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Cherry Tomatoes, Summer Vegetables

Tomato Growing Guide

As anyone who has ever experienced the delicious flavor of a tomato fresh from the vine will know, there is nothing quite as good as garden-grown tomatoes. It’s no surprise that tomatoes are America’s favorite homegrown food. While there are many varieties, and every veteran gardener has slightly different methods they swear by, you can easily be successful by understanding some of the basic needs of the plants. Whether you are new to gardening or a veteran, we’ve got your guide to the ins and outs of growing tomatoes at home.

Sowing and Planting

You can grow tomatoes from seed or starter plants in containers or in the ground. If you are starting in May, you will want to plant a starter plant. Whether you are growing in the ground or in a container on your balcony, you will want to plant your tomatoes in soil with added compost, lime and fertilizer. 

Each gardener has their own recipe, but lately I am a fan of Bumper Crop as it has all of these ingredients in one bag and is certified OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) organic. When planting in the ground, dig into and loosen the soil at a depth of 8 to 12″ and mix in a 1 to 2″ layer of Bumper Crop. When growing in pots, mix 80 to 90% potting mix with 10 to 20% Bumper Crop. 

Starting from seed? See our resources on starting seeds indoors and starting seeds outdoors. If you’re planting in containers, see our guide on planting tomato transplants in containers for more information on getting started. 

Sunlight

Tomatoes need a minimum of 5 hours of direct sun each day, but even more is better.

Water

Check the soil often and keep your tomatoes consistently moist throughout the growing season. If it feels like a moist or wet sponge, your plant has a good amount of water. Too much water can cause disease and will cause your tomatoes to crack. Too little water on the other hand reduces the quantity and quality of your tomatoes and can lead to blossom end rot.

Space and Support

Tomatoes are vines that continue growing throughout the entire summer. It’s not unusual to have tomato vines reach 8 to 10′ by the end of the season. Growing tomatoes in “cages” that help support the plant is one of the easiest and best ways to hold the plants upright, off the ground. You can also support the plants with stakes or on a trellis. A few varieties, such as ‘Celebrity’, ‘Rutgers’ and ‘Patio’ are smaller (determinate) plants that are good for limited spaces.

Growing Tips

While your plants are growing, there are a few tasks you will want to complete regularly as well as a few issues to keep an eye out for that commonly cause problems for tomato gardeners.

Fertilizer

 Apply Tomato Tone every 4-6 weeks throughout the growing season to keep your tomatoes fed with plenty of nutrients.

Pollination

Bumble bees are the primary pollinators of tomatoes, and you will need to attract them if you do not want to pollinate your plants by hand to ensure a good harvest. To bring the bees, plant zinnia, hyssop, portulaca and other flowers near your tomato plants.

Pest and Disease Prevention and Solutions

Fungal Diseases

Tomatoes are susceptible to several fungal diseases. Here are a few steps you can take to prevent your plants from becoming infected:

  • Place your tomatoes 3 to 4 feet apart, allowing plenty of room for good air circulation. 
  • Mulch around the base of your plants to prevent contact with the soil, where fungal diseases may reside.
  • Avoid prolonged periods of leaf wetness as it can promote infection and disease spread. You can do this by watering in the morning so that the sun dries the leaves, or by watering at the base of the plant so that the leaves do not get wet. 

Pests

Tomato hornworm, aphids and mites are the most common pests that can affect tomato plants. You can remove hornworms by hand and manage aphids and mites with insecticidal soap applied according to the package directions.

Tomato Hornworm, Pest

Remove Tomato Hornworm by hand.

Aphids

Use an insecticidal soap to deal with aphids.

Spider Mite Colony

Use an insecticidal soap to manage mites.

Squirrels, Chipmunks and Birds

A number of common garden critters love tomatoes, and will take a bite (or several) out of your plants. If they are getting more tomatoes than you are, consider picking them early, at the first sign of color, and let them ripen up indoors in safety.

ISTOCK seed potatoes

How to Start a Vegetable Garden with Your Family

With spring officially here, now is a great time to start a cool season vegetable garden with herbs, potatoes, onions and leafy greens. This is a great activity to bring the whole family outdoors for weeks on end, as you plant your seeds, watch them grow, and finally harvest mature veggies later this season. There are many plants that can be harvested quickly to enjoy the rewards of your work while you are waiting on your slower growing vegetables to mature, and all you need to get started is a small area with plenty of sunlight, seeds and a few supplies.

Virginia may still have some nights with frost, so at this point you will want to choose frost hardy plants that can tolerate the cool nights of spring. Greens, root vegetables and a variety of herbs are good picks. 

Cool season herb seeds, parsley, fennel and dill

Supplies

  • Shovel, hoe or small trowel
  • Organic compost, such as Bumper Crop (2 cu. ft. bag covers 25-50 sq. ft.)
  • Organic fertilizer, such as Plant-tone or Garden-tone (3.5 lbs. per 50 sq. ft.)
  • Cool season seeds
    • Herbs: Cilantro, dill, fennel and parsley
    • Leafy Greens: Cabbage, kale, loose-leaf lettuces and spinach are a few good picks. Loose-leaf lettuce will harvest quickly so are great picks for planting with your kids.
    • Root vegetables: Garlic, potatoes and onions

Prepare Your Garden Bed

Regardless of the crops you will be planting, you can set your plants up for success by preparing the soil in advance. To give your veggies a boost, turn up the soil in the area you will be planting with a hoe, shovel or trowel. Next, spread your organic compost over the area in a 1/2 inch to 1 inch layer and add about 3.5 lbs. of fertilizer per 50 sq. ft. of soil. Mix both into your turned up soil.

How to Start Seeds in the Ground

The plants suggested in this post are all frost hardy, and can handle some of the cool weather we may still experience between now and our final frost date later this season. You can work with other plants, but keep in mind that the average last frost date of our area is still several weeks away. You may need to take steps to keep non-frost hardy plants safe from the cold weather. 

Planting Steps

For more detailed instructions on direct sowing seeds in the ground, you can see our post on starting fall seeds. The method of direct sowing in the spring is the same.

  1. Review each seed packet before planting to make sure that you are planting at the correct depth and spacing. 
  2. Make a groove in the soil to the depth indicated on your seed packet. Sow seeds along the groove spaced according to the directions on your seed packet. 
  3. Cover the seeds gently with soil, and water carefully with a gentle spray of the hose or a watering wand.

When to Harvest

Most cool season vegetables are at their best when temperatures are 55-65 degrees and should be harvested before the arrival of summer heat. When temperatures jump into the 80’s, they may begin to flower. This causes the plant to produce fewer, less flavorful leaves. Gardeners call this ‘bolting’. Some herbs, such as fennel and dill have flavorful seeds and you can allow them to continue growing into the summer to enjoy their flowers and seeds.

Planting Onions, Potatoes and Garlic

Onions, potatoes and garlic are a bit different from our other cool season veggies in that you do not start them from a typical seed. Rather, you actually use part of a seed potato or dried onion or garlic bulb. Avoid using traditional potatoes, onion and garlic purchased from the grocery store as they are treated with sprout inhibitors to prevent them from sprouting on the shelf or in your pantry. 

ISTOCK seed potatoes

Seed Potatoes

  1. Prepare your seed potatoes for planting a couple of days ahead of time by cutting the potatoes into large pieces, each with one or two “eyes” 
  2. Spread them out to dry indoors for a couple of days to prevent rot once they are in the soil. 
  3. Place seed potato cuttings about a foot apart in holes approximately 2-3 inches deep, with the cut side down. Cover with soil.
  4. Water with a gentle spray of the hose or with a watering wand.

Dried Onions

Onions can be planted from seed, but onion sets, which are just dried onions, will mature much faster. 

  1. Plant your onion sets, placing bulbs approximately 6 inches apart and bury them no more than 1 inch deep in the soil. 
  2. Water with a gentle spray of the hose or with a watering wand.

Dried Garlic

Garlic is grown from the individual cloves. Each clove will produce one ‘head’ of garlic.

  1. Separate the head of garlic into individual cloves
  2. Plant each clove approximately 4 – 6 inches apart and bury them no more than 1 inch deep in the soil. 
  3. Water with a gentle spray of the hose or with a watering wand.

When to Harvest Garlic, Onions and Potatoes

Harvest your garlic and onion greens by pulling them out of the ground while they are still young, before they form bulbs. These are delicious in salads or as seasoning in other dishes. If you are growing them for the bulbs, leave them in the ground until summer, when the greens begin to yellow and fade. You should remove any flower buds so the plants will put more of their energy producing a larger bulb.

Harvest potatoes soon after the plants reach the flowering stage. At this time they are still small, thin skinned and called “new potatoes”. For larger, mature potatoes, wait until late summer or fall when the plants yellow and wither to the ground.

Feeding and Watering Your Plants

You can continue to fertilize your growing vegetables with an organic fertilizer throughout the growing season. Use 1/3 of a cup per plant, or 1 1/3 of a cup per 5 ft. row of plantings. 

When watering newly planted seeds, be careful about washing them away. It is best to use a gentle spray from a hose or a watering wand to keep them moist as they begin to sprout and develop roots. Try to check daily and see that the soil is moist and water when it begins to feel dry. After they have grown to be about three inches or more, it’s a good time to spread mulch around the plants. One to two inches of straw will help to prevent weeds, conserve moisture and prevent the soil from eroding or splashing on to your vegetables. Now that your vegetables and herbs are off to a strong start, you can begin to water more deeply and less often. Still, try to check in every 1-2 days to see what is new or may need attention. If you have any questions about caring for your vegetable garden, let us know! We are happy to provide tips and advice.

Radishes, Cool season vegetables

Growing Fall Root Vegetables

Fall is a wonderful time to grow root vegetables. Carrots, radishes, turnips and beets are easy to grow and add fresh flavor to our favorite seasonal dishes. Give your root veggies a leg up this year by taking a few extra steps to provide healthy soil and a healthy environment where they can grow throughout the fall season.

Preparing Soil for Root Veggies

Root vegetables are taproots, which means that they need garden beds free from rocks, soil clumps and debris that can deform the formation of the root. Before planting check your garden bed for any of these impediments and remove them. After doing this, check the pH of the garden bed. Some vegetables grow better at different pHs, and you may want to add lime to adjust the pH level of the soil. Radishes, for example, prefer a pH of 5.5-6.8.

Row plantings make weeding easier since you can use mulch or straw to prevent weeds between rows. You can put down more mulch during times when there is risk of frost for the added use of preventing your vegetables from freezing. This also lowers the amount of water needed to keep your plants healthy.

Wildlife and Pest Control

To prevent rabbits, gophers and deer from making snacks out of your vegetables, you may want to use a dried blood fertilizer such as Espoma Blood Meal. This organic fertilizer is made out of animal blood and works well as a deterrent to other wildlife. Netting and fencing can also keep out deer, and you can visit our blog post on deer proofing your garden for more ideas. 

Cabbage loopers and other pests on cruciferous vegetables veg (broc, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, etc.) use B.T.

Watering

Watering regularly improves crop shape and flavor. Radishes especially will take on a woody flavor if they are underwatered, so it is important to water them consistently. If you let them dry, moisten the soil slowly over the course of a couple of days as drenching dry carrots and other root vegetables will cause them to split. For more information on watering, check out our watering instructions. 

Other Tips

When working in your vegetable garden, keep in mind that root veggies should be hand cultivated. Digging tools commonly used for working with other vegetables can damage the roots. 

Root vegetables can be overwintered with mulch. Pile the mulch up over the shoulders of the root where it emerges from the soil. Using row covers and cold frames is also a good way to keep your root veggie harvest going most of the winter.

Use successive plantings to ensure a constant harvest throughout the season. This means adding new seeds or plants every 2-4 weeks as the season goes on, which will ensure that you always have some tasty veggies ready for harvest.

ISTOCK Cool season lettuce, carrots, vegetables

Fast Growing Veggies to Plant Now

Our summer vegetable gardens are winding down for the season, and the cool weather coming right around the corner makes this the perfect time for refreshing our garden beds with cool season fall crops. Plant them now and they will bless you with a veritable cornucopia to share with friends and family for Thanksgiving and the holidays.

Plant Selection

Many of the same crops which we plant and harvest in early spring – many leafy greens and root vegetables, for example – are great candidates for fall gardens. Some of these plants grow quickly, and can be started direct from seed in your garden beds in mid August or early September. Others need to be purchased from the garden center as plants, to have enough time to harvest before the hard frosts arrive. Pay very close attention to the “Days to harvest” information listed on the label since that can help you determine whether to plant from seed or transplants. For example, growing certain kinds of cauliflower from seed can take 130 days, but by transplanting you can reduce the time to harvest to as few as 55 days. If you know your first frost date then you can determine whether to start with seeds or plants. Here in Northern Virginia our first risk of frost starts on October 23rd.

Arugula

Is there anything better than fresh arugula on pizza or mixed into a salad? For lovers of arugula, fall is a wonderful time to plant. Arugula will fully mature in 45 to 60 days. Make sure to harvest the plant before blooms form, unless you like extra bitter arugula. Sow arugula seeds and cover with a light dusting of organic material. After plants germinate you can thin them out, giving them one or two inches of space between plants. Repeat sowing every 2-3 weeks for continuous harvest.

Beet Greens

While beet roots require 50 to 80 days to reach harvest size, the greens can be ready from seed in as little as 35 days. Beet seeds should be sown to ½ inch depth by covering with peat moss, potting soil, or earthworm castings.  Successive sowing at 3 week intervals can yield continuous beet harvest through the season. After seeds germinate make sure to thin the rows and give two inch spacing between each plant. 

Pro-tip: To extend the growing season, beet roots and other root vegetables can be protected with row covers or by mulching over roots when freezing temperatures arrive.

Chard

Chard is a nutritious and versatile vegetable crop that holds up well to cooking. For most vegetable gardeners, chard is a staple in early spring and fall gardening but can sometimes stand up to the heat of summer. Sow chard and cover with ½ to 1 inch of organic matter such as earthworm castings or peat moss. After the plants become three inches tall thin them out and leave 6 inches of space or more between plants. Harvest when the plants have reached 12-14 inches. The larger the chard is when you harvest, the less intense the flavor will be. As with most other greens, chard can be sown successively at 2 week intervals to ensure season-long harvest.

Loose Leaf Lettuce

Growing from seed to harvest in less than 50 days, loose leaf lettuces are among the easiest, fastest, and most rewarding of all cool-season vegetable crops.  Lettuce can be planted in rows or broadly over an open area. For most varieties plant ½ to 1 inch apart and seed successively over the course of the season. Cover the seeds with ¼ to ½ inch of peat moss, potting mix, or earthworm castings. Harvest and enjoy.

Note: Remember when planning your garden that varieties of lettuce that make “heads” will take longer to develop. For example, Romaine lettuce matures in 75-80 days.

Radishes

Radishes germinate very quickly (usually less than a week) and are ready to harvest from seed after 30 days. Sow radish seeds with ½ inch of peat moss, potting soil, or earthworm castings on top for good germination. Seeds can be sown successively every two weeks to ensure a constant harvest. Thin out the plants after germination and allow two inch spacing between plants. Harvest radishes when they are over one inch in diameter, but don’t wait too long as they will become pithy if left in the ground.

Fastest Growing from Transplant (50 days to harvest)

Carrots

If you are starting from seed, sow your carrots two or three months before the first hard frost. Carrots grown from seed are ready to harvest in about 70 days. Carrots need deep, loose soil to form correctly, so make sure to till your garden again if you want to grow some carrots. Sow carrots with 1/2 inch of peat moss, earthworm castings, or potting soil. When the carrot tops are over three inches high thin the carrots to allow for two inches of spacing between plants. 

Kale

Kale is considered a superfood by many nutritionists and makes a delicious addition to fall stews and soups. Kale will take 55 days to reach harvest size from transplant or 80 days from seed. For this reason some people will prefer to plant from transplants to make sure they get a good harvest before freezing temperature sets in. Sow seeds as you would with other leafy vegetables.

Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi germinates quickly and is ready to harvest 45 to 60 days after planting from seed, or in 30 – 45 days as a transplant. These plants need lots of space to grow as the rosette of cabbage-like leaves causes these plants to take up space.  Make sure to allow 12 to 14 inches between rows and 6 inches between plants in the row. Kohlrabi (cabbage turnip in German) is a wonderful, mild-tasting vegetable that matures fast and is easy to grow. If you’ve never tried this strange looking plant, then you should try some in your garden this year.

Turnips

Turnips are a quick crop to grow that can be used for both its greens and the fleshy root. There is a wide variety of turnips with some taking just 40 days to harvest while others need close to 80. Pay attention to the information on the tag when making your selection.

Seed starting outdoors

Care Tips for Fall Veggies

Preventing Pests

Diseases and pests such as flea beetle and cabbage aphid can frequently be found on turnips in particular. Products like thuricide, pyrethrins, and horticultural oils can be used to control these insect pests organically, and sprays with copper or sulfur work well to prevent disease. When spraying insecticides in vegetable gardens, be careful of active bees and spray in the late afternoon or evening when they are less active. 

Watch for Bolting

In warm temperatures, cool-season vegetables tend to bolt. Loose-leaf lettuces in particular will divert energy from production of the leaves and roots to form a flower stalk and seeds. Since this causes a reduction in the quality and taste of the veggies, keep an eye on your plants when the temperatures are warm and trim back any flower stalks that appear. This can force the plant to refocus its energy on production of the parts you will be harvesting.

Planting Window

The average first frost in our area takes place at the end of October, which means you can either plan to wrap up your vegetable gardening at that time or be prepared with a frost cloth to extend your growing season for some of your veggies.  If you need help deciding which plants to pick and whether to start from transplant or seed, you can ask one of our plant specialists. Remember, some plants may take too long to grow from seed when you start in September, but by starting from a transplant you can still harvest a good crop in October. 

If you need assistance with your fall vegetable garden, please visit us in store or give us a call to speak to a plant specialist! 

Sunflowers, Annual

Unique Edible Plants for Fall Cooking

With fall on its way we are all starting to think about our cool season vegetable gardens. In addition to well-known fruits and vegetables, there are also a wide variety of edible annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs which you may already be growing ornamentally in your landscape. By learning to incorporate these plants into our cooking, we can add some unique flavors to our meals. Whether you are new to edible gardening or are just looking for some new plants to add to your established fall garden, consider adding some of these herbaceous edible plants to your landscape this year.

Herbaceous Edibles

Taro

Generally grown for its foliage, one of its species is called “elephant’s ear” due to the size and shape of its leaves. Taro has an edible corm which can be used in the same way as a potato. It is known for its purple color and can also be used to make chips, tea, ice cream and candy. Taro is grown commercially as a food crop in Hawaii and many other parts of the world, and grows well in wet soil, making it an excellent choice for areas in your garden with poor drainage.

I like this recipe from ChefInYou for Taro Root Roast.

Flowers

Pansy, Annual

Pansy

A popular flower for fall containers and garden beds! The petals of pansies have a mild, fresh flavor and can be used as a garnish for cocktails, salads, soups and desserts. Try sugaring them to make a beautiful candied garnish for baking.

Tuberous Begonia

The flower petals of tuberous begonia have a light citrus taste and crisp texture. These are commonly used in salads, sandwiches, yogurt or ice cream. You can also use them as a garnish – sugared or plain. Edible varieties of begonia include: B. annulata (aka B. hatacoa), B. auriculata, B. barbata, B. gracilis, B. hernandioides, B. malabarica, B. mannii, B. picta, B. palmata, B. Semperflorens and B. fimbristipula (used to make a tea).

Learn to make sugared flowers from this video at Southern Living.

Sunflowers

In addition to the seeds, the entire sunflower plant can be eaten from the roots up to the flower. Eat sprouts thinned out from your garden bed on salads, tossed in your favorite dressing. Try a sunflower bud, which tastes like an artichoke – these are delicious roasted in garlic butter! Mature sunflower leaves can be used in stir fry, provided you remove the tough center ribs. Stalks can be used in the same way as celery for their crunchy texture and mild flavor. If you want sunflower seeds, place sunflower heads in a bright location and allow them to mature so you can collect the seeds for use in your cooking and snacks.

Food and Wine offers a variety of ideas for using all parts of sunflowers in your cooking.

Ornamental Vegetables

Ornamental Cabbage ISTOCK

Many of the vegetables we know and love come in beautiful, ornamental versions – which are still edible! Make the most out of every square inch of your landscape by filling in your garden beds with the beautiful foliage of vegetables like ornamental cabbage and kale. Onions and garlic also produce lovely blooms (think of allium – they are in the same family). You can then use ornamental plants in your fall cooking, just as you would the non-ornamental variety.

Important Tips for Using Edible Plants

Before you begin your edible garden, it is vital to remember the following rules when deciding which plants are safe to eat from your garden.

  1. Be conscious of which plants you will be eating when applying pesticides and fungicides. Knowing which products are safe to treat plants you are growing for food is very important. Any plant you eat must be grown organically, without the use of pesticides or other chemicals.
  2. Be certain you are using an edible variety of plant. If you are not sure that the plant you have is safe to eat – bring it in for us to identify, or start from scratch by planting the correct varieties (or seeds of those varieties) in your landscape.
  3. Start small. Our stomachs need time to adapt to new foods. Try eating small amounts first and give your body time to adjust to new ingredients. If you have food allergies, be especially conscious of the foods you are consuming.

If you have questions about starting your own edible garden, come in to any of our stores to talk with a plant specialist!

Fall Vegetables - Carrots and Lettuce

Starting Your Fall Seeds

The midsummer heat is here and our warm season vegetables are maturing and providing delicious edibles. The summer growing season will be winding down soon, but we can continue to enjoy delicious, fresh vegetables from our garden by planting cool season vegetable seeds now!

Plant your fall vegetable gardens in a raised bed, directly into your garden, or in containers. Some need to be planted as soon as possible, others may be planted every two or three weeks now through September.

Step 1: Select your seeds

Fall is a great time to plant kale, cabbage, collard greens, carrots, lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, bok choy and turnips.

Step 2: Review the planting directions for all seed types

Read the back of each seed packet before planting to check for information on spacing, depth, and time to plant before the first frost. While overall planting methods are similar for most seeds, these particular details vary and are vital to the health and success of your vegetable garden.

Step 3: Gather your supplies

I use a shovel and hoe to plant my seeds, but you can also use a small trowel if you are planting in a small space. You will also need Leafgro or other organic material compost, fertilizer (I use Garden-tone or Plant-tone), and of course, your seed packets. I suggest using a watering wand for watering, though you can lightly water your seeds with a garden hose if you are careful.

Step 4: Prepare your soil

Before sowing your seeds, apply Leafgro or another organic compost of your choice (2”) and add an organic fertilizer such as Garden-tone or Plant-tone. Mix into the soil along the areas where you will be planting.

Step 5: Sow vegetable seeds

To sow your seeds, make a groove in the soil to the depth indicated on your seed packet. Sow seeds along the groove at the spacing indicated on your seed packets, then cover with soil. Finally, gently water the seeds using a watering wand or gentle spray of the hose.

Step 6: Mulch between rows

Mulching between the rows will reduce weeds and watering. The method which works best for me is to place several layers of newspapers between the rows of plants, spray them down with water, then mulch over the newspapers.

Step 7: Maintain garden space by watering and weeding

Keep your soil moist by watering regularly and pulling any weeds that appear. In time, your seeds will grow into delicious organic vegetables! You can extend the season through October and even into December if you use floating row covers if heavy frost threatens.

ISTOCK Tomato

Vegetable Gardens in Small Spaces: Tomatoes

David Yost, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Tomatoes are one of the most popular fruits and vegetables among gardeners as they are both beautiful and delicious! Even if you have limited space, you can grow beautiful tomatoes with a container, adequate sunlight and a little planning.

Tomatoes can grow in a variety of conditions, but will produce the best fruit in a location with 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. Before you begin your tomato container garden, check your yard or patio at a few different times throughout the day to determine the best location for your plant.

Step one: Choose your tomato

You can grow just about any kind of tomato in a container if you are willing to work with vines that can reach 8 feet tall or more. I like to grow the Celebrity variety in containers for its hardiness, flavor and manageable size. ‘Celebrity’ typically grows to about 5 feet, making it a manageable choice.

Step two: Gather your supplies

Before you begin planting, you will want to make sure you have the following items:

  • Container: Your container should be a minimum of 16” in diameter for one tomato plant. With tomatoes, bigger is always better when it comes to containers. Today I’m using a plastic pot, but you can use almost any container as long as it has a hole in the bottom for drainage. You can also use an EarthBox, which has a sub-irrigated watering system that can increase time between watering.
  • Potting soil: We recommend using a lightweight potting soil, such as Pro Mix Organic Vegetable and Herb, for container-grown tomatoes. For one tomato plant in a 16” pot, you will need two 16 qt. bags of potting mix.
  • Small square of landscape fabric: Place this over the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot to prevent soil from escaping and keep your patio clean. This will also prevent critters from coming into the pot.
  • Tomato cage or other support structure: To keep your tomato contained within the pot, we recommend using a tomato cage or a plant stake to support the vine.
  • Fertilizer: I like to use an organic fertilizer, such as Espoma Tomato Tone, for my edible gardens. You can also use an inorganic, slow release granular, such as our Merrifield Flowering Plant Food or Osmocote.
  • Granular lime: I like to mix lime in with my tomatoes to prevent disease and boost growth.
  • Squirrel repellent: I have lots of squirrels in my yard so I use a squirrel repellant to discourage them from tampering with my tomato plant. I like the I Must Garden brand as it’s organic.
  • River jack stones or seminole chips: You’ll use these to cover the top of the container surface. This will protect your plants from squirrels and preventing dirt from washing out of the top of the pot.
  • Hand shovel
  • Gardening gloves
  • Watering wand and hose

Step three: Plant

Since your container can be heavy once its filled with the soil, we recommend setting the container in place before you plant your tomatoes.

  1. Place your piece of landscape fabric over the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot.
  2. Fill your container 2/3 of the way with potting soil.
  3. Add your fertilizer and lime to the potting soil and mix with your hand shovel. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label to determine the appropriate amount of fertilizer and lime to mix in.
  4. Add your tomato plant. Break up the roots and remove the bottom set of leaves before placing your plant in the pot. You can cover your tomato with soil all the way up to the second set of leaves.
  5. Top off the container with soil, but keep it an inch from the top of the container to keep it from spilling over the sides as you water.
  6. Place your tomato cage in the pot. You will want to do this right after planting to prevent the cage from damaging the root system of the tomato.
  7. Cover the surface of the soil with a half-of-an-inch of small river jacks or seminole chips.
  8. As an extra layer of protection, spray your tomato with squirrel repellent.

Step four: Water and nourish

Once your container is set, water it thoroughly. Run the water over your container, letting it drain out of the bottom. Tomato plants need to be watered frequently to maintain consistent moisture in the soil. The soil should not be allowed to dry out. During hot weather, you will likely need to water your tomato plant daily.

For the best tomatoes, we recommend feeding your plant every 2-4 weeks with fish emulsion.

Your plant will be ready to harvest later this summer, and will continue to produce fruit through the end of the season.

It’s Time to Plant Broccoli, Cabbage and Beets!

Peg Bier, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Planting fall vegetables makes me nostalgic for my childhood when I’d run around growing, harvesting, canning and preserving fresh vegetables. Even today I simply cannot be without them!

The end of August and early September is the best time to transplant fall vegetables from seedlings to the garden to harvest in October. This week I planted broccoli, cabbage and beets. Here are the steps you can follow to plant your own fall vegetable garden!

Prepare Your Soil

Fall-Veggie-Blog-1Fall-Veggie-Blog-2Clear away your finished summer vegetables in a sun to part-shade location. I planted these directly in the in-ground beds, but a raised bed or container garden would work just as well. Once your area is clear, add an organic planting mix to your existing soil. I recommend either the Coast of Main or Pro Mix Ultimate additives. Once your additive is mixed, sprinkle your fertilizer onto your prepared soil. Garden-tone Herb & Vegetable Food is one of my favorites.

Select Your Plants

It’s too late to begin from seeds at this point in the season so I’ve chosen to begin with young seedlings so they have time to produce fully before the October harvest. If you’ve started your own seeds already, bring them out to the garden now to transplant.

Fall-Veggie-Blog-3

Begin Planting

Dig your holes a few inches deep to create enough vertical space for your root ball to be in the ground, but your stems above ground. Gently loosen the outside roots, place your seedling and firmly press the soil around the roots.Fall-Veggie-Blog-4

One of my favorite parts of vegetable planting is that it’s not always necessary to have your ducks in a row! Feel free to tuck your vegetables in among your existing plants wherever you have space in your garden.

Once your plants are tucked into place, cover the soil with mulch to hold in moisture and prevent weeds. In my garden I used Virginia Fine pine mulch, about one inch deep. I then topped it with pine straw for an extra layer of protection and to tie into the aesthetic of the rest of my garden. I personally love working with pine straw because it’s lightweight and easy to lift and move around.

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Watering and Harvesting Your Vegetables

Once your plants are tucked in and topped with mulch, water them thoroughly. Be careful not to overwater. I check my plants every couple of days by peeling back the pine straw and mulch and feeling the soil. If the soil is dry, it’s time to thoroughly soak the new plantings again. While cabbage and broccoli need the warm weather to grow, they often attract moth larvae. If you run into any issues with moth larvae, treat the plantings with an organic spray, such as Thuricide.

How do you know when it’s time to harvest? Monitor the size of your cabbage and broccoli head to see when they’re ready. When they’re large and rich in color, cut the top off only as the plant will sometimes produce a side shoot. Your root veggies, such as your beets will show the top of their plantings at the surface when they’re ready to harvest.

Fall is the prime time to plant root and leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, kale, turnips, Brussel sprouts, carrots, parsnips, cauliflower, and onions.  Stay tuned as we enter the fall season and add the leafy and root vegetable compliments to our gardens!

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