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All my friends are jealous this week because I just pulled my first large tomatoes.    early_girl1

In Wake County (NC) big, homegrown tomatoes usually ripen by July 4th, but the weather this year….enough said. 

Still my little victory doesn’t mean I’m a better gardener than my friends.  I just have an Early Girl plant. 

Ok, I was  pretty smart this year.  I planted seed for EARLY, MID-SEASON, and LATE tomatoes.  Now my planning is paying off. 

Early Girl matures in about 55 days and while it doesn’t have the juicy sweetness or size of an August tomato, it’s very, very good.  early_girl2

There’s nothing like homegrown, is there? 

Fresh tomatoes are the centerpiece of  many summer meals in our house.  Here’s one of the favorites:  Caprese Salad made with homegrown tomatoes, basil, local garlic; plus buffalo mozzarella, and lots of good olive oil from my favorite Italian Market, Capri Flavors.  Check them out, especially if you need oil for roasting vegetables.  The house brand, Titina’s Extra Virgin is a bargain.  early_girl3

So what are you eating from the garden this week?


There’s enough concrete in Wake County (NC), don’t you think?  So I’m talking some back for agriculture.may_gardenwide

This is the third year I’ve turned my half of the driveway into a tomato garden. 

Tomato plants like sun and the driveway is the sunniest spot on our property.  There’s also lots of reflected light from the pavement and large white garage doors. 

This is such a good spot that the garden keeps expanding.  Along with tomatoes, I have other sun lovers like peppers, eggplant, and herbs in the driveway this year.  (Kudos to my loving husband  for being such  a tolerant fellow.)may_gardenpot

If you are going to grow vegetables in pots, make sure they are large pots.  Straw mulch helps retain moisture, but in the middle of summer, I will water my pots every day.may_gardenwater

Good thing my 500 gallon rain barrel is just around the corner at the back of the garage.may_gardenlable

Labels also matter.  Knowing what varieties perform well will help me make better choices next year. may_gardentall

And these brightly colored tomato cages look great, but they’re not tall enough by a long shot, so I add wooden stakes and trellises. 

BTY, growing up in the South “the garden” always meant the garden we got our meals from.   Daddy always had one. His mother raised 5 kids on “the garden” and a dead soldiers pension.  Bless her heart. 

What foods are you growing this year?

I never pull all the way up the driveway anymore.  My tomato plants like that spot too much. 

Tomatoes love sunshine.  And if you garden in the woods like I do, your best sun may be in the driveway.   

So I grow most of my tomatoes in large pots filled with growers mix, a little Osmoscote fertilizer and a handful of lime. 

The tomatoes are looking good this week–with lots of blooms.   And they’re  already out growing my tomato cages.  Time for some taller stakes.  

 Tomatoes are thirsty plants. 

Growing them in pots means they dry out more quickly. I water from a hose connected to my largest  rain barrel.   As the summer heats up, I might have to water every day. 

But that’s ok–

Homegrown tomatoes are more than worth the effort.  They are one of those plants that tastes a 100 times better when you grow them at home. 

And pots are a great way to start a little vegetable garden.   You can bring in the soil, control the moisture and follow the sun. 

It’s not too late to buy a tomato plant and give it a try.  

I also have eggplant, peppers, basil and okra growing in the driveway.    (I may never park in the garage again.)

Can these plants be saved?  I’m really not sure.

After a fruitful, but very hot July, my tomato plants pretty much “burned up” (as my gardening Daddy used to say).

It happens.   Tomato plants are susceptible to lots of folar diseases.  Add the stress of summer heat and insects and you get some pretty ugly plants by August.

You could pull them out like my friend Titina at Capri Flavors.  Her garden was looking nice and clean–her tomato plants vanquished–when I visited this week.

I came home planning to do the same.  But the heathy new growth and blooms at the top of the plants stopped me.


  • I cut off most of the sick foliage.
  •  Added some fresh soil and fertilizer around plant roots.
  • Re-staked my plants and watered well.
  • For extra insurance, I cut off some nice healthy branch tips and rooted them in pots.

Will I get a late crop of tomatoes?  That’s the big question.

Much of late summer gardening is an experiment.  Some years are better than others.  I’ll let you know if my August rehab pays off.

Ok, you don’t really have to plow up the grass– but it’s  a shame to waste all our southern sunshine (and precious water) on something you can’t eat.   Why not tap your inner farmer and grow a nice crop of tomatoes, too.    

Tomatoes love our long, hot summers.   They’re great for beginners, and can be grown in large pots on driveways, patios and balconies.   Kids (who are instinctively wonderful gardeners)  love to grow and eat them.  And, as any native-born Southerner will tell you, if you have a home-grown tomato, mayonnaise, and two slices of bread, you have the makings of  a wonderful  meal. 

If you want to grow your tomatoes from seed like I do, this is the week to start.  I want my plants ready to set outside by our last average frost date (April 15th) but not too far along  that they become weak and leggy inside under grow lights. 

I start  my tomatoes from seed because:

  • It’s fun
  • Inexpensive
  • Hundreds of varieties to choose from.   A great way to experiment and keep diversity in the plant world
  • Lots of plants to share with friends and new gardeners (Why not spread the love?)

Check out previous posts on seed starting if you want to know more,

Or plan to buy your  tomato plants.  Just wait until the danger of frost has passed (April 15th)  before selecting and setting plants out. 

Look for stocky seedlings  with very green leaves and lots of disease resistance.  You’ll know this by all the letters behind the variety name.  VNF,  for example, means  resistance  to some bad plant fungal things with long scary names.   Here’s a link to a chart that explans it all–.     I prefer to keep it simple and go with the longest string of letters I can find.  I also like to grow tomato varieties with the word indeterminate on the label or seed pack.  That means the plants produce though out the growing season.  (Determinate plants tend to  give me too many tomatoes in July and not enough the rest of the summer) 

My favorite varieties are Goliath, Celebrity, Sweet Chelsea, and Viva Italia but I’m always trying new things. 

I would love to grow old-fashioned or heirloom tomatoes  (the ones that sell for $4.99 a pound at Whole Foods) but they have no disease resistance and never do well for me. 

Instead I grow the modern hybrids for slicing (round, also called main crop) , cooking  (plum) and eating off the vine (cherry and grape tomatoes)

For kids and my little sister I always grow extra cherry and grape  tomatoes  because they are the most productive plants.  Last year, three of my young farmers reported their  Jelly Bean Reds  were still bearing  little tomatoes well into October. 

 My sister loves the larger cherry, Sweet Chelsea.   Plenty to eat, plenty to share.  Really good on pasta.  And like all home-grown tomatoes, so much better than store-bought. 

So start farming.  If you don’t have a vegetable bed, pick a sunny spot and improve  your soil now.  If you want to plant in  a pot, make sure it’s large enough for a tomato plant–at least  14-16 inches across. 

Earth Boxes are also wonderful for growing tomatoes.  I have 3 and I  love them.  Here’s the link  to  find out more about these  great little growing systems .  They’re perfect for patio and driveway farmers.

A long-time gardener and a passionate beginner share the dirt on their NC gardens-

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