What’s your favorite Italian dish? Eggplant parmesan is one of my favorites, especially with a flavorful tomato sauce. It’s funny though that we think of Italian cuisine with tomatoes when they are thought to originate in the Americas. Settlers, not sure who brought this flavorful plant back to Europe in the 16th century. There are some plants still in the wild of Peru and Ecuador. Thomas Jefferson grew them but it took till the 1800s for tomatoes to find a place back here in the Americas. Today we grow hundreds of thousands of acres of tomatoes. Most of our tomatoes are cultivated and often have trouble resisting pests and diseases.
Tomato is a member of the nightshade family, which may be why early conquerors in central and south America thought it was poisonous as many nightshade plants are poisonous. My podcast guest this week, Craig Floyd, manager at Coogan Farm in Mystic Ct., devoted his interview to growing healthy, vibrant tomato plants with high yield. How? Here’s a recap of his fabulous tips.
- Soil: A soil test is a must: tomatoes need four minerals in particular: Magnesium, Iron, Manganese, and Nitrogen. We recommend Logan Labs in Ohio who offer a more comprehensive analysis.
- Seed: Choose heirloom or organic seeds. Add an innoculant to your seed bag which can help germination time.
- When planting choose the biggest, fattest seed from the lot.
- Don’t plant too early. Do transplant when seedlings are 4″ high. Any taller they may not fulfill their potential.
- Plant 60″ apart. Place four basil plants around them or another companion plant like carrots.
- Drench seedlings with compost tea before transplanting. Then, water every day.
- Microbiology is so important. Add mulch material around plants every week. They need a good dose of worm castings, seaweed. Seaweed unlocks nutrients and keeps some bugs away.
- Craig keeps three main leaders and removes suckers.
What is the tomato’s potential: try 22′ long yielding 300 lbs of fruit. That’s a wow in my book. When I visited Craig in his Giving Garden recently, he showed us his hoop house with poles high up to capture the growing vines. Can’t wait to visit in the spring and summer and watch their progress from seedling to fruit producing. The best part is that the food banks in New London reap the benefits. Healthy sustainable food is given to feed the food insecure: inspiring and motivating, I highly recommend you make the Coogan Farm and nearby nature trails a place to visit this summer.
If you go, share a pic, tell us about your experience. We’d love to hear from you.
Please share. Thanks. Enjoy. Judith
Description: Craig manages the Coogan Farm part of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic CT. He’s often at the Giving Garden, turning over the compost pile, checking on seeds, working with his volunteers creating 11,000 sq feet of edibles. Dedicated and passionate about feeding hungry children, he’s a wealth of knowledge. In today’s podcast, we talk about tomatoes, those red luscious fruits that are best eaten freshly picked on a hot summer’s day.
Did you ever wonder what a single tomato’s plant potential is? Tune in for specific growing tips and how to’s for superb healthy tomato plants with high yield.
About My guest: Craig Floyd. Farm Manager for the Coogan Farm in Mystic CT. Craig manages 11,000 sq feet as part of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. He’s passionate about using his extensive farming experience creating a sustainable, healthy no-till,, no-spray garden in order to give quality food to the needy. He watches children with emotional and physical handicaps change as they roam the garden. It works for adults too. I encourage everyone to put the Coogan Farm and Nature Center Trails on their to-do list this year. It’s worth it. and if you have the time, why not lend a hand? Volunteers are always welcome.
Transcript: #52 Craig Floyd #2
Description: Today’s talk is all about bees and pollinators. Gunther Hauk is a world-renowned advocate for bees. Spikenard Farm and Honeybee Sanctuary, in Floyd VA, offers training, classes in beekeeping, seed saving and more. Featured in the documentary, Queen of the Sun, he shares his wisdom, expertise and deep caring for the natural world. I am honored to have him here today and I hope you will be as inspired as I am by his wise counsel. All comments are appreciated.
About My Guest: Gunther Hauk is a retired Waldorf school teacher. He is the founder of Spikenard Farm, Honeybee Sanctuary, located in Floyd, VA. He is also the founder of the Pfeiffer Center in Spring Valley, NY. Both farms operate on biodynamic principles. Gunther is featured in Queen of the Sun documentary where he joins with others highlighting the issues and the grave concerns many have over the honeybee population declines.
Transcript: #51 Gunther Hauk
Dirt, soil, the very earth we stand on is capturing the heart and the mind of science.
“Scoop up a handful of soil. The dirt you hold in your palms forms the basis of the life around you, from the earthworms crawling in your garden to the raptors hundreds of feet in the air. But soil is not just a lifeless pile of earth. Symbiotic fungi living in plant roots—known as mycorrhiza—help the plants extract vital nutrients. Other microbes break down decaying plants and animals, replenishing the materials used by the plants.”
There is so much we are learning about soil, the intricate, complex and captivating root system and microbe community beneath our feet. Do you garden and have a compost pile? Have you spread out that composted material on garden beds and marveled at the transformation of various materials? While I have tossed kitchen scraps and lawn clippings into a bin it wasn’t until I met the compost kings at several master Gardener demo gardens in VA that I really began to appreciate the process. We often referred to the men who managed the compost bins as our ‘compost kings’, a title they rightly deserved. From managing the bins temperature, receiving garden materials from weeded beds, to turning them over and then doling out, they were true stewards of this precious material. We then had the pleasure of taking this soil and using it in various garden beds. Soil that’s healthy and viable has a rich smell, deep brown color, holds together fairly well. Some call it ‘black gold.’
In today’s world, we have to acknowledge that we have not been good soil stewards. We have lost over one-third of the earth’s topsoil in just 100+ years. tillage farming, mono-crop farming was born from expansion after WWII. Today, family farms are almost an endangered species.
My podcast guest this week, Kimberly Kresevic, Founder of InSoil Health shares a microscopic photo of soil microbes. She brings her microscope out to farms and shows folks, in present time, what is in their soil. Are there enough microbes to indicate the soil is healthy and thriving? If not what can one do to amend that soil, cultivate and /or innoculate the soil to increase viability?
Mycorrhizal fungi act like mediators within this vast underground world. They are traders too. This tree over here wants more of this nutrient, fungi find a supplier and in exchange they receive food. They love carbs and thrive on carbs from plants.
Microbes: are also multifunctional: they help remove essential elements from rocks, keeping those minerals and more into play. They also help to break down organic matter. We know that various forms of decaying matter are rich with nutrients and the decaying process makes them bioavailable.
It is said that one teaspoon of soil contains a million life forms. Pretty incredible and yet we have so much to learn.
What can you do today to protect our soils?
- Look closely at your yard. Are there any more natural plantings you can include? Is so, make that a part of your action plan.
- For the beginner and novice gardener, consider leaving or cutting weeds down to the roots only. The root systems of these plants support and keep the mycorrhizal network alive and thriving.
- Fill in any bare spots. Make that a part of your spring cleanup. Plant an edible shrub if the spot is big enough. Use wildflowers. Add milkweed or other pollinator-friendly plants. Weeds, wildflowers need little to no attention, are drought resistant and build soil and sequester carbon.
We got an electric mower to keep the paths in our garden manageable and at the same time keep the roots intact. We keep the clippings wherever they land. One new act we added last year is now part of our routine. What are your spring plans this year? What can you do to grow more viable, healthy soil?
I appreciate all the comments. Please share. Thanks. Enjoy.
Description: Our soil is a living organism. As soil science and our understanding of the complexity contained within the soil grows, our models for growing food change and hopefully for the better. My guest this week, Kimberly Kresevic, suggests that we are growing beyond just organic. Soils need to be abundantly healthy with a strong biome in order to give us nutrient dense health sustaining food. Sustainability, regeneration are the operative words for soil health and long term maintenance in agriculture. Whether small backyard farming or large scale agriculture, Kim’s company is changing how we build soil one farm at a time. Join us for a timely and informative discussion.
About My Guest: Kimberley Kresevic is President and Founder of InSoil Health, a data analytics and educational consultancy based out of Northeast Ohio. With diverse experience in both healthcare and biological cultivation, Kim brings a unique systems-based approach to current food production challenges. Driven by the principle that nutrition is the foundation of human health and vitality, Kim works with growers in all walks of life and at all scales to improve food quality using natural biological techniques. By focusing on soil population data, systems improvement, and the human health value proposition, Kim helps growers invigorate the Soil Foodweb, reduce input costs, and eliminate the toxic environmental effects of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.
Transcript: #50 Kim Kresevic
I live on property not only bordered by state forest but with a pond in the far back yard. Last spring I got to really hear the mating sounds of frogs, a specific chorus of sounds that said, ‘Hey, look at me. I’m a worthy mate’. Frogs mating sound slowly builds, climaxes and then recedes, a beautiful symphony for the mid-spring concert already going on. I loved listening, learning about them first hand and then watching hundreds of eggs pool around the edges and finally hatch into tadpoles.
What’s the sound all about?
( photo courtesy of j. dreyer)
“Most often it’s only the male frogs call, and calls are species-specific though there are dialects by region (croak, croak, croak yall). Dialects allow males to self-sort and avoid competing with males from other areas that are far away or outside their region. Male frogs call to attract mates and to advertise their fitness to females. Mostly mating is done at night under cover of darkness so frogs use vocalizations instead of visual displays. Calls are produced in the larynx and are amplified by one or more vocal sacs. These sacs are thin membranes of skin that are either directly under the chin or extending from chin to mouth. Female frogs may respond to the males to encourage their advances with short croaks or other sounds (some females object quite vocally if they don’t find the male’s advances desired).”
Why are frogs so important?
- They are a mid-food chain species. I didn’t know this but they are both predator and prey. They eat blooms and algae and they are food for a variety of critters including birds, fish, snakes and more.
- They are an indicator species. They thrive in freshwater habitats and need suitable land to survive. They are also thin-skinned, highly permeable so they can absorb chemicals and other toxins such as bacteria.
- Don’t like mosquitoes? Well, who does? They help control insect populations not only grabbing them for chow, but they also eat the larvae which can transmit diseases.
- Some poisonous frog toxins are currently researched for their potential for creating other drugs.
My podcast guest this week, Katherine Hauswirth, a writer, and naturalist shares that she got involved in a Frog watch program here in CT. She joined a Frog Watch team, learned 11 different frog sounds in order to monitor frog populations and health in her ‘neck of the woods’. If you live in the NE here’s a really cool site that gives you frog sounds. Also, FrogWatch USA has more information based on your particular state. I highly recommend you check them out.
Frog species are hurting. They need clean fresh water and uncontaminated land. How can we help? Be mindful of them in your landscapes. Many gardeners I know leave dishes of water for them in the garden. I happen to be fortunate in that we have a wildlife pond in our backyard, teeming with various species. Our frogs and toads sing and create a chorus of sound from spring through fall, especially enchanting at dusk. When hiking, leave them alone in their habitats. If you have children who like to pick them up, remind them that frogs and toads are thin skinned and gently place them back down to the ground.
What can we do to help? Pick your favorite species. If frogs happen to be one of them follow the links above and help in a local frog watch. If another critter has your heart and your eye look into the Defenders of Wildlife.
From the Defenders of Wildlife:
- Adopt an Animal. A symbolic adoption helps several animals in the wild.
- Take Action. Visit our Wildlife Action Center to send a message to government leaders.
- Speak Up for Wildlife. …
- Stay Informed. …
- Become a Defender of Wildlife.
Wildlife needs us whether we like them or not. So many species are seriously threatened, including frogs. What action can you take today to make a difference to our wildlife, nature? Got a favorite nature story? Share your stories and know I enjoy hearing from you. All comments are appreciated. Thanks. Judith