Grow. Share. Prepare. Sustainable Food Center
Plant tomatoes now for fall harvest
Did you miss the opportunity to plant tomatoes this spring? Not to worry! In Central Texas, we get a second chance to plant. The goal of planting tomatoes in the summer heat is to nurse plants until temperatures drop in the fall, at which point the plants will be ready to produce a crop. Tomatoes only set fruit when temperatures are below 90 degrees, so your late-season plants will wait for fall.
When planting tomatoes in July, start them from transplants. Transplants are harder to find mid-summer than in spring, but local nurseries such as The Natural Gardener and The Great Outdoors carry them. Choose a variety appropriate for Central Texas with a short number of days to harvest, such as Early Girl or Black Cherry, so your plants have the chance to produce fruit before the first frost (average first frost date in Central Texas is Nov. 15).
Tomatoes require plenty of nutrients and excellent drainage. Add 3 inches of compost to the area where you will plant, and mix it 1 foot into the soil. Plant your transplants 2 feet to 4 feet apart, depending on the variety. Plant transplants in one of two ways: plant such that the soil level is about 2 inches higher on the stem than it was in its original pot, or dig a trench and place the transplant sideways, so that some of the stem is buried. The hairs on the buried part of the stem become roots, allowing the plant to quickly develop a strong root system.
In order to help the plant manage the transplant shock, and the summer heat, add liquefied seaweed. Fertilize with fish emulsion to give the transplants a strong start. Install tomato cages to provide support.
Tomatoes require full sun, but in Texas, the July sun is too harsh for transplants. Provide shade by building a hoop house, from which you can hang 40 percent shade cloth so it blocks the hottest western afternoon sun, but allows morning sun from the east.
Keep your tomatoes happy by mulching well. Mulch maintains a consistent moisture level and soil temperature. This is important for tomatoes because sudden changes in moisture level can cause fruits to burst and can make plants susceptible to diseases like blossom end rot.
When flowers appear on the plants, add another inch or two of compost into the surface of the soil around the plants to provide an extra boost of nutrients. This will help plants develop fruit. It also helps to add more fish emulsion and liquefied seaweed at this time.
A few pests to watch out for include tobacco and tomato hornworms, which can be picked off or treated with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) products. Mites and aphids can be washed off with a strong spray of water on the underside of leaves. Stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs can be handpicked or treated with insecticidal soap sprays. Include plants that attract beneficial predatory insects like ladybugs to help control pest problems. Finally, remember that healthy plants are more resistant to pests; taking good care of your tomatoes provides the best line of defense.
For optimal flavor, harvest your tomatoes when they are fully ripe. To prevent birds and squirrels from nabbing them first, harvest fruits when they begin to change color and allow them to finish ripening on your kitchen counter.
This grain salad is a refreshing way to enjoy your late season tomatoes. Feel free to substitute quinoa for the bulgur to make it gluten-free.
Bulgur Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers and Mint
1½ cup bulgur (cracked wheat)
2 cups boiling water
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground coriander
1 cup chopped fresh mint
1 cup diced tomatoes, or halved cherry tomatoes
2 small cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
3 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt
2 green onions, green parts only, finely chopped, for garnish
Place bulgur in large bowl and cover with boiling hot water.
Cover with a plate or plastic wrap and let stand 20-30 minutes, until water is absorbed.
Stir in the cumin and coriander, fluff with a fork and then spread onto a sheet pan to cool.
In a large bowl, combine mint, cucumbers, tomatoes, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Add the bulgur and
mix with a fork.
Chill for at least two hours. Taste and adjust lemon and salt as needed.
Serve garnished with chopped green onions.
Makes 6 servings.
— adapted from “One Bite at a Time” by Rebecca Katz
Get creative with summer shoes
Everyone loves a pair of new summer slip-on shoes. Austin-based Valentina shoes from the mind of Tina Hambly expanded to allow girls to personalize their shoes. Girls have created everything from a celebration of a love of a unicycle to a statement of support for a cousin with cancer to a shout-out to Louisiana State University.
You can make them for any occasion including for the flower girl at a wedding or the birthday girl. Sizes come in 11 girls to 6 women’s. You can add words, pictures or monograms. The espadrilles are $32, the personalization $8. www.valentinashoes.com.
Feed the hummingbirds easily
San Antonio brothers Dan and David Hill have created a new way to feed hummingbirds. EZNectar offers both the nectar alone and a smaller recycleable carton of nectar that you can hang as a feeder. Nectar sells for $5.99-$7.99 and the feeders for $8.99-$21.99, for two to four feeders. You can find them at H-E-B as well as online at EZNectar.com.
Head off to camps, play dates with allergy wristbands
Summer is a time when kids are off to day camps or interacting with new adults and kids. Young kids especially cannot be tasked with reminding adults that they are the kid who is allergic to bee stings or the kid who can’t have dairy or peanuts. Beware Bandits are latex-free wristbands with nickle-free snaps that have the kids’ allergy or medical condition spelled out as well as a place for an emergency contact number. Each wristband has a character representing the allergy such as Wagon W. Wheaty and the alert words “I am allergic to wheat/gluten.” There are wristbands for insect stings, diabetes, asthma, penicillin, tree nuts, peanuts, dairy, shellfish, soy, fish, gluten and eggs. Kids who need multiple alerts can stack bands on their wrists. Wristbands sell for $6.99 each at Walmart, Target and Whole Foods. bewarebandits.com