In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.

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Green Tomato Salsa

A.k.a., what to do with all the unripe tomatoes when cold weather hits.

Chop green tomatoes. Add diced garlic, diced red onion, hot peppers (another “harvest before it freezes outside crop”), and cilantro (also salvaged pre-freezing weather). Let stand for a few hours, stirring occasionally. Add additional seasonings to taste – more of any of the ingredients, and / or salt, pepper, lime juice. Whatever you like, it’s your salsa after all!

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Garden Progress March 2015

For some reason, I feel more urgency to garden this year than I have in the past. I was blaming the lingering cold and snow – nothing like being unable to start working to make you feel like you need to work!  I mean, it’s almost April. I am so. Far. Behind.

Then I checked my garden calendar from the past two years. Each of them, 2014 and 2013, had snows after March 21st. And in neither year did I even plant the first peas before the first weekend of April. So. This frantic feeling like I’m falling behind has it’s basis in… what? Possibly the shiny new detailed WVU Extension Service 2015 Garden Calendar I picked up for free at a local shop. (Local-ish, I’m near zone C in their map.)

The Calendar says right that I should be seeding things in cold frames or low tunnels, planting onion sets, seeding peas and radishes, and well, everything besides what I am actually doing: blogging about everything I haven’t started doing.

The fact that I did not “put away” my garden last fall is contributing to the panic because I am even farther “behind” considering all the clean up work I had to do. On the other hand, when I finally inspected the garden, I realized all was not lost!

Two caraflex cabbages survived the crazy winter in the cold frame. (The two left most plants in the photo – I still haven’t figured out what the rest of that is.)

Life lurking in the cold frame

Life lurking in the cold frame

I had a “low tunnel” – my first attempt at one – covered in plastic for most of the winter, though a bad storm in February shredded the plastic and exposed all the plant life. Somehow, parsnips (top) and leeks (bottom) survived the ongoing cold.  And yes, in the upper left, those are two carrots I pulled from the bed intact.  No, I didn’t try to eat them!

Life after the winter

Leeks and parsnips oh my!

This is all that remains of my strawberries. This is what happens when you don’t cover them with straw and deer netting (the netting you see there was added last week). The cold and the marauding deer population took their toll!

Nearly empty strawberry bed.

All that remains of my strawberries.


I have started some seeds indoors. Following the WVU Calendar. Apparently I started these tomatoes TOO soon though. I’ve got at least a month and a half before these guys can be planted in the garden, and they are already out of room under my grow lights.

Tomatoes outgrowing my grow rack

My tomatoes…compensating for my other inadequacies.


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Annual Garden Update, Part 1

One of my longest ongoing performance improvement projects is, of course, my garden. As such, I figured I should post a few updates about my garden, including how I’ve improved some approaches to make my garden “better” this year. “Better” as measured for my garden includes higher yields and better quality output.

Update 1: tomatoes! They have the most radical “improvement” – or at least, I am hoping it will be an improvement. I haven’t harvested any tomatoes yet, but I am hopeful.

I am following the radical guidance in the “Tomato Secrets” article from a recent issue of BackHome Magazine which promotes a very aggressive pruning strategy but only for the leaves. The suckers that grow in the “crotch” or join between the main stem and a leaf – those get to stay, because a lot of times they do produce fruit if you let them go long enough. This is backwards from most pruning guides and my tomatoes look very awkward and leggy as a result. But I’m happy to try anything (well, almost anything), at least once.

These jelly bean tomatoes are being woven back and forth through painted PVC bars for support. Last year we used a wooden trellis that had to be destroyed at the end of the year because it had weathered so badly. Hoping that the PVC structure can be reused over multiple years, reducing the cost and time to set up each year.

A jellybean grape tomato, woven between cross bars for support

A jellybean grape tomato, woven between cross bars for support

Here’s another view. All the “salad” tomatoes (three jelly beans and one sun sugar cherry) are trained up this trellis. Once they reach the top, they should trail across the top and perhaps even down the other side… maybe! Another big difference between last year’s trellis and this year’s – this one is short enough I can reach the top. Last year I had to use a ladder to reach tomatoes at the top. This year, yield should be improved just because I’ll actually be able to reach everything!  (Also, notice the peppers in the center of the structure.)

Weaving cherry and grape tomatoes through bars for support

Weaving cherry and grape tomatoes through bars for support

For the slicing tomatoes (a San Marzano roma, a Better Boy hybrid and a beefsteak hybrid), we re-used the “artificial fence” concept from last year. Although we did change it up, using plastic “chicken” fence with much smaller holes than last year. This gives me more options on where to tie off the tomatoes for support.  This view shows the San Marzano (which is indeterminate – all my tomatoes are indeterminate this year).

A San Marzano Roma tomato, spreadeagle against a fake fence for support

A San Marzano Roma tomato, spreadeagle against a fake fence for support

This view shows the Better Boy (left) and Beefsteak (right). Both are still very “leafy” because the BackHome article is very clear – once fruit has set and is about the size of a pea, you remove all the leaves below that. Well, each of these plants has only set a few fruit, near the bottom!

Two slicing tomato plants, spreadeagle against a fake fence for support

Two slicing tomato plants, spreadeagle against a fake fence for support

Last but not least, our other major change this year: a cute popup greenhouse. (Which may not survive the year, given the nasty storms we’ve already had this summer.)  Three tomatoes are in containers in the greenhouse, to protect them from the fluctuations of local rainfall and the ravages of the wind. Oh yeah, and tomato hornworms.

Another beefsteak, this one in the greenhouse:

A hybrid slicing tomato plant in the greenhouse

A hybrid slicing tomato plant in the greenhouse

A family portrait: two more San Marzano Romas.

Two roma tomato plants in our greenhouse

Two roma tomato plants in our greenhouse

There are two other tomatoes which aren’t shown here. One, whose variety I forgot, is in a container on our back deck. The other “volunteered” in the middle of our strawberry patch, and I didn’t have the heart to pull it up after it had grown big enough for me to realize it was there!

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Two Complicated Ways to Stake Your Tomato Plants

So the latest issue of Grit features an article “Four Easy Ways to Stake Your Tomato Plants.”  One of them even sports a cool name – the “Florida Weave”.  Well, how I am staking my plants isn’t “easy” by any stretch of the imagination. But I thought I would share, since so far they have worked REALLY well.

Complicated stake 1: The cherry & grape tomatoes – which might as well be weeds because they just keep growing, and growing, and growing – are woven through a structure my husband built specifically for this purpose.  It’s very sturdy and reinforced at the top corners because of the fierce winds we get through our yard.  There are three plants on each side, one cherry and two “jellybean” grapes (one red, one yellow), and they are woven through each layer of the trellis as they grow.  The plants will eventually grow across the top. The space underneath features marigolds and pepper plants.


Cherry and grape tomatoes “staked” with a trellis-like structure.

Complicated stake #2 – I’ll call this one “On the Fence”.  The two slicing tomato plants are  planted along a fake fence, so the branches can be spread out across the “fence” to allow maximum air circulation and easy access to fruit, and suckers and tomato hornworms that need to be removed.   The branches are held in place with plant tape, and for some particularly heavy fruit, held up.  The Beefsteak:


Beefsteak tomato spread eagle on an artificial fence.

The Brandywine:


Brandywine tomato spread eagle on a “fence”.

And a not-so-complicated stake, to round out the post.  Here’s my last tomato plant – no complicated staking for the Roma. It’s the only determinate tomato variety in the garden this year, so it’s only got a double-stacked cone cage.


Roma tomato in a standard cage available at hardware stores.

The pieces of “fence” supporting the Brandywine and Beefsteak form an “L” shape, and the Roma is planted in the space inside the “L”.

I’m extremely happy with how these structures have worked – there’s nothing I would have done differently.  …except to start the plants earlier, so we’d already be up to our eyeballs in tomatoes. It’s the beginning of August, and we’re only starting to get salad tomatoes turning.  But oh, the tomatoes…

(The other thing I love is that there are NO splits in the tops of the slicing tomatoes this year.  We have been vigilant in using the drip irrigation system to make sure the plants get a consistent amount of water, and the results have been worth it!)

For fun, I dug up this picture of my cherry tomatoes from last year.   The poor things WAY overgrew their folding tomato trellis, and became a nightmare to care for. I let them go rotten on the vine rather than trying to reach in that mess to try picking them!  So maybe my stakes are over-engineered…now you know why!

Tomato Mess

Tomato stake fail! (From last year’s garden)