It’s that time of the summer when my tomatoes start turning red! Just the past 2 weeks, we’ve been able to pick a few off of the vine that have been ripe enough to eat. My daughter, in her excitement to pick fresh tomatoes has a tendency to scour the plants for any that she deems the least bit red and then wander into the kitchen with a bowl of just pinkish-orange-green fruit. She usually takes one to eat like an apple, and the rest sit on the windowsill until they’re ready!
There's a red one in there!
I tried something different with my bed this year. As I wrote about before, my garden is separated into four in-ground beds. The vegetables that I plant in each bed are rotated year by year. Tomatoes, peppers and onions are always planted together in my garden. Usually I mulch with straw, sometimes I don’t (the years I didn’t mulch with straw were in an effort to cut down on squash bugs-the bane of my gardening existence and topic for another post!). This year, remembering how crazy and overgrown my tomato beds tend to get by August, I decided to be proactive and use both a tillable paper mulch, and a straw mulch. I ordered a paper mulch online that is biodegradable, tillable, and safe to use around vegetables. It was an added gardening expense, but I felt it would be worth it if it kept the weeds and grasses from popping up. The paper mulch was laid out in strips cut to fit the space, and I used landscape fabric pegs and rocks to weigh it down on the ends. I then cut holes where I wanted to put the plants in the ground, and afterwards mulched around the plants with straw. This is what it looked like during that process-
And what it looked like just after planting-
So far, I’ve been very happy with the way it’s turned out. There have been noticeably fewer weeds than in years past, and the plants are healthy. The bed is bordered by marigolds, a great companion flower to plant with tomatoes, and an insect house is hung nearby to help draw beneficial insects and pollinators such as Mason Bees.
Soil-borne fungal diseases (such as early blight) are always something that I’m concerned about with tomato plants, as it’s damaged my crops in the past. Since I try to avoid any types of sprays or fungicides, the best tips I have for helping prevent them are to mulch around the plants to help keep them from being splashed with spores from the soil during rainfall, to prune any branches that are close to or touching the ground, and directing the plants upwards by using a cage or other support. Also, I’ve found checking the plants frequently and pruning off and disposing of any branches that are showing the slightest hint of disease (yellowing of the leaves, dark spots, etc.) to be helpful as well.
As for the onions, they will be pulled out of the ground in the next week or two and placed in a clean, dry, ventilated location (in my case, the shady area of our covered porch) to dry. I don’t have a huge crop of onions that need to be cured for longer storage, most of mine will be used soon after harvesting. The peppers are picked and used as soon as they’re big enough!
In other backyard news we’ve had a few successful bluebird and tree swallow families raised and fledged! I took one last peek at these four bluebird babies before they fledged. This was the second bluebird family in that house this season. After fledging, the mom and dad bluebirds tend to disappear with their little guys for a while. We’ll see if they come back for a third nesting this year!
I hope that your gardens are doing well, and happy tomato sandwich season!
Male Bluebird. All photos in this blog post by Cathy Pouria