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Organic Fertilizer Trial: Three Months of Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow

How much thought do you give to the kind of fertilizer you use in the garden? Not much? Well, maybe it's time to start thinking more about fertilizers we use in the garden. Back in May of this year, Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow contacted me and asked if I would be interested in trialing their products and writing about them. I chose a general purpose garden fertilizer from their line of products. Read part I and part II of this garden experiment if this is your first post on the trial.

As you'll recall, this is a garden bed in which I'm growing tomatoes for a local food pantry. I decided to use Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow general purpose fertilizer. My thinking is that since I was going to donate the harvest from this bed, I wanted to ensure that what went into growing the plants was going to be organic. Take a look at the growth of the tomato plants since part I and part II. The experiment started on May 15th, and this is what the bed looked like in the middle of July.

I'm really impressed with the vigor of the cherry tomato plants that got fertilized with Healthy Grow. As you'll recall, only half the bed was fertilized with Healthy Grow and the other was just amended with fresh compost. The unfertilized half of the bed was not growing as well and the plants were not as happy and healthy as the half I fertilized with Healthy Grow.

Even with regular pinching of suckers and trimming, the cherry tomato vines are exploding in growth, and threatening to take the bamboo stakes down and we're not even into August.

While tying and staking the tomato vines this week I made another observation. The half of the raised bed that didn't get fertilized initially is not just under-performing, the plants are weaker and susceptible to pests and diseases. I have noticed a lot of white flies and aphids on those plants, while the healthier side (the one fertilized) seems to not be affected. There is also, unfortunately, tomato blight in some of the other raised beds that other gardeners tend. I'm keeping my finger crossed because I have a lot of beautiful tomato fruits!

I'm still a couple of weeks away from harvesting cherry tomatoes, but the weather looks promising for ripening tomatoes on the vine, and the tomato fruits are large and beautiful! Most of all, I'm excited about being able to deliver fresh, organically grown tomatoes to a family in need. These photos were taken a couple of days before I sat down to write this post, but I visited the garden today and saw that many were already turning color.

If you've never heard of Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow, check out their website to learn about how a school teacher turned into an organic fertilizer producer, and where you can find the Healthy Grow line of products near you. They have been a great brand to work with, and I'm happy that I have had good results with the fertilizer. By visiting the website, you're also helping support me because they could have advertised in any number of traditional garden outlets, or contracted a number of famous garden writers and TV personalities to do this trial, but they chose to work with me.

Do you have any tips for dealing with white flies and aphids?


Rhubarb Simple Syrup

Do you grow rhubarb, but don't know what to make with it? Perhaps you don't grow this edible perennial vegetable because you think it's only good for baking pies. Rhubarb plants can get pretty big and there are only so many pies and jams you can put away in your cupboard. A rhubarb simple syrup is a good way to preserve the flavor of rhubarb, especially if you have a lot of it.

How to harvest rhubarb

This was the case at the community garden recently. An orphaned rhubarb plant was growing like gangbusters in an empty plot. Try as I might, there weren't a lot of gardeners taking me up on the offer to harvest the rhubarb stalks and take them home. Many didn't know what to do with it, and others just said, "I don't know how to bake." So I set about trying to make a dent in the rhubarb monster.

How to Harvest Rhubarb

Don't harvest stalks from your rhubarb plant during it's first year of growth. Wait until the second or third year to harvest. Choose stalks that are between 12-18 inches long and reddish in color. Grab an individual stalk from the base and twist it free from the crown. You can also just cut the stalks away with a knife. I prefer this method because it's cleaner and quicker. Leave a few stalks on your plant to keep the plant alive. Cut off and discard the leaves of the rhubarb plant. The leaves are poisonous and should not be eaten.

Make a Rhubarb Simple Syrup

4 cups of chopped rhubarb
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water

Cut your rhubarb stalks into 1 inch lengths. Make sure to remove the leaves. Combine the rhubarb, sugar, and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened slightly and the fruit has become soft.

Place a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl and the pour out the contents of the sauce pan into the strainer. If you don't have a fine mesh strainer, use a course strainer lined with cheesecloth. Use the back of the spoon to press the rhubarb against the strainer to squeeze out any liquid.

After the syrup has cooled, pour it into a glass jar or bottle.  It should keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. You can also freeze the syrup for longer storage.

Tips: When I told people I was harvesting a rhubarb plant to make simple syrup everyone asked if it would be too tart. The answer is, NO--it isn't too tart. It's actually very sweet. If you (like me) enjoy tart flavors try reducing the amount of sugar. If you happen to walk away when your rhubarb is simmering on the stove for more than 20 minutes it will break down into thin fibers. If this happens, like it did with one batch of mine, you will have to strain it twice to remove any float-y stuff from your syrup.

Rhubarb simple syrup

Now that you have made rhubarb simple syrup, make yourself a rhubarb soda after a long day of working in the garden!

Rhubarb Soda

1/2 ounce of rhubarb syrup
12 ounces of carbonated water

Other ways you can use your rhubarb simple syrup: Drizzle it over shortbread, shortbread cookies, fresh strawberries, yogurt, vanilla or strawberry ice cream. Or even over pie! You can also use this syrup in many of your favorite cocktail recipes.

Are you a rhubarb lover, or a rhubarb hater?