Archive for the ‘Vegetable Gardening’ Category

Puttering In The Potager -Week 17,

(Week 17 is  April 26th to May 2nd)

It is time to boogie! On April 19th my peas, beets, spinach, radish, and lettuce seeds have germinated and have all shown themselves in the garden. Better than that, my soil temperature has reached 61° which means I can now plant more of what we call the cool loving plants in the cabbage family as well as one of my favorites – Swiss chard.

While I will still be planting succession seeds for radish, beets, carrots, spinach every three weeks or so most of my plants for the spring season will be purchased as seedlings at the garden center. So in the next week I will be planting cabbage, kohlrabi, Swiss chard, and some herbs.

Hardening Off Seedlings

So now I have two jobs. I need to harden off the seedlings I have purchased by keeping them outside during the day but bringing them inside at night if there is a threat of frost. This exposes them to wind and to fluctuating temperatures before they are stuck into the soil.

At the same time I am setting up a number of walls of water in which I plan to house some of my new seedlings; but not all of them. I have four cabbage seedlings. I will plant only two in walls of water. That way I will have two heads of cabbage maturing two or three weeks before the unprotected heads of cabbage mature. Pretty sneaky, huh?

Tips When Buying Seedlings

If you buy transplants from the garden center, choose seedlings with perky, rich green foliage and thick, sturdy stems.  Avoid plants like tomatoes that already have flowers, as they are likely to be suffering stress.  Make sure there are no woody patches on the main stem that may indicate that seedlings were over-watered or over-fertilized in the greenhouse.

Planting Vegetable Seedlings

Planting a vegetable seedling same as for annual flower

Seedlings should be at least four weeks old and have two to four leaves and a stem half as thick as a pencil.  Plant them about two to three weeks before the expected last frost date for your area. You can plant those same seedlings p to three weeks past th last frost. Mix slow-acting granular fertilizer into the soil when you prepare the planting area. Dig holes in the planting bed about 12 inches apart, depending on the crop.

While these seedlings can handle cool weather, it is best to protect them from a surprise late frost.  Be prepared to cover the tender plants temporarily with white polyspun garden fleece or newspaper cloches.  Better yet as I am doing, plant some of them in Walls O Water to be absolutely protected from unexpected frosts; especially hard frosts.

Soaking Seeds

When I start seeds for succession planting, — veggies such as beets, carrots, spinach, lettuce, and radishes — with Nancy’s close instruction and supervision I soak the seeds I intend to plant ahead of time. As you can see in the photo we wrap up the seeds in a folded paper towel that has been soaked in warm, strong tea. The seeds in the photo have been soaking for only two days and as you can see the radish seeds have already sprouted. Today they go in the ground. Three weeks from now I will do the same thing.

Nature Report for Week 17

The feisty little house wrens return; put a wren house near your garden and thousands of pest insects will disappear during the  season.  Baltimore orioles return; they love oranges.


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Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles -Week 16 of 2010

The number of tomatoes produced on a single tomato plant in a season is tough to predict. The numbers vary according variety and good or bad weather can have a big impact. Indeterminate plants continue producing tomatoes throughout the season while determinates set their fruit within a few weeks and which  ripens within about a 4 to 5 week period. Therefore indeterminate plants tend to produce more tomatoes than determinites.

You get a variation as a function of which variety you have planted and you get all kinds of changes as a function of the weather. At the same time we can make a general guess so we can reasonably plan on how many plants we want to go into our garden this year.

A determinate tomato, you remember, is the one that grows to only three or 4 feet tall and it produces its entire crop over a period of four or five weeks. You can estimate that you’re going to get something between 20 and 40 tomatoes over the season from one of these plants.

A on the other hand the indeterminate tomatoes are the ones that can grow up to seven or 8 feet tall and will produce continually from mid July to the first frost. These plants, if everything goes well, can produce 80 to 100 fruits during the season; that’s a lot of tomato salads.

So while it is imprecise to estimate exact numbers, if you plan two or three plants per adult and one plant for each child you will likely have sufficient fresh tomatoes for the entire season. That number goes off the wall if you intend to process canned tomatoes or make tomato sauce that is also put up.

So far I have been talking about people who would be considered to be fairly sane. There are among us however, including myself, tomato gardeners who have no control whatsoever. There are only two of us in this household and last year we had more than 20 tomato plants; some would think that is a little crazy and it probably is.

Here is my rationale. I know that there are certain varieties of tomato that are going to grow extremely well in my area. And on the other hand there are varieties which do very well on the East Coast or on the West Coast but not so well here in the Midwest. So I figure the only way to discover those best varieties is to plant each year 5 to 10 varieties that I have never grown before.

Obviously we have lots of tomatoes to share with friends and neighbors and the food kitchens. You will have to figure out for yourself whether you want to be sane or crazy.

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Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles — week 16 of 2010

Four weeks ago I planted seeds indoors for the varieties July 4th and Legend and now they are large enough to be transplanted from the seed starting tray to individual foam cups. I will leave these seedlings in the cups until they are ready to be placed outside into the garden in Walls O Water in about three weeks. In the meantime I put the seedlings out on our front porch whenever it is warm enough so that the seedlings will be for really hardened off when they go into the ground.

As you can see I am also using some fleece to protect the ceilings during the day if it gets chilly and windy. Yesterday it got cold enough to force me to put my ceilings back down cellar under the fluorescent lights. It may seem like a lot of trouble but I am confident I will have fresh tomatoes by the Fourth of July.

It sure doesn’t hurt even though the temperatures are still cool to have the bright faces of the spring daffodils popping up around the yard.

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Puttering In The Potager – Week 16 of 2010

(Week 16 comes between April 19th and 25th)

Radishes First Up In 2010!

Very few vegetable gardeners make effective use of vertical growing techniques, with the possible exception of the ubiquitous tomato. Vertical gardening is not really a secret, but the barrier is the reality of rigging a trellis, a tepee or some kind of poles that do not fall over when the plants are mature and the windy day happens.

Why Grow Vertically?

Produce More Food In Same Space — The most important reason for using vertical space in the vegetable garden is to save horizontal space – space that can be used for growing additional vegetables without having to make the garden any bigger. Most folks don’t realize that bush beans weren’t developed because they taste better but simply because commercial farmers couldn’t find a machine to harvest pole beans. Pole beans taste as good, freeze as well, and produce longer than do bush beans. The disadvantage of growing pole beans is finding an easy way to set up some kind of device on which they can grow. Pole beans will produce twice as much as bush beans in the same space.

Tomatoes, as everyone knows, if left to sprawl will take up to 10 times as much space as those that are trained to grow vertically. The same is true for winter squash, melons, and cucumbers. Growing these crops vertically makes them eligible for even a modest vegetable patch.

Veggies Grown Vertically Are Healthier

Vegetables that are grown off the ground are cleaner and avoid problems like soil rot and many crawling insects such as slugs and sow bugs. The leaves of vertical plants have more area exposed to the sun, and the improved air circulation around a vertical crop reduces the changes of disdease. Vertical crops tend to dry off faster after a rain, and this further reduces disease problems.

What Will Grow Vertical?

Depending on the design of your trellis system, you can grow the following vegetables vertically:

Garden or Snap Peas, 
Pole Lima, Snap or Roma Beans,
Some Melons, Acorn squash, and 
Butternut squash

If you click on any of the vegetables in the above list, you will go to the section in Yardener.com discussing the details for growing that vegetable vertically.

Soil Temperature Report

The soil temperature this morning was 59 degrees, almost ready for cool weather brassicas like cabbage.

What’s Happening In Nature In Zone Five

The Forsythia is in bloom which means this is a good time to prune your roses. The leaves on the sugar maple tree should be coming out in the next week or two. For those of us lucky to live near a swamp the Jack in the Pulpit will be in bloom. The hostas should be about 1 inch tall and therefore it is time to start attacking the slugs. The real ladybugs are returning from Mexico and California (aphids beware). You’ll see the honeybees starting to forage and again in the swamp we will hear the frogs peeping their heads off. This is the time to put the hummingbird feeder outside.

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Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles – Week 15 of 2010

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes are a must-grow in my garden. They are the eat-them-with-abandon-and-without-guilt candy of the garden. They have been a favorite in my house for almost 20 years.  These coveted Sun Gold tomatoes were an amazing breakthrough by a Japanese breeder in the early 1990s. Just about that time I started growing Sungolds from seed sold by Thompson and Morgan. My late husband Hank would take a bag of Sungolds to work almost every day to serve as snacks for him and his colleagues. We grew them beside a fence that separated our house from the next-door neighbor. The plants grew so tall that our neighbor enjoyed as many Sungolds as we did.

There still isn’t a variety that comes close to its flavor, beauty and long-lasting production. This exquisite gem ripens from green to dark gold, but isn’t fully mature until it becomes pale apricot-orange. Watch carefully for the subtle color change, then savor the intensified taste: uniquely rich and sugary, with a hint of tropical fruitiness. Round 1” tomatoes attached to draping, symmetrical limb-like trusses, are borne on indeterminate vines growing to about 3’. A bit slow at first, it yields reliably non-stop until the first frost. And it has good disease tolerance (resistant to verticilium and fusarium wilts, tobacco mosaic virus and nematodes). It is everything you could ever ask from a little cherry tomato.

Sungold Tomatoes are started easily from seed six to eight weeks prior to the last frost date in your area. Start them in sterile seed starting soil mixture with a bit of bottom heat to aid germination. Keep them in a warm, brightly lit, well-ventilated area.  (Tomato seedlings need bright, strong light~regular windowsills are not bright enough and the plants will get leggy and flop over as they stretch for the light.) Fertilize lightly and increase the pot size as needed. After your last frost date, harden off the seedlings by gradually placing them outside for incrementally longer periods of time over the course of a week to ten days. Prepare fertile tomato beds in full sunlight with lots of compost and/or well-rotted manure. Transplant the seedlings into the prepared bed, burying them one leaf deeper than initially grown. Feed them occasionally as needed and keep them well-watered by soaking the soil and not the leaves~this helps to keep disease off of their leaf surfaces.


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Puttering In The Potager – Week 15 of 2010

Well my soil temperature has reached 50° which is ideal for planting what I call the cold weather crops which are listed below. I planted seed in my garden for all the crops except for Swiss chard for which I will buy seedlings and lettuce which we already have in seedling form. After planting the seeds I spread a thin layer of compost on top just to get things cooking. If you click on each plant name below you will get a complete file on growing that plant in yardener.com.


I planted a 16 inch line of beet seeds which will give me about 10 beets. In two more weeks I will plant another 16 inch line so we will have a steady supply of beats over time I will probably plan beats every three weeks until early September


As with the beets I will be planting a succession of radishes about every two weeks

Snap peas

We have three 7 foot tall iron towers that are used for growing such vegetables as pole beans, cucumbers, and lima beans. None of those crops will be planted much before the second week in June or about six weeks from now therefore I have planted snap peas to grow on each of these three powers and will expect them to be pretty much harvested by the time the warm loving plants are growing on those same towers.


Nancy bought a container of both green and red leaf lettuce at the garden center and she has transplanted about a third of those lettuce plants into what she calls her lettuce bowl container. Lettuce is another crop where we will be planting successions probably once a month until October.

Swiss chard

seedlings for Swiss chard will be in the garden centers in a couple of weeks. In the meantime there are two varieties of Swiss chard that are not commonly found in garden centers that we will be starting from seed indoors.


I planted three16 inch lines of spinach and well do that again in three weeks.


One of the perennial problems of vegetable gardeners is finding a suitable label for the plants in the garden. I have used the seed packets on a stick, tongue depressers, but have settled on those old-fashioned rectangular metal strips on wires. I have a label maker that produces a plastic coated label which can stand up to any kind of weather and does not fade.

All of the vegetables I have planted so far can handle a frost without any trouble. Still when I plant the Swiss chard I will cover them with a Wall o Water so that they will grow a bit more quickly than if left unprotected.

What Is Happening In Nature

We should start seeing some butterflies and if you keep a sharp lookout you might spot a garter snake sneaking around in the garden. For those of you who have a Purple Martin apartment house your guests should be arriving in the next week or so. While it is probably still too early for most folks to start mowing the grass, if you want to give your lawn a really good start this year; this would be a good time to spread  a combination of compost and peat moss thinly over the lawn.

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Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles – Week 14 of 2010

This year we have decided to limit the number of plants that we start from seed and for the most part buy seedlings from our local garden center. However I need to start two varieties of tomato from seed this year because I’m going to really work on having ripe tomatoes before the 4th of July.

So I’m starting from seed the variety “Fourth of July” and the variety “Legend”. The beginning process I use is a bit unorthodox, but it works. I use either paper towels or high-quality paper napkins and soak them in warm tea overnight. I then place six or eight seeds on a tea soaked paper towel, fold it up and place the packet in a plastic bag and set it on top of the refrigerator where it is warm. While normally tomato seeds will take from 7 to 12 days to germinate, my system produces germinated seeds in 2 to 3 days.

I then very carefully plant the sprouted seed in what’s called an APC {see photo}. This is a self watering seed starting device put out by Gardeners Supply Company {www.gardeners.com} or Lee Valley Tools {   }. By sprouting the seed ahead of time I don’t have to worry about wasting seeds. I use a soil less mixture to plant the seeds, usually a combination of Canadian spaghnum peat moss and vermiculite. For examples of seed starting devices go to seed systems.


I place the planted APC under florescent lights that have been connected to a eider that  keeps them lighted for 16 hours each day. The bulbs are placed about 1 inch above the seedlings. As the seedlings mature I keep raising the lights to stay about 1 inch above the plants.


When my seedlings get to be about 2 to 3 inches tall with nice thick stalks I will transplant them from the APC to individual large foam coffee cups that I have saved over the year. I slice holes in the bottom of each container so I know it will drain very well. Just as with the APC I keep my transplanted seedlings under fluorescent lights for the next three or four weeks.

I will leave the details for placing my tomatoes outside for a later post.

For detailed guidelines for starting any vegetable from seed go to www.yardener

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