Neil Moran gardens in northern Michigan and is anxious to see gardeners succeed in the cold climate. To this end he has published two books on gardening in the north country and an ebook on how to save money when buying garden tools and other products. He also taught horticulture for over 12 years and conducts garden workshops.
 

 

Seeing red…ripe tomatoes!
by Neil Moran - posted 03/03/13


Jasper (F1) (OG)  (Solanum lycopersicum)
Photo courtesy of Johnny's Selected Seed.

I’m seeing red! No, I’m not mad. I just miss red ripe tomatoes. In fact, last night I woke up in the middle of the night with a start. The juicy tomato I thought I was picking was a tennis ball. Those darn dreams! It happens this time of year. I start going through the seed catalogs, picking out the tomatoes I want to grow, and my mouth starts watering and I get to thinking how delicious a red ripe tomato would taste about now.

But for now the closest I’ll come to those luscious tomatoes I grew last summer is the tomato sauce and salsa we canned last summer. Thank God for that.

What got this all started, the dreams and drooling, was looking through the garden catalogs. There’s a bushel basket full of new and tried and true varieties for the home gardener. Here’s a few that I thought might keep you awake at night.

‘Jasper.’ I’m not sure where Johnny’s Selected Seeds they got this name but this new tomato   sure sounds promising. This All American Selection winner came right out of Johnny’s breeding program.  Jasper offers intermediate resistance to early blight, Septoria Leaf Spot, fusarium races 1 & 2, and late blight.  It produces a 7-10 gm tomato on an indeterminate vine. At only 60 days it is a pretty sure bet to ripen in the northern climate.  Oh, and it tastes great!

Mountain Merit is a medium to large (8-10 ounce) mater meant for slicing (BLT, here we come!). It is also resistant to late blight. It’s a larger tomato than Defiant, a variety that showed good resistance to late blight in the past. 75 days to maturity. It has a taste that is described as not quite as good as Defiant.

Veronica is an F1 hybrid they say is better than Juliet (a variety I’ve grown in a commercial greenhouse with a lot of success). It’s a good choice for hoop house gardeners. It resists fusarium races and keeps well on the vine. At only 59 days to maturity it is almost a shoe-in to ripen in the short season (3-4) zone. All three of the above varieties are offered by Johnny’s Selected Seed.

If you’re one of those people who think bigger is better when it comes to tomatoes, check out Super Sauce Hybrid, from Burpees. This bad boy weighs up to 2 pounds and produces a whopping 5 ½ inch by 5 inch wide tomato (enough to feed Sasquatch!) on an indeterminate vine. A dozen of these babies should make a lot of sauce! 70 days to maturity, which means with a little pampering it might ripen here in the cold climate. I’ll let you know how it goes.

A good time to set out tomatoes is when the ground warms. They won’t grow much at all while the nights are still cool, so don’t get too anxious and put them out too early. This means you can start them from seed by late March and have plenty of time to grow transplants to set out in late May or early June.

This year, experiment with some new tomato varieties, then let me know how it went.

Happy gardening!

 

 

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Whole Foods a Better Deal: Here’s Why
by Neil Moran - posted 02/03/13

At first glance you would think that whole food: the carrots, eggs, fish etc. you buy at places like farmer’s markets or via CSA’s (community supported agriculture), is more expensive to purchase than what we can buy at the big box stores. It would seem. However, whole food, purchased locally or grown in your own garden, is a much better bargain than the food bought in a super market.

Here are some of the reasons why.

Is it Really More Expensive Buying Locally?

A lot of folks think locally grown food is hard on the wallet because at times it does cost a little more for that carrot or dozen eggs than what you would pay in the supermarket. Sheila Bergdoll, market master of the Pickford’s Farmer’s Market, spent a year tracking her expenses, or rather, savings, from  buying locally produced food instead of driving 20 miles to Sault Ste. Marie to do her grocery shopping.      Bergdoll, who admits to being a bean counter (figuratively speaking!), said she saved over $1500 in groceries over the course of a year (this didn’t  count the money saved on gas and wear and tear on her vehicle). Her savings may have come in part because she has sworn off processed foods, which while convenient, are more expensive than fixing something from scratch. And if you’re still not convinced that local food is a bargain, read on.

A (Fresh) Apple a Day Will Keep the Doctor Away

I don’t have to tell you about the high cost of health care. But I can tell you that there is a ton of research that will support whole foods as being a lot better for you than processed foods. So even if you do pay a little more for those fresh beans or peas, it’s going to give you a bigger bang for your buck in terms of health benefits. And of course the payoff of staying away from doctors and hospitals (and being able to continue to work) is enormous. Still not convinced that local foods are cheaper than the produce at the supermarket? Read on.

The High Cost of Driving (to the nearest supermarket)

If you live 20 or more miles from the supermarket, it can be expensive just driving to and from the store.  Bergdoll didn’t even figure in the cost of transportation back and forth to the Soo. Yet, she still saved a bushel basket full of money simply because she changed her eating habits and cut out the processed food. Just think of all the money you will save and good food you will be eating if you stay put and purchase locally produced fruits and vegetables, or better yet grow your own. And with more farmer’s markets and CSA’s springing up, it shouldn’t be hard to find fresh produce near you, at least during the summer months.

So the next time you hear someone complain that it’s expensive to shop at a farmer’s market or other local venue, remember the savings you will realize in fewer trips to the doctor, to the out-of-town supermarket, or eating expensive processed foods. 

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Give Your Houseplants a Little TLC
by Neil Moran - posted 01/25/13

At this time of year our houseplants can start showing a little stress from the lack of light and the dry, forced air in our homes, not to mention occasional chilly drafts. This is a good time of year to take notice and spend a little extra time with your houseplants. They too can suffer from the winter blahs. Here are a few steps I took to help them, and me, make it through the rest of the winter.
 
I started out by fluffing up the stiff potting mix in each pot with a fork I reserve for this purpose. This will allow good air circulation into the root zone and for water to soak in evenly. I then plucked away the dead and dying leaves.
 
I watered all the plants as usual. However, for the plants that I suspected were a little dry around the root zone I placed in the sink and flooded the pot with room temperature water, then let them sit and properly drain. Some plants also had leaves that were pretty dusty. Those plants got a warm shower in the bath tub!
 
Our houseplants hadn’t been fed in a while so I gave them each a shot of an all purpose fertilizer. I usually feed my houseplants sparingly, especially during the winter months when the days are short and there is not a lot of photosynthesis taking place. I mixed in about a teaspoon of slow-release fertilizer and worked it into some of the bigger pots. This will keep these larger plants good and healthy over the next several months.
 
One plant, an indoor hydrangea that we’ve had for years was looking particularly sad. No, let me correct that, it looked dead. However, as I clipped a piece of stem I noticed there was still some green inside the stem (the cambium layer). So I clipped the whole thing back to 3-4 inches and gave it the same TLC I did all the others, plus I put it in a location that is both warmer and sunnier. Lo and behold it shot out new growth in just a couple of days. This is a good procedure to use with most any herbaceous plant that is showing serious decline but still has some life in it.  
 
Lastly, I repotted one aloe plant that was seriously outgrowing the pot it was in, then moved a few plants to locations that would seem more favorable for them.
 
Now I can walk past my houseplants and not feel like I’ve neglected them—and get back to looking over the new seed catalogs that are piling up on my desk. How are your houseplants looking? Is there anything special you do to them over the winter?
 
Happy gardening!

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