Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How to Correctly Plant Tomatoes to Get 5–8ft Plants

How do we plant a tomato, you might ask?  With a ridiculous amount of stuff in the hole, is the answer.  When someone ropes me into telling them and I start the long answer, I eventually see their eyes glaze over.  That’s the point where I say, “Then you throw in the kitchen sink and cover it all up.”  To date, no one has laughed at that joke. I think they’re just either too overwhelmed by the real stuff we put in there, or they actually believe we’re throwing in a sink.

This is how we plant a tomato.  First off, let’s take a look at our sexy specimen here on the left.

We started this beauty in our heated greenhouse in late January. We potted it up to a gallon container about 3 or 4 weeks ago.  It will go into one of our freshly prepared beds, shown to the right.

The tomatoes are placed three feet apart. I’ve learned over the years that spacing them closer than that means less fruit.  We dig a nice deep hole to accommodate all the additions – the exact depth is dependent upon how tall the seedling is that you start with.  We want the plant to be almost completely submerged into the soil, and the fish head and amendments put into the hole need to be covered with a bit of soil, so we plan accordingly for the depth.  This particular hole ends up being almost two feet deep, and is ready for our first goody, these impressive fish heads.

We get them from the restaurant we grow for, Manresa.  You might be able to get them free from a good butcher or fishmonger.  I even know of someone who called a few restaurants in their area and was quickly rewarded with a nice bounty of juicy fish heads.  Fish tails, spines, guts, as well as shrimp, crab, or lobster shells are all good as well.  Some of you may worry about critters digging these up later.  We’ve never had a problem with animals digging up my tomatoes, and we’ve got three dogs, two cats, and what seem like an endless supply of raccoons living on the property.  I stress the point that this is the first thing that goes into our very deep planting hole.  That may help keep it from getting dug up.  You can see the six inch long fish head staring up at us from the bottom of the hole here.

If you’re reticent to put the fish head in the hole, or simply can’t get your mitts on any, we recommend using fish meal as a substitute. Two handfuls is about right. We get ours from Gardner & Bloome.

The next thing that goes into the hole are a couple of aspirin tablets and some crushed chicken egg shells. The aspirin is to help jump start the plant’s immune system.  You can read more about that science here.  We’ll put three or four crushed egg shells into the hole as well. You can see our three colors of eggs from our fancy chickens – yes, those are green eggs in there. The eggs supply a nice calcium boost, which will help prevent blossom end rot, that nasty brown patch on the bottom of tomatoes that lack calcium (the fish head bones and bone meal also help with that).

Bone meal is the next to go into the hole.  We put in a heaping handful of bone meal.  This is a nice organic phosphorus source, which is essential for blossom production.  More blossoms, more fruit.  Bone meal also increases calcium availability for the tomato. This is also a Gardner & Bloome product.

We then put in two handfuls of Gardner & Bloome’s Tomato, Vegetable and Herb Fertilizer. It’s an all-purpose  organic fertilizer that contains the essential macronutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassiun. Their mix is a very nice 4-6-3 of those nutrients.

We also recommend putting a handful of pure worm castings in the bottom of the hole.  We amend our beds with worm castings and we also spray a worm casting tea on the plants while they grow.  Really great stuff.  Worm castings are available for sale at our tomato plant sale.

The hole is complete (sans kitchen sink) and we’re now ready to pop in the tomato plant.  We trim off the lower leaves, be there one, two, three or more, leaving only the top-most leaves.

We put an inch or two of soil on top of the amendments in the hole.  The plant is eased out of the pot, and before it’s placed in the hole, I sprinkle a third of a cup or more on the rootball with a product called Xtreme Gardening’s Mykos, which is a mycorrhizal fungi that attaches to the roots, growing as the root ball grows.  It protects the plant from some diseases, such as verticillium and fusarium wilts.  If there are any “silver bullets” here, it is this healthy addition of mycorrhizal fungi.

Once the tomato is in the hole, we double check the depth by judging how far out of the ground the plant will be sticking.

If it’s going to be too far down, we’ll remove the plant and add some more soil.  If it looks like it’ll be up above the soil more than we want, that’s too bad because we ain’t gonna be fishing them fish parts and all that other stuff up out of that hole and digging it deeper.  No siree.  So we try our best to gauge the depth of the hole according to the height of the plant we’re putting in.

We then back fill GENTLY – only one quasi-firm push settles the soil around the plant.

Please do not man-handle the soil around the plant by stomping on it or pressing too hard.  That’s not necessary and it expels all the air out of the soil.  Believe it or not, the roots need oxygen down there just as much as they need nutrients and water.

A temporary well is then made around the plant base to catch the first watering. The first watering is the most critical.  We do it multiple times.  Water it in once, twice, three times at least.  Wait a few minutes to allow the water to drain through.  If you have a deep hole, likely way more than 12 inches deep, you will be amazed at how much water it will take to wet the root ball a foot or more under the ground.  So don’t be stingy with the water the first day. Thereafter, you can back off the watering.  Here’s our finished bed.  You can see the tomatoes are spaced pretty far apart:

Drip irrigation will be repositioned on the bed, and staking and mulching has yet to be done.  In the meantime, please feel free to email us or leave a comment below with any questions.

If you’re still not getting the results you want, then consider taking this Tomato Masters class.

You can find more information all about tomatoes on the World Tomato Society website.

Good luck, folks!

[via RealFarmacy, Grow Better Veggies]

Monday, November 2, 2015

Top 7 Health Benefits of Organic Pumpkin Plus Recipes!

Halloween is fast approaching. What do we usually see during this season? Pumpkins! But don’t be fooled thinking they’re just for decor! – they’re actually one of the most nutritious fruits out there that you should eat regularly. Just don’t forget to choose organic and your family’s health will be taken cared well.

Check out these Top 7 health benefits of Organic Pumpkin below, plus the two healthy and yummy pumpkin recipes!

1. Aids weight loss – Pumpkins are rich in fiber, which slows down digestion. A cup of canned pumpkin contains seven grams of fiber and 20 calories, meaning it keeps you feeling fuller longer on fewer calories. Eating food rich in fiber helps people to eat less, and thereby shed pounds.

2. Keep eyesight sharp – Pumpkin’s brilliant orange color comes from its ample supply of beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. It is known that Vitamin A is essential for the eye and helps the retina absorb and process light. One cup of pumpkin contains over 200% of most people’s recommended daily intake of vitamin A, making it the best option for optical health. Additionally, pumpkin also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that helps prevent cataracts and may even slow the development of macular degeneration.

3. Reduce cancer risk – Research shows that people who eat a beta-carotene-rich diet may have a lower risk of some types of cancer, including prostate and lung cancer. Vitamin A and C are both antioxidants and they act as shields for your cells against cancer-causing free radicals.

4. Protect the skin – Beta-carotene from pumpkins can also help protect us from the sun’s wrinkle-causing UV rays, therefore helping you look younger. The pulp also makes a great all-natural face mask that exfoliates and soothes. Read my review of a great product that uses pumpkin as the main ingredient.

5. It Helps after a hard workout – Bananas are known for being the nature’s energy bar but cooked pumpkins have more of the refueling nutrient potassium, with 564 milligrams to a banana’s 422. Potassium is an essential mineral we need to keep our hearts and muscles working at their optimal levels. Try adding pumpkin to your post-workout snack or meal for the extra potassium boost.

6. Pumpkin Seeds can help your heart – Pumpkin seeds are rich in healthy fats, antioxidants and fibers. These may provide benefits for heart and liver health, particularly when mixed with flax seeds.

7. Seeds can boost your mood – Pumpkin seeds are also rich in amino acid tryptophan. The amino acid is important in production of serotonin, one of the major players when it comes to restoring our mood. A handful of roasted pumpkin seeds may help your outlook stay bright.

You can never go wrong consuming this healthy vegetable! And as promised, here are the easy healthy and yummy Pumpkin Recipes that you can try anytime soon! Enjoy!

A. Curried Pumpkin with Raisins

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 ½ tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2 lbs Organic pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 ½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • ¾ cup raisins
  • ¾ cup frozen baby peas
  • Fresh Cilantro, for garnish
  1. Heat butter in a large pan over medium-high heat, add onion, and cool until golden-brown, wait for about five minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more.
  2. Mix in curry powder, salt and pepper. Add pumpkin and cook for five minutes, stir frequently.
  3. Pour in broth and raisins, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Add peas after 15 minutes. Replace cover and continue to cook until pumpkin is tender, wait for 5-10 minutes more. Garnish with cilantro.

B. Pumpkin Caipirinha

  • ½ lime, cut into 4 pieces
  • ½ ounce agave nectar
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 11/2 ounces cachaca
  • 11/2 ounces Organic pumpkin puree
  • Ice
For garnish:
  • Nutmeg
  • Lime wheel
  1. Cachaca is a popular distilled spirit from Brazil that is made from sugarcane. If you don’t have cachaca, substitute with white rum instead. Both spirits are made from sugarcane.
  2. Mix-up the lime, agave nectar, and fresh ginger in the bottom of a cocktail shakerAdd cachaca/white rum, pumpkin puree, and ice. Shake until thoroughly mixed and chilled. Strain into a glass filled with ice, and garnish with grated nutmeg and a lime wheel.
Enjoy these Pumpkin recipes while Pumpkins are still abundant! And don’t forget to share!

Cranberries Have Role in Heart Health, Should We Give Thanks?

Several studies, including new research presented at the Cranberry Health Research Conference, suggest cranberries may play an important part in heart health. As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday and the height of cranberry season, it’s time to explore how these red berries may benefit heart health.

Cranberries are a rich source of polyphenols, including phenolic acids (e.g., benzoic, ellagic acids) and flavonoids (e.g., anthocyanins, flavonols), which have been found to have potent antioxidant properties. In fact, published research has shown “how polyphenol compounds help improve endothelial function, which is a critical factor in preventing atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries]” and “to inhibit the abnormal platelet aggregation that cause most sudden heart attacks and strokes, while fighting inflammation and supporting healthy blood lipids.”

The current study follows several previous efforts to determine whether cranberries should be considered heart-healthy and worthy of attention beyond the role they have played for years. That role has focused on their ability to help prevent urinary tract infections, particularly in women who are susceptible to this common condition.

Studies of cranberries and heart health
Before we get to the latest research, let’s look briefly at what preceded it, beginning with a Tufts University study published in 2007. The authors of that review noted there was evidence to suggest that the polyphenols found in cranberries may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by hindering the accumulation of platelets and reducing blood pressure.

In a 2011 study, a team at Boston University School of Medicine examined the effects of cranberry juice on vascular function in individuals who had coronary artery disease. Two studies were conducted: an acute, no-placebo pilot that involved 15 patients, and a chronic, placebo-controlled crossover study that enrolled 44 patients.

In the chronic crossover study, the individuals were randomly assigned to drink 16 ounces daily of cranberry juice or placebo for four weeks. The participants in the acute study consumed 16 ounces of cranberry juice one time only.

Here’s what the investigators found:
  • Mean carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (an important measure of stiffness of the aorta) decreased after cranberry juice and increased after placebo 
  • Several other important cardio measures, including blood pressure, brachial artery flow-mediated dilation, digital pulse amplitude tonometry, and carotid-radial pulse wave velocity, did not change
  • In the pilot study, there was an improvement in brachial artery flow-mediated dilation and digital pulse amplitude tonometry four hours after the participants consumed a single 16-ounce portion of the juice
In a subsequent (2013) double-blind, randomized study, the authors set out to see whether daily consumption of double-strength cranberry juice over four months would have a beneficial impact on vascular function and endothelial cells (which line the walls of the arteries). A total of 69 men and women who had peripheral endothelial dysfunction and cardiovascular risk factors participated in the study and completed it.

The authors found that drinking the cranberry juice may protect against atherosclerosis by reducing the number of endothelial cells that make a compound called osteocalcin, which has been linked to hardening of the arteries.

Latest study of cranberries and heart health
In this latest study, the authors enrolled 10 healthy males (age 18-40) and evaluated the immediate impact on vascular health after they consumed 16 ounces of cranberry juice at various concentrations, ranging from 0 to 117 percent, including 25 percent, which is the concentration commonly found in commercial cranberry juice cocktail.

The investigators found that drinking cranberry juice improved (increased) flow-mediated vasodilation, which is a measure of blood flow and vascular health, ranging from 1 to 2.5 percent, depending on the concentration and when the participants were tested. At the highest concentration, there was a 10 mmHg decline in systolic blood pressure as well.

According to the study’s lead investigator, Dr. Ana Rodriguez-Mateos, of University Duesseldorf, Germany, “Significant improvements in vascular function from drinking two cups of cranberry juice suggest an important role for cranberries in a heart-healthy diet.”

The findings of these studies provide some evidence that cranberries may have a role in heart health. Although it may be too early to stock up on cranberry juice (which can contain lots of sugar depending on what you buy), it may be comforting to know that these little red berries may have more potential than helping ward off urinary tract infections. You may want to raise a glass of cranberry juice more often in the future…for heart health.