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Old January 11, 2015   #1
Vespertino
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Default 2015: Tomato HOA Rehab journal

2013: City-Slicker Texas Terrace Container Tomatoes
2014: Broken Knee Tomatoes

So a quick recap:

In 2013 I moved to Texas and started an itty bitty container garden on my patio.

in 2014 I bought a house with a teeny bit of land, but broke my knee. Family helped me get most tomatoes planted and I healed enough to take it from there (with lots of limitations), but the bugs hit hard and the tomatoes contracted TSWV and curly top! Oy!

So now it's 2015 and my knee had been on the mend for a while now. Last year made me realize how sick the environment in HOA land was before it came under my stewardship. I'm hoping to continue to rehabilitate my sickly, postage-stamp sized chunk of HOA land into a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

This year I'm going cherry and dwarf heavy.
Summertime green dwarf
Rosella purple dwarf
Dwarf arctic rose
Sweet scarlet dwarf
Dwarf kelly green
Caspian Pink
Green Zebra
Kentucky Beefsteak
Sungold
Rose Quartz Multiflora
Black Cherry
Green Zebra Cherry
Pink Bumble Bee
Green Doctors
Tscalma
Evans Purple Pear
KBX
JD's Special C-Tex
Vorlon

I'll also be growing sugar ann snap peas, delikatesse cucumbers, striata di italiana zucchini, genovese basil, thai basil, and lemon basil. There may be other things I'll give a try but those above are certain to be in the garden.

This year I've finally upgraded to a light system for germinating seedlings:


It's just a basic T8 ballast, and alternating 5000k/6500k lights with a timer. I already had the shelving lying around.

My seeds were planted in jiffy pots on 1/4/15, I'm using Lady Bug Germinator.


Yesterday the sugar ann peas broke through the surface and I was getting impatient because I didn't see a single tomato peeking up. I was wondering if I'd screwed up and killed them off somehow. Today, BOOM, about half the tomatoes popped overnight.






That is certainly fungus on the pots and label sticks, but I'm not worried right now. My germination mix had this same fungus on it last year and it's not the kind that causes the seedlings to dampen off. In fact the seedlings did really well in it. The germination mix is not a sterile one, but is is organic and my tomatoes have always been happy. Good mycelium is icing on the cake. Once the rest of the tomatoes pop I'll remove the plastic tray covers and the tops will dry out a little.

As for the sick environment in the yard, this year I'm prepping for the bugs with biological countermeasures:
1) Beneficial nematodes
2) Lacewings
3) Ladybugs
4) Predatory Mites
5) And my "BFG" Stagmomantis carolina, The Carolina Praying Mantis. The ootheca are dormant in the fridge, I will probably hatch them around Easter.

Last year I had a deluge of Thrips, Cucumber beetles, Whiteflies, Oleander Aphids (these destroyed by milkweeds), Green/Black Aphids, Tomato Hornworm, Leaf Miners, Cutworms, Spider Mites, and Grasshoppers (so many they chewed my iris plants down to the ground). Despite such a smorgasbord, not a single lady bug or whitefly to be found anywhere. What I did stumble across was one teeny little carolina mantis who grew up strong, healthy and fat. Later a mature yellow garden spider set up shop and caught many big grasshoppers. I need more of them in 2015 along with other beneficials.

The soil was also very poor: clay-laden, nitrogen and phosphorous poor. I'm putting down bone meal along with lots of other goodies in the planting beds (green sand, blood meal, ground up oyster shells, crushed egg shells, cotton burr, turkey compost, hardwood mulch and dolomite lime) during the winter and hope that it improves things for springtime.

Wind and crazy temperature swings were problems last year as well, the wind almost killed my seedlings, and if it weren't for family helping me create makeshift windbreaks I would have lost them all. This year I'm putting in covered hoop rows, that should take care of temperature swings and short cold snaps.

That's the general plan for 2015. Hope you all have a great tomato year!

Last edited by Vespertino; January 11, 2015 at 10:31 PM.
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Old January 12, 2015   #2
Zana
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Glad to see you back in the garden. Cracked my left knee and tore up the ligaments back in 2009 and spent 2 years in physio....still not back to what I consider "normal" so I can appreciate what you have dealt with.

Looks like you've got a good plan for replenishing the soil. Good luck.
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Old January 12, 2015   #3
mdvpc
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For grasshoppers, I put down NOLO. I used it in El Paso, where we had a bad hopper problem. I put it down in early March, and it worked well. I used it for about 4 years, and by the second year, almost no hoppers.
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Old January 12, 2015   #4
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Thanks for posting . It seems that you are managing well.

jon
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Old January 12, 2015   #5
Vespertino
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zana View Post
Glad to see you back in the garden. Cracked my left knee and tore up the ligaments back in 2009 and spent 2 years in physio....still not back to what I consider "normal" so I can appreciate what you have dealt with.

Looks like you've got a good plan for replenishing the soil. Good luck.
Yeah, it's very difficult both mentally and physically to damage a major load-bearing structure on the body. So sorry to hear that you went through a similar injury. Like you, I'm not close to "normal" either and I'm beginning to accept I may never be. While I'm not crippled anymore, I feel like my broken knee is 20 years older than the unbroken one: crunchy, achy, can't kneel or deep squat without discomfort, tires easily, muscle weakness, and needing ice/warm-pack + elevation it a few times a week. I do have my ROM back, but everything else is iffy.

If anything the gardening helps keep me active despite the discomfort, even if I have to elevate my knee I feel better knowing I got some gardening done.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mdvpc View Post
For grasshoppers, I put down NOLO. I used it in El Paso, where we had a bad hopper problem. I put it down in early March, and it worked well. I used it for about 4 years, and by the second year, almost no hoppers.
Thanks, I had heard of NOLO in passing but couldn't remember what it was called. Is is a pesticide specific to grasshoppers or is it more broad-spectrum? The grasshoppers were horrible, they ate everything except the lemongrass.

Quote:
Originally Posted by peppero View Post
Thanks for posting . It seems that you are managing well.

jon
Thanks Jon! Good to be back in the garden for another year
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Old January 12, 2015   #6
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Nolo is specific for grasshoppers. You broadcast it in the early spring, the young hoppers eat it, die, are eaten by other hoppers and they are infected also and die. It works great.

http://www.biconet.com/biocontrol/nolo.html
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Old January 13, 2015   #7
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Hello again! Started my tomato seeds the same day as you. 31 of 36 sprouted and are under lights! I don't put them under lights until they are done sprouting. The fungus is a little concerning...the sooner you can get that plastic dome off, the sooner you can get rid of the fungus.

In the several years of doing this, I'd say thrips, aphids and spidermites are annual and can really mess up a plan! The others you mention are hit or miss. The real problem with thrips is the are a TSVW vector and with spidermites, once established, they will win, it is simply a question of delaying the inevitable as long as possible.

What is your source for the beneficials? I've used ladybugs every year and they take care of the aphids, especially if I put out the sugary feed that keeps them all around for a few day and some stay longer. I've wanted to try lacewings for a while, but, haven't.

Soil - that's a major concern and clay is the rule in N. Tx, though, where you are, some have red sands. I love the elements you are adding. I would try to incorporate them well and deep and as soon as you can. Depending on how much clay you are dealing with, I found a product called expanded shale to be helpful in breaking down clay, especially over time. http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/n...Expdshale.html
Our clay is heavy, sticky and a real pain in the butt to work with. When I had foundation repair that involved digging under the foundation, I talked the guys into digging one of my beds down 3 feet and then I filled it completely with a terrific soil product from Alpine soils. Within 2 years, the clay worked its way to the top and still is a sticky mess present throughout this bed. My point point is, it is hard to amend away or even dig out all of this clay. So, work in more amendments that you think and plan to continue doing so for several seasons. I actually think some clay is a good thing because it holds water well and in our hot summers.

Good luck this season!

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Old January 17, 2015   #8
Vespertino
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dewayne mater View Post
Hello again! Started my tomato seeds the same day as you. 31 of 36 sprouted and are under lights! I don't put them under lights until they are done sprouting. The fungus is a little concerning...the sooner you can get that plastic dome off, the sooner you can get rid of the fungus.

In the several years of doing this, I'd say thrips, aphids and spidermites are annual and can really mess up a plan! The others you mention are hit or miss. The real problem with thrips is the are a TSVW vector and with spidermites, once established, they will win, it is simply a question of delaying the inevitable as long as possible.

What is your source for the beneficials? I've used ladybugs every year and they take care of the aphids, especially if I put out the sugary feed that keeps them all around for a few day and some stay longer. I've wanted to try lacewings for a while, but, haven't.

Soil - that's a major concern and clay is the rule in N. Tx, though, where you are, some have red sands. I love the elements you are adding. I would try to incorporate them well and deep and as soon as you can. Depending on how much clay you are dealing with, I found a product called expanded shale to be helpful in breaking down clay, especially over time. http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/n...Expdshale.html
Our clay is heavy, sticky and a real pain in the butt to work with. When I had foundation repair that involved digging under the foundation, I talked the guys into digging one of my beds down 3 feet and then I filled it completely with a terrific soil product from Alpine soils. Within 2 years, the clay worked its way to the top and still is a sticky mess present throughout this bed. My point point is, it is hard to amend away or even dig out all of this clay. So, work in more amendments that you think and plan to continue doing so for several seasons. I actually think some clay is a good thing because it holds water well and in our hot summers.

Good luck this season!

Dewayne Mater
Hey Dwayne!

Thanks for the tip on the expanded shale. I was planning a trip to the local nursery and I will see if they have any, and buy some if they do. I have that sticky clay soil that was mentioned where they recommend 3 inches of the shale, so I'll need quite a bit! My soil is soooo bad anything would help. I did find some greenish clay (possibly glauconite) but it was very deep down under they layer of red clay. Potassium is the only nutrient that registered on my soil test. I added some goodies to the soil last year before planting but I don't think it made much of an impact which is why I'm going overkill this year. On the plus side there were lots of worms in there.

I was worried about the fungus last year when it popped up on the peat pots, I figured it came from the growing media (containing: Earthworm Castings, Farmstyle Compost, Perlite, Coarse Granite Sand, Coir Fiber). But even though the seed pots got really fuzzy I didn't have any trouble with damping-off whatsoever and the plants seem to be happy. This year with a 97% germination rate (82 out of 84 sprouted) and no damping-off, it's probably a harmless fungus/mold. But the covers have come off today so the tops will dry out a little, most of the seedlings are beginning to press against the plastic covers so I can't wait any longer.

Oh yeah! The thrips and the mites are what really did me in. Disease and pestilence everywhere. So this year it's war.

I've bought the Chinese mantid ootheca from Marshall Grain, but purchased additional Carolina Mantis Ootheca from Ebay. I will be releasing the latter after Easter, and hope to find a home for the chinese mantids elsewhere (maybe a kindergarden class that will raise them in a tank and not dump them into the wild). I'm hoping the mantids will take care of the larger insects that were problematic- cutworms, beetles, hornworms, etc...

I might buy predatory mites, nematodes and lacewings from Orcon or Arbico (I'm not married to either and am open to recommendations) however, I'm on the hunt for a store that sells ladybugs in larvae form. Biobest doesn't seem to disclose their prices online but I think they might cater more to commercial agriculture clients rather than home gardeners. Lady bug larvae are hungrier, they don't fly away, and they're more likely to stick around once they reach adulthood since they're familiar with the turf. Lacewings are better about sticking around, so I figured I'd use them as well for backup. Another option is Botaniguard by bioworks (fungal biological warfare), but it's $70 a pint, then again the cost of the lacewings, nematoes and ladybug larva combined might be much more then that so I need to crunch some numbers.

Thanks again for all the advice and info, last year was the first time I got a taste of what to expect from the chunk of scrappy land I've got. I'm looking at the thrips as being the worst of them since they're the most omnipresent disease vector. Knowing they're just going to come back doesn't make things any easier. I'm thinking of using another kind of mite or the minute pirate bug in addition to everything else. It might be overkill, so I may see how the year goes with the lacewings and ladys patroling the territory.

Last edited by Vespertino; January 18, 2015 at 01:40 PM. Reason: forgot about BotaniGard
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Old April 20, 2015   #9
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Well, my plans for hatching Carolina mantids for the garden was an epic fail. I was duped on ebay and sold Narrow Wing (Tenodera angustipennis) mantis ootheca. Luckily I found a responsible home for those eggs, so those itty-bitty-teeny mantid babies won't suffer for the seller's mistake. Instead they will be pampered and cared for, just not by me. So if anyone is ever tempted to buy mantid eggs on Ebay - DON'T DO IT. Go to a reputable mantid breeder, and I recommend going to Mantidforums.net for more info on that. Peeps over there are great and helped me correctly ID the ootheca I had been sold.

Due to a crazy work schedule I planted the tomatoes out a couple weeks late. After some heavy soil ammendments and removing roses and yuccas to make more room, I've got about 50 'maters in the ground, with about 6 of them in root pots.

I have about 10 tomato plants left over, and currently debating whether to keep them as spares or give them away.

I had a two-weekend sprint of gardening to play catch up. 60-80 hour work weeks for the past few months really throws a wrench in gardening plants. Oy!
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Old April 20, 2015   #10
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I know how much work can get in the way of gardening...too bad we all can't make a living as super small scale farmers, right?

Best of luck with your 'maters!
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Old April 20, 2015   #11
Vespertino
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My friends keep telling me I should sell tomato plants for a living, I'm tempted, but I like my day job and it comes with medical benefits. Here's a quick pano of my garden. One of my co-workers called me the Bubba Gump of tomatoes.

Last edited by Vespertino; April 20, 2015 at 06:52 PM.
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Old April 20, 2015   #12
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I wish I had a flat back yard.

I have to go down a steep hill across a canyon through a forest and back up a hill just to get to a flat spot.

Worth
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Old April 20, 2015   #13
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You have a beautiful home and patio area, but I really did lol when I saw all your tomato labels! Wishing you all the best with your knee and your maters-

kath

Last edited by kath; April 21, 2015 at 05:18 PM.
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Old April 20, 2015   #14
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I really love the backyard landscape.. tomatoes, tomatoes, more tomatoes and mostly tomatoes!!

Beautiful house also..

Hope your knee continues to heal!! Good luck with your tomatoes.

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Old April 21, 2015   #15
Vespertino
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Thanks all! Unfortunately that picture is pretty much the entire back yard, I don't have a lot of space and other than my tomatoes and herbs there's no plants back there. I've managed to cram in 48 tomatoes this year, last year the max was 27? I'm packing them in a bit more tightly in 2015, but that's largely due to growing a larger number of dwarf varieties that don't take as much space, and I removed some rose/iris/yucca plants to make more room for tomatoes.

Here's the plant count so far:

Cherry/small pear (18)
Evan's Purple Pear - 3 (repeat)
Green Doctors - 1
Tschalma - 2
Black Cherry - 3
Pink Bumble Bee - 3
Sungold - 4 (repeat)
Rose Quartz Multiflora -2 (repeat, low yield last year due to disease)

Beefsteak (15)
Kentucky Beefsteak - 2
KBX -5 (repeat)
Caspian Pink - 3 (repeat)
Vorlon - 3 (repeat- very low yield in '14 due to disease)
JD's Special C-Tex - 2 (repeat, no fruit last year due to disease)

Dwarfs (15)
Summertime Green Dwarf - 3
Dwarf Arctic Rose - 3 (repeat)
Rosella Purple Dwarf - 3 (repeat, no fruit last year)
Kelly Green Dwarf - 2
Sweet Scarlet Dwarf - 3
One Mystery Dwarf that lost it's label

Peppers (4)
Tam Jalapeno
Aji Limon
Slovono Uno
Cserko

Other (3)
Striatta D' Italiana Zuchinni - 3 (repeat)

Hope to add:
Persian Cucumbers
Delikatesse Cucumbers (repeat)
Italian Fennel
Citrus Basil
Thai Basil

Last edited by Vespertino; April 21, 2015 at 12:32 PM.
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