Thursday, May 30, 2013

Growing Tomatoes


Tomatoes rank among the easiest and richest food.  Pot or tub grown patio and cherry tomatoes provide fresh salad making.  A half dozen plants in the garden will do for a small family.  Using plastic cover sheets, the bearing season can be extended 6-weeks in the open garden to early November.

BEST LOCATION - All day sun, good air circulation and soil drainage are a must; use a fast warming sandy loam soil if possible.  All soils are suitable when enriched with organic matter.  To help offset disease, plant in different part of the garden each year and destroy plants when finished.  Do not use these in compost or allow to remain on the ground to decay.  For pot use only fresh soil mix.

SPACING - Allow 18 to 36 inches between plants in the row, with rows from 3 to 5 feet apart.  If plants are to be trained to stakes, set stakes first; these must be firm in soil and stand 6 feet.  Gardeners with limited space can use tomato towers.  Least work is by allowing plants to bush or sprawl out at will.

PLANTING TIME - Planting can usually begin by mid-May, after the last frost.  If plants get too tall or leggy from early started seedlings, lay on side in a shallow trench and cover all but the top 3 or 4 inches with soil.  Roots form readily all along the stem.  Water with a starter solution such as “upstart” by Ortho.  Shade plants for a few days.  Plastic covers are not usually needed after June first.

SUMMER CARE - Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers which cause excessive foliage growth.  Tomatoes need some pruning anyway, whether staked or not.  Usually the first 2 or 3 branches from the base are retained, all others nipped off as they appear (except for determinate types).  In stake training, it may be best to keep only one stem; tie to stake at ten-in.  Intervals using 2-inch wide strips of cloth.  When first blossoms appear, fertilizers and mulches can be applied.  Tomato plant food is used at intervals to September 1st; mulches of black plastic can be laid, or 8 to 10 inches of clean straw to blanket walks.  Mulches help conserve and level off moisture supply and control weeds.  Under no circumstances cultivate no more than an inch deep as roots sprawl just below surface.  For larger, cleaner fruit, support your tomato plants.

CUTWORMS - At time of planting, place a collar around plant to fend off cutworms which feed at night (common on sandy soils).  Half a milk carton, pushed firmly into soil, works well;  don’t allow leaves to touch the ground outside, as worms climb.

WEED KILLERS - Such as used on lawns in the neighborhood; drift causes abnormal distorted foliage and stunting.

HORN WORMS - With warmer weather, green worms to 4 inches long feed  on leaves and fruit, one or two only per plant.  Pick off and destroy; if it is out of sight, shade bush and listen for ticking.  If by chance you find a worm covered with tiny cocoons (white), leave it; these are helpful parasites at work and your worm is dying!  Or use organic pesticide.

FRUIT WORMS - Large hole in fruit, many worms inside.  Pick fruit and burn, or bury.  Apply spray or dust with Sevin or Tomato vegetable dust by Ortho.

BLOSSOM END ROT - Black bottoms, enlarging.  Often on first fruit only; some varieties more susceptible.  Not a disease.  Thought to be caused by irregular moisture conditions, lack of lime.  Maintain even soil moisture.  
SUNBURN - Fruit top or shoulders yellowed or hardened.  Very light foliage cover needed, constant moisture.  Most notable on staked and rigidly pruned plants lacking sufficient foliage.  

BLOSSOM DROP - and no developing fruit:  night temperatures below 55°F, too much rain, prolonged humid conditions.

GROWTH - Indeterminate means that the blossoms and fruit develop progressively and the harvest lasts several months.  Determinate means that the blossoms and fruit develop on the vine at the same time.

BEEFMASTER VFNASt  80 days, fruit is tolerant of cracking
WHOPPER VFFNT  70 days, outstanding
SUPERSTEAK VFN  80 days, indeterminate, beefsteak type
BIG BOY VF  78 days, 12-16 oz. fruits, indeterminate, vigorous plant
BETTER BOY VFN  72 days, smooth, high yields, indeterminate
CHAMPION VFNT  10 oz. fruit, resistant, excellent, 62 days, 
CELEBRITY VFNTASt determinate, 72 days, large, glossy fruits
EARLY GIRL 65 days, indeterminate, earliest, good for slicing
PATIO VASt, 70 days, determinate, good for containers, 
3-4 oz. fruits
SWEET 100 VF  65 days, 1” cherry fruits
LEMON BOY VFNASt, indeterminate, 7 oz. fruits, lemon yellow
LA ROMA VF1 & 2N, 70 days, determinate, plum shaped fruits
RUTGERS VFASt, 7-9 oz. fruits, indeterminate
HEARTLAND 68 days; dwarf compact plants; good for limited spaces
SUPERSONIC 80 days; mid season; hearty yield, crack resistant
GERMAN JOHNSON 80 days; indeterminate, low acid, slicing

For a complete listing, see our 2011vegetable list.

***Letters preceding plant names indicate they are resistant to the following diseases: 
VF-Verticillium and Fusarium Wilt
N - Nematodes
T - Tobacco Mosaic
A - Alternaria Alternate
ST- Stemphylum

Days given indicate time from setting out plants to first fruit harvest.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Grow Your Own Sweet Potatoes


Sweet potatoes will produce your greatest gardening thrill ever!  They will be fresh, green and beautiful when the rest of your garden is brown and dry, and your harvest of big jumbo sized potatoes (2-3lbs) will be your most exciting garden experience ever! 

Expect your plants to appear wilted or possibly bleached to a higher color due to their enclosure during shipment, but do not be alarmed if either condition exists.  Sweet potato plants are very tough and if planted properly and favorable weather exists, your plants will grow off good and yield for you an abundant supply of delicious potatoes.  Heavy plant foliage is trimmed to prevent overheating during shipment.  Many large sweet potato farmers cut off all the leaves and a part of the plant roots.

Be sure to put the roots of one plant in a bottle full of water and place it in your kitchen window or on your office desk.  Soon you will have a colorful clinging vine that will mystify your friends...and put 3 or 4 plants in your hanging basket.

Most people prefer a sandy loam soil that drains well...but sweet potatoes are grown in all types of soil in all 50 states.  Loose, freely worked soil will give the potatoes a chance to become large and smooth.  The use of fertilizer is the gardeners choice.  Some say the taste is better without fertilizer, others say the yield is better when you use fertilizer.  

“Set” plants as soon as possible after you receive them.  The ideal time is late in the afternoon after the hot sun has gone to bed.  Try to avoid “setting” plants when you have a wind, especially from the North.  Hold your plants until the following day and the results will be much better.

If there is to be a delay in planting, just remove the plants from the carton and take the rubber band, waxed paper and/or moss away from the plant roots.  Place the roots in a position where they can receive moisture, being careful to keep the plants away from the sun and wind.  Do not wet the stems or leaves.  Roots placed on wet sawdust or moss or on a wet burlap bag will keep the plants strong and healthy for several days.  Plants will succeed even if they are yellow, slimy and have an odor that is almost unbearable.  Potato plants are tough and strong and most of them will survive if they are “set” properly and have a good growing climate.

Garden rows should be about 3 feet apart and the row itself about 8 to 12 inches high - the higher the row, the more space for the potato to develop.  Plants should be set 10 to 18 inches apart.  Even spaced rows and plants will produce a more uniform sized potato.  A “peg”, shovel, stick or transplanter can be used to set your plants.  Place the roots well in the ground but do not cover the “bud.”  Pour a little water in the plant hole around the roots and then “firm up” the soil.  In case frost or unexpected cool moves in, protect your plants with a light cover.

Keep the soil worked to a fairly “loose” condition and “hoe” or pull out the undesired vegetation.  Once the plants get started, the plant growth will smother out most grass and weeds.  Maximum maturity is hard to determine as some people like a small potato which they call a “baby baker.”  Others desire the potato to grow to its largest or “jumbo” size.  Simply examine an average hill and dig the potatoes when they approach the size that you desire.

Many folks have been growing sweet potatoes for years.  Now, new quick-maturing varieties along with new gardening techniques that have been tested for several years in the New England states have helped the harvest almost double.  These yields nearly matched those from Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina, which are traditional sweet potato states.

Prepare a large ridge around 12 inches high and make a furrow about 2 inches deep in the middle of the ridge and cover with black plastic.  This can be done 2 weeks before planting time and the dirt will be warmed and your plants will begin to grow immediately after they are put in the ridge.  The large ridge of loosely worked dirt helps the potatoes grow large and smooth.  A regular garden hoe and a little work can prepare a ridge that will be a good growing place for your sweet potatoes.

When you are ready to plant your potatoes (late afternoon if possible), use a knife to make a small slit in the plastic.  Slits every 12 inches will be about the right distance to put plants to produce average size potatoes.  If larger potatoes are desired, the slits should be 15 to 18 inches apart.  Beginning gardeners should use all 3 spacings to determine the best spacing for future plantings.  Put the roots of each plant in a peg hole made under each slit and pour about a cup of water around the roots.  Then use your hand to ‘firm up’ the dirt around the roots.  Protection is needed when unseasonable cool is expected.

The use of fertilizer is your choice.  Most gardens are fertile enough to produce lots of sweet potatoes with no fertilizer at all.  It is suggested you fertilize only part of your row and then you can compare yield and taste.

Use care in “digging” your potatoes being careful not to cut or bruise them.  A shovel or large pronged fork is ideal to use.  With a loose row, just pull the dirt away with the hands and gently place your beautiful potatoes in your storage basket or crate and start selecting your favorite recipes.

Place your ventilated crates or baskets of freshly dug potatoes inside a building.  Let the potatoes “dry out” or “air” 8 to 10 days.  This helps to heal cuts and the bruises that may have occurred and toughens the skin for winter storage.  The rich, black soil of some gardens may cause discoloration on the outside of some potatoes.  Do not be alarmed, storage life and taste have not been affected.  After the potatoes are dried out, place them in a permanent storage area when the temperature ranges from 50 to 60°F.  At this time your potato crop is made...just to not let a sudden drop in the temperature “chill” the potatoes in your best storage area.  While your potatoes are in storage, avoid unnecessary handling...just cook the potatoes as you come to them from the top of the storage container to the bottom...and make plans for more plants next year.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Asparagus is a delicious, decorative vegetable that will live for years in your garden with just a little preparation!

Asparagus will not do well in soil that drains poorly, or that becomes excessively dry over the summer. Compost or manure will help improve the soil and should be applied prior to planting and worked in thoroughly. If no manure is available, add peat moss, leaf mold, or other organics. Manure or compost can be added as a top dressing later as the asparagus grows.

When the soil is properly prepared, make a furrow or trench 6-8” deep and about the same distance wide. Spread the octopus-like roots out in every direction like the dials of a clock with the bud-like crown facing up. Set this crown in the furrow about 12” apart and cover with about 2” of soil.

Asparagus needs a neutral soil (pH 6.5 yo 7.0) so it’s best (unless your soil has been limed recently) to add ground limestone in the spring or fall and work it into the soil. Generally when fertilizing, use 1-2 lbs. of 5-10-10 or 5-10-5 fertilizer per 25 feet or row before you see asparagus coming up in the spring. Work lightly into the soil. Repeat in June or July.

A light harvest may be made the first year. The second year, harvest spears for about 2 weeks. The third year, you may extend this by another week. After that, the harvest can be extended into 7 or 8 weeks. Harvest by cutting with a knife or breaking the spears off at the surface of the ground.

Stop cutting around the third week in June. If a weed problem develops, cultivate lightly until the plot is weed free. You may also use mulch to control weeds. Do not cut the ferny part of the asparagus - it forms the spears for next year. After the frost has killed the fern, you may remove them and burn or discard them.

The asparagus beetle is the only serious insect problem, and can be effectively controlled by spraying or dusting with 1% Rotenone or Sevin.

If these tips are followed, you may expect to have nice asparagus for 15-20 years.