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Under the Arbor: Issue 16
May 21, 2021

May 2021 Issue 16

In This Issue:

How to Get Crazy Yields from Tomatoes!
7 Ways Vegetable Gardening Boosts Your Immune System

How to Get Crazy Yields from Tomatoes!

Fresh, real tomatoes are the number one reason why most gardeners garden. Even in a pot on a balcony, a homegrown tomato growing in healthy soil can taste out of this world, quite unlike anything you can buy in a supermarket anywhere.

To achieve maximum yield (and flavor, which tracks with nutrition), there are a number of things you can optimize.

With an estimated 10-15,000 varieties of tomato grown around the world - however do we choose?

For heirlooms, the best source I've ever found for both information and seeds is Gary Ibsen's Tomato Fest catalog.

He offers an amazing selection of heirloom tomato seeds (650 varieties!) with great photos and descriptions, as well as curated collections that allow you to try out some of the most popular varieties for yourself.

If you are interested in disease-resistant varieties of hybrids, check out Johnny's Selected Seeds , where you can use a filter to sort for varieties by disease resistance, heat tolerance and other factors.

Soil Health
This is one of the top factors in developing flavor and nutrition as well as yield. Be sure your soil is properly mineralized, has plenty of organic matter, and has well-developed soil ecology. Do not overfeed nitrogen, or you'll get lots of green growth and not many tomatoes. For more on how you can optimize the nutrition of your soil, you can visit the organic fertilizer page.

Air Temperature
When the weather gets consistently above about 85-90 degrees F, most tomato varieties will stop producing tomatoes. Pollen dries and becomes less sticky, and the plants are just trying to stay hydrated, not make seeds.

If you live where summer temps are consistently in the 90s, see if you can find a spot to plant your tomatoes that gets sun until early afternoon and then some filtered shade, such as near the edge of a tree.

Another option is to cover them with row cover like Reemay or Agribon, which will cut out about 10% of the light, which is less than shade cloth but because of its much lighter weight can be draped right over the plants.

If you're a serious tomato fan and live in the desert or jungle, you can build a portable shade structure out of 2x4s, PVC pipe, or even a hoop tunnel made of bent electrical metal conduit covered with shade cloth. Be sure the ends are open to let wind and bees in. (Johnny's sells a tool for bending EMC.)

Tomato pollination is done by wind and bees, especially bumblebees. If you have neither in your garden, you can pollinate tomato flowers manually by touching the stem at the base of the flower with a buzzing electric toothbrush, which vibrates like a bumblebee and shakes the pollen loose. (Or you can wait for the techno-bumblebee drone that the Japanese are developing to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes!)

To read more tips on boosting tomato yield, click here.

7 Ways Vegetable Gardening Boosts Your Immune System

We've probably all seen the sign/tee shirt: "Gardening is Cheaper Than Therapy, and You Get Tomatoes!", but there is more to the story than the chuckle.

There are at least seven different reasons why the simple act of growing a vegetable garden builds a healthy immune system, as well as bolsters your mental health.

Boosts your vitamin D levels
Growing a vegetable garden gets you outside (usually!), and getting 15-30 minutes of sun on your skin every day is essential in order for your body to produce optimal levels of Vitamin D. It has been scientifically shown that people with low Vitamin D levels are far more susceptible to viral infections (including COVID-19).

Builds and diversifies your microbiome
A strong microbiome consists of a wide variety of healthy microbes. Getting them on your skin while gardening, as well as crunching on a carrot plucked straight from the ground, introduces a variety of health-promoting "good" bacteria into your system. This article from the journal Nature explains how healthy bacteria fight off the flu.

Yields more nutritious, healthful vegetables (when soil minerals are optimized)
When you grow your own veggies, you are in charge of the minerals you feed them. When the veggies get the minerals they need to grow strong and healthy, those minerals are then present in the food you eat. Eating a deeply nutritious diet builds the immune system by providing the body what it needs to build antibodies.

Relieves stress and lowers your inflammatory cortisol levels
Cortisol is the stress hormone that prepares you for battle or running away. It is very useful in extreme situations as it takes blood from the internal organs and sends it to muscles insteadfor short-term bursts of energy.

But a sustained high cortisol level is dangerous and is not good as a long-term, at-the-office, fear of judgement/loss, marital-strife, chronic-competition strategy. In the modern world, many of us have chronically high cortisol levels, and working in the garden facilitates dropping cortisol levels back down to normal.

Is "grounding" when you go barefoot
When our feet are in contact with the earth, electrons are transferred from the ground into the body, which has a number of now-validated benefits.

A Healthline article published April 16, 2019 says "A 2011 publication reported four different experiments examining grounding and its effect on human physiology. Electrolytes, thyroid hormone levels, glucose levels, and even immune response to immunizations improved with grounding."

Provides a sense of empowerment and accomplishment
Seratonin is a "feel good" hormone that comes not from the "highs" of pleasure behaviors, but from the deeper, more meaningful experiences of our lives. Gardening with a sense of empowerment and accomplishment enhances seratonin production, and it also exposes us to a mycorrhizal fungus that directly stimulates a seratonin response!

Immerses you in beauty, enhancing a sense of well-being
Beauty (along with truth and goodness) is one of the transcendent virtues. I believe that all three are found while working in your garden, but without doubt, you are surrounded by beauty.

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