Native to the Andean region of South American and under cultivation in Peru in the sixteenth century, tomatoes (Lycopersicum esculentum) have been grown for thousands of years. The Spanish introduced them to the European cultures. Europeans were not open to trying tomatoes until the end of the sixteenth century, as tomatoes, being part of the nightshade family, were considered poisonous. Later, the French tried them and began to call them “pommes d’amour”, apples of love. They felt that tomatoes carried aphrodisiac qualities. It wasn’t until the 1900’s when the tomato gained popularity in North America.
Scientific research shows the health benefits from this tasty fruit. In recent years, researchers discovered that tomatoes were natural sources of the element lycopene. This antioxidant has been shown in tests to dramatically reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and many cancers, including prostate and colon cancers. Tomatoes are an excellent source of phytochemicals, nutrients, fiber, and contain practically no fat or sodium. They are significant sources of vitamins A, B, and C and a source of iron and potassium. In fact, one medium-sized tomato provides 20 percent of the daily-recommended value of vitamin A and 40 percent of the daily-recommended value of vitamin C.
How To Grow
Tomatoes are very easy to grow from seed. In all, there are more than 100 types of tomatoes to choose from. Though most people believe ripe tomatoes are red, they actually come in many colours, including green, yellow, purple — even striped. Unless you grow your own, you will not have the opportunity to experience the many varieties. If you don’t have the time, buy tomato plants from garden centres. Look for different varieties as they are becoming more readily available from growers.
Six to eight weeks before transplanting, start tomato seeds by filling a seedling flat with a good quality seedling mixture. Use an excellent quality potting soil from the garden centre to make sure the soil is sterilized and has a high percentage of sphagnum peat moss and perlite. Don’t use garden soil, as it tends to become hard and inhibits proper rooting of seedlings, and it may contain insects, disease, weed seeds, or chemical residue.
Sow seeds no deeper than the thickness of the seed: sprinkle the seeds onto the soil-filled flat and press them down gently. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of fine, horticultural-grade vermiculite to prevent drying. Water just enough to moisten the soil with a fine mist spray such as the sprayer on the kitchen sink or a mister bottle. Keep the seeds evenly moist to ensure the mixture never dries out as both germinating seeds and seedlings are very intolerant of dry soil and will die if they are dry for even a short time. Cover the flat or pot with plastic wrap or a clear plastic bag. Remove the plastic as soon as seedlings emerge.
Tag each container with the date planted and the tomato variety. To promote rapid germination, place the flat on a heated table, top of the refrigerator, or a heat register. Once they germinate and seedlings begin to appear, move them from the heat source into a location with lots of light. They need very high light levels to grow properly: a south-facing window without blinds or curtains is ideal. Use grow lights to enhance growth. Hang the lights 6 inches (15 cm) from plants and leave lights on for 14 hours a day.
Transplant the seedlings into larger, individual containers once the first ‘true’ leaves appear. After transplanting, fertilise once a week with a plant-starter fertilizer such as 10-52-10 at 1/4 strength. As an organic gardener, I do not use commercial fertilizer, only fish fertilizer on my transplants. They are strong, healthy plants and are fed weekly until moved outdoors. Harden-off and plant them very deeply where the stems will develop roots helping the plant become established.
Tomatoes are heavy feeders and need ample quantities of compost or decomposed manure. Mulch and water in dry weather to maintain soil moisture and stave off wilt disease and blossom-end rot. Blossom-end rot is caused by water stress or calcium deficiency. Watering regularly and evenly is the key to preventing blossom-end rot. Never water tomatoes from the top. Water tomatoes from below and water deeply.
In the garden, tomatoes are compatible with chives, onion, parsley, marigold, nasturtium, and carrot. Tomatoes and all members of the Brassica family repel each other and should be kept apart. Plant garlic between tomato plants to protect them from red spider mites. Tomatoes will protect roses against black spot. To make a spray for roses, place tomato leaves in your vegetable juicer, add 4 or 5 pints of water and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Strain and spray on roses when it is not convenient to plant tomatoes as companions. Label and keep any unused spray in the refrigerator.
In the kitchen, tomatoes can be used for salads, soups, juices, sauces, stews, baked dishes, sandwiches, stuffed, grilled, broiled, pasta dishes, and salsa. They combine well with meat, fish, poultry, pasta, rice, as well as other vegetables. Store tomatoes at room temperature. To ripen green tomatoes, place in a brown paper bag with an apple at room temperature for several days. If fresh tomatoes aren’t available, use canned tomatoes or canned tomato juice, which are fine substitutes.
Gardening seems to come naturally to some. Unfortunately I?m not one of them and still learning as I go – with helpful advice from my garden-loving mum along the way. Below are some basic tips to organize your garden ? Enjoy the fresh air!
Soil Type & Nutrient Levels: Urban soils are often lacking in nutrients, especially where organic material such as leaves and grass clippings are removed and not able to decompose naturally and return nutrients to the soil. You need to know what type of soil you have before spending any money on plants, so dig a few holes to find out what your soil ?profile? is. The holes need to be approx 30 cm deep. Usually you have top soil with a noticeable sub-soil not far underneath. You should be able to see the layers, and then lower again it may be clay, rocky, rubble or sandy. You obviously need to select plants that suit the type of soil you have so they have a good chance of survival. Clay soil for example is difficult and doesn’t drain well but is usually very nutritious. Sandy soils however are easy to dig but are often low in nutrients. The best way to improve any type of soil is to add organic material. Organize a compost bin, as they are great for this purpose.
pH Levels: If the soil is too acidic or too alkaline, plants won?t be able to access the nutrients – even if there are lots in the soil. You can buy pH testing kits from large nurseries. The most common test is to mix your soil with the chemical provided, then sprinkle the mixture with the powder provided. The powder changes color which you then match to a color chart. If the pH is 6 or below, then the soil is acidic. If your pH is 6.5 – 7.5 then it right for most plants. 8 or above is alkaline.
Drainage: A simple way to asses the quality of drainage you have is to fill the holes you have made and see how long it takes for them to empty. If it drains quickly then it?s probably a sandy soil and moisture retention could be a problem. Some ideas in this instance are – mulching, adding organic material and using water-storing crystals. If the water is still there after a few hours then you have drainage issues. Some ideas in this instance are raised flower-beds, installing drainage, helping the soil aerate by adding organic material to attract earthworms. However the best way to deal with these restrictions is to choose plants that do well in your type of soil.
Composting: Composting provides you with a free source of high quality, soil-enhancing material, reducing the need to use animal manure, which often introduces weeds to the garden. The types of materials you can put into a compost bin include food scraps, eggshells, leaves, grass clippings, soft prunings. You can have a closed compost bin – preventing rats etc from breeding and also keeps down odor levels, or you can build an open-heap. There are pros and cons for each. It is difficult to get air into a composting bin, which isn?t ideal – as this slows down the process. A heap is more untidy, but easier to manage and is usually quicker to break down. If you choose a closed bin then remember to keep your bin in a semi-shaded area. Earthworms need some respite from the heat as it goes through it?s various stages of decomposing. Get air into the mixture by turning it over regularly. If you plan to take your gardening seriously then having two bins/heaps is an efficient way to get the best results for your garden ? you can add to one and let the other ?cook?. NB: Remember to always use gardening gloves when handling compost and other organic materials for your own safety & be aware that it takes several months for compost to break down enough to use.
Bugs and slugs: A good way to get rid of snail and slugs is to put out a saucer of beer. This is kinder to the bird life that may otherwise eat the poisonous pellets used. Similarly Marigolds are also good to keep insects out of your veggie patch.
Mulch: Mulching means covering the top of your soil with a layer of material such as straw, leaf litter, bark chips or seaweed mulching. It can help reduce evaporation, which saves time, money and is of course importantly good environmentally. It is particularly helpful in high soil salinity areas. Mulching keeps soil temperatures cooler. Mulch attracts earthworms, aerating the soil and provides nutrients at the same time. It protects the soil surface from the negative effect of rain and sprinklers, allowing the soil to absorb the water more readily, preventing run off, which also helps prevent erosion. It helps maintain good soil structure so that plant roots have better levels of moisture and oxygen. Layers of paper are sometimes used under mulch to prevent weeds but this may attract nematodes and termites. Mulch should not be any thicker than 75mm otherwise deoxygenation occurs which kills plants. Organic mulch is the preferred type, but is not as effective as inorganic or living mulch when it comes to long term weed control. Many people tend to go for a combination of mulch to average out the pros and cons of each.
Water: In this age of drought if you are allowed to water at all, it is a must to use a tap timer with a drip water system, soaker sprinklers waste an enormous amount of water. Giving your garden a light spray daily discourages deep roots to grow, which helps make your plants hardier. Another water saving idea is to install a rainwater tank to collect water for use on the garden. There are plenty of new aesthetically appealing and compact designs out there to meet all manner of needs ?particularly if you have a small garden. NB: If you like water fountains, before purchasing one consider that 50% of the water in a fountain can be lost through evaporation on a hot day so research this properly before getting one.
Drought resistant plants: Drought resistant plants have become very popular, they look fantastic and are easy to look after. Group together any plants that have greater watering needs so that extra watering can be contained to the one area.
Fertiliser: Over-fertilising can cause problems, so don’t add more than the recommended amount. Never apply liquid fertiliser to dry plants. Too much fertiliser in the soil makes it hard for plants to absorb water and roots may even lose water if the soil is over-fertilised. Don?t put fertiliser in the bottom of the planting hole, as this can lead to loss of water from the roots. Fertiliser is best applied at the surface where it can be dissolved by water.
Root systems: You need to be very gentle when handling/transplanting root systems or permanent injury may result ? the fine new roots and root hairs use most of the water. When back filling be careful to ensure no air pockets are left. Compressing too much will also cause problems so be conscious of keeping the soil structure balanced so it can freely drain and so that the roots can easily push through. Just watering around the base of a plant is not enough so be sure to water widely around the plant.
Sowing Seeds: Propagating plants from seed is a cost-effective way to produce bedding plants for massed displays. Plants vary enormously in their requirements for germination. Some seeds require light & some darkness to germinate, and for others it can handle either. Always read the directions on the seed packets carefully ? for best results. Once the shoot emerges, the plant requires sufficient light levels to grow well. Seeds do not need fertiliser to germinate but once the root has grown, fertiliser may be useful after this has occurred.
Pruning: Use sharp tools, (ragged edges encourage disease) making clean cuts that angle away from the buds. Cut close to and parallel to other branches. Some species respond better to more severe pruning. When in doubt go easy! Deciduous shrubs that flower in summer and autumn are generally pruned in winter, while those that flower in spring are generally pruned immediately after flowering.
Because gardening has evolved into such a popular activity, gardening products are not hard to come by. You can buy gardening products in various stores or nurseries, or you can order gardening products from catalogues, or even order them online. Gardening products can range from equipment too fertilize to the actual plant itself.
You will obviously need the basic gardening products no matter what you are planting, such as a hoe, spade, and maybe even a shovel. You must have watering supplies, like a water hose and perhaps a sprinkler. Other possibilities include a spade, a pot (if you are pot planting), and a pair of gloves for comfort, some secuturs, or a rake. When first starting a garden you will definitely want some type of mulch or potting soil to get your dirt ready. There are a few types of potting soil to choose from, including organic potting mix, seed starting potting mix, cactus potting mix, and root development potting mix, just to name a few.
Once you have your garden planted, you must have gardening products so that you can add nutrients to the soil to ensure a healthy plant life. Miracle-Gro is one of the most popular growing enhancements for plants. There are many different types of Miracle-Gro to choose from and what kind you choose will depend on what you are trying to grow. You will also want to add fertilize, such as 10-20-10 or triple 13, depending on the needs of your soil.
If you are growing vegetables or herbs, you may need different gardening products than regular flower gardens require. If you are growing tomatoes you will need a tomato cage and ties to protect the plants against the wind. Many plants, mostly vines, are designed to grow on something and you will have to have a fence or trellis of some sort.
Gardening products are not limited to just the gardening necessities; they can also come in the form of decoration. There are decorative flower pots, sundials, plastic figurines, stones or bricks for a pathway or looks, and even lawn furniture. Decoration will add to the charm and uniqueness of your garden and are an excellent way to give it a personal touch.
The winter months will bring a whole new set of gardening products to store shelves. When the frost hits the prime place to put your plants are in a greenhouse. However, if you do not have a greenhouse for whatever reason, a tarp of some sorts can be used to cover plants up at night. You also might need a light source, like a heat lamp, to both keep plants warm and give them extra light.
New and upgraded gardening products are always popping up on the market. It seems like every day there is some gardening product that claims to be bigger and better than the last. While many gardening products are not a necessity, they sure make the job a lot easier and more enjoyable.
Your lawnmower is an investment that will keep your lawn turning heads???as long as you take care of the engine. Proper lawnmower care is crucial to for smooth performance. The changing seasons require certain precautions to properly store the lawn mower while it is not in use. Here are six steps you should take to protect your lawn mower throughout the year:
1. Check the Battery
Recharge the battery throughout the off-season starting the engine from time to time or simply attach the battery to a charger.
2. Check the Fuel
All engines can be damaged by old or deteriorated fuel. In as little as just one month, gasoline can deteriorate damage your lawnmower’s small engine by clogging the carburetor, thus preventing the engine from starting properly. The keep your lawnmower’s engine clean, add a fuel stabilizer each time you fill the tank.
3. Check the Oil
Just like automotive engines, small engines must undergo regular oil changes. Oil lubricates the engine during use, which prevents premature damage. Before starting the lawn mower in the spring, give it an oil change. This is especially important if you did not change the oil before storing it for the winter.
4. Lubricate Moving Parts
The engine is not the only part of your lawn mower that requires proper lubrication. It is a good idea to keep all moving parts, including the wheels and cables, adequately lubricated with oil or grease. If you still have the owner’s manual, check it for details on properly lubricating moving parts.
5. Replace Spark Plugs and Filters
Replacing spark plugs and air filters before the first spring use is an inexpensive way to properly maintain and protect your lawn mower. Do this every year to extend the life of your mower. Replace paper filters, and thoroughly wash and air dry foam filters. Don’t forget to change the fuel filter as well.
6. Check the Blades
Every spring, you should have your lawnmower’s blades sharpened. Dull blades could damage your lawn and will cause the lawn mower to be less fuel-efficient. A damaged lawn and inefficient mower will also make you work much harder than you need to. It is a good idea to sharpen the lawn mower blades at lease once a month during the peak season.
7. Clean the Deck
A dirty deck can cause your mower to work harder than it should and to burn more fuel. It can also damage your lawn. Cleaning the deck is relatively simple and should be done after each use. Simply turn the mower onto its side, carefully positioning it so that motor oil does not leak into the fuel system. Then scrape or hose off lawn clippings from the deck of the mower. If possible, spray silicone lubricant onto the deck to reduce build up during use. Make sure the mower is completely off before cleaning the deck to avoid injury.
Behind every pristine lawn is careful lawnmower maintenance. In addition to better mower performance, lawnmower maintenance saves money, as a well-lubricated, clean machine is more energy efficient and requires less fuel. As long as you follow these simple tips when preparing your lawn mower for the spring and summer, you should enjoy a good working mower for many years to come.
~Ben Anton, 2009