Heirloom Tomatoes and Fall Squash
Never count Mother Nature out to do some amazing things. In my organic garden, I like to try new things. Last spring someone (I don’t remember who) gave me two heirloom tomato plants (unnamed). They were weak plants, but purportedly a fine tomato, so I transferred them to one-gallon pots and in a couple weeks (mid May) set them out in the garden.
I could soon see they were going to be vigorous growers with prolific flowering. Per my expectation, they set fruit and soon ripened. By the first of July, I had ripe tomatoes. Then came the heat and drought. I watered regularly and amazingly, the plants never shut down. I picked tomatoes every week, recording all production. From the two plants, I counted every tomato. They continued to produce until the heavy freeze on October 27. The total count was 4030 tomatoes, just over 100 pounds per plant. Twenty five percent of the production came in October.
The story gets even better. In early July I took a cutting from one plant, rooted it in water, potted it up (see picture), and at end of July, on a 100 degree day, set it out in the garden. By October 27 th, I had picked 600 tomatoes from that 6-foot tall plant.
I have now taken cuttings from that plant, and will root them, pot them, and keep them inside until spring. From those plants, in March, I will root more cuttings, put them in pots, and in late April plant them in the garden. I will do the same with an unusually nice heirloom “ox-heart” tomato.
Patty pan and butternut squash. Another late summer experiment and success, despite the heat, was patty pan and butternut squash. I planted in mid-July, right in the middle of the terrible heat. The idea of late planting was to be out of sync with the squash bugs. I did a little spraying for squash bug deterrence with a clove oil spray, and had good success with both varieties. I harvested patty pan from early September until mid October. In late October, I harvested some very nice butternut squash.
The problem with any late production, besides the threat of an early freeze, is the difficulty of getting a fall cover crop established. One way to solve it is to sprinkle oats or Austrian winter peas directly into the squash beds in mid to late Sept. Other cover crops, like wheat or rye, could be planted as late as mid October.
I attribute much of the success of this fall garden to having a healthy soil, meaning that it is alive with beneficial bacteria and fungi. That ought to be the starting point for all organic gardeners. Let the ways of Mother Nature be the model. Start by avoiding application of all toxins (chemical fertilizers and pesticides.)