Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Pruning Tomatoes


Most internet info suggests that pruning off suckers on tomatoes is a good practice, but if often doesn't explain when and why to prune.  Pruning tomatoes is not always a good idea or needed.  Wheteher to prune or not depends on the type of tomato and your goals. 

 Indeterminate tomatoes are the only tomatoes you would consider pruning. Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow vines and fruit until the first frost.  Understanding the structure of a tomato plant will help you understand what and when to prune.

In this photo you can see the main stem with a flower cluster coming off and and
leaf node on the opposite side.

Structure of Tomato Plant

Main stem, leaf node, flower clusters, and suckers are the parts of a tomato plant.  The leaf nodes and flower clusters grow off the main stem.  The suckers grow in-between a leaf node and the main stem.  Most suckers on indeterminate tomatoes become additional main stems that will produce flower clusters. If this is the case why would you want to prune?

Reasons to Prune Indeterminate Tomatoes

  • Accomadate a vertical support system which is typically used in a greenhouse. If you live in an area with lots of wind I don't recommend growing vertically outside unless you have wind breaks. The high winds in my area are hard on any vertically grown plants Also if you have no afternoon shade for your tomatoes I don't recommend vertical growing.  More leaf growth will shade plants and prevent sun scald on fruits.  I'm in Utah and sun scald is an issue here. 
These are greenhouse tomatoes that have overgrown their cages.  
Next year I will be growing vertically in the greenhouse.

  • Prevent the tomato from overgrowing your cages or support structures. Overgrown vines can break if not supported so either get better structures or prune out a few suckers to prevent too many main stems from overtaking your structure.

  • Manage airflow to prevent disease.  

  • Increase the size of beefsteak or novelty tomatoes by pruning and removing some flowers.  The more flowers and fruit the smaller the fruit.  This is more a novelty issue if you want large beef steak tomatoes.

  • Pruning out diseased leaves but remember that pruning in humid climates will leave a wound for entry of more disease.  In dry climates you can prune off diseased leaves.

  • Prune lower leaves below the first flower cluster.  This is helpful in preventing soil born diseases.

Why grow vertical?

 Limited space and wanting to grow more varieties is one reason to grow tomatoes vertically.  Growing vertical allows you to plant closer together and plant more varieties.  If you are not worried about spacing allow to the indeterminate tomatoes bush out.  

Growing vertically works well in a greenhouse because it allows light to penetrate the plant and provides good airflow.  This will allow tomatoes to ripen faster and prevent disease.

Tomatoes NOT to Prune

  • Cherry tomatoes need no pruning.  Let them vine out.
  • Determinate tomatoes grow to a certain size, stop growing and produce fruit. Do not prune determinate varieties.
  • Semi determinate tomatoes should not be pruned.

For review, removing suckers limits the number of main stems and the number of fruits that will develop. Be sure you have a reason and purpose to pruning.

When it comes to pruning shears 
STIHL is the only brand I recommend.  When pruning be sure to wipe the blades with Clorox wipes when moving to a new plant.  This will prevent spreading disease.

Pruning shears

Monday, June 10, 2024

Saving Dill Seed

If you have ever grown dill and let it go to seed, you are already a seed savers. Pretty easy, huh?  Congratulations! The hard part is remembering to harvest the seed so it doesn't self sow throughout your garden. I actually have dill scattered throughout my garden and pull it up where I don't want it.

Dill is a hardy annual grown both for it's leaves and seeds.  Dill leaves can be picked anytime.  They are delicious in sour cream dips, on vegetables, and potatoes.

If you plan on using a dill head in pickles, harvest when there are both flowers and unripe seeds.  Pickles are not the only way to use dill heads.  Try a dill infused vinegar.

 Dill seed is easy to save.  The seed can be saved for seed for next year. The seed is also used to flavor breads, pickles, and has medicinal uses. The seeds are a mild sedative and digestive aid.  Sucking on dill seeds can calm the digestive system. 

Dill water has long been used to calm colicky babies.  To make your own dill water, steep a teaspoonful of bruised seeds in a glass of hot water for  a couple hours.  Strain then sweeten the mixture.  Adults can take 1 Tbs and children 1 tsp.  (The Complete Book of Herbs and Spices)

The seed head of dill can also be dried and used as dill weed in cooking.  Add it at the end of cooking so the flavor is not lost in cooking.

 In my garden lace wings  (a beneficial insect)  love to lay their eggs on dill stems.  The larvae of the lace wing are voracious aphid eaters and therefor a gardeners friend. 

With so many uses dill seed is kind of a super seed and an easy way to start seed saving.

Below is a picture of lace wings eggs.  The look like lollipops.  The larvae look similar to lady beetle larvae.

Dill does not cross with any other veggies or herbs.  Different varieties of dill can be cross pollinated by insects.  If you want to try different varieties just wait to plant the second variety until he first has set seed.  This is called timed isolation.

A dill umbel or seed head.

Dill produces umbels.  Allow these to dry in the garden.  Harvest seed from fully mature dry umbels ( the seeds will be brown) whose stems are slightly green. Pick the entire umbel and place over trays to catch the seed.  Store the seed in a cool dry place if you are planning to replant.  Dill seed can be stored up to 5 years.  Remember germination rates decline with each year.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Nanking Cherries

The nanking cherry is both ornamental and edible.  It is beautiful and provides small bright red cherries that are great in jams, syrups, and jellies.

The nanking cherry also know as the Manchu cherry, can be a twiggy shrub or pruned as a small tree.  It is useful in windbreaks and edible landscapes.

Very easy to grow, the nanking cherry is also hardy.  It is both cold tolerant Zone 2 and heat tolerant.  It tolerates winds and dryness.  If grown as a shrub it will be from 6-10 feet wide and tall.  It can be pruned into a small tree but does sucker a lot.

The white powder is kaolin clay or Surround that acts as a insect deterrent and is used in organic orchards

The fruit ripens in early summer here in zone 5.  It is densely packed on the branches and a beautiful bright red. It lacks a stem like pie or sweet cherries and grows along the lateral branches.  The fruit is marble sized.  

To obtain the juice heat the cherries until soft and strain the juice through cheesecloth. Allow the juice to rest overnight in the fridge. This will separate the clear juice from heavier sediment that will settle at the bottom. Pour just the clear juice to use the in jellies and syrups.  

Juicing is easy just wash and add a small amount of water to the bottom of a pot.  Simmer, mashing the cherries with a potato masher on occasion.  Then strain through a jelly bag.

This little ruby red fruit is so easy to harvest because it is so densely packed.  Just hold a bucket under the branch.   Birds love this cherry so make sure you beat them to the harvest.  You can eat them fresh if you like a tart tangy cherry.  I prefer to use them in jellies and syrups. This jelly and syrup is one of my favorites.

Nanking cherries are prone to aphids so be sure to use a dormant oil and then monitor for aphids. If aphids become a problem spray with Neem oil and a product with spinosad before the leaves begin to curl.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Early Summer Garden Chores

June weather can be interesting with a few nights in the 40's, wind, some very hot days, some cool days, and others absolutely beautiful. June is a busy month in the garden. My chore lists are based on what I am doing or what needs to be done this time of year.  The more experienced you become at gardening the less overwhelming these chores seem. My goal as a gardener is to eat year round out of my  gardens so I probably have more "chores" than most backyard gardeners.  

Flowers are important to the gardener because they provide nectar for native pollinators and beneficial insects.

Shade loving plant have the right idea with the summer heat.

General Chores:
  •  Be sure to check your water systems and make sure your crops are receiving even moisture
  • Water stress causes misshapen, bitter, and small fruits
  • Start thinking about your fall and winter garden and check on what seeds you need.
An orchard ladder is a great investment.  It's stable, lightweight, and easy to get into the center for the tree for pruning, picking, and thinning.

Climbing the cherry tree.

In the Orchard:
  • Apples and peaches will be sizing up so be sure the trees have adequate moisture
  • Continue with the summer spray schedule of Neem Oil, Spinosad, fish emulsion, and kelp every 10-14 days. Kaolin clay is also recommended.  This will control colding moth and aphids along with other pests. Another option is to bag your fruit.
  • If you have not thinned your fruit do so before the heavy loads break branches.  Also if you don't thin you will set a poor crop next year.  The buds for next year are developing along with this year's fruit.

In the Garden:
 Beautiful companion planting combo of 
cauliflower, onions, and celery.

Cool Season Crops:

  • Be sure to check daily and harvest cool season crops.  You should be harvesting broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and lettuce.
  • You can put a shade over lettuce to extend the harvest or plant in an area of the garden that gets afternoon shade.
  • You can plan on leaving some peas on the vine to save as seed.  Your peas must be open pollinated or heirlooms to do this.
  • Some lettuce will go to seed and it is fairly easy to save seed from lettuce
A beautiful purple cauliflower Grafetti.

Cheddar cauliflower starting to form.

  • Cauliflower does best if the inner leaves are clothes pinned shut around the developing head.  Be sure to check frequently so the head does not begin to open. You want to harvest both cauliflower and broccoli when the buds are tight.
This is a conical shaped cabbage that is early and good for areas with hot summers are hard on the late cabbages.

  • Harvest early cabbages
  • Harvest outer leaves of chard and kale
  • Celery is also close to harvest time.
  • Continue to harvest side shoots of broccoli
I like Waltham and Premium Crop varieties.

  • Sow a last planting of beets and carrots
  • You may be close to harvesting carrots and beets depending on when you planted
  • Remove scapes from garlic.  Scapes are the flower stalk of garlic.  You want to cut them off so the energy is focused on developing the cloves.

Warm Season Crops

  • When sweet corn is knee high fertilize with fish emulsion
  • Stake tomatoes up or put cages on.
  • Cut lower leaves from tomatoes.  This helps with disease control
  • Remove any plants infected with curly top.  It is caused by a virus and there is no cure
  • Until peppers mature in size pick off the flowers so you have a stronger plant to support fruiting
  • Squash bugs are here!  Check for eggs and pull off the leaf or squish the eggs. Squash any squash bugs you see.  Continue with the preventative spray routine:  Neem oil, fish emulsion, and kaolin clay.  Add pyrethrin if you see adult squash bugs.

  • Continue to harvest oregano, basil, lemon balm, parsley, thyme, mints, and cilantro
  • Lavender is starting to bloom so prepare to dry some lavender
  • If you enjoy raspberry leaf tea, harvest and dry leaves from primocanes (first year canes)
The seed from cilantro is coriander.

Yarrow is a beautiful flowering herb with medicinal benefits.

You can enjoy continual harvests of berries.  Some berries can be planted in a landscape setting. Below I list berries from earliest to latest harvest dates.
Nanking cherries make a delicious jelly and syrup.

Nanking Cherries while not a berry are a small cherry that makes a fantastic jelly and syrup.  It can be pruned to be a small tree or shrub. They ripen mid-June

Gooseberries can be green or pink.  They are very thorny and have a tail that must be removed before preparing.

Next are Gooseberries, and black currants.  They need to be checked and picked daily because they do not all ripen at once.  I freeze them as I harvest them until I have enough to process them.

Black currants can be used in jams, jellies, syrups, and for medicinal purposes.

Jostaberries will be ready some time in July along with Pink currants. Both make a great jelly. 

When raspberries begin to ripen,  pick daily and keep plants watered well during fruiting. 

I prefer the erect varieties.  They seem to be much more productive than trailing varieties.

Blackberries are starting to develop fruit and also need to be watered well.  You can give berries a drink of fish emulsion during fruit development if you have time. I have recently added more berries including tayberries, loganberries, boysenberries, and Marion berries.

Elderberries flower and ripen at different times depending on the variety you planted.  Both the flowers and berries are edible and have medicinal purposes plus the berries make delicious jellies, pies, and syrups. 

 It seems like the season is passing so quickly.  Enjoy the fruits of your labor, and remember you always reap what you sow in gardening and life.

Bolting lettuce.  Saving seeds from lettuce is fairly easy.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Summer Garden Pests: Cabbage Worms, Corn Earworms, & Squash Bugs

Cabbage worm damage

Warm summer days mean you need to be on the look out for summer garden pest. People seem to approach pest control with two attitudes:  the chemical warfare approach or the homemade remedy approach.  

What is lacking in both of these approaches is an understanding of insects life cycles and insect feeding habits and how the approach kills insects and how the pesticide is intended to manage your problem.  

You have to know your enemy to be successful. Different sprays whether synthetic, organic, or homemade are effective at certain stages of the insect's life cycle and their mode of killing matters.  Does it have to be ingested or does the insect have to have physical contact with the pesticide?  Also important to consider is does it leave toxic residue?  And finally is it a broad spectrum spray killing beneficial and predatory insects as well as the pest or is it safe for beneficial insects?  Some homemade remedies kill pollinators, lady beetles, and predatory insects as well as the pest.

While I don't agree with with chemical warfare especially for the backyard and small scale grower I also do not think a homemade remedy will be any more effective if you don't understand the feeding methods, killing mode, and the stage at which each is most effective.  

With the increase in organic food there has been an increase in the development of organic pest management methods.  Armed with only a couple of controls and a little knowledge you can literally take care of most pests in your garden. Organic gardening is science based.  We work with the knowledge we have of plant biology to manage both pests and disease.

Planting at the right time is an important IPM strategy.  Brussel sprouts do best and have fewer pest issues if planted as a fall crop.

Integrated Pest Management or IPM is the currant term used to manage pests.  Basically it is a fancy way of saying that you will prevent and control pests by various methods.  Overall it means you are practicing good gardening habits, monitoring for pests, and only treating when necessary. Sprays whether organic or synthetic are a last resort in most cases.

Organic IPM's involve first and most importantly building a healthy soil including both good soil structure and a healthy soil food web.  This is done by incorporating organic matter into the soil. Organic matter provides the food for healthy microbes.  The microbes in turn create a bio slime that binds soil particles together allowing for oxygen and water to penetrate and root paths to develop. 

Organic fertilizers such as bone meal and blood meal actually feed the microbe population and in turn plants excrete exudates that attract just the right microbes to the root zone.  These microbes become the fertilizer for your plant.  Bacteria are mini fertilizer bags and fungi are mineral miners that bring nutrients to the root zone of the plant.

Mulching around plants is part of a good IPM plan.

Cultural Methods:  Minimal tilling to maintain soil structure, mulching, good sanitation practices, crop rotation, companion planting, proper plant spacing, planting at the proper times, proper fertilizing, and water.  Many pests we inviting into our garden because of our poor garden habits.  For example water stressed plants are vulnerable to attack by pests.

Biological Methods:  planting nectar producing flowers and herbs among your garden crops provides shelter and food for pollinators and predatory insects such as lace wings, lady beetles, predatory wasps, beetles, and pirate bugs etc. Providing a water source and not using any spray synthetic or organic that kills the good guys.

Releasing beneficial insects and using predatory nematodes is an important biological control.

Planting resistant varieties is also a good practice.

Monitoring for pests:  Spend a little time in the garden each day.  Check the underside of leaves for eggs and larvae.  Look for sucking damage and chewing damage.  Sticky traps are good for monitoring what insects are in your garden.

Strategies for controlling pests:  handpicking pests off, spraying off with water (aphids), crushing eggs, covering with a light weight row cover, trapping, and using soft organic sprays that selectively kill the pests with little or no damage to the "good bug" population are all apart of organic IPM.

So lets look at a few summer garden pests and see how you would implement an IPM.

Cabbage worm on underside of cauliflower.

Cabbage Worms

That pretty little white butterfly you see flitting about your garden early spring is searching for your cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts.  It lays it's eggs on the underside of leaves and the larvae, a little green caterpillar, has a voracious appetite and is responsible for all the holes in your leaves.

There are 3  common caterpillars active right now: the imported cabbageworm, cabbage lopper, and diamondback moth.  

The imported cabbageworm is the larvae of the white butterfly you see so often enjoying your garden.  It is a lime green to dull green caterpillar feeding on the underside of leaves.  

The cabbage lopper adult is a brown moth.  The larvae is a light green with white stripes down it's back.  It moves like an inchworm.

The diamondback moth larvae is a light green caterpillar with two hind prolegs that stick out the back.  This worm only grows 1/2 inch long.

All three green demons chew holes in the leaves of the Brassica family and leave frass (excrement) on your produce.

A healthy cabbage forming a head with no pest damage.

IPM Strategy:

Monitor daily.  Look for holes and check the underside of leaves for the worm.  Hand pick them off which is all you need to do if you have a small garden.  Cover with row covers in early spring to prevent egg laying.  Kaolin Clay (Surround) is what it says, a clay that is sprayed on to deter feeding  

Spinosad is a fermented bacteria product that is ideally designed to kill caterpillars.  It is safe for beneficials but until dry can kill bees.  Normally bees are not hovering around cabbage but to be safe spray early morning or evening when bees aren't flying.  Spinosad leaves no toxic residue and can be repeated if needed every 10 days. 

Neem oil is also effect and safe for all beneficials. It must be ingested to kill an insect.  Neither of these sprays instantly kill they disrupt feeding, molting, and disrupt the nervous system so you see results in a day or two.  

An example of interplanting cauliflower with onions and celery.

Cabbage Aphids

These pesky insects live in colonies and are easy to dentify. They have a white waxy coat.  The female gives birth to many live offspring both winged and wingless.  They are fast growing colonies. They like cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.

Feeding and Damage

Yellowing foilage, stunted growth, and cupping leaves are caused by the aphids feeding.  They suck the juices of the leaves.  

Monitor daily around the cauliflower leaf wrappers for cabbage aphids.

IPM Strategy:

Look for the start of aphid colonies on the youngest, highest, and innermost leaves of plants.  You need to check the flowing parts of broccoli and cauliflower and pull back the wrapper leaves of cabbage.

It is important to plant those crops of the cabbage family in early spring.  Much of your harvesting can be done before aphids appear.  Monitor daily and spray off with a stream of water colonies that start.  If it gets out of control you can spray with Neem oil or pyrethrinInsecticidal soap which can be homemade or purchased works on aphids but is photo-toxic if applied in high temperatures. Be cautious in using  insecticide soap.  Test it first.

 Interplanting members of the cabbage family with onions and among other crops seems to also help.

Squash Bugs

Squash bugs are active now laying eggs with nymphs hataching 10-14 days later.  A nymph is juvenille squash bug.  It is a small gray black bug that does not resemble the adult.  Squash bugs overwinter as adults and in June find your plants in the curcurbit family and lay a cluster of copper colored eggs on the underside of leaves between the veins. They continue to mate and lay eggs through September. Eggs and nymphs are easy to manage.  The adults are more difficult to manage.

Feeding and Damage

The nymphs feed on plant juices causing yellow speckling and browning.  The adults feed on the vines damaging the xylem which allows for water transport to the leaves.  This causes wilting of individual leaves or an entire section of the plant. 

IPM Strategy

Monitoring when your plants are young and producing flowers is critical.  Check the underside of leaves between the V of the veins.  Squish egg clusters or cut them out. Insecticides can be used to kill nymphs. Handpick any adults or nymphs daily when inspecting your plants.  

I use a combination of sprays when I see adults or nymphs.  In one sprayer I put neem oil, pyrethrin (pyola), fish emulsion, and kaolin clay.  

The pyrthrin kills on contact and is the only thing that seems to work on the adults.  The neem works on the nymphs and is systemic meaning it is taken up by the leaves.  The kaolin clay is a feeding deterrent.  

After and during bloom spray only in early morning or late evening before pollinators are out.  This can be repeated every 5 days.  

You need to keep monitoring for eggs.    When picking them off plants I put them in a bucket and feed them to the ducks. 

This might sound labor intensive so if you truly do not have time, do not plant squash.  Allowing squash bugs to take over ensures that the following season your problem will be worse. 

You might be thinking why not use a synthetic spray such as Sevin?  The people who use Sevin are the people who most often ask me how to get rid of squash bugs. Sevin is a broad spectrum insecticide that really has no place in the backyard garden. It is not more effective than the methods I suggest and is NOT a one time squash bug killer. There is no way to exterminate all pests that's why it is call a Integrated Pest Management system requiring management on the part of the gardener. 

Corn Earworms

The corn earworm (Helicoverpa zea) is one of the most destructive insect pests attacking corn.  The adults are a brownish grey moth that can travel long distances.

Damage usually begins in the corn’s silk, where the moth deposits its eggs. The caterpillars (larvae) follow the silk down to the ear, eating as they go. Extensive damage is often found at the ear’s tips, where the worms devour kernels and leave their excrement. 

The larvae can often destroy the silks before pollination is complete. The result is deformed ears often then susceptible to mold and disease. Worm damage is usually confined to the tip of corn ears and can easily be cut away. 

Each year, massive amounts of pesticides are sprayed on commercial corn fields in attempts to kill larvae. Genetically engineered corn, each kernel producing its own pesticide, was developed with corn earworms in mind. Fortunately corn earworms a relatively easy pest  for the backyard grower to control.

No damage from corn earworms.  This is Jubilee sweet corn.

IPM Stategy

In the fall, tilling will expose the pupae or chickens and ducks can be turned loose to dig for pupae. Corn which requires a block or a large planting for complete pollination is one crop I plant in a field in wide rows.  I rotate it every year. If I till I do so in early spring.  In the fall the chickens and ducks clean up the remaining pests. 

I'm not sure if this is actually beneficial but I have a bug zapper that is near my orchard and corn field.

Begin spraying Spinosad (Captain Jack's Dead Bug Drew) when the silks are developed and spray until they dry every 10 days.  Bt or Neem will also work but I prepfer Spinosad when dealing with caterpillars.

If you have only a small patch of corn, then you can add  vegetable or mineral oil to the ears tips to suffocate feeding larvae.  To make that more effective add a little Neem Oil. This is very labor intensive and not as effective as using Spinosad.

Dried silks mean you no longer can treat for corn earworms.

Knowledge truly empowers the gardener to come out conqueror in battling summer pests.  Don't give up!  Enjoying organic fresh produce you grow yourself is so rewarding and worthwhile. I did not include many pictures of the pests because I don't have very many pictures  Also I wanted to show you that organic methods work very successfully for the backyard grower.  Your garden will feed your family and not your frustrations of summer pests.