Blog posts from June 2009

Why your tomatoes arent producing fruit, or aren’t ripening…

Jun 30, 2009

Tomato_celebrity Ok, I've been getting a lot of questions about this topic lately (right on schedule) so I figured I'd go ahead and devote an entire post to the subject. Now, this post could easily be 10 pages long but I'll do my best to keep it as short and digestible as possible! Photo: Tomato 'Celebrity' from my garden.

In our hot climate in Texas, you need to plan on planting two crops of tomatoes: Your summer harvest and fall harvest crops. Depending on where you are in the state, your spring-planted tomatoes will go in the ground some time between the end of February (southern) and late-March (northern). Here in Dallas optimal planting time is right about March 15thm, or a bit earlier. You can plant earlier, just keep some frost cloth on hand for protection. Your spring planted tomatoes should start producing harvest-able fruit in late May through June and early July depending on the type and variety. Usually the cherry tomatoes will come on first, then roma types then the bigguns. Then in late-June through mid-July you'll plant your second round of transplants for fall production. So if you want to do your own tomatoes by seed, you'll start your spring crop by seed indoors late-January through early February, and you can start your second crop by seed in May - usually temps will allow you to direct seed them into the garden in May. Make sense?

Alright now fruit development is impacted heavily by temperature, and rapid fluctuations in temperature. If temperatures get too cool, go from cool to very hot too quickly, or plants don't start flowering until it's above 85 degrees day/night average (because you planted them too late) then you'll have poor fruit set or no fruit set at all. Remember that it's night temperatures that are going to really shut you down come June. Poor fruit set can also be a result of poor watering and plants being too dry. To encourage better fruit set you can use Blossom Set, which is a natural plant hormone that helps fruit set even in less than desirable conditions. It's not a cure all, and when it's 103 and 95 at night don't waste your money. Use it earlier in the season to get fruit set as early as possible. You can also use Blossom Set to help improve earlier yield on cucumbers, melons, eggplants, strawberries, and peppers. (you can also shake your tomato plants everyday to improve pollination, especially if you don't have bees visiting your garden).

So say your plants have set fruit properly and now they are just sitting there green. Usually, a tomato fruit will spend 40-50 days in it's "immature green" stage. Then it will begin to ripen and it's called "mature green". The optimum temperature for tomato ripening is 68-77 F degrees (yeah, we don't see that in summer in Texas!). And the proper production of ethylene. The further temperatures stray from that optimum, be it cooler or warmer, the more the ripening process is disrupted. When this continues for extended periods of tim it can totally shut down the ripening process. So Jim, yes, when it's above 100 F degrees for a while, your green tomatoes may just sit there green. Also, tomatoes don't produce lycopene and carotene (the pigments that make the final ripe color of the fruit) when temps get above 85 F degrees average. So it's a double whammy.

Often when you get a break from super high temps, the fruit set or ripening process will re-trigger and fruit will start to color up. Sometimes what I will do though if it looks they are just going to sit there green until they fall off the plant is to go ahead and harvest them (if they are mature size) bring them inside and set them in a bowl with a banana. The ethylene put off by the ripening banana will go ahead and trigger the fruit to ripen. Then I pull out those spring planted tomato plants and plant my fall crop. This is what I do with all my green fall tomatoes that are still on the plant but we're scheduled for a hard freeze in November. I pick bowls and bowls of green tomatoes and bring them inside. They'll spend the next couple of months ripening indoors and I get fresh tomatoes all winter!

Also remember that there are many different factors in addition that contribute to a successful tomato crop. Proper water management is crucial as well as disease and pest control.

Green Dallas…should mean more than it does…

Jun 29, 2009

IMG_0245 Based on my dealings with the City of Dallas as of late, I'd say they need a little help from citizens to figure out exactly just what "green" means. And frankly, I think a lot of Dallas citizens need help with what that means as well. Yes, the city recommends composting on the Green Dallas site,and that's great, but I think they need to take it a few steps further. Greening Dallas isn't just about "building" green for developers, or telling residents how to fertilizer and water their lawns, or driving a hybrid; it's about an entire system of living and that includes a local food chain. I think backyard vegetable gardens, and small livestock keeping for those interested, should be activities promoted by the city as part of the Green Dallas campaign.

Some people seem to be afraid of what vegetable gardening, composting and chicken keeping will "do" to their neighborhoods or property value. Ewwww, it's going to smell, or the chickens will be loud (most people still do not understand the difference between hens and roosters), or I'll never be able to sell my house with that next door. I've also encountered a number of fairly amusing misconceptions about people who do pursue these activities on their property. I think you'd find I fit none of Lucky for me, I live in Litttle Forest Hills, so I'd bet money that my established veggie garden and luxurious chicken coop will add value to my property...and my neighbors love it. 

I think we're facing a number of cultural crisis in this country and the excess of our living has caught up to us. People just can't keep going on living like they may once have. Simple is ok. Simple is healthy.

You can still be hip and sophisitcated and business savvy and look good in high heels and well, smell good...even when you grow your own vegetables, keep a few chickens for eggs, compost all the waste and can the leftovers. I swear.

If you'd like to give the city a shout out, you can do so here:

You should also check out the new American Medical Association's resoution on a sustainable food system, I think it's pages 45-55 of the full report. Good stuff.

Veggies that don’t fry in 103 degree heat…

Jun 28, 2009

So if you live in Dallas, DFW, you're probably wondering right about now why you thought trying to maintain a vegetable garden here in the summer was a good idea! But really, there are a number of crops that can not only make it through these unbearable rain-free heat waves, but actually thrive.

While your spring planted tomatoes are most likely starting to go into heat-delay (meaning the fruit they've already set is going to be what you get at this point) other plants like peppers, okra and cucumbers often won't start fruiting until temperatures warm up. Now is the time to direct seed a second round of crops like squash, zucchini, bush beans, black eyed peas...and you can plant a second round of transplants of tomatoes, eggplant, okra and peppers right now. There are even a couple of greens that will make it through the summer here and continue producing long after your regular salad greens bit the dust. Swiss chard and sorrel are probably the two best.

Cucumbers...are happy and vigorous even in the heat. These cucumbers were seeded in late March.

Cucumberbed Cucumbersclose 

What do do with all those cucumbers? Well, cucumber sandwiches everyday of course, not to mention you must stock your fridge with a continuous supply of cucumber water. Here I used some of the lemon cucumbers I'm growing...yum...


Peppers and Okra are in full gear...the hotter the better...

Okra_clemson_spinless Pepper_banana

And while we can't manage summer crops of most salad greens here, we can hang on to some Swiss chard and even a bit of sorrel. Thanks to the giant beet-like tap roots on Swiss chard, it's able to make it through the tough summer heat. Now it's not going to look its absolute best come July and August, but keep it watered and it will continue producing for you. If you're not crazy about spinach or other large greens, give Swiss chard a try. It has a milder sweeter flavor and the stems are also edible. Julie's resurrected sorrel, still going strong. Showing a bit of heat stress, but hanging in there nonetheless...

Swiss _chard_summer Sorrel_summer

Dallas Climate….why your tomatoes won’t fruit in summer…

Jun 28, 2009

Ok, so for any of that have not lived in the DFW area before, you have to understand that the climate and soil here are quite challenging for gardeners. I won't even get into the soil in this post because that's at least a page, lol. Now, we have a 12-month gardening season, which is great, however each season brings major challenges that keep gardeners on their toes. Dallas is categorized as a sub-tropical humid hot climate. Most of our 35 or so (if we're lucky) inches of rainfall comes in spring, usually in the form of a few torrential downpours or floods. That means spring is humid and we have all sorts of fungal disease problems on top of the poorly draining clay soil, not to mention hail and tornadoes. And we're windy....the third windiest city in the country as a matter of fact.  Which dries everything out. In winter we usually get 2 or 3 days of snow, flanked by 75 degree With just enough freezes, usually in the 20's but always a few in the teens, that means that things you might be able to get through the winter will take a dive. Because it's usually warm before these cold snaps plants don't have a chance to harden off. Then there is summer...ah summer. Usually, this transition happens hard and fast come June. 70's one day...then 100 plus with no rain in sight for months. We've already been in a run of 100 plus degrees for a while now. Yesterday was 103. With the humidity, we often see heat indexes in the 115-117 degree range. Now, I know what you're thinking...yes it gets 100 degrees in other places. But the difference here is that the nights don't cool off. With daytime highs in the hundreds, and nighttime temps in the 90's, plants never get the cool off they need to really look good in the summer or produce fruit (that's why tomatoes go into heat delay here in the summer). That's why in Chicago, you can have a 100 degree day and plants still look fabulous get 60's and 70's at night. It's that day/night temperature average that has a much bigger effect on plant development than the daytime temp alone. I'll stop there...i have a 300 page thesis on flowering physiology if anyone is ever having trouble going to sleep at night! lol

So my follow up to this post will be a look at some things in the vegetable garden that can take our summer nastiness...yes, there is hope!

New Chickens…

Jun 28, 2009

With the passing of Scooter and the building of the new larger coop, I figured I could add a couple more birds to the flock. These are the new arrivals. With the gang I have right now, and Eunis' bad attitude, I thought it would be better to start with some older pullets rather than risk the safety of smaller birds. The one of the right has quite the impressive fluff of neck feathers and a bit more chutzpa...Because of this she's also been the focus of Eunis' initial plays for power. The one on the left seems to be more docile and sweet. The second photo is a close up of her face. I know to those of  you who don't have chickens it will sound a little weird to say that some chickens just have sweet eyes. But they do! You can either see the sweet or the mean in their eyes...just like people I Let's hope this transition goes smoothly.


Hmmmm, something smells fowl…

Jun 26, 2009

The Fabulous Finished Chicken Coop…

Jun 21, 2009

Awesome. I love this coop...I call it my Frank Lloyd Wright coop! Still have to build the nesting boxes which will slip inside the coop adjacent to the egg door for easy access.


Made with rough cut cedar, my favorite. Not your cheapest game in town, but the only material you don't have to use a chemical sealant on..which can leach into the ground. No good for chickies...The hardware cloth (wire) is buried a foot underground to keep out predators. The ceiling of the box is also covered and sealed. The structure is bolted down to the foundation cinder blocks.


We used recycled windows from the addition remodel we recently worked on...nice shabby chic touch! All the doors are spring loaded, so you won't leave them hanging open...chicken escape!

Chicken_coop17 Chicken_coop14

In the winter, I'll line the upstairs with plastic insulation to keep everyone warm.



New Chicken Coop Under Construction…

Jun 20, 2009

We got to work on the new chicken coop this morning. My trusty handyman extraordinaire, Mark, came to do the building. Sean did the digging and general assistance. I provided the plan, did the supervising and the lunch making. LOL. I have to say, as the one who does much of the outdoor labor, it is super nice to have someone else build this for me! It's being built of of rough cut cedar....should be finished tomorrow. I'll post more photos and full description of layout when it's finished...Don't kill me Julie...LOL. Just click on the photos to enlarge.

Chicken_coop1 Chicken_coop2 Chicken_coop3 Chicken_coop4 Chicken_coop5 Chicken_coop6 Chicken_coop7 Chicken_coop8

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