The Power of Sheet Mulch

In its simplest form, sheet mulching is a two-step process: First, apply a layer of weed-suppressing newspaper or cardboard…and top it with about a foot of organic mulch. Many gardeners do this in fall, so that the mulch rots to become humus-y earth over the winter. Also, the weed-stopping layer breaks down enough to allow spring-planted seeds and transplants to thrust their roots deep into the earth. Toby Hemenway, Gaia’s Garden

Friday, July 29, 2011

State of the Tomatoes

The State of the Tomatoes Report

Beds 3 and 4 July 19th

Our eight tomato plants have far outstripped our expectations for them, as you might have learned from this previous post on July 8th. Now they're starting to develop fruit and the results are...mixed. We're growing a mixture of hybrids from outsourced seedlings and heirlooms that we grew from seed indoors this spring.

The leaves and stems look very healthy, though they may actually be too leafy. In some of the plants (like one of the legends we've dubbed "The Hulk"), the foliage has grown so thick it's hard to see exactly what's going on under there. As I mentioned before, Bill planted them fairly deep, though not as extremely as the trenching method. Might try that next year.

Others (especially our heirlooms) are not setting much fruit, though there are plenty of blossoms.  I usually do more sucker pruning than I did this year, in part because I was seeing blossoms on what I would have previously thought were unproductive offshoots in the intersection of branches, so I just stopped. We're growing a combination of heirlooms (none that we've ever grown before) and hybrids and I didn't want to over-prune them. Probably erred on the wrong side of caution.

The staking method we used is, like everything else in the garden, a mashup of various techniques. At heart, it's a "stake and weave" with some modifications. Good article on the options from the University of New Hampshire, via Margaret Roach, of course.

For comparison, I've included a few shots of the garden on June 21. I can't help it -- I must have narrative! Before and After is an obsession -- probably because we are new to so many of the methods we've used in creating and maintaining these gardens this year.

Trying to keep track of which tomato is which in the photos is a nightmare, so I've labeled the plants according to their place in the east/west oriented beds. OK, OK, there are only eight of them, but they're our pride and joy! The tomatoes are at the ends of the beds -- the hybrids ( 2 each Sungold and Legend) at the very ends and the heirlooms (Purple Prudens, Black Krim and 2 Kelloggs Breakfasts) are the next .

To get a sense of the size of the plants, keep in mind that the beds are 4' wide and 16' long.

Bed 3 East

Bed 3 East June 21

Sungold 3E June 21st

Sungold 3 East hybrid seedling 

Sungold 3E July 28th
This plant was the first to produce an edible tomato (YAY!) -- two, actually, and we ate them immediately, in the field without any documentation at all (tsk, tsk) two days ago.

Sungold 3E July 28th

Black Krim 3E heirloom from our seed. Only a couple of fruits so far.
Black Krim June 21st

Black Krim July 28th

Black Krim July 28th
 Bed 3West

Bed 3 West June 21st

Kelloggs Breakfast 3W with Buddies June 21

Kelloggs Breakfast 3W heirloom from our seed.

Kelloggs Breakfast 3W July 28th
You can see the basil playmates this plant gradually overtook...they're there, and I've let them go to blossom, but they've turned from companions to something like Mother Hubbard's children!

Kelloggs Breakfast 3W July 28th
Sungold 3W hybrid from seedling

Sungold 3W June 21st

It, too had its basil companions, but since they had an aisle seat, they fared better. The lettuce underneath worked quite well as mulch and soil cooler (we ran out of the red trays we used on the other plants) and the tomato chipped in with some shade for the lettuce when the heat was at its most damaging. Very symbiotic. It also has cilantro companions in a row between it and the Kelloggs Breakfast.

Sungold 3W July 28th

Sungold 3W July 28th

Bed 4 East

Bed 4 East June 21st

Legend 4E June 21st
Legend 4E hybrid AKA The Hulk

This was one of two we got at the seed-growing workshop at our local (locally owned, thank you very much) nursery, Wayside Gardens. It was the larger of the two and has continued in the role of big brother.

Legend 4E, The Hulk July 28th

This plant is so strong and thick, we're afraid we'll be losing ripe tomatoes in its leafy depths.

The Hulk July 28th

I counted at least 20 tomatoes in various states of ripening two days ago. I hopeThe Hulk will be the prizewinner of the garden, though with what I've been reading, all that foliage might not be such a great thing. We'll see...

The Hulk July 28th

Kelloggs Breakfast 4E heirloom from our seed.

Kelloggs Breakfast 4E June 21st

This one is entwined with the beans and squash like something in the Amazon rainforest. Nearly impossible to photograph. Green on green on green. It's roughly between the two left stakes.

Kelloggs Breakfast 4E July 28th
Only a couple of visible fruits but still healthy looking.

Kelloggs Breakfast 4E July 28th

Bed 4 West

Purple Prudens 4W heirloom from our seed.

Purple Prudens June 21st

This, like its heirloom counterpart on the other side of the Squashzilla, is flirting with cross-species interaction with the beans and its neighbor hybrid, the Legend at the western end of the bed.

Purple Prudens July 28th

It had a couple of fruits with some mystery damage. We cut them off, and haven't seen it on other fruits on the plant. It didn't look like anything I could find in listings of tomato pests or diseases, though I imagine I just didn't look at the right sources.

Purple Prudens Damage

There's only one or two fruits on it now, and none show any signs of whatever infected the earlier ones.

Purple Prudens July 28th

Purple Prudens (left) and Legend 4W (red dish) June 21st
Legend 4 West hybrid seedling

Legend 4W July 28th
This guy was the runt of the pot (if there is such a thing), and younger brother of The Hulk at the other end of the bed. It's not nearly as tall, thick, or productive, but I think it was meant to be sacrificed to the greater good of The Hulk. We planted it anyway. Can't see much in the way of fruit yet.

And so ends another State of the Tomatoes report. Back to you, Chet for a critter update (no! no!)...


  1. I really enjoyed this! You know in your mind's eye how they began, but it is so cool to see them side by side! I am watching a hummer in my big agastache 'acapulco' as I type! It is such a large plant that he lingers quite awhile over the blooms. I love those pseudo hummers you show in your post! I havent seen one yet this year, but I've enjoyed them in previous years! Congratulations on getting a photo! They move so swiftly! Love your bug photos and impressed with your identification!

  2. I'm so glad you're getting the hummers -- and right where you can comfortably see them. That's the joy of the agastaches -- it takes a long time to visit each bloom!