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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.

picket fence


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.

tomato    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 the tomatoes:

  • 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.
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.

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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