DOWN HOME IN TENNESSEE
Near the barn lot we have a vegetable garden
with a few favorite varieties to share information about. Most of what I know about
these plants has been acquired through trial and error, after some reading of books,
magazines, and even newspaper articles about growing vegetables. I also have a bit
of a weakness when it comes to reading about some new vegetable that is bragged about in one
of the beautiful seed catalogs I receive each winter. It takes considerable effort,
on my part, to resist ordering many more seeds and different varieties than I can plant
and care for.
Start with the dirt. The garden spot back
behind the house is about equal distance from the house and the barn. This garden is in
an area that was very swampy for many years. When I first started working the soil,
it was hard to get the soil dry enough to work in the early Spring; then, in late Summer, the
soil became like hard clay when it dried out. After a few years of adding things to the
soil, it is much better about draining during our wet Springs and is more open and easy to
work and water the plants when it gets hot and dry.
We usually have two or three horses in the barn, providing us
with plenty of manure. A few miles down the road is a sawmill where I get wood shavings
for use as bedding in our stalls. During the daily cleaning of stalls, some of the
bedding is removed with the manure and goes into a sort of compost pile or heap near the
garden. Wood shavings I use are mostly poplar, oak, pine, ash, and sometimes a bit of
cedar. I try to avoid walnut shavings or walnut sawdust because of possible effects on
horses. To these manure and bedding heaps, I add kitchen scraps (peelings, etc, but no
meat products), sprinkle a little agricultural lime over the pile about once a week and then
may add a handful of alfalfa meal once a month. If the piles appear very dry, I may add
some water. Ideally, once a heap is formed, about three feet high by four or five feet
across, I leave it there for a year or longer before adding it to the garden soil. At
present, I have three large heaps of various ages, and will soon start a fourth. My
wife also likes this aged growing medium for her flowers.
Sometimes I add the aged manure mixture to the soil in the
Fall, after harvesting all the vegetables, before planting a winter cover crop of hairy vetch or
rye grass. Using a wheelbarrow to transport the manure to the garden, I try to spread it
about two inches deep over the garden, then use a tiller to work it into the the top six inches
of soil. I broadcast the vetch or rye grass seed, rake it lightly, then water it.
In the Spring, I will scatter some lime over the soil before working it and getting it ready
to plant. I do not add the aged manure until I am ready to plant. Then, I only
place it in the rows where I will be seeding or in the holes where plants will be transplanted
to the garden. Each year I change the directions of the rows where this year they run
in a north-south line. Next year they will be in a east-west line. I also try to
rotate plantings so that where tomatoes are this year, either beans, pepper, corn, or
cucumbers may grow next year. It doesn't always work out that way through. Right now
I have several tomato plants in the same area where I grew them last year. So far, they
are doing good.
Probably the most widely grown vegetable in back yards and gardens around the world, is
the fruit we call "tomato." There is a special feeling that comes from planting, nurturing,
and then eating home grown tomatoes. Much of the popularity of growing tomatoes must come
from the ease in growing them just about anywhere. No matter what type soil you have, it
isn't too hard to adjust it to where tomatoes will thrive it it. Some tomatoes can even
do well in pots and buckets. I am trying to grow a few plants in containers to see how
well they do in comparison to the same type plants in the garden. Results to follow.
This year I chose to take my tomato seeds to
some commercial greenhouse people, rather than take up a large part of a room in the house as
in past years. It cost a little bit more. As a matter of fact, these growers charge about
ninety percent of what it would have cost me to purchase the plants straight out. There was
not enough savings to justify me buying several different varieties of seed, taking them to
the greenhouse, going back to pick them up, and paying about as much as it would have cost me
to just simply purchase the growers plants. Next year I will only have one or two varieties
of seed started for me. I will buy the other plants I need.
After bringing the plants home, there were
a couple of weeks where the weather was terrible with rain and exceptionally cool nights. I
kept the plants in the carport during the day, bringing them in at night, then finally moved
them to the barn as they adjusted to the outdoors. When the garden became dry enough, I tilled
it again just before planting. I spaced my tomato rows four feet apart and spaced the plants
three feet apart in the rows. I feel this much space is needed for vigorous, indeterminate
plants, even when they are caged or staked. For measuring these two distances, I have tape
(the black kind that electricians use) wrapped around a hoe handle, marking three feet and
four feet. After stretching string the length of the row, I used post hole diggers and dug
holes about 10 to 12 inches deep. Most of the plants were very tall, or "leggy" and
need to buried up to the main leaves, with only 4 or 5 inches of the plant above ground. The
stem that is underground will develop feeder roots all along the stem. I used 5-gallon buckets
to carry the the old, rotting or composting medium of horse manure, sawdust, etc. to the garden.
Into each of the holes I placed about one tablespoon of agricultural lime and about two cups
of the compost. Next went the plant, with the bottom one to three leaves removed, a little
dirt, then a little over a pint of water, and finally more dirt. This was firmly pressed down
around the plant, getting rid of any possible air pockets. After planting, I came back the
next day and watered each plant well. None had wilted overnight.
I think most tomato plants need a little more
than a gallon of water per week. I keep a couple of rain gauges (one in the back yard and one
in the garden) and if we do not get one inch or more of rain in a week, I water the plants. I
do not water them thoroughly one day, wait seven days, then water again. You need to check the
soil for dampness. Dig down into it, feel the consistency in your hands. Water when you think
they need it, and water deep enough to get the entire root system wet. Then watch the plants
and you can learn when they are starting to get thirsty.
After approximately three weeks, I tilled the
soil around the tomatoes again, tilling only about 1 inch deep so as to cut up any grasses and
weeds, but not deep enough to bring up more weed seed. Then around the indeterminate plants
(those that grow, and grow, and grow) I used black and white newspaper and sawdust to mulch
around each plant. I place the mulch up to within approximately three inches of the plant. Then
I placed my wire cages over the plants, securing each cage with at least one stake driven into
the ground as an anchor against wind or whatever. Not having enough cages, I used stakes for
some of the plants, driving them about a foot or so into the soil, about 6 or eight inches
from the plants. (I think I will stake earlier next year, before the root system expands.)
Now, all you have to do is sit back and let mother nature take care of the rest (don't I wish).
The plants that I started in fairly large
containers are much too work intensive for me. They require almost daily attention because
of faster drainage (less soil for support, etc). Some Micro Tom plants are doing very well.
These tiny plants are only six or seven inches high and bear heavily for such tiny plants.
The fruits are a little smaller than the Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes and they have a little
stronger, tart tomato taste. Micro Tom qualifies as a novelty item to grow (only if you have
some extra time and resources to spare and not concerned about much of a return on your
investment). The hybrid, determinate tomatoes I placed in containers are producing less than
half of what the same plants are doing in the garden. That takes care of next years plans for
tomatoes in containers!
There are still a few indeterminate plants
producing. We have had a couple of dry spells that required me to water the plants several
times. Twice during the growing season, I applied a water soluble tomato fertilize. That,
along with the composted horse manure and sawdust, and about one tablespoon of Epsom salts per
plant, was all I fed the plants.
I can't say that there is one best way to control
weeds in the garden. You should try different methods, then use what works best for you, your
plants, your soil, climate, etc. For example, this year I tried the following methods around
Of the three methods, the last was more labor intensive, but produced the best plants and
fruits. The first two methods would probably have done better with something like drip
irrigation, or soaker hose. I will do some more experimenting next year, maybe add black
plastic as a mulch to a test area.
- Newspaper spread on the ground, about three sheets thick, up to within three inches of the
plant (provides room for watering and feeding the plants).
- Aged sawdust spread about three to four inches deep, up to within three inches of the plant.
- No cover, just till the ground about one-inch deep, use the hoe, and pull weeds.
Pest control was pretty much of a success this
year. I used liquid sevin at about half the recommended application rate and added some
liquid dish detergent to the sprayer. I know this is not organic gardening, but I have not
made it to the point where I know how to control the pests without some commercial control.
Three applications were made this year and seemed to do well except for stink-bugs. I will
have to look at controlling them better next year.
The tomatoes that did well this year are:
PARK'S WHOPPER - Indeterminate plant with big, red 4" fruits. Good disease resistance and
excellent crack resistance.
- PARK'S EARLY CHALLENGE HYBRID - These lived up to their name, providing nice red, globe
shaped tomatoes weighing around 4 oz. each. We had tomatoes within 60 days of transplanting
in the garden. Indeterminate plants.
- VIVA ITALIA - Determinate plant, about 30 to 36 inches tall, heavy bearing, paste type
tomato. These do exceptionally well as canning tomatoes and we loved them fresh, in salads.
- GERMAN HEAD - This old heirloom (I suppose old and heirloom is a case of repeating myself)
provided some large (one and one-half pounds) pink-purple beefsteak type tomatoes. Super taste.
I especially enjoyed them as replacements for the Brandywine's that I missed this year.
Of course there will be more. During and
after the growing season I will try to add some information about favorite vegetables.
Peppers and cucumbers will be discussed next time. You never know about the happenings in
and around the barn lot.
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