All the photos in this blog were taken by me. The information is taken from friends, books, magazines, conversations at nurseries, the internet and a few of my own amateur-gardener thoughts. Please feel free to share your own knowledge and experiences in the comment section that follows each posting.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Tomato, the "Mother" of the Summer Garden

It seems to me that the tomato is the most fussed-over vegetable in the summer group. Perhaps the rose rivals it with it's heirloom names and mystical fertilizing methods, but you don't typically eat a rose, so I say the tomato trumps the rose.  It's categorization is even fussy as it claims to be a fruit, but yet it plays a lead role alongside vegetables in most of it's recipes. Nevertheless, most agree it is a "must-have" in a summer garden regardless of its fussy fertilizing methods and wishy-washy watering needs.

My love for the home-grown tomato started when I was a child in Ohio. My mother's friend, Tish planted a very large garden on my mom's property. It didn't put a dent in her beautiful five acres, but it was larger than anything I can imagine taking care of today.  I used to roam the rows like a child in a toy store. When I discovered the taste of a warm, ripe tomato I was hooked. I used to take the disposable salt shaker out to the garden and sprinkle some on each bite. I now am as humbled by the incredible taste of my own plants as I was with Tish's so many years ago.

Elaine's husband Rex is an amazing gardener and perhaps the master garden guru of tomatoes.  He told me he is planting 35 tomatoes this year and that is not a typo. Elaine and Rex are a team of garden gurus on their land that they "Bewitched" from Tuscany. They have a vineyard, a vegetable garden in the shape of a wheel, an orchard of fruit trees, roses that could be at Filoli Gardens, bees and the most amazing succulent beds with the largest Aeonium I have ever seen.

An aerial view of Elaine's vegetable garden and Rex's vineyard

The wall to the left borders the round shape of her garden and she plants in rough pie sections.  The garden is a work of art as she plants flowers amongst the vegetables and always keeps it looking interesting. She is currently transitioning to summer vegetables.

The Bees

A new succulent bed in the front of her house. I had to take this angle so you could see inside the bed as well as the size of the bed. Click on it to enlarge the photo. The colors are brilliant!

One thing for sure is there are more ways to fertilize a tomato than any other vegetable that I know of so far. During a recent visit Rex told me he is planting his following a method he learned about through  Love Apple Farm. His mention of fish heads, aspirin and eggshells was enough to make me run to the computer when I got home and look up the web-site.

The past few Mother's Days we've been going to Wisteria in Soquel. Its a nursery and antique store that does a little Mother's Day spread so the kids enjoy eating chocolate covered strawberries while I meander through the nursery. Well, this year I changed the plan and we took off for Love Apple Farm and Mt. Feed and Farm Supply, both located in Ben Lomand.  Cynthia Sandberg from Love Apple grows the vegetables for Manresa Restaurant. Her method of planting tomatoes uses:
  • A fish head (or two handfuls of dry fish or kelp meal)
  • A handful of bone meal
  • Two handfuls of Sustane 4-6-4 dry organic fertilizer
  • A handful of 100% worm castings
  • Two aspirin tablets
  • Two tablespoons of Humic Acid (aka Humate Soil Conditioner).
  • Several crushed egg shell and, 
  • She sprinkles mychorizzal fungae on the rootball before planting. 
Isn't this amazing? All these things? I had to try it! So I bought a Striped Zebra Tomato, a decent sized box of worm castings at Love Apple for $10 and some dry kelp meal from the Mt. Feed and Supply Store (which sells all of Cynthia's ingredients). I had the rest of the magic solution at home (except the mychorizzal fungae - I didn't do that step). I now have my own experiment underway. Two tomatoes planted with this method and five that I planted earlier in the week with an organic fertilizer and John and Bob's Soil Optimizer from Yamagamis.

I was careful to clip the lower leafs off the base of the plant which enables it to grow a stronger root system.

Plant it deep in the hole so most of the stem is covered by dirt.

Water it in the ground right after planting. You can even make a little moat around the plant and let the water drain a couple of times.

One thing most gardeners agree on is that a tomato plant needs at least five hours of sun and deep waterings only when the plant really needs the water. I know I have over-watered in past years because when I pulled the plant out the roots were not very deep. This is s sign that the plant is getting all its water needs on the surface and it never needed to grow deep to find water. One web-site suggested a slow hose watering for a half hour per plant. I believe that each condition is different. It would depend on the heat and the size of your plant, but keep in mind that it takes awhile for water to reach below two feet deep.

Garden Gossip: Tomato fertilizers should be low in nitrogen. Too much of it promotes foliage growth and makes fruits taste watery and bland. Below are a few other garden secrets I've read about tomatoes: 
  • Water with 1T of Epsom salts per 1 gallon of water per each foot of your plant. Do this once every week or two.
  • Plant a banana peel at the bottom of the hole which acts as a slow-release of potassium and other trace elements.
  • Every week or two, crush eggshells in a blender and add water (about six shells per quart). The calcium helps prevent blossom-end rot. 
  • Soak two handfuls of worm castings in 5 gallons of water for a couple days. Sift the water and use it to water the plants. 

Beautiful Tomato Story: One of my best friends, Liane passed away two years ago from Lung Cancer, which is a reason I support the Bonnie Addario Lung Cancer Foundation as a board member, fundraiser, and advocate.  Liane and her father, Richard had a ritual each year of planting tomatoes together. I didn't realize that Richard had been growing those same plants each year from the original seeds. I was honored last Thursday when we had our annual Liane's Birthday Luncheon and Sister Viv, Sister Ang and Mother Nora brought me two plants from Richard's garden project. I am so touched to have these tomatoes in my garden this year. It adds an element to my garden that gives me great, great joy.

Me, Angela, Viv, Nora, Myra, Barb, Adrienne
At our annual Liane's Birthday Luncheon

Dirty Garden Story: Were you wondering how Love Apple Farm got their name? Well, the tomato used to be considered an aphrodisiac (in fact, some people still believe it is) thus, the name Love Apple! 

It's been a full week of tomato happenings including my meaningful gifted tomatoes and ending with a fantastic Mother's Day with my family learning more about the fussy fruit. Whatever method you choose to use for fertilizing your Love Apple, a little prayer to the best Mother of all is advised. 
Happy Mother's Day, Mother Nature!


  1. Cooked fish or raw fish ? or it does not matter.
    I had heard about fish heads for roses from a very reputable source( from "desperate housewife)... hahaha
    I would try the banana but I have already planted the tomatoes. any ideas? maybe just stick little pieces of peel here and there around the stem?

  2. Michele,
    I can't imagine we'd have to go through the step of cooking the fish first! No, it's raw and you can get them from a grocery store in small quantities. As I mentioned, I used the dried fish kelp this year. Most of my tomatoes were in also so I did not do the banana experiment either. I wouldn't bother with that method right now... try watering with the diluted egg shells or worm castings. Or, if all else fails, just make sure to sprinkle some good organic vegetable fertilizer around the plant! And, as for Desperate Housewives... it's getting creepy with those two new psycho characters!

  3. Worm castings sounds like a "witch" ingredient from the 1600's.
    I think Love Rose also plants by the phases of the moon. My Jonathan planted a whole garden with that method this past month.
    I'll let you know. :)


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