The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

September 30, 2008

My little plastic-free veggie garden

Sorry for the quality of the photos. For some reason, my camera and the sun would not cooperate last week when I took these. Anyway, here’s my very little front yard garden grown almost entirely without plastic. Yep. Little. And late. Because I didn’t get started until June. But it is what it is, and maybe you can offer some advice for next year.

If you’ll recall, the soil/fertilizer for my garden is a mixture of front yard dirt, my own homemade compost, and recycled potting soil from my dismantled roof garden. No new plastic bags of anything.

On the left are my four tomato plants, which are probably way too close together. They arrived plastic-free from my friend Jennconspiracy in little coconut coir planters. I removed them and tossed the planters in the compost. Then later found out I should have put the whole thing into the ground.

I was mocked and derided back in June for thinking that I could use one metal cage for four plants. I had tried tying each plant to a corner of the cage. When it became apparent to even stubborn me that this was not the way to go, I bought 3 more metal cages and put them over each plant. Now I read that they should have been spaced two feet apart.

When I first planted the tomatoes, I watered them every evening with the hose. A lot of water. Maybe too much. I don’t know. The lower leaves of some of the plants turned a bit yellow. Later, a friend told me that maybe if I wanted better tasting tomatoes, I should water less. So I started watering every other day. And then the leaves started to look dry and crispy. So I have no idea if I have been giving too much or too little water.

This plant is Principe Borghese. It’s the most prolific, which isn’t saying much. Unfortunately, the tomatoes are kind of mushy and flavorless eaten raw. Cooked in a sauce, they’re fine. Suggestions anyone? Could I have watered them too much? Not enough?

Here is my favorite, Blondkopfchen cherry tomato, which unfortunately has many more leaves than tomatoes. The tomatoes are really only forming at the top. The rest of the tall plant is greenery. But the little yellow fruits pop sweetly in your mouth. How can I get more next year?

This is Paul Robeson. He’s had a tough time. Midway through the season, he broke in half, so only one small stem continued to grow. There are two tomatoes forming, but they are still little, green, and hard.

And this one… I’m not sure what it is because the ID tag disappeared. Small and red tomatoes. They tend to fall off the vine before they seem completely ripe, and I bring them in the house to “finish.”

Oh, and one more thing about the tomatoes before you give me your suggestions for next year. Frustrated with how few tomatoes I was getting, I bought Peace of Mind organic tomato and vegetable fertilizer a few weeks ago and fed the plants. It comes in a cardboard box. No plastic. Good idea? Too little too late?

I laugh when I remember how I thought I’d have enough tomatoes to make canned sauce for the winter. We don’t even have enough to eat right now! Should I bother trying to save seeds? If so, how? If not, why not?

The other plants are organic veggies that came in little compostable eco pots. (Once again, no plastic.) Yellow squash, which is just beginning to form something that looks like actual squash after months of yellow flowers and no fruit, catnip which I obviously bought for the kitties (tips on drying?), and basil which just smells awesome. I’ve been picking off the flowers every few days to keep the leaves growing. Next week, I plan to mix up a big batch of vegan pesto and freeze it in my empty little glass Fudge Is My Life jars. The pesto is the one piece of this whole operation I feel pretty confident about.

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14 years ago

I think I remember reading that Principe Borghese are supposed to be good sauce tomatoes, or good drying tomatoes, but not good eating tomatoes… a quick google search might help on that.

And I recommend You Grow Girl ( for all your garden questions! :)

14 years ago

I didn’t see this tip in the other comments.

Next time your tomato plant breaks, remove any leaves and small stems closest to the broken end, and plunge it into the ground near it’s mother with the broken-off top. It will root and become a whole ‘nother healthy, producing plant. I break at least one tomato every year- or my kids do. The baby just couldn’t stop plucking the pretty yellow flowers this year. Luckily next year she’ll know better. Right?

For Us To Live
14 years ago

I hope you don’t feel like you failed to do something right with many of your leaves turning dry and crispy as you mentioned. I and countless other gardeners have had this issue with tomatoes, and I found that the culprit were spider mites (nearly microscopic vampiric creatures that suck the plant dry one leaf at a time). Next year look for small yellow spots/discoloration and tiny red critters on the underside. You may need a regular treatment of Neem oil.

14 years ago

OOps, I accidentally didn’t leave you a URL to contact me with!!

I’d love a reply… A method of emailing me can be found at:

14 years ago

Please do ‘bother with’ saving the tomato seeds!! It really isn’t all that hard to do. I will give you a link explaining the seed saving process below. :)

Saving your heirloom seeds keeps our food supply diverse, which is important.

The more varieties of a food crop we keep alive, the less likely we are to eventually wind up in a world where all tomatoes taste like cardboard because nobody bothered to save the tasty heirlooms.

Many seed corporations keep on selecting varieties for production, disease resistance, and good storage, while totally ignoring the flavor qualities of the variety.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where that sort of trend could eventually lead us, does it.

Seed saving is worth your time too, since heirloom tomato seeds are more expensive every year.

Besides, if you save seeds you can trade the extras (the ones you don’t plan to plant yourself) for other heirloom veggie seeds.

Or you can donate the extras to a good cause.

Here’s how to save tomato seeds:

If you’d like more information about seed swapping or would like a suggestion for an organization to donate extra seeds to, drop me an email. :)

14 years ago

Don’t save seed from these as they are obviously not the greatest tomatoes. You’d only be setting yourself up for failure again next year.

Talk to local gardeners and find out what varieties they grow. Then you can grow these varieties yourself from seed. look for them at local stores or perhaps trade with others for them.

kate in indiana
14 years ago

I have three cherry tomato plants crammed into a giant container. I water them once a week when we don’t get rain, and I only water them down until an inch and a half of the soil from the surface is soaked. I fertilize with pasta water and Crunchy’s recommended golden fertilizer.

As far as composting goes, don’t do it. If your tomato plants happened to have disease this year, the disease can live on in the compost and will pass to your tomato plants next year. It can also infect potatoes and eggplants. I have a second compost pile I use for questionable plant materials that only gets used on my flower beds.

15 years ago

Wow! I’m impressed with your larger tomatoes. I’ve never been able to grow those without them splitting before they ripen.

I don’t have any tomato advice. My cherry tomatoes went crazy this year, but I don’t know why. Making sauce was a very good thing for me.

Vedrana M.
15 years ago

I love your blog :)
My mom waters hers tomatoes in the (every) evening, when the sun can’t burn the water and them with it, and she plants them close together. In my country we don’t have those wire things, so she just ties them to a stick wgile they grow high. And I think she fertilises them too. I hope this helps :)

Condo Blues
15 years ago

Another way to dry your herbs is to put them in a paper bag (I use a paper wine bag) to keep the dust off of the leaves. Shake the bag every so often so the drying herbs won’t stick together. It takes about a week for basil to dry this way and a little longer for mint. Probabbly because I have a lot of mint to dry for tea for winter.

If you don’t have enough tomatoes to can, you can freeze them. I just wrote a post on how to do this on my blog.

15 years ago

I sorry that last document was saving zinnias, here is Vioboy’s tomato seed saving post

15 years ago

Tomatoes look good to me to- Here is a great document on seed saving, posted by Vioboy, A great young blogger with a gardening interest

15 years ago

lots of good advice here!

TMC has the right idea – leave a few tomatoes on the ground where you’d want them to grow next year (different spot to this year) rather than seed saving. In order to save seed you need to have the seed mush ferment for a few days. It’s probably not a good idea to save seed unless you’re totally happy with how healthy and productive the plant is.

15 years ago

Fudge is my life?! What’s that? It comes in jars? I love little jars! Why am I yelling?!

I’ve always had luck smashing some of the tomatoes into the ground at the end of the season. It somehow gets me a whole bunch of random healthy plants in the spring in a natural-selection sort of way. After that, having 3 rabbits churning out an unending supply of prime organic fert doesn’t hurt either. : )

15 years ago

I have to agree with Susanb about watering tomatoes – I only water once a week, maybe twice if it gets really hot. I’ve read that tomatoes need to be stressed to produce fruit. If they get a lot of water, you get a lot of plant and not a lot of tomatoes.

15 years ago

I think you done good Beth . . . better than me my first grownup year growing tomatoes. And basil is my nemesis, although this year I’ve done all right with thai basil and better with regular. This year, my second on tomatoes, I’m providing tomatoes to a hardcore gardening friend who has previously kept us well supplied but who had tomato crop failure this year.
Re what varieties to grow next year — check out the farmer’s market and try several varieties that look good to you. My best tomatoes this year were Brandywine Red but being from PA they are native-ish to my area.
I grow my early and late tomatoes in containers and grew the Brandywines in raised beds with egg shells and dehydrated chicken manure. I planted the Brandywines less than 12″ apart and that made for a huge sprawling mess once they outgrew the cages and collapsed the twine and stake supports but didn’t seem to hurt production. I interplanted around blackeyed susan’s (can’t bring myself to weed them out), marigolds, basil and early radishes.
Re watering — in the containers I have to water tomatoes almost everyday; in the beds, I only water about once a week (and less if it rains) unless it’s a long dry spell and then I’ll get them twice a week. You’ll have a better feel next year for when to water. But do try to water at the base and not over the leaves.
One reason not to plant in the same place at least here on the East coast is to prevent fusilarium wilt. A three year rotation is recommended to avoid.
Re yellow leaves at the bottom — this could be from watering or it could be early wilt, which got a lot of stuff out here this year. When water hits the soil, the dastardly doers splash up on to the leaves, killing the bottom leaves first. You don’t want to put any leaves that you think might be infected into your compost — it’s actually a good time for evil plastic bags in the trash.

15 years ago

Another couple of tips: do *not* compost the dead tomato plants–I can’t remember the rationale but my county extention nearly had an attack when I suggested it– and, next year, plant your tomatos in a different spot because they deplete the soil of certain nutrients.

Raised beds will help tremendously because you can control the soil. Mulch like crazy to eliminate evaporation. (it was a long learning curve for this native Californian transplanted in Kansas!)

15 years ago

OK, I think the other posters have the tomato side sewn up, I’m going to talk about catnip. We grow tons of it – inside and out, because our three cats are serious addicts and we love to keep them drugged out. Plus we’ve moved onto supplying our guitar teacher’s cat with drugs. And the neighborhood cats… well, you get the idea. If you have a dehydrator, just set the leaves on the tray and turn it onto the lowest setting – that works in a few hours. But, since they’re almost completely plastic, I’m guessing maybe you don’t have one. Not to worry, catnip is about the easiest thing ever to dry. Put the leaves somewhere, like on a windowsill, a counter, a table, wherever, and just ignore them for a while. Give them a pinch every few days and when they’re crunchy they’re done. Store and use as needed. We often give the cats fresh leaves to eat, but not usually dried ones because they make a mess and get cat spit on the furniture. I’m not such a big fan of cat spit, so what we usually do is make mousies. My daughter cuts from flannel 3 triangle pieces, sews them together so they have a pointy end (the head) and a fat end (the butt) and stuffs them with catnip and then puts on a ribbon for the tail, button eyes, and little felt ears. They’re way too cute. I know the cats don’t appreciate the cuteness, they’d be happy with catnip in a pouch, but us humans sure love the mousies. Then, every few weeks you have to go mousie hunting. This involves lying on the floor with a yardstick scraping under all your furniture. Usually, the cats find humans on the floor to be very amusing and they will stand on your back to encourage this mousie hunting. A good hunt will return all the mousies to be played with and lost another day.

15 years ago

I have to agree with Kim. You need to fertilize when they set flowers. They are heavy feeders.

I have straw or hay as mulch so I don’t have to water as much. (I forget which one I have. It is the one that does not make weeds.)

I don’t know your weather but I have found that tomatoes sometimes need a little shade in the afternoon.

Mother Earth News did a nice story this month about shading your plants in the heat. Barbara Pleasant is one of my favorite gardener.

They love the heat but my tomato who got a little shade did so much better than the ones in full shade.

I also use compost each year and mix up the soil. Your front yard soil may not be top soil. Check the PH of your soil as well to make sure that tomatoes thrive in what you made.

This year, I also put in a little worm poop too to help the soil.

I water every other day but have alot of mulch around them. Like 3 inches at least. Ruth Stout wrote a great book about using mulch.

I also agree with Kim about tomatoes with water. They are very picky. Perhaps a drip hose around the base would help them get the amount of water they need. Check each month based on the weather if they are getting enough water. The leave turn yellow at the base, I found as the plant starts flowering and making tomatoes. Eventually, the leaves will brown to as the plant’s energy is going towards the fruit.

Gardening is an adventure with some years better than others, so don’t be hard on yourself. Also, some tomatoes just taste better than others.

In my area, they have a heirloom tomato tasting event so you can pick your tomatoes for next year based upon what you like taste wise. I bet there is one like that near you.

Tracey, I would not throw grey water on them unless it is plain water. Some eco-soaps are not good for the plants. Check with the manufacturers before you do that.

I don’t plant them close because they need to grow. Like Green Bean, my tomatoes are in raised beds.


Rejin/Urban Botany
15 years ago

It looks great, and if you remember what variety most of them are you’re way ahead of me.

I never think about supporting my tomatos until it is way too late but this year, the morning glory vines wrapped themselves around the tomatos and tied them up to the trellises. The results were very haphazard, but some of the tomato plants are now 8 feet tall and doing well. Can we call that another good plastic-free alternative?

15 years ago

Yay Beth! Gardening is Godly ~ even if you are an atheist Buddhist!!!!

I suggest that you throw your grey water on your plants whenever possible. Otherwise, water with a watering can to a “2 second shiny”, always before 10 am and after 4 pm, but when the soil is not cold.

Tomatos are narcissistic – they like each other, and the colour red. Plant them as close together as you dare! Mine are crammed up against each other and with enough compost, it doesn’t matter at all. They like to be interplanted with basil and carrotts.

You can prune off excess or browning leaves. Also pinch off all the growth at crotches – between two branches. I do this once the plant reaches the height of the cage.

Planting them directly into yummy compost can be good, and setting the pruned leaves around the bases throughout the growing season helps, too. If they get blossom end rot, crumble some eggshells around their bases and water more consistently and deeply.

They hate to get their leaves wet, so water their soil mostly.

Blessings, Tracey

Green Bean
15 years ago

Looks good to me! I have tomato troubles this year so I’m hardly one to point fingers. My cherry tomatoes did well off the bat – even though one was a volunteer and the other two I planted very late and in the semi-shade. The ones in my raised beds – San Marzanos – are just started to produce and the others I tucked in here and there? Let’s just say that I need to do a better job preparing the soil next year. Enjoy your tomatoes. :)

Kim from Milw
15 years ago

Wow, I’m the first comment! Cool! Beth, I think you did great with your tomatoes. Maybe next year you might want to add more compost (read the new Square Foot Gardening book…he’s got alot of great tips and a ‘recipe’ for compost that would be excellent for tomatoes), and possibly devise a drip watering system, so they receive water at an even pace. Tomatoes are heavy feeders, and they are picky about their water supply. If they get too much, they split…too little, and they won’t put out fruit at all. Read that book…it helped me TREMENDOUSLY!!! Oh, and Crunchy’s pee fertilizer idea worked great for me, too. I had more tomatoes this year than I ever had. And they tasted sweet! (sorry, I’m not bragging, just reporting)

To keep you tomato plants upright, and keep branches from breaking off, round up used nylons to tie the branches to your wire supports. You can even support the tomatoes with them as well, since they stretch and they won’t hurt the little buggers.

Here’s to a bountiful harvest next year!!! I know you can do it!!!