How to Grow a “Perennial” Tomato Garden

Growing Perennial Tomato GardensBy definition, tomatoes are not perennial plants. The plant itself dies each year, relying on seeds being planted in order for the strain to survive. However, this year we experimented with the idea of a “perennial” tomato garden that would come back every year without our help. The first year was a success, and we enjoyed a HUGE harvest of tomatoes that grew with little to no assistance. This article will talk about how to set up and grow a “perennial” tomato garden that will grow every year without much assistance.

Fall Start

Last fall we had a boatload of tomatoes from plants we purchased. So many that we quite a few go rotten before we could do anything with them. If you grow tomatoes every year, you know that sometimes a tomato goes bad before it’s even picked, sometimes from bugs or nature, sometimes because it’s just hiding and you don’t find it in time. Last summer and into fall we made use of those “bad” tomatoes by tossing them on the ground under the current plants. We’ve done the same this year to ensure we have a crop next year as well.

The second important factor in creating a “perennial” tomato garden was allowing the vines to die in the winter. There was no “fall clean-up” where we tore out vines and swept up debris. Instead, we just left everything there for the cold winter (I should note here we live in the Midwest, and our growing season is early May to late September for tomatoes). In the spring, our tomato garden looked something like this:

Spring, before clean-up

Spring, before clean-up

 

Prepping in Spring

When spring rolled around, we did light cleanup of the area. We carefully pulled vines and gently brushed the debris into a compost pile.  Some leaves and mulch we left, but didn’t do any hard tilling in the area since we wanted the plants to come up on their own without us having to plant anything. We did have to pull some weeds as the tomatoes came up, just to give them room to grow up nice and healthy, but other than that, little work was required.

Also in the spring as the baby tomato sprouts were just starting to appear, we put in our tomato cages around spots there was several sprouts growing. We thought about thinning the plants, but ultimately decided to just leave them all to see what would grow. We didn’t have a huge area by any means, but figured it was enough room for a hefty harvest. We were right.

Summer Tending

By the time mid-summer rolled around, we had several really nice looking tomato plants. There was even one growing under the swing-set, by a tomato we’d forgotten about that was tossed under and a few others sprouting in places we hadn’t planned for.  No biggie, the more tomatoes the better!

We didn’t use an actual fertilizer or chemicals from the store, but we did throw out coffee grounds in early summer to give them a bit of a boost. This turned out to be a bit excessive, as the plants shot up quickly with leafy vines but with few blooms. There were some, just not as many as there could have been (I didn’t think, anyway… it might have also been the weather conditions or the re-seed themselves that didn’t produce a lot of blooms at first). Regardless, the plants were off to a fabulous start and began giving us a few tomatoes by mid-summer:

Mid-Summer Tomatoes

Mid-Summer Tomatoes

After deciding these tomatoes didn’t need any artificial help, we left them alone once again. This is what we began to see:

Volunteer tomatoes near old swingset.

Volunteer tomatoes near old swing-set.

Fall Harvesting

While the picture above shows the tomato vines growing in the plot we planned for them, we noticed something when September hit. The tomatoes devoured the other plants in front of them (a few jalapeno’s plants we started from seed), spilling out of the plot and into the yard. Obviously we didn’t give them near enough room this year, so will be adjusting accordingly for next year. In other words, all other plants will be moved clear away from the tomatoes for fear they’ll get “swallowed up”!  These plants were so aggressive, they actually knocked over most of the cages as well (the windy storm we had in August didn’t help much, either). Still, they are growing like weeds and cranking out at least a tomato or two PER DAY even into September.

Fall Tomato Garden

Fall Tomato Garden

Now that the weather is getting colder, we’ve put a priority on picking tomatoes long before they are ripe, but just after they start to turn yellow or red. We’ve got a dedicated spot in the kitchen near a window where they are left to ripen, then used as needed (so far we’ve had multiple BLT nights, several batches of salsa, and even made lasagna with our own tomato sauce) While I prefer to allow tomatoes to ripen on the vine, some nights are just flat out too chilly for a tomato to properly thrive. Once the first frost warning hits, I’ll most likely harvest all the remaining tomatoes (yellow, red, and even some green). We’ll probably make a batch of fried green tomatoes just as soon as it’s time to start grabbing what’s left before the frost hits.

When the weather turns too cold to harvest any more, we start the process all over again. Vines will be left, rotten tomatoes tossed back to the ground, and the plot will be ready for next fall. VERY easy, as the most important step is simply leaving the vines to do what they do best – reproduced all by themselves!

Summary

When setting up your perennial tomato garden for the first time, it’s important to remember that you will need a full season of planted tomatoes, either from the store or from seedlings you start inside.  If you’ve already planted tomatoes this year, great! You are well on your way to creating a tomato garden that will come back each year. If you have no tomato plants by the end of fall, you can still start planning for next year. Pick your spot, plant your tomatoes, and do minor prepping next fall to ensure they come back. Remember, tomatoes naturally re-seed, so as long as you let them, you’ll always have tomato plants. 🙂

Planning and Planting a Vegetable Garden

1307758_10344768The first year I lived in a “real house” I was excited to get a garden started. I just couldn’t wait until spring when I could plant all kinds of vegetables, and reap the benefits all summer long. I dreamed of home cooked meals and snacking on raw veggies, canning for the winter and having the most beautiful garden on the block.

While this seems like a good idea and a nice dream, it really wasn’t. Being a new gardener  I let my excitement get the best of me. Luckily, my family made sure I still had a very nice garden that year, and helped me learn how to make a vegetable garden the right way.

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Salsa Garden Ideas

Salsa Garden IdeasIf you love homemade salsa as much as I do, setting up a salsa garden might just be perfect for you this year. A salsa garden is very easy to get started by using plants for a purchased from garden supply stores.

A salsa garden requires little maintenance, aside from pulling weeds and occasional watering during dry spells. Try to keep your plants to a minimum and your garden area only big enough for the plants. It will save you lots of hassle and time if you plan carefully, based on the amount of time you have to dedicate to the garden on a daily or weekly basis.

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Growing Basil Indoors

It may seem strange to talk about growing indoors when the heat index is over 100 outside, but I’ve fallen in love with the simplicity of growing indoors.

There’s no weeds. No bugs. No going outside in the heat to tend to wilted plants. Just constant observation of my little plants in the cool indoors.

A few months ago I cleaned out my office, which had been used for a storage room. I was going to make it my official office to hid from kids over the summer, but it ended up being a mini-greenhouse instead.

Over the last few weeks I’ve attempted growing a few different things with new and old seeds I’ve obtained. I’ve tried potting soil and fancy equipment. I even tried starting my seeds in the Jiffy Plant Starter Kit, which was a complete failure long term. Sure they sprouted nicely, but they all died before the plants were of any use.

What I’ve learned is you don’t need anything complicated, nor do you need to use expensive items from the local Earl May. All you need is the following:
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Playing With Bonsai Trees

Despite my family’s greenhouse knowledge, I seem to lack the green thumb. I’m not sure if it was a lack of patience or if my skills just never blossomed. Either way, I’m still trying to be the gardener I know I can be.

After creating a make-shift greenhouse in my office and planting a few flower/herb seeds in creative pots, I decided to take my indoor gardening experiment a step further by adding bonsai plants to the mix.

The first thing I’ve learned is that there are no special bonsai seeds. What defines a bonsai tree from a regular tree is size, not type. Almost any tree or plant can be made into a bonsai. Awesome.

With this tid bit of info, I went in search of trees I’d love to have in miniture version. I checked out SeedMan, which had a very nice selection and details on every plant. The prices weren’t bad either, with extremely fair shipping. Additional bonsai research would tell me it’s easier to pick out a small plant or tree from a local nursery, but I love to watch new sprouts grow. Most likely I’ll be buying a plant or two from a local greenhouse in addition to the seeds I already bought.

Another thing I stumpled upon was a nifty (and cheap) Kindle book from Amazon called Bonsai Trees for Beginners . It has extremely useful information which I’m sure I’ll be referencing in the future. The history of bonsai trees included in the ebook was also an interesting read.

Overall I believe this will be a fun experience, and an interesting hobby that’s not very time consuming. Wish me luck!

Repurposing Candle Holders

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “repurposing” items. Why not? It saves money, and it cuts down on the junk in our landfills, and is best for the environment.

Since I’ve begun a little indoor gardening, I was recently checking out flower pots for my new office garden. While there were some really cool flower pots at Amazon for relatively cheap, I really didn’t want to pour a whole lot of money into this projects. Although I still may get the LED flower pot regardless. 😉

Instead of spending money on a dozen or more flower pots, I went digging through closets looking for old items. Being a candle-maker’s daughter, I have plenty of candle holders around the house.

This particular holder pictured is one I’ve had since my high school days (I won’t tell you just how long exactly, but let’s just say it’s at least 10 years old). Unfortunately, it’s developed a large cracked and can no longer be used for melting wax. It is, however, just perfect for indoor flowers.

Other items I found included small containers from a fondue set we never use that my daughter painted, an old bank, generic pots that we’ve decorated, and a few other miscellanous containers we weren’t using.

Overall, we’ve had a lot of fun finding items and decorating them to be used for something new, and have made plans for other “repurposing” projects we hope to post soon.

What items have you used in the past to make flower pots from? Do you have another use for your used candle holders?

Looking forward to seeing your responses!

 

Backyard Garden Ideas

Spring is finally here, and it’s time to start planning our gardens!

It’s hard to believe 10 years ago I was just starting on my first vegetable garden, and attempting to overwhelm myself with too many varieties of plants. Luckily my dad stepped in with a tiller and tomato plants, or we wouldn’t have had a good harvest at all.

Over the years we’ve tried several different types of gardens and techniques. Some have failed, some have not. The important thing is we’ve learned from our mistakes.

For those just starting out with a beginner backyard vegetable garden, I have three suggestions.

1. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a great starter plant for beginners or with limited space. It’s recommended you start with a live plant from your local nursery, or start your plant inside. Planting seeds directly in the ground doesn’t work as well, although it can be done.

These little buggers grow almost anywhere, and don’t take up a whole lot of space. I know the popular thing is to buy those new “hanging” tomato plants, but I’ve yet to hear anything good about the way they grow or how much they produce. With any common soil, though, you can grow your own tomatoes in the dirt. Sure it’s not as “clean”, but who wants to stay dirt-free while gardening? Isn’t the point to play in the dirt? 😉

2. Peppers
These work especially well for those with very limited space or a small backyard, and for those who can easily pull weeds around the pepper plants. They take a little extra work sometimes, but are worth it. Especially in the midwest, peppers are slightly picky. With proper care, though, any variety can be a hearty plant with decent yeild.

Peppers are also a perfect compliment to your tomatoes (the two together make EXCELLENT homemade salsa!). Just make sure you leave enough room between them, or the tomatoes will take over and kill your pepper plants.

3. Pumpkins

If you are really ambitious or have the space, you may also want to think about planting pumpkins. These come in handy around Halloween, which is about the time you’ll see your best harvest.

A huge warning with pumpkins, though – they will take up A LOT of space, and will grow in places you may not want them. Also, if your area has a problem with squash bugs, you may end up with nothing (it took us two tries of having the squash bugs eat everything before we finally gave up). However, some areas have no problems growing pumpkins, so it’s something you can try if you have the room to do so.

Looking forward to hearing your backyard garden ideas!

Gardening Supplies Online

Even though I’ve been a bit lazy this year doesn’t mean everyone else has. To be honest, I haven’t even started planning my garden, let alone buying up supplies. About all I’ve accomplished is on a whim grabbing a package of mixed pepper seeds. It looked fun, and I figure I can just toss them in the ground to see what comes up.

We need more than just pepper seeds, though. We also need some more gardening tools since mine all have seemed to walk away. That’s when I turn to one of my favorite stores for gardening supplies online – Nature Hills Nursery.

This store has got just about everything you could think of for plants, seeds, and trees. Not just dried bulbs and seeds either, but LIVE plants. They’ve also got books, weeding supplies, and garden decorations. About the only thing I couldn’t find here is a tiller, but I’d recommend finding that on Amazon anyway.

Be sure to check them out if your shopping for gardening supplies online!

DIY Tips for Gardening

It’s about that time of year again when we have to start planning our gardens and figuring just what we plan to plant.

Instead of re-hashing what we covered last year, we figured we’d just give you a few links to our 2009 gardening series. It covered all the main topics and ideas for planting flowers, herbs, and vegetables both from seeds and bulbs/plants.

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to request a free catalog from Nature Hills. Sometimes the best ideas for what to plant come from just browsing a catalog! Plus of course they have some really interesting plants and seeds for sale, so do check them out after you request a catalog.

To start the series, we started with the obvious – planting seeds inside. This included flowers, vegetables, and herbs. Generally on spring break is when we start planning our garden, and planting all our seeds inside. Mid to late March, basically. Sometimes we hold off until April if it’s been a pretty ugly winter and we know we won’t see our garden under all the snow until late May.

To finish up the series, we covered some information on flower bulbs and vegetable plants. These of course you’ll hold off on until late spring when all the threat of frost is gone. Although flower bulbs can also be planted in late fall, but if your doing your garden in the spring, best to wait until frost has past.

For seeds, bulbs, plants, and other gardening supplies, be sure to see Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.