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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ten Things About Tomatoes for 2015: Tips for Tomato Success!

Ten Things About Tomatoes for 2015 (Revised)

Tomato Thing One: Two Types of Tomatoes

Determinate and Indeterminate:
There are two types of tomato plants. A tomato plant is either a determinate plant or indeterminate plant. A determinate tomato grows to a set height and stops growing. The fruits mature all at once or relatively close in time and the plant dies shortly after the final fruits mature. This determinate type of tomato is great for getting the first round of tomatoes from your garden (as they mature quickly) and they do well in containers. You might be able to plant two rounds of determinate tomatoes in your gardening zone. You can often plant them in May and again in July.

The indeterminate tomato continues to grow and grow until frost. It sets fruit throughout the season. Only frost or disease will stop an indeterminate tomato from producing. Think of it this way, a determinate tomato grows to a predetermined size. Indeteriminate tomatoes often need to be staked and pruned. Determinate tomatoes need little to no pruning.

Tomato Thing Two: Plant Them Deep

 It's a Vine:
A tomato is a vine. When you plant them, you want to plant them deep in the ground. When you buy a tomato transplant they should be 6 to 10 inches tall (or so). You should plant the tomato to at least a third or half of its height. If the tomato is 12 inches tall then plant 4-6 inches of the plant stem below ground. Why? Because a tomato is a vine that will set roots from any part of the stem, if the stem is below the ground or touching the soil. A strong deep root system leads to a stronger plant.

Tomato Thing Three: Planting a Container?

Determinate Tomatoes:
The determinate tomato grows to a set height. This makes them the best bet to survive in a pot or container. I recommend buying a very large container (5 gallons at least). A smaller container can work, but you really have to keep an eye on watering. If you let the plant dry out, it really messes up the fruit. The fruit will crack. If you over water and then let it dry out and repeat, you will probably see your tomatoes rot from the bottom. This is known as blossom end rot. It is a calcium deficiency and occurs when the roots aren't watered properly and therefore can't absorb nutrients properly. An indeterminate tomato may just grow too large for containers. I grow indeterminates in containers and found you have to water them daily and feed them well, every 10-14 days or problems develop.

Tomato Thing Four: Prune Your Plant

They Can't Fair Without Air:
Indeterminate (determinates too but they naturally die off) tomatoes needs to have air circulating through and around the plant. Poor air circulation leads to disease. As your tomato grows, you should pinch off the leaves nearest to the ground. I try and keep 12 inches between the ground and the the first leaves (sometimes more). Now you can't do this all at once but as the plant grows taller, you should prune the bottom leaves to about 12 inches from the ground, slowly over time. This will allow air to circulate below the plant and make it harder for disease/spores to splash up on the plant. You will also need to prune suckers/branches from the upper part of the plant. That sometimes means taking off  large pieces of your plant. Painful to do but necessary. Air also needs to circulate through the plant. Air circulation helps keep humid air from sitting around the plant and it helps to dry the plant leaves after watering or a good rain. In the end it really helps prevent diseases.

Tomato Thing Five: Keep Them Off the Ground

Staking :
Tomatoes are vines. If you let them sprawl on the ground you will see them root from the vine that touches the ground. You will see additional vines growing all over the place and end up with a mess. Sure you will get tomatoes (maybe a lot)  but you will also increase the chances of your tomatoes getting diseases like blights. A 6-foot stake is the best way to train your tomatoes to grow upwards and stay off the ground. It helps you manage the plant's size and prevent diseases.

Tomato Thing Six: Fertilizing

Feeding Your Friends:
You know what happens if you over fertilize a tomato? You get a very happy large green plant with less fruit. I fertilize when the plant is planted and when the plant has been growing about 6-8 weeks or when it sets its first fruit with a side dress (scattering fertilizer on soil).  This is  late June/early July in my area for indeterminate varieties and early June for determinate varieties. I will side dress them again in August as needed. They also get a drink of liquie fertilizer in June, July and August. I might use a synthetic product like Miracle Gro or fish emulsion which is more organic. Your choice.

It isn't etched in stone but that is how I do it. A table spoon of 10-10-10 fertilizer (in the past) or an organic mix around 5-5-5 (more often now-a-days) deep in the hole and one higher in the hole when I plant. I typically give them a half of gallon to gallon sprinkle of a liquid fertilizer in June to keep them happy. In June/July I do a side dressing which is tossing some fertilizer on the ground about 6 to 8 inches from the stem. I drop a handful. I also give them a big drink of liquid fertilizer. After that, fertilizing isn't done unless the are growing really strong in August.

If you are container gardening then I recommend feeding them every 10-14 days with Miracle Gro or the organic like when they are mid size and until they are done producing.

Tomato Thing Seven: Early Doesn't Mean Sooner

Warm Weather Plants:
Tomatoes are warm weather plants. They need 50 degree nights and 70 degree days to really start growing. But more importantly the soil temperature needs to be 50 degreesish. You don't need to put plants in early before the ground temperatures are ready.

Putting a tomato out April 10th doesn't mean it will be bigger than a plant you put on on May 1st come the middle of May. Sure, initially it might look bigger but once the heat hits, tomatoes grow. If it is colder in April your plant is just going to sit there in shiver mode and not really grow. The plant you plant May 1st isn't really at a disadvantage. The bottom line is they will catch up to each other and you don't get fruit any sooner. So wait for the right temperature to plant. But once the temperatures comes, the first one to get them in the ground wins.

Tomato Thing Eight: Water Evenly

Mulch Much Mulch:
Two thing can happen with poor watering habits. If your plant gets stressed from too little water and then you soak it, it will develop cracked fruit. If you continually let the ground dry and then over water the plant and let it dry and over water, you'll increase the chances of blossom end rot. Basically, you mess the root system up and the plant can get a calcium deficiency and you end up with blossom end rot.

Mulch is your best friend. I use grass clippings. I put down two inches of grass clippings and let it dry out. The next week I put down two more inches and let the clipping dry up and turn brown. I continue this throughout the summer. It is important to let grass clipping dry out before adding more. If you don't, you run the risk of developing smelly grass clippings which creates a bad smelling garden. Water regularly in the morning. I tend to water my plant from the bottom, with a hose, as to not soak the tomato plant leaves or splash mud up. I am always battling blights and mildew. If that isn't a problem in your area, a sprinkler is fine.

Tomato Thing Nine: Planting Location

Shading Other Plants:
Tomatoes get quite large. You want to make sure you plant them in the garden so they don't grow up to shade out other plants. If you reach out both arms to the side and pretend the length of your arms is your garden, you can figure out where to plant the tomatoes. If the sun is mostly where your left hand is then you need to plant the tomatoes way down by your right hand. Get it? Sun mostly to the left of the garden will cause or cast shade to the right side of the plants. Sun to the right of the garden will cause or cast shade to the left side of plants. When in doubt go stand in your garden plot around 2 pm. Pretend your a tomato plant and see which way your shadow falls. I use raised beds and plant my tomatoes, so the shade they produce mostly falls outside the box.

Tomato Thing Ten: What the Tomato is VFF or VFTA?

Don't Worry About It:
I know that isn't a great answer but they stand for disease resistances. If you don't run into tomato diseases then it doesn't really matter. Unless of course they come up with a tomato that is resistant to early and late blight. So far no luck. Many us buy tomatoes from the garden shops and they usually stock the standard varieties that have these resistances. You will see it on the lablel. If you are buying seeds from catalogs the catalogs will tell you what the letters stand for. Fusarium and verticillum wilts.  It is important to know what tomato diseases your State has. An internet search should help.

Tomato Thing Bounus Eleven: There Is Never Enough Room

Just One More  Plant:
If you love tomatoes then you'll agree there is just never enough room to plant all the tomatoes you want. Even if you expand your garden year after year, there seems to be a need for more space. There is always that variety you haven't tried but it's right there within your reach at your local nursery or in a seed catalog. You wonder if you could squeeze it in. You think you could possibly negotiate another garden bed from your wife. You ponder what you can trade her for a little more space. If you are like me - you buy it and worry about the space later. Remember, 2 plants is plenty of tomatoes for one adult. I can say it. I can write it, but I don't think I can come to terms with it. A family of four and a garden of forty plus plants last year... I know I can get in fifty this year. Enjoy!

Good Luck with Your Garden,
Gary (The Rusted Garden)

Join My New YouTube Channel Just for NEW Gardeners: My First Vegetable Garden

Join My Google+ Community Our Tomato and Vegetable Gardens (5000+ Members!)
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Sunday, January 25, 2015

How to Build a Brick Rocket Stove for Fire Roasting Tomatoes, Peppers & Garden Vegetables

How to Build a Brick Rocket Stove
for Fire Roasting Tomatoes, Peppers & Garden Vegetables 

I love the idea of cooking over fire. I love camping with a huge fire put but don't have the place or time to get one going in my backyard. I saw these rocket stoves and thought they were very cool but wasn't sure how often I would use one.

As I pulled out some frozen tomato sauce from the summer garden, it dawned on me. I could get fire roasted flavor on my tomatoes, peppers and other garden vegetables by using a rocket stove. They are easy to build, move and fire up.  A wood fire taste in a few minutes.

A Rocket Stove for Roasted Garden Vegetables
It will only cost about twenty to thirty dollars to build the rocket stove in the picture. If you have access to free bricks it will even be cheaper.  Use what you have around the house too to save money. The video details every step and goes over the parts but the cost break down is as follows.

One Stone Paver 15x15  2-3 dollars
30 Red Bricks .50 - .90 cents each.
Wire Mesh (Rain Gutter Cover) 2 dollars

Good Luck with Your Garden,
Gary (The Rusted Garden)

Join My New YouTube Channel Just for NEW Gardeners: My First Vegetable Garden

Join My Google+ Community Our Tomato and Vegetable Gardens (5000+ Members!)
400+ HD Short and to Point Garden Videos: My YouTube Video Gardening Channel
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Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Rain Barrel: Some of My Garden Related Poetry

The Rain Barrel: 
Some of My Garden Related Poetry

And one more older poem inspired by the work of William Carlos William and The Red Wheelbarrow.  My goal was to visually create a walk in a garden that one might see, feel and maybe even taste and smell.

The Rain Barrel

You might drink
To quench the thirst of an early morning walk
From the aged gray – black iron ringed rain barrel.

The one filled with a cool night’s country rain.

It collects by the corner of the old cottage house
By the climbing rose and creeping red dianthus.

Take the moss and stone covered path
Just past the clusters of mint and lemon balm.

The rain barrel stands with the daffodils and irises.

A cast iron ladle sits on the fence post
Plunge it through the floating yellow rose petals
And watch your feet – the barrel is full from the night.

Copyright November 2005 Gary Pilarchik

Good Luck with Your Garden,
Gary (The Rusted Garden)

Join My New YouTube Channel Just for NEW Gardeners: My First Vegetable Garden

Join My Google+ Community Our Tomato and Vegetable Gardens (5000+ Members!)
400+ HD Short and to Point Garden Videos: My YouTube Video Gardening Channel
Follow and Organize The Rusted Garden on Pinterest

The Vegetable Garden: Some of My Garden Related Poetry

The Vegetable Garden: 
Some of My Garden Related Poetry

I find peace in the garden as I think most of us do. I could give you a 100 reasons from the warmth of the sun to the smell of healthy earth. I write a lot poetry and even paint abstract art. Often, a lot of it is inspired from the garden and associated activities. I wanted to share a poem I wrote this morning. I was thinking about what video I might do this weekend and felt more inspired to write. Poetry comes in waves for me... I think I am inspired to write a book of garden poetry. So here is the first poem.

The Vegetable Garden

I change the earth with simple seeds
I grow my wealth and fill my needs
I feel the warmth of coming sun
I turn the beds until they’re done

I mix the ground with seed and death
To bring green life, the purest breath
I watch and tend and shape with care
My garden grows to live and bear

I watch the cold and wait for spring
I plan and see what life I’ll bring
For gardeners define - a sense worth
Not in gold… but in growth from earth

Copyright January 25th 2015
Gary Pilarchik

Good Luck with Your Garden,
Gary (The Rusted Garden)

Join My New YouTube Channel Just for NEW Gardeners: My First Vegetable Garden

Join My Google+ Community Our Tomato and Vegetable Gardens (5000+ Members!)
400+ HD Short and to Point Garden Videos: My YouTube Video Gardening Channel
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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

When to and How to Bottom Water Your Vegetable Plants/Seedlings/Seeds in Your Seed Starting Trays

When to and How to Bottom Water Your Vegetable Plants/Seedlings/Seeds
 in Your Seed Starting Trays

I get asked all the time... When should I water my vegetable seed starts or How often should I water my transplants or How do I know I need to water my indoor seedlings? All very good questions.

Bottom Water Vegetable Seed Starts - TRG 2015
I also get asked all the time... What is the best way to water my vegetable plants I am growing indoors or Should I use a humidity dome on my germinating seeds? Again great questions.

So... I made a vegetable garden video that focuses only on watering your plants from the bottom. A practice I have been doing for 10-15 years.  The reason I water my plants from the bottom is that it saves me a ton of time and it really prevents the spread of disease.

If you water from the top, you are wetting the leaves of your plant, splashing starting mix around and the stream of water might knock seeds out of the tray or even damage fragile seedling. Oh... and I don't use humidity domes. I find 99% of seeds don't need them and they create a humid environment that fungi love to grow in.  I really recommend bottom watering. It is easy and it makes sense.

Good Luck with Your Garden,
Gary (The Rusted Garden)

Join My New YouTube Channel Just for NEW Gardeners: My First Vegetable Garden

Join My Google+ Community Our Tomato and Vegetable Gardens (5000+ Members!)
400+ HD Short and to Point Garden Videos: My YouTube Video Gardening Channel
Follow and Organize The Rusted Garden on Pinterest

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Quick but Comprehensive Guide to Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors: Lights, Starting Mixes, Watering, Germination, Feeding and Transplanting!

A Quick but Comprehensive Guide to Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors: 
Lights,  Starting Mixes, Watering, Germination, Feeding and Transplanting!

Vegetables and Herbs I Started Indoors - TRG 2015
The best way to get an early jump on the gardening season and save money is to start your own vegetables indoors. It is really easy once you understand a few principles. You can get vegetables to your table a good 4 weeks before seeds planted directly in your garden would be ready. The goal is to grow healthy indoor transplants to size, but not too large, while you still have frost and cold outdoors. The timing should be frost free or warm nights arriving when your indoor vegetable plants reach transplant size. And don't worry you have a lot of leeway.

Herbs Under Grow Lights - The Rusted Garden 2015

I get asked this question all the time and my answer for 2015 is 14-16 hours of grow light with bulbs that sit about 1-2 inches above your seeds or plant seedling leaves. Bulbs vary, so pay attention to heat coming from the bulb so you don't damage your plants. If you don't have enough intense light, your plants will become what we call 'leggy'. They will be tall and spindly and they are basically putting all their energy in stretching to the light, instead of growing strong and stocky. 'Leggy' plants make for poor transplants. Once your plants are established, lighting is more forgiving.

I also get asked if you can start seeds on a windowsill. My answer is NO unless you absolutely have a south facing window that gets full DIRECT sun for 8-10 hours. If you don't have this intensity of sun, your plants again will become 'leggy'. You have to be able to look out and see the actual sun from the window.

Here are some videos that explain lighting and tell you what type of bulbs to buy. Incandescent bulbs got to hot. You don't need special grow light bulbs. They are no better than what I describe and they will cost you more money. You can mount them in closets, create grow light stations or even use storage totes to build grow light boxes. I recommend you start small and give it a try. You will be surprised at how easy it is. You can find a lot more videos on vegetable plant lighting and designs by searching my YouTube Channel.

A Quick Vegetable Grow Light Box from a 5 Gallon Bucket: 
Apply the Principle!

Basic Vegetable Grow-Light Closet Design - The Right Lighting

Grow Lights for Vegetable Seed Starting Closets: 
Lumen and Kelvin Values Fully Explained

Part 1 of 2 How to Build an Inexpensive Indoor 
Garden Grow Light Station

Starting Mixes:

You will notice I vary my starting mixes in different videos which is really due to just trying new things season to season or finding products on sale. There is no perfect mix or exact recipe. You do not need to spend a lot of money on mixes. The key to starting seeds indoors is that the starting mix needs to be sterile. Never bring in soil from outside. You will be bringing in bugs, fungus, disease and disappointment. You can buy starting mixes that are sterile at most do-it-yourself stores, Walmart and nurseries. Check around and see how prices vary.

Basic Sterile Seed Starting Mixes - TRG 2015
Some Sterile Seed Starting Mixes - TRG 2015
I make my starting mixes out of perlite, peat moss, vermiculite and other things at times. It is much cheaper to buy things in bulk and make mixes yourself. This year I am using coco core that I purchased in 250 gram bricks. I add hot water and  have enough material to fill a full 72 cell seed starting tray.  Here are some videos that provide in depth details for using starting mixes and setting up you seed starting cells. Always thumb pack the medium into the cells. You want a firm planting base for your seeds.

How to Make Your Own Seed Starting Mix and Potting Mix: Save 75% 

Three Minute Garden Tips: Preparing Seed Starting Mix - Pre-Moisten,
 Thumb-Pack and Bottom Water 

How to Prepare 250 gram Bricks of Coco Coir for Seed Starting:
 Inexpensive & Effective 


I am often asked how often do you water your seed starts and the answer really is when they need it. Too many factors come into play that don't make it possible to say when and how often. But the guideline is less when seeds are starting and more when the plants are bigger. The tip I have is to look at your starting mix and notice the color when it is dry. This is typically how it looks out of the package. When the top of your seed cells turn that color... you are ready to bottom water your seed starts or transplants. The top of the starting mix will always dry first.

Seed Starting Mix will Lighten when Watering is Needed
Watering from the bottom is the best method for 3 key reasons. 1) It will save you a lot of time. 2) You won't splash starting mix and seeds out of the starting cells. 3) You will greatly - greatly reduce the risk of spreading diseases like the dreaded 'Damping Off Disease'.  A disease where a cotton like fungus grows on the stems of you sprouts and kills them.

Basic Bottom Watering for Seed Starting - TRG 2015
For that reason of diseases I also don't recommend using humidity domes. A lot of people do and don't have issues. Very few seeds need to be germinated in a humidity dome. The domes create a perfect environment for diseases and fungus to grow. Here are some videos that show you how mold and fungus grow, for fun and my basic water method. If you aren't growing in seed sells make sure there are holes in the bottom of your starting containers and just sit them in foil cooking trays. You can bottom water that way. What every water is not absorb after 30 minutes, just pour out.

Garden Mythbusters: Do Seed Tray Humidity Domes 
Promote Fungus & Mold Growth?

Improve Seed Germination: 
Pre-Moisten, Bottom Water and Pack Seed Cells 

Part 2 of 2 Garden Grow-Light Station 
How to Manage Lighting and Watering

Germination and Feeding:

Seeds germinate at different rates. Some will germinate in under a week and others can take up to four weeks. You can find that information on the seed packet. Basically just follow the instructions on the seed packets timing and planting depth. Generally speaking the temperature should be in the 70's (Fahrenheit) for germination. You can purchase a heating mat if the area you are using isn't getting into the 70's. I have tomato varieties that need high 80's for good germination but in general you want a 70+ degree seed starting area. Remember the lights will add heat to your germinating seeds.

Planted at the Same Time but Germinated Differently
Feeding your vegetable transplants starts when they get their first set of true leaves or about a week thereafter. That is typically the second set of leaves that form after germination. A seedling will initially use the seed coat itself for food. After that, I recommend using a liquid fertilizer at 1/2 strength or less when you water your plants. I recommend a synthetic fertilizer indoors for the sake they smell less and are less likely to promote unwanted fungus growth.

Think fish fertilizer, beet extract or other organic fertilizers that not only feed your plants but create a friendly food source for fungi and bugs.  This is 100% my opinion but, what every you choose, use a liquid fertilizer. You can also initially throw in a granule type fertilizer into the starting mix when you are preparing it for starting your seeds. Again, use a lot less in the starting mix. More harm can come from over doing it with fertilizers.

How and When to Start Lavender Indoors: 
Takes a Long Time to Germinate 

60 Seconds or Sow: 
First Leaves or True Tomato Leaves, What are They? 

When to First Fertilize Your Tomato Seedlings with Liquid Fertilizer 


At some point you will need to move your seedlings into larger cups. This all really depends on what you are growing and when you started them. The key for starting seeds indoors is to grow a nice size healthy transplant that hasn't sat in the house too long. You don't want your plants to be flowering indoors. If that should happen, remove the flowers. You need to time your seed starts, so they can go outside when the conditions are right. That is typically after the last frost date in your area. Most seed packets will tell you when to start seeds indoors.

The general range for starting most seeds indoors is 6-8 weeks. There are exceptions. Many herbs can be started 10-12 weeks indoors. Squash, cucumber and certain melons should be started 4 weeks indoors. Again the weeks time is based on when they can go outside, free from risk from frost. However, some plants like warm weather, so you need nights that stay if the 50's. If you put a warm weather plant out too soon, it just sits there. Do a search on cool weather crops and warm weather crops and that will help you understand when to start them indoors as to match them with the outdoor conditions they like.

Plant and Root Size Ready for Transplanting
Labelled and Going Into Cups - TRG 2015
Transplanted from Cells and Waiting Spring
Most plants can be started in the small seeds cells, even divided and then moved into cups. Certain seeds, typically bigger seeds, like zucchini, squash, melons and cucumber should be started in bigger containers. They won't need to get transplanted into bigger cups. They can grow to size in their containers and eventually be transplanted directly into the ground. Here are some videos on transplanting tomatoes into larger cups indoors and starting plants in larger containers. There are a lot more videos on my YouTube Channel.

How to Transplant Tomato Seedlings into Cups 

How to Transplant Pepper Seedlings into Cups 

How and When to Seed Start Cucumbers Indoors: Warm Weather

Good Luck with Your Garden,
Gary (The Rusted Garden)

Join My New YouTube Channel Just for NEW Gardeners: My First Vegetable Garden

Join My Google+ Community Our Tomato and Vegetable Gardens (5000+ Members!)
400+ HD Short and to Point Garden Videos: My YouTube Video Gardening Channel
Follow and Organize The Rusted Garden on Pinterest