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Tomato Chef's Choice Pink F1 Beefsteak, 2015 AAS Vegetable Award WinnerTomato Chef’s Choice Pink F1 Beefsteak, 2015 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

The request I got was what are the best cherry, the best heirloom, the best standard and the best beefsteak to grow in our area?! Quite reasonable query.

Santa Barbara has such a range of zones! And, if you ask 5 gardeners they will have 5 answers! That’s my experience gardening at a community garden.

Best depends on WHEN you plant. If you plant early, you want ‘early’ producers that are more cold tolerant, the smaller varieties. A month later you can go for the bigger toms. Beefsteaks don’t do well on the Westside unless you have a hotspot. Gardeners at the Terrace don’t get the best results with them. They take too long to mature and often don’t get big like a beef steak should, take forever to redden, thus, low production.

Best depends on whether your soil has Verticillium or Fusarium wilts, which the Terrace does. And the wilts are wind borne as well as soil/water splash spread. Heirlooms generally have little resistance and die first at our garden. And whether heirlooms do well has a lot to do with what the gardener does with their soil and whether they help them out weekly/biweekly with an immune building foliar spray like the mix of powdered milk and aspirin. Soil needs worm castings, that help with the immune system, and at transplant time mycorrhizae fungi sprinkled on their roots for greater uptake of nutrients and water. Best for us are tomatoes that have VFN on their tags ~ Verticillium, Fusarium, Nematodes resistance. Resistance is exactly what it means. The plants do die sooner or later from the disease no matter how much you do, feed, spray, treat.

How the gardener plants tomatoes makes a difference. Up on a mound with a basin on top. Top that with a 1/2″ of compost, cover that with 1″ of straw to let in air and sun to dry the soil but keep the leaves from touching the soil. Touching the soil is the main way toms get the wilts. Lower leaves that might touch soil when weighted with dew or by watering need to be removed ASAP.

The wilts can’t be stopped. Sooner or later the plant leaves curl lengthwise, get dark spots, turn brown, hang sadly. Plants can produce but it’s agonizing to watch. Sometimes they somewhat recover later in the season after almost looking totally dead. I think the summer heat drys the soil and kills enough of the fungi for the plant to be able to try again. When we think it is dead, we water it less. It’s better to water near a tomato, not right at its roots. It has a deep tap root and will find water from water you give to neighboring plants.

The best of each? Cherry, heirloom, standard, beefsteak? I believe often it is totally gardener preference. If they love that variety, they will pamper it like a baby and it grows and produces like crazy! Some gardeners love Lemon Boys that are practically tasteless to me. Some gardeners like a mushy almost grainy texture. Some gardeners far prefer taste to quantity of production. I personally don’t find heirlooms to be anymore tasty than the toms I choose, though I do love their color variations and odd shapes! I’ve chosen toms just because I like their name. And I don’t recommend doing that, LOL! Some plant that variety because that’s what their family planted, sentimental, and they swear it tastes better too! Genes, you know.

Other than that, if you want to get technical, AAS Winners are a total best bet! All America Selections is a non profit of 80 years standing! The 2014 tomato winner was a yummy looking orange heirloom! They are selected each year from the best that are produced, proven producers, disease and pest tolerance/resistance. Obviously color, size, taste and texture are personal choices and best becomes a moot point. I do a little of both. I primarily pick VFNs and let myself ‘experiment’ from time to time, and let at least one volunteer live out of pure curiosity! LOL

Mother Earth News has a great collection of gardener tomato variety preferences cross country. Check it out! For the Southwest, Sungold and other cherry tomatoes are the popular, practical choice. Those of us more coastal are very lucky to have a greater range of choice.

A technical point is some varieties of tomatoes are far better for tomato grafting than others.

So, best depends on best for what, when, where and who! Personal taste, soil conditions, when you plant, where you plant. A windless hot spot with lots of light even in a cool neighborhood works well so you have more choices of varieties that will succeed.

HEAT TOLERANT VARIETIES! Many plants start shutting down, dropping flowers, baby fruits, at about 85 degrees. But, like Rattlesnake green beans that produce wonderfully in temps up to 100 degrees, there are some terrific tomatoes that keep right on producing! Look at successful varieties grown in hot inland California, southern and desert areas to see their choices, not just in the US, but places like Israel too. In this SoCal drought heat, I highly recommend you take a good look at nursery tags! Query a knowledgeable nursery person if in doubt, and double check that variety online before you purchase. Best choices from now on, in the warmer winter and hotter California summers, needs to include heat tolerance! Key words in heat tolerant tomato names are heat, solar, fire, sun!

GardenWeb has some great discussions from around the country on heat tolerant varieties and gardener tips of all kinds! Best heat resistant tomato varieties? – GardenWeb

Happy Tasty Tomatoes to You!

 

 

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Say what?!  Why is Hugelkultur, ‘hoogel kultoor,’ considered a Permaculture* technique? It resuses logs – freshly downed or old, wood debris right in place. It fits the needs of the land – less to no water, self fertilizing soil building! ‘Hugel’ means hill in German.  In this case, steep is good, tall makes for easier harvesting!  It is another form of composting in place, or building a raised bed, with more benefits, concentrating heat and nutrients!  Sepp Holzer has used the technique, but never called it Hugelkultur.  His wonderful method is diagrammed in the image.

Holzers version of Hugelkultur, hill planting, is now adopted by Permaculture gardeners.

Paul Wheaton at RichSoil.com explains it simply:

‘Hugelkultur is nothing more than making raised garden beds filled with rotten wood. This makes for raised garden beds loaded with organic material, nutrients, air pockets for the roots of what you plant, etc. As the years pass, the deep soil of your raised garden bed becomes incredibly rich and loaded with soil life. As the wood shrinks, it makes more tiny air pockets – so your hugelkultur becomes sort of self tilling. The first few years, the composting process will slightly warm your soil giving you a slightly longer growing season. The woody matter helps to keep nutrient excess from passing into the ground water – and then refeeding that to your garden plants later. Plus, by holding SO much water, hugelkultur could be part of a system for growing garden crops in the desert with no irrigation.’ He does caution about what kinds of woods not to use, and recommends the best ones to use.

Hugelkultur as diagrammed at Paul Wheaton's site RichSoil.comHolzer’s diagram shows one log.  At Wheaton’s site the diagrams show a veritable lumber yard pile!  Gradually the pile decomposes making super nutrients!  Lay down your logs – don’t be shy, stack ’em deep, twigs, branches as per the images. Fill with dry brown leaves if you have them. If you are taking up sod, turf, lay it over the top of the logs upside down, cover with soil! Plant!

You can make borders if you wish – dense hardwood logs, stones you removed from the soil you gathered.  There are so many terrific ways to vary making a Hugelkultur garden! Use what you have about, do what fits your site needs. With urban neighbors nearby or woodlands, street side to backyard, it works! Start small, add some each year, or do huge if you have the materials available!

This might not be a project to start at the beginning of a rainy season. Now would be excellent! Get some plants on the mound right away. Vines with big leaves are terrific to protect the soil from washing away, let the soil settle, get the system percolating. Squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins. Use some allysum as filler.

Perfect in areas short on water because after it’s established, the first two years, it needs NO irrigation!  It is self feeding, no fertilizer needed!

Lawns to slopes! Hugelkultur terraces act like mini bioswales to slow, spread and sink rainwater!  That’s Hugelkultur farmer Glenn Kangiser’s planted slope in the image below!  Would love to see your images if you give it a go!

Hugelkultur farmer Glenn Kangiser's planted slope!See all the details, and Paul Wheaton’s thoughtful therapy on how to talk with your skeptical friends and neighbors, and tons of images!  Click on every image to go to a thread about it! Marvelous inspiring ideas!  I used to say garden anywhere, now I’m saying Garden EVERYwhere!

* “Permaculture uses ecological design to build self-sufficient human systems that meet our needs while regenerating and healing the natural environment. Central to the practice of permaculture are three core ethics, taken from the study of cultures which have traditionally lived in balance with nature: care for the earth, care for people, share the surplus.” Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara, sbperm2006@googlegroups.com

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