It’s Time to Sow Warm Season Seeds

It’s time to sow seeds indoors of warm season vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and okra. It’s also time to sow warm season flowering annuals like impatiens, marigolds, petunias, salvia, and zinnias. Then you will have young plants to set out in mid to late May. Be sure to use clean containers and seed starting mix. – ‘Plant Doctor’ Bob

Tomato Growing Part 2

As your tomatoes grow, you may notice that there are some insects that have taken a liking to your plants.

Some common insects are:

Horn Worms – large green caterpillars with a horn on one end.  They eat holes in the leaves of your plants. Snip them off at first sight and dispose of them!

Cabbage Loopers – smaller green caterpillars that eat all of the tomato leaf but leave the veins, skeletonizing them. Again, remove them at first sight and dispose of them!  They can do damage very quickly.

Flea Beetles  – tiny dark beetles that hop quickly when disturbed.  They will create pits in the leaves and eventually the tomatoes as well.  Must be treated quickly!

Potato Beetles – larger striped insects that also love to munch on the leaves.  Must be treated quickly!

Aphids – tiny green or dark insects that eat in colonies, sucking the sap right out of the plant and exuding a sugary substance that can lead to a black sooty mold that will grow on the stems.  Aphids left to multiply are very damaging to the plant, especially new growth.

When I have these pests, I use an organic product which is Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap.  Saturate the leaves and stems, (but not during the height of a sunny day for risk of sun scald), and repeat every 7 to 10 days as needed.  This soap is very safe and can be used even up to the day of harvest.

Another common problem with tomatoes is yellowing leaves.

This can be caused by under-watering to the point of wilt.  If this happens too often, it will lead to blossom-end-rot which is a dark blemish on the bottom of forming tomatoes.  Over-watering can also lead to yellowing leaves.  Too much water can actually begin rotting the tomato’s roots.  Soak the plants thoroughly and then keep check on them frequently to soak again when the soil begins to become dry.  Sometimes a larger plant will shade the leaves at the bottom, causing them to become yellow due to sun blockage. Nothing to worry about there.

If you suspect a lack of nitrogen, (which I am seeing in my hanging basket tomatoes), give them a dose of vegetable fertilizer.  Be sure to follow the directions on the package.  Over fertilizing will burn the plant and lead to decline.  In reality, vegetables really don’t need to be fertilized unless there are definite signs of deficiency.

Alright, so now you have it.  I have discussed terminology, soil preparation, and planting in Part 1 and now we have discussed possible problems and care.  I hope you are well on your way to healthy plants and an abundance of tomatoes to harvest.  If you have questions or comments about your tomatoes, be sure to share.

We will delve into other great additions to the vegetable garden soon.  One cannot live on tomatoes alone.

Tomato Growing Part 1

Well, we have reached May, with May temperatures – high 60’s to mid 70’s during the day and mostly 50’s at night. 

There are now soooo many things to write about with regard to spring gardening.  Where to start…where to start?  I am going to start with tomatoes.  So many people have been picking up their plants and this may help answer some questions and get things off to a good start.

There are a couple of terms floating around out there: indeterminate, determinate, and heirloom.

Indeterminate varieties set tomatoes over several months, while determinate varieties product their fruits heavily over a very short period of time.  Heirloom varieties are tomatoes that have not been hybridized and have been cultivated for at least 50 years or more.  A good example of an heirloom variety is the Brandywine tomato, an Amish tomato that dates back to 1885.

Generally there are different types of tomatoes: bush tomatoes, cherry & grape tomatoes, plum tomatoes, vining tomatoes, and even intermediate bush/vining.

Where to plant:  In a full sun area, and in a spot where you haven’t grown tomatoes in the previous two years.  This type of crop rotation prevents plants from falling prey to any build up of tomato diseases in the soil.  Be sure to give your plants plenty of space to grow.  They may be small when you bring them home but boy do they get big pretty quickly.  It is best to follow the spacing instructions listed on the plant tag.

Plant your tomatoes by digging a hole about two times bigger than the root ball and about 12″ deep.This loosens the soil and allows for quicker root development.  With the soil, mix in well-rotted compost, manure, or some type of higher phosphorous fertilizer, (Espoma’s Triple Phosphate is a great choice).  Water your plants thoroughly but from that point further, it is best to water little and often, ensuring that the soil and roots never dry out.  ****Be careful to not get into the habit of flooding them when you water.  Do not begin to fertilize the tomatoes until flowers begin to form on the plants.  Use a tomato/vegetable fertilizer to be sure that they are getting the right formulation, (again, Espoma Tomato-Tone or Garden-Tone are two reliable choices).

If you are planting your tomatoes in containers, choose a pot that has drainage and is at least 14″ in diameter – larger is even better.  Follow the care instructions previously discussed but as for a potting mix, use soil that states that it is suitable for vegetable potting.

Tomato Growing Part 2 will be following, as I add my own garden additions.

Warm Season Vegetables

While I know that the spring vegetable planting season is quickly coming upon us, please keep in mind that there are some vegetables that need warm days, nights, and soil to thrive.  I wrote previously about great vegetable selections for cooler temperatures, Planting Cool Season Crops, but now the mind starts drifting to tomatoes and peppers – plus many more garden staples like cucumbers, zucchini, etc.

Small vegetable plants are available to buy right now.  The key to success though is to buy them now – if you just can not wait, but let them mature a bit in their pots, (or transplant them into a bit of a bigger pot).  Harden the plants off – which means gradually allowing them to become acclimated to cooler temperatures – by placing the pots in a sunny location outside during the day, and bringing them in at night when the temperatures dip below 55 degrees fahrenheit.

Vegetables actually suffer stress when they are first planted out into the garden.  It is best to wait for about 2 weeks yet to put them into the ground, (today is April 26th).  I have found in past years that even though I planted some veggies early in the season, the ones that were planted later quickly caught up to my original ones anyway.

If you have questions about success in your vegetable gardening endeavors, or have a small space in which to grow vegetables, come to Waterloo Gardens this Saturday, April 28th in Exton at 1 PM or Sunday, April 29th in Devon at 1 PM to attend an informative talk being given by our very knowledgable Bob Keiter.  He will walk you through the ins-and-outs for success.  Questions are definitely welcome.

As we progress through the season, I will let you know the methods that I will use when I plant, and tell you about my experience with my own garden.

Planting Cool Season Crops

I decided to try something this year that I have always thought about in the past…planting some cool season crops.  Cool season crops are just that – vegetables that prefer the cool days of spring, (and fall for that matter), and are adapted to withstand frost.  I must mention though that small, newly planted selections can still use protection from hard frosts.

Because my garden is smaller, I only chose a few selections to try,(although I will provide a list of available veggies to choose from).  I also decided to try two methods.  I planted a few seeds and plants into containers and a few directly into my garden bed.

Containers ready to go

I decided to try cauliflower, broccoli, baby carrots, radishes, and lettuces. (I plan to add spinach as soon as it is available).  For my cauliflower, broccoli, and some of the lettuce I used starter plants and my radishes, carrots, and other lettuces were planted by seed.

I planted my containers first – making sure that they were at least 12″ in-depth.  The broccoli and cauliflower plants are spindly at the bottom so I had to remove the bottom two leaves and plant them deeply into the soil.  The carrot and radish seeds were sown in a circle with two seeds in the middle, (10 plants per container).

Two leaves removed - ready to plant

In my garden, I just planted straight rows, following the spacing guidelines for the plants, and planting depth guidelines for the seeds.  In both my containers and my bed, I made sure to mark the vegetables with identification tags.

I am experimenting with lettuce hanging baskets this year…just what it sounds like.  I bought two 4.5″ pots of lettuce mixtures and planted them into empty hanging basket containers…I will keep you posted as to my success.

So, my early garden is planted, (although my little “cool season corner” does not look like much at this point), and now I will monitor it and report on the success of my endeavors!

Cool Season Veggies:

  • Artichoke
  • beets
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • chard
  • garlic
  • kohlrabi
  • lettuce
  • collard & mustard greens
  • onions
  • peas
  • potatoes
  • radish
  • spinach
  • turnips

Early Spring Vegetable Gardening

Well, I can finally check off “Clean up Veggie Garden” from my to-do list.  After the unbelievable temperatures the past two days, I was committed to get my vegetable & herb garden into shape.

A few things about my veggie garden…first and foremost…it is not pretty, therefore, it is in a hidden spot in my yard.  It is only about 6 to 8 feet wide and about 16 or so feet long.  I have a section for actual planting into the ground and ample space to plant into containers.  My garden qualifies for what is referred to as “Small Plot Vegetable Gardening”.

If you are contemplating a veggie/herb garden, it MUST be in a site that receives at least 6 hours of sun each day.  Shady spots only produce weak plants that just don’t produce.

Last year I put down a weed barrier – which quite frankly was as simple as cut-open trash bags secured into the bed with clips and some mulch on top to hold it down.  To get to the soil and to add composted manure, I had to remove the bags.  I worked the manure into the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil and then raked out the surface weeds and root clumps with my garden rake.

My garden is surrounded by fencing that consists only of metal green wire fencing secured to metal garden stakes.  (Living in Wilmington, DE, I do not have to battle deer – just bunnies and my dogs who like to carouse and trample everything that is important to my gardening ventures.)  This year I adjusted the fencing to allow space to walk around the perimeter of the garden.  Last year I did not even think about that.  Once the plants matured, it was a total pain trying to make my way around the garden to harvest and to water.  A suggestion to keep in mind so that you don’t have to find out the hard way – like I did.

If you are ready to clean up your garden…and perhaps give cool-crop vegetable gardening a try (like me…see my next post), now is a great time.  Remember, sunny site, add manure, and work the soil down to about 6 to 8 inches in depth.  Do not do this right after it has rained though.  Working with wet soil tends to make it hard and clumpy  – requiring the same tilling process all over again when it dries…plus, walking on wet soil  creates areas of compaction which is too dense for planting.