The Backyard

The Backyard

Friday, April 8, 2016

I Want to Grow a Tomato Plant on My Patio

Yes… container growing is easy and you CAN grow that tomato plant on your deck.  There are a couple of key items you must know and do to get that plant to bear fruit.   Some vegetables require specific care such as potatoes, so for this post, we’ll focus on a tomato plant.  It’s really this easy:
  • Pick a spot on your deck or patio that gets 8 hours of sunshine a day.
  • Select a container that is at least 18 inches in diameter and 18 inches deep with holes in the bottom for drainage.
  • Use good soil – my mom has been having good luck with the Miracle-Gro brand soil – the fertilizer is mixed in with the soil.
  • Plant only one plant in that big pot.  The plant will fill the container in short order.
  • Put a cage or support in with the plant.  Tie it up as it grows, or let the tomato cage do its thing and keep the leaves and branches inside the cage.
  • Fertilize with an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion if you didn't use Miracle -Grow soil.
  •  Water, water, water.  This is really important as the summer heats up.  You’ll water once a day in the heat of the summer.  Check the pot every day by sticking your finger in the soil.  If it’s dry, give it about two quarts of water.
There are literally hundreds of varieties of tomatoes.  Many nurseries now carry tomato plants to grow specifically in a container.  Ask for the best variety for containers.  Early Girl” would be my choice, or “Sungold” cherry tomatoes for a container, but don’t be afraid to try others.  Burpee has a nice selection of container tomatoes and you can order them from the comfort of your chair.   Here’s the link to their page.

 Want to grow an heirloom:? Tomato Headquarters has suggestions here.  Heirlooms are harder to find unless you have a well-stocked nursery near you or can find plants via mail order, or grow your own from seed.   Treehugger also has a good article on heirlooms here.

My mother has been container growing for several years now, and for her, the key items were a big enough pot, don’t overfill with plants, good soil and water.  It’s so easy to think your plant looks so tiny in that big pot, so you add more plants or get a smaller pot.   Don’t do it!  That little plant will fill out the container fairly quickly.  The bigger the pot, the better.  And remember to check every day and water.  One day without water in summer sun will kill your plant.   Burpee has some other tips in this article such as putting the pot in a protected location away from winds.  Burpee also gives advice on pruning.  Follow these tips and you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your labor from mid-July or August until fall.  Happy planting.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Direct Seeding 101

In the gardening world, direct seeding refers to planting seeds directly in prepared soil outside.  This is the time of year when we can start direct seeding these early spring crops:
  • sugar peas
  • shell peas
  • Sugar peas popping up
  • snap peas
  • lettuces (all - romaine, leaf, and head)
  • carrots
  • red beets
  • kale
  • spinach
  • all other greens: Asian greens, mustard, collards, etc.
  • radishes
  • onions (plants or sets, no seeds)
  • kohlrabi
  • parsnips
  • turnips
  • swiss chard
There are others, but these are the most common.   Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower are best planted from already-grown seedlings from the nursery (or what you started yourself under lights) in a week or two.  Yes -- these seeds and plants are cold hardy and you can plant these right now (except broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage). The Mother of a Hubbard website has a great post of the cold temps these plants can endure.  It's pretty astounding how low the thermometer can go for these (i.e., 18 degrees for carrot tops).  I've moved snow to pick spinach already.  Snow tonight?  I'm not worried.   Ideally, most of these seeds would already be in the ground for most of central Pennsylvania as the traditional start date is St. Patrick's day if the ground is ready.  Not sure how to tell if your ground is ready?  Take a clump in your hand and ball it up, if it crumbles when you touch it lightly, its ready.  If it stays in a ball, its too wet.  If you can't ball it, you'll need to water as soon as you seed.   Here's a visual from Organic Life
     Ok, you got your seeds and your ground is ready (you dug it, removed most weeds, stones, and grass clumps, and added some amendments such as peat or compost.  Not sure?  Here's a prepping your soil article from Eartheasy).   Planting the seeds is the easy part -- just follow the instructions on the back of the seed packet making sure you plant according to seed depth and spacing between plants.  Lightly firm the soil over planted seeds.  Mark the row with some sort of marker (I just lay the empty seed packet at the end of the row.) Getting them to grow is the fun part.  Note that some seeds can take as long as two weeks to sprout.   My sugar peas are just now popping through and they were planted mid-March.   Carrots and spinach can sometimes be finicky.   Radishes and kale can't wait to sprout.  
      One really important part to getting the seeds to sprout is MOISTURE.  When you plant them, water them if it wasn't raining when you planted.  Yes, watching the weather and planting just before it rains is the absolute perfect time to plant.    Check the soil in a day or two by sticking your finger in the ground.  It should be damp just under the surface.  If not, water.  Use a setting that will not drown and flood the seeds out of the ground.  A sprinkling water can is ideal.  It should be a gently watering.   It's not unusual to water every other day -- every day if in a super-sunny, dry spot.  Seeds need water to sprout.  
     Not sure if its your vegetable or a weed?  Let it go until it gets a little bigger.  Or... google it!  Seriously.   Until I learned what the vegetable seedlings look like, I referred to a seed book to see if it was a seed or a weed.  Seeds by Sam Bittman (1989) was my bible when first learning.  I still refer to it at least once a year.  
    It's wise to fence your seeded area.  Rabbits, ground hogs, and deer love seedlings and will munch them off to the ground.  It's amazing how they'll find their way to your freshly planted garden.   With good amended soil, water, and no critters, you'll be eating salad in about 6 or 8 weeks.  Early spring seeds grow amazingly fast.  They hate the heat, so most spring crops will be finished by the time the heat of the summer rolls around.    Have fun.