Archive for April, 2015

Timing is Everything in the Garden

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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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What to Look for in Buying a Tomato Transplant

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Many gardeners are perplexed when they go to various nurseries, box stores, and other places where garden plants are sold.  They see everything from sickly root-bound plants, to stocky and sturdy plants, to giant plants with flowers and even fruit set on them sometimes.  Gardening budgets are limited and one must choose carefully to buy the best plants for the bucks.

Tomato Plants o-plenty...just waiting for you to plant!

Tomato Plants o-plenty…just waiting for you to plant!

The impatient gardener with a large budget may be tempted to buy that tomato plant in the 2 gallon pot with lots of flowers and tiny fruits already forming on the branches.  They have visions of getting the jump on their neighbors and having that first BLT before the end of June.  Those giant plants tend to cost much more than the smaller ones and will eat up your budget quickly.  The truth is that they are not worth the money!  You may get an early ripe fruit or two, but your harvest will be very limited as this plant has been tricked into producing fruits early solely for the sake of earliness. It has likely led a sheltered life in a hot house and been fed a steady dose of chemicals to get it to grow quickly and produce fruit to attract the impatient gardener.  Don’t buy these plants!!!

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Another type of transplant you’ll see is the spindly little plants in 4 and 6 packs sold at many nurseries and big box stores.  These are a much better value for the budget conscious gardener and are not a bad choice if you’re patient and don’t mind some plant loss.  These small plants are often grown in hot houses and mass produced by large greenhouses.  They may have very attractive, bright green foliage which is a sign that they have been heavily fertilized with nitrogen to make them look good to the gardener’s eye…this isn’t the healthiest thing for the plant though. They have also likely been treated with fungicides because they are grown in such close proximity to other plants that air flow is minimal and fungal diseases can run rampant.  They will have small root systems and may go into transplant shock when you pop them out of their cramped containers and into your garden soil.  If you are careful and patient, they can grow into great tomato plants.  Buy these plants if you want to save a few bucks and have plenty of patience and are willing to accept a few plant losses along the way.

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The third type of plant you’ll see at high quality nurseries and from independent growers (like me!!) is the individually planted, stocky, sturdy, transplant with a deep green and possibly even purple tinged color to the stem and leaves.  These plants will have very strong root systems, but will not be rootbound in their containers.  The deep green and purple colors show that they have not been given excessive fertilizers and have been exposed to cooler temperatures as they grew.  They will be anywhere from 6-10 inches tall and have thick and hairy stems.  The plants will cost a bit more per plant than those in the 6 packs, but these plants have been fully hardened off and exposed to the elements of wind, weather, and rain.  If they are still going strong after this treatment, they will have no problem adapting to your garden.  The strong root system will not go into transplant shock when you plant them and they will immediately begin growing new roots into your soil and grow steadily taller within days of planting them.  They will produce fruit fairly early and will yield the heaviest possible load of fruit as they have grown a good balance of roots to their top growth and flower production.  You will often find these plants in a much larger variety than the other 6 pack types so you can grow more interesting and delicious tomatoes.

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As you prepare and plan for your summer tomato garden and get ready to venture out to buy your precious plants, take the above advice into consideration and you’ll end up with a much healthier, happier, and productive tomato plant.  Happy gardening!!!

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Updated Plant Information and Sale Dates

I finally finished potting plants up last week and now they just need some time to grow and deal with being a tomato plant in Kansas City.  I’ve got lots of days of moving plants inside and outside to protect them from our roller coaster weather, but the ones that survive will be tough as nails and ready to plant in your gardens in about a month.

We had a few casualties and lack of germination of some varieties, so I updated the flier to reflect the changes.  I will not have German Johnson, Abe Lincoln, Grandpa Charlie, and Polish Linguisa this year.  I added Purple Potato Top and Stupice to the list though.

Please print off the flier and bring your own container to take your plants home in this year and I’ll hook you up with a free plant of your choice!

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As always, I recommend waiting until the first full week of May to plant outside, but I know some of you get impatient and want to plant early.  If you come to one of the early plant sale dates, don’t be surprised that the plants are a bit small.  I have them timed just so they’ll be at their prime for planting in early May.  You can plant earlier if you want to take a chance, but be prepared to cover them on cool nights as any frost will kill them.

I’ll be open for sales on the following dates and times.  If you need a different time than those I list, please let me know and I’ll work out a time for you to stop by.

Saturday, April 18th:8 a.m. to noon

Saturday, April 25th: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Sunday, April 26th:  8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Saturday, May 2nd:  CLOSED (Come to the Discovery Center at 4750 Troost and get some FREE native plants 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)

Sunday, May 3rd: 8 a.m. to noon

Saturday, May 9th, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Sunday, May 10th:  8 am. to noon

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