Competitive gardening

While I’d heard of this or that giant vegetable winning awards at fairs I’d never really paid a whole lot of attention. But while I wasn’t watching giant vegetable growing has become a serious competitive sport. I expect much of that has to do with the internet allowing far flung devotes to connect.

If you are looking to connect with other giant vegetable growers you might start with Giant vegetables at the Garden Web Forum

Growing giant vegetables is much like growing giant flowers.
1) Start with a good variety, heirloom is best.
2) Remove all other fruits or flowers so all the plants energy into the one you want to grow supersized.
3) Fertilize regularly
4) Water regularly
5) And a bit of luck is need.

Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers Organization
Seed man offers giant vegetable seeds
Giant Vegetables ( directions for growing from Redwood Barn Nursery )

Time to plant the tomato seeds

Here in Houston we have two tomato growing times. One starts in mid Feb. and ends when the lows for the day are higher than 70’F, one starts mid Aug. and goes until the nights regularly get into the 50’s.

So I went looking for tomato plants last week but none were to be found. Local mom and pop nurseries have tomato plants the big box stores don’t get it and had none. I settled for some ‘Better Boy’ seeds. They have sprouted and I’m proud to say I’ve remembered to water them daily.

I was talking to Nancy at ‘My Garden Spot’ and she told me she had been saving the seeds from the heirloom tomatoes that you find in the supermarket. I don’t know why that thought never crossed my mind, but it hadn’t. I picked up some heirloom tomatoes and will set aside some seeds this week.

To use the seeds from the heirloom tomatoes, save a few on a paper towel and let them dry out for about a week. Then plant as usual.  I tried this last fall and the plants were much sturdier and better producing than the plants I had purchased at the store.

Later I learned on Twitter from Plan Garden that tomato seeds should be fermented first. Purchase your heirloom tomatoes and let them turn to mush on your counter before removing the seeds. This is supposed to help with germination, and is reported to kill disease that may be present in the tomatoes and strengthen the seeds.

I’m told they will not germinate otherwise, but mine did fine with out fermenting last fall. So try it either way or both ways. I did some poking around and most of the old school gardeners recommend fermenting your tomatoes before removing seeds.

You’ll want to put your fall tomato plants in pots or some sheltered section of the garden. There are always a few unexpected cool days early on.

I also only filled the pots half to three quarters full with dirt. Tomatoes are a vine and benefit from having the bottom covered with dirt as they grow.

This’ll be my first fall crop down here. I’m pleased with the summer crop progress over earlier crops so I have great hopes for these guys.

Nancy also tells me there tend to be less bugs and other problems with her fall crops.

So start your fall tomatoes!


Tomatoes have turned out to be one of my biggest challenges in Houston. In New England you bought your tomato plants and stuffed them in the ground on Memorial Day. You might toss down a handful of fertilizer at that time. Then in August you had 8′ tall plants with a bushel full of tomatoes each.

It doesn’t work that way down here. Which is bad. It is so hot down here all the market tomatoes have been refrigerated somewhere along the way and once you refrigerate a tomato you may as well throw it out. It has no flavor after that.

You have two growing seasons for tomatoes in Houston. The first batch goes in Mid March and is done once night time lows stay above 70’F usually late June or early July. The second batch goes in mid August and goes until nights stay down under 50’F. Tomatoes are picky about putting out fruit. You need low temperatures above 50’F and below 70’F for tomatoes to make tomatoes.

More importantly tomatoes do not like clay soil. Not even a little. They will grow but not well and seem to settle in to the spot where you don’t pull them out because they look like there is hope but they never do better than that. You will need to put them in a raised bed or in large pots.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders which is also a challenge in Houston. They need a steady supply of fertilizer. Too much and you will have gorgeous plants with no tomatoes, too little and you’ll have small scraggly looking plants with no tomatoes.

My best success so far has been to pot up tomato plants in large pots. I purchase a bag of fertilized potting soil for each plant and toss in a handful ( 1/4 cup ) of time released fertilizer. Then as your tomato plants grow use a liquid fertilizer that you can spray on the leaves as well as into the soil. When you plant your tomato bury it deep. Tomatoes are vines and will easily root all along the stem that is below the soil line.

Tomatoes need full sun, even here. If you do not give them full sun they will not be able to reach full growth in the short growing seasons we have.

Watering should be steady. Too much water and your tomatoes will split.

Tomatoes are the number one method to get nematodes in your garden. Check the roots when planting them and do not plant any with swollen roots or bumps on their roots. Nematodes are permanent.

Tomatoes are self pollinating. The flowers close and each flower pollinates itself. Feel free to give your plants a little shake to help if it hasn’t been windy.

The Master Gardener’s Handbook recommends the following varieties: Bingo, Carnival, Heatwave, Celebrity, Merced, Sunmaster, and Cherry tomatoes Small Fry and Red Cherry.

I was happy with the Big Boys I planted this summer.

Problems you might have:
Fusarium wilt: The plant is slow growing and wilts. Leaves yellow then brown and there is no fruit. The only way to know for sure is to kill the plant and do an autopsy. If you slice up the stem you will see brown streaks. There is nothing you can do. Future plants planted in the same area will also be infected Try pots or a raised bed somewhere else.

Lack of nitrogen: Bottom leaves are yellow with green veins, grow is slow. New leaves are tiny. Fertilize.

Lack of potassium: Slow growth and small brown spots appear on the leaves. Leaf edges turn yellow and leaves curl down. Fertilize.

Leaf miner: White squiggles appear on the tomato leaves. Remove all leaves that are marked. Apply an appropriate pesticide.

White flies: Wiggle plant and lots of them will fly off. Try a yellow sticky trap out in the garden. There’s not much that works on these guys.

Horn worm: Man these guys are big and ugly! They are exactly the same color as your green tomato. The tomatoes look like some large critter has taken a bite out of them. I pull them off and kill them.

No tomatoes: Too much fertilizer, too little sun, temperatures at night below 50’F or above 70’F.

Tomatoes have cracks in skin: caused by uneven watering.

Blossom end rot: The tomato rots on the bottom, usually from too much water or too much fertilizer or from a lack of calcium in the soil. Add calcium chloride 4 tablespoons per gallon of water.

Brown spots on leaves after a rain: Ozone damage, when the rain comes from the southeast part of the city it may bring ozone with it. The ozone damages tomatoes and peanut plants. While it looks bad your tomatoes should be fine.

More information:
Houston Vegetable Garden Blog
Cover your tomatoes for healthier, prettier produce and longer growing seasons

Perhaps you are thinking of an indoor farm now that food is so high?

Between rising prices and tomato scares this year, and spinach scares last year who isn’t thinking of an indoor garden?

Farm Fountain is a system for growing edible and ornamental fish and plants in a constructed, indoor ecosystem. Based on the concept of aquaponics, this hanging garden fountain uses a simple pond pump, along with gravity to flow the nutrients from fish waste through the plant roots. The plants and bacteria in the system serve to cleanse and purify the water for the fish.

This project is an experiment in local, sustainable agriculture and recycling. It utilizes 2-liter plastic soda bottles as planters and continuously recycles the water in the system to create a symbiotic relationship between edible plants, fish and humans. The work creates an indoor healthy environment that also provides oxygen and light to the humans working and moving through the space. The sound of water trickling through the plant containers creates a peaceful, relaxing waterfall. The Koi and Tilapia fish that are part of this project also provide a focus for relaxed viewing. [ to learn more about how to create your own Farm Fountain and view the movie and more photos see Farm Fountain]

Visit the site to see more photos, read how to build your own Farm Fountain and chat in the forums.

credit to: Inhabitat who always has really cool stories like this one.

Start a Chia pet kitchen salad garden

So you have this Chia pet that’s been in the back of your hall closet forever. Did you know that the Chia seeds are very high in omega-3 fatty acids? Perhaps they would be better added to your salad.

( Just kidding, the seeds may be treated with something, buy some food grade ones to eat. )

Several U.S. researchers maintain the seeds used in products such as Chia Pet are actually good for the human body, it was reported Sunday.

The research that determined the seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids comes as the omega-3 supplement market in the United States is reaching new heights, the Chicago Tribune reported. . . .

Chia seeds are derived from Salvia hispanica, a mint-related plant, and chia is regulated as a food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Researchers: Chia seeds are good for you

Better to find some Chia seeds and plant them yourself for a healthy addition to your salads and sandwiches.