Monday, August 16, 2021

August 2021

 What to Plant When?

We’ve made it to August. And the Garden is pretty tired, as are the Gardeners. But this is no time to take a rest. It is time to put in your fall crops! Virginia Tech extension says that you can plant these crops from seed now: Beets, Carrots, Collards, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Mustard, Radish, Summer squash, and Turnips. You can also set out transplants of: Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Chinese Cabbage, Cauliflower, and Leeks. The weather is SOOO hot that you might want to wait until the next cold spell/rainy day or put row cover over your tender transplants to protect them from the sun. And be sure to keep new seeds watered while they are germinating. But we have lots of growing season left!

Hot Work Party Saturday!

But many, many thanks to the troopers who came out: Ron Holt, Mike Perelman, Kris Marshall, Karen Thomas, Randi Helpinstill, Amy Hoag, and Nathan Moore. Grass was mown, a big hole in the fence was repaired, cardboard and hardwood mulch were deployed on the pathways, and the Blackberry Warriors did battle with the overgrown brambles. The next scheduled Work Party is Saturday, September 11. 


 A Plethora is not Too Many

By Martin Mathes  

Professor emeritus, Department of Biology      

College of William and Mary    

Our tomatoes had their origin in the New World in the Pre-Columbian era of South America.   dating from the Paleolithic Era through European colonization by Columbus.  It is believed that Mexico was the site of domestication of the husk tomato (Tomatillo)  which was originally derived from ancient (52 million B.P - calendar years before present)  fossil species.  The native Mexican word for tomato is tomatl which was cultivated by the Aztecs  2000 years ago.  Our cherry tomatoes are the most similar to their ancient relatives.

The first mention of the New World tomato was by the Italian, Mattiol in 1544, who suggested aphrodisiac properties. The Old World in Southern Europe quickly accepted tomatoes into their cuisine.  In France they were known as love apples while the British admired tomatoes for their beauty but thought they were poisonous. In fact, the acidity of tomatoes would leach the lead out of pewter plates used by the aristocracy, causing deaths due to lead poisoning. No one connected the plate with the poison at the time.The tomatoes were blamed and were nicknamed “poison apples”.

In 1710, Salmon first reported the presence of tomatoes in North America and in 1781 Thomas Jefferson noted the exportation of tomato seeds from France.  A circuitous path.

Modern tomatoes are classified in the family Solanaceae, genus Lycopersicon and species Esculentum (hairy wolf peach).  They are related to a wide variety of important genera (including potatoes, eggplants and peppers ) and toxic plants ( deadly nightshade and tobacco).  This deadly reputation of tomatoes was finally dispelled by Colonel Robert Johnson who drew a crowd in Salem, New Jersey, when he  ate a bushel of tomatoes.  He survived this 1820 ordeal and tomatoes were finally accepted into our cuisine.  We enjoy the BLT to this day

The tomato has become one of our most versatile "vegetables".  A  tax on vegetables resulted in a legal challenge when In 1893, the tomato was ruled by the Supreme Court to be a fruit.  Botanically fruits develop from the fertilized flower ovary.  Tomatoes are fruits not vegetables. "Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit while wisdom is not putting it in fruit salad". 

The multitudinous  tomato characters - taste,size, color, disease resistance  etc. have been used in the production of hybrids  and heirloom varieties.  Heirloom varieties of tomatoes  (more than 600) are open pollinated and are preserved by saving seed from year to year.  We eat more than 12 million tons per year, but they add limited nutritional value to our diet.  Raw tomatoes contain 95% water, 18 calories, 0.9 % protein, 3.9% sugar and 1.2% fiber.  This is overshadowed by a significant dietary source of the antioxidant lycopene  (red pigment). Tomatoes love compost which is supplemented with a low nitrogen (12-15-30) fertilizer, Espoma tomato fertilizer or Miracle Gro to name a few.  Generally nitrogen promotes vegetative growth while phosphorus stimulates fruit development.

The development of the tomato fruit depends on the pollination of the individual ovules which form seeds.  The pollination process (transfer of pollen) is generally self (from the same plant) and depends on the shaking from wind or insects (usually bees).  Growing tomatoes in the greenhouse requires the artificial transfer of pollen from the stamen to the stigma.  This can be accomplished  by manual vibration from an old electric toothbrush or commercially available Blossom Set spray.  

The progressive development of the fruit is naturally promoted by the production of ethylene gas  This gas is also commercially used to stimulate fruit ripening after green tomatoes are shipped.  If you have an excess supply of green tomatoes at the end of the growing season, you can wrap the green tomatoes in newspaper (preferably the Wall Street Journal) to trap the natural ethylene gas. 

Record tomato fruits range from 10 pounds 2-7 ounces (Dan Sutherland in Washington State) to 1/4 ounce.  The best (depending on the source)  eating varieties include Aunt Ruby's German green and Brandywine.  When you buy tomato seeds or plants, be sure to check for virus resistance, growth habit and days to maturity. The growth habit may be indeterminate, which continues growth through the growing season, and the determinate (Patio and others) which stops growth when mature. The days to maturity generally range from 60 to 80 days but may be as short as 45 days. It is difficult to think of anything unpleasant while eating a succulent home grown tomato.       


Tomatoes may be propagated using a number of methods. Growing seeds is a sexual method while asexual mehtods include grafting and cuttings. Seeds may be hybrid or heirloom. Over 600 heirloom varieties are produced by open pollination and are preserved, saving the seeds from garden grown tomatoes, from year to year.  Hybrids are the result of controlled cross pollination  of two genetically different plants and growing the seeds that the cross produces. In grafting, a stem section (cutting) will form roots when placed in a moist atmosphere. Hormone powder, such as Rootone, can be used to promote root development. The plant which develops will be exactly like the mother plant. If you have a favorite individual plant, you can maintain exact duplicate plants for numerous growing seasons. If you wish to keep seeds, you should realize that the resulting plants will display genetic variation.  In order to save seeds, make sure that they are very dry before placing them in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator. Place a desiccant, such as fresh powdered milk wrapped in a paper towel or a  silica gel packet, in the jar with the seeds. This cold, dry storage, will allow  some seeds to remain viable for up to 15 years. When you use stored seeds, remember to test the % germination. 

Grafting involves the union of two or more selected  related individuals and in some cases, results in rather bizarre plants. For example pomatoes (topatoes) are the result of grafting tomato and potato and will exhibit characteristics of both individuals. They cannot reproduce by seeds and will produce tomatoes on the vine with potatoes growing in the soil. Tomato and tobacco can also be grafted.

A wide variety of insects share our tomatoes.  These include fruitworms, aphids, stink bugs, cutworms and citation sized hornworms, which can be easily removed.  Organic control may be achieved using neem oil or a variety of naturally occuring (for example pyrethrins) chemical  sprays.  Surfactant soaps are also effective.  Many tomato varieties are bred to be resistant to common viruses which are spread by insect vectors such as aphids and thrips.  Blossom end rot is classified as a physiological  "disease" because the causal agent is a nutritional imbalance  between calcium supply and water relations. Fruit cracking and splitting are not caused by pathogens but are the result of heavy rains preceded by dry weather.  This condition develops  when the fruit grows more rapidly than the skin can expand as the fruit begins to ripen. If you would like to control the growth pattern of indeterminate tomato plants, you can use pruning methods.  This involves the removal of suckers and topping the plant.

Acidity is an important factor associated with the flavor of tomatoes.  Tartness is dependent on the presence of a number of organic acids (citric, malic and ascorbic).  In general the ph ranges from 4.0 to 5.0.  High acid tomatoes include Big Girl and low acid is found in Lemon Boy and other yellow varieties.  New varieties, with properties such as acidity, drought resistance, salt tolerance, flavor, etc., are explored at a variety of research centers - California Tomato Research Institute and the C.R. Rick Tomato Genetics Resource Center.  Nothing better than perusing new varieties listed in the first spring seed catalogs  on a cold, dreary winter night.

If you wish to "put away" tomatoes you can use the canning methods to preserve an endless variety of recipes.  Tomatoes, blanched to remove the skins, may also be frozen.  The skinless tomatoes can be placed in plastic bags and frozen. The flavor can be retained for up to 12 months.

"You need the entire life to know just about tomatoes" -- Ferran Adr

Would Have, Could Have, Should Have

Lessons Learned Over the Past Year

By Elvin and Kay Clapp


We joined the Williamsburg Community Growers about a year ago. Both our parents had one-acre gardens. Our grandparents were full time farmers who also had large gardens about ¼ mile “down the road.” For 4 years, we tried a garden box amongst the trees in our backyard, but the trees won! We became JCC/Williamsburg Master Gardeners in 2019 and were armed with volumes of garden book knowledge. With such a legacy, we thought all we had to do at WCG was to spread a little seed, pick up some big box starter plants, and just add water. But it’s been 50 years since we last gardened with our relatives, and most of those “best management practices” have been lost in the brain fog. We needed new dirt under our fingernails. So, we started from scratch a year ago at WCG.

We offer these lessons and tips as you plan for the fall and 2022. As always, refer to excellent resources at the regional land grant universities such as Virginia Tech, N. C. State, and the University of Maryland. Their extension service publications are written for beginning and intermediate gardeners.

Lessons Learned:

  • Become one with your plot early on in the spring. We talked with a few other plot owners about how they prepared their soil last season.
  • Pay attention to the experts. Justin Diaz’s WCG presentation early last March got us off to a good bed preparation start.
  • Buy good seed and healthy starter plants. The big box stores’ may be cheaper, but local nurseries may be better. Ask the nursery where they got their plants. Local is better than Florida.
  • Limit the number of plants. We set 16 tomato plants in a 5’ by 10’ space. It was a jungle out there and difficult to weed and harvest the fruit. Plus, planting too close together limits air circulation which can contribute to disease.
  • Pay close attention to Jack Frost. We (Elvin) became impatient and planted the peppers and tomatoes exactly on the day of the average frost. He was lucky, but we should have waited until two weeks after the average last killing frost day of April 15.
  • Place your plant tags in the ground, so you know what varieties were successful and tasted really good. We had some excellent tomatoes this year but got the tags mixed up at planting - so it’s a guessing game as to what worked well or tasted better.
  • Put straw, leaves, or other weed inhibitors down before the plants get too big. We added straw after the cages or other supports were in the ground – no fun. In addition to inhibiting weeds, mulches also keep soil from splashing up on your plants bringing disease.
  • Speaking of cages, we placed our tomato cages after the plants were fairly tall and ended up “forcing” and bruising the branches up through the cages.
  • Weed before the weeds look you in the eye. It is easier to pull a one-inch weed compared to a “bunch” of two-foot weeds. Our walkway got out of hand at mid-season and it was uphill from thereon. And the last thing you want is for those weeds to put out seeds.
  • Don’t overwater. Just because Charlie has given all of us a continuous source of H2O at your fingertips, that doesn’t mean we should drown our plants. Watering deeper is better than watering frequently.
  • We learned to attend to our plot early in morning or late in afternoon, especially during our July and August sauna period.
  • Don’t wait too long to harvest. Eating okra or beans the consistency of shoe leather is not very appetizing.
  • Keep a clean plot. Dead fruit left on the vine or on the ground attracts fungus, insects, rodents, and nasty stares from your neighbors.
  • Take pictures and keep a log of when and how you tended to your garden.
  • Cultivate good friends. Get to know your neighbors and ask them what is working well. Exchange advice, veggies, and flowers.

And most of all, don’t give up. If the weather, bugs, and animals do not cooperate, accept it for what it is and move on “down the row.” Community gardening benefits go beyond the mere production of quality vegetables and flowers. It is a social and psychological haven for you, your family, and friends. And don’t forget to have fun so that your garden draws you back each season to a cornucopia of experiences to share with others.

 Additional References:

Vegetable Gardening: A Beginner's Guide Vegetable Gardening: A Beginner's Guide | NC State Extension Publications (

Home Vegetable Gardening  Home Vegetable Gardening | Virginia Cooperative Extension | Virginia Tech (

Vegetable Gardening  Vegetable Gardening | Cooperative Extension | University of Delaware (

Don’t make these 15 Common Garden Mistakes   Don’t make these 15 Common Garden Mistakes - Lovely Greens

About Grafted Tomatoes

By Barbara Arnold

Last spring, as we were preparing for the warm-season plant sale, we grew some Purple Cherokee plants and some rootstock plants named Maxifort. When the sprouts were the right size, Sally Hewittand I grafted them together in my basement. Though we didn’t produce a large quantity, we did offer a few for sale. So, what is the idea behind grafted tomatoes and how did they do in comparison to ungrafted heirlooms?

WHAT ARE THEY? Grafted tomatoes combine the vigor and disease resistance of a strong root stock with the outstanding flavor of an heirloom tomato that may not be as productive alone. The top of the root stock is removed and replaced with the top of the heirloom, called the scion. Then the tomatoes are placed in a healing chamber at specific temperature and humidity conditions until the graft has healed.

IS THIS GENETIC ENGINEERING? Not at all. It is simply a change in the plumbing. The top of the plant retains the exact genetics of the original heirloom plant. It is just receiving more nutrients and disease resistant qualities from the stronger root stock. Grafted tomatoes have been shown to produce significantly more and larger fruit. More production in the same space in your garden, who wouldn’t want that!

HOW DO I CARE FOR THEM? Grafted plants should be planted so that the graft remains above the soil level. You do not want the scion (upper part of the plant) to root or you lose the plant’s resistance to soil-borne disease. Remove any suckers (shoots or leaves) that appear below the graft or roots that appear above the graft. Provide support and prune carefully. These are indeterminate tomatoes (will continue to grow in height and produce fruit all season).

HOW DID GRAFTED TOMATOES DO IN OUR GARDEN THIS SEASON? We planted 3 grafted tomatoes this year; 2 purchased from a catalog (one Purple Cherokee and one Mortgage Lifter) and one Purple Cherokee that we grafted ourselves onto a Maxifort rootstock. We then planted one of each variety, not grafted, for comparison. They all received the same water and fertilizer regimen.

The 3 Purple Cherokee grew all together and into each other so it was difficult to see which was producing the best fruit. They were very productive. They did get some blight, but it was later in the season and in mid-August they still have green leaves and some green fruit coming. 

The picture below shows the ungrafted Mortgage Lifter. It was not as vigorous a plant as the grafted one and it succumbed to early blight quite quickly. We believe that we harvested about 10 tomatoes from this plant.

Now take a look at the grafted Mortgage Lifter, below. It also got early blight, but it was much later in the season. The plant was VERY vigorous and produced 47 tomatoes!

In our opinion, the extra expense and effort of grafted tomatoes really paid off. Sally Hewitt and I will, in all likelihood, try our hand at grafting next year again. If we are successful, we will again offer them for sale at the Warm Season Plant Sale probably for $10. 

Or you can buy them from a seed catalog, if you order early enough. Grafted tomato plants are offered by Totally Tomatoes, Jung Seed, Vermont Bean, and Territorial Seed, among others, and the price is usually $12.95/plant. They tend to sell out by February. You may want to give them a try.

What's Happening!

Ocrober 2021

  Fall is finally here at the Garden. The weather has been cooler and we have had some nice rains. Many of you have planted fall crops, like...