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Gardening Tips

My Plants are Growing, now what do I do?

 After you read this your tomato plants will do 25% better.  So let's get started.

 1) Get your tomato plants off the ground.  If they are not in a cage, get them in a cage.  If that's impossible then tie them to a large vertical stake, ie. 7' plastic stake, large fallen tree branch, fence, Derrick Rose, something...

 2) Support the plant.  You've noticed they are growing rapidly, getting dense and probably have tomatoes the size of a golf ball or larger by now.  When that big storm comes through it'll break that stem in half unless it's supported.  If they are in a cage you can thread a plastic stake down through the cage, perhaps on the inside of the top 2 rings and on the outside of the bottom 2 rings of the cage.

 3) Support the plant again.  Now put a stake or tree branch in the ground about 1' or 2' from the main stem.  Take an old cotton shirt and cut off some long strips.  Loop the strip around the main stem of the plant and tie to the support stake.  Search on "how to support a tomato plant" to get visuals.

 4) Prune your plant.  Two kinds of pruning will be needed.  The first is to crack off the lowest branch on the tomato plant.  It's got to go, show no mercy. At the main stem just bend it up 90 degrees then down 90 degrees and you'll hear it snap.  Don't worry, the plant will heal the wound.  Two days later crack off the next lowest branch and a week from now the lowest again.  Ultimately, the lowest thing remaining on the plant will be a cluster of tomatoes.

 5) Prune again.  The second kind of pruning is cracking off the "suckers".  Picture the main stem growing straight up and branches growing straight out at 90 degrees.  Suckers are the growth between the stem and branches at a 45 degree angle.  If left on the plant they will grow into secondary stems and compete for resources with the main stem.  Ideally, a plant allocates its nutrients and resources to one main stem and clusters of tomatoes.  If you have too many stems then you will have more tomatoes but they will be smaller, not as tasty and may not mature in time before the cooler weather appears.  Just crack off the tender suckers and be aware they will appear all the way up the plant.

 6) Water at the base of your plant.  Don't water from the top down or spray the leaves.  If the plant leaves are wilting they need water and if they are curling up from the sides they may be over-watered.

 7) Feed the plant.  Dirt has no nutrients.  Give the plant some Miracle-Gro or slow release food such as Garden-Tone from Espoma available at Chalet.

 8) Ask for help.  Submit a question if you need some assistance.


For basil and hot peppers, don't prune off suckers or branches and don't water too much...they enjoy some stress


For cucumbers, they are heavy feeders and need water every day and fertilizer once a month.  Strong support is needed as they can climb 15' very easily and very quickly.


Plant some parsley seeds now - you will be glad at Thanksgiving you did.


It's not too late to plant something in your garden that your kids will eat and love.  

Many cool season crops that we plant in the WELL garden in April can also be sown in the fall.  Not all veggies require plentiful sun so these can be planted in areas that get partial shade.  The official frost date for our region is October 15 but a damaging freeze may not come until late October/early November.  Here are some vegetables to think about planting from seed that can still be obtained in packets from the Chalet:

1) Sugar snap peas - takes about 2 months to get a yield but they are worth the gamble to try.  Push the pea in the ground about 1 inch, or the equivalent up to your first knuckle on index finger, and then cover with soil and pat down soil lightly.  You can plant them in rows or blocks approximately 1 inch apart in all directions.  It's still hot out so water the ground once a day.  They will want a trellis or wire or fence to climb up.

2) Lettuce - mesclun mix or simpson elite work great or any type of garden blend.  Romaine goes to seed (bolt) too fast so skip it.  This matures in about 30 days so you may be able to sneak in a 2nd planting.  With a ruler, make a trough or something that approximates a V shape in the soil, about 1/4 inch deep.  Pour some of the seeds in your palm and with your fingers sprinkle the seeds into the trough and then with your hands just push the soil back over the seeds or sprinkle on some fine soil.  Pat down gently.  Water...don't flood it.   Keep the extra seeds until next spring.

3) Arugula - see lettuce above.  Spicier, more peppery than lettuce.  Hard to find seed packets this time of year but it goes great with Italian dishes and wines.

4) Spinach - this really turned out well for us in the spring as we had about 35' of it in the raised bed by the 1st grade rooms.  It will mature in about a month and is pretty easy to handle in seed form.  The seeds are much larger than lettuce seeds but need to be planted deeper than lettuce, about 1/2 inch.  Make a V trough and with index finger and thumb drop seeds 1 inch apart, cover, and pat down.  You'll have enough for a 20-25' row easy, so save the rest for the spring.

5) Radishes - the seeds are easy to handle and the plant grows in spite of you.  Harvest in 30 days while they are small and mild...if you wait too long they get bitter and give radishes a bad name.

If you have a small area to deal with you could plant a row of all five in a four foot space.  Just plant something and see how it goes.  Keep it watered - meaning moist - not drenched.

How to ripen your fruit before a frost kills it

The frost date for our area is October 15, meaning that's the average day we can expect a frost and with it, destruction to the tender annuals in your garden such as herbs and vegetables. Last night's low may have caused some purple splotches on your basil...sorry, it won't recover.
But, there is a way to ripen those less-than-perfect green/yellow/orange tomatoes that are in danger of being ruined on the vine, either from frost or birds and squirrels looking for a meal.
Step 1 - buy some bananas, the greener the better.
Step 2 - put the bananas, along with your unripened fruit, in a brown paper bag.
Step 3 - crumple the bag down and clip it tight with clothes pins or a chip clip.
Step 4 - there is no step 4.
Bananas give off ethylene gas as they ripen and this gas ripens all types of fruit. This technique will ripen your tomatoes - as well as avocados and pears - very quickly.
Have your kids test this. Get some rock-hard avocados and orange-ish tomatoes and put them in a brown paper bag with some green bananas and in two-three days you'll have ripe, red tomatoes and perfect avocados, or your money back.


Get your tomato plants in the ground this weekend!

In the Romona garden we've had some tomato plant varieties in the ground for two weeks but for those procrastinators, the clock doesn't start ticking on "days-to-maturity" until you get the plant in the ground.  If you have started your plants from seed they need to be "hardened-off" before they can be in the ground 24/7.  Leave them outside for 2-4 hours the first day, 8-12 hours on day two and all day/all night on day three...then they'll be acclimated enough to plant.

To plant:
1) Work the soil one foot in each direction from where you will plant.  Pour a lot of water on the spot and if it doesn't drain fairly quickly you have too much clay and you'll need to add some compost to allow for better drainage.

2) Pinch off, or snap off, the bottom two single leaves and the lowest branch.  In other words, say your plant is a foot long, you'll be planting anywhere from one-half to two-thirds of it in the ground.  Tomatoes are the only plant that's planted deeper than its original depth because any part of the stem that is below ground will automatically sprout roots.  If you examine the bottom part of the plant closely you'll see almost fine hairs coming out of the stem...these will become roots when submerged below ground.  This is the most important step of all.

3) Pack the soil around your plant so there are no air pockets below, and the lowest branch on your plant should just barely be above ground.

4) Water it in.  Come back in 30 minutes and water it in again.  DO NOT water the leaves, water the ground around the stem base.  If it doesn't make it through the night start over with a new plant.

Watch it grow.  Early on the plant will double in size every two weeks.  Eventually you'll need a cage or some sort of support structure because the plant must be allowed to grow vertically and off the ground completely.

Good luck, and write us with any questions.

A few thoughts by others to get you motivated...

The author Barbara Kingslover wrote “all you need in life are sisters and homegrown tomatoes.”

I have never had so many good ideas day after day as when I worked in the garden.

When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands.

We want that presence all year long, so the winter tomato pretends to be a real tomato and we pretend to believe it, at least until summer rolls around again.  Then it's as if the winter tomato never existed. By June the anticipation is almost too much to stand. I cut my first garden-warm tomato into thick slices, drizzle it with good olive oil, sprinkle coarse salt over it, and eat it with a knife and fork beside a window full of sun. The ones after that I chop into coarse chunks, then let these mellow all afternoon in a big bowl with cubes of fresh mozzarella, torn bits of niçoise olives, tiny basil leaves, minced garlic, olive oil, salt, and hot red pepper flakes. When evening comes, I have only to rip apart a thick, chewy loaf of bread and supper is ready.

Put your garden to bed correctly so it'll wake up ready in the spring

If you have been paying attention you've noticed some plants in your garden are still thriving and producing, such as peppers, carrots, parsley, perennial herbs and maybe even cherry and plum tomatoes.  They will continue to do so until we get a heavy frost or a freeze and then it will be time to finish off your gardening for the year in a few easy steps.  If you have no plants alive you can start this immediately.

1) Clear out plants and weeds.  You will have to do a bit of weeding in the spring also but it's easier now while the ground is still soft.  If grass has crept in to your garden it means the rhizomes (roots) have snuck under your edge or barrier.  You'll have to dig the barrier deeper for next year.

2) It's OK to leave some plant roots in the ground.  Worms feed on the roots and there are not many better natural inhabitants in your garden than worms.  The worms dig tunnels in the ground which provide aeration and paths for the roots to grow.  The worms' shed casings provide nutrients for the plants and the worms themselves eat matter in the ground and turn it into compost.  Oh, that leads to our most important step.

3) Put mulched leaves and grass clippings on your garden.  If you have a leaf blower it probably has a mulch attachment and bag.  Suck up those crunchy fallen tree leaves and cover your garden area with an inch or three of the pulverized leaves.  If no leaf blower, then cover your garden area with the bagged grass clippings and leaves after you mow.  The leaves/grass clippings provide nitrogen and carbon to the soil and help loosen up the soil so you don't need to keep adding peat moss and other amendments.  The worms, bacteria and microorganisms in the soil will break down the leaves/grass into compost by next spring.  That's what compost is.

4) Turn the soil.  After you've covered the garden area break out a big shovel and turn the top 12 inches.  You'll turn it again in the spring but you're done for this year.  Now go relax in the house and make some risotto with the parsley from your garden.

Recipes from the Garden
Put Your Basil (and Parsley) to Good Use
A homemade basil pesto is cheap and very versatile...use with pasta, chicken, fish, soups or just with crusty bread.  It's also very easy because you never have to use a knife.
1) In a food processor put in a generous bunch of basil leaves, 1 or 2 garlic cloves (these can be crushed or not) and a small handful of pine nuts.
2) Lightly pulse it a bit until everything is broken down.
3) Spoon out into a bowl or tupperware container.
4) Add the best quality extra virgin olive oil you have.  The pesto paste will absorb a surprisingly large amount of the oil.
5) Add grated parmesan Reggiano.
Done.  You can stop right here.
Outside of Italy pesto can be interpreted as paste, not necessarily basil-based, so here are some variations:
- Toast the pine nuts; heat in small pan over low flame 1-2 minutes until you smell them.  Don't brown too much or burn them.
- Substitute pistachio nuts for the pine nuts or split.
- Use parsley, spinach, arugula or mint instead of basil or split.
- You can add the olive oil into the food processor while it's running but it can get messy.
- The 3 year aged parmesan from Treasure Island is best but more expensive.  The 2 year aged is good enough.
- The cheese is salty and the toasted nuts probably preclude you from needing much salt and pepper.