Be Prepared for WeedsWeeding is an essential part of crop protection because weeds compete with plants for nutrients, water, and space. Don't sacrifice yield to weed pressure!
Your best strategy for controlling weeds is to plan for regular cultivation of the soil when weeds are young. If you are tending your market garden by hand, we strongly recommend a wheel hoe. It is many times faster than a long-handled hoe and you won't get blisters. Johnny's sells the Glaser Wheel Hoe from Switzerland, fitted with oiled ash handles made in the U.S. The standard model comes with an 8" stirrup hoe, which is good for undercutting weeds between rows and on bed edges. Other implements are available to make the Wheel Hoe even more useful, including a 3-tooth cultivator for loosening soil before direct seeding; a hiller attachment for potatoes and other crops; and a seeder that can be set up in several configurations.
For other weeding jobs, choose a hoe that is best suited to the situation. The Long-Handled Wire Weeder allows for precision weed removal of small weeds close to crops from a standing position. The Collinear Hoe is good for tight spaces such as under lettuce heads. When weeds have grown beyond the seedling stage, go after them with a strong Trapezoid Hoe, which can be turned on edge to dig out roots, or try the Cobrahead. For an excellent discussion of timing and technique, see "Using hoes for maximum weed control" article in Growing for Market.
If labor is your big limitation, consider planting at least some of your crops on plastic mulch. It's more work initially to lay mulch on your beds and plant through it, but you will never have to weed those beds again. Mulches can be a real help on especially weedy soils, wet soils that you don't want to compact by walking on them too often, and for long-season crops that will otherwise require weeding for months.
Organic mulches such as hay and straw also can be effective for weed control, if you match the mulch to the crop. Don't use mulches that have a lot of weed seeds, such as prairie hay, because they will create weed problems in the future. Don't mulch heat-loving crops too early because an organic mulch will keep the soil cool. Be careful about the production methods of any hay you purchase from off the farm many hay producers use herbicides with a long residual effect. Ask about clopyralid, an herbicide that can harm vegetable crops for 18 months or more after application. For a map of states where clopyralid is used, see this U.S. Geological Survey website.
A Checklist to Help Protect Your TomatoesTomatoes are the #1 crop in gardens and market gardens in the U.S. Protect your investment with appropriate pruning, trellising, irrigating, fertilizing, and monitoring for problems. Here's a checklist:
Prune your indeterminate tomatoes (but not determinate varieties). Prune to one or two main branches or "leaders" which will ideally be about the same size. This is accomplished by removing side shoots or "suckers" that grow in the leaf axils between leaves and the stem. If you want two leaders, which is often recommended in case the main stem is damaged, leave one sucker directly below the first flower cluster. Prune all other suckers that grow on both stems. After that, prune off all new suckers. The suckers should be snapped off when they are no larger than 2-3" long. Larger suckers may need to be cut off with pruners. Pruning should be done about every week to 10 days to stay ahead of sucker development. For more information, see Johnny's video "How to Prune Tomatoes."
Train your tomatoes. Don't let plants sprawl on the ground, as it invites problems and usually results in reduced yields. Tomatoes should be staked, caged, or trellised to a stake-and-weave system. Stakes and trellises work well for indeterminates; cages and weaves work well for determinates. Research shows specific benefits for each type of training system. For more information, read article on training hoophouse tomatoes in the Catalog Extras section of JohnnySeeds.com.
Johnny's has a wide range of trellising products including twine, clips, Ty'mup fasteners, and tape. Watch Ty'mup video.
Fertilize if necessary. If you've had a soil test in the past two years and followed the recommendations, your soil is probably fine for growing tomatoes. If not, you need to be alert to nutrient deficiencies. Early on, observe the plants' foliage for signs that it isn't growing robustly: Yellowing, brown spots, tipburn, and white tissue between veins are examples of the physiological signs of nutrient deficiency in tomato foliage. As fruit forms, watch for blossom end rot, cracking, and other flaws. These are often caused by a lack of a specific nutrient in the soil or by unavailability of the nutrient because of cold weather or waterlogged soils. Unfortunately, similar symptoms can be caused by insects and disease as well as fertility problems. Photos of nutrient deficiency symptoms can be found at Plant Physiology Online. Recommendations for organic fertilization of tomatoes are at ATTRA's website.
At Johnny's, you can find fertilizers appropriate for tomato production as well as fertilizer injectors to feed plants while irrigating.
Irrigate tomato plants. Don't overhead-water tomatoes, as wet foliage can lead to disease. In fact, many growers remove the foliage from the first 18" above the soil, once the plant is about 3' tall, to prevent foliar diseases from soil splashing up during a rain. Drip irrigation is preferred for tomatoes. How much water do they need? That depends on the size of the plant, the temperature, and whether they are mulched, but a good rule of thumb is to provide an inch a week when the plants are young and 1.5 inches per week when fruiting. Some growers prefer to grow tomatoes with less water because it is believed to improve flavor. In any case, the important thing is to keep water as consistent as possible. Fluctuations in soil moisture can lead to disorders in the developing fruit. Shop for water and irrigation supplies.
Monitor for insects and diseases. Get to know the major pests of tomatoes in your area and keep an eye out for them. Tomato hornworms are hard to spot because they are exactly the color of stems, but defoliated plants and hornworm droppings will let you know they are present. For more information, see Johnny's video "How to Control Tomato Hornworm". Corn earworms bore into green fruits. Stinkbugs cause hard white spots on ripe tomatoes.
A host of diseases can infect tomatoes, so you should learn from your state Extension service which are common in your area, and then choose varieties with resistance. Early blight and late blight are widespread across the U.S., so learn the symptoms and be prepared to spray with a fungicide when they first appear in your area. Late blight can be a particularly devastating disease if your crops become infected with it. The key is prevention. We recommend Oxidate® to pre-sanitize before fungicide application. As a general rule, it is also important to "switch things up" to prevent diseases from becoming tolerant of certain controls. For that reason, Johnny's now sells several organic OMRI-listed disease control products, that are specifically labeled for late blight, such as Champ® WG, Actinovate®, Greencure®, and Milstop®, as well as Oxidate®, which is now also available in a lower cost ready-to-spray (RTS) size that connects right to your garden hose to automatically deliver the precise dilution rate needed. We have some well-written articles on blights, etc. in the Growers' Library.
Other resources: Johnny's Growing Ideas Blog contains articles and photos on pest and disease control. University of California IPM Online has good photos of pests and diseases. E-Organic, a consortium of state Extension services, has a wealth of resources on organic management of tomato pests and diseases.
Ways to Beat the HeatOne of the complaints we hear from growers in hot climates is that by the time their warm-weather crops are ready for harvest, their cool-weather crops are long gone. They don't get to enjoy cucumbers on fresh lettuce, or cilantro in their tomato-pepper salsa. We recognize that you can't push the limits too far on crop response to temperature but you can stretch them quite a bit. With proper variety selection, extra moisture, and some shade, you can have lettuce, cilantro, and other cool-loving veggies in summer.
Johnny's has a good selection of heat-tolerant varieties, identified by the sizzling sun symbol in the catalog. Heat tolerance is relative; a heat-tolerant spinach variety can't take as much heat as a tomato, for example, but it will do better than other spinach varieties when the temperatures soar. Here are some varieties to try to extend the season into summer:
Lettuce: Tropicana and Green Star greenleaf; New Red Fire and Red Sails redleaf; Panisse green oakleaf; Coastal Star romaine; Adriana green butterhead; Skyphos and Red Cross red butterhead; Concept and Nevada green summer crisp; Teide and Magenta red summer crisp.
Other salad ingredients: Astro arugula; Yukina Savoy, Mei Qing Choi, and Joi Choi Asian greens; Magenta Spreen; Red Leaf Vegetable Amaranth; Gruner red purslane; and Santo cilantro. Shop all heat tolerant varieties.
Shade is as important as variety selection. You can reduce the temperature as much as 10F under shade cloth. Johnny's has knitted black shade cloth sized to fit on Quick Hoops™ low tunnels so you can grow your summer lettuce and other crops in low tunnels. Snap Clamps work perfectly to secure shade cloth to the hoops. Or you can cover an entire high tunnel with shade cloth and grow a quick summer crop of salad mix.
Some reflective mulches are also designed to reduce soil temperatures and extend the season for cold-loving crops. Johnny's sells White-on-Black mulch for this application, as well as Metallic Silver mulch, which has the added benefit of insect repulsion.