Fall Prep Work for Better Spring Gardening

If you’re like the vast majority of gardeners, by the end of Summer, you’re getting tired of the garden for the year.  The tomato plants are sad looking or dead, the squash bugs have devoured all of your plants, what the squash bugs didn’t eat the grasshoppers munched down or fungal diseases of every sort have obliterated most of your garden.  Maybe you’ve got a few pepper plants that are finally putting on ripe fruit or you’re eyeing the last of the green tomatoes and wondering when they’ll ripen.  Perhaps your sweet potato vines are covering everything in their path and you can’t wait to find those buried treasures in the next few weeks.  At any rate, most of us are not nearly excited about gardening as we were back in March when we could barely wait to get our hands in the soil.

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Despite all of the hardships of summer, the cooling weather is your signal to get back in there to finish the fight so that next year’s gardening can be that much easier and even more successful.  Hopefully some of you planted fall crops such as beets, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuces, turnips, and radishes.  If so, you’re one of the few brave souls still eating fresh veggies from your garden beds.  Even if you don’t have anything harvest-able, get out there and remove all of the dead plants and toss them in the compost pile.  Leaving the dead plants in the garden can encourage pests to over-winter in the debris and could contribute to the spread of plant diseases.

Add a healthy layer of compost to each bed and till it into the top few inches of soil.  This allows the nutrients in the compost to be fully available to your plants in the spring.  It also makes it much easier to plant next spring as the soil is ready to accept seeds or seedlings with little extra effort other than a gentle raking.  Many gardeners have delayed planting in the spring because they have to wait for their soil to dry out before working it…tilling in the fall while it is drier can definitely give you the edge next spring.


It’s not too late to plant a few things now.  You can definitely plant garlic as this is the the peak time to get those cloves in the ground for a harvest next June.  You can also sow the seeds of lettuce and radishes, but be prepared to cover them in a few weeks when that first threat of frost looms.

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Now is a good time to reflect on this past gardening season.  Write a few notes about what worked and what didn’t do so well in your gardens this year.  Make a list of “Must Grows” for next year as those seed catalogs will be coming in the mail in just a couple of months.  Make a sketch of your garden or use one of the many garden planning websites or programs to help you get organized and be able to hit the soil running once winter starts to lose her icy grip on us next year!

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7th Annual Tomato Tasting Results and Pictures!

We pushed the envelope of ripeness this year, but managed to have 48 varieties ripe and ready to taste this morning.  It’s half of what we had last year, but with the crazy weather we’ve had, I was very grateful to have the diversity we had.  About 100 people joined us for our 7th Annual Tomato Tasting…many old friends and a lot of new faces as well!  We were very fortunate with a comfortable breeze which made it very nice to be outside this morning…the heat returned soon after we were finished so having the tasting in the mornings seems to be the best bet!

The Local  Pig did a great job as our hosts and they broke out big pans of smoked ham, pepperoni, and sausages for all to enjoy.  I saw a lot of our tasters taking home brown paper sacks full of locally produced meats.  I can’t thank Alex, Matt and their whole crew enough for all of the generosity and help during the past three years!

I took a few pictures of the tasting and stole some pics from tasters who posted on FB…thanks to the shutterbugs who captured some great moments!

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We also did our totally unscientific voting for the favorite tomato and we had some surprising results.  Sungold was toppled as one of the perennial winners!

Brad’s Blackheart 13
Carbon 12
Kiss the Sky 12
Green Moldova 10
Sungold 10
Cherokee purple 9
Mortgage Lifter 9
indigo Cherry Drop 8
Kosovo 7
Lucky Tiger 6
Purple Bumblebee 5
Purple Dream 5
Aunt Ruby’s German Green 4
Black Cherry 4
Pink Brandywine 4
Cherokee Green 3
German Johnson 3
Sun Lucky +Anna rossen x Sungold 3
Cherokee Gold 2
Juane Flamme 2
Missouir Pink Love Apple 2
Noir de Crimee 2
Sherry Gene 2
Solar Flare 2
Sunrise Bumblebee 2
Hege German Pink 2
Black Brandywine 1
Blush 1
Brandywine Sudduth 1
Carter’s 1
Dester’s Amish 1
Early Girl 1
Plan 9 From Outer Space 1
Stupice 1
Sun Lucky type Beef 1
Sun Lucky Indigo Red 1
Sunlucky x Sungold 1

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7th Annual KCTT Tomato Tasting F.A.Q.

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Last year’s Tomato Tasting was one for the record books with 100 varieties of tomatoes available for tasting!  This year….we’re definitely going to be much lower than that number.  The heavy rains and lack of sunshine in May and June have us a few weeks behind schedule.  Some varieties are ripening though and we’ll have a decent selection of varieties to taste for sure.

The tomato varieties are the star of the show, but the awesome meats The Local Pig breaks out and the scrumptious dishes everyone bring to share are reason alone to spend your Saturday morning in the east bottoms with us!

Please review the F.A.Q.’s below to help make your trip to the 6th KCTTTT a memorable success for all of us!

  • Where and when is the KCTTTT?  The tasting is from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, July 25th at the Local Pig (2618 Guinotte Ave, Kansas City, MO 64120)  Please click the link to get directions as it can be a bit difficult to find if you’re never been there before.
  • How much does it cost?  The KCTTTT has been and always will be a free event.
  • What should I bring?  Please bring labeled varieties of tomatoes if you can for people to enjoy.  We love tomato variety and want to have as many types of tomatoes to taste as possible!  Put your tomatoes in a brown paper lunch sack with the variety labeled on the sack.  Check them in with Jen at the registration table to get your tickets for the prize drawings.  Each variety you bring gets you one ticket for the drawing…bring as many varieties as you can for the best chances to win!

The big hit of every tomato tasting is the creative dishes people bring for others to sample.  Break out your favorite tomato dish  recipes and we look forward to devouring them!

Also,you might want to bring a lawn chair to sit in as seating will be very limited with the large crowd we are expecting.

  • I don’t have any tomatoes to bring this year, what else can I bring?  It’s ok if you don’t have tomatoes to bring, but we would appreciate it if you would bring along something to accompany the spread of food.  Fresh breads, cheeses, sweets, or anything else that you think people would enjoy will definitely be appreciated.
  • What else is there to do at the tomato tasting besides eat and eat and eat?  You will have the opportunity to vote for your 5 favorite tomato varieties, so be sure to bring a pen to write on your voting tickets.  If you’re a gardener, you might also want to bring a pad and paper to write down your favorite varieties so you can grow them in your garden in the future.  You will also be surrounded by like minded foodies and gardeners who are the friendliest people on the planet…I’m sure you’ll have plenty to talk about!  Also, make sure you make a trip inside The Local Pig to buy some of their fantastic sausages, bacon, steaks, and other amazing products!
  • How can I help with this event?  We are always looking for help setting up and taking down the event.  I will arrive around 7:30 in the morning to put down table cloths and start organizing the tables and tomatoes.  Jen will need one person to help with the registration.  Around 8:00 we’ll need a couple of people to help with slicing and labeling tomatoes to put on the tables.  If you would like to help out, please arrive early and we’ll put you to work!

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Growing Garlic

garlicGrowing garlic is very easy and very rewarding.   If you love cooking with garlic, you owe it to yourself to grow your own this fall.

Order your garlic in July and August to get the best varieties.  Due to the popularity of growing garlic, most growers sell out of their best types by the end of summer.  There are two types of garlic: Rocambole (stiff neck) is my personal favorite as the flavors are more complex and vivid.  The other type of garlic is the Soft Neck which is what you usually find in the grocery store.  The flavors of soft necks are pretty simple with less heat than stiff neck types.  You can also grow “Elephant Garlic” which is not truly a garlic, but rather a type of leek.

Garlic is best planted in early to mid-October.  Plant individual cloves about 3-4 inches apart and 1 inch deep.  Make sure you plant the cloves with the pointed side up and the root side down so they can grow properly.  Water them well and in a few weeks you will see the small tops of the plants poking above the soil.  They will only grow about an inch or so above the ground during the winter.  There is no need to cover them or protect them in any way as they are very cold tolerant.


The following March, you’ll want to sprinkle some balance fertilizer and/or corn gluten meal on them to feed the plants.  The corn gluten meal will help to keep the weeds down a bit as well.  Keep them weeded and watered once a week andwatch them grow all spring long.

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In May, they will start to produce flowering stalks or “scapes.”  Cut these scapes off as soon as they appear an use them for some delicious dishes.  We like to roast them, saute them, or turn them into pesto.  Removing the scapes not only provides for lots of yummy meals, it allows the plant to put more  energy into making larger bulbs.

Depending on the weather, at some point in June the outside leaves will start to yellow signalling the time to harvest.  Gently pull the garlic at an angle out of the soil or use a garden fork or shovel to dig them out of the ground.  Garlic roots hang onto the soil tightly and it takes a bit of work to get them out of the ground.

Tie them in bundles, or braid them if you’re fancy like that and then hang them in an airy, warm, and shaded area like a garden shed or garage.  Let them cure and dry for a few weeks before removing the stalk and storing them in a dark and cool area such as your basement.

Eat about 2/3 of your harvested bulbs and save the other 1/3 to plant again in October.  You’ll have a supply of plenty of garlic all summer and winter and enough left to keep growing year after year after year!


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Is it Gardening Season or Monsoon Season???


I saw somewhere that we have had some form of measurable rain every day except for three days during the month of May!  With wet conditions like this, you’ll need to do a few things to keep your plants healthy and happy.   Heavy rains leach a lot of nutrients out of the soil and also provide conditions that benefit disease growth.

Hopefully your gardens were designed to have decent drainage.  If you are seeing puddles that last more than an hour or so in your garden, you might consider raising that area up a few inches next year by adding more compost to raise the level of the soil or building a raised bed.  Plants that sit in standing water will not do well as the roots need air to breathe.

If your plants are draining well, you’re in good shape, but will likely need to fertilize your plants again to replace nutrients washed out by the heavy rains.  Hopefully you fertilized your plants with a balanced fertilizer like Tomato Tone when you planted.  You can now sprinkle a handful of the same fertilizer on the soil around the plant and gently scratch it into the soil.  You can also use other non-organic fertilizers, but make sure they are a balanced blend.  Avoid most Miracle Grow formulas as they tend to be very high in nitrogen and will cause your plant to grow very tall and leafy, but also cause it to not bear fruit.

I use a 20-20-20 water soluble fertilizer I inject into my drip irrigation system an have great results using this in small quantities.  Be careful not to use too much or you can burn your plants.  I have used a 10-10-10 granular fertilizer in the past and had great luck with it as well.

If these numbers don’t make any sense, click this link to learn more about what they mean.

Another problem we’re going to have from these wet conditions are plant diseases.  Septoria and Fusarium are two of the major problems we have here in Kansas City.  Copper based sprays are a good organic option for disease control.  Non-organic options are Daconil, Ortho Garden Disease Control, or Mancozeb.

No mater what you use to control or prevent disease, you need to apply them regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions and re-apply after heavy rains wash them away.  You will also need to be diligent in pruning any branches of your plants that show signs of diseases and make sure you prune the bottoms of your plants to allow for air circulation…check out my video for more details.

Hopefully this rainy period will end soon and we’ll get some warm sunshine to dry things out a bit and get us back on track to a bountiful gardening year!

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Last Weekend for Plant Sales

Mother’s Day weekend will be the last weekend I am open for sales.  I have changed my hours a bit from what I posted a few weeks back.

I’ll be open Saturday and Sunday from 8-noon.  If these hours do not work for you, just send me an e-mail and I’ll work out a time for you to stop by.

Remember that I am donating extra plants to charity gardens (gardens that donate all food to the needy)  If you now of any charity gardens in need of plants, send them my way and I’ll be glad to help.

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Timing is Everything in the Garden


One of the most common questions I get as I work with gardeners all over the Kansas City area is: “When do I plant this?”  The questions usually come from gardeners who are wanting to plant summer crops too early or those who are wanting to plant spring crops too late.  If your timing is off, you garden may not be as bountiful as it could be.

Early Spring Crops

Crops such as lettuce, spinach, peas, radishes, onions, and potatoes need cooler weather to grow to their highest potential.  Spinach is one of the most cold tolerant crops there are, and with a little protection you can plant it in late fall or even in January to get an amazing crop that can be harvested multiple times in the spring before hot weather arrives and the plant bolts (starts to produce flowers and seeds).  Using fabric row covers or double tunnels of heavy greenhouse film are the keys to over-wintering spinach or starting it early.  If you don’t plan on protecting spinach seeds, then plan for the first week of March to get your seeds in the ground.

The first week of March is the point where our daylight length is getting long enough and the temperatures don’t usually drop to extreme lows like they do in January and February.  Plants started this early will need some protection in the form of a fabric low tunnel to keep them from being battered by March winds, keep the hungry squirrels and birds away, and to modify the temperature swings we have during this time of year.  Sow radish, carrot, beet, and pea seeds, lettuce transplants, onion sets or plants, kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes and others can all be planted during the first two weeks of March.  If you wait until later in the spring to plant these cool weather loving crops, there may not be enough time for them to grow to maturity.  Also, plants grown in cooler weather tend to have more flavor and be more tender than those grown in the warmer months of April and May. 

Early Summer Crops

I know that when we have those warm days in March and early April it is so tempting to get into the garden and get a head start on growing summer crops like tomato, pepper, squash, cucumber, and other warm weather loving plants.  I used to be an impatient gardener as well and had much heartbreak over the years when my plants didn’t grow, grew a while and died, or got some nasty diseases in the cool wet months of early spring.  The biggest heartbreaks were when an April frost or freeze killed all of the plants I had worked so hard to grow.  It took a few years to figure it out, but I now am fully convinced that it is better to spend the month of April getting the garden and yard ready instead of trying to plant pretty much anything during this month.  I spend my time making new garden beds, top-dressing existing beds with compost, cutting away trees that may shade my gardens, and doing other chores to make my garden ready for May.  I also spend April enjoying those delicious salad crops I planted back in early March.

Most years here in Kansas City, the first full week of May is the time to get those plants and seeds of summer crops in the ground.  May usually brings consistent daytime highs in the 70’s and low 80’s with night time temperatures only dipping to the 50’s and low 60’s.  By the time the soil has warmed, I’m completely ready to get my tomato, pepper, and cucumber plants in the soil.  I’m also ready to sow the seeds of squashes, beans, melons, and other warm weather loving plants.  Once those plants or seeds spend some time in that toasty warm soil, they’ll respond by growing deep roots and sturdy stems so they’ll be primed and ready to grow tall in June and start bearing fruit in July.  Mulch them well to keep weeds at bay and hold moisture in your soil and you will have much less trouble all season long.

Mid- Summer Crops

By the end of May, our weather tends to warm up much more as we approach summer.  Those early March, cool season crops are about to end their life cycle and be ready to leave your gardens.  In their place it’s time to plant the heat loving plants of sweet potatoes, okra, corn, and more beans if you like. As soon as you remove those salad crops, add some more compost, and toss in sweet potato slips or the seeds of summer vegetables.  They’ll germinate and grow quickly and provide you with a lot of harvests all summer and into the early fall. 

Late-Summer and Early Fall

In September as your summer plants wind down their production or die from disease or bug infestations, all is not done in the garden.  Remove those unproductive or dying plants and start sowing seeds of radishes, beets, turnips, carrots, and lettuce in their place.  The tall surrounding plants will provide some cool shade on those Indian summer days and you will have fall salads well into October or possibly into early winter if you use row covers to protect them. 

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