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Spring Planning for Your Small Kitchen Garden

My anticipation for red, juicy, sweet tomatoes grows through the winter, spring, and early summer. I usually plant more than half my garden in tomatoes, and add a small selection of other vegetables. In some years, I cram a bit of everything into my small kitchen garden. Still, I crave fresh tomatoes most of all (fresh peas are a close second).

I’ve spent the last five weeks compensating for my small kitchen garden’s winter hibernation. I made a trip to South Carolina, spent several days at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, and made a head-first dive into growing alfalfa sprouts. I also have a pot of cilantro struggling away on a south-facing windowsill in my basement.

All of this has helped with my winter gardening blues, but it has also distracted me a bit from important mainstream gardening issues. Key among those: planting season looms large.

What Do You Want to Eat?

Even for a small kitchen garden, it’s helpful to plan for the upcoming growing season. I start all my vegetable garden planning with one thought: what do I want to eat? From years of growing, I’ve developed priorities.

In my laziest years, I’ve planted only peas, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, and herbs; I can’t imagine a season without homegrown tomatoes, and fresh peas are so satisfying. Because my tastes are simple, I can find what I need at a nearby garden store. Usually, I buy seeds for Wando peas, Ithaca lettuce, a lettuce “salad mix,” and Bloomsdale Long-Standing spinach—all very satisfactory. I also choose flats from among a dozen or more varieties of young tomato plants. These are always in the store by the time I need them in my garden.

I saved a few dozen seeds from a gorgeous heirloom tomato a neighbor gave me. I’ll start these two, and several others indoors in March so I can transplant them to my small kitchen garden in May.

Even in years when I’ve squeezed more variety into my small raised vegetable garden, I’ve settled for seeds I could buy locally. That notwithstanding, every winter I pour over garden catalogs and hanker for all kinds of seeds I haven’t tried.

Get Ready to Grow

For most gardeners in the United States, this is garden catalog season. If you want to stretch your gardening muscle, you can’t wait much longer: get going with seed catalogs. If you find something special in a catalog, you may need to order now to have seeds in time for planting in your area. Especially if you plan to start seeds indoors, you should order immediately.

I’ll be starting some tomato seeds indoors, and maybe some peppers. I can’t move tomato plants outdoors until early May, so I won’t start seeds indoors until mid-to-late March.

In the meantime, I’ve become an affiliate of Nature Hills Nursery. This company has a history of on-line sales, and offers a great selection of live plants and seeds. Where you can find customer reviews of the company, you find more positive than negative feedback, which is a decent record for on-line nurseries. Here’s my take on the company:

Nature Hills Nursery

For seeds, Nature Hills is making the right moves. They sell Botanical Interests brand, a supplier that has signed the Safe Seeds pledge. This means seeds you buy from Nature Hills Nursery are not products of genetic engineering. What’s more, Botanical Interests has a large selection of certified organic seeds.

Buyers Beware (of Yourselves)

Buying live plants through the mail comes with many risks, and I coach all gardeners to buy locally: find a garden store or nursery you can visit. Inspect the plants, ask questions, and understand the replacement policies. Then, adhere to planting and care instructions from the nursery operator.

It’s unreasonable to expect professional growers to guarantee survival of the plants they sell. They haven’t tested your soil, they haven’t evaluated your site-selection for light and moisture, and they aren’t doing the planting and tending. If nursery plants fail in your garden, there’s at least some chance that you’re the problem… please be patient with your supplier. Multiple failures of plants in the same planting bed are far more likely due to poor soil conditions, lighting, drainage, fungus, insects, or furry animals than they are to a nursery selling you bad stock—especially when you’ve selected the plants at a local store.

For live plants, Nature Hills has a controversial warranty policy. If your plants arrive damaged or dead, Nature Hills will replace them—but they want you to report quickly in case they need to place a claim with their shippers. If your plants fail after you plant them, Nature Hills will sell you replacements at half price plus the cost of shipping. This policy draws ire from some, though customers whose plants succeed seem quite happy with Nature Hills.

If you can live with the half-price warranty replacement policy, you’ll find terrific variety and good prices at Nature Hills. Still, I prefer that you shop locally for live plants (see box), and only buy on-line if you can’t find what you want at a local garden store or nursery. All that said, please check out the Botanical Interests seeds available on Nature Hills’ web site.

Here’s a link to the Nature Hills vegetable seed catalog. This link takes you directly to their organic seeds. You’ll find a lot of great vegetable offerings at both links. And, depending on your sensibilities, check out their selection of live small fruits (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and such) and fruit trees.

 

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4 Responses to “Spring Planning for Your Small Kitchen Garden”

  • Heirloom tomatoes are wonderful! And usually incredibly expensive in grocery stores. I hope they turn out wonderfully. Tomatoes are one of my favorites, too.

  • I heard somewhere that tomatoes actually grow better if you plant them deep, up to the first branches and let the mulch touch the stem…I have to try that this summer. I love tomatoes too!

  • admin:

    Momisodes: I rarely find heirloom tomatoes in the grocery store, and when I do they’re still too scary to eat. Even the most bland, common hybrid when homegrown is incredibly more satisfying than the best, most exotic tomato in our local grocery stores.

    Raquel: You don’t need to plant them deep, though that would work as well as what I suggest, especially when you’ve bought “leggy” plants from the garden store. Sometimes, a flat of plants that are more than three or four inches tall are abnormally thin because of crowding. That thinner stem may not plump up if too much of it is above ground when you plant. Rather than dig a deep hole, here’s what I do:

    I dig a wide hole, about three inches deep and lay the seedling in it horizontally so just the top leaves bend up out of the soil. With an 8-inch plant, five inches of it may lay along the bottom of the hole, with just three inches flexed upward (don’t break or crease the stem) until only an inch sticks out on the surface. The young plant produces roots all along the buried stem, and the emergent stem straightens upward and plumps up better to support the weight of the maturing plant.

    It helps that tomatoes are as scrappy as any weeds; all that stem underground helps them develop strong root systems.

  • Hey, thank you for the reply. You know I am chomping at the bit to try your suggestion.

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