A Garden Blog by Kevin Milaeger

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Kevin 2015 

Get the most from September tomatoes!

September 3, 2015     
(See below for archives)

The recent spate of cool weather has reminded us that summer is coming to an end.  Right now our tomato plants are pretty much at their peak. I’m picking every day. At the same time, these plants are still producing new growth and new flowers. For all but the cherry tomatoes, and other small fruited types, I remove all new growth and flowers at this time of year. Cold weather inhibits production and changes the flavor of the fruit---not nearly as sweet and tasty. As the weather cools, it is unlikely that any new flowers will produce full sized ripe fruit before the season ends. I would rather see any remaining energy that the plant has be put towards existing fruit that will definitely have a good chance to ripen. If you are in doubt, prune back some plants and let others continue growing. Let me know your thoughts.

I always like to have some cherry tomato plants close at hand---when I’m standing at my back door, there are three within reach. Whenever I pass by, I pick a few tiny tomatoes for a yummy snack. I pay close attention to the flavor, so I try to pick them at just the right stage of ripeness, but of course some are a little more or a little less ripe, even though they all look mostly the same. The other day I picked five cherry tomatoes from the same plant and their flavor varied considerably. I’ve noticed something similar with a new (to me) golf ball sized variety called ‘Fox Cherry.’ I sometimes detect a mealy texture, and to my palate, the flavor has been mostly unremarkable, but it pays to sample many times before pronouncing a verdict---I’ve changed my mind many times.

Speaking of new varieties, the world of plant hybridizers is buzzing these days, especially in the tomato world. Much of this breeding work is done by enthusiastic amateurs---home gardeners, in many cases. There are many breeding strategies, but it pretty much boils down to this---find two varieties that have desirable characteristics, and cross breed them. That’s the easy part. The next step is to collect the resulting seed, and “grow it out”---that is, plant a row of plants using that seed, evaluate their fruit, and hope you have something new, noteworthy, and better than what is already out there. Among other things, you check disease resistance, flavor, fruit quality, color, earliness, and overall attractiveness to customers. Try it---your odds are much better than the lottery.

Some of the most interesting breeding is being done by crossing two heirloom varieties---plant varieties that have been around for many years. Every year there are many more of these “new old” hybrids introduced. The naming of these new plants is sometimes rather curious. As a retailer, I know that a catchy name is desirable if you want customers to consider the plant. (Not unlike the fairly new trend of extravagant wine labels.) Many good varieties just sit on the shelves---their names don’t compel customers to try them. For example, we used to offer a good tasting variety called ‘Druzba.’ This is a Slavic word for friendship, but hardly anyone here knows that. Consider, then, something like ‘Patty’s Yellow Striped Beefsteak’---a much more interesting and intriguing name (and also a tasty variety.)  Which of those two would you choose? Even so, try not to let an off-putting name discourage you from trying a new variety---you may be pleasantly surprised; but if you are naming your own hybrid creation, choose a name carefully.

My onion harvest is now complete. I planted ‘Yellow Sweet Spanish’ onion sets on April 1st. Other than pulling out a few weeds, they took no care. I pulled the mature onions out of the ground on August 4th, and let them lie in the sunny, dry garden for a few days. Then I rubbed off the excess soil and laid them out on a piece of cardboard in my garage, for curing. Ideally, the garage door should be left open for ventilation, but I wasn’t home that much. Yet, the onions cured nicely, drying out over the next two weeks or so. Then I trimmed off the roots and the brown stems. About thirty of the onions were fairly small, about 2-2.5” diameter. But that is the perfect size for a Door County style fish boil so I used them for our annual boil in mid-August---they turned out just great. The remaining onions are all about 4” wide. I’ll put them in mesh bags and store them for use over the fall and winter.


I planted my leeks about a month after the onion sets. They can be pulled any time now, but they won’t really be fully ready for at least another month. Then you can pull them as needed until the ground freezes. I harvest some early because I like to use them in the bruschetta that I make for Tomatomania. Stop by and sample some when you visit us at that event on September 12th.

Most every gardener must contend with at least one kind of vexing varmint. I’ve dealt with a variety of larger critters over the years, but since I moved not long ago my primary nemesis has been the tiny chipmunk. Cute as they are, they have been a big problem for me. They like to crawl up on my tomato plants and take a nibble out of each fruit, just a day or two before they are ready for picking. Or so it seems---I guess we all get a little like Elmer Fudd when it comes to varmints in the garden. I’ve been capturing the chipmunks with a live trap, using peanuts for bait. So far this season I’ve trapped nineteen of them. I release all of them at the same natural area so that the “family” stays intact, if disrupted. (It is far from anyone else’s garden.) So, the chipmunks get a brand new home, and I get a pest free garden---it’s a win-win!

Click here to see photos from Tomatomania 2014!


Please email me (kevin@milaegers.com) if you have any questions or comments.


Archives  (Click on the green text for links)

September 2015 - Get the most from September tomatoes!

August 2015 - Tomatomania 2015---Coming Soon!

August 2015 - Oh No!!!......Freaky Tomatoes

July 2015 - A Marvelous Community Garden

July 2015 - Finally----the first ripe tomato

July 2015 - Is it Possible to overdose on peas?

July 2015 - The Garden in July --- I'm still planting!

June 2015 - And Just When Things Were Looking So Good...

June 2015 - Tomatoes, Cukes, and a Whimsical Onion

June 2015 - Trials and Tribulations in the Veggie Garden!

May 2015 - Trouble in Tomatoland!

May 2015 - Tomatoes are Claustrophobic

May 2015 - A Little Chilly, but it's Rhubarb Time!

May 2015 - Joan's Rhubarb Torte Recipe

April 2015 - "Ketchup and Fries" plant video

April 2015 - Early May in the Vegetable Garden

April 2015 - What Vegetables Can I Plant Now?

April 2015 - Making Salad Interesting

March 2015 - Ready... set... GROW!

March 2015 - Unusual Potatoes --- Not Just for Tots Anymore!

February 2015 - Next Month is Spring!

February 2015 - Greens to Grow 2015


September 2014 - Tomatomania Review 2014!

September 2014 - Tomatomania Results by Category or Cummulative

August 2014 - Kale! Kale! The Greens are Here! Click here for Recipe

August 2014 - The August Harvest Begins

July 2014 - Greens to Grow for Fall!!!  Click here for Spreadsheet

July 2014 - My Tomatoes are Blushing

June 2014 - Some Tomato Concerns

May 2014 - Garden Update --- the Cold Weather Experiment

May 2014 - Is it Time to Plant Tomatoes?

May 2014 - Vintage Veggies #4 and Vintage Veggies List 2014

April 2014 - A Chilly Spring... What Can I Plant Now?

March 2014 - Start Growing Your Own Food Right Now

February 2014 - Greens to Grow   Click here for Spreadsheet


October 2013 - Keep Calm and Garden On!

October 2013 - Autumn Vegetables

September 2013 - Tomato Popularity Poll Results Blog

September 2013 - Tomatomania Category and Cumulative Results

September 2013 - Tomatomania 2013 Blog, Video and T-Shirt

August 2013 - Greens to Grow and Spreadsheet

July 2013 - Spaghetti Squash

July 2013 - New Tomato and Zucchini Recipe Blog
July 2013 - Tomato and Zucchini Recipe

June 2013 - Cold Spring - What it Means for Vegetables
May 2013 - Tomatoes in Containers
May 2013 - Vintage Veggies 2013
April 2013 - My Tomato Garden Preview 2013
April 2013 - Don't Forget Rosemary!
April 2013 - It's Planting Time
March 2013 - Onions
March 2013 - Vintage Veggies
March 2013 - Greens to Grow Update
February 2013 - Hot Peppers
February 2013 - Grafted Tomatoes
February 2013 - Greens to Grow

September 2012 - Tomatomania Results
July 2012 - Compass Plant
July 2012 - Heat Wave
June 2012 - Okra
June 2012 - Potato Onion
May 2012 - Gas Plant

May 2012- My Tomato Garden
May 2012 - Vintage Veggie Fest
March 2012 - Growing Raspberries in SE Wisconsin
March 2012 - Winter Tomato Project
February 2012 - Success with Sweet Peppers
February 2012 - Vegetable Cukes Miniature
January 2012 - Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2011 -Tomatomania Review 
August 2011 - Tomatomania Preview
August 2011 - Racine Vegetable Garden Tour
Summer 2011 - Vegetables in my Garden
July 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
June 2011 - Vegetables - Diseases made Simple
June 2011 - Vegetables - Container Growing
May 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
April 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Event Preview
March 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Announcement

September 2010 - Tomatomania Review 
August 2010 - Flowers Late Summer Color
July 2010 Vegetables Cukes and Tomatoes
June 2010 Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2009 - Tomatoes End of Season Review 
September 2009 - Tomatomania Review
July 2009 - Tomatoes General and Fruit Set Problems
June 2009  - Tomatoes Fertilization
June 2009  - Tomatoes Personal Experience
May 2009 - Tomatoes General
May 2009 - Tomatoes Diseases
May 2009 - Tomatoes Selecting and Growing
April 2009 - Tomatoes General

Any questions or comments, please contact us at: gardenquestions@milaegers.com