Tomatoes are the most popular homegrown fruit in America. Their high yield and easy maintenance have made them a favorite crop worldwide.
Tomatoes have a special feature left over from their wild origins as a perennial South American vine. They can form adventitious roots along their stem. Unlike most other plants, it does not damage tomatoes to have their stems placed underground. In fact, it helps create more roots, which provide more nutrients and better support. Many gardeners use this info when planting tomatoes in spring. Tomato plants grown in flats are typically long and leggy. Standard planting (only the rootball in the soil) leaves them floppy and scraggily looking. Instead pinch off any lower leaves and dig a much deeper hole. Put the rootball and stem down into the hole up until the point where there is bushy growth.
The summer solstice is nearly upon us, but for most of the Northern Hemisphere, summer has already arrived in our gardens. However, for many of us, cool weather, or spring crops have not yet matured, and won't for another month or more.
This presents a few problems. For one, that space is probably needed for summer crops, especially when you're growing salad greens or brassicas like broccoli, cauliflower, or cabbage that takes up a ton of space before it matures. Secondly, whether lettuce wilts as the temperatures get into the 90s, summer storms pound the wide leaves tearing them to shreds, or a signal is sent to the plants to rush to seed, weather isn't always conducive to maturing cole crops.
And From the Other Side of the Continent!
At the end of 2007, I decided to build a new square foot gardening area that would allow me to grow more vegetables. Previously, I had been gardening in 2 - 2'x8' beds in my front yard used primarily for summer vegetables. But I wanted more space and wanted to concentrate my efforts on growing vegetables year 'round - something that by living in USDA Zone 8B, I should be able to do.
Along the way during that time, I met Sinfonian (Rich) online who was in the Seattle WA area. He was also planning and constructing his new square foot vegetable gardens. What surprised us even more was that even though there are over 2500 miles in distance between our gardens (Rich is in the Pacific Northwest and I am on the Gulf Coast), we both were gardening in USDA Zone 8B. Hmmm???
Judy and Sinfonian, from ft2garden.com, on how they are both in the same zone, but with really different conditions.
Part One: Sinfonian Barleytone
Like my garden buddy Judy clear across the country, I too am in USDA zone 8b! Like Judy, I also am working hard to extend my season. Like Judy, I am using Square Foot Gardening to do it.
Unfortunately, that's where the similarities end. You see, USDA Zones are not the only measure of your climate or what your garden will grow. In fact, USDA zones only determine how low temperatures will go in any given year, on average. For Judy living on the Gulf Coast of Alabama and I on the shores of Puget Sound in Washington, it hardly ever gets below 20 degrees for either of us (though I counted twice we got below 20 here last year, but since they were fifty year lows, I guess it doesn't count). What your USDA zone is particularly good at, is to tell you what perennials will over-winter in your area. It is not particularly useful for annuals like most vegetables.
If you thought February was a busy month, March is that much more so. Whether it's clearing branches and leaves that may have fallen into your beds, or turning the compost pile that's been simmering slowly all winter long, there always seems to be a project for the garden. For me, it's been planting tons of seeds inside and growing them to transplant size under lights. I feel it's getting me into the gardening habit of daily tasks, but also satisfying my longing desire to garden. I hope you're feeling it too.
So, what if you don't have a compost pile from last year? You can start a hot compost pile like Mel mentions and have it done in 60 days or so. Just get a 3'x3'x3' pile going of a diverse mix of browns (shredded paper, straw, dryer lint, etc.) and greens (coffee grounds, fruit/vegetable scraps, flowers, etc.) all chopped very fine. The finer, the faster they decompose due to more sides for the critters to feed on. Look online for more examples of browns and greens. Add those in roughly equal amounts with enough water to dampen a sponge, and it should heat up to 140 degrees within a day or so. When it drops below 130, flip it and break up the clumps while adding more browns, greens and water. Do that weekly and you'll have decent compost in no time!
Spring is in the air, even if there's still snow on the ground. Either that, or you're just getting the gardening itch, possibly with spring months off for you. Seed retailers know this is a common occurrence in winter, so they send out catalogs galore right before New Years. Such pretty pictures and tantalizing descriptions. I know I was tempted to buy countless varieties. Like most, I came to my senses and chose only the varieties that grow best in my area, from companies that have test farms in my climate. That way I know they'll do well here.
As Mel stated, you can save money by buying seeds rather than seedlings, so much so that you can buy 50 seeds for the cost of a single seedling in some cases. Last year, I went the seed route on everything, except my tomatoes. I just wasn't comfortable growing tomatoes from seed my first year gardening. This year, I'm taking the plunge.
Everyone I know that's read Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening loves it. We all use it. However, contrary to what Mel would like, nobody I know follows it to the letter. I believe that is because there are 100 ways to grow a tomato, probably more. So everyone gardens ever so slightly different, yet everyone's tomatoes taste far better than store-bought anyway. That's the long way of saying I don't follow SFG to the letter (90% I'd guess), and I think you'll find neither does Patti the Garden Girl. That doesn't mean that Mel wasn't way ahead of his time, nor that his method isn't amazing. Reading the first half of his book will tell you that it is, and I agree.
We moved to a new house this year, so my gardening plans had to change. I had experience with container gardening in Florida (note to self: use an automatic watering system next time or the plants will die again). Here, I have a Backyard. In case you city types aren't familiar with these incredible spaces, a Backyard is an outdoor expanse of ground, all in one place, usually covered with a green substance called grass. It is not green-colored substrate like the running track at the gym. As soon as I saw my new Backyard, ideas started swirling in my head-swingsets, kiddie pools, fancy-schmancy multi-level decks.....
I'm a 36 year old commercial real estate lender in the Seattle area with two young boys and a stay-at-home wife. Growing up, my mother had two raised beds in our small back yard where she grew tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, among other things. But I was never into gardening. I have a ¼ acre lot that I hated to mow, let alone landscape and I can't even keep houseplants alive. So how did a black thumb turn into an avid gardener? My garden all started from a discussion with my older brother.
A year ago I had a 250 SF area of my yard that used to be a dog run. In the decade since we owned our home, we never really went back there and it became blighted with foot tall and deep weeds, a crab apple tree and morning glories galore! Talking it over with my brother, who had picked up the gardening bug and had three raised beds in his yard, he suggested I turn the area into a garden.The area had a perfect southern exposure and was already fenced in. At first I laughed at him, but the idea kind of grew on me.
Seeds are little marvels. If someone needs proof of miracles, have them plant a tiny carrot seed and then harvest a fat carrot six weeks later. Or sow a gritty morning glory seed and watch throughout the season as it rambles over a chain link fence producing a neon electric color display. Or let them plant a typical looking sunflower seed and then crane their neck to look at a plate-sized flower head over 10’ tall. The potential locked inside these tiny treasure chests is awe-inspiring and humbling. Mankind is dependent upon seeds for food, fuel, pharmaceuticals, and commerce. As we approach spring, gardeners in particular begin to buy seeds by the thousands. With preparation, skill, and a little luck those seeds will become millions of flowers and fruits later in the year.
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