Tomatoes Aren’t the Only Choice for Community Gardens

The #1 crop grown in community gardens is tomatoes. I don’t remember visiting a community garden where I didn’t see tomatoes in the summer. I understand! There is not much better than a tomato from the vine warmed from the sun. BUT, growing tomatoes in the same space year after year creates disease and pest problems.

Over the next few weeks we will be exploring some food crops not typically grown in the community gardens. I am hoping that we can provide some options for that tomato garden space.

To get you ready to embrace new plant options, take a minute to view this video on tomato diseases!

Happy Gardening!

Tomato Planting 1,2,3

Now that you have chosen your tomato plants it is time to put them in the ground. There is a trick to planting tomatoes that helps them get through a long, dry, hot Georgia summer.

Snip off the lower leaves.
Snip off the lower leaves.

Step 1: Tomatoes need full sun, 8 hours, for setting fruit.  They also need well-drained, porous soil with a pH of about 6.2.  Plan on giving them at least 2 feet X 3 feet of growing space.  You will need to stake the plants or use wire cages to contain the plant growth.  Once you have your site ready, start with a healthy plant with a strong stem.  Notice the stem seems hairy.

Step 2:  Gently remove the lower leaves with snippers or by pinching them off with your fingers. Be careful not to make tears along the stem which would create wounds.  Leave the top two or three leaves.

The hairs on the now buried stem will become roots creating a strong root system to better handle periods of drought.

Step 3:  Dig the hole deep enough so that you can bury the stem up to the remaining top leaves.  The part that is planted under the soil will develop roots creating a strong, deep root system that will help the plant better handle dry periods.

Press the soil around the plant so that a slight depression is formed for holding water.  These steps should get you one step closer to that BLT!

For more information about growing tomatoes see Robert Westerfield’s publication Georgia Home Grown Tomatoes.  For the best information for your area, contact your local UGA Extension Agent.

Happy Gardening!




Tomato Terminology for the Georgia Garden

Over the next weeks we will be exploring the world of tomatoes. They are the most popular plant in community gardens. But tomatoes can be problematic. Together we will share the good, the bad, and the delicious of tomato growing. Please share your experiences. To begin our tomato journey we are going to look at some tomato terminology.

Tomatoes in Hay BalesDeterminate vs. Indeterminate

When deciding on what type of tomato plants you want to grow, choose if you want determinate or indeterminate varieties.  Determinate plants bear all of their fruit at one time.  The plants tend to be more compact and easier to manage.  You will probably still need to support them with a tomato cage or staking.  Determinate varieties are popular with growers who want to preserve the fruit, make tomato sauces, or salsas as they get all the fruit at once.

Indeterminate varieties bear their fruit throughout the growing season.  The plants tend to sprawl and will definitely need support by staking or caging.  Growers who like to eat fresh tomatoes throughout the summer prefer indeterminate varieties.

Tomato Disease Resistance

Due to successful tomato breeding gardeners now can choose tomatoes that show resistance to the common diseases that plague all tomato growers.  A note of disclaimer here – remember that disease resistance does not mean disease proof.  You can easily determine the disease resistance of a particular variety by the initials after the name:

Big Boy VFN Tomatoes
Big Boy VFN Tomatoes

V – Resistance to the fungus that causes Verticillium wilt.

F, FF, or FFF – Resistance to the fungus that causes Fusarium wilt.  Sadly, some of the fungi developed immunities to the resistance qualities of the initial “F” tomatoes, so breeders developed cultivars that are resistant to the newer fungal races so now you may see “FF” and “FFF”.

N – Resistance to nematodes

T – Resistance to the Tobacco Mosaic Virus

TSWV– Resistance to the Tomato Spotted Wilted Virus

A – Resistance to the fungus that causes Alternaria Stem Canker

St – Resistance to the fungus that causes Grey Leaf Spot, Stemphylium solani.

Big Boy VFN shows resistance to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, and nematodes.    Tomato plant sellers in your area should stock the tomatoes with the resistance you need.  Look for the resistant cultivars in seed catalogs as well.

Don’t rely on planting disease resistance cultivars as your only line of defense against disease.  Good cultural practices like proper irrigation, mulching, soil building, fertilization and removal of diseased plants are examples of the integrated pest management (IPM) you should be using.

If you think your tomatoes have one of these diseases contact your local UGA Extension office for confirmation.  Georgia Home Grown Tomatoes is an excellent publication for tomato connoisseurs.

Happy Tomato Gardening!


Vegetable Varieties to Try in Your Community or School Garden

I was asked to rerun this popular post on vegetable varieities from 2015.  So by popular demand….

One major step towards success in a community or school garden is to start with varieties that are proven in Georgia.  As you may have experienced, some varieties of vegetables that work well in a large farm setting don’t always do well in a school or community garden setting.

Tomatoes growing at the Reconnecting Our Roots Garden in Cobb County
Tomatoes growing at the Reconnecting Our Roots Garden in Cobb County

Happily we have recommendations from Robert Westerfield and UGA’s Research and Education Garden specifically for smaller, intensive gardens.  These varieties should be easy to find in big box retailers as well as feed and seed stores:

Tomatoes – Salad or Cherry:  Juliet, Maskotka, Cherry Falls, Tumbling Tom

Tomatoes – Determinate:  Celebrity, Rutgers Select, Amelia, Bush Beefsteak, Super Bush Hybrid, Roma

Tomatoes – Indeterminate:  Beefmaster Hybrid, Delicious, Princess Hybrid, Big Beef

Peppers:  Big Bertha, Cubanelle, Giant Marconi, Banana Sweet,


Eggplant:  Patio Baby Hybrid, Black Beauty, Ichiban

Squash:  Easy Summer Crookneck, Easy Pick Gold Zucchini, Sunburst (Pattypan type), Raven Hybrid (Zucchini type), Commander Hybrid (Zucchini)

Squash plant from Reconnecting Our Roots Garden
Squash plant from Reconnecting Our Roots Garden

Cucumber:  Bush Cucumber, Burpless Hybrid, Straight 8, Lemon

Beans:  Roma II, Blue Lake, Tender Crop

Asparagus:  Jersey Supreme Hybrid, Jersey Knight Hybrid, Purple Passion

Thinking ahead towards fall planting try –

Cabbage:  Kaboko Hybrid, Minute, Rubicon

Broccoli:  Packman Hybrid, Green Magic

If you have any questions about vegetable varieties contact your local UGA Extension agent, he/she has experience with lots of vegetables.

Whatever plants you choose, Happy Gardening!



Add Organic Matter, Water Deeply for Healthy Tomato Plants-A Guest Post by Michael Wheeler

This week we are happy to have UGA Hall County Extension Agent, Michael Wheeler, as a guest blogger to give us a refresher on growing tomatoes.   Michael writes….

Homegrown vegetables are a must have for many Southerners during the summer.

The one vegetable, well technically a fruit, which makes everyone’s mouth water in anticipation is the tomato. The folks I know always say the first tomato of the season is the best.
It is a known fact that homegrown tomatoes are much better than anything you can buy from the grocery store. Nothing can beat it.
Whether or not you are trying to grow tomatoes for the first time, or this is your 30th season, there are some tips to follow to make sure your harvest is plentiful.

Add Organic Matter, Water Deeply for Healthy Tomato Plants-A Guest Post by Michael Wheele
Tomato seedlings ready to go in the ground.

Before you plant, incorporate four inches of new organic matter. This will encourage the plants to explore and get established quickly.

Plant your tomatoes deep. At planting, remove the leaves from the bottom of the plant and bury about two-thirds of the stem. This deep planting causes the plant to grow roots up and down the stem that is in the ground. This extra root system will make the plant stronger and more stable as it matures.
As a UGA Extension county agent, I always tell my clients to use mulch when you plant anything. Well the same goes for veggies.
A good 2- to 3-inch layer of wheat straw will go a long way to hold back weeds, keep the plants clean from rainfall and keep the soil moist in the middle of summer.
Speaking of rain and moisture, what if we don’t get any during the summer? This is where many of the problems in growing vegetables come from — improper watering.
Water your plants so the soil stays fairly evenly moist, avoiding the extremes of it being parched and then flooded. When you do water, keep the water at the base of the plant. Wetting the leaves will only encourage diseases.
Give your tomatoes fertilizer when they are first planted. After that, they do not need much fertilization until the first tomatoes are the size of a dime or so.
Pushing your tomatoes to grow will only encourage the growth of leaves and stems, but not much fruit.
If during the summer you have problems growing tomatoes, stop by your local UGA Extension office for help identifying pests or diseases.

Thanks, Michael!  Happy Tomato Gardening!

Hybrid vs. Open Pollinated vs. Heirloom

As we think about purchasing plants for our Georgia community gardens, especially tomatoes, there are choices to be made.  Is a hybrid the best choice?  What exactly is a hybrid?  What about heirlooms?

Today we are going to think back to our high school genetics class and discuss a bit about plant breeding.  Pollen is located on the anther part of the stamen (male part).  It is transferred by insect, wind, human hands, or other means to the stigma part of the flower (female part).   This is pollination.  There the pollen grows down the style to the ovary. That is fertilization.  Any of that sound familiar?



A hybrid vegetable is created when a plant breeder deliberately controls pollination by cross-pollinating two different varieties of a plant.  The parent plants are chosen for characteristics like fruit size, plant vigor, or disease resistance.  The hope is that the resulting offspring will have the positive characteristics.

Millionaire Eggplant Hybrid
Millionaire Eggplant Hybrid

The parent designated as the female has the pollen-bearing anthers removed from the flowers.  Pollen from a carefully chosen partner is moved to the female plant’s stigma by human hands.  The chosen pollen is the only pollen that female receives.  This is all very time consuming and carefully monitored.  Scientifically it looks like this:

Parent 1 (P1) + Parent 2 (P2)  —-> Hybrid (F1)

The resulting hybrid (hopefully) has wonderful characteristics like disease resistance, early maturing fruit, larger fruit, or whatever the plant breeder was trying to achieve.  Before a hybrid is available to the consumer, it has gone through many field tests and trials.  All this is why hybrids are more expensive plants.

One negative to hybrids is that you can’t save the seed.  Seeds grown from hybrid plants do not provide plant types true-to-type.   You need to purchase new hybrids year after year.  Big Boy and Early Girl are examples of hybrid tomatoes.  Millionaire and Early Midnight are popular hybrid eggplants.

Arkansas Traveler tomatoes ready to go in the ground.
Arkansas Traveler tomatoes ready to go in the ground.

Open pollinated vegetables are pollinated in the field by wind or natural pollinators to self or cross-pollinate.  Plants that cross-pollinate need to be isolated from other varieties to produce seed that is true-to-type.  Crops like tomatoes and beans tend to self-pollinate so saving useful seed is not difficult.  Arkansas Traveler, Abraham Lincoln, and Cherokee Purple are popular open pollinated tomato varieties.  Black Beauty is a popular open pollinated eggplant variety.

Heirlooms are generally open pollinated plant varieties that are over 50 years old.  Traditionally the seed has been carefully saved and handed down from gardener to gardener.  These are the plants most treasured.

So whether you choose hybrids, open pollinated plants, heirlooms, or a combination of these…

Happy Gardening! 



Tomato Recipe from 4th and Swift

It seems no matter how hard we plan at some point during the summer we have more tomatoes than we know what to do with. We have eaten many BLT sandwiches, given the neighbors more than they can use, and canned tomatoes for the winter.  You have donated scads to the local food bank.  What next?  I asked chef and owner of the restaurant 4th and Swift, Jay Swift, how he would handle this problem and he gave me a recipe that is perfect for those tomatoes!

Heirloom Tomato and Melon Gazpacho

1 pound tomatoes, cut into quarters

1 cantaloupe, skin and seeds removed

1 honeydew melon, skin and seeds removed

5 basil leaves

1 TBSP champagne vinegar

3/4 cup olive oil

Salt/pepper to taste

Honeydew Melon, Cantaloupe, Tomatoes, and Basil sauteing in Olive Oil.
Honeydew Melon, Cantaloupe, Tomatoes, and Basil sauteing in Olive Oil.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil.  Add the tomato quarters, melons, and basil.  (Note:  with a gas stove make sure you turn off the heat when you add your ingredients.  This prevents flames in the pan.)  Saute the ingredients until they start to bleed out, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and quickly store in the refrigerator.  Once everything is chilled, buzz in the food processor with vinegar.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!


Chef Swift is a gardener in his own right and his restaurant is known for its farm-to-table menu, using all-natural and sustainable farm products.  He was happy to share a photo of his garden with us.  He is proud of his restaurant located in the Old Fourth Ward district of Atlanta near the new Atlanta Beltline project.  And he should be! We thank him for sharing his culinary expertise with us.

Chef Jay Swift's Garden
Chef Jay Swift’s Garden

Happy Eating!