Gardening: Get ready to grow tomatoes!

By Tiffany Selvey, Master Gardener and mama of 1

If you want to grow food but don’t know where to start, allow me to suggest something with which you might be familiar: Tomatoes.

I love tomatoes. For as long as I can remember, they have been a significant portion of my summer diet. Back in the day when white bread wasn’t considered we love tomatoesevil, my favorite lunch would be several slices of tomato from my grandpa’s garden, a slice of American cheese, and plenty of mayo sandwiched between two slices of soft white bread.

Oh, to have the metabolism of a child again! Well, I may be avoiding white bread these days, but tomatoes are still a significant part of my summer diet, usually with a dash of salt accompanied by farm-fresh eggs and sliced avocado. I may be thirty-something, but I can still eat well!

Aside from my own personal love affair with tomatoes, there are plenty of reasons to grow this lovely veggie. For the time and effort it takes to grow one tomato plant, you really get a lot of food in return. They are low-maintenance plants with few major pest and disease issues.

Perhaps my favorite part of growing tomatoes is that they grow quickly in our Arkansas summers. They love the heat and humidity, so it’s fun to watch the progress daily with the kiddos while learning more about how our food grows.

There are literally thousands of tomato varieties, so how could you possibly know what to get? Thankfully, you won’t find thousands of different varieties at our local garden centers, but you will find an assortment of plants with different features. You’ll need to have an idea of what you want before you go shopping.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • How much space do you have to plant? If you are growing in a container, there are specific varieties tomatoes that are bred to be more compact. All tomato plants are either determinate or indeterminate. tomatoesDeterminate plants only grow to a certain height and produce a certain number of fruits, regardless of the weather, while indeterminate plants continue to produce food as long as the weather is warm. If you’re limited in space, a determinate variety might be best for you, as they require smaller supports, but if you have plenty of garden space, I would recommend an indeterminate variety so you have fresh food all summer and fall. Read all plant labels for spacing instructions.
  • What does your family eat? When you’re at the grocery store or farmers market, do you tend to purchase slicing or cherry tomatoes? Naturally, I would encourage you to grow both, but your priority should be to grow what your family likes best. My family likes to eat cherry tomatoes straight from the vine in the garden.

We won’t start planting tomatoes until early May, when the soil warms, so you have some time to think things over and decide what your family would like to eat. In my next post, I’ll go through the simple details of planting. Let’s get the family in the garden!

Tiffany Selvey, Master GardenerTiffany Selvey is a Master Gardener who writes about her passion for growing, cooking, and living naturally atwww.Songbird-Gardens.com. When she’s not elbow deep in soil, she enjoys raising a very active son, laughing with her husband, and wrangling their pets. Follow Tiffany’s gardening adventures on facebook, instagram and on twitter.

How to start gardening with your kids

Once we get through the blustery days of March, it becomes much easier to get the whole family outdoors. When the south winds start to blow, be prepared to garden with the kiddos. We’ve heard over and over again that children are more likely to eat vegetables if they have a hand in growing them, and there’s no better time to get started than spring, when everyone is already energized by the change in seasons.

The key to getting started is preparation. When you are ready to plant, you want to plant, not go shopping for supplies. If you want to be ready to go when the weather is right, make sure you have your plans in place and all the supplies you may need.

  • Location: Where do you want to plant your spring veggies? Can you set aside a section of a flower bed to plant? How about some containers? Most spring vegetables and herbs can be grown in containers, so if you don’t want to work up soil, a large container will do.  If possible, select a location in full-sun to provide the best environment for your plants.
  • Soil amendments: Healthy plants require healthy soil, so purchasing organic compost Is necessary. Add a ½ inch layer to the top of your garden space before planting, gently working it into the top few inches of your soil with a shovel. Better yet, get those kiddos out there with their tools and let them play in the dirt! For container-growing, fill containers with equal parts organic compost, high-quality garden soil and ve
    gardening with kids

    Leaf lettuce is beautiful and easy to grow.

    rmiculite.

  • Select seeds and plants: Know what you want to grow before you get to the garden center. The available choices can be overwhelming and novice gardeners may not know what is appropriate for the season. Select just a few cool season crops, think green, leafy veggies. Kale, lettuce and swiss chard are easy and quick to grow from seed, as well as some root veggies like radishes and turnips. When it’s time for summer planting we will talk about growing garden favorites like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. It’s a bit early for them yet.

With all supplies on-hand, you are ready to plant when the next beautiful day comes along. Sow seeds according to the spacing recommendations on the seed package and always water well after planting. Check for seed germination frequently, and water regularly so tiny seedlings don’t dry out.

Encourage your children to keep a garden journal and record growth according to their age. I am a big fan of botanical prints, particularly those drawn by tiny hands. What a fun way to not only record your garden growth, but also record your child’s development. If I could encourage you to do anything it is this: Enjoy the process. Weeds will grow and critters will feast, but seeds are cheap and it’s fun to play in the dirt. If things go wrong, just plant more seeds!

Tiffany Selvey is a Master Gardener who writes about her passion for growing, cooking, and living naturally atwww.Songbird-Gardens.com. When she’s not elbow deep in soil, she enjoys raising a very active son, laughing with her husband, and wrangling their pets. Follow Tiffany’s gardening adventures on facebook, instagram and on twitter.

Gardening: What to plant in the fall

By Tiffany Selvey, Master Gardener and mama of 1

As the summer winds down, most of us think the gardening season does too. Sure, we all know that mums are a graceful addition to our porches, but you can’t actually grow anything to eat this late in the year… can you?

Sweet pea blooms are pretty enough for any ornamental garden.

You absolutely can!

The key to growing fall food is choosing the right crops. In our region, some plants will grow well into October, sometimes even to Thanksgiving! How good would it feel to run out to your little flower garden and harvest a salad for your holiday dinner? One year I was outside, with pouring sleet soaking my slippers, harvesting veggies as guests arrived. It wasn’t exactly glamorous, but it was a fantastic meal.

When considering fall planting, you will need to look at two things:

1.     Frost tolerance- Seed packages or plant containers will say things like “frost tolerant” or “cold hardy” to let you know they can take some below freezing temperatures.

2.     Days to maturity- If you are planting in mid-September, you will need crops that are both frost-tolerant and mature in less than 50 days. If you are starting with plants instead of planting seed directly, you can select items that mature in 60-70 days.

What kinds of crops meet these requirements? More than you might think.

    • Carrots: Carrots can be planted in September and stored right there in the ground until you are ready to harvest. When a hard freeze is expected, just pile a few inches of leaves or straw to protect the roots from freezing.

 

    • Radishes: Planting now will give plenty of time to harvest mature radishes before the first frost.

 

    • Turnips: The greens are frost tolerant and are super tasty sauteed. Roots can be overwintered in the ground when prepped like carrots.

 

    • Lettuce: Lettuce is frost-tolerant and grows very quickly.

 

    • Cabbage: Head cabbage and Chinese cabbage will grow through the first frost, although head cabbage is more tolerant of cold than the Chinese variety.

 

    • Sweet peas and sugar snap peas: These plants will require a small trellis, around 3 feet tall, and grow very well on tomato cages.

 

  • Kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens: These varieties are very hardy and tend to do well even past the holidays.

Any of these varieties can be grown in containers, although containers will not insulate roots as well, so overwintering root veggies probably won’t be an option. Still, you can harvest the roots before the first hard frost and store them in a cool, dry area like an unheated garage. Choose a couple of your favorite cold-tolerant crops and try growing some this year!

Photo Caption: Sweet pea blooms are pretty enough for any ornamental garden.

Tiffany Selvey, Master GardenerTiffany Selvey is a Master Gardener who writes about her passion for growing, cooking, and living naturally atwww.Songbird-Gardens.com. When she’s not elbow deep in soil, she enjoys raising a very active son, laughing with her husband, and wrangling their pets. Follow Tiffany’s gardening adventures on facebook and on twitter.

Gardening: Save the bees please

By Tiffany Selvey, Master Gardener and mama of 1

You might have seen a post going around facebook that has a photo with a list of fruits, veggies and nuts stating, “If you like these foods, save the bees!”. While I don’t believe that the end of squash as we know it is ending, I do know that there are some very real effects from the drop in numbers of our best pollinator, the bee.

I have personally experienced the effects of insufficient pollination. Pollinators, including butterflies, bees, flies, even wasps, move pollen as they go from bloom to bloom feeding on nectar. They pick up pollen from male blooms and drop it off on sticky female blooms. Bees move a tremendous amount of pollen, obvious to anyone simply by looking at the yellow rings of pollen on their back legs. When a female bloom does not get pollinated, the fruit will not develop. This is why bees are so important.

If you have little ones in the home, it may not be feasible to have a lot of bee-attracting flowers near the entrance and exit of your home, but you can still do your part to help the pollinators.

beesPlant a wildflower bed in the corner of your yard: Most of us have an unused portion of yard we are tired of mowing. Why not turn it into a perennial — varieties that return every year without replanting — flower garden? There are many beautiful wildflowers that are great for attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Consider planting bee balm, dill, coneflower, zinnias, perennial sunflowers and dahlias for fresh blooms all season. Many of these varieties also make beautiful cut flowers.

Make seed bombs: Turn feeding the bees into a family event by making seed bombs. Soak newspaper in water until it is mushy fiber. Remove the fiber, take a pinch of wildflower seeds (I like these from Grow Organic), mix it up, and squeeze out the water. Allow it to dry thoroughly. Enjoy a cool afternoon drive with the family, tossing out your seed bombs. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss the science behind flowers and pollinators. Need a reminder? Pin instructions here.

Consider clover: Do you have any areas in your lawn where grass won’t grow? Try planting clover for a no-mow alternative. Dutch white clover grows to about 8” tall and produces tiny white blooms great for feeding all pollinators! Clover doesn’t tolerate much traffic, so plant it in those areas that are infrequently traveled.

Tiffany Selvey is a Master Gardener who writes about her passion for growing, cooking, and living naturally at www.Songbird-Gardens.com. When she’s not elbow deep in soil, she enjoys raising a very active son, laughing with her husband, and wrangling their pets. Follow Tiffany’s gardening adventures on facebookand on twitter.

Gardening: Watering tips and beating the heat

By Tiffany Selvey, Master Gardener and mama of 1

When the heat of summer hits, it’s easy to lose track of the garden. Weeds take over because it’s simply too hot to get out there and work! Not only do we feel the stress of the heat on our bodies, plants feel it, too. Here are some tips to beat the heat in the garden this summer:

heatWater containers frequently:

Water evaporates out of containers much more quickly than it does in the ground, so while you could probably get away with watering the garden twice a week, containers should be watered at least once a day in the summer. To see how frequently you need to water, stick your finger into the top inch of soil. If it’s dry down to an inch, go ahead and water. If it’s still moist below the top layer, hold off. Too much water can cause root rot.

Water in-ground plants infrequently:

To encourage deep, healthy growth of plant roots, water in-ground plants infrequently. These plants will do better with infrequent, deep watering rather than frequent, shallow watering. Check your soil daily using the 1 inch method above.

Combine work and play:

Remember the joy of playing in the sprinkler? There’s no rule that says you still can’t! Turn on that overhead sprinkler at any time of day and take care of your garden business. It’s fun and refreshing, and you might even be able to lure the kids out to play. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.

Do garden work right after breakfast or after dinner:

The coolest part of the day is early morning, but if you can’t (or won’t) get outside early, wait to do garden chores until after dinner when the sun has gone down. I’ve been known to pull weeds until it’s too dark to see them.

Sweat, but drink plenty of water:

A lot of us don’t like to sweat, but it’s good for you so I would encourage you to embrace the sweat. It’s a great way to rid the body of toxins. Just be sure to drink plenty of water before and after working.

It’s easy to feel restricted by the weather. I certainly miss working outside in the middle of the afternoon like I did in spring, but there is also something pretty neat about working in the garden after dinner when the fireflies begin their show. Once the work is done, it’s nice to sit back with a big glass of lemon water and watch the night creep in.

Tiffany Selvey, Master GardenerTiffany Selvey is a Master Gardener who writes about her passion for growing, cooking, and living naturally atwww.Songbird-Gardens.com. When she’s not elbow deep in soil, she enjoys raising a very active son, laughing with her husband, and wrangling their pets. Follow Tiffany’s gardening adventures on facebook and on twitter.

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