Top-heavy tomatoes have a couple of blossoms that set fruit before this onslaught of heat, and they should set new blossoms again about two weeks after air temperatures return to lower than 85 degrees.
New Sungold plants - all three of them were growing together in the 4" container - planted during mild weather 2 weeks ago. I've left the blossoms on and planted all three plants together, disturbing the root ball as little as possible, in the hopes of whatever new fruits I can encourage during Fall. This is something I'd never do in early Spring when I want to foster strong deep root growth for spring-and-summer-long production. Now, I'm just hoping for as-soon-as-possible good-tasting fruits before Winter's chill sets in and flavor can't develop well.
Chard putting up tender new growth after heat spell a month ago. I'll also start seeds for new seedlings to plant in a month, and compare their production over the Winter and into next Spring and Summer.
Starting seeds in my Speedling® tray (available at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, www.groworganic.com). Drip trays also available. Mine have lasted for more than 30 years!
Starting seeds in my "nursery" raised bed enables deeper root systems for transplanting tougher seedlings.
Despite too much sun bleaching foliage yellow, hoya puts up double flowers.
Lush bronzy-green foliage of begonia from cuttings last Spring.
Blooms on begonia cuttings rooted earlier this Spring.
Summer’s heat has returned with a vengeance, with 100+ temperatures forecast for the entire week. It got to 103 yesterday, and this morning started even warmer than yesterday. Be sure to water your garden deeply so its root systems have their liquid to help them survive! Even before this onslaught, the garden has definitely been telling me to move on. I picked the last cucumbers, beans, squash and ate the last tomato that I’d salvaged from the last Celebrity before replanting 4 new ones during that mild spell a couple of weeks ago. I’m now going to sow my cool-season varieties.
Tomatoes Into Cool Weather? The remaining tomato plants, though top-heavy with green foliage hanging over their double-story cage tops, were displaying new blossoms before this latest heat hit a couple of days ago. We’ll see whether we get any fruit set from them, or if this severe heat will cancel out the process for another two weeks after temperatures resume to below 85. With the new Celebrities, another new Sungold, new Better Boy and new Super Sweet, and a double handful of Dr. Earth fertilizer to each plant followed by deep watering, I’m committed to nurturing these tomatoes into at least a fall crop of fruits. Depending on how they do and how chilly it gets by then, I’ll determine then whether to overwinter them or remove the plants in favor of cool-season lovers. Years ago, when I first began to garden, I’d trimmed back the tomato plants down to their new shoots at the bottom of the plant in the hopes of revitalized plants and many new fruits. However, the resulting fruits came so late in January that they didn’t taste any better than the storebought ones, so I decided not to bother with that process again. Which is why, this time around, I’m not trimming the plants back but instead depending on the literally over-the-top foliage for any fruits, since the plants won’t have to spend any time and energy regrowing enough foliage to put out blossoms and set fruit that’ll ripen so late into the cold weather. We’ll see what happens. That’s one of the fun things about gardening – you get to try something new and see whether the magic works or what other variations to play with the next time around. My “next time” has been on a 60-year run, and I’m still finding new things to try – or try again!
Cucumbers and Squash and Beans The cucumber and squash vines were too exhausted to try to keep them going, so I pulled them. The bean vines were still healthy, also up and over their double-high trellises, but I’d really rather shift that space to fall vegetable production rather than hoping for a few more beans.
Chard and Kales The chard and kales that survived the heat earlier in the summer are putting up tender new leaves, so our salads and stir-fries and quiches will repopulate our menus. I’ll sow more seeds of them all as replacements or additional transplants. Depending on how productive the old plants are by the time the weather is consistently cool around Thanksgiving, I’ll either replace them with the new plantlets or just plant the newbies elsewhere. If I do leave the old plants, it’ll be interesting to see just how far into the spring or summer they’ll produce and how their production compares with the new plants – or at what point they bolt and go to seed.
Starting Seeds Purchasing seed packs of different varieties is an adventure in taste, texture, and growing traits. The $2 or $3 you’ll spend for each package will give you so very many chances to sow the seeds several times throughout each season, instead of spending the same amount for one six-pack of transplants that may or may not adapt to your garden and produce well. I do both at the beginning of the season to cover all my bases. I transplant six-packs of lettuce, spinach, broccoli, baby bok choy and tatsoi as soon as I find them in local nurseries. This guarantees me the earliest harvests possible until my own seedlings are ready to transplant. I start my seeds in both Speedling® trays and in my “nursery” raised bed in the garden. Both are located where I can check them frequently for watering and monitoring the development of the tiny plantlets. I start the more fragile seedlings like lettuce and spinach and chard in the trays so they’ll develop their more tender fibrous root systems before transplanting. I start the tougher plants like kales and broccoli in the bed so their few sturdy roots can grow deeper before transplanting since they’ll re-establish more easily than the more tender lettuce and spinach.
Preparing Growing Beds Here are my basic steps and amendments that I repeat between seasons:
Remove plant matter larger than an inch or two, and add to the compost pile unless diseased.
Water the bed so moisture reaches down to about 6-9 inches. This loosens the soil particles – especially in heavy clay soil – to make digging much easier.
Turn the soil to about that 6-9-inch depth. Using a spading fork instead of a shovel enables lifting soil, breaking clods and mixing in amendments more effectively with less labor.
Spread 2-inch layers each of manure and compost (and coffee grounds if available).
Turn amendments into soil also down to that 6-9-inch depth. Since you’ve already turned just the soil, this process of incorporating the amendments will be easier and more effective than if you try to do it all at once.
Water again so soil and amendment particles are moistened together.
Let the bed sit for about 2 weeks. The combination of moistened soil, amendments and late-summer warmth will invigorate the microorganisms to heat the mixture, and then cool it down. Once you can stick your hand into the mixture and feel only slightly warm, it’s ready for transplants and seeds.
New Celebrity plants replace ones that were done producing and had dried to a crisp. I've left the new blossoms to set fruit. This is opposite to what I recommend for Spring-planted tomatoes, when I urge removing the blossoms in favor of developing extensive root systems. Now, because I know we're up against the cool-weather timeclock, I'm not so concerned about the long-term health of the plant. Instead, I want tomatoes to set as soon as possible so they'll ripen while weather is still warm. I did incorporate a handful of fertilizer into the soil before planting the new plant. Our current mid-70s to mid-80s air temperatures are perfect transplanting weather.
Sungold came back to life with less-than-90-degree temperatures - fruit at the top and blossoms at the bottom begin the "new" season of more blossoms and fruits that should last through the winter or any frost we might get. Even Sungold fruit tastes good during winter, unlike many other varieties that aren't any better than storebought.
Big Rainbow sprouting new growth from the bottom and overhanging the top. Definitely a keeper, especially with new blossoms emerging in the top foliage. Handful of fertilizer watered in will keep it growing happily. Crossbar seen at center right of photo connects all 10 plant cages and poles in that row so they're a single unit to resist Fall's Santa Ana winds especially after plants have been watered deeply.
Pole beans going crazy. Top left are combination of Blue Lake Stringless, Kentucky Wonder and Emerite. Purple Pole are great for beginning cooks since the color turns to green when the beans are done! Top right are Rattlesnake. Bottom left are Spanish Musica (snapped in half since they're about 9 inches long. Bottom right are French Gold. All are yummy.
Chard recouperates from the heat after deep watering with a flush of new inner growth. Let sunburned foliage die back completely so its energy is reabsorbed by the plant before removing the dead remains and adding them to the compost pile.
More vibrant black-light-purple artichoke blossoms. We'll see later whether they set seed.
My wishfulness that I could stretch out harvesting the few remaining green tomatoes on my Celebrity and other plants until new blossoms’ fruits would ripen hasn’t “borne fruit,” so to speak. With the extended intense heat, all four of the Celebrities, one of the Cherokee Purples, and the Stupice dried up completely – literally crispy – so required pulling up. But blossoms have appeared on the other plants, so we’ll get more fruit in another month and a half on the old Sungold, and in two months on the other larger-fruited varieties. Hopefully. I’ll have to depend on farmers’ market tomatoes until then. Not a bad thing, but certainly further to travel and plan ahead than my own backyard.
You may want to consider whether to do the same, or move on to cooler-season crops.
Should I replant with new tomato plants? Only if you answer “yes” to all of these questions:
Are you still yearning for more fresh tomatoes?
Will your garden location still have more than 8 hours of direct sun in October and November and even into January and February?
Do you have enough garden space for both more tomatoes and planting cool-season crops later this month and next? The tomatoes may bear through the end of the year or even further, so will you be disappointed then that you couldn’t plant more cool-season crops because you couldn’t bear to pull out those beautiful bearing tomatoes?
What varieties should I plant? Of the few varieties available at your local nurseries (make sure they’re new healthy plants), choose varieties that have maturity dates listed as short as possible. The ones I chose are Sungold (57 days), Supersweet 100 (65 days), Celebrity (67 days), and Better Boy (70 days). All of these new plants already have a couple of blossoms, which I’ll leave on the plants since I’m more interested in fruit as soon as possible. This is different from planting tomatoes in the Spring when I remove blossoms until plants are two feet tall and have established excellent root systems that’ll support great growth through the summer. If you want to extend your harvest from these new plants as long as possible – perhaps even into January if your garden doesn’t get any frost – then be sure to choose at least one cherry-type variety since the small fruits ripen more quickly after setting (perhaps only a month) as opposed to larger-fruited varieties which take increasingly longer the larger they are (perhaps two months in hot weather, and even longer during cool weather).
Keep the old tired plants? YES - IFthere’s more green healthy foliage than dead bottom foliage, especially if you can see many emerging blossoms in the greenery over the next couple of weeks. Despite the promised mid-90s daytime temperatures over the last two weeks, my garden has gotten up to only the mid-80s, and I can see lots of immature blossom stalks emerging. So I know good things are to come, especially since the forecast is for continuing mid-80s temperatures for at least the next week! Do give each plant a handful of fertilizer and water it in well now. And another handful in a month, watered in well, to support the new growth and emerging blossoms and maturing fruit once it sets.
NO - IF the plants really look mostly worn out and there isn’t much healthy green topgrowth. Best to pull the plants, incorporate some fertilizer, manure and mulch, and sow or plant something else that’ll thrive in the coming cool weather.
What about the vines hanging over their trellises? My remaining plants have more than overreached their 8-foot trellises, with the vines now hanging almost halfway back down the outside of the trellises. Since I had stacked two 4-foot trellises on top of each other in two-foot-deep raised beds anchored by a post in one corner, this means that the tops of the trellises are way above where I can reach to harvest any fruit. So the vines draping all the way back down is a boon to my harvesting the fruits that will again be within my reach. If your vines aren’t as tall, I’d suggest still leaving them to develop however they’d like, since with the cooling weather the growth will slow down, and you want as many new fruits as possible before the plants shut down for the winter. Trimming vines will only lessen this potential yield. However, be sure to give each plant a handful of fertilizer and water it in well now. And another handful in a month, watered in well, to support the new growth and emerging blossoms and fruit once it sets.
Even So… The caveat with all this encouraging more tomatoes in your garden now is the reminder that with the cooler weather, the tomatoes won’t be nearly as yummy as they have been during all this heat. In some cases, you may decide that they’re not even as good as the storebought ones, and consequently a waste of your garden space since you could have used it for something that thrives and is delicious in the cool weather. Gardening is always one of uncertainty – what the weather will be, how the plants will grow, whether you’ll be satisfied with your choices, and pondering what you could have done instead. So, just remember to PLAY in the garden and consider everything as an experimental point of information for what to do the next time around!
Bottom leaves have finished their jobs in favor of younger top foliage, so they're dying back.
Sungold plant is still lush but with no new blossoms - most likely because it's been over 95 degrees for a couple of weeks. Blossoms should resume setting after the temperatures drop to below 90 for a couple of weeks.
Celebrity foliage dying at the end of its life since it's a "determinant" variety. Hopefully I can extend the harvest of the remaining ripe fruit before the plant gives up completely.
Cucumber blossoms and fruitset
Uneven watering causes fullness on stem end but unfilled section at blossom end. If lack of water continues for several days, the flesh at that end may turn bitter. Some varieties are more prone to this trait than others. Trimming off that end sometimes is sufficient to use the remaining fruit.
Yellow Gold pole beans are loaded.
Delicate flavoring of yellow crookneck squash tastes like the fruit has already been buttered. Yum!
Jujubes coloring up. Eaten now, they're sweet and crunchy like an apple. Waiting until they're fully brown and wrinkled, they're chewy and super-sweet like a date, hence their common name - Chinese Date.
Intensely purple artichoke blossoms attract bees.
It’s a good thing my husband and I love all the tomatoes we’ve been harvesting, with dinnerplates full every evening since June, and thankfully more keep coming! But there are “issues” that have occurred since the beginning of the season that I thought I’d review with you in case you may have observed and worried about them as well.
First, assurance that they’re annoying but not devastating, and usually a one-time occurrence that’s avoidable.
Catfacing Ugly patterning usually on the bottom of the fruit. Caused by incomplete pollination due to wet blossoms. Trim away only when severe enough to interfere with enjoying the flesh.
Blossom End Rot Dried-up end of the fruit where the blossom was. Caused by calcium deficiency due to drying up of cells at the furthest point of the plant being deprived of moisture, usually when weather turns suddenly hot and irrigation water isn’t supplied quickly enough. Just trim off the discolored area.
Nibbling Some critter took some bites, but the tomato flesh calloused over so no decay occurred. Just trim the calloused area.
Misshaping Flesh develops unevenly – sometimes entertainingly – due to incomplete pollination.
Sunburn When fruit sets without sufficient foliage cover, the fruit burns where the sun shines so intensely. In our climate, with its clear skies and bright sun and dry air, we need to encourage tomato plants to develop as much foliage as possible to protect the many fruit wherever they develop.
Dried bottom leaves The older bottom leaves dry up and shrivel when they’ve completed their function and the younger foliage higher up on the plant takes over.
No New Blossoms When air temperatures rise above about 90 degrees – certainly 95 degrees, as has been the case for a couple of weeks – blossoms stop setting. They’ll resume setting once the air temperatures have lowered to below 85 degrees for a couple of weeks. Potentially, this may mean a good month during mid-summer when we’ll have no new blossoms to set fruit. This is why it’s particularly advisable to encourage early-season growth to blossom and set fruit that’ll continue to ripen through this “fallow” no-blossom period.
Whole Plants Dying “Determinant” varieties like Celebrity and Ace grow a compact height, produce their fruit, and then die; nothing you do will extend their lives. “Indeterminant” varieties like Sungold and Cherokee Purple bear and keep growing until killed by frost or neglect.
LOTS OF BEANS AND CUCUMBERS Besides the plentitude of tomatoes, our beans and cucumbers are beginning to overload us with their delicious progeny.
YAY FOR GROWING VEGGIES! I do love checking the prices at the store and farmers market for the “gourmet” versions of whatever’s plentiful in my garden. There’s nothing quite like feeling so proud about serving something that would cost an amazing amount of money if I had to buy it – which I wouldn’t of course – to say nothing of having the quantity and quality of goodness that our garden produced, being able to enjoy it for weeks on end, and salvaging all the “imperfect” produce that would never be available commercially but that makes for our extremely healthy eating and enjoyment!