Monday, June 22, 2015

Growing Tomatoes in a Marginal or Temperate Climate: Tricks and Techniques for a Bountiful Harvest

by Heather Jo Flores

This article originally published at

Humboldt Homegrown Tomatoes: Tips for Temperate Gardeners
by Heather Jo Flores

In a foggy, temperate climate, most of us know the drill: Start seeds indoors, early Spring, use grow lights if you have 'em. Plant in fertile soil with plenty of space in mid-June. Trellis, water, prune and pray and maybe, just maybe get some homegrown tomatoes before the rains come again in September, when what started out as savory dreams of salsa and gazpacho turns into six pounds of fried green tomatoes topped with powdery mildew and hopeful plans for next year.

But there's hope! Tomatoes are Native to the foggy forests of the Andes mountains, and with well-chosen heirloom varieties and a few useful tips, you can grow more tomatoes than you'll know what to do with.

In this case, size matters, and smaller is better. Cherry tomatoes are always a good bet. Salad and Plum tomatoes are bigger than cherries, do well in this climate, and come in a wide variety of flavors, shapes and colors. Avoid giant slicing tomatoes like Brandywines and Oxhearts. Here are my favorites tomatoes for a temperate garden, based on disease resistance, early and extended harvest, and yield:

Green Zebra.
A gorgeous, green and yellow striped salad tomato with a bright, sweet flavor. Very prolific, a single plant can yield several dozen fruits.

Garden Peach.
Named for the subtle fuzz and pinkish-yellow color, this salad tomato is one of my all-time favorites. Not as prolific as the Green Zebra, but with such a distinct, delicious flavor, you just have to try them!

Bright yellow, one of the larger varieties of salad tomato. More saucy and savory than Green Zebra of Garden Peach, Taxi can be quite prolific and are a good choice for canning.

San Marzano.
This is a classic red plum variety that does really well in a marginal climate. Fruits are shaped like a small Roma, and ripen quickly in tight, savory clusters. Excellent for canning. As with many of these varieties, San Marzanos have a long, wonderful history that I don't have space for in this article, but it's worth looking up online.

Early Girl.
The “old faithful” of the temperate tomato world, Early Girls are a mid-sized, sweet slicer that won't disappoint.

Willamette & Oregon Spring.
As the names indicate, these two similar varieties were bred for temperate gardens. The mid-sized, orange-red fruits ripen early and provide a juicy flavor that is perfect for slicing, sandwiches, and fresh eating.

Another mid-sized variety, with bright red fruits and an early harvest. Saucy and savory, great for raw eating and also for cooked recipes.

Black Krim.
This is one of many varieties of tomato bred for success in Russian climates. They are tolerant of hot days and cold nights, which makes them a great option for Southern Humboldt gardens. The large blackish fruits are juicy and savory, delicious in salsa or salad. If you can't find Black Krim, keep your eye out for other “Siberian” tomatoes, as they tend to do well in temperate gardens.

Growing Tips

Grow tomatoes in the hottest place in your garden. Prune low-hanging branches of nearby trees to get as much sun as possible. If there is a wall or a fence nearby, paint it white to maximize the heat reflection of the sun onto your plants. Mulch with bright rocks. A greenhouse is a perfect microclimate for tomatoes, as long as they don't get over-watered.

Once they start to bloom, tomatoes need little water, and young plants get moldy if they're too wet. Overwatered tomatoes are more susceptible to rot, mildew, yellowing and split, watery fruit. Also avoid irregular watering—don't dry them all the way out and then drench them to make up for it. This will cause “blossom end rot” and weird-shaped fruit. Set a regular, light watering schedule and stick to it, and once the fruit starts to ripen, reduce watering by half. Also, when you do water, avoid spraying overhead or you could cause the leaves to get spots from “sunburn.” Hand-water in the early morning, pointing the hose toward the roots of the plants, or use soaker hoses or drip irrigation.

Tomatoes can grow in many different soil types but it's important not to over-fertilize them or they will turn into big leafy bushes with no fruit. Sow seeds in a light soil and transplant them into a rich compost. I don't use high-nitrogen fertlilizer (read:poop) but I do recommend seaweed, oyster shells, wood ash and comfrey compost tea.

Weeding & Trellising.
Successful gardening requires good air circulation. Use vertical space to create circulation. Tomatoes love to climb. Trellising makes use of vertical space and lifts ripening fruits off the ground and away from would-be marauders like slugs and rats. Use Handi-mesh tubes like the cages used by pot farmers, to build space-saving, easy to harvest tomato towers: Set up the cage, anchor it down, and plant tomatoes 10” apart around the cage. Stick a sunflower in the middle so it can grow out the top. As the tomatoes grow, poke them in and out of the Handi-mesh. I plant marigolds and cilantro on the ground between the towers. The marigolds repel tomato-loving insects, and the cilantro tastes great!

Thinning & Pruning.
If you don't have full-sun, and/or if you're growing large-fruited tomatoes, pinch off a third of the unripe fruits before they get too big. This allows the plant to focus on ripening less fruit, better. As for pruning, don't. Those fruitless, lateral branches provide balance, support and photosynthesis, and anchor the plant to the cage. Leave them. If leaves turn yellow, bust them off.

Save Your Seeds!
Finally, when you get a good crop, save the seeds! Tomatoes are self-pollinated, so you can save seeds without worrying about inbreeding problems. It's easy:
      1. Collect ripe, undiseased fruits and squeeze the gooey seeds into a glass jar.
      2. Add enough water to fill the jar halfway and cover with a piece of cardboard to let air in but keep bugs out.
      3. Set on a shelf and let ferment for 5-7 days or until it really starts to stink! This fermentation process removes the slimy seed coat, kills seed-borne diseases and separates good seeds from bad. Bad seeds float, good seeds sink.
      4. When a thick skin of mold forms across the top of the seedy liquid, fill the jar with water and swirl it around to sift and separate the contents. Carefully pour off the mold without dumping the good seeds out. Add water again and pour it off. Do this a few more times until all you have is clear water with clean seeds sunk to the bottom.
      5. Pour through a tea strainer and carefully tap out the clean, wet seeds onto the inside of a folded piece of paper bag. Label and set in a dark place to dry for at least two weeks (or run them through a food dehydrator on the lowest setting overnight) and stash them in a tightly sealed jar or envelope.

Good luck and happy harvesting!

Heather Jo Flores is the author & founder of “Food Not Lawns.” Connect with her online at and

How To Start a Local Food Not Lawns Chapter

by founder/author Heather Jo Flores

How to Start a local Food Not Lawns Chapter
by author/founder Heather Jo Flores

There are a few basic requirements for local chapters. First, you have to host an annual seed swap. Second, you need to organize at least 2 garden work parties each year. Third, list your chapter in the directory at, and keep us updated if your URL changes or your chapter goes defunct.

We also ask local chapters to use the logo and to refrain from using the name for for-profit activities such as running a landscape business or selling permaculture courses. That's not what we are about!

As for your basic collective, we strongly encourage you not to have more than three people in your core group. This avoids conflict and keeps things simple. You can include as many community members as you want in larger aspects of the collective, but keep meetings and decisions to the core triad. Trust me on this, it works!

If you're an existing or new local chapter organizer, please join this group:

And now, here's a basic step-by-step to get started with your new local chapter:

Step 1: Start a Meetup or a Facebook GROUP (not a page) called "Food Not Lawns--your location" and create a simple website (through weebly or wix or wordpress or blogger).

Step 2: Organize your first annual seed swap and take lots of pictures. See this article:

Step 3: Host your first garden work party and take lots of pictures.

Step 4: Post all those great pics on your website and do your best to be inclusive in your community.

Step 5: Once you've worked through the first 4 steps, get in touch with me and we'll get you listed in the directory and talk about how to promote, expand, and improve your local chapter.

Good luck! It's easy! You can do it!!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Garden Profile: Brittany & Daniel Shultz in Knoxville, Tennesee's Apartment garden project

Brittany and Daniel Live in an apartment with no yard. They wanted to grow food anyway. Brittany writes:
Bike powered gardening!

Our amazing property management team allowed my husband and I to start a community garden on the common lawn. We have so far recruited 6 beautiful families and chatted with many lookie loos. We've made some great new friends, just last night one of the members cooked us traditional nepalese food in our kitchen! And the garden continues to pay forward. My mom, who has never grown food outside of tomatoes in a pot, is allowing me to take a third of her half acre and create space for all of the seedlings that we will thin as they pop up and all of the extra starts that need a home.
We started planting this week, and are one bed away from filling our spot. We've tried to be a diverse as we can and companion plant for better soil and pest control. We spent 2 weeks working the hard clay/rock mixture with sand and gave the water a path for drainage under the fresh top soil. This morning as I watered I could hear the water trickle down the slope and under the fresh soil in the beds.

Day 1: Excited husband!

Encouraging neighbors
Baby plants in the ground
Playing in the dirt!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What if I don't have a lawn? Where to grow food if you don't have land.

by Heather Jo Flores

Lately there have been a lot of queries about how to grow food not lawns if you live in an apartment. Here is an excerpt from my book,  Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Communitywith some ideas:

What If I Don’t Have a Lawn?
For people who are lucky enough to have fertile soil in their own yard, starting a garden is easy. For those who don’t have good soil—or don’t have a yard at all—starting a garden takes a little more effort. Most soil, especially in urban areas, responds well to organic improvements, and it usually makes more sense to build soil on a convenient spot than to travel far from home to garden in an area that is already fertile.

We’ll learn how to build good soil on any ground in a later chapter, but what if you don’t have a garden space at all? In the next few pages we’ll look at how to find places to grow gardens, and how to make the most out of the spaces you find. The biggest limit to what you can do is your own creativity, so see what you can think of and share your ideas with others. Ultimately city dwellers’ best resource is neighbors, so tap into their hearts and minds, and don’t hesitate to share your own.

The following land-access strategies will help you get started.

Monday, April 20, 2015

4 Rules for Growing Food in the Front Yard

by Heather Jo Flores

This is an excerpt from an article published recently in the North Coast Journal. Read the full article here:

Food Not Lawns: Bringing the Farm to Your Front Yard
The transformation of any lawn to a garden is always a good thing. However, growing food in the front yard becomes a statement to your community, telling them that you value homegrown food. Front yard gardens invite community dialogue, and bring fellow gardeners in the neighborhood out of the woodwork. Front yard gardens can also provoke complaints from the neighbors, however, so follow these four basic guidelines to help ensure those neighborly reactions are positive:
1. Be creative. Spend some time designing a garden that is beautiful and unique. Get some books on edible ornamentals and create a landscape people will see as a work of art.
2. Be consistent. Don't let the front yard get overgrown and unsightly. Keep up with weeding, mulching and pruning. Be ruthless with dead and diseased plants. If your energy for gardening wanes, scale back your plans and only grow what you can maintain.
3. Be charitable. Offer surplus produce, plants and seeds to your neighbors. Invite them to share in the harvest and offer to help them with their garden ideas. Neighbors who value you as a friend are much less likely to cause problems.
4. Be considerate. Understand that not everyone in your neighborhood will be as excited about growing food as you are. Don't leave piles of soil or cardboard in the driveway for weeks on end. Consider their needs and they will consider yours.

How to Start a Local Food Not Lawns Chapter

How To Start a Local Food Not Lawns Chapter

by founder Heather Jo Flores

How to Start a local Food Not Lawns chapter:

Step 1: Start a FB GROUP (not a page) called "Food Not Lawns--your location" and create a simple website (through weebly or six or wordpress or blogger) then contact us to list your local chapter.

Step 2: Organize your first annual seed swap and take lots of pictures. See this article:

Step 3: Host a garden work party and take lots of pictures.

Step 4: AFTER you have hosted a seed swap and a work party, schedule a free phone consultation with me and we'll talk about next steps! 

Good luck! It's easy! You can do it!!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

2015 First Annual Food Not Lawns Edible Nation Tour

Share the Tour Schedule from Facebook Here!

Get a copy of this tour schedule sent to your inbox 

Heather Flores, author & founder of Food not Lawns will tour across the USA, giving workshops, planting gardens and building community.



  • June 23-24 New chapter launch: seed swap, roadshow and neighborhood design workshop in Lawrence, KS
  • June 25-28 Food Foresting with  Food Not Lawns Kansas City
  • July 2-5  Roadshow, Lawn Liberation & Neighborhood Design Workshop with Fort Wayne Food Lawns
  • July 24-25 New chapter launch: Seed swap, roadshow, neighborhood design workshop and lawn liberation in Clarkston, MI 
  • July 26 New chapter launch: Lawn Liberation & Roadshow in Detroit, MI 

Southeast and Southwest Tour in Spring of 2016

To book an event, contact us.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

How to Organize a Community Seed Swap in 7 Easy Steps

By Heather Jo Flores

Want to listen to a version of these instructions in audio format?

Whether you save your own seeds or just have a bunch of leftover packets from years past, a seed swap is a great way to expand the diversity of both your garden and your community. But don't limit yourself to just seeds! I have been organizing events like these for close to 20 years and folks have brought surplus plants, trees, garden supplies, food preserves and homebrews. A seed swap attracts more than just the local permaculture crowd. People from all walks of life have a passion for gardening and seed saving and this event can bridge gaps and build new friendships that lead to a close-knit and more sustainable community for everyone. Here's how:
Check out some great photos from seed swaps of the past, here.
And some more great photos, here

Friday, March 13, 2015

Experts say: Gardening Makes You Happier, Can Cure Depression. 4 Excellent Articles on the Topic

Lately there has been a lot of attention brought to the fact that soil contains enzymes that can cause you to feel happier. I always had a hunch that this was the case! Here are some excellent articles about how and why gardening makes you feel better:

Can gardening cure depression?

Antidepressant Microbes In Soil: How Dirt Makes You Happy

Experts confirm how gardening can cure depression

Is Dirt the New Prozac?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Why I Hate Grass, or 'How to Kick Monsanto in the Balls. Article by guest blogger Steve Bivans

I hate grass.

Well, that's not really truthful.

It's not that I hate the plant–or I reckon it's plantS, since there are thousands of varieties of grasses–I actually love walking barefoot through cool, shady, dry grass in the summertime. No, mostly I just hate mowing. Why? Because I'm lazy. No, that's not true either. I just think mowing the lawn is a waste of time and energy. I'd much rather be sitting in my Adirondack chair drinking a pina colada, a beer, and reading a book than pushing some damned mower around the yard. So I rip up grass whenever I can find an excuse to do so. And now, since reading Ms. Flores' book, I do it with a real sense of purpose! It's not just to serve my inherent laziness but to feed the world! or at least to feed myself, which is pretty damned important, plus, I love 'maters. That would be TO-maters. I f'n love 'em.

But it's not just to feed myself, or the world that I consent to bend over and rip up my lawn. To get me to bend at all–I'm of the un-bendy sort, not a yoga master like Ms. Flores–you have to have some pretty compelling reason or mission. Feeding the world sounds pretty compelling, but in reality the world isn't lacking food. That sounds funny to say, since we all know there are people "starving in China"–as my parents always told us growing up. That was in the 70s, about the time that the U.S. government decided that farmers should "get big, or get out" and ramp up food production to "feed the world." Of course, the location of the starving children seems to have drifted over the decades since then, from China to Bangladesh–where ever the hell that is–to Ethiopia (where they apparently don't know when Christmas is, even though most of them are, you know, Christians), to Somalia, where most of them are not. It seems that no matter how much food we produce, children of all religions are still starving. Why is that?

Friday, March 6, 2015

12 Plants to Grow with Children

An excerpt from Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, by Heather Jo Flores

Favorite Plants for Children’s Gardens

By no means an exhaustive selection of great plants for children to grow, the following twelve plants can all be direct-sown, grow quickly and easily, and are fun to harvest for food, cut flowers, or seeds.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The 3 P's of Spring: Peas, Poppies and Potatoes

As Printed in the North Coast Journal on February 19, 2015
by Heather Jo Flores
It's February again, and time to start planting. Growing a garden is one of the best ways to get exercise, spend time outdoors and improve your diet and sense of food security, but sometimes it can be difficult to find the motivation. To get back into the swing of things, I like to start with what I call the Three P's of Spring: peas, poppies and potatoes.


Gardeners always tell me that their homegrown peas never make it out of the garden because the gardener eats them first, and I say, "that's just fine." Fresh peas are a wonderful way to lure yourself into the field, and once you've filled your belly, you might as well do some work! Peas come in many forms: snap peas and snow peas have an edible pod and are delicious raw or in stir fry. Shelling peas yield larger peas inside an inedible pod, so you have to peel them, but the flavor is well worth the work. Bush peas don't need a trellis and can be planted anywhere in the garden. Trailing varieties need a trellis, so plant them against a fence or around a cage.
For bush peas, I like Oregon Giant and Sugar Ann. Sugar Snap is a good choice for a trailing snap pea, but my favorite pea of all time is Alderman, a shelling variety with a rich, buttery flavor. Sow seeds directly into well-prepared soil. To boost germination, add a bacterial inoculant (available at most garden stores,) or pre-sprout them in a jar with a bit of water for a few days ahead of time. Sow the seeds 2 inches deep and cover. Be sure to protect them from slugs and snails. My favorite way to do this is by sprinkling a tiny ring of black pepper around each seedling.


There are many different kinds of annual and perennial poppies that will do well in almost any climate, but my favorite are the Papaver somniferum, also known as bread-seed poppies or opium poppies. It's perfectly legal to grow the flowers and the seeds are edible and rich in nutrients. Scoring the pods for their opiate properties is, however, highly illegal. I've always grown them for the stunning flowers, which come in a vast array of pinks, purples, reds and whites. Varieties of bread-seed poppies can be found with single flowers (just a few large petals), doubles (dozens of smaller petals) and hens-and-chicks, which have a bunch of tiny flowers around a large flower in the middle. Plant three or four of the tiny seeds into small hills placed at least 3 feet apart, then thin the sprouts down to one plant per hill. Poppies are extremely heavy feeders and need a lot of space to grow. If you plant them too close together, they will bloom when very tiny and you will miss out on the true glory of a 4-foot tall poppy plant, boasting dozens of giant flowers. To fill all that space between your poppy hills, plant light feeders, such as lettuce, radishes or bush peas.
A "double" or "peony" type somniferum poppy

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Build a simple seed and herb drying rack

This is excerpted from Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and your Neighborhood into a Community, by Heather Flores.

Pros and Cons of Barnyard Birds

An edited excerpt from Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, by Heather Jo Flores

Just a little chart I made up, based on my personal experiences with a small diversity of barnyard birds.

Gardener Profile: The Venturelli Family Front Yard

As shared by Raven Venturelli from Los Angeles:

In 2008 my mom, Jodie, heard a radio interview with Heather Jo Flores on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles / 98.7 FM Santa Barbara. My mom promptly bought Heather's book, enlisted my father, Angelo, to build two large compost piles in the back yard, and signed the whole family up for Larry Santoyo's Permaculture Design Course in LA. 

In early April of 2009, we hosted Larry's "Swan Song for the Lawn" workshop and converted the front yard to an organic edible paradise in one day! On average, we used slightly less water than we did on the lawn, but we obviously got so much more! The garden will be 6 years old come spring, and it continues to give on so many levels - the lessons, community, wisdom, insight and FOOD truly are priceless! The garden is constantly evolving and so are we!

Pruning 101: 6 Easy Steps to Pruning your Trees and Shrubs

An edited excerpt from Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, by Heather Jo Flores

To Prune or Not to Prune?
If you grow fruit trees or woody perennials, you will need to decide how to care for them. It is always a good idea to mulch around fruiting shrubs or trees to provide them with nutrients lost in the harvest. But what about pruning? As you consider how intensively you want to manage your landscape, it helps to consider death as integral to the cycle of life. When we try to grow our food as naturally as possible, we feel a certain relief that we are following the ways of nature rather than attempting to dominate or control it.

When a plant sheds limbs, leaves, flowers, and seeds, a life cycle per- petuates itself. We humans are simply a part of that process, and we can benefit from tuning in to the cycle as a whole rather than trying to make it work for our needs alone. So when you’re asking the question Should I prune my grapes? try to see yourself as the willing servant to the garden, not the master.

Trees prune themselves in a variety of ways. If a tree is too dense, disease may kill a branch. If the fruit load is too heavy, a limb may break off. Fire, wind, and floods are also natural agents of pruning. Left to themselves, trees often regulate themselves better than we do. In fact, most fruit trees will grow and produce quite well if never pruned. Often, the need for pruning is the result of unskilled pruning in the past. Masanobou Fukuoka experimented with letting older trees go wild and found that the more a tree has been pruned, the more likely it is that it will need pruning in the future. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Edible Weeds! 17 Wild plants that you can eat

An excerpt from Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, by Heather Jo Flores

Garden Profile: Ashleigh Ferguson Schieszer of Cincinnatti

Ashleigh writes:

Unsure of what to do with a tiny weed-ridden front yard, we tilled the dirt, lugged home some brick and rock, and turned the sunny spot into a raised veggie garden with stepping stones.

Here is a photo-journal of her amazing alley-to-garden transformation!

Weeds and What They Tell, an excerpt from Food Not Lawns

Here's one of the charts from Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, by Heather Jo Flores. This guide will help you figure out what your weeds are indicating about your soil. Many of these weds are also edible and medicinal! Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Cleveland Food Not Lawns: Mari Keating's Yard Transformation

Mari Keating had a fabulous garden in the back yard, but her front lawn looked like any other. She writes:

My permaculture design course included small group design charette.  When it came time to discuss my own yard, I was struck by a glaring truth.  All of my principles and beliefs were expressed in the backyard via rain barrels, compost bins, laundry lines and integrated beds of organically grown vegetables, herbs and flowers, while the front yard was the green square of conformity, a typical suburban lawn!  How on earth could I find community in my neighborhood when I didn't make who I was and what I believed in visible to the street?  My permaculture training enhanced what I had already been doing for many years, but Food Not Lawns provided the missing activism piece that encouraged me to be public and provoking.  I did my training in September of 2010 and had the first Food Not Lawns,Cleveland seed swap in January of 2011, and hosted a sheet mulch demonstration on my own yard in March!  The response has never been anything but positive and the rewards immeasurable on so many levels.

Here's a link to an article featuring Cleveland Food Not Lawns

And here's their Facebook page:

and the pictures!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Garden Profile: Leah Willis' lawn conversion

Leah writes:
We converted the front lawn of our Cleveland Heights, Ohio home in May of 2014. We did a sheet mulch workshop and several ladies came to learn and lend a hand. It was slow growing at first, but by July it was amazing. By far the most successful garden we have ever had. I so enjoyed having neighbors admire and pick cherry tomatoes as they walked by.