The Master Gardener

Today, I’m writing my thesis to complete my Master’s degree in Agriculture, specifically focused on Organic Home Container Gardening: Growing Tomatoes in Florida.

I have learned more than I ever wanted to know, and then some. When I brought my 3 little tomato plants home, I figured that one out of three might deliver tasty red fruit.

As the plants grew into lush, leafy green plants, I had high hopes.

I had just harvested 3 lbs (almost 1.5kg) of sweet banana peppers. I was beginning to imagine that my thumb was turning green.

My lovely harvest of Banana Peppers
I ended up pickling 5 quarts of peppers, because… what do you do with that many peppers?

So, now I’m anticipating tomatoes. The little blossoms are setting fruit, and I’m out every day counting the little tomatoes developing. This is so rewarding… I think to myself.

I think I mentioned that it’s hot in my neck of the woods (here). Tomatoes don’t especially like temperatures above 90 degrees (32C), or high humidity.

This is where I enrolled in tomatoes 101.

First: early blight and bacterial blackspot, over-night mind you!

What the heck, you were gorgeous yesterday! (early blight)
Eventually, all those little spots join hands, the leaf turns brown and you can vaguely hear a death knell (or are those my wind chimes?).

Not just one tomato plant, but they obviously like to share. All three plants were looking sad; my crop was circling the drain.

I furthered my quest by doing research… on Google and YouTube, and I discovered an organic remedy. I quarantined the plants as if they were Covid positive, and sprayed them with a concoction of water mixed with baking soda, vegetable oil and dish detergent and sprayed the heck out of them all. I didn’t have high hopes, but voila! I arrested the disease and didn’t kill the plants!

I cut off all of the dead leaves, and they all looked happy and healthy again! Cheap fix, I’m thinking. Even the one plant that I had given up hope for, sprang back to life and grew 2 feet. A miracle!!

Second: Tomato hornworms

I go out the next day to admire my crop and discover to my horror a batch of worms decimating my plants! Not just one plant, all three had these critters… munching away!

Where the heck did you come from?

Moths, that’s where they come from. Laying eggs on the plants under the cover of night, when no one is looking. You would think the worms are birthed at a full 2-3 inches long, and starving for tomato leaves. You never see them until one day you find a dozen 3 inch worms chewing away.

The culprit. AKA manduca sexta moth, or Sphinx Moth. Hateful suckers!

Well… if it’s a light infestation, just pick the worms off the plant and kill them, so they say. I was very busy, morning and night. I must have killed the first round, but in 3 weeks, they should be making another appearance… new hatchlings. Now I have an organic bacterial spray, and I’m ready for the little buggers.

So my Roma tomato plant has 18 tomatoes growing and ripening… even if it only has 10 leaves left. The Patio tomato had 8 tomatoes growing, but…

Third: Sun Scald

Sun cooked tomato.

I lost 3 of the 8 tomatoes on the Patio tomato plant. Seems Florida sun is cooking my tomatoes.

I had to give them some shade, even though they are supposed to get 6-8hrs minimum of direct sun. Not these puppies, they need shade! So I got some sun shade material, and with the aid of tomato stakes and clothes pins, I created a little canopy over their delicate, ripening fruits. [sigh]

Fourth: Tomato blossom end rot

Yesterday this…

Too much water. It rains here every day. Sometimes it rains for several days. Sometimes a gentle shower. Mostly a deluge of several inches of sky water. Mother Nature



Luckily, it was only on one tomato.

Did I mention that I bought a jalapeno pepper plant? I was looking forward to pico de gallo. It stands to reason that I will have 3lbs of jalapenos and no tomatoes.

Carne Asada with Pico de Gallo on soft tacos is to die for.

You would think that I would give up on growing tomatoes, but now I have an arsenal of preventive measures, and will soon have my degree in tomato agriculture.

I’m planning to start over in October, when it cools down… if ever!


Heat stroke?

As soon as the temperatures climbed into the 100 degree range on the patio, the flat leaf parsley went Code Yellow, literally over night. At first I thought I had over-watered him, so I repotted in a dry mix. Well, that didn’t work. Now, I think he’s just jealous because I added cilantro and dill to the mix. Today, I’m cutting off all of the yellow leaves and bringing him into the AC. Sensitive little thing that he is. It’s his last chance.

Sad little parsley. Can’t take the heat, so I’m putting him in the kitchen window after he gets a trim. What more could a plant want?
The banana pepper plant is happy as long as his feet are wet, and he gets full sun! Hmmmm, perhaps it’s a she?

My latest adventure was to add tomatoes. I’ve never had much luck with tomatoes. One year, I grew them in the garden, and it became the war of the caterpillars. This time I decided to pick varieties that will grow in containers, and are heat tolerant hybrids. We’ll see how this goes. I bought three plants, so I’m hoping that one out of three actually produces.

The 3 tomato plants bunched together to give each other shade, amongst basil, rosemary, and marigolds to ward off bugs, and the tiki totem stands guard to ward off evil spirits.
I’ll be pickling banana peppers soon. Whenever you see a flower bloom, a pepper get her start.

That’s the most exciting thing that’s happened in my neck of the woods, other than I’m back to working in the office, racking up tolls, filling up with gas every other week, and still wearing a mask.

If you managed to read this far, a small challenge…

 What two old movies were you reminded of when you read the post? Umm, you may need to be of a certain age.


Bumper crop

I went to Lowes 3 weeks ago to get some essential something or other and I was drawn to the garden section. I ended up buying a banana pepper plant and a pot of cilantro. I was tired of watching grass grow, I guess.

The banana pepper plant was only about 10 inches tall and the cilantro was about 5 sprigs.

You know how you see something on a shelf, and when you reach for it… well, when I got home the cilantro turned out to be flat leaf parsley. They were side by side on the shelf [sigh].

In 3 weeks they’ve both tripled in size, and the pepper plant looks like it will have a bumper crop soon. There are dozens of little flowers developing in the top leaves.

I’m almost tempted to go back to Lowes for more crops!

The pot in a pot was a quick fix to keep it upright in the wind. Now, I’m afraid to repot it for fear of losing my crop!
The cilantro imposter. Flat leaf parsley. Not so good in pico de gallo.
I guess we’ll be eating more Italian than Mexican for a while.


Back to the trenches

I’ve been working remotely from home since the last week of March, when masks and social distancing became real with the Covid chaos. Before I could blink, I was detailed to work with another department considered more essential, and remote work was favored. Ah, the challenges of remote work… especially since a majority of businesses adopted the same plan. I’m not sure there was enough wifi to go around with everyone on their computers and schools using remote teaching as well. Many days, the internet speed was at a slow crawl at different times of the day. And then there were days when all was working well, only to get kicked off the gateway server and spend a hour trying to reconnect. I can’t complain, as there are so many in the service industry who are out of jobs. I wonder if it will ever be the same or if some will reinvent themselves to stave off future unexpected events.

This past week, with the easing of restrictions, I was back to the office and working in my department. It feels good to be home Toto. All meetings went virtual and I could get back to my projects and catch up on a month’s worth of time lost.

Before these uncertain, unprecedented, challenging and trying times, working remotely was frowned upon. The idea being, if they can’t see you working, you probably weren’t. Now, I think remote work is here to stay, since there isn’t a finite end to the uncertain, unprecedented, challenging…  My boss gave me the go-ahead to work remotely when it works for me. Unheard of!