The optimism of gardeners never ceases to amaze me. Although weather conditions can be dreadful one year, we always have a sense that the new spring will be the best one ever. It reminds me of the fact that after having one child, we forget how much work and how difficult it was and go ahead and do it again and again and again…(well some of us do anyway.) So optimism… it’s better than the alternative!

Our season is shaping up nicely and our weather has been great so far, knock on wood. We are selling our plants as fast as we can grow them this year which is great for us, but for you…we strongly suggest ordering early since we want to make sure your plants are in stock when they are scheduled to ship.

Which tomatoes are best for my area?

Probably the most common question we are asked is which tomato should I grow, which one will do well for my area. At universities all over the country such as Rutgers, Arkansas, Clemson, Auburn and many others, the agriculture departments actually designed tomato varieties by cross breeding, which would accommodate weather conditions in their particular regions of the country. Many of these such as the Rutgers tomato, Creole tomatoes, Atkinson, Arkansas traveler, and others were meant to try to overcome some of the problems farmers were dealing with in those locations such as poor soil, humidity, wet conditions or early summer heat. While these tomatoes, which are still sold primarily in those areas, are of course available now to anyone as seeds and they have spread all over the U.S. Because these tomatoes are bred for those conditions, they can be fairly reliable for farmers to grow in the area they were designed for, but are not the only varieties that grow well nor are they only for certain areas. Rutgers tomatoes grow very well all over the country and have great taste anywhere.

Backyard gardeners really don’t have to worry so much about these issues of humidity and heat because we actually can prepare our gardens for most weather conditions by adding good compost, drip irrigating and mulching. Those three things will help you always get good results from almost any tomato. Certain gardeners in high elevations, with very short seasons, or extreme coastal conditions should be aware that they may need to shop for early type tomatoes which will set fruits at cooler temperatures and that don’t need to have a very long amount of time to produce fruit. By and large though, most of us can grow whatever type we want and should grow several types so that we have fruits coming ripe over the long season.

Heirloom varieties which were saved from previous generations in many places all over the world have traveled extensively. Some hail from Russia, Germany, Japan, France or Switzerland and have come together with American varieties such as Cherokee Purple and the Brandywines from Amish areas of the U.S. The reason these generally do well anywhere is because they are strong breeds that have survived the test of time and those that did not thrive were not saved by early gardeners. I believe we should bring back as many varieties as possible from the past but sometimes they need to stay in the past if they do not produce well. Therefore, we are careful to only recommend varieties that have proven themselves over time.

“New” Heirlooms such as Big Zebra and Copia are actually cross bred heirlooms and they have been stabilized over time and, theoretically, will have the best of both parent plants. They can take several generations before they are established varieties and settle in with particular traits. Gardeners love science projects and many will try to work to create new types of tomatoes on their own or just see what nature will do with some bird and bee help. Pollen travels by wind and insects and saving the seeds from year to year can make some interesting blends of genes.

Our recommendation?

Grow the ones you like! Try something new! Pick a colorful collection! There are so many tomatoes to choose from and so little time to grow them all! We always add new ones to our list every year so we can experiment and come up with new favorites all the time. Varying the dates to maturity, sizes, shapes, colors and flavors is what it is all about. Get your neighbors to try ones that you cannot fit in your garden and keep the favorites from last year. Then have a tasting party every summer to compare notes and see what did best for them and for you. You will be surprised how different a tomato can taste when grown in someone else’s back yard under different watering and soil conditions. Plus it is a great excuse for a street party!

NOW Shipping

March 2008

Let the shipping begin! Here we go…Another fantastic season of tomatoes, vegetables and herbs. We are so excited to bring you our plants this year. With better than usual weather here in Alabama, although rain has been plentiful (we are not complaining!), which prevented an earlier shipping date of tomatoes, we are good to go now. As usual the hot peppers run a bit behind the tomatoes, no matter how early we plant them. A nibbling creature got a hold of our first batch of Cherokee Purples which has delayed them a little as well. Have no fear, we have plenty of them planted so we should be back up to speed with them shortly. Most herbs are ready and the vegetables are mostly on schedule. Every season is an adventure and a challenge for us which makes always makes gardening fun and interesting.

Testing your soil pH

Soil pH, what is it and why does it matter?

A few years ago I was told a story about an old farmer that used to taste his soil. He would stand out in the field and pick up a handful of dirt and actually taste it. He could tell if the pH was acidic by just a quick nibble! Well, I am not sure I want to do that but every year we check the pH of our soil with a small testing kit or we have an evaluation of our soil done by our agricultural extension service.

The small test kit is fairly accurate but of course the extension service can be more exact as well as tell you how to correct the pH to the appropriate level for vegetables. The soil pH value, which is really the Potential Hydrogen of a liquid mixed with your soil, is a measure of soil acidity or alkalinity. This pH value directly affects the nutrient availability to plants so that even if you have lots of great nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium etc. in your soil, the roots of your vegetable plants may not be able to take them up because of the chemical actions that must take place.

The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 as neutral. Numbers less than 7 indicate acidity while numbers greater than 7 indicate alkalinity. Soil humus, the dark black stuff in your soil, contains the highest CEC or cation exchange capacity which means that plants are most able to transfer nutrients from it and compost runs a close second. If the plant cannot break down the nutrients properly they don’t get fed. This can lead directly to Blossom End Rot which is a condition where the plant cannot take up calcium. Using some types of fertilizers which leave salts behind such as ammonium or urea, which is in most grass/turf fertilizers, can make soil more acidic.

In areas with plentiful rainfall it is almost always necessary to add lime, which is ground limestone, to your garden every year to correct pH to the neutral level and in areas with very little rainfall over the year, it is likely that your soil is alkaline or may have a buildup of salts. Rainfall passing through the soil leaches out basic nutrients such as calcium and magnesium from the soil. They are replaced by acidic elements such as aluminum and iron. For this reason, soils under high rainfall conditions are more acidic than those which were formed under dry conditions. Sulfur can be added to alkaline soils to correct pH or gypsum can be added to flush away salts in alkaline conditions which can correct pH levels slighly.

What is neutral? How do I correct pH? Vegetable plants prefer to have the soil pH between 5.5 and 6.5 and above or below that range must be limed or adjusted with sulfur to bring soil back into the neutral range. For small adjustments, 1 lb of lime per 100 sq. ft is enough but if your garden is new, it may require more than that to bring it up to “normal” such as 2 lbs. per square yard. Liming is basically adding natural limestone to the soil which over a period of time will change the pH value. Wood ashes can also be used so those with fireplaces can add them every winter to the garden. Two materials commonly used for lowering soil pH are aluminum sulfate and sulfur. These can be found at most garden supply centers. Aluminum sulfate will change the soil pH instantly because the aluminum produces the acidity as soon as it dissolves in the soil. Sulfur, however, requires some time for the conversion to sulfuric acid with the aid of soil bacteria. The conversion rate of the sulfur is dependent on the fineness of the sulfur, the amount of soil moisture, soil temperature and the presence of the bacteria. Sulfur can be very slow and take several months to correct pH. So most people use the aluminum sulfate. Both of these should be worked into the soil after applying to be most effective. If these materials are in contact with plant leaves as when applied to a lawn, they should be washed off the leaves immediately after application or it can burn leaves. Take extreme care not to over-apply the aluminum sulfate or the sulfur.

Purchase a soil test kit or garden lime from our catalog.