Love Apple Fish Heads and Stakes.

cakefarm(7B)April 19, 2012

Hi all. I'm a long-time lurker, first time poster. I have been growing my veggies from seed and organic gardening for years and, though it's been a long-time-coming (and has cost a small fortune), I think the North Carolina soil in my veggie beds is just about ready to grow the perfect tomatoes this season.

So I was obsessively researching homemade tomato fertilizer recipes when I came across Love Apple Farms' recipe which starts with a fish head in the bottom of a deep planting hole.


Has anyone tried this? How'd it work for you? We have a great fish shop near us and I'm certain Mr. Earp would be more than willing to work out a deal for fish guts / heads / spines. Short of fish-parts, any recommendations for the planting hole? In my potting shed, I have worm castings, greensand, bone meal, blood meal, kelp meal etc., and I keep chickens so I have lots of bedding and egg shells. My soil is loamy, slightly acidic and is generally balanced in terms of minerals and nutrients.

Next question: staking. I have always used cages but might just switch to that post and twine staking method most of the large-scale tomato producers use. Not because I want hundreds of tomato plants but because my tomatoes always outgrow their cages (4 ft tall). Have you used this method of staking? What are the pros? The cons?

Thanks all! Let me know if you need any supplemental info.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Bets(z6A S ID)

Personally if your soil is good, I would not put any fish parts in my garden. Too tempting for critters to dig up plants to try to get the fish parts.

The method of support you are referring to is know as the Florida Weave. I grow a lot of tomato plants and have used FW for a number of years. Storage is greatly simplified. The biggest drawback, is you do have to stay up on tucking the branches & suckers in or the plants will sprawl.

I hope that helps.


Here is a link that might be useful: Florida Weave

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 11:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This woman swears she has no problems with critters. And her tomatoes are amazing. Maybe I'll try one plant with fish-parts and one without. Couldn't hurt.

Thanks for the link! I didn't know what it was called. Looks much less complicated than I thought it would be.


    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 11:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

Suki, Cynthia of Love Apple Farms, whom I know, lives in Oregon as I recall, I didn't check, or possiblt N CA, and her critter problems may not be the same as yours in NC. And I know several tomato growing friends in NC who have never had major critter problems, depending on what we call a critter that can cause a problem. LOL

My brother lives in NC, the major tomato test plots for the U of NC are in Fletcher, in western, NC, my best friend of over 20 years, Craig LeHoullier lives in Raleigh, NC and he raises all my plants for me and ships them up here. Lee and Shoe live in NC and do seed production for me.

And I've never heard any of them speak to critter problems, especially Shoe who lives and grows his tomatoes in the country, actually Efland, which I have too remeber not to call it Elfland.

I'm with Bets on this and would not put smelly decomposing fish parts in my planting holes. It was fine for the indigenous Indians to do so b'c they had few alternatives, but not for me, no how. LOL


    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 8:14AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

The fish head, or even a whole fish, in the planting hole is hardly a new idea. It is part of American Indian history/gardening lore and it has continued down through the ages.

I think most of us with ready access to fish and fish parts discovered long ago that they work much better and cause less problems when added to the compost pile rather than the hole. Or you can just use fish emulsion fertilizer. :)

As to Florida weave, lots of discussions here about its pros and cons and many discussions offer pics too. The search will pull them up for you if interested.


    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 9:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
susan2010(6 Massachusetts)

When we were kids we read about how the Indians did this when planting. I seem to recall that we convinced my mother to let us try it. I think we grew a small patch of popcorn around the buried fish head. The popcorn grew, but I've no idea if the fish head helped, hindered, or was moot. But we had fun experimenting with our history lesson.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 10:49AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

I remembered reading something recently about animals digging up fish, did a search, and found these accounts: (raccoons) (bears and fish fertilizer)

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 2:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If you're having trouble with only a 4 foot cage, take a look
at my PVC cage design. It can be as tall as you want it
to be, although I'd limit it to 6 foot unless you want to
harvest using a ladder.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tom's PVC Tomato cage page

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 11:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
DWD2(10a, Sunset 17)

cakefarm, I have taken a few courses from Cynthia and follow a number of her methods. She uses the fish heads because she gets loads of them for free from Manresa, the restaurant she grows for. If you note on her postings, she points out that you can substitute Fish Bone Meal for the fish head should smelly things be a concern or you do not want to chase down fish heads. She says she has found that, as long as the fish head is at least 2 feet below the surface, raccoons & dogs do not dig them up. Her planting holes are deep for a couple of reasons. The first is she plants her plants deep. Her plants are coming out of a bigger container (I believe 1 gallon typically) and are >1 foot tall. She cuts off the lower leaves & branches and plants up to the lowest remaining branch. The hairs on the stem of the plant will turn into roots. The second is that in addition to the fish head and tomato plant she puts a fair bit of other components into the hole. You need some depth to get it all in there. The fish heads are part of the regime she outlines here:

As for cages, if you follow the Love Apple Farm system, you are going to need something pretty big & sturdy. She uses the 6"x6" square, #10 welded wire remesh that is 7 feet tall. She offers pointers here:
An example of why you need the cages is here:
A number of my friends and I use Cynthia's methods and get terrific results that are essentially identical to the picture above with great tasting tomatoes.

Good luck with your tomatoes!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2012 at 5:01AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

DWD2 - thanks so much for your post! May I ask if Cynthia recommends you prune those plants at all? I love the idea of huge cages but worry about air circulation with all that foliage. Caging would work better for me as my garden is in my front yard and there is not much to block any wind. A wall of staked tomatoes just seems like a bad idea in my situation.

Carolyn - The tomato man! I am actually going to check out some of his plants at the farmer's market this weekend! My friend highly recommended him. I am actually going to grow my eggplants and peppers in containers this year because of Craig! Any recommendations for a tomato I just have to try? I bought an heirloom pineapple tomato plant that I'm excited to try this year.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2012 at 12:17PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
DWD2(10a, Sunset 17)

cakefarm, yes, Cynthia does prune the suckers. She suggests having 4 main stems on most tomatoes and up to 10 on cherry tomatoes. Clip off the rest of the suckers. She does plant her plants 3 feet apart partially to allow good air circulation around the plants. You can go as low as 2 foot spacing, but you will start encountering problems as you get close to 2 feet and then below. I do not believe a stake could support the plants I have grown with this system.

Good luck with your tomatoes!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 1:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

cake, a tomato you just have to try?

Maybe I should check Craig's website to see which varieties he's offering plants for before even trying to answer that question, which I'll try to do after I go back to bed right now and when I get up later.

I could make a long list of what I like from the over 3,000 varieties I've grown, but best to see what he's bringing to the the market.

I don't know how far away from Raleigh you are but Shoe in Efland also sells tomato plants.

Not that you want to hear more about pruning, but I just can't help myself here.

I have never but never pruned a tomato plant and here's the reasons why. The more foliage you have the greater the amount of photosynthesis you have which means the more energy in the form of ATP and GTP which are the energy compounds that allow for synthesis of all plant parts, blossom formation, fruit set and fruit maturation.

In addition, if you have foliage diseases then at least you have some backup foliage. I can see someone pruning plants if staking b;c one usually prunes to one or two leader stems, but the distance for stakes and cages is about the same and I far prefer caging.

I grew most of my plants by either sprawling or caging and grew some varieties both ways.

So let me check Craig's website where he usually lists all the varieties he's bringing to the Farmers Market and get back to you here.

It would help a LOT if you could mention what YOU like as to plant habit, maybe some of the new Dwarf varieties for containers, perhaps some indeterminates, and for either, what color fruits and shapes, I'm a heart lover for instance, and other specs you might want to grow.

Or maybe you should just go to the Farmer's market and ask Craig himself, actually I think that's the better way to do it. If you haven't met him before it's time you do and he's not shy at all, and actually talks a mile a minute as I do as well. I was just counting up the years we've known each other, initially as SSE members, and I've known him well since 1989, so there you go. Last year he and his wife had to be up this way and he delivered my plants in person and he and his wife and I had a wonderful time b'c through all the years this was the first time we actually met.

maybe I should mention that for years and years I grew all of my own plants and had out many hundreds of plants and varieties each year, but in Dec of 2004 I fell, b'c of two bad hips, severed all four quads in my right leg which led to my having to use a walker since then. So now what I grow , and I should say what Freda grows for me, she now does all my gardening for me, is in the backyard here at home where there are about 40 tomato plants in Gro-bags and containers and I grow other stuff as well.

But my real love has always been perennials, especially fragrant ones, so there's lots and lots of beds here just full of those as well.

Enough for now. ASk Craig at the market what he suggests for you and give him a big Hi from me, although we're in contact all the time via e-mail and phone. ( smile)

Carolyn, who now does have two new hips but still has to use the walker since the inner quad didn't return to function.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 2:36AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I always enjoy reading other styles of planting in and fertilizing, but damn that is a lot of amendments. Just so we have it for reference...

Bed Prep (till-in):
- 2 Bags Gardner & Bloome Harvest Supreme
- 4 Quarts All-Purpose Fertilizer

Hole Prep:
- 1 Pile of Fish Parts
- 4 Crushed Egg Shells
- 1 Heaping Handful of Bone Meal
- 2 Handfuls of Gardner & Bloome Tomato, Vegetable and Herb organic fertilizer
- 1 Large Tbsp. Worm Castings
- A sprinkle of RootZone Mycorrhizal Fungi

It all sounds like good stuff (minus the Aspirin), but it just seems like a lot of money and time. I mulch with homemade compost, grass clippings / leaves, and hay a couple times during the year (all free minus the hay), maybe add a little fertlizer in the hole at planting time, and some more at fruit set and I get tons of tomatoes and usually give tons away.

Going by my soil test, my PH is right where it should be, good organic matter and excess levels of Ca, P and K... Basically, the only thing I try to add is what is recommended per my soil test, nitrogen and organic matter. While gardening is hobby for me, I do try to keep costs down... My tomatoes always taste great, but they taste even better when they come out costing less than at the store / roadside stand :)

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 5:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
DWD2(10a, Sunset 17)

homegardenpa, Actually, the salicylic acid (aspirin) is a good thing too. Salicylic acid is a plant hormone that regulates plant defenses against many pathogens. It has been demonstrated that adding salicylic acid at low levels to growing plants reduces disease. Here are a couple of reviews to get you into the literature:

It seems Ms. Sandberg is ahead of the curve.

Her techniques are certainly not for everyone. She does strongly recommend soil testing. Kudos to you for doing it. Not enough people do it. If your methods give yields and quality that you are happy about AND at a price you like, why would you change?!?

Good luck with your tomatoes this year!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 4:07AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Carolyn - just got back from the farmer's market (I live in downtown Raleigh, btw) and brought home 3 dwarves - red robin, summertime green and sleeping lady; a Mexican Midget (of course!); black from Tula; rose quartz; and a speckled roma. Also a casper eggplant, and my boyfriend picked out a Vietnamese multi pepper and a NuMex heritage jalape�o. I'm excited about the dwarves (never grown a dwarf before) - already potted them into 6 gallon pots. Craig gave me the advice not to argue with you - said you're a teacher and you'll always be right. ;)

I'm with you on the pruning but mostly because I'm lazy. I will generally stay on top of the suckers and I'll prune all the lower leaves but I've found that Actin-iron, regular foliar application of Actinovate and mulch have kept disease down.

DWD2 - I think I'm going to use Carolyn's planting hole amendments. I'm a big fan of RootZone Mycorrhizal Fungi and I like the idea of the fish parts decomposing over time and continuing to nourish the tomatoes. My plants are about 18" tall so the hole will be pretty deep and I don't think I'll have to worry about scavengers. I'm doing all my eggplants and peppers in containers this year so I'll be able to give the tomatoes all the room they need.

Homegardenpa - I already have all that stuff laying around so I think I'm gonna do an experiment and plant a couple of the same varieties, one with Love Apple Farms' method and a control with my normal method (which, honestly, aside from the fish and aspirin is pretty similar).

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 11:41AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Anyone Growing Dwarf Tomatoes?
I recently acquired a copy of the excellent new book...
Ralph Whisnant
You people are a bad influence
I went and bought seeds for mortgage lifter, big beef...
Sorry, Don't like Sungold
Contrary to popular beliefs I find them much too sweet,...
Window sill instead of grow light?
My grow light is broken. I have lots of room at a...
harryshoe zone6 eastern Pennsylvania
Fourth of July ....
Fourth of July is my favorite day. How about a tomato...
Seysonn_ 7b-WA/HZ1
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™