicks (did you put in a toothpick to see if your cake was done? Compost it!)
  11. Cotton balls (depending on what they were used for--again, use good judgement)
  12. Cotton Q-tips (not the plastic center kind) 
  13. *Dryer Lint from your whites load (avoid lint that has absorbed dye) *This is only suggested for folks who don't use dryer sheets because the dryer sheet chemicals impregnate the lint otherwise and probably shouldn't end up in the garden
  14. Yarn scraps from natural fibers like wool, cotton, or bamboo (Keep all those little end snippings in a bag and throw them in the compost once in a while. Just make sure no acrylic or synthetics get in there)
  15. Vacuum bag contents (again, use your best judgement--if it is just dust and dirt you are good to go)
What not to compost: Since this post may have you looking at everything with an eye to composting, here is a great post from Mother Nature Network on some things you should NEVER compost. 

Good general rule of thumb: Beware of composting anything that could attract critters you don't want, anything with a lot of ink or paper that is glossy, anything that may have come in contact with chemicals you wouldn't want near your plants, and anything that is likely to throw your soil ph in a direction you don't want it to go.  (While Joan Dye Gussow composted a woodchuck in her book "This Organic Life," I personally wouldn't chance it).

What are some non-traditional things YOU compost?

Featured on Simple Lives Thursday and Frugally Days, Sustainable Ways.