Tomato season in high gear

Artisan Pink Tiger tomato is tiny, but packs a big punch. Very thin skinned and sweet.

Tomato season is in high gear at Little Cedar. You know we’re calling our property Little Cedar, right? That’s because my sister-in-law, Maria, said our garden reminded her of Big Cedar Lodge when she visited us in spring, and she dubbed our garden “Little Cedar.” We loved the name so much it stuck. In fact, Bill had a sign made for my little she shed out back.

We go to Big Cedar almost every year so this name means a lot to us.

'Honey Drop' tomato from Hudson Valley Seed Co. is the best and sweetest cherry tomato I've ever eaten.
‘Honey Drop’ tomato from Hudson Valley Seed Co. is the best and sweetest cherry tomato I’ve ever eaten. I started this one from seed and have been eating them for a month. These are much sweeter than my former favorite, ‘Sungold.’

But, back to tomato season in my Oklahoma hills, and what a tomato season it is.

Whopper tomatoes in the green. Good eating coming soon.
‘Whopper’ tomatoes in the green. Good eating coming soon. I always grow ‘Whopper’ tomatoes. They aren’t huge, but they have a great acid balance, and you don’t always need a giant tomato on a sandwich although I ate a huge ‘Cherokee Purple’ one on a sandwich today.

I spoke to the Tulsa Perennial Club on vegetable gardening the day before yesterday so I’ve been taking a few photos here and there with my iPhone while I’ve been out working. Vegetable gardens are unforgiving this time of year. If you don’t go out every single day, they expire from hot weather–we’ve been over 100F lately–or the squash bugs arrive without warning and kill your squash plants in a day. Use diatomaceous earth on squash bugs nymphs, but be careful not to get it on blossoms. You don’t want to kill your pollinators. If anyone has any other great organic squash bug killing advice, other than squishing them–I do–please let me know. I told my Tulsa friends that I didn’t have any, but they arrived that night.

This is my two-day harvest from seven raised beds. The new raised beds are 8' x 16' so they are pretty big, but over halfway full of flowers for cutting.
This is my two-day harvest from seven raised beds. The new raised beds are 8′ x 16′ so they are pretty big, but over halfway full of flowers for cutting. Those large tomatoes on top are ‘Cherokee Purple’ which is one of my favorites. It’s often available locally in spring.

Stupid Insect-tards.

You can plant tomatoes now and reap a harvest in September before sunlight lessens. Just be sure to keep everything well watered. We’re having some terribly hot temperatures this week in the 100s°F. When the temperatures soar above 100°F, tomato blossoms just fall off.

Try not to worry. Just keep your plants healthy and water because temperatures will lessen, and you should have time to grow and ripen more fruit. Speaking of ripening, I usually harvest my tomatoes just when they start to turn like the photo below. I know articles tell you to wait, but if I wait, the stink bugs will suck them dry and cause sores on the skin which is just gross. I bring partially ripened tomatoes inside and finish them on my kitchen counter. They still taste delicious and don’t even need the sunshine to ripen. I also don’t refrigerate tomatoes until I must because they don’t taste as good and quit ripening. Any tomato you grow at home tastes 100 times better than one bought in the store.

Partially ripe tomatoes on the vine. I harvested these and brought them indoors to finish ripening.
Partially ripe tomatoes on the vine. I harvested these and brought them indoors to finish ripening.

I started a bunch of seeds in the greenhouse last February, and while I didn’t have time to write about it on the blog, the tomatoes didn’t know. They grew just fine.

My transplants never look as big and bulky as those you buy at the nursery or box store, but they quickly catch up. After transplanting in late April or early May, I watched my plants grow all spring and worried over them. We had very cool temperatures and loads of rain. I planted some tomatoes in the potager in new spots–crop rotation to repel root-knot nematodes–and after the raised beds were built, I planted more out there.


The good folks at Burpee Plants/Burpee Home Gardens sent me several tomatoes and peppers to try. I really appreciate the markers they sent with the plants, along with a very helpful laminated card. Vegetable and flower companies who send out trial plants don’t realize how easy it is to lose tags in the middle of spring planting season. If you receive plants from several companies to trial, as I do, you may not be able to identify the plant later on. I so appreciate Burpee’s extra step. All of the plants showed up super healthy and not stressed for which I was thankful. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with the plants they sent me.

When I start seeds, I always choose unique varieties. Then, I run up to my local nurseries and buy my standard favorites like ‘Supersteak,’ ‘Big Beef,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Rutgers,’ ‘Beefmaster,’ ‘Super Sioux’ and ‘Whopper.’ I may not grow all of these in a particular year. It depends on what I find locally. The ones I start from seed will almost always be weird like ‘Artisan Pink Tiger.’ This elongated cherry tomato has a very complicated taste and such thin skin it is easily bruised. These are the vegetables I like to grow at home, the ones grocery stores don’t carry because of shipping considerations.

Artisan Pink Tiger tomato is tiny, but packs a big punch. Very thin skinned and sweet.
Artisan Pink Tiger tomato is tiny, but packs a big punch. Very thin skinned and sweet.

It’s been a great tomato season so far. One step I made sure to complete was to ferilize the tomatoes again when they started to bloom. In other words, I fertilized their planting holes when I transplanted them and mulched them heavily to stop dirt and diseases from splashing up on the leaves. Then, when they started to bloom about five weeks later, I fertilized them around the drip line with an organic fertilizer like Jobe’s Organics All Purpose fertilizer. If you’d rather, you can buy  Jobe’s Organics Vegetable & Tomato Fertilizer, but I just use the all-purpose one everywhere. I don’t have time to mess with all these distinctions. For my Tulsa friends, this is the fertilizer I was talking about the other night.
I also tied everyone up nice and neat and braced my tomato cages with rebar. It’s how I like to do it. I could build more extensive cages, but I haven’t so far. I like the colored cages, and so many of the determinate and patio type tomatoes do just fine in these as long as I tuck in their canes as they grow. The rest I tie up as needed.

I think that’s all I have this Saturday. How is your tomato season going?

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, March: the daffodils have it

Narcissus 'Geranium,' an heirloom which is very hardy and prolific in my garden

Please forgive me for being late to Bloom Day hosted by Carol of May Dreams Gardens. I apologize. I was laying sidewalk from the potager to the back door. It is nearly finished, and my poor shoulders and elbows feel older than their years.

Another Narcissus with a very large cup. It grows behind the small 'Geranium,' and I don't know its cultivar name.

March in my north central Oklahoma garden is all about the bulbs, those darling, deer-and-rodent-proof daffodils and their friends, the crocus.

Tiny Crocus tommasinianus, probably 'Ruby Giant'

Support staff for the narcissus blooms in the form of flowering shrubs like Spiraea ‘Ogon’ a/k/a Mellow Yellow. I hate the tradmark name Mellow Yellow. Although it trips off the tongue quite well, it sounds silly. Even with its silly name, I have three of these beauties which give me color three seasons of the year.

Spiraea 'Ogon' Mellow Yellow

Other daffs which have long ago lost their tags still bloom prettily. This is an early white one with a large, school bus yellow cup. It blooms beneath a pink, deciduous Jane magnolia which is just starting to unfurl her petals. At the daff’s feet, are dark blue violas planted last fall at the same time.

Narcissus 'Ice Follies'

The pure white narcissus have yet to bloom. They all grow together under a large oak tree, where I planted them over twenty years ago.

Viola x wittrockiana Dynamite Pink pansies

Although I find violas perform better for me, where pansies and violas are concerned, I am often a sucker for a pretty face. I was driving by a local nursery where I saw these Viola x wittrockiana ‘Dynamite Pink’ pansies. Such gorgeous color, they may supplant my love for ‘Imperial Antique Shades.’ By the way, I can find very little information on this group of pansies, so although I listed it in single quotes, Dynamite Pink may be a trademarked name. They do seem to be a seed strain since, as you can see in the photograph, there is so much variation within the group.

Helleborus 'Red Lady'

Although the bulbs steal the show this time of year, I can’t forget the hellebores, some of which are really coming into their own. ‘Red Lady’ and ‘Blue Lady,’ which I planted three or four years ago, have grown into nice clumps and are so pretty in the morning light.

The front garden is the prettiest this time of year.

I think the front garden is the prettiest this time of year, but as I was loading this photo, I found another of the same garden last year.As you can see, the nandinas were burned from the cold weather both years, although last spring seemed worse. Also, none of the bulbs were blooming so the pansies had the whole show to themselves. Because of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, I have comparisons from year to year. Thanks Carol!

The front garden at the same time in 2010

This weekend, if you haven’t already made plans, the Tulsa Garden Center, in cooperation with the Oklahoma Horticulture Society, is hosting Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC,  for two lectures. He will speak in Tulsa on March 19, at 6:30 p.m. On Sunday, March 20, he will speak at the Oklahoma City Zoo on “Landscaping in Drifts of One:  A Focus on Plant Combinations” at 1:00 p.m. I will definitely be in the audience Sunday.

Also, the Central Oklahoma Hemerocallis Society is having a meeting this Friday at 6:00 p.m. I hope to see you there.