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Is you home decorated for fall yet? I am still working on getting my house ready for the fall holidays.  


Normally, I am content to buy a single pumpkin and set it in the middle of my dining room table.  But, after seeing my mother’s beautiful fall centerpiece (above), I decided to try to do something a little more creative…


So, I decided to challenge myself to see what I could come up with for my own unique fall centerpiece by taking a visit to the produce section of my local supermarket.  I was determined to look beyond the normal fall offerings of pumpkins and Indian corn to see if I could be inspired. 


Surprisingly, I found quite a few vegetables and fruits that would look nice in a fall centerpiece.  So, armed with my cell phone camera, I started taking photos of some of my favorites…

Acorn Squash

Now, I don’t like to eat squash at all.  I still remember hiding the cooked squash in my napkin that my grandmother would try to get us to eat.

Spaghetti Squash

BUT, squash looks great when used as a fall decoration.

Butternut Squash

In fact, I have even seen Butternut squash decorated as a ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ with a ghost face colored in using black markers.

Artichoke

Okay, artichokes are another vegetable that I don’t like.  But, they look great in arrangements, so I bought one.

Pomegranates

Finally, I found something that I do like to eat AND decorate with – pomegranates.  I love their deep color, don’t you?

Oranges

Limes

Let’s not forget citrus, which is always beautiful no matter how you use it – whether in a bowl in the center of the table or as part of a larger arrangement.

Heirloom Tomatoes

I admit that heirloom tomatoes aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when creating a fall centerpiece.  But, their deep and rich colors would accent any centerpiece.  Tomatoes won’t last as long as the other produce I have profiled, so use for a few days and then eat them.

Mangoes

How about mangoes? 

Apples

Apples are great for decorating the tabletop.  I like to use them at Christmas time as well.

Red Pears

I don’t think I have ever noticed all of the different types of produce that my grocery store had before now.

I did come away with a few things that I will attempt to create a centerpiece out of.  I promise to share it with you later.

In the meantime, I did find myself captivated by the unusual pumpkin offerings at the store…


Aren’t they beautiful?

I selected one for my centerpiece.  When I got home, I excitedly showed it to my kids, who to my surprise, were not happy about it.  They asked, “Is this the pumpkin we are going to carve?”

I assured them that this pumpkin is for decoration only and will hopefully last until Thanksgiving.

I did promise them a ‘regular’ pumpkin for carving later on.

So, when you head to the supermarket this weekend, take a closer look at the produce aisle and see what you can use to create your own ‘natural’ fall centerpiece.
I think that there are few plants that gardeners get more excited about then growing tomatoes.  There is just something so rewarding about biting into a juicy, flavorful tomato.
For those of you who have tasted a freshly grown tomato, you know that store-bought tomatoes do not even begin to compare in both taste and texture.  The are a few reasons for this.  First, the varieties grown commercially are bred to have tougher skins, so that they can make the trip to the grocery store with few blemishes.  Another reason is that commercial tomatoes are picked when they are still green and then treated with ethylene gas in order to make them turn red.
So, maybe you have decided to try growing tomatoes this year.  Or, maybe you have tried and have not had a whole lot of success.  Well, I would like to give you some helpful tips that may help you to grow wonderful tomatoes.

Now, most gardeners who grow tomatoes have their list of tips for growing the best tomatoes and many have differing opinions on the best way.  But like growing many things, there is often more then one right way to grow things.


Since I have only grown tomato transplants, that is what I will talk about.  Although someday, I would like to start them from seed.

1. Decide where to plant your tomatoes.  Tomatoes transplants can be planted once the threat of frost is over.  Tomatoes like sunlight and require about 6 hours a day.  They will require shade once the fruit begins to form, which can be done by creating a portable shade structure.  I use 30 – 50% shade cloth, putting it over my tomato support.


By the way, tomato plants can grow up to 6 ft. tall, so they do need a support system.  Tomato cages or stakes are available.  Because I plant my tomatoes next to the fence of my vegetable garden, I use a combination of a tomato cage and my fence for staking my tomato plants.
*Tomatoes really do not do all that well when planted in containers, unless you decide to plant a determinate variety (bloom and produce tomatoes just once).  Roma tomatoes are determinate and would be a good selection for pots.  Other types of tomatoes are indeterminate, which means that they produce tomatoes over a long period of time and the tomato plants get too large to do well in a container and their roots get quite hot as well.

2. Prepare your soil.  Add aged compost, bone meal (source of phosphorus), blood meal (source of nitrogen) and aged (composted) steer or chicken manure and mix with your existing soil.  Read the labels of your blood & bone meal for how much to add.  Compost should make up at least 2/3 of your planting mixture.  Let your prepared soil rest for 1 week before planting.
3.  Select your tomatoes.  This is the really fun part.  Decide what uses you will put your tomatoes to.  Do you want tomatoes for slicing, salads, cooking or cherry tomatoes?  

*You may also be wondering what all the fuss is about heirloom tomatoes and how are they different from hybrid tomatoes?  Well basically, heirloom tomatoes are non-hybrid tomatoes and can be open-pollinated.  Heirloom tomatoes are said to possess the ‘old-fashioned’ flavor that many people love in tomatoes and are grown from seed.

As a gardener, you can grow either heirloom or regular hybrid tomatoes.  It is your choice.

A good beginner tomato to start out with are cherry tomatoes.  In my garden this year, I decided to choose a variety that is great for making sauces – San Marzano (heirloom), although Roma (heirloom) tomatoes are good for cooking and preserving as well.  To be honest, I have never made fresh tomato sauce before, but I can’t wait to do it this year.  I love watching the Food Network and I always get so inspired.  Although I probably only make 5% of the recipes I see created on television 😉

Many people are very passionate about which type of tomato varieties that they like to grow.  In addition to the cooking tomato varieties listed above, here are just a few suggestions for other types of tomatoes:

‘Celebrity’ (hybrid) and ‘Brandywine’ (heirloom), are good sliced tomato varieties.
‘Stupice’ (heirloom) and ‘Early Girl’ (hybrid) are great varieies for using in salads.

 ‘Gardener’s Delight’ (heirloom) and ‘Beam’s Yellow Pear’ (heirloom) are good cherry tomato varieties.

 An Indian school was selling tomato plants for a fundraiser.  Once I saw the ‘San Marzano’ label, I just had to buy them.
4. Dig a hole that is 4 times deeper and 4 times wider then the root ball of your tomato plant.  Sprinkle about 1/2 a cup of bone meal in the bottom of the hole, which will aid in rooting (some tomato experts say you can add 1 cup of bone meal to each hole).




Then take your tomato plant and remove the bottom 3 sets of leaves.  Believe it or not, your tomatoes will root out where you remove the leaves.  More roots equals more water and nutrients that your tomato plant can take up.


 Then remove the little container and plant it.  Cover with soil so that the soil level sits just beneath the lowest leaf.  
Build a small basin around your tomato plants and cover with mulch.  

5. Fill the basin with water.  Your tomatoes like for their soil to be moist, but not soggy. 

Many problems with tomatoes arise from improper or irregular watering.  So water deeply (their roots grow 3 ft. deep), and regularly.  Because irrigation systems are so different and there are so many variables, there is no way to tell you exactly how much and how long to water.  So, it is important to observe your tomatoes and monitor their soil moisture.

Drip irrigation works well and can be hooked up to your hose bib, with a battery operated irrigation controller.  Use at least two emitters for each tomato plant.  Bubblers work very well for tomatoes.  You can always use a watering can, but avoid getting dirt splashed up on the leaves.

6. Fertilize your tomatoes monthly.  Now you can use either organic fertilizers or inorganic.  The choice is yours.  Add fertilizer during the cool part of the day and water in well after you applying.   

7. Help to attract pollinators and keep damaging insects away by planting companion plants.  I have used both alyssum and marigolds this spring, although they will die off once summer comes.


My daughter, Rachele, was kind enough to help me in the garden along with my husband.

8.  Towards the end of July, tomatoes often stop producing fruit in many, hot desert climates.  The reason for this is that tomato pollen is most viable when night time temperatures are within 60 – 90 degrees F.  So, don’t worry, if you tomato plant stops producing in the summer.  Keep the shade cloth on and water well.  When temperatures begin to drop in the fall, you can often enjoy seeing tomatoes on the same plant.

9.  Watch closely for pests.

  Watch for caterpillars and pluck them off.  (I confess that I wear gloves for this job because I am a bit squeamish about handling a live caterpillar).

Aphids are generally not a huge problem and usually go away on their own.

Whitefiles and spider mites can be treated using insecticidal soap or neem oil on the bottom of their leaves.

If birds are a problem, use bird netting. 

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So, we covered a lot today.  I do hope that you will find some of the information helpful in growing your own tomatoes.

For more information on growing tomatoes in the desert Southwest, check out the following link.