Tomato pruning, garden visitors, and rabbit hunting!

Although the beginning of the week was hot, the weather finally started to cooperate with us by the end of the week.  We received some much-needed rain (1.4 inches in one day!) and more comfortable temperatures following.

One major project that we completed this week was wrangling our out-of-control tomato plants.  They simply grew too large too fast!  While it is great that they are growing so vigorously, many of the plants were laying on the ground and growing into each other.  The tightly-packed plants are much more vulnerable to disease such as blight.  There are two types of tomato plant growth patterns: determinate and indeterminate.  Determinate plants grow to a certain size, produce a crop of tomatoes, and then die.

Indeterminate plants, on the other hand, will continue to grow throughout the entire growing season and will continue to produce fruit all season long.  We planted a combination of these types.  We did some research and found that we should have been pruning the indeterminate plants since they were a foot tall...oops!  The plants have a single main stem, but many more stems will grow if they are not pruned properly.  It is important to prune the extra stems so that the plant can allocate its resources to a strong main stem and large juicy tomatoes.  If there are many stems, it is likely that there will be more, but smaller fruit.  We did what we could to untangle the tomato plants, trim off excess stems, and tie up the remaining main stems onto garden stakes.  We were worried that cutting so many branches could harm the plants, but they seem to be doing very well so far.  Now, the plants are up off the ground, the leaves are exposed to the sunlight, and the plants' resources do not need to be spread so far to all of the excess stems.  In addition, there is better air flow between the plants to help reduce the risk of blight.

Indeterminate tomato plants also grow "suckers" which are small branches which grow in the axil (point at which a branch comes off a main stem) directly above another branch.  It is important to trim these suckers often to ensure that they don't drain the resources from the other branches.  Determinate tomato plants do not need to be pruned, but they should be staked so they are not growing on the ground.  We have tried several methods of trellising tomatoes here in the garden- stakes, string, cages, etc.  Does anyone have any suggestions for a good way to keep them standing up?

We were very grateful to have the help of many wonderful volunteers in the garden this week.  On Sunday, a group of incoming first year students taking part in SMC's MOVE (Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts) community service pre-orientation weekend helped us pull a LOT of weeds!  We are finally starting to feel like we are catching up with the weeds, and volunteers have helped us immensely!  Today, we introduced over 50 visiting Chinese high school students to the garden.  They asked great questions and enthusiastically leaned about organic gardening.  (They were especially enthusiastic about the frogs and grasshoppers!)

Another major task for the week was to eliminate our rabbit problem.  We had seen a rabbit in the garden a few times and each day more veggies were eaten or chomped.  The rabbits we had seen were very small and could fit through the squares in our outer metal fencing below the electric fence and chew right through the inner plastic fencing.  We installed a new outer metal rabbit fence which has very small openings at the bottom.  We buried the fence into the ground to make it more difficult for the rabbits to dig underneath.  Unfortunately, we knew that there was a rabbit still stuck inside the garden and hopefully unable to escape through the new fencing.  We borrowed and set up a couple of Havahart traps and experimented with various bait (lettuce, carrot, scallions, apple) with no success.  Perhaps the rabbit was surrounded by so much good food in the garden that it was not enticed by the bait in the traps. 

This morning, we were finally able to catch two small rabbits by setting up a temporary fence surrounding them and Heather scooped them up and carried them to a new home away from the garden.  We have tried to protect some the rabbits' favorite foods (lettuce, carrots, scallions) by sprinkling chili powder and cayenne pepper around those beds.  In addition, we applied a "liquid fence" of deer and rabbit deterrent around the entire perimeter of the garden.  It smells pretty bad, but hopefully it will work!  We are really hoping that this will be the end of the rabbit saga!!


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