I thought you might like to know what I'm doing differently about the tomatoes this year, and how the new systems are working.
As you know, last year, though we had a fairly big yield, we also had a lot of issues with diseases, especially with the paste tomatoes. This meant that though we had plenty for fresh eating, we didn't have nearly enough to preserve for the winter. This year, I did several things differently to try and increase our harvest.
The first thing I did was to start most of the tomatoes from seed, which was about 60% successful. Starting them from seed allowed me to rule out outside inputs, since I didn't know if the seedlings came in with diseases or if they acquired them once they were here.
The second thing was to add many amendments to the soil. I added compost as usual, but to each hole I also added a dozen crushed eggshells from our own chickens, some bone meal, and some organic tomato fertilizer.
Third, I decided to try the Florida Weave system of trellising. This consists of pounding stakes in on either side of the raised bed and running twine in between them at intervals, weaving it front and back around the vines. I am very happy with the way this is working. Every time the tomatoes grow six inches or so, I add another line of twine. It's keeping the vines contained and neat. Ostensibly we can go all the way up to 8-9 feet this way. It is a little more trouble than just sticking a cage around them and letting them go, but really not much more. In the evenings when I'm doing my garden checks, I just add one more check - do I need to add another line? And if I do, it takes 15 minutes, some scissors, and some twine. No big deal.
Lastly, I decided to trim the bottoms of all my tomato plants of extra foliage. As one gardener I know said, "we're growing fruit, not leaves!" and that made a lot of sense to me. The plants need a certain amount of leaves for photosynthesis, but there are plenty, and trimming the bottom sections off allows more light and air to get to the lower-hanging fruit, which is good. It also allows you to keep leaves off the soil, even though most of the soil is covered with mulch. When tomato leaves touch the soil, there are infinitely more chances for the plants to catch soil-borne diseases. And I think it looks pretty, like ornaments on a tree.
The other advantage to seeing what's happening down below is if a leaf goes yellow for some unknown reason, it's easy to see, and I can snip it off immediately before whatever-problem-it-is spreads.
So far I am really pleased with the way the tomatoes are growing. We even had some Mexico Midgets nearly ready to eat yesterday, until the turkey ate them. Sigh.
Which brings me to my turkey update. I had made up my mind to build some sort of coop to house her because I couldn't bear to have her keep coming through my yard and eating stuff, and I wasn't ready to try and make her into dinner. As I was asking around my neighborhood for scrap wood and donations, my next-door neighbor solved the problem entirely. Her son has a farmer friend, and they came and caught the turkey last night. Now she has a new home.
I can't tell you what a relief it's been to not chase her out of the yard ten times this morning, and waking up early because I knew she was out there about 5 am eating up all my winter squashes and sweet potatoes. I'm home today, and I keep looking for her out there. Oh well, maybe I miss her a little, or maybe I'm just still on alert. Turkey PTSD. I took down the row covers so the peppers and basil can breathe again, and the chickens are pecking around their coop without that jittery look on their faces. I guess the turkey reign of terror is over.
In other news, we've picked our first peaches and already frozen a batch. I might make some jam today too. We also picked the first plums from our one-year-old tree.
The hops are starting to 'cone.'
And our home is full of transitions, with our son graduating from 8th grade and heading to High School next year, and our daughter finishing up 7th grade and looking forward to beginning at a new charter school for Performing Arts, next year. My last day of work at Wellspring was Wednesday, so I've got to start figuring out my next gig. Summer looms, with all its sunscreen and swimming and harvesting and fun!