"Come for a day and stay for a lifetime…"(R)

Plant deep, fight pests, and follow the latest watering and fertilizing advice

Vine ripened red tomatoes grown in back yard garden


En español | What makes a great tomato? One ingredient may be nostalgia.

“We’re always chasing that memory people have of that homegrown tomato that they went out into Grandpa’s garden and took a bite of, fresh off the vine,” says Rick VanVranken, a county agricultural agent at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station associated with Rutgers University.

That joy of biting into a fresh, tasty tomato, as opposed to a bland supermarket fruit, has inspired many home gardeners to grow their own.

“That’s the advantage of growing them in your own backyard — you can go out there and pick them when they are bright, red, juicy, full of flavor, and then eat them right away,” says VanVranken, who notes that New Jersey is known for its tomatoes. That’s partly because of the Rutgers variety tomato developed in the 1930s that was so flavorful it was used in Campbell’s tomato soup and was known colloquially as the Jersey tomato.

There may be more advice in books and on the web for growing tomatoes than any other crop, but VanVranken and other experts say you shouldn’t be intimidated.

“The biggest tip if you’re growing them yourself is not to get too worried about it,” VanVranken advises. “Tomato plants are fairly forgiving and easy to grow.”

You can grow them in the garden, in raised beds, in containers, even in straw bales, according to North Carolina tomato grower Craig LeHoullier, a chemist by profession and author of Epic Tomatoes as well as a book on straw-bale horticulture. This year he’ll grow 60 tomato plants in his home garden, about half of the “overwhelming” number he grew last year.

LeHoullier admits that tomatoes, like roses, can be a bit persnickety, but “it’s a perfect hobby for someone who really wants to be in the garden and enjoy it.”

If you’re ready to tackle tomatoes, here are tips for yielding that delicious summer treat you remember.

1. Know what you’re growing. Tomatoes are either determinate (that is, compact and bushy) or indeterminate (vining, which can climb up to 8 feet tall). The type you plant will determine how you need to support the plant. Paste or plum tomatoes, like Romas, are usually determinate and tend to ripen within a short period — say, two weeks. Indeterminate tomatoes, including most older varieties, such as Brandywine, keep growing and producing until frost.

2. Choose heirloom or hybrid. Heirlooms — varieties that can be reproduced from their own seed — are the rage right now, particularly among seed collectors like LeHoullier. He estimates there are 10,000 tomato varieties, and, as a member of the Seed Savers Exchange, he has collected seeds for about half of them. Hybrids are a cross of varieties and can’t be duplicated from their own seed. They were developed to be more disease- or pest-resistant, VanVranken explains. Both have their advantages, growers say, and there’s nothing inferior about hybrids.

3. Match your tomato to your garden. The amount of sunlight tomatoes need depends on their size, LeHouillier says. “The big beefsteak types, those probably do benefit from having six to eight hours of direct sun a day, but as the size of the tomato decreases, the amount of sun it needs to be happy decreases, as well,” he says.

If you get only three hours of sunlight on your patio, try cherry tomatoes in a container. If you’re buying tomato plants, buy locally. Even big-box stores are likely to have purchased plants from regional growers, and plants will be conditioned for your area, VanVranken says.

4. Go deep. Tomatoes grow roots all along their stems, says Elizabeth Casteel, “the Tomato Lady” of Spokane, Washington, who this year grew 6,000 tomato plants — which she calls her “babies” — that she sells from her barely half-acre home garden. When she transfers seedlings to gallon-size pots, she puts them as low as she can, leaving a couple of sets of leaves above the soil. “I cover up the leaves that are [buried] because they’ll compost …. I don’t rip them off,” she says. She tosses in some finely crushed eggshells to provide calcium and prevent damping off, a fungal disease.

5. Provide support. Garden catalogs and YouTube experts offer all kinds of ways to support tomato vines, from stakes to cages to string to fancy trellises. Rutgers has instructions for a stake and weave system that commercial growers use and that is adaptable for home gardeners who are willing to spend the time. Whatever system you choose, getting plants off the ground can increase your yield by 30 percent because you’ll avoid soil-borne diseases, VanVranken explains.

woman pruning unripe yellow pear tomato plants growing along fence in backyard vegetable garden


6. Prune your plants — or not. Too many side shoots crowd fruit, particularly if you’re using cages for support, VanVranken says. And many growers prune off lower branches to avoid leaves that attract pests or fungi from the ground. But if you don’t stake, pruning may be less important, he says, because branches will flop down on their own.

Or skip the pruning and just plant more tomatoes, Casteel suggests. In her own garden, she doesn’t bother with pruning. “With 30 plants, I don’t need 500 pounds of tomatoes per plant,” she says.

7. Water from below. Always water with a drip or soaker hose, rather than a sprinkler, all three growers say. “You don’t get as much evaporation, and the water is right where it’s supposed to be,” Casteel observes. The goal is to reduce the amount of standing water on the leaves and make them less attractive to pathogens, VanVranken adds.

“The biggest tip if you’re growing them yourself is not to get too worried about it,” VanVranken advises. “Tomato plants are fairly forgiving and easy to grow.”

8. Fertilize mindfully. There are probably as many different tomato-fertilizer philosophies as there are varieties. Be wary of too much nitrogen, VanVranken says, as the plants won’t produce the flowers they need to fruit.

Casteel plants her tomatoes in Pro-Mix, a soil with an additive fungi called mycorrhiza that helps plants absorb nutrients. She also adds kelp meal, alfalfa meal, steamed bone meal, worm castings and Epsom salts. “We do our tomatoes organically; however, when I run out of room in the garden, and I need to go into a container, I will use Miracle-Gro [fertilizer],” she says.

It can be challenging to keep a container plant fertilized, because frequent watering leaches nutrients out. “You really need to do a half strength [application] every two weeks, or even quarter strength, and that keeps them happier,” Casteel notes.

9. Go easy on the pest sprays. All three growers stop using sprays once the plant sets fruit. Be on the lookout for the tomato hornworm, a large green caterpillar, VanVranken cautions. If you pay close attention, you can just pick them off before they cause much damage. “Those can do significant damage to a tomato plant and chew on the fruit as well,” he says. “They end up being a great example of how you can get biological control going in your garden.” If you spot a hornworm with tiny white pods sticking out of its back, leave it, he says; the pods are the cocoons of a parasitic wasp, and when the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the insides of the caterpillar.

Aphids are another pest. They can reproduce quickly and suck the nutrient-rich liquids out of the tomato leaves. Clemson UniversityCooperative Extension warns that overuse of nitrogen fertilizer can encourage them. The extension service has a factsheet on aphid control that includes tips ranging from specific mulch to biological controls like lacewing eggs and parasitic wasps.


Pricing Your Home for an Easy Sale

by Carla Griffin on May 31, 2021

If you are considering downsizing by selling your home, the single most important factor to consider is how you price your home for an easy sale. Yes, you have an attachment to your home, but, you must remember, if you don’t price it right, you could lose on the sale. So, here are a few ways you can price your home for an easy sale.

Look at your Home from a Buyer’s Perspective

You may have put in a lot of love and time into your home. However, your home will be just another house a potential buyer sees. The buyer will be comparing your home to others in your area and might not appreciate the things you have done to make your home unique. So, the only way you can get the buyer’s attention, no matter what accessories and upgrades you have put into your home, is to price your home competitively.

Hire a Professional to Sell your Home

A real estate agent is the best person to help you with pricing your home. Real estate agents assess the upgrades in your home and perform a comparative market analysis of your home. These are the best people to advise you on how you can showcase your home in the most sellable way.

Be Realistic about the Price of your Home

Some sellers consider pricing their home on a higher scale than the going rate because they expect to bargain with the buyer and get the price they want. Although this may work in some instances, you are more likely to lose a sale than make one. For example, a buyer will not visit your home if the price is above his budget. It will also keep your home on the market for longer, and this too can worry buyers as they think something is wrong with the house. The best thing to do is set a reasonable price according to the current market rate. This increases your chances of making an easy sale.

If you wish to sell your home fast, you need to be realistic about your conditions. If you work with your real estate agent, you will be able to get the price you want and sell your home fast.


Understanding Reverse Mortgage and its Suitability

by Carla Griffin on May 25, 2021

What is a Reverse Mortgage?


If you are considering buying a home, a reverse mortgage may sound like an attractive option. It will help with your finances without you having to pay taxes. Getting a reverse mortgage does have its pros and cons. However, this move may be worth a deeper look to some of you irrespective of this factor.

What is a Reverse Mortgage?

If buying a home and considering a reverse mortgage, you should always learn more about your options. Going into it blind, will not be a good move. Therefore, you need to understand what a reverse mortgage is. A reverse mortgage is a loan; seniors over the age of 62 are eligible for. This enables them to turn part of the equity in their home into cash. This type of mortgage was brought about to assist retirees who have limited income. With this mortgage, they are able to cover basic monthly expenses and also pay for any health care. This mortgage can be used in any way necessary as there are no set restrictions as to how the proceeds can be utilized. The difference between a reverse mortgage and a normal mortgage is that the lender makes payments to the borrower. You do not have to pay back your loan until your home is sold, although you do have to pay property taxes promptly and any other fees necessary.

What are the Drawbacks to a Reverse Mortgage?

Although all this may sound good, you need to understand that there are a few drawbacks to reverse mortgages. Firstly, there are costs involved. Yes, all mortgages have costs, but in reverse mortgages, the costs can be extremely high. Sometimes, these costs can be as high as $30,000.  (As a notethis mortgage cost can be included your mortgage and not payable out of pocket at the time of the loan.) Another drawback is the amount payable should you vacate your home or move out of your home for a long period. This mortgage option will also affect your estate as it will decrease the equity in your home and leave your heirs with less money.

Every loan option has its pros and cons. It is up to you to understand these loans and think about whether it suits you. Taking out loans is no small thing. So, make sure you do your homework and know what you are getting into, and always consider other loan options before proceeding.


Alternative Medicine Popular With Baby Boomers

by Carla Griffin on May 22, 2021

“Health Isn’t a Goal, It’s a Way of Life.”

Health markets are a mecca for colorful produce, probiotic beverages, and a steady stream of baby boomer clientele. This generation has grown up on grandma’s chicken soup, and bathtubs filled with ice to remedy everything from the common cold to measles, so it’s no surprise many of these health-savvy folks are choosing a holistic approach to what ails them. According to a CNN article, close to a third of Americans seek alternatives to traditional medicine with many 55+ communities getting on board with on-site yoga studios, farm-to-table offerings, and massage services.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health showed an increase in the use of alternative supplements like Omega 3 fish oil, and more older adults are looking for herbal remedies to treat a variety of conditions from arthritis, to insomnia. Even more promising, many insurance plans not only cover complementary medicine such as a naturopath, or chiropractic services, but most require patients to try and fail conservative measures before authorizing more invasive treatments.

East meets west with more active adults seeking health care providers that integrate both a traditional and alternative approach. It’s become increasingly common to find clinics with in-house nutritionists, and those administering B12 shots in place of pharmaceuticals. Medicine without the side effects is what attracts seniors to healing treatments such as acupuncture, and massage therapy that help soothe arthritic joints, improve circulation and relieve chronic pain. Most retirement communities recognize the incredible benefits of whole-body health offering amenities like Tai Chi classes, or aquatic therapy, and community gardens where residents can source wholesome organic produce right outside their doorstep.

Approaching healthcare from a holistic perspective used to be considered old school, but baby boomers going au natural with their lifestyle is trending upward with modern medicine practitioners the following suit.


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Get Behind the Wheel of Your Next Adventure

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You hear of people saying that once they retire they plan to sell everything, and take their golden years out on the open road. Sounds like an extreme dream right? Baby boomers make up a big part of the RV, or “real mobile state” market, particularly the adventuresome snowbird demographic. Being able to go wherever […]

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Should You Replace Carpet Before Selling Your House?

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5 Simple Ways to Get Back Into Exercise

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Have you taken a break from working out? Maybe seasonal weather has kept you from getting outside, or you haven’t found an at-home workout you like. No matter the reason, now is the perfect time to get your body moving again. Staying active is an essential part of maintaining your overall health. Just remember to […]

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What Makes an Active Lifestyle Community?

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