May 25 2016

My Current Garden Plan for 2016


If you’re curious about this year’s garden plan, here’s the details. I’m definitely tomato-heavy this year. If I end up putting a zillion jars of sauce, then I will back off and try other crops next year. The broccoli, brussels sprouts, and leeks at the remote garden were absolutely sublime and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to grow them. I’d also like to squeeze a few parsnips in somewhere. I’m glad I didn’t do it this year though as the winter was unseasonably warm. Parsnips benefit from several hard freezes.

For tomatoes, I’m growing Arkansas Traveler, Atkinson, Big Beef, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Earl’s Faux, Indian Stripe, Italian Wine, Kalman’s Hungarian Pink, Lucky Cross, Marianna’s Peace, Neves Azorean Red, Pink Berkeley Tie Dye, Red Oxheart, Stump of the World, Sungold, Summer Cider, and Wes. I’m growing Ambrosia sweet corn (a 1990’s hybrid bicolor), Crookneck Yellow Squash (I ran out of seed of Delta but I will be sure to order some for next year — it was so tasty!!). I’m trying Sumter cucumbers for sweet pickles this year.

They’re not pictured but I am also growing numerous peppers in pots. Four Carmen peppers (sweet), two Socrates (sweet), a Poblano (for chile rellenos) and Anaheim (not sure but should be fun!).


May 25 2016

Sweet Corn: Why You Should Ignore the Seed Packet


maize_plant_partsIn a traditional farm setting, sweet corn is planted in rows three feet apart with plants every 8-12 inches. This spacing is designed to accommodate mammoth harvesting equipment. However three foot spacing is implausible in a home garden.

The male and female parts of a corn plant are in completely different places (see diagram left). Wind is necessary to carry the pollen from the flowers atop the stalks down to the awaiting silks on the ears. In a field of corn, each row is dependent upon adjoining rows (sometimes two or three rows away) for complete pollination.

To mimic this process in a home garden, we condense the growing space by reducing plant spacing to 12 inch rows with individual spacing remaining at 8 inches. Because of the tighter spacing, pollination is more likely to occur. Reduced real estate does have a drawback in that the plants have less availability of food. We can remedy this through heavy fertilization. First,we must remember that corn is essentially a variety of grass and it responds vigorously to the application of nitrogen. When corn stalks are knee-high, I apply a tablespoon of Nitrate of Soda (15-0-0) around each plant. I repeat this process when plants are 4 feet tall.


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May 25 2016

May 25th Update: Ambrosia Corn, 2nd Batch of Tomatoes Planted

It’s long since time to get sweet corn in the ground.  In lieu of using a tiller, I thought the next best thing would be to add a couple bags of GardenPro Topsoil. Normally topsoil is rather heavy stuff and a good analogue of honest-to-goodness “dirt”, however this stuff is surprisingly loose. I did soak my corn seed for 30 minutes before planting. This year sees a return of the variety Ambrosia which has the legendary flavor of the mythical Silver Queen, but doesn’t start turning its sugars to starch in earnest until after two days in the fridge. It was incredibly good last year and I can’t complain about production.

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The first batch of tomatoes (mostly store-bought) are now approximately 2 feet tall and putting on serious flowers.

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I need to hurry up and add the rest of the tomato cages and apply a good layer of mulch to help preserve moisture and reduce fungal splashback from heavy rain.

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May 25 2016

May 15th Update: New Gate & Sod Cutting the Old Fashioned Way

Last year I had huge germination problems with sweet corn. After sowing countless seeds of Ambrosia and Bodacious in the loose, friable soil I’d established at the remote garden and getting virtually no result, I tried planting some in the recently tilled hardpan Carolina clay. I waited with skepticism and was shocked to see every single seedling come up. I had to thin them because I had planted two seeds per hole. While tomatoes and peppers might enjoy loose, fluffy soil loaded with peat or coir, corn seems to prefer concrete.

In Houston when I needed to clear garden space for a new raised bed, I would visit the nearest big box store and borrow a Sod Cutter. It’s a self-propelled device that saws the top inch of soil off the ground so that the grass can be neatly rolled up and transferred somewhere else. The one I had rented weighed about 100 lbs and could be loaded, with difficulty, into my SUV. Sod must be serious business in the Carolinas because the two places I checked here (Home Depot and United Rental) only had an industrial grade unit that weighed upwards of 350 lbs. I had no choice but to go old school and use a shovel (and a few choice words in the process).

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In other news, I was not satisfied with the garden Gate I built, specifically the 6 foot posts that supported it. When opened or closed, it wobbled dangerously. So I went back to formula and built a new gate of thicker material and drove 8 foot T-posts into the ground for more stability. I’m very pleased with the result.

May 05 2016

May 4th Update: Transplants In, More on the Way

Raised beds have been built and cardboard placed under the trucked-in soil to smother the weeds. Of course Sebastian helped! Fence and gate have been built and installed (which Sebastian did not appreciate). I started my tomato seeds in February but found out my seed starting soil/mix had major problems and so had to throw the lot away and start again in March, so I’m way behind.

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I purchased some tomato plants and those went in the ground on Wednesday April 27th. After one week, they have doubled in size which tells me I made a good choice on buying the Garden Mix “The Works” soil from Yard Works.

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Apr 28 2016

Seed Starting Mix — When Leftovers Go Really Really Wrong!


Well I’m officially behind on getting ready for my gardening season here in the Piedmont of South Carolina. After 2 years co-gardening at a friend’s house down the road, we’ve gone our separate ways and I am now starting from scratch in my own smaller yard. I’ve built three 4×16 beds with 2′ walkway all around. I’m a tomato fiend and if I could, I’d grow all 6,000 varieties of tomato just to compare them all, but I’ll have to settle with a dozen or so per year.

My go-to seed starting mix is Premier Pro-Mix BX. Fortunately I’ve found a place (A.B. Poe’s Farmer’s Exchange) that sells it and at a reasonable price to boot. After starting seeds last year, I had some leftover mix which had been moistened, so I returned it to the 5 gallon bucket I’d been storing the Pro-Mix in and put the lid on very loosely. The bucket had been left undisturbed since that time. I opened the lid in late March and I didn’t notice any unpleasant smell, so I began my usual seed starting process with this soil.

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Apr 28 2016

Parsnips: Just Add Water

The instructions on the seed package for most carrots and parsnips are deceptively simple. Scatter seeds (or barely bury a seed tape impregnated with seeds) and “keep soil moist for several days”. What these instructions omit is that the seed must be kept lightly damp for several hours for it to break dormancy and consider sprouting. After three separate sowings of various types of Parsnips and getting close to ZERO germination, I found one packet that had previously unseen advice on growing this long-season root crop: Pre-soak your seeds!


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Feb 23 2016

Introducing the Unconventional Tomato


Now that I have moved from Texas and have resumed gardening, I thought it would be a good time to relaunch a website for my gardening endeavors. Gardening in the Carolinas has presented new challenges but also new opportunities to grow cole crops such as Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, finicky root crops such as Parsnips, and a much more relaxed planting schedule for Tomatoes.

Hopefully you will continue to find the Gardening Guides that Suze and I wrote for the SETTFest website useful, especially the Seed Starting, Seed Saving, and A Crash Course in Tomato Gardening guides. I still have a LOT of work to do on this site, namely fixing all the links between articles, and I’m still in the early stages on my Raised Bed Gardening article. I appreciate all comments, suggestions, etc. you may have.

Feb 23 2016

How to Survive a Tomato Tasting

Here is the To Do List that Suze and I developed for the South East Texas Tomato Festival over the years. All told, it takes about 10 hours of planning and execution to put on an informal tomato tasting, yet it seems to greatly intimidate people. Hopefully this document helps allay some fears about hosting such an event.

3-6 months Before the Event:

1. Pick 2-3 possible dates for the event that fall right in the middle of peak tomato harvest times for your geographic area.

2. Pick a location (typically a state park) that is relatively central and convenient to reach by major roads.

3. Contact the state park service and ask which dates are available for a family get-together and for details about the facilities including pricing for different pavilions.

4. Pick a name for your event that is memorable. Make sure not to use ‘TomatoFest’ or ‘Tomato Fest’ in the name as they are copyrighted by Gary Ibsen. Tomato Festival is OK.

5. Once you have selected a place, date, and time, name for your club/event, make an announcement on gardening forums like Tomatoville, Dave’s Garden, Helpful Gardener, etc.

6. You might want to make up a flyer and distribute it at garden centers/nurseries in your area.

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May 29 2013

No SETTFest for 2013

I am sorry to report that the originators of the South East Texas Tomato Festival (SETTFest) are no longer able to operate this event. And despite a plentitude of motivated gardeners in and around Central and Southeast Texas, all attempts to pass on the event (even temporarily) to other individuals have been unsuccessful.

If you are interested in helping with a SETTFest event for 2014, please contact me by e-mail at morgan (at) and I will forward you my “How to Survive a Tomato Tasting” guide. It’s 4 pages long and you can then decide if you can dedicate yourself to a few hours work to help put on an event. I think going forward, SETTFest needs to be a TEAM effort of 3-4 individuals who will step up and make sure an event happens, rather than shouldering the responsibility onto a single person who can be tied up by real life events.

All told, it takes approximately 10 man (or woman) hours to schedule the event, pick a venue, arrange a pavilion/park/other location, purchase paper goods and other supplies, drive to the venue, set up, and tear down. With two people, it’s very manageable. I will even update the website and post the announcements for you.

Nov 20 2011

2012 SETTFest Cancelled


We have had some unforeseen scheduling issues and other commitments come up that make hosting the event this year impossible. Putting on a tomato tasting for this many people requires our full attention and organization, so we apologize, but must cancel the tasting for 2012.

Nov 20 2011

SETTFest 2011 a Huge Success

A new venue for our 5th annual SETTFest brought with it a much larger crowd and more tomatoes for everyone to try out! We lost count at 70 people in attendance, and also saw a welcome increase in the number of tomatoes brought by different people, which gave us the unique opportunity to compare the same varieties grown in different gardens.

Our mission is to introduce heirloom tomatoes to Central and South Texas gardeners and farmers alike, dispel the myths that only ‘heat setter’ varieties can be grown here, and offer advice and seeds wherever we can. So it was great to see folks asking lots of questions (including a few stumpers!), gathering seeds, and talking shop.

View photos of the 2011 SETTFest!

Jun 21 2010

SETTFest 2010 Sizzling Flavors

The 4th annual South East Texas Tomato Festival (SETTFest) was our third visit to picturesque Washington on the Brazos state park. Despite the unrelenting heat, it’s still a great venue to hold this event. This year, the date (June 19th, 2010) coincided very nearly with Father’s Day. We’re very thankful to any families that had to do without tomato-loving dads for a few hours.

As always, we caught up with old friends, and saw folks who traveled from far and wide. We had visitors from San Antonio, Houston, Austin, Dallas, Louisiana, El Paso, TX (a 680 mile drive), and the furthest travelers were from California and Oregon!

We are thrilled that more and more folks are bringing tomatoes and other items as well. This year, we saw a marked increase in the number of growers bringing tomatoes. An event like this works best when there are several providers of tomatoes. There was also a nice spread of cheeses, breads, and an ever-evolving pasta salad put together from fresh tomatoes and cucumbers from the event.

View photos of the 2010 SETTFest!

Jun 14 2009

SETTFest 2009 Best Year Ever

The 3rd annual South East Texas Tomato Festival (SETTFest) returned to the historic Washington on the Brazos state park on June 13th, 2009. We had our best turnout yet, with familiar faces, new folks, and unexpected guests. We had a great time, had everything set up early, so we could just enjoy visiting with folks.

Our mission at SETTFest is to introduce heirloom tomatoes to Central and South Texas gardeners and farmers alike, dispel the myths that only ‘heat setter’ varieties can be grown here, and offer advice and seeds wherever we can. So it was great to see folks asking lots of questions (including a few stumpers!), gathering seeds, and talking shop.

We are thrilled that more and more folks are bringing tomatoes and other items as well. There was a nice spread of breads, cheeses, pasta salads, etc. This was a tough year for tomatoes in our area due to the heatwave and torrential downpours in early May. But still most folks managed to get something and we enjoyed tasting varieties that others brought. Indeed one of the best varieties at the event was Atkinson.

Thanks all for making this a great event!

View photos of the 2009 SETTFest!

Jan 28 2009

SETTFest 2007 a Great Success

Columbus, TX — June 16th, 2007
We had 25 attendees at the inaugural South East Texas Tomato Festival. There were close to 90 tomato varieties, cucumbers, peppers, herbs, homemade cold-pressed olive oil, mustard, fruit preserves, bread, pickled peppers, pasta salads, and dessert!


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