Friday, 19 July 2024


LAKE COUNTY – The Lake County Superior Court is seeking at least 30 applicants willing to serve as jurors and alternates on the 2009-10 Lake County Grand Jury panel. The 19-person grand jury is selected from the different supervisorial districts in proportion to the population of each district.

The Grand Jury serves as the public’s “watchdog” by investigating and reporting upon the affairs of local government. The term of service runs from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010, and may entail from 10 to 20 hours of work per week attending committee and general meetings, responding to citizens’ complaints, performing research, and investigating the operations of governmental agencies and allegations of wrongdoing by public officials or employees.

The court is looking for applicants in good health who are interested in community affairs, are objective, and are able to work cooperatively with others. Experience in researching, interviewing, writing and editing, and/or auditing is desirable and having a general knowledge of the responsibilities and functions of governmental and other public entities is helpful.

A Grand Juror must be a U.S. citizen, age 18 or older, speak English, be a resident of California and Lake County for at least one year prior to selection, and not hold an elected office or have any felony convictions.

Applications may be obtained by mailing a letter with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Grand Jury Coordinator, 255 N. Forbes, 4th Floor, Lakeport, CA 95453. Applications are also available at each Superior Court Clerk’s Office; located at 255 N. Forbes, 4th Floor, in Lakeport, or at 7000 A South Center Drive, in Clearlake.

Further information may be obtained by calling the Grand Jury Coordinator at 263-2282. Applications must be received by May 30. Personal interviews will be scheduled prior to final selection.

If you are interested, please apply. If you are not interested, but know someone who may be, please let them know of this opportunity.

Firefighters work on the fire scene to make sure all of the hot spots are out. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



KELSEYVILLE – A small barn and a workshop and all of its contents were destroyed in an early evening fire Monday.

The fire occurred at the Oakie Slopes Vineyard, located five miles west of Highway 29 on Kelsey Creek Drive.

A column of smoke rose high in the evening sky visible from Lakeport as fire personnel from Kelseyville Fire Protection District and Cal Fire ascended the moderately steep hillside scene.

Early radio reports indicated that the barn, a workshop and a pickup camper unit were fully engulfed just before 6 p.m. as fire units arrived.

Vineyard owner Edward Tollefson had been called to the location a short time after leaving for a trip to Santa Rosa. He explained that one of his longtime employees had been working in the shop repairing power equipment.

The unidentified worker was transferring gasoline to a riding mower when, for a not yet specified reason, the fuel caught fire.

The fire spread quickly throughout the wood-framed structures. At least one other gasoline container exploded, spreading the fire to a pickup truck-type camper stored behind the two small buildings.

Tollefson told Lake County News that along with three cords of firewood he lost several motorized farm vehicles and dozens of power tools related to farm and vineyard maintenance.

No persons were injured and medical personnel were not called to the scene. Water to fight the blaze was provided by tanker trucks.

The nearly one dozen fire personnel were cleared and released from the scene at 7:35 p.m.

E-mail Harold LaBonte at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




The barn, a workshop and a vehicle were fully engulfed before firefighters arrived on scene on Monday, April 20, 2009. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




The fire occurred at the Oakie Slopes Vineyard in Kelseyville on Monday, April 20, 2009. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

Linda and Robin Unruh discuss the crash with the California Highway Patrol on Sunday, April 19, 2009. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

KELSEYVILLE – For two Riviera Heights residents a seemingly routine drive shopping trip to Lakeport on Sunday nearly turned tragic when they were hit by a speeding vehicle.

Shortly before 2 p.m. Sunday Linda and Robin Unruh were headed westbound on Soda Bay road. They had just passed the Gaddy Lane intersection when a 1965 Chevy pickup traveling eastbound at a high rate of speed crossed into the westbound lane out of control and flipped over after skidding sideways for 60 feet.

The pickup landed upside down catching the front right corner of the Unruhs' 2003 Chrysler Sebring convertible, driven by Linda Unruh.

The pickup then continued several feet off the road, encountering a large log that slowed the truck's forward motion and aided in uprighting the vehicle, which then came to rest on all four wheels. The pickup's cab was nearly crushed to the door handles.

The California Highway Patrol identified the pickup's driver as Cheryl Hergert, also of Kelseyville, who scrambled out through the driver’s side window.

The Unruhs told CHP officers that Hergert had after – taking a quick look at the scene – said she was in a hurry. Hergert told the CHP that she was responding to a family emergency, stating that she had learned that a snake had bitten her 14-year-old son and she was rushing to his aid.

The couple also told the CHP officers that Hergert offered an extra $1,000 cash over and above any insurance pay out if they agreed to not call the police.

Hergert estimated her speed at 60 miles per hour while rounding a gentle curve in a 50-mile-per-hour zone. By the skidmarks, CHP Officer Efrain Cortez Jr. estimated Hergert was driving around 70 miles per hour.

Kelseyville Fire medics examined the Unruhs and Hergert and found that they all were remarkably unhurt. All parties had been wearing seat belts.

After the examination the medics proceeded to an address on Jamie Lane in Kelseyville from where, according to Hergert, her 14-year-old son had called his father to report that he had been bitten by an unknown type of snake. Hergert told officials that the boy’s father then called her and she was responding to the Jamie Lane address.

Once on scene the Kelseyville Fire medics, along with Search and Rescue personnel, conducted a search of the home and its surrounding area. Several neighbors, familiar with the boy’s habits and favorite hideouts, assisted in the search, some of them climbing a steep hill just behind the home a favored play area for the young man.

Kelseyville Fire official Brian Burnham coordinated the half dozen Kelseyville Fire personnel on the ground with the Lake County Sheriff's Office and a CalStar helicopter flying overhead.

Burnham explained that three years ago the boy, known to wander, had climbed the steep hill and had managed to make his way to Soda Bay. They were following a familiar path.

The search turned up no sign of the boy, who later was located in Lakeport just before 4 p.m. at the Lakeport Cinema. Lake County Sheriff's officials verified his location and the search was discontinued. The would-be rescuers returned to station 55, the Cal-Star helicopter was released from the scene and a sheriff’s deputy was left with many unanswered questions.

Back at the original scene CHP Officer Cortez said Hergert is likely to be cited for excessive speed and reckless driving. Both drivers had valid driver’s licenses and provided proper registration and insurance documents.

Officer Cortez and the Unruhs agreed that had they been just 4 feet further down the road the convertible would not have fared as well and their trip to town would have ended in a distinctly different manner.

E-mail Harold LaBonte at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




The search takes place for Cheryl Hergert's 14-year-old son on Jamie Lane in Kelseyville on Sunday, April 19, 2009. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



KELSEYVILLE – One of the signs that it's truly spring in Lake County is the California poppy.

Blooming in profusion along roadsides and across fields, the bright orange poppies are more than a symbol of spring – they're also California's state flower.

On Thursday, Kelseyville resident and acclaimed artist Gail Salituri turned her camera on the local poppies, capturing these pictures near Kelseyville.




A Northshore Fire Protection District firefighter at 6438 15th Ave. in Lucerne. The home was damaged by fire late on Monday, April 20, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




LUCERNE – A fire seriously damaged a house in Lucerne on Monday night.

The fire was reported before 9:30 p.m. at 6438 15th Ave.

Northshore Fire personnel, three Northshore Fire engines, an ambulance and three Lake County Sheriff's deputies responded to the scene.

Battalion Chief Pat Brown said the fire's source appeared to be a small propane tank inside the house.

The home was unoccupied at the time of the fire, according to Northshore Fire Protection District Chief Jim Robbins. The owner was living down the street while the house was being renovated.

The propane caused two windows – one in the front and one in the back – to bust out, said Robbins.

Although the interior of the home incurred significant damage, the home's structure appeared to be all right. 'We actually made a good save on it,” said Robbins.

The fire itself was extinguished quickly. As firefighters mopped up the scene, Brown and Robbins interviewed the owner and others at the scene to complete the fire investigation.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Firefighters at the scene speak with Northshore Fire Battalion Chief Pat Brown (right). Brown said the fire appeared to have originated with a propane tank. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



LAKEPORT – A late-night vehicle crash left many Kelseyville residents without power for a short time on Sunday evening.

The power outage was reported at 10 p.m., according to Pacific Gas and Electric spokesman JD Guidi.

Guidi said the outage was caused when a car hit a pole on Park Way in north Lakeport.

He said approximately 1,482 people were without power until 10:33 p.m.

The California Highway Patrol reported that the crash occurred at 910 Park Way, just north of Oak Park, with the vehicle going 60 feet off the roadway. No injuries were reported.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Officials work to pull a tractor trailer out of Blue Lakes late early on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 22, 2009. The trailer was brought back onto the roadway at around 3 p.m. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



BLUE LAKES – An early morning incident in which a semi truck went into Blue Lakes kept local agencies busy throughout Wednesday with the difficult task of pulling the truck up out of the lake.

The busy recovery scene also has led to traffic delays along Highway 20 in the Blue Lakes area, with Caltrans controlling the flow of vehicles past the curve where the truck went down the embankment. It took agencies more than 12 hours to completely clear the scene.

California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Tanguay said the crash occurred at 3:50 a.m. Wednesday.

Pedro Guevara, 39, of Stockton was behind the wheel of the Safeway tractor-trailer. Tanguay said Guevara had made a delivery at the Lakeport Safeway store and was traveling to Ukiah with four pallets of produce to deliver to the Safeway store there.

Guevara was near Midlake Road when he hit the embankment on the north side of the highway, said Tanguay. That caused Guevara to cross the highway and go down over the embankment into the lake. The truck appeared to have taken out a tree as it went over the edge.

Tanguay said Guevara survived the crash, but was trapped in the cab, which was partially submerged. Initial reports indicated the water was up to Guevara's neck with his legs pinned underneath the dashboard.

That's where two local good Samaritans enter the story.

Keith Hoyt, a member of the Northshore Dive Team, said a man living in a home across the lake heard the crash, came outside and heard Guevara calling for help. The man, whose name Hoyt didn't know, called 911 and then got in his boat and came over to the scene.

At the same time, Bruce Cottrell – a local roofing contractor – responded to the crash, said Hoyt.

Cottrell had a headlamp which he used to light the area. Then he went down the embankment and into the water, where he found Guevara trapped in the cab. Cottrell got into the cab with Guevara and helped hold his head above water.


When Hoyt got to the scene, he got into the water and swam over to the vehicle and recognized Cottrell with Guevara in the cab.

Hoyt said Guevara's leg was trapped but Guevara said he could feel his foot, so they didn't think it was broken. The cab was badly smashed up, with broken windows and a large tree limb sheered off during the truck's trip down the embankment lying across the cab.

Swimming in the dark, Hoyt was able to get the driver's side door open. Inside the cab, he something holding Guevara's leg. Hoyt used a pair of shears to cut the item, which was later discovered to be the cuff of his pant's leg which was caught on something.

Cottrell helped Guevara – who Hoyt said is a pretty big guy – get through the cab's back window and over the crushed muffler, which had a lot of sharp metal and ripped up Guevara's pants. Guevara got up the bank under his own power but with some assistance from Cottrell, said Hoyt.

Once up on the road, medics put Guevara on a backboard, treated him for a head laceration and got him warmed up, according to Hoyt.

Cottrell stayed with Guevara the whole time. “He definitely was a hero,” Hoyt said of Cottrell.

Tanguay said Guevara was flown to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital by REACH air ambulance. There was no word late Wednesday on his condition.

Within 45 minutes of the crash, the Northshore Dive Team had placed “booms” – which look like long rolls of materials – in the water to prevent the spread of diesel fuel into the lake, said Northshore Battalion Chief Pat Brown. Hoyt said they were assisted by the resident from across the lake who had called 911.

Highway 20 was blocked for several hours in the early morning as Northshore Fire, Lakeport Fire, Cal Fire CHP, the Office of Emergency Services, California Fish & Game, Caltrans and Konocti Conservation Camp worked to clear the scene. The roadway was reopened with traffic control shortly before 6:30 a.m.

Northshore Fire and CHP were in charge of the incident, sharing a unified command, Brown explained.

In order to get the truck out of the lake the trailer had to be unloaded and the fuel removed. The embankment's thick underbrush also had to be cut away to allow the recovery operation to proceed. Brown said they had to separate the cab from the trailer in order to remove the vehicle.

Two large tow trucks worked to pull the truck up the steep embankment, which was completed a little after 3 p.m., said Tanguay. About an hour later, the cab was pulled from the lake, said Hoyt.

The CHP reported the roadway was clear once again at approximately 5:17 p.m.

Brown said Safeway hired a Bay Area firm to handle environmental cleanup. Though some diesel was believed to have gone into the lake, Brown said he believed the amount was very small.

Speeding isn't believed to have been an issue in the crash, said Tanguay. While it's still under investigation, driver fatigue is emerging as a possible factor.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




Staff with an environmental firm hired by Safeway were working at the scene in a row boat on Wednesday, April 22, 2009. The semi's crushed cab is seen in the middle of the picture, partially submerged in Blue Lakes. The white




Crews work to remove diesel fuel from the truck before it's pulled up the slope. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

KELSEYVILLE – Two men suffered serious injuries in a head-on collision near Kelseyville on Monday morning.

The crash took place shortly before 9 a.m. on Red Hills Road just over a mile west of the Kit's Corner intersection with Highway 29, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia.

Garcia said 46-year-old Michael Zappelli Jr. of Kelseyville was driving a blue 2002 C-1500 pickup westbound on Red Hills road, with 19-year-old Phillip Martin of Kelseyville coming from the opposite direction in a red 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix. Both men were traveling alone in their respective vehicles.

Preliminary evidence from the crash investigation appears to show that Zappelli's vehicle crossed into the eastbound lane and collided with Martin’s vehicle head-on, said Garcia.

Zappelli was not wearing his seatbelt and he sustained major life threatening injuries. Garcia said Zappelli was flown by REACH air ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

Martin also sustained major life threatening injuries and was flown to Santa Rosa Memorial hospital

by Cal-Star air ambulance, Garcia said.

Garcia said both vehicles sustained substantial front end damage.

Alcohol is not believed to have been a factor, but Garcia said high speeds contributed to the severity of the collision.

Garcia said Officer Efrain Cortez is investigation the Monday crash.

The fire at 19559 Stonegate Road was reported just before 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 18, 2009. Photo by Glen R. Erspamer Jr.

HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – A fire destroyed a Hidden Valley Lake home on Saturday evening.

The fire, which took place at 19559 Stonegate Road, was reported just before 5 p.m.

When firefighters from Hidden Valley Lake's fire station arrived on scene, the left side of the house was fully engulfed in flames, officials reported.

Other fire districts around lake offered mutual aid, including South Lake County Fire Protection District, Northshore Fire, Lake County Fire and Kelseyville Fire, as well as a Konocti Conservation Camp Crew 4.

There were at least fire engines and two water tenders that responded, with multiple hoses running from nearby fire hydrants. The fire department was able to extinguish the fire before it damaged surrounding homes.

No one was inside or injured during the fire, although a small black dog is still unaccounted for, fire officials said.

The home was considered a total loss. Chief Rich Boehm estimated damages at more then $250,000, not including personal property within the home.



Firefighters continue working on the fire site at 19559 Stonegate Road on Saturday, April 18, 2009. Photo by Glen R. Erspamer Jr.

Life is dynamic. That said, your estate planning documents should not be entirely static.

They need to be adaptable to deal with life’s changed circumstance – some of which may be foreseeable and others unpredictable. Specifically, flexibility is desirable in regards to (1) who steps-in to manage your affairs during periods of disability and death; (2) whether to allow for Medi-Cal/SSI gifting; (3) whether assets may either be held in trust and otherwise distributed/used (rather than outright cash distributions); and (4) what say your beneficiaries are allowed over their shares of your estate. Let us now examine each area.

Over time, or with later events, it is possible that the person(s) whom you named to manage your financial and personal affairs may not then be either able or willing to carry out these responsibilities. Hopefully, you named worthy alternatives. In addition, however, it may also be desirable to authorize these selected persons themselves to name their own replacements should none of your other named alternatives be available.

If desired, Medi-Cal gifting powers need to be incorporated into your trust and/or power of attorney. For married couples their community property (so-called marital assets) presents a planning opportunity in regards to eligibility for long-term nursing home Medi-Cal benefits. That is, specifically allowing for (e.g., enabling) the “transmutation” of community property assets into the separate property of the well-spouse would facilitate matters while protecting both, in the event that one needs to qualify for Medi-Cal (e.g., for long-term nursing home care) and the other stay at home.

Furthermore, for those who desire that their assets be transferred to their children (not spouse), prior to death, in order to become eligible for Medi-Cal sooner and to preserve their children’s inheritances against later estate recovery by the State (in regards to Medi-Cal and/or SSI benefits received) it is even more important to express these wishes in an enforceable manner — such as by authorizing an agent to make gifts from your estate to desired persons.

Gifting implicates both the welfare of the person making the gifts and the children (usually) receiving the gift (as an advance on their inheritances). As Medi-Cal law is in a state of flux, your trust and/or power of attorney needs to be carefully crafted. Naturally, the person(s) whom you entrust to make these gifting decisions needs to have the good judgment, understanding and integrity to use this gifting authority wisely.

Another area is flexibility in the distribution/use of your estate. That is, whether your estate “may be held in further trust” (e.g., such as a special needs trusts or an asset protection trusts), or “may be used to purchase a single premium annuity”, or “may be used in some other specified manner(s).” These considerations may become important should your beneficiaries later-on develop creditor problems, or become disabled (especially if needs based government benefits are involved). Having “no flexibility” to deal with changed circumstances may mean that the plan will proceed regardless and with undesirable results.

Next, consider giving your surviving spouse, or your other beneficiaries, a so-called “special power of appointment” so they can redirect inheritances amongst a “limited class of beneficiaries.” Why? If circumstances significantly change, then they can reallocate the estate distribution scheme in a more appropriate way. One example, amongst many, involves your surviving spouse reallocating your trust estate amongst your children, so that if any child becomes more needy, then they receive a greater share than other more fortunate children.

Lastly, if circumstances change while you are still alive and competent it is better that you carefully review your estate planning documents and amend them as needed. But, otherwise, if this does not happen, hopefully your existing documents are drafted so as to allow an appropriate response to the changed circumstances.

Dennis Fordham is an attorney who practices in Lakeport. He welcomes your calls to reserve a seat to attend the next free public educational seminar on the topics of wills, trusts and estate planning, and special needs trusts. Call him at 263-3235.

LAKE COUNTY – Local stargazers – get ready to start your day early on Wednesday.

The annual Lyrid meteor shower will be visible over North America on Wednesday, April 22, according to the National Aeronautic and Space Administration.

It's on that day that Earth will pass through a stream of dust given off by Comet Thatcher, NASA reported. Each April Earth passes through the comet's trail of debris.

Coincident with the meteor shower this year, the crescent moon and Venus will converge for a close encounter in the eastern sky. Viewed from some parts of the world, the Moon will pass directly in front of Venus, causing Venus to vanish, according to Dr. Tony Phillips of NASA.

The University of North Carolina's Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute reports that the Lyrids are best viewed between midnight and dawn from a clear, dark location with a good horizon.

Look to the northeast to find the meteors appearing to radiate out of the constellation of Lyra the harp. Binoculars or telescopes aren't needed. Then, as dawn approaches on April 22, note the brilliant planet Venus just to the left of the rising moon.

Lake County residents – along with other North American residents – will be favored with a full-blown eclipse or “occultation” when, around 5 a.m. Wednesday, Venus will disappear behind the mountainous rim of the Moon and reappear 60 to 90 minutes later, NASA reported. The occultation will be bright enough to see in broad daylight.

The Lyrids form the oldest recorded meteor shower, with observations of the Lyrids noted for at least 2,600 years, NASA reported. A Chinese account from 687 BC described the shower as having “stars that fell [like] rain.”

The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute reports that Comet Thatcher was first discovered in 1861, and revolves around the Sun every 415 years.

Flakes of comet dust, most no bigger than grains of sand, strike Earth's atmosphere traveling 110,000 mph and disintegrate as fast streaks of light, NASA reported. A typical Lyrid shower produces 10 to 20 meteors per hour over the northern hemisphere, not an intense display.

Occasionally, however, Earth passes through a dense region of the comet's tail and rates increase five- to ten-fold, NASA noted. In April 1803 there was a particularly dramatic appearance with a rate of about 700 meteors per hour. In 1982, observers counted 90 Lyrids per hour. Because Thatcher's tail has never been mapped in detail, the outbursts are unpredictable and could happen again at any time.

This year the Lyrids are predicted to reach a peak of about 20 meteors per hour on Wednesday, the institute reported.

NASA said Comet Thatcher spends most of its time well away from the planets, and is nearly immune to significant gravitational perturbations, which may be why the debris stream has remained stable and the Lyrid shower has been observed for so many centuries.



Last year about this time I wrote a column that ended with the offer to provide my special tomato growing techniques to anyone interested. I had many requests for the information and have decided to dedicate this week’s column to that information.

I have read countless articles and watched numerous television segments about tomato growing, and after years of personally growing and experimenting with tomatoes I have finally come to the conclusion that these articles and segments are mistaken. Too many times I've heard that tomato plants need lots of attention and care to produce great results. I think that this view leads to pampered, spoiled, finicky plants that you waste a lot of time on and wind up with a poor outcome for all your hard work.

If you truly want the best tomatoes, you want your tomatoes to be balanced on a line just between happy and miserable. Why? Tomatoes are technically classified as a “tender perennial.” This means that deep in the tomato’s genetic code it believes that it is going to live a long life, the life of a perennial plant, but being tender it also knows that one frost can end its chance to pass on its genes to another generation.

A happy tomato plant doesn't feel the need to reproduce in order to save the species. After all, it is being well taken care of and can anticipate a long life, so as a consequence it won’t produce a lot of fruit. A tomato plant that's miserable quickly puts out lots of fruit so it can die knowing that it has passed on its lineage. By keeping the tomatoes teetering between happy and miserable, you'll have a strong plant that produces lots of fruit over a long period of time.

You can break the habit of working for your tomatoes and make your tomatoes work for you. The method I use takes a lot of work in the beginning, but then very little work is needed over the remainder of the growing season and it makes for many easy years to come. I have spent many years testing various methods, and have used this method for the last several years with magnificent results.

The preparation

In my garden, I started by digging a hole, 6 feet by 4 feet by 3 feet deep. Then I refilled the hole with alternating layers of steer manure, garden soil, chicken manure, compost and fertilizer. For the fertilizer layer I used a mixture of kelp meal, bat guano, blood meal and green sand.

I continued filling the hole layer by layer until it was completely refilled. Then I built a raised bed the same length and width of the hole using 6 inch by 2 inch redwood boards and set it in place around the hole. I recommend redwood because it’s pest resistant and durable. This bed will last for years with almost no maintenance. Once the raised bed is set, continue filling it with the same layering method mentioned above.

A lot of people make the mistake of just working the fertilizer into the first 3 to 5 inches of soil. The result is that the tomato has no motivation to grow downward in search of more water or nutrients, because all the good stuff is right there near the surface. As you fill in the bed use less and less fertilizer in the higher levels. Remember, the more you make the tomatoes work, the more you can ignore them.

For those of you who are already wondering about crop rotation, I build one of these beds per year so that every year the tomatoes will be in a brand new bed and the old bed is dedicated to a different crop. Last year’s tomato bed is this year’s artichoke bed.

The next thing you want to do in preparing your bed is to lay down a soaker hose with the hose going down the middle of each row and along the outside edge. I don't like drip irrigation for this because of clogging; you'll understand why soon.

Now I lay down red plastic sheet mulch, which you can find in most garden stores or on the Internet. Once it's laid down covering the bed, I secure it down with garden staples. These also can be purchased at the garden store; however I prefer to make mine myself out of wire clothes hangers that the dry cleaners put my shirts on. That allows me to make them extra long (due to my soil being very loose and fluffy the extra length holds better). I use lots of staples – I want that mulch secure! Now I cut six “Xs” in the mulch, one for each tomato plant, evenly spaced about a foot from the edge of the box, in two rows of three about 18” apart. Now I'm ready to plant the tomato plants.


So let's talk about the tomato plants themselves. I only use the heirloom seeds of indeterminate plants. For those who don't know, indeterminate tomato plants continue to grow longer throughout the season, producing smaller amounts of tomatoes over a longer period of time. On the other side of that coin, determinate tomatoes produce a large amount of tomatoes over a shorter time. If you want to put up canned tomatoes you would want to choose a determinate type so you can have a whole bunch at once, but if your goal is fresh tomatoes coming regularly for quite a while then you want to go with an indeterminate variety.

I plant one tomato plant in each X that was cut into the plastic mulch, and then I surround it with a red water-filled plant insulator. There are several types on the market, and when they start paying me for my endorsement I'll give you more specific names. The insulator keeps the tomatoes warm in the cool nights and protects them from sunburn during the day until they are strong enough to take care of themselves. I leave them on the plants the entire season because the tomatoes can always use the extra heat, and I could hurt the plant trying to remove them.

Some people may ask, “Why should the insulators and mulch be red?” Studies have shown that tomatoes can produce 20 percent more fruit if there is red light reflecting up from the ground, and with the improved results I've personally witnessed using the colored insulators and mulch I'm a firm believer in the use of red with tomatoes.

Now the next part of the job is building the tomato supports. Some studies have shown that tomato plants produce more fruit if they are allowed to sprawl across the ground. While this may be true this also makes the fruit more vulnerable to slugs, and I'm sorry to say I don't want to share my tomatoes with them.

Now, the insulators will give the plants the support they need until they're about 2 feet tall so that's where my supports start, at 2 feet off the ground. I use 10-foot long stakes made of steel rebar, painted red (yes, more red) with an anti-rust spray paint primer.

Rebar is very inexpensive and is available at your garden store or hardware store. My rebar tomato cages are 10 feet tall with a welded rebar latticing halfway up and more rebar latticing at the top. Yes, my tomatoes will reach the top and will even make it back down to the ground before the end of the season. You can choose a different support system but keep in mind that by the end of the season my tomatoes are over twenty feet long when stretched out.

Just a little quick fact about that amazing rebar, the metal rods you see being part of bridges, driveways, and concrete structures: Rebar is made out of the melted firearms used in crimes, confiscated in raids and gun surrender programs.

Now that the plants are in place and all their supports are in position, give your tomatoes a good, heavy watering. Pour some water with fertilizer (whether it's chemical or organic is up to you) through the X in the plastic mulch, but also start up your soaker hose irrigation and give it a ridiculously heavy watering. Let it water all day long so you get water down to the bottom of the pit you dug.

Keep in mind that not only are you trying to water the tomato plants but you are re-hydrating the dry absorbent materials in the soil. This initial heavy watering sets up the condition of not having to water much for the rest of the summer. The roots of the plants will chase the water table as the season goes on.

Your tomatoes are now planted in a deep, rich, loose soil, covered with red plastic mulch that will not only increase fruit yield but keep moisture from evaporating, and supported by red insulators and tomato cages that will hold up the tomatoes throughout the season. Your work is essentially over and now you can relax and let the tomatoes do their work. All you have to do is occasionally shove branches back into the cages as they try to escape and offer a little maintenance.


Suckers are the little branches that form at the point where the leaf attaches to the plant. If you leave them there you will get more tomatoes, but they will be smaller in size; if you “pinch” them or cut them off, you will get fewer tomatoes but of larger size. I typically leave them alone on four of my plants and pinch them on the other two. If you planted determinate type tomatoes don’t pinch the suckers, they need them.

Compost tea or chemical fertilizers should be your best friends. I use compost tea and spray it on my tomato plants every couple of weeks. Compost tea and manure tea are made by adding several cups of compost and/or manure to a five gallon bucket of water. You then let it sit for a couple of days to “mature” (stirring occasionally) and then filter it through a mesh filter, cheesecloth or gauze. This allows nutrients to infuse the water and beneficial microbes to grow. Then pour the tea into a spray bottle and spray the leaves of the tomato plants. This is called foliar feeding, and is a great way to give an extra boost of energy to your plants.

Avoid foliar feeding during the sunny parts of the day because it can cause the leaves of the plants to get burned. Think of every droplet of water being a tiny magnifying glass focusing sunlight onto the leaf surface, or you can compare it to you being wet in the hot sun and getting burned easily. Early morning is the best time for this kind of treatment. Foliar feeding is far under-used in gardens. I believe so strongly in foliar feeding that I have a dedicated three gallon sprayer just for the tea.

My garden is organic; not by voluntary choice, but more of necessity. A while back I had a problem with slugs and laid down a common commercial poison for them, and ended up poisoning my wife's cat. Now I'm organic and pick the slugs off myself. If you don't have a cat or you hate your neighbor's cat, then poison away. I won't push my way of gardening on others!

How many times should you water your tomatoes? I hear people say, “Once or twice a day,” or “four times a week.” I love to watch people's faces when I tell them that I only water my tomatoes once or maybe twice a month, four times a year at most! I keep track of these things and I only watered four times last year, and once was just because I was leaving town for several days and I wanted to be safe.

Watering your tomatoes should only be done to keep the plants alive, not happy. Tomato plants naturally look wilted during the heat of the day. Let your plant whine about the heat all it wants; later in the evening when the sun is low, THEN check to see if the tomato is still drooping. If it is, then you will know that it does actually need watering. I prefer to check my tomatoes in the morning after they’ve rested during the night.

Too many people baby their tomato plants and water them whenever it's hot, and what they are doing is training the plant to have shallow roots and produce tomatoes that have less flavor and are fewer in quantity. Basically, you are raising a spoiled brat. By watering less, the tomato plant is forced to drive its roots downward chasing the water table, searching for water. Remember the point is to make the plant do the work. STOP RAISING SPOILED TOMATOES!

One day in the garden my wife told me that the tomato plants looked like they need watering. I told her “Don't believe a word that they're saying. As a matter of fact I'll help you understand – this plant’s name is Britney, this one's name is Paris, and this spoiled brat’s name is Lindsay; and isn't that nice, they're all in cages, so don't listen to anything they tell you! They are spoiled brats just wanting the easy life and I’m making them work for a living.”

We got a good laugh out of it and though they didn’t get water for weeks, they were all just fine. OK, yeah, I might have some pent up issues to deal with. The point is, you’ll see your plants whining and wilting when it’s hot out, but be strong and show ‘em that tough love, and make them work through the soil for their water.

Keep in mind that you NEVER want to water your tomatoes while the fruit is ripening. The tomato plant pushes that water into the tomato fruit causing it to crack, and it waters down the flavor of the tomato. If you have fruit that is ripening and you must water, harvest the tomatoes first, even if they need to ripen on the countertop a couple of days, you’ll have more flavorful fruit and be happier in the long run.

Using this planting and growing method the roots of my tomato plants have grown so strong and so deep that I couldn’t pull the plants out of the ground. I had to actually dig them out, and even then there were pencil sized roots over a foot down that had to be left in the ground.

In summary

Boy, that was a lot of information, wasn’t it? Let’s break it down.

For this method to work you have to have good, fertile, fluffy soil, so dig deep and use a raised bed. Layer with all different soils, composts and fertilizers, with less fertilizer near the surface. You must have an initial very heavy watering to permeate the soil to give the roots of the plants somewhere to chase down to. Use the red plastic mulch to help prevent evaporation, and use the red water insulators to protect the plants in their young tender stages.

Provide the plants with large sturdy cages to climb to keep the fruit off the ground. Spray with compost tea a couple of times a month. Only water when the plants are drooping in the cool parts of the day. Don’t listen to the whining! Keep them almost happy, but almost miserable, and you will have lots of large flavorful tomatoes all season long.

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.

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