If you’re looking to grow really big — I mean REALLY BIG — tomatoes… the kind you might even break a state record size of tomato, you’ll need to start with good seed DNA. There are certain tomato varieties that tend to grow to a larger size when given proper nutrients, pH, and pruning.
At the time of publication, the current 2021 Guinness Book of World Records for the heaviest tomato was grown by Dan Sutherland (USA). His monster tomato was of the “Domingo” variety and weighed 10 lb 12.7 oz (4.896 kg) when measured in Walla Walla, Washington, USA, on 15 July 2020. The achievement was authenticated by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC).
It had a circumference of 33 in (83.8 cm), contributed to by a number of outgrowths on the fruit known as “dingleberries” — something that can be common among giant tomatoes. This is the second time that Sullivan has held this Guinness record. He grew a 3.906-kg (8.61-lb) tomato in August 2016. According to Guinness, “the mother seed for this new record-breaker was derived from the previous record plant.”
No matter if you’re wanting to grow a record breaking monster-size tomato to win titles or simply wanting a nice big tasty slicer for your summer time BLTs, these are the varieties that typically grow larger in girth.
Happy New Year! As we look forward to the year ahead, it’s time to start thinking about what kind of nutritious food can be grown!
We’ve wrapped up our trials from 2021 and data and out of all the many cultivars grown of tomatoes, I’ve settled on these being my favorites to try in 2022.
When growing tomatoes, it’s always a good idea to think about HOW you plant to consume and use them. It will be a big help to you to evaluate this as it will determine what kind of tomato you should grow. And the BEST part of growing tomatoes is you can enjoy great taste as well that surpass anything that can be found at your local grocery store!
Here’s Erin’s tried and tested picks:
Casady’s Folly Paste Tomato(Sauce or Slicing) Why Erin chose it: “This variety is from tomato and potato breeder, Tom Wagner, of Washington State. It is a fantastic producer and beautiful on and off the vine. It is super versatile as well… you can slice it and add to any recipe that asks for a chopped tomato. It excels for making sauce. When compared to equal number of plants, it even out-performed 3.65x times the popular similar Speckled Roman paste variety. Casady’s Folly had more bud production and peaked in mid-July, but just kept pumping out the tomatoes until the end of September earning its spot as my top pick this growing season.”
Cancelmo Family Heirloom Paste Tomato(Sauce or Slicing) Why Erin chose it: “Cancelmo Family Heirloom Paste Tomato is a wonderful oxheart-type tomato variety. It steadily produces good size meaty fruit making it a wonderful option for great tasting sauce, but can also make a nice slicer for BLT sandwiches as the size fits a slice of bread well and has low seed/pulp ratio. Because doesn’t produce as many seeds, we may swap in another variety once we sell out of our inventory with another variety that also performed well, so grab it while it’s part of the collection while you can.”
Charlie Chapman Heirloom Tomato(Slicing or Stuffer) Why Erin chose it: “I was originally attracted to Charlie Chapman Heirloom Tomato for it’s ruffled mid-size appearance and that it was touted as a good stuffing cultivar. I think part of the fun of growing food you can’t find in the store is using it in new ways in the kitchen. It’s a great way to add interest to what you’re eating and delights younger children as well. It did not disappoint and actually produced well throughout the growing season. This is a red tomato, but an orange-tinted red. I love how they look like miniature pumpkins.“
Cherokee Purple Tomatoor Paul Robeson Tomato ((Sauce or Slicing) Why Erin chose it: “Cherokee Purple is one of our favorite tasting tomatoes. It’s not our biggest producer, but I chose this variety based on its flavor profile. Our seed comes from local stock and has been adapted over several generations. In fact, when I compared my seed to other seed providers, our seed was larger and more plump — these are traits that World Guinness Book Record holder, Charles Wilber, recommends looking for in seed with good DNA.“
Wagners Salad Green Tomato (aka: Green Elf) (Sauce or Slicing) Why Erin chose it: “We love fried green tomatoes and this determinate variety just pumped out nice firm green tomatoes much to our delight. The multiple buds it produced and actually set was amazing. I did have to prune it a bit for the Southern climate and for airflow, but I loved the thick sturdy stalk it had and the amount of production we got out of it. It’s a versatile tomato that looks pretty when added to red varieties in diced salsas or topping tacos or salads as well. “
Nostrano Grasso Italian Tomato(Sauce or Slicing) Why Erin chose it: “I was drawn to this variety because of the rariety of it in the United States as an Italian variety. I also thought the slight ruffled look of it was pretty and it did not disappoint. The production was wonderful and the tomato taste true Italian tomato flavors rang through checking all the boxes for me for a fantastic cultivar to grow. “
Blue Cream Berries Cherry Tomato(Salad Topper or Snacking) Why Erin chose it: “This is a most unusual tomato. It looks unimpressive on the vine, but I always love to share it with my guests that come to the garden, just to see their look of surprise when they taste it. Your mind thinks it’s going to tart, but it’s not. It’s unlike any other tomato I have tried to date and the fact that it is known to also have those purple shoulders containing anthocyanans, well, it’s a tomato we should all be enjoying on salads or for snacking. What’s interesting is that the second year of adapting this variety the first fruits that came on where actually bigger than the previous year. This will be one I continue to grow out and adapt through hydroponics in the Southeast.“
Black Cherry Tomato(Salad Topper or Snacking) Why Erin chose it: “Our entire family loves the Black Cherry Tomato variety. Cherry Tomatoes are also easier to grow in the Southeast, so it’s a good starter tomato for anyone who hasn’t grown tomatoes before from seed. Like our other cultivars that have been adapted through hydroponic growing conditions, Black Cherry Tomatoes were larger and super tasty — especially early on in the season. These can be used for snacking, salads, sliced for tacos, or even sun-dried. “
+ Bonus: Naughty Marietta French Marigold(Co-planting and other beneficial uses) Why Erin chose it: “I wanted to include a marigold to encourage new growers to think of co-planting beneficial plants near one another. The marigold is fantastic for keeping some pest pressure down. You can grow and place in-between and around your plants that are growing, but the real benefit will be if you harvest some leaves and petals and make a biological tea and spray on your tomato plants once a week as a pro-active pest deterrent. “
If you want to learn more about this collection, feel free to click here. We wish you the best and a wonderful 2022 Growing Season! Be sure to let us know in the comments below what your favorite tomato variety was from your last growing season. We all learn from each other through sharing!
There are some fantastic faux pumpkins you can find at the craft store these days, but there’s nothing quite like having a fresh pumpkin for the front porch. If you’re heading out to your local pumpkin patch to pick out the perfect pumpkin, be sure to pick up three additional items from the store to help preserve your pumpkin (if you don’t have these already): bleach, dish soap and matte paint spray sealer.
When you return home with your freshly harvested pumpkin, before placing your treasure on the front porch, do this:
In a large sink or tub, prepare a mixture of bleach, water and dish soap: one (1) gallon of water, 2 tablespoons bleach, and a two drops of dish soap. Soak the pumpkin(s) in the mixture for 15-30 minutes.
Next, rinse the pumpkin(s) with cool water and dry completely.
After the pumpkins have dried all the way around them, take outside and give it a coat of spray matte sealer which will help preserve them even longer!
Have fun picking out your pumpkins! And be sure to share pics of your pumpkins with us on social media! Tag us at #gyhg or #growyourhealthgardening on Instagram, Gab, Google My Business, or Facebook.
We are loving eating BLTs (Bacon, Lettuce + Tomato with Mayo on a slice of bread) fresh from the garden with tasty hydroponically-grown heirloom tomatoes! (So juicy!)
And this rare variety from Russia called Beauty Lottringa makes a tasty AND beautiful plating! Can you believe that each tomato has less than five seeds in it?! WOW! I personally love how each slice looks like a red flower.
I’m still debating on whether to sell this variety because of the low seed count, but I may end up doing a giveaway, so be sure to visit store.growyourhealthgardening.com and sign-up for our email updates and tips to be the first to hear when our new hydroponically-adapted line of seeds release or if we do a give-away on this particular variety.
Do you love BLTs as well? What is your favorite slicer variety?
We have been busy seeding tomatoes this week inside in preparation for the 2021 growing season and we look forward to bringing you hydroponic adapted seeds once our trials have completed. I search far and wide for unique varieties that cannot be found at the grocery store or big box gardening centers and even from large seed producers. We even have some rare varieties we are excited to try and share with you if they do well in our trials.
Every season, I feel it’s important to have FUN while you grow food for you and your family, so here are some of my personal FUN goals…
In particular, this year, I think I’m going to try and tackle growing the largest tomato I’ve ever grown. I’m thinking like, state fair size. My seed stock for this challenge comes from a private grower in Italy and we shall see how it adapts to our growing region.
I’m also focusing on more plum varieties this year, so we can make some amazing sauce and preserve it for the winter to feed our family of seven. I did some extra research and selected varieties that were favored by other tomato connoisseurs.
I’m also particularly excited about our new line-up of micro-dwarf tomatoes that don’t require a trellis and have usually one or two flushes of tomatoes before they complete their growing cycle. Because of their compact habit, they are ideal for growing in the vertical Tower Garden and for those who want to grow in small spaces like in the Aerogarden, Farm Stand, or even in a pot on your back patio or deck.
Our seed is adapted to hydroponic growing conditions in Zone 7 just west of Atlanta, Georgia. I share this info not because tomatoes are a perennial (which is typically the reason for looking at growing zones), but instead to help our home growers know where their seed is grown, so they can match it to their own growing conditions for success. Our tomatoes are all grown outdoors in heat and humidity and hand-pollinated with the exception of our micro-dwarfs which are grown indoors to limit cross-pollination.
We give our mature tomatoes a PPM range of 1400-2000 and a pH of 6.0-6.5 for maximum nutrient uptake. We recommend using the Tower Garden Mineral Blend for healthy plants and maximum growth. If you’re wondering what grows well with tomatoes in a hydroponic system, we encourage you to visit this page on our Grow Your Health Gardening Web site for more information.
If you wonder why tomato seeds can cost more than other seeds, know that tomatoes are very time-and-labor intensive to grow and require a lot of personal management with seed starting, pruning, scouting for any pest pressure, or any efforts to boost immune system through foliar application of comfrey tea and molasses tea (which helps to bring out flavor).
15 Slicer Tomato Variaties:
Apricot Brandywine Tomato
Black Passion Tomato
Big Rainbow Tomato
Delice De Nevilly Tomato (Rare)
Genovese Tomato (Rare)
Great White Heirloom Tomato (Low-Acid)
Green Elf (Tom Wagner Variety)
Merveille Des Marches Tomato (Rare)
Nostrano Grasso Tomato (Rare)
Orange Orangutan Tomato
Pomodoro Gigante Farina Tomato (Rare)
Thornburn’s Terra Cotta Tomato (Rare)
Wagner Blue Green Tomato (Tom Wagner Variety)
8 Paste Tomato Variaties:
Black Plum Paste Tomato
Cancelmo Family Ox Heart Tomato
Cassidy’s Folly Plum Tomato (Tom Wagner Variety)
Cream Sausage Plum Tomato (Tom Wagner Variety)
Dwarf Sneaky Sauce Micro-Dwarf Plum Tomato
Goatbag Plum Tomato
San Marzano Plum Tomato
Speckled Roman Plum Tomato
8 Cherry Tomato Variaties:
Black Cherry Tomato
Blue Cream Berries Cherry Tomato
Brad’s Atomic Grape Cherry Tomato
Green Doctor’s Frosted Tomato
Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomato
Red Pear Cherry Tomato
Sweetheart Cherry Tomato
Yellow Pear Cherry Tomato (Low Acid)
24 Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomatoes:
Annie’s Singapore Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Bonsai Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Dwarf Suzy’s Beauty Tomato
Gold Pearl Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Fat Frog Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Florida Petite Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Hahms Gelbe Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Hardins Miniature Micro-Dwarf Tomato
Inkspot Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Kookaburra Cackle Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Little Red Riding Hood Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Mo Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Monetka Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Olga’s Round Chicken Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Peachy Keen Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Pigmy Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Purple Reign Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Regina Red Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Regina Yellow Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Snegirjok Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Vilma Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Wherokowhai Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
Willa’s Cariboo Rose Micro-Dwarf Tomato
Yellow Canary Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
What do you look for in a tomato? What are your tomato aspirations for the upcoming growing season? Drop us a line in the comment section below!
I was listening to a podcast by one of my favorite market growers from Alabama, Noah Sanders, and he had a guest on from Kaleva, (Northern) Michigan, Craig Shaaf, from Golden Rule Farm who mentioned that he put red dye in an empty soda bottle and it helped his tomatoes mature earlier than anyone else’s tomatoes in the area while also sighting a Clemson University Study.
So, being that we drink a lot of sparkling water in our house, I had an empty liter lying around (we typically repurpose these for terrariums in cold hardy annuals but that’s a something to discuss for another day), so I filled it with some water and added several drops of red food coloring to it and sat it on my indoor Tower Garden near some micro dwarf unripened cherry tomatoes I was growing. Low and behold, two days later, the cherry tomatoes closest to the red-colored water began to ripen from the bottom up!
Red reflective Far-Red light encourages tomatoes to ripen.
Studies using Red Plastic Selective Reflecting Mulch (SRM) Show Increased Yields for Certain Plants
Research originally started during the 1980s and led to development of SRM-Red, a selective reflecting mulch that has been available commercially since 1996. Plant physiologist Michael J. Kasperbauer, who retired from the Agricultural Research Service‘s (ARS) Coastal Plains Soil, Water and Plant Research Center at Florence, S.C. found that plastic colored-mulch’s controlling factor is not the colors themselves, but how the colors adjust the amount of blue light and the ratio of far-red (FR) to red light that plants receive reflecting from the ground upwards.
The studies used a red plastic mulch (also referred to as Selective Reflecting Mulch, or SRM for short). It is similar to black plastic mulch used frequently by growers to help warm the soil, prevent erosion, and retains moisture. The red plastic mulch is often thinner than most black weed block and allows more light (and sometimes weeds) through it.
But red plastic mulch’s true strength is in its ability to reflect certain red light waves back onto the growing plant, thereby accelerating fruit production and increasing overall yields. Past ARS work showed that red plastic mulch produced larger tomatoes and produced 20% more than black plastic mulch counterparts and the red plastic mulch also sweeter-smelling, better-tasting strawberries.
Similar results were found on peppers and eggplants as well as with lettuce.
ARS’ also tried the red plastic mulch with cotton, carrots and basil. They found that color of the plastic mulch can affect the roots, stems, leaves and seeds, as well as the fruits, of many other food and crop plants.
Research on cotton showed that cotton fibers grew longer in bolls exposed to increased FR-to-red light ratios. Another study, on carrots, showed that concentrations of nutrients and compounds such as vitamin C and beta carotene in the roots of food crops could be changed by reflecting the right waves of color onto the plants’ leaves.
What’s more, in studies with basil, the amounts of blue, red and FR light reflected onto developing leaves affected their size, aroma and concentration of soluble phenolics. The phenolics are natural compounds, including tannins and pigments that can induce color, some flavors and odors, and antioxidant activity.
Basil leaves developing above red mulches had greater area, succulence and fresh weight than those developing above black mulch. When grown above yellow and green mulches, basil leaves developed significantly higher concentrations of aroma compounds and phenolics than did those of plants grown above white and blue mulches.
The concept of colored mulch sprouted when Kasperbauer wondered whether phytochrome was equally distributed in leaves. He became curious about what would happen if light impinged on the leaf’s lower, rather than upper, surface. “The plant response was the same, no matter which surface received the light,” says Kasperbauer. “Although that experiment seemed somewhat unconventional in 1962, it became highly relevant about 22 years later, when we determined that red and FR reflected from the soil surface could act through the plant’s phytochrome system to enhance yield and quality. That led to our colored-mulch work.”
Red Plastic Selective Reflecting Mulch (SRM) helps to Deter Nematodes
What’s more, tests done by USDA’s plant physiologist Michael J. Kasperbauer and Clemson University nematologist Bruce Fornum showed that nematode damage can be lessened by red plastic mulch. They did an interesting study where they planted tomatoes into sterile soil — some rows covered in black plastic mulch and some covered in red plastic mulch. They then inoculated both rows with 0-200,000 nematode eggs. Their findings showed the black mulch produced 8 pounds of tomatoes whereas the red mulch produced 17 pounds! That’s roughly a 113% increase in yield battling the same conditions.
USDA’s Agricultural Research Service found that red plastic mulch suppresses root nematode damage to tomatoes because the light reflection keeps more of the plant’s growth above ground. The plant’s energy goes into developing fruit and foliage, rather than roots. Nematodes feed on roots. The far-red light reflection to the above-ground plant draws away nutrients from the roots – and nutrients away from the nematodes. Fewer roots mean less food for nematodes. Less food = fewer nematodes.
Things to Consider When Using Red Plastic Selective Reflecting Mulch (SRM)
Carefully secure red plastic selective reflecting mulch underneath your plants so that there is at least a foot on every side of the plant in it’s mature stage of growth.
Do not place the red plastic selective reflecting mulch in walking paths as it is thinner than other weed blocking materials.
Consider placing a weed block material underneath your red plastic SRM to help limit weeds from growing underneath.
Drip irrigation will be necessary underneath
Two other Bonus Tips for Boosting Flavor in Tomatoes:
Place 1-2 TBSP of pure natural Molasses in a gallon of water and stir well to dilute it down and place into a spray bottle and spray your leaves. This will aid in bringing out flavor in your tomatoes.
When your tomatoes are about 18″ tall, a little bit of stress at times can really boost flavor as well. Spray your plants about every 2 weeks with 1 standard strength 325 mg uncoated aspirin tablet mixed in a gallon of water and mix well until the aspirin is completely dissolved and then spray the tomato leaves with the aspirin solution (Salicylic Acid) to trigger tomato defenses. This will especially really beef up your Beef Steak varieties and boost the flavor profile as well.
Find Red Plastic Selective Reflecting Mulch for your Tomato, Pepper, Eggplant, Basil, Cotton, and Lettuce (and more) Crops
As committed Seed Stewards, we understand the importance of good quality seed, because strong seed means strong plants that can better fight-off pest pressure and diseases … and strong plants also mean the best nutrition possible for your body. It’s important to know where your seed comes from because the plant that seed came from has adapted to its growing environment — and if it’s different than your environment, that plant may struggle which means you struggle.
But it doesn’t have to be a struggle to grow your own food — in fact, we think it is FUN to be connected to your food from seed to harvest! Our seed for sale has been cultivated from seed and nurtured using organic growing methods on through to harvest by our family of seven. We take great pride in our seed stock knowing each generation of plants we grow only strengthens our exclusive line of seeds. We are thrilled we can now share our extra seeds with you!
We are unique in that we have thoughtfully chosen heirloom and open source varieties of vegetables, herbs, and greens (and sometimes extremely rare seed) and have grown these varieties out in one season adapting them to hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic growing conditions in the Southeast region of the United States.
As a friend of GYHG and follower, enjoy today through November 14, 2021, 21% off your first seed order! Enter code: GYHG-LOVES-ME-21 when you check out.
Thanks and we hope that this year is the year you especially grow your health gardening!
July is just around the corner and it’s time to start thinking about the fall garden if you can believe it! Here in the SE, we are blessed to have two growing seasons if the timing is planned right.
THINKING ABOUT WHAT YOU WILL PLANT FOR YOUR FALL CROP AND WHEN TO PLANT IT: All it takes to maximize your growing season is to know when your frost dates are for spring and fall. You’ll want to google what your last frost or freeze date is for your area. There is the traditional Farmer’s Almanac you can use, or I like Dave’s Garden’s resource as it gives a range of dates based on statistical data of when the first and last frost date has occurred. You’ll want to check this date each season prior to planning when to start your seed. I tend to lean on the 30-40% dates as my target date to plan off of and watch as the time gets closer. For our purposes, we will be looking at a freeze possibly happening between Oct 16-Oct 20, so I’ll split the difference and use Oct 18th as my first frost date and count back from this date based on the number of days (found on seed packet) for the plant will reach maturity and add in a 20 days for the plant to produce and bring a harvest in before a cold snap hits.
FINAL PLANTING OPPORTUNITY OF WARM SEASON PLANTS: If you are growing in the southeast (we are in Atlanta in planting zone 7B), plant the following vegetables no later than July 20th to allow time to mature before frost: tomatoes, okra, corn, pole beans, lima beans, cucumbers, squash and snap beans. If you have a sucker growing on one of your existing tomato plants, now is the time to start a new tomato plant which will continue to grow and fruit until hit with a freeze. Toward’s the end of July, start your final crop of snap beans as these can be planted by August 15 as seedlings into the garden for fall harvest.
Now is the time to also plant Zinnia seed. These heat loving annuals sprout in six days and bloom in a few weeks in the heat of the summer. Plant more Caladiums and Coleus as they’ll look better in the fall than the plants often started in May.
You can also plant another crop of Gladiolus for another flush of blooms for summer and into fall. Now is also a good time to divide Daffodils using caution not to cut into the bulbs as you dig into the ground.
AN EASY TASK TO LIMIT PESTS AND DISEASES: As you are harvesting your crops and cleaning off any dead leaves or removing leaves that have been attacked possibly by insect pressure, be sure to place these leaves in a 5 gallon tote to toss at the end of the day. You don’t want to leave dead leaves on the ground next to your growing plants as they will attract insects and promote disease which can transfer to your healthy growing plants. Keeping the ground around your plants tidy is a simple way to keep your plants thriving through the growing season.
CONTINUE TO FERTILIZE: For annuals, you’ll want to continue to fertilize at two-to-six-week intervals. When using granular products, make sure to water afterwards to encourage the nutrients to filter down to the root zone of your plants. For soil, you can use “organic” fertilizers like manure (cattle or chicken), blood meal, and/or fish emulsion. Dr. Tim Smalley, horticulture professor at the University of Georgia, has shown that composted hen litter continues to release food for four years after a 2-inch layer is worked into flower beds. Patio tomatoes (in a container) need to be fed consistently because constant watering rinses fertilizer out of the soil.
WATERING PLANTS: Be sure to keep tabs on watering soil-based plants. If you have had a good heavy rain, your watering tasks are probably eased for the day, but if it hasn’t rained, you’ll want to make sure you water deeply as needed to prevent drought stress. You can prevent root rot by watering deeply once per week and mixing plenty of organic amendments into the soil before planting and adding mulch to the soil surface beneath growing plants.
For plants growing in a hydroponic or aeroponic vertical gardening Tower Garden system, be sure to check your reservoirs at least twice a week as things warm up outside. If you’re growing tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, squash, kale, or beans, you’ll want to check your reservoir daily (or every other day) and top off the reservoir and add nutrients as these are “heavy feeders” meaning they take up a lot of nutrients when they are producing fruit, veggies, or legumes. Even though you are adding water to your system, it will be substantially less than the soil-based garden as hydroponic growing trials have been shown by NASA that these growing methods grow plants three times faster and produce 30% greater yields on average while using only 10% of the water a traditional soil-based garden would use to grow the same food.
INCREASE PLANT PRODUCTION: As your bush beans are growing, be sure to pick each day to encourage growth and plant output. Same is true with tomatoes… as they begin to ripen, pick often to encourage further fruit set.
PUMPKIN PLANTING TIME: Plant that big pumpkin for Halloween this month and give it plenty of room to sprawl. If you have a fisherman in your family, save a fish head and toss in to the hole before planting your pumpkin seedling into the ground.
JULY PLANTING CALENDAR: And finally, here is a quick cheat sheet you can print off and reference for what you can plant each week through either direct sowing (DS) into the ground or sowing indoors (SI).
But first, before we dive in… it’s important to know WHY we need to grow our own lettuce. So many consumers blindly are trusting the food system and don’t realize that our current mass-produced lettuce is picked before it’s prime, often travels many food miles to the consumer, and the lettuce food system has had 46 outbreaks nationally between the years of 2006-2019 (and most of those cases have happened in recent years!)
Dangers of Store-Bought Lettuce
Let’s first look at if organic lettuce can really be trusted… According to Consumer Reports, 72 percent of Americans try to avoid GMOs when they shop. And more than half seek out the “organic” label. But is organic lettuce really pesticide-free? Just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it’s pesticide free… Despite being natural, spinosad, pyrethrin, azadirachtin, and other approved ingredients can still be harmful. (They are toxic pesticides, after all.) And in some cases, farmers must spray greater volumes of natural solutions because they aren’t as effective as their non-organic counterparts. In fact, up to 20 percent of organic lettuce may contain pesticide residue. And as though that weren’t enough, one study found that organic produce is more likely to play host to pathogens, such as E. coli and Salmonella. This is likely because it’s grown with organic fertilizers (e.g., manure and compost).
And that doesn’t even account for what is used as irrigation to grow the lettuce. Recent outbreaks were said to occur because of feed lots up stream tainting the irrigation supply. Hmmm….
Did you know that from 2006 to 2019, leafy greens like Romaine, Spinach and bags of Spring Mix from Salinas, CA and Phoenix, AZ accounted for at least 46 national outbreaks of E. coli. Check out this article and news report. (You may be more at risk of you’re purchasing a salad kit? The last outbreak sickened 11 people in Washington State. As of December 2019, there were two simutaneous outbreaks. “The FDA is investigating two other E. coli outbreaks, each caused by strains that are different from each other and different from the larger outbreak.” See report here.)
“Fresh-picked salad greens can have a higher nutritional value than store-bought greens. The flavor of homegrown salad greens is also noticeably better, as most kitchen gardeners will affirm. This is due to the extreme freshness of your salad, when you can use the instant “pick and plate” approach to preparation. Once you taste salad greens straight from the garden, you’ll be spoiled for life.
But arguably the greatest benefit is that of human health. In recent decades, there has been an increase in the percentage of foodborne illnesses related to produce, and greens have been one of the biggest culprits. This is mainly due to the soft leaves of the greens, which retain any germs they come in contact with. The CDC estimates that roughly 22 percent of all foodborne illness is caused by leafy greens. This has grown from less than one percent 40 years ago. This may be the best reason to grow your own leafy greens: while store-bought produce must be thoroughly washed to reduce the risk of illness, you can be sure that greens grown at home are much safer.” — Fix.com
The seriousness of these E. coli outbreaks have not only health impacts, but financial ones as well. According to Marler Clark, a law firm reprenting 28 victims from just one ecoli incident, said “Illness typically lasts from 1 to 12 days; however, E. coli patients who develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication of E. coli infection, can remain hospitalized for months. They often require kidney dialysis and extensive supportive care. The cost of hospitalization for an E. coli case can range from several hundred dollars to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Store Bought Lettuce Food Miles and Nutritional Value
The other factor to consider is how far your lettuce has had to travel to get to your plate. Food miles are the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it is ultimately purchased or consumed by the end user. The term, “food miles” was originally penned from a study in Iowa that focused on how far food had to travel.In 2011, lettuce was grown on 206,000 acres in California (most coming from Salinas, CA), which represented 73% of the total U.S. acreage (Source: Lettuce_Production_CA). If trucks were to drive a straight line (which in reality they don’t — they make pit-stops at processing centers and go to distribution centers before traveling to our local grocery store), lettuce harvested in Salinas, CA must travel a minimum of 3,000 miles to Atlanta, GA and is at least 4-5 days old by the time it reaches our grocery store. It’s estimated that it take an average of 10 days to go from farm to our plate! Are you even getting any nutritional value from eating it at this point? We’ll explore that in a minute…
One thing to note, since the 2019 E Coli outbreaks, the lettuce industry has incorporated a standard of placing labels on packages of romaine to indicate where the lettuce originated from so that the CDC can better track down the source of contamination. (Yes, I’m trying to shake you out of denial — it’s really that bad.)
The other factor at play with store-bought lettuce is the depletion of nutrients from the time the lettuce is harvested to the time it reaches our plate. Like mentioned earlier, it takes upwards of 10 days from farm to plate in our traditional food system. Did you know that the nutritional value found in the plant actually starts to deteriorate within the first day or two of harvesting? University of California studies show that vegetables can lose 15 to 55 percent of vitamin C, for instance, within a week. And some spinach, for example, can lose 90 percent within the first 24 hours after harvest!
Here are our tips for growing lettuce with the hydroponic Tower Garden system.
Best Growing Conditions for Lettuce
Of the many varieties of leaf and head lettuce, most prefer full sun and temperatures between 45–80˚, making lettuce a good cool season crop. Lettuce can withstand light frosts. But in hot weather, it will easily bolt (i.e., quickly grow vertically, flower and produce seeds)—and this process typically makes lettuce bitter. So if you grow lettuce in warmer conditions, plant it in partial shade or grow heat-tolerant varieties, like these:
There are five distinct types of lettuce: Loose-Leaf (45-60 days), Cos or Romaine (~70 days), Crisphead (75+ days), French (50-75 days), and Butterhead (55-75 days). With a variety of colors, shapes and flavors available, plant several types of lettuce for tasty and interesting salads. Keep in mind, all varieties of lettuce grow very well indoors with grow lights.
If you want fresh lettuce every day for salads or other dishes, we suggest growing approximately 2-3 heads of lettuce per person. The cool thing about the Tower Garden system is you can grow in up to 28 ports (base Tower Garden with one extension) in less than a 2.5′ x 2.5′ space. That means in the corner of your kitchen or dining room or on your back deck, you can have instant access to your greens any time and harvest Tower to table within a matter if minutes — not hours — not days — MINUTES! This means you and your family will get optimal nutritional value from each plant because it is being harvested at it’s peak and consumed right away.
Seedlings should be ready to transplant to your Tower Garden 10–14 days after sprouting, or whenever they have at least 2–3 leaves and a visible root structure. When transplanting, keep in mind that lettuce is a good crop to plant near the top of your Tower Garden.
Once you’ve transplanted lettuce into your Tower Garden, keep the pH between 5.6-6.2 as this will help the plant uptake available nutrients in your water promoting growth. Using the Tower Garden Nutrient Solution, keep the PPM range between 560-840 or an EC of 0.8-1.2 for ideal continuous growth. Ten to twelve hours of light will be sufficient. Check the back of your seed packet for maturation as it varies by lettuce type and variety (typically between 30-85 days). Also, some lettuces can be cut and come again meaning if you cut about 2″ from the base of the plant, it will regrow new leaves and thereby extending your harvest.
Download our lettuce cheat sheet that can be sliced down and put into a standard ziplock sandwich bag and used for seed storage and/or as a growing journal for what happened with your crop (we put ours on a clipboard. | download PDF |
Growing lettuce with Tower Garden decreases the chance of pests and plant diseases. But just in case, here are some potential problems:
Aphids are small insects that typically feed on young plant growth, causing it to appear puckered or deformed.
Cabbage loopers are green caterpillars that feed on the underside of lower leaves and in the center of the head of lettuce.
Cucumber beetles are yellow-orange beetles with black markings that sometimes feed on lettuce seedlings. Take care not to confuse these with ladybugs.
Botrytis, a gray-brown fuzzy growth, thrives in cool environments and can appear on plant debris that has fallen from the plant.
Downy mildew looks like fine white cotton or frosting and often infects lower plant leaves first. It can spread rapidly and kill plants in cool conditions.
Powdery mildew forms a white-gray powdery growth, usually on the upper surfaces of leaves. You’re most likely to see this common disease in late summer.
Tower Tip: Lettuce doesn’t typically suffer with aphids, especially if you’re interplanting basil at the same time (it is a deterrent to aphids.) Learn how you can naturally beat bad bugs and prevent plant diseases.
How to Harvest Lettuce
Since they grow so quickly, lettuces will be ready to harvest within a few weeks after planting. You can harvest lettuce in 2 ways:
Whole head. Remove the entire plant and net pot from your Tower Garden, or cut all the leaves off at the base of the plant. If you choose this method, be sure to have replacement seedlings ready.
Individual leaf. This technique keeps the plant alive and encourages continued production. When there are plenty of mature leaves present:
Harvest only a few leaves at a time, from the bottom of the plant upward.
Allow 2–3 leaves to remain so the plant may keep growing.
Repeat every 2–3 days until the plant bolts, or begins flowering.
After bolting, replace the plant with a fresh seedling.
We also have a handy resource that you can print off and cut down and slide into any sandwich-size Ziplock bag and use to store your seeds (limits oxygen and moisture which can be harmful to seed saving. We also print an extra sheet for our garden journal to keep records of how our crop performed so we can learn and remember what worked for the following year.
New to growing your own food in a Tower Garden? First off, kudos on your decision to take control of your own health and it all starts at the foundational level of the food we put into our body. It actually can go even deeper than that… it all starts with the parent plant that made the seed that we collect and then grow and then harvest to put into our body. But I digress…
When considering what to put into your Tower Garden, there are certain vegetables and herbs that grow well together. I have grouped these plants based on shared PPM (parts per million) values. You will need a PPM meter to measure what your water’s PPM is with the nutrient solution added.
When determining our list below, we look for areas where PPM levels share common ground (see blue vertical bars to highlight overlapping plant PPMs)… Note: this PPM reference chart is available in full for all our Tower Garden and hydroponic clients, but here’s a little snippet:
Note that some plants can tolerate higher levels of nutrients than mentioned here as these are ideal ranges for growth. You’ll know when a plant is getting too high a level when the edges of the leaves get a brown tint (called tip burn). Otherwise, know that these plant groupings are going to grow together fairly well at certain PPMs and that you can push some of the plants that are below the PPM level to the next level up in some cases…
based on the PPM of 775 and a pH of around 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B: Arugula, Artichoke, Basil, Calendula (petals of flower are edible), Cilantro/Coriander, Dandelion (leaves edible & root used in tea), Fennel, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Nasturtiums (leaves & flower are edible + plant deters some insects), Oregano, Pansies (flower petals are edible), Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Violas(petals of flower are edible), Watercress.
based on the PPM of 1000 and a pH of around 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B Artichoke, Basil, Chives, Fennel, Kale, Leek, Lemon Balm, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Oregano, Parsley, Peas, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Watercress
(Lettuce/Romaine may grow in this range as well, just watch for tip burn on the leaves — some varieties may tolerate the PPM level)
based on the PPM of 1265 and a pH of 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B: Artichoke, Beetroot, Bok Choy, Broad Bean (Fava Bean), Carnation (2′ tall, but petals of flower are edible), Cauliflower, Celery, Chives, Cucumber, Kale, Leek, Marjoram, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Parsley, Peas, Purslane, Pumpkin, Spinach, Summer Squash, Strawberries and Swiss Chard, Turnip Greens, Water Cress, Watermelon, Zucchini
based on the PPM of 1490 and a pH of around 6.5, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B: Beans, Beetroot, Bok Choy, Broad Bean (Fava Bean), Celery, Eggplant, Endive/Chicory, Chives, Cucumber, Kale, Melon, Mint, Okra, Hot Peppers or Sweet Bell Peppers (Note: Planting both near each other may result in cross-pollination if outdoors and open-pollinated by bees and your sweet peppers can get a bit of heat in the flavor department. If growing indoors and hand pollinating blooms, you should be fine.), Purslane, Pumpkin, Spinach, Summer Squash, Strawberries, Swiss Chard, Tomatillo, Tomato, Turnip Greens, Watermelon, Zucchini
Remember to put larger plants like kale and those that vine like peas, cucumber, and nasturtiums towards the bottom and you’ll need a support next to the Tower Garden where the vines can continue to grow out and fruit. Taller plants go towards the top (like Celery and Rainbow Swiss Chard).
based on the PPM of 1990 and a pH of around 6.5, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B: Beans, Beetroot, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Dill, Hot Peppers, Sweet Bell Peppers, Tomatillo, TomatoKeep in mind that your squashes, watermelons, tomatillos, and tomatoes are going to be heavy “feeders” meaning they will drink up water and nutrients during the hotter summer days.
Okay, so now you have an idea of what plants have similar growing PPM characteristics. Select one PPM group based on vegetables and herbs you like to use every day!
Keep in mind that for most of us, lettuce has to travel quite a ways if you’re purchasing it from a big box store especially. 70%+ of all romaine is grown in Salinas, California. That means that romaine has to travel roughly 3,000 miles to get to my plate here in Atlanta, Georgia. They say on average it takes 10 days for a harvested romaine to get from the farm to our dinner plate! This is unacceptable! Especially since we know from industry studies that due to respiration rates of plants, nutrient availability decreases within the first 24-48 hours! That translates into you losing out nutritionally on the very purpose of eating that salad! So, with that in mind, simply starting by growing greens is a great place to start. I also like greens because of they mature in 4-6 weeks meaning you get to see your success (and enjoy the fruit of your efforts) earlier rather than later.
The other thing to consider regarding a salad is the number of varieties you have probably never tried because the grocery store only carries 3-4 options. I have found that some of my best salads incorporate a variety of greens and textures. Have fun exploring greens you’ve never tried before — you might find you really like them fresh off of your Tower Garden. I had always shy’d away from Bok Choy in the grocery store because it looked limp and lifeless, but when I grew it in the Tower Garden it was super tasty and I learned that I could keep harvesting for 2 months until the plant flowered. Now it’s something I always plan on growing because it can be added to soups, quinoa, and salads.
If doing a greens selection to grow on your Tower Garden, I like to recommend my clients include a nasturtium on the lower part of their Tower Garden because a) you can eat both the leaves and the flower, b) most people have never tasted a nasturtium because they are not found readily in the grocery store and most often found on the fine diner’s plate, c) they are so pretty to look at on your tower and d) they are companion plants meaning they are good to grow next to other plants to help deter certain pests… When planted alongside cucumbers. eggplant, tomatoes, or squash plants, nasturtiums may repel cucumber beetles, whiteflies, aphids and squash bugs. There are other edible flowers in this range that would be fun to explore if you’re willing to be adventurous.
If you decide to do a vining crop with a higher PPM, keep in mind space (tip: put a trellis next to where the plant’s port is and it can grow off to the side. These vining plants are often water hogs and love the sun, so plan accordingly for anything planted above them — those plants will also need to be heat tolerant. I always recommend including a flowering plant as it will attract pollinators and pollinators (aka: bees) will plump up your fruit and leave your flowering plants in a better state than how they found it.
Tomatoes are the most popular thing to grow. Ideally, you’ll want to look for varieties that have compact traits, but if you do have room next to your outdoor Tower Garden, make sure you can handle the growth habit on a trellis. My favorite tomato is an heirloom variety, Cherokee Purple, and it’s vining can reach up to 10′ or more if it’s given the nutrients it loves. (And BOY do they taste AMAZING!!!!) Cherry Tomato varieties are going to be prolific, so plan a space to support their growing needs to you have airflow and are able to easily keep pests from moving in on your crop.
Tip: If you are putting large vining plants in the lower ports of your Tower Garden. Plant to the left, right and on the back side leaving the front port open. (You may want to cover that port with a rubber disc like this.) The reason for leaving the front port unplanted is you need access to your water reservoir opening and some vines take over and make it difficult to reach it.
And my last thing to highlight is the pepper — remember that if you are growing outdoors and have hot peppers and sweet peppers both growing in your Tower Garden, you may get some cross-pollination through open-pollination and your sweet peppers might be hotter than their parent plants. It’s a good idea to just pick either hot peppers or sweet peppers if growing outdoors. Now if you’re growing indoors under lights, you can plant both hot and sweet in the same system in ports on opposite side of the Tower Garden because you will have to self-pollinate your flower buds anyway (turn a fan on to give your tower a light breeze or hand-pollinate with a toothbrush or paintbrush).
This should get your started. If you’re looking for Seed Providers, you can check out our article here.
PS: If you want a printable version of the information above to print off and to use as a reference in your garden journal, simply click here: Growing by Common PPMs.
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Helping you learn how to grow your own food and how to use what you've grown for optimal health for yourself and those you love. We also offer our own line of homegrown seeds grown using organic practices.