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My Book!

I wrote a book about preserving food. The same step-by-step instruction and full-color photos you find in my blog. Buy it at Yes, You Can 

Links to planters at selected vendors:

Garden-Fountains.com

MasterGardening.com

 

 

Sprouts

Amazon.com is a terrific source for certified organic seeds intended for home sprouting. Dress up salads, stir-fry, sandwiches, spreads, and other dishes with homegrown sprouts of all kinds. Follow this link to order your sampler or to find home sprouting kits.

 

Small Kitchen Garden Store

 

 

 

 

lazy garden

Mulch Your Small Kitchen Garden with Lawn Clippings

In 9 days my pile of lawn clippings had shrunk. On top, it looked as though all the grass was drying out.

I’ve explained in earlier posts how I add humus to my small kitchen garden; a task that every kitchen gardener should perform at least annually. In a post titled Small kitchen Garden Soil Preparation 2, I explained how I usually excavate only where I’m going to plant: a full row for seeds, or individual holes for seedlings. To the holes and furrows I dig, I add compost.

But this meager compost-application isn’t the only way I add humus and nutrition to my soil. I explained my composting and mulching activity in a post titled Compost for my Small Kitchen Garden: I explained that I mulch around my vegetables with lawn clippings.

Miracles of Mulching

Mulch is awesome… and a heap of lawn clippings can do a lot of work for you. Here’s an example of the power of mulch:

Nine days ago, weeds in my kitchen garden bed were in fine shape. They had grown unchecked since the ground thawed, and many were in full bloom. Amazingly, there were forget-me-nots in full bloom; seeded, apparently, from a bed a quarter of the way around the house from the vegetable garden.

When I raked the mound of clippings aside, I revealed very dark, decomposed material. The clippings were already breaking down into the soil. In some years, I’ve added clippings whose original depth would have totaled four feet. By the time I finished in the garden in the fall, those clippings were nearly completely gone: rotted away while the vegetables grew.

Also nine days ago, I mowed my lawn for the first time this season. The grass and weeds were tall, and I ended up creating a pile in my garden that was about two-and-a-half feet deep, three feet across, and eight feet long.

Here’s the point: I made the pile of grass clippings directly on the weeds growing in my planting bed. I didn’t cut the weeds; I didn’t stomp them down; I simply piled on the clippings.

Yesterday and today, I started tilling. The pile of grass clippings had shrunk to about half its original depth. I used a rake to move the heap aside so I could dig, and lo, the weeds I had buried only nine days earlier were all but gone! Better still: the clippings had already decomposed significantly!

This is, of course, the whole point of mulch: it keeps weeds down and it decomposes slowly, releasing nutrients into the soil. It also holds in moisture: When I tilled where the grass clippings had been, the soil was moist and easy to work. When I tilled soil that hadn’t been covered, it was drier and harder to dig into.

Mulch Your Small Kitchen Garden

If you’re one of the lucky who doesn’t have enough lawn clippings to mulch your garden, look for a reasonable substitute. I’ve seen people lay down old carpet, cardboard, newspaper, and black plastic in vegetable gardens to suppress weeds around the desirable plants. Leaves will also work, though it’s best to shred them before applying them as they may move around easily in heavy winds.

Whatever you choose, mulch! If for no other reason than to reduce your need to weed, mulch!

Two caveats if you use lawn clippings as mulch:

  1. When it rains, the clippings will throw off a distinctive odor. The odor doesn’t arise from older, decomposing clippings… so you won’t get the odor if the clippings sit for a few days before it rains. In any case, the odor goes away in a day or two.
  2. Grass clippings stick to your feet. Leave your gardening shoes outside, or brush them off thoroughly before you go inside!

Some other discussions involving mulch:

  • Frugal Backyard Landscaping Ideas » Blogging Away Debt – The other day, I asked if you had any questions for me in regards to how I keep our costs low. I received a question on whether I had any frugal backyard ideas and I do! 1.) Use old things and turn them into landscaping …

  • As the Garden Grows | Do you put mulch on your garden beds? – Do you put mulch on your garden beds? Posted in Garden Maintenance, Garden Tips, Home and Lifestyle, In The Garden, Plant health, Summer in the Garden on Aug 14, 2007. If you’ve been reading my garden stories you know I …

  • Sea grass mulch – We got the idea of using it as mulch from our friend Jess, who wrote about her mulching technique on her blog, Dame de Fleur. We figured she and her dad couldn’t have taken it all, and there was probable enough left for …

  • Mulch types – GardenBanter.co.uk – I’ve got a bit of landscaping needing a little mulching. I’ve laid down 4 or 5 layers of news print and topped it with some dyed mostly pine bark.

 

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Small Kitchen Garden VLOG

Here at Your Small Kitchen Garden, I’m always experimenting. Usually, those experiments have to do with fitting more vegetable plants into the same space I planted last year. They’re also about ways to preserve produce and to prepare fruits and vegetables fresh from my garden or the local farmers’ market.

Today I’m starting a new experiment. I’m inviting readers into my garden, my “orchard,” my larder, and my kitchen for brief visits to see or hear what I’m up to. These visits aren’t so much about “how-to” instruction as they are about “what-to.” In other words, I’m going to tell you what I’m doing for my garden, and encourage you to think about doing the same—or similar—things for your garden.

Visit with the Gardener

I’m starting a video blog called Visit with the Gardener at Your Small Kitchen Garden Blog. Each video post will be short—generally from one to two minutes. In the video descriptions, I’ll try to include links that lead to relevant posts in case you want the “how to” to go along with the “what.”

Please join me in my Small Kitchen Garden to see what I’m doing. Hop over to Youtube and subscribe to my channel—I’m Cityslipper over there: Cityslipper on Youtube.

Here’s the first installment. It’ll give you an idea of how lazy I can be. Oh, and if you want to talk about art, I don’t groove much on the camera angle either… but I really wanted you to be able to see the pear tree, and this captured it:

 

I found a few other references to Vlogs about gardening:

  • 2009 Garden Vlog 4, Planting Corn | Growing Peas Made Easy – 2009 Garden Vlog 4, Planting Corn • How To Grow Corn. by admin. Like the title says:) Video Rating: 4 / 5. Tags: 2009, Corn, Garden, Planting, Vlog. 25 comments. No ping yet. theblackstarorder says: …

  • [WATCH]: Moms SQFT Victory Garden – VLog Day 23 | ORGANIC GARDEN … – Watching the plants grow. Great soil mixture! Why it pays to experiment, sometimes. Mel’s Mix 1/3 vermiculite 1/3 peat moss 1/3 compost I used the following, Sticking pretty good to Mel’s mixing ratio. Triple processed top soil Moisture …

  • GARDEN VLOG. | – GARDEN VLOG. Y’ALL, this was my FIRST vlog. Video blog. Whatever. I only did it because Emily was on a mission last night to inspire people to make one and I guess it worked. It isn’t as bad as I expected it to be. …

 

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Really? Start Seeds Indoors for Your Small Kitchen Garden?

Broccoli Seedlings for a Small Kitchen Garden

Broccoli seedlings emerge within a few days of planting. In fact, the first time I planted broccoli seeds, I was astonished to see sprouts two days later. It’s kind of exciting to have a small garden spot in my house while snow lies on the land outside, but starting seeds indoors isn’t for everybody.

The ground is frozen and there are three inches of snow on my small kitchen garden, but I’ve already started to plant! Yes, I’m starting seeds indoors well ahead of spring. I didn’t used to do this, preferring, instead, to let someone else start seeds so I could buy flats of seedlings when the ground was ready.

Why not just Plant Seeds in the Garden?

No, really: sowing seeds directly in the garden is great gardening strategy. To do this, you need seeds and a little labor… it doesn’t get easier than that. However, if your seeds’ planting instructions proclaim plant after all danger of frost passes and 120 days to maturity, you’ll need four gorgeous months before you harvest your first vegetable. Plants that mature in 120 days usually have a lot more productive days after they mature… if there’s any growing season left.

In zone 5B last year, we had frost in late May. So, the frost-free season was just long enough to go from seeds to maturity. This really isn’t good enough. When you have such a limited season, starting seeds indoors early can significantly increase your yield.

It gets better! When you have a reasonably long growing season, starting seeds early lets you do two or even three plantings. I like to start peas, lettuce, and spinach from seed in the garden as soon as the soil thaws in March and April. These tend to expire in June, so I can plant winter squash in the same space. Were I to start these indoors from seeds, I could start harvesting lettuce and spinach within weeks of transplanting outdoors in March… and I’d probably be harvesting peas three or more weeks earlier than I usually do.

Of course, by finishing spring crops early, I create a longer season for summer crops, and that gives my fall crops a bit more time to grow before a deep freeze shuts down my garden in the fall. By starting seeds in containers, you can increase the variety of vegetables you grow in a particularly small kitchen garden, keeping your planting beds more productive throughout the growing season.

Small Kitchen Garden Seed Starting Shelf

There’s not much growing on my seed starting shelf, but we’re still a few weeks early for most starts. I have four tomato seedlings that I’ve just transplanted from a single starting pellet into individual pots, four broccoli sprouts, and a bunch of planters in which I set seeds minutes before taking this photo. In about three weeks, the shelf will be crowded with tomato and pepper seedlings. Realizing I could manage seed starts on a shelf in my larder solved a lot of problems related to space and tidiness. Still, maintaining all of this will occupy fifteen or more minutes each day until I start transplanting seedlings into my small kitchen garden.

Starting Seeds is a Commitment

Starting seeds indoors can be seductive. It’s quite a rush to see the seedlings push out of the soil and stretch toward the lights. With many flats of seedlings on starting shelves, tables, counters, or windowsills, you create an inviting garden spot at a time when your yard and garden may be barren and uninviting.

But I encourage you not to get carried away. As I suggested earlier: you can buy flats of seedlings and get the same season-extending advantages you get from starting your own seeds. To provide a fair-and-balanced perspective, here are several reasons not to start your own seeds indoors:

1. You simply may not have the space. Last year, we couldn’t play ping-pong from March until May because someone (tee-hee) had taken over the ping-pong table to start seeds. After my mom died, my dad removed the cushions from the window seat in his living room and set up flats there to start seeds; it’s a bit awkward to have that mess in your living room when you’re hosting a formal dinner.

You don’t need a lot of space, but you need to be able to control the climate and lighting, to manage soil and water spills, and to keep your house pets off of your nascent seedlings.

2. Starting seeds is work. You’re not likely to wear yourself out with your seed starts, but you can’t rely on nature for success. Seed starting pots or peat pellets can easily dry out in 24 hours, so you’ll probably need to water once a day. You’ll also need to adjust your lighting as the seedlings grow, and you may end up having to transplant into larger pots if you can’t get your seedlings into the garden as quickly as you expect when you’re starting them.

3. You may have saved lousy seeds. Especially if you harvested seeds from hybrid varieties of produce (Burpee loves to sell hybrids), the plants that emerge from them may develop fruits or vegetables distinctively different from the parent fruits or vegetables. Heirlooms are more likely to breed true, but insects may cross-pollinate your heirlooms with other varieties, and the resulting seeds also can produce unexpected results.

Tomato Seedlings for a Small Kitchen Garden

Freshly-transplanted seedlings languish for a week or two before they start growing again. These look a little sad because I transplanted them just a few days ago. I expect they’ll perk up soon, and put out some new leaves. I planted these seeds very early to test the viability of seeds I’d harvested from last year’s tomatoes. I gave away bunches of seeds, and I wanted to be confident they’d sprout for their recipients. Once I start a plant growing, I find it very difficult to let it die… or worse, to kill it

4. You can bury yourself in seedlings. If you have enough room to start dozens of flats, consider the eventual disposition of your young plants: You will some day transplant them into your garden. This could become more work than it’s worth. Sowing seeds directly in your planting beds is far easier than setting seedlings. So, unless you really need the extra growing time, you might be happier simply sowing seeds. If you want some early lettuce and spinach, start a dozen or so seeds indoors, but save the rest to sow outdoors for a slightly later 2nd harvest. I can’t imagine starting the several hundred pea plants I grow each year and transplanting them later.

Which Plants should you Start Indoors?

Don’t let anyone tell you which plants you must start indoors. Just about any vegetable is fair game… though I’d encourage you to start all root crops in your garden; transplanting may damage the roots enough that they might produce no usable food.

I’m too lazy to start fast-growing cool weather crops indoors. These don’t live long anyway, and I can wait the additional two or three weeks before I start harvesting greens. Still, I remember having fresh garden salad at a friend’s house one March about when lettuce seeds were just sprouting in my garden. My friend had planted from store-bought flats the moment she could work the soil. Compelling.

Of the plants I grow routinely, I start tomatoes, peppers, and squash indoors because they need a long growing season. Most of us eat peppers before they ripen, but if you want red peppers, you need to give them 100 or more days to develop (Once you pick a green pepper, it just won’t turn red.)

This year, I’m also starting broccoli and cauliflower indoors. These won’t mind a heavy frost, so I can set seedlings in the garden when I’m planting lettuce and spinach in March or early April. Broccoli especially can produce all season, but I expect I’ll lose interest in the plants in June so I’ll replace them then with bush beans (sown directly in the garden) that mature very quickly.

 

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Start Your Small Kitchen Garden from Commercial Flats?

I’d like to have one of these in my yard. It’s a commercial greenhouse about three miles from my home, and they’ve laid out row upon row of flower seedlings. Seems like a waste of resources as I’m sure no one will be eating these plants. Still, in a few weeks there’ll be vegetable and fruit starts on many of the benches here.

So many kitchen gardeners in the northern hemisphere are seriously into this year’s growing season. Southerners may already be sowing seeds and transplanting seedlings outdoors—or even harvesting mature vegetables (I know this because so much fresh produce in our grocery stores has flown in from southern California). Northerners are starting to plant seeds indoors.

I encourage new kitchen gardeners to sow seeds directly in their planting beds except for crops that require long growing seasons. For those, I suggest buying seedlings from garden stores and nurseries. Why? Because it’s easy. There’s no sense in making gardening hard when you’re just getting started.

While I encourage you to buy seedlings, it’s important to know that buying flats from a garden store isn’t a panacea. Now, six to eight weeks before you’d buy those flats, is the time to decide whether you’re going to. If you’d rather start your own seeds, you’ll need to do so soon… perhaps within the next two to three weeks.

Some Good Reasons not to buy Seedlings

There are many downsides to buying seedlings in a garden store. Here are several:

1. Your options tend to be limited. A decent garden store may carry a dozen types of tomato seedlings—mostly, hardy hybrids. You may find three or four dozen varieties of tomato seeds at an online garden store. These could include the hardy hybrids, but they’ll also include heirloom tomatoes you’ll never get to taste if you don’t grow them yourself.

2. Nursery plants may be stressed. Nurseries face one overwhelming challenge: they can only guess when to plant seeds. If they guess wrong, their seedlings could be pot-bound and “leggy” by the time anyone wants to plant. For tomatoes, this isn’t really a problem. But many vegetables grow weak stems in the garden when you transplant them from overcrowded nursery pots or flats.

3. Seedlings are pricey. For a four-pack of six-week-old plants, you could pay $3, $4, $5, or more. For a decent seed-starting kit that could start 36, 72, or even 144 plants from seeds, you might pay $4 to $6. A few packages of seeds might cost another 4$ to $6. So, for $12 and minimal effort, you can start nearly 150 plants worth, conservatively, 75 cents apiece.

4. You harvested seeds last year. Harvesting seeds is amazingly satisfying: it provides a sense of continuity from one year to the next. What’s more, if you save seeds from last season’s crop, you don’t have to buy new seeds this season. I’m starting tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and several types of squash from seeds that grew in my small kitchen garden last year.

A garden center may not have facilities to “pot up” seedlings when the last frost is slow in coming. You may find tall, pot-bound plants are your only option when you choose commercial seedlings.

5. Nurseries may sell you trouble. In 2009, late blight destroyed gardens all over the northeastern United States. Disturbingly, the news media reported that late blight was present on tomato seedlings sold in garden departments of big-box stores. This was an unusual occurrence, but it illustrates true risk: when you buy seedlings, you can’t be sure whether they carry diseases or malicious insects.

6. It may be challenging to go organic. If it’s important to you to maintain a strictly organic regimen, you might not find appropriate seedlings at a garden center. Commercial growers may choose potting mixes that include slow-release fertilizers and other non-organic additives. Also, most commercial suppliers aren’t concerned about whether the seeds they start originate from suppliers who produce them organically. If you want to start from flats of organically-grown seedlings, call around now to be sure you’ll be able to buy them when you’re ready to plant.

Still, Commercial Seedlings Rock

For all but one of my gardening years, I bought flats of tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower at garden stores. I had a lot of reasons for this and I’ll share them in my next post. In all the years I bought flats, I was never disappointed: broccoli is broccoli, cauliflower is cauliflower, tomatoes are… well, no. The main reason I thought to start seeds myself was a feeling of deja vu I got each spring when selecting from five varieties of beefsteaks.  Last year was the first season I started my own seeds indoors and I’ll never go back.

If you’re planning to buy seedlings this season, do a little research now: locate gardening centers or nurseries in your area and ask whether they start their flats from seeds. If they don’t, at least try to find a store that buys seedlings from a local grower. The farther your baby plants have travelled on their way to your small kitchen garden, the more opportunity they’ve had to develop problems.

A few articles that mention flats of vegetables:

  • friday fill in #124. – 7. and as for the weekend, tonight i’m looking forward to going to the garden center with ms 12 & mr 9 to get our vegetable flats & maybe planting some of them – weather permitting, supposed to be scattered showers all weekend! tomorrow …
  • Vegetable flats behind our garage store | This Week – Here we see about 1/5 of this season’s vegetable flats as they’re getting ready to go out into beds for this summer. We seed flats continuously, and plant on a rotating basis to keep plenty of vegetables growing …

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Watering Your Small Kitchen Garden Revisited

Your Small Kitchen Garden blog recently received a question about watering. The question was fairly general, and I ended up writing a detailed answer that would make a good post. So, here it is:

Rain in a Small Kitchen Garden

In early spring, young spinach sprouts pop out in the bottom of a furrow in my small kitchen garden. I deliberately plant in furrows and basins so water will collect around the plants and soak in there.

Ideally, it will rain on your garden, and that will reduce your need to water. Sadly, it may rain too much on your garden as it did for most of us in the northeastern United States in the summer of 2009. Once you’ve planted your garden, there’s little you can do when it rains too much; roots may drown where water collects and foliage may rot. Molds such as late blight thrive in wet growing seasons.

So, plan your garden with torrential rain in mind: don’t place beds in low spots. Better still, build raised beds that assure roots won’t steep in standing water should it rain heavily one year.

Optimize Water Use

Your plants will appreciate good drainage. As a favor to the environment (and to your finances if you use tap water in the garden), optimize the garden’s use of whatever water it gets. Assuming the garden bed drains well even in torrential rain, set your rows deeper than the surrounding soil. This means your plants will grow in the bottoms of troughs. For an individual plant such as a tomato, eggplant, squash, or pepper, create a small depression—a basin—with the plant in the middle of it. These low areas will collect rain or hose water and give it time to soak in around the plants’ roots.

How much Water is Enough?

As for knowing when you’ve watered enough? I wrote an earlier post on the topic titled Watering Your Small Kitchen Garden. My approach isn’t rigid; I simply try to keep the plants alive with the least amount of watering they’ll accept happily. I note the weather and I watch the soil and the plants. If there has been no rain in several days and the soil looks dry… or worse, leaves are starting to droop… I water heavily. If there is a sustained dry spell—several weeks or more with little or no rain—I change my watering strategy: I water lightly every morning. The idea is to provide just enough water on top so that any moisture that is already below the surface stays there.

Whenever I water, I target the soil line of my plants. If it’s a tight row of greens, carrots, peas, and such, I distribute water evenly along the row. If I’m watering individual plants such as tomatoes, squash, and peppers, I make sure the water lands where a plant emerges from the soil. There may be a relative desert between my tomato plants, but the soil extending a foot from the stem of a plant receives several light waterings a week during a dry spell.

Spot Water Your Small Kitchen Garden

It’s important to note: when I water, nearly every drop ends up in the depressions in which the plants grow. For heavy watering, I try to fill the trench that defines a row, or the basin holding an individual plant. After that soaks in, I fill the trench or basin again. For light watering, I may not fill the trenches and basins, but I direct the water into them.

Finally, I can’t emphasize enough the advantages of mulching close to your plants, and mulching heavily. Having a lawn, I believe, is a horrible affront to Planet Earth. However, as long as I have a lawn I’ll use grass clippings to mulch my small kitchen garden. Lawn clippings, fallen leaves, newspapers, cardboard, black plastic, pine needles, pine bark… come up with something that’s easy enough to manage that you’ll actually manage it. Mulch lets water through to the soil and significantly reduces the amount that evaporates on dry days.

I shot this sequence of photos one day when I was watering some newly-planted tomatoes. The photo on the left shows a tomato plant in its own basin freshly filled with water. Subsequent photos show the basin over the next 40 seconds as the water soaks in around the plant.

 

Further thoughts about watering and responsible ways to conserve water:

 

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Tomato-Planting Tips

These tomato seedlings are about two months old. In March, I planted seeds indoors from tomatoes a neighbor gave me last autumn. The plants should produce large, pepper-shaped tomatoes that are mostly meat; I found only about 40 seeds in each of them. I’ll cook these tomatoes into sauce.

If you think of planting a small kitchen garden as a horse race, then most of us are on the home stretch. Despite the unusually cold spring, our cool weather crops are maturing, and we’ve been setting out seedlings of vegetables that thrive in summer heat. For many in hardiness zone 5, planting tomatoes in April or May led to some aggravation this season: frost hit well into May, and we were out in our small kitchen gardens repeatedly, covering our plants with tarps, bed sheets, buckets, flower pots, cloches, or mulch to protect them from the cold. If you were cautious, you might not yet have planted summer crops. That’s OK. There is still plenty of good growing season to come, and now is a great time to finish up your planting.

Plant Tomatoes Now

If you haven’t planted tomatoes, do it as soon as you possibly can. Many varieties of tomatoes require as many as 100 days to mature—from the time you set seedlings in the garden. But I am talking about seedlings. By this I mean plants that are growing in small pots or flats, that are about four to six weeks old, and that haven’t started to flower or grow suckers.

In preparation for planting, I used a “low-till” approach: I removed weeds across a two-foot swath of the planting bed, stretched some yarn to mark the row, and set my potted plants along the row where I intended to plant them. I explained the steps I use to prepare soil in a post titled Small Kitchen Garden Soil-Preparation – 2… but in reviewing that post just now I realize I exaggerated: When planting seedlings, I don’t turn over all the soil in a row; I remove the weeds, then dig individual holes for the seedlings. I turn all the soil in a row only if I’m planting seeds. Crazily, I set seedlings one foot apart in this row – I’ve never planted tomatoes so close, but I’ve seen it done. I hope it doesn’t cause problems.

If you follow planting instructions that come with your plants and seeds, you need to measure two-foot, three-foot, and 18-inch gaps constantly. You can mess with a tape measure, mark up the handles of your gardening tools, use your body parts as guides, or follow my mom’s lead and carve a measuring stick. This is a three-foot-long apple branch. I carved rings in the bark a foot from each end and at the center, making it easy to measure standard plant and row spacings.

In late spring, nurseries might offer older, more developed plants that may be flowering or setting fruit. You can start these in the garden and expect production many weeks earlier than you’ll see with seedlings. I wrote about these concerns in my preceding post How to Plant Tomatoes in Raised Beds. Please look it over for more thoughts about what to look for when shopping for tomato seedlings.

My tomato seedlings are about eight inches tall and the root balls add another three inches. I don’t want to dig foot-deep holes, so I plant my seedlings on their sides. I dig each hole about eight inches deep, and, perhaps, a foot or two across.

Tomato-Planting Tips

If you’re buying seedlings, select ones with short, thick stems. In late spring, your only choices may have skinny, tall stems, but don’t be discouraged; you can compensate for the “legginess.”

This late in the spring (unless you have very long summers), select varieties that mature quickly. Many varieties list 65 or 75 days to maturity; they’ll have more days to provide fruit than varieties needing 100 or more days to mature.

You can plant a seedling still packed in its peat pot, but don’t. Roots wrap around inside the pot and only slowly grow through the peat. To remove a pot – peat or plastic – gently squeeze the pot repeatedly from all sides. Then grasp the tomato plant’s stem and pull the root ball out. If the plant doesn’t leave a peat pot easily, moisten the pot and then tear it off of the root ball. If the roots are cramped, use your thumbs to separate them a smidge; you might tear some, but loosening them will help them adapt quickly to their new home in the garden. Note that I’m adding a scoop of compost to half-fill the hole before I set the seedling in it.

Have you selected determinate or indeterminate varieties? The answer may influence whether you stake your plants, use cages, or let your plants free-range (grow along the ground as they choose). If the tag that comes with the tomato plant doesn’t identify it as determinate or indeterminate, the person selling it should be able to tell you. See the box, What’s Determinate? for an explanation of the differences.

Lay the root ball at one side of the hole and angle the plant’s stem across the bottom of the hole. Bend the stem up so the top three leaves of the plant will be above ground when you fill the hole with soil. Don’t fill the hole even with the level of the garden bed; leave it a smidge low so water will pool around the plant during rain or when you water the garden. Immediately after you plant a seedling this way, it may look unhappy, but it should pep up very quickly.

Consider how you’ll manage your plants. If they’ll grow “free-range,” they’ll need a lot of ground space; a tomato plant might stretch eight or nine feet along the ground, and spread four-to-eight feet from side-to-side. Indeterminate tomatoes lend themselves well to staking. Determinate varieties might do best in cages. Will you tie them to stakes? Will you support them with strings that dangle from overhead wires, pipes, or other trellises? Will you surround them with cages? Read more about managing tomato plants in my post, Are You a Sucker-Plucker?

Let your tomatoes free-range only as a last resort. A free-range tomato plant requires virtually no attention to do well. However, fruits on free-range plants are especially vulnerable. In dry summers, rodents may snack on tomatoes that are close to the ground. And, a tomato resting on the ground invites insects and disease; you’ll get much healthier fruit if you stake or cage your plants to keep the fruits off the ground. I let only my cherry tomatoes and my “volunteers” (plants that grow from seed left in random places by last year’s crop) free-range.

Though planted less than 24 hours earlier with its crown lying on the ground, this tomato seedling has already picked itself up and pointed toward the sky. If I’m staking my tomato plants, I like to get the stakes planted within a week of planting the seedlings. I pound eight-foot stakes about a foot deep, and indeterminate plants always outgrow them.

Tomato plants are a lot like weeds: it’s very hard to destroy them by accident. I once accidentally bent a young tomato stem so it broke about half way through. I tied the plant against a tomato stake, and it grew to maturity, matching its neighboring uninjured plants.

Tomato plants root easily at any point along their stems. So, if your plant hangs down onto the soil, it may put down roots. More importantly: if a seedling is “leggy” you can get it under control by planting most of its stem underground. When you plant younger seedlings, leave only the top three leaves above the surface. The photos in the post demonstrate how to plant a leggy tomato plant without having to dig a deep hole.

Tomato plants are heavy drinkers. They shouldn’t live in soaking wet soil, but they welcome daily deep watering.

Tomato plants do not require daily deep watering. In fact, they grow very well even in arid situations. However, when tomatoes are developing, they’ll come out best when your plants receive regular watering: daily, every other day, every third day… whatever you can handle as long as it’s consistent.

What’s Determinate?

Many varieties of tomatoes continue to grow until an outside influence kills them. For those of us in temperate zones, the outside influence is usually frost. Hypothetically, these indeterminate tomato plants will continue growing indefinitely as long as the conditions are favorable.

A determinate tomato plant has a built-in off switch. It simply stops growing at some point during the season.

Tomato enthusiasts promote all kinds of watering schemes; they’re all good. I know a grower who punched holes in #10-sized cans, and buried a can next to each tomato he planted… buried it with the can’s open top at soil level. Each day, he filled the can to the top with water; it was “The perfect amount of water for a tomato.” Poke around on the web, and I’m sure you’ll find other such watering schemes. Photo captions in this post explain my very simple watering scheme; a fine solution for a lazy garden.

Vine-ripened, shmine-ripened! Ancient farmers have told me, “A farmer can tell whether a tomato ripened on the vine.” Without scientific investigation, I can authoritatively report: HOGWASH. I wrote a post titled, Are Your Tomatoes a Mess? It explains how to harvest tomatoes with incredibly reliable results, and I stand by it. I’ve harvested tomatoes this way for ten years, and am still awed at how consistently better they are than vine-ripened tomatoes.

Before You Plant Tomatoes

Your Small Kitchen Garden has presented several posts that explain how to prepare garden beds for planting. The first of these articles explains the benefits of preparing soil. The second and third provide step-by-step instructions for preparing traditional planting beds using traditional methods, and using the “minimal till” approach that I use in my garden. The fourth article suggests one approach to preparing soil in a raised planting bed. Links appear at the bottom of this box.

The instructions in this post for planting tomatoes assume that you’ve prepared your soil and have marked a row awaiting seedlings.

1. Prepare to plant

2. Soil Preparation 1

3. Soil Preparation 2

4. Soil Preparation 3

 

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