Rumble in the Jungle

MiracleGro Tomande
Miracle Tomande

Remember the MiracleGro vs. Organic experiment? At the risk of losing my greenie status, Round 1 goes decisively to the MiracleGro Tomande — whose thick hearty stalk, big healthy leaves, and prolific blossoms totally kick Organic’s scrawny, curly (nutrient deficient?), flowerless butt.

Organic Tomande
Organic Tomande

Where’s the Tomato?

Philly’s cold wet spring (remember that?) has been immediately replaced by a hot, dry August. Er. June. A few weeks ago, in a flurry of pre-littlest deckhand productivity, spindly-looking seedlings were planted and just today the minder managed to thin, snip, and top off those tomato pots.

Incidentally, it appears as though the newest (and littlest) deckhand isn’t much help after all. When asked to haul up a bucket of water she said, “pbbbbtttt.” Go figure. But, thanks to an hour-long walk with Appa, the tomatoes got a second helping of dirt.  The goal here, by the way, is that new roots will form along the newly submerged stem and the plant will grow big and strong. The tomatoes even got the first complex sentences of the day. Not once did their minder say, “Where’s the tomato?” Progress.

And plenty of tomatoes, there are. Here’s hoping this year’s crew, which includes patio princess, sweetheart of the patio, tomande, and good old gold nugget (all determinates this year) fare well — ’cause thinning means repotting, in POD’s book. Now we’ve got three tomandes, two gold nuggets, one patio princess, and two sweethearts.

There’s the tomato.

Sweetheart of the PatioSweetheart of the Patio

Shooting Blanks

Mr. StripeyGood thing the bank didn’t get busted on Mr. Stripey. ‘Cause the dude didn’t do diddly. Planted in rich organic soil, topped off with a handful of natural fertilizer, Mr. Stripey produced thriving happy greenery and cheerful blossoms throughout July and August.

By September he was ailing and all the blooms, bankrupt.

For lack of a better theory, the soaring temperatures probably didn’t do much for the poor guy and likely caused a serious (but unsurprising) case of blossom drop. Still, it was quite the let-down. This weekend he was ripped from his ginormous pot (the root system was vigorous, indeed) to allow the remaining plants on deck just a few more rays of sun.

Yo, Adrian!

Gold Nugget: Champ
Gold Nugget: Champ

In case you hadn’t gathered, POD hails from the city of brotherly. South Philly, in fact.  And while POD 2010 hasn’t been as victorious as this gardener would like, there have been some unlikely successes (hello, super-melon that may or may not have been a Charentais) and a few survivors. Hello, Champ.

Gold Nugget: The Final Round
Gold Nugget: Back in the Ring

Most notably this hideous, battered, and aging gold nugget cherry tomato. Let’s hear it for the champ. Nearly four pounds of tomatoes were harvested and Champ can take most of the credit.

Although he appears to be begging to be put out of his misery, it looks like he’s got one more trip to the ring left in him: the 20-some fledgling tomatoes just may make it to harvest.

This determinate’s a keeper. In fact, POD’s swearing off the indeterminates and is gonna’ stick to the underdogs next year.

It’s Been a Tough Summer

whitefly damage to tomato
Whitefly Destruction

In case the recent string of posts about garden pests hasn’t tipped you off, it’s been a tough year for the plants on deck. So tough that it’s too depressing to post the monthly update photo. So tough that the only remaining cherry tomato is the Gold Nugget, heretofore referred to as Champ. On the bright side, it seems that blights and fungi were largely avoided this year.

Anyone who says container gardeners don’t need to worry about bugs live  a charmed life.

Let’s see, a random nutrient deficiency finally slaughtered the Isis Candy (maybe copper, maybe iron, maybe potassium, maybe all of the above) and whiteflies took out the pampered Black Cherry (pictured left). Next year I’ll make up a batch of yellow sticky traps and see if that doesn’t do the trick. Aphids have taken over and samples of the brown marmorated stink bug have been collected. And oh, yeah, it’s been hot, hot, hot and dry, dry, dry.

And guess what? The rescued Black Brandywine isn’t looking so good.  Its calcium deficiency may be terminal but it’s got one lonely fruit that I’m unwilling to sacrifice just yet.

Whitefly close-up
Whitefly close-up

Each year I resist the urge to buy a pH kit to test each container’s soil as it seems just a little too garden-geeky, but let’s face it, the little blue deck has had a blog devoted to it for over a year. If that ain’t geekdom, what is?

Now, all hopes are pinned on the currently thriving Greensgrow Mr. Stripey. Cross your fingers, please.

Good Greensgrow Growers

So, POD hasn’t been entirely happy with the whole alternating weeks of fish emulsion/worm casting tea fertilizing routine. All sorts of secondary deficiencies have been cropping up in POD’s ever-suffering tomatoes. Like magnesium (helped by the addition of epsom salts) and calcium (maybe, or maybe not helped by egg shells) deficiencies, and who knows what else.

A desperate plea was recently lodged with a charmingly hairy farmer guy at Greensgrow. He was incredibly helpful. He suggested this stuff:

Garden tone fertilizerHere’s hoping it works.

Mr. Stripey!

Mr. Stripey Tomato
Show Your Stripes

He was FREE, okay?! Blame the good people at Greensgrow, with their rack of “Please take me home” tomatoes.  It would have been cruel not to, right?

Besides, Mr. Stripey was the very first heirloom tomato that got this whole container gardening bug going, many years ago. And he was sweet and delicious. (And the next year when a Mr. Stripey the Second was planted it did miserably, but whatev.) Based on a welcomed recommendation from Startin Yer Garten, he’s enjoying a huge pot. Wish this latecomer good luck and bid him welcome.

And don’t forget to water…and then water again several hours later. It’s hot out there, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Ugly Smiles

These aren’t the kinds of smiles you want to see radiating from any of the plants on deck.

Blossom end rot
Turn this frown upside down and it's still a frown.

POD’s pretty sure this is a nasty case of blossom end rot. Which, essentially, is a calcium deficiency. The good news? It’s not contagious. The bad news, there’s a chance there’s not much to be done at this point.

So, in the hopes of avoiding this next year, what caused this nastiness? Well, external stress like lack of water and excessive heat could be a factor. (It was pretty brutal a couple of weeks ago and with a vacation nibbling into obsessive-compulsive gardening, the plants were only watered once a day, rather than twice a day). Honestly, that’s what we’re really, really hoping for. That can be immediately addressed.

Also worth noting, this is the only tomato planted in Miracle Gro Organic soil (the Isis Candy, Black Cherry, and Gold Nugget were planted in either Organic Mechanic or Coast of Maine — both of which seemed like much richer, less mulchy soil blends). And, because this fella’ was a rather late and unexpected arrival, I just can’t say for certain whether or not it received the crumbled egg shells its compatriots enjoyed. Next year, the soil can be gussied up with a shot of bone meal, too. And yes, maybe it’s time to invest in that Ph kit to make sure the soil’s around 6.0-6.5.

calcium deficiency in tomato leaves
Calcium, it does a body good.

Its slightly curled leaves add further evidence to the diagnosis. While adding milk to the soil and spraying with the powdery mildew mixture (which contains milk) is tempting, it probably won’t do much as calcium isn’t immediately absorbed. Which isn’t to say both “remedies” haven’t already been applied. It’s worth a shot.

Magnesium Miracle

Wow. Impressive. Apparently Isis was, indeed, suffering from a Magnesium deficiency. It’s hard to believe that just a week ago this plant:

Isis Candy Cherry Tomato
It's a June Miracle!

Looked like this:

Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium Deficiency

To achieve this miraculous result, mix 1 tbs Epsom salts and 2 tbs organic fertilizer (like the stinky fishy stuff) with 1 gallon water. Spray the hell out of the plant(s) and dump the rest on/in the pot(s). I threw a handful of worm poop on the soil for good measure.