Monday, October 19, 2020

Fall and Winter Tomatoes...From Your Greenhouse


506 Bush Tomatoes on New Year's Day
If you really want to demonstrate to your friends what a great investment your greenhouse is, nothing beats serving them home grown tomatoes...on New Year's Day.

Here's What You'll Need to Grow Greenhouse Tomatoes for the Winter and Spring:

A greenhouse or an indoor area with lots of light and heat. On line, check out the selection at Washington State-based Charley's Greenhouse. Also, check out the Sturdi-Built greenhouses of Portland, Oregon. Here in Northern California, there's Greenhouse Megastore in West Sacramento.

The Right Tomato. For the typical hobby greenhouse (8x5, 8x10, 8x12), cool season "determinate" tomatoes are best. These tend to be fairly compact plants (under 4 feet tall) that do not put on lots of growth after they set fruit. Determinate tomatoes usually ripen at the same time; so, choose several tomatoes that will ripen at different times, going from seed to fruit in 50-70 days. To minimize disease problems, choose tomatoes that have "built-in" disease resistance. These will have the letters "V" (verticillium wilt-resistant), "F" (fusarium wilt) "N" (nematodes), "T" (tobacco mosaic virus) and "A" (alternaria fungus) after the variety name of the tomato.

"Warm Greenhouse" or indoor room. This is one that maintains a nighttime temperature range of 55-70 degrees, preferably above 60 degrees for tomatoes. Daytime temperatures should range from 75-85 degrees. A heater, in conjunction with a thermostatically controlled vent fan, can easily provide that temperature range here in the Valley and foothills.

Sunlight. Tomatoes need full sun, at least six hours of direct sun a day. Try to position your greenhouse so that it can take best advantage of the low angle of the sun during the cold months, making sure the building isn't shaded by any evergreen trees or other structures.

Artificial light. Because of the lower intensity of the sun and the persistence of valley fog and low clouds during the winter, you will need a lighting system to supplement any natural light. Although there are many artificial lighting systems available, fluorescent lights are the most economical. Use four, 40-watt, 48-inch long fluorescent tubes side by side, keeping them 8-12 inches above the plants. Although standard "shop lights" are OK, investing in Gro-Lux wide spectrum fluorescent tubes will give your tomatoes more of the light spectrum that they can use. For the latest in grow light technology, including LED's, check this page at 
Charley's Greenhouse.  

Water. Although the cooler temperatures of the fall and winter will cut down on the amount of water that tomatoes need, a drip system connected to a timer will insure that the plants get the moisture they need. Four to eight gallons of water per week per plant should be plenty.

Soil. Planting directly into the ground of the greenhouse is OK, as long as the soil drains readily, has been amended with organic matter and isn't compacted. Building raised beds into the floor of your greenhouse works best. Make the sides of the raised bed 8-16 inches high, and at least 18 inches wide. The bed can be framed by a number of things, including untreated wood, blocks, bricks, or stacked old tires. Growing tomatoes indoors in plastic 5-gallon or 15 gallon pots works well, too. There are a lot of good container soil mixes on the market for tomatoes and vegetables, including Gardner & BloomeRecipe 420Black GoldDr. Earth and Fox Farms.

Hydroponic Systems. The technology for these has changed radically since I last used one, decades ago. Check with your local hydroponics store or nursery for more information about the latest and greatest.

Fertilizer. Because plants tend to slow down their growth in the colder months, cut your dosage of your favorite tomato fertilizer by half. For example, if the directions for a water-soluble fertilizer say to add 1 tablespoon per gallon of water, pour that same tablespoon into 2 gallons of water during the winter feeding periods. A once-a-month application should be plenty.

A Pollinator. In nature, bees and wind do most of the tomato pollination in the home garden. In the greenhouse, you can accomplish the same task by either gently shaking or holding an electric toothbrush (or similar device) next to the plant; twirling a small brush inside a tomato flower will transfer the pollen.

A Fan. A gentle breeze blowing across the plants for several hours a day aids pollination and helps strengthen the plants' main stems. Air movement also reduces the threat of fungal diseases.

 Some greenhouse tomato variety suggestions for the colder months:

Bush Early Girl VFFNT Hybrid. A bushy plant that produces 6-7 oz. fruit. Determinate, 54 days.

Bush Beefsteak. The fruit averages 8 oz. each on a compact plant. Determinate, 62 days.

Clear Pink Early. 2-3 foot tall plant produces pink tomatoes, about 3-6 oz. Determinate, 58 days.

Grushovka. A pink, egg-shaped, 3-inch long tomato from Siberia. Plants are under three feet tall. Determinate, 65 days.

Manitoba. The fruit is over 6 oz. in size, very productive and early. Determinate, 60 days.

Northern Exposure
. A compact plant that produces 8 oz. "Big Boy" style tomatoes. Determinate, 67 days.

Oregon Spring V.
 Developed at Oregon State University for short season gardens. Medium sized fruit that is nearly seedless. Determinate, 58 days.

Pilgrim VFFA Hybrid
. 8 oz. fruit on a compact plant that boasts excellent yields and good flavor. Determinate, 65 days.

Polar Baby. Developed in Alaska. 2-inch salad tomatoes. Determinate, 60 days.

Prairie Fire. 3-5 oz. tomatoes on short plants. Tangy flavor. Determinate, 55 days.

Red Robin
. The plants get only 12 inches tall, producing cherry-sized tomatoes. Good choice for hanging baskets. Determinate, 63 days.

Siberia. A favorite of Canadian greenhouses, this bushy plant reportedly will set fruit at temperatures as low as 38 degrees. Fruit is under 2 inches in diameter. Determinate, 55 days.

Siletz. 10-12 oz. tomato developed in Oregon. Determinate, 52 days.

Sub Arctic Maxi.
 For very cold climates. 2 oz. fruit on a small plant. Determinate, 62 days.

Sweet Tangerine. Orange-red colored fruit. Determinate, 68 days.

Tumbler. Cherry-sized tomatoes in seven weeks. Good choice for hanging baskets. Determinate, 49 days.

506 Bush. Plants only get 18 inches tall, are drought tolerant and produce medium sized tomatoes. Determinate, 62 days.

 Online sources for these tomato seeds include Tomato Grower's Supply Company and Totally Tomatoes.

Pest Management. In our experience the biggest problem was whitefly infestations. Yellow sticky traps can let you know you have a problem as well as control small outbreaks. Insecticidal soap may be necessary for control of the whitefly problem starts growing. In case of a severe outbreak on a tomato plant, the easiest and most effective course of action? Get rid of the plant.

However...although there are a lot of benefits to growing tomatoes in the fall and winter, there is a lot of time and expense associated with it, especially the heating costs. And, don't expect the sweet, succulent taste of a summer-grown outdoor tomato. But the taste IS better than a store-bought tomato. Just more expensive.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Pretty But Deadly: Pokeweed Returns for Fall


"Fall Color" isn't just limited to the changing hues of the leaves of deciduous trees this time of year. There are lots of colorful shrubs right now, producing flowers and berries, many of which are outstanding garden plants: cotoneaster, toyon, bottlebrush, the strawberry tree, Oregon grape, pyracantha and beautyberry, for example. But there are some pretty poisonous plants putting on a show right now in Northern California. Plants, that if you get a little too curious, could knock you on your ass.
For example, Laura writes in, with pictures:


This gorgeous invasive plant invading her Citrus Heights backyard? Pokeweed.

 After posting these pictures at the Get Growing with Farmer Fred Facebook Page, valley and foothill gardeners responded with words of warning:

"It is poisonous and it is becoming an invasive weed in California and so is posted as a noxious weed. I had a friend who had them in their yard and their son wrongfully thought they were elderberries so they had picked a bunch to make jam. Thankfully she didn't get time to make that jam and they got moldy."

"Definitely pokeweed...would not recommend putting in the compost pile...they also have a deep tap root and are hard to get rid of...Placer County posted a warning on this plant as being both poisonous and invasive."

Cindy Fake of the Placer County Cooperative Extension office has written extensively about the dangers of pokeweed (Phytolacca americana, also known as pokeberry, inkberry and American pokeweed):

"If you have seen this plant, beware!  Pokeweed, a poisonous invasive species, has become more and more common...pokeweed is a rapidly growing perennial shrub, up to 10 feet tall, with large leaves and red stems. While some homeowners may be tempted to keep pokeweed in their gardens because of the pretty white flowers and glossy dark purple berries, all parts of the plant are toxic to humans, pets, and other mammals. Pokeweed berries provide food for birds, which are not affected by the toxins. However, the birds then spread the seeds, helping the plant to invade orchards, fields and yards, and competing with crops and ornamentals. Once established, pokeweed can be very difficult to eradicate.  It grows a very large taproot, and can have multiple stalks growing from a single root. Do not put plants or berries in green waste disposal bins or in compost. Unfortunately, the taproot usually remains and often resprouts the following year." 
The UC Integrated Pest Management Pest Note on Pokeweed, released in September 2020, has  removal tips:
"Hand pulling is effective on small plants. Once plants are established and develop an extensive root system, hand removal is difficult. Digging out established plants with a shovel is effective, but often difficult in summer when soils are dry. Established plants may have large roots that must be removed to prevent regrowth. Cultivation can be effective on new seedlings in raised beds or other areas where tilling can be used. Cultivation on large established plants is not effective. When removing mature plants, ripe berries should be bagged and discarded so the seeds don’t reinfest the soil." Consult that Pest Note on eradicating pokeweed with herbicides. Read and follow all label directions.
More pokeweed facts here and here.

Those of you from the South may recall "poke salad" as more than a song by Tony Joe White. As Cindy Fake points out: "in some parts of the US, young pokeweed leaves are eaten after extensive processing to remove toxins, but even after processing, some toxins remain, so consumption is not recommended."
Agreeing with that is the California Poison Control System, which reports pokeweed (Inkberry) as a Class 3 toxin: "Ingestion of these plants is expected to cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms that may cause illness but is not life-threatening."

• Do NOT induce vomiting.
• Remove any plant parts from the mouth or hands.
• Wash around the mouth and hands and give a few sips of water.
• Check for any irritation of the skin, mouth or tongue.
• Call the California Poison Control System at 1-800-222-1222