Tag Archives: Ozark gardening

Growing Tomatoes

Tomatoes are for sale in grocery stores and at farmer’s markets. Yet growing tomatoes is very popular. It is with me.

There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes. They range from white to green to pink to yellow to orange to striped to red. They come in small, medium, large and extra large sizes.

I allocate a large area of my garden to growing tomatoes every year, far more than I need or use. The space is never big enough.

Getting Tomatoes Off the Ground

Tomato plants are somewhere between a vine and a bush. Left to their own devices the vines sprawl across the ground. The tomatoes on the ground rot. They are hard to reach without stepping on the plants.

There are lots of ways to get the plants off the ground. I use two.

growing tomatoes on cattle panels
Tomato plants sprawl for several feet. They do not twine or have tendrils. Baling twine works to keep the vines in place. I start at one end and go around one plant, hook on the cattle panel, go over the next plant and so on to the end. The lines need to be eighteen inches apart and are placed as the vines get long enough.

One end of my garden is too hot for most plants during a hot Ozark summer. I bent two cattle panels over it to form what I call a shade house. I plant tomatoes along the cattle panels and encourage the vines to sprawl up and over the shade house.

This has three advantages. First, it gets the vines off the ground. Second, the tomatoes are easy to spot and pick from both sides of the panels. Third, the shade allows me to grow greens that otherwise would bolt.

My other method is a kind of cage. My tomato beds have a piece of cattle panel down the center and posts on both sides. I use baling twine to build cages. The spaces are about eighteen inches square and five feet tall.

When my number of tomato plants exceeds my planned capacity, which it does every year, I use wire circles. These were originally used around fruit trees and are out of cement support wire. Field fence does not work. Welded wire works, but harvesting through the small holes is frustrating.

growing tomatoes using twine cages
Anyone feeding hay to livestock ends up with baling twine. It is very useful stuff. It makes good tomato cages as it is slightly flexible and tough enough to keep tomato vines in place. I use six inch spacing, but this is variable. The twine lasts the season and is easy to remove.

Preventing Sunscald

Healthy leafy tomato plants tuck most of their tomatoes under leaves. This protects them from the sun and sunscald.

Since I raise dairy goats, good manure is not a problem. The beds have compost added every year. Compost is much better than commercial fertilizer pellets at producing big, leafy tomato plants.

The downside of growing tomatoes this way is how big the vines get. Some of mine are pushing eight feet this year and still growing.

growing tomatoes in wire circles
Cement reinforcing wire has large holes and lasts for years. It makes great emergency tomato cages. The one problem is when the vines grow over the top and threaten to topple the wire. A metal post usually stops that.

Preventing Cracking

Regular watering is the way to prevent cracking. I am lucky as I have a live creek to pump water from every other day. Otherwise I have to carry water in a watering can or pray for rain.

There are some varieties very prone to cracking. After one try, these are not on my list any more.

Speckled Roman tomatoes
These Speckled Roman paste tomatoes hang through the cattle panel of my shade house which will make picking them easy once they are ripe.

The Biggest Problem

Growing tomatoes is challenging work and very satisfying. Picking those first ripe tomatoes is special. The flavor puts purchased tomatoes to shame.

Then the crop pours in. My biggest problem is what to do with the boxes of tomatoes. There are only two old people here and we can’t eat them all.

My chickens are glad to dine on any damaged or spoiled tomatoes.

Growing tomatoes is competitive in the Ozarks with the results shown at the county fairs as in “Mistaken Promises” in the Hazel Whitmore series.

Planting Peppers In Containers

All my seedlings were ready to transplant at the same time. Tomatoes came first, then bell peppers in the garden, finally I’m planting peppers in the containers.

Containers are nice. They do have their drawbacks. First is placing them. Second is finding enough dirt, compost, manure etc. to fill them.

Planting in containers brings in another set of drawbacks. First is keeping them watered. Containers dry out quickly and must be watered often.

planting peppers in containers
The newspaper was about six layers thick. It can be thicker. Once the paper is wet a trowel slices through easily to slide in the pepper transplants. Since part of my soil mix was garden soil, there were weed seeds germinating. If only potting soil or other bagged soil is used, the newspaper would not be necessary.

Weeds are second for several reasons. Weeds compete for root space, leaf space and water. They usually win competing against garden vegetables.

Third comes heat. In the garden the sun heats the surface of the ground down a few inches. Containers are heated on top and on any part of the sides the sun contacts. In extreme heat conditions, the sides should be shaded.

I have a fourth problem: my cats. They don’t tend to dig in the containers. Instead they find the containers ideal places to sit for observations of the surrounding area. Containers are wonderful places for naps as well. Plants make nice cushions.

mulch around pepper plants in container
Hay bales shed. I use this as mulch. The pepper transplants are three to four inches tall and sheltered by the mulch. They have been outside for several weeks, but not in direct sun.

In the past I’ve watered extra, weeded extra and chased the cats or place strategic rocks. After reading “Lasagna Gardening” by Patricia Lanza, I’m trying something a bit new. First I dumped a watering can of water on the dirt newly cleaned of weeds (Yes, the weeds had already started colonizing the containers.). Next I laid down layers of newspaper and poured water on them. In the book the newspaper is wet when it’s put down. I find wet paper is very difficult to work with so I put it down dry and add water.

A trowel slices through wet newspaper easily to make a hole for the transplants. Last a layer of mulch hay went on top of the newspaper.

finished planting peppers in the container
The field or woven wire fencing does support the plants well along with holes large enough for harvesting. The wire discourages most of my cats from napping in the container. Sunny is smaller and finds he gets privacy.

The container was watered before planting peppers as transplants do better in moist soil. The newspaper and mulch should discourage weeds and help hold moisture in the container. The mulch also protects the newspaper and transplants from drying out or being pounded by rain.

A circle of woven wire serves two purposes as well. It discourages the cats. It keeps the pepper plants from falling over. I will be adding a stake to keep the wire in place.

Gardening With Goat Kids

Pulling weeds is no fun. Knowing the weeds shouldn’t be there if only you had mulched properly in the fall makes it worse. Gardening with goat kids makes it bearable.

Goats are not welcome in my garden. They like too many of the vegetables and trample the rest.

Gardening with goat kids includes the little Nubian buck
The Holy Terror got bored and lay down for a nap, unless I moved someplace new. He has adjusted to being in the barn and likes his new friends. They have a great time out running and chasing and exploring. They have discovered the goat gym. The little Nubian buck’s colors really are that vivid.

Gardening with goat kids is different. Kids don’t really eat much until they are three to four weeks old.

My bottle kid enjoys hanging around me for company. He relies on me the way other kids rely on their mothers for protection and daring to go exploring. Besides, he usually has a lot of fun following me around as I go interesting places.

Gardening with goat kids can mean getting plants nibbled or eaten as this Nubian doeling is doing
The little Nubian buck’s sister is quite a handful. She is testing out a mulberry seedling for munching possibilities. She has discovered she can get out under the pasture gate and go with her mother for the day. It is a battle in the morning and I lose the war in the afternoon. At least the herd doesn’t go far afield then.

The kids except for the bottle kid were supposed to be out in the pasture with their mothers. That didn’t work out very well. I ended up with all four.

The kids explore everything with their mouths. They eat dirt as they are establishing their rumen residents. They nibble on the weeds. It’s a shame they can’t pull the weeds too.

Gardening with goat kids has this Nubian buckling exploring things
The last kids from my old Nubian buck Gaius includes this red Nubian buckling. He gleams with red as Gaius did when he was young. A week younger than the little buck, this one is still chewing on everything and eating nothing except by accident. He’s testing out a pepper plant cage. Definitely interesting, but not edible.

I used the potato fork to loosen a row of weeds across a garden bed. One or more kids would come over to check out the weed masses I pulled out, shook dirt from and tossed into the wheelbarrow.

Dead nettle and chickweed have fibrous roots. They sprout in the fall and spread out their roots over the winter. The root mat is a couple of inches thick and continuous. It must be broken into small chunks to protect the back.

Pulling weeds does get boring after a time, a short time. Gardening with goat kids lengthens that time. Then they get bored.

Little Nubian doeling in garden
Rain washed straw mulch interests this little Nubian doeling, sister of the red buck. She had a wonderful time helping me in the garden.

It becomes nap time. There are four kids. I can carry two at a time. The bottle kid is now an asset.

I pick up Natasha’s two younger ones. The bottle kid (I know, he needs a name. I’m thinking.) follows me. His sister follows him.

The kids move back into their favorite spot in the barn and curl up for naps.

Buying Seeds Galore

January thaw. The garden beckons. Spring is coming. I’m buying seeds to suit my garden dreams.

Gardens have a finite size. No matter how many books come out about squeezing more plants into less space, the only way to have more space is to make a bigger garden. Bigger gardens mean more work. Mine is big enough.

buying seeds for peas and greens
Red cabbage is unusual in my garden. I think it will show up more often in the fall since it is more frost hardy than the green cabbage. These will be gone by March. Peas will move in by the end of March. Maybe some spring cabbage. Maybe lettuce. Choices, choices. So many seeds to choose from.

Rationally I should calmly assess how last year’s garden worked. What grew well? What did we eat? What did we like? What was a waste of time?

Buying seeds is not done rationally. Not by me. Well, a little.

The catalogs make everything look fantastic. Those gorgeous vegetables look delicious.

We love corn. Corn takes lots of room. Raccoons love corn. I don’t grow corn.

buying seeds for spring planting in a mulched bed
What will grow here? Last year Chinese Winter Melon spread its vines down the section between okra plants. Maybe Yukon gold potatoes will grow here this year. The pathway is full of dead nettle and chickweed for the spring bees. That will disappear under mulch in late April.

Winter squash is wonderful. I love growing pumpkins. Both take lots of room. How many can two people eat? The goats don’t mind eating the extra.

My diet needs more greens in it. Not everyone in the household agrees. However, I have friends who love the extras.

Rutabaga is one vegetable I rarely have any luck with. I love this root crop. It hates the Ozarks. I persist.

Spinach, snow peas and peas are on the early list. Yard long beans are on the later list.

Potatoes are definitely on the list. They grow so well. I do plant fewer as we can’t eat them all.

No need for buying seeds for the garlic patch
All winter the garlic has settled in under the mulch. This is one crop planted in the fall as spring garlic gets burned by summer heat in the Ozarks.

Four summer staples are on the list. Okra, summer squash, sweet peppers –both colored bell and long ones – and tomatoes will be in the garden. I always seem to end up with many more plants than planned for.

Buying seeds is such fun. Garden dreams are so wonderful. Reality sets in about June. By then it’s too late for rationality. The garden will again become a jungle, a delicious jungle, a frustrating jungle.

And I will do it again next year.