Thursday, June 30, 2011

Purple Tomatoes!!!

Have you ever sliced into a purple tomato? I'm not talking about a rotten, left on the ground and forgotten tomato. I'm talking about sweet and juicy, homegrown purple tomatoes. There are several type of purple tomatoes, including the Black Cherry, Cherokee Purple, Black Giant, Chocolate Stripes. My favorite is the Cherokee Purple tomato.

A Cherokee Purple is a unique, deep purple (almost black) beauty of a tomato. The Cherokee Purple is beefsteak in style with dense, juicy flavor.

Today I planted seeds for these wonderful plants. As these babies grow and mature I'll share more photos and tips.

My first TIP: Soak seeds in water overnight before planting.

Also, to help cut down on cutworms and tomato hornworms, cover the stem with an aluminum soup can. Cut the bottom and the top off an aluminum can and slide it over the plant. Secure into the ground gently. This should be down when the plant in approximately 4 inches tall or when you transplant into the ground.

Maturity: 80 days
Vine: Indeterminate
Type: Heirloom

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mary's Top 5 Veggies and How to Grow Them

1. Tomatoes
2. Peppers
3. Cucumbers
4. Eggplant
5. Spinach

I prefer container gardening for quite a few veggie varieties for several reasons. Container gardening allows you to control soil quality and water use, garden through the winter, have tasty cooking herbs close to the kitchen, and be able to move your garden around as needed.

You can use anything from hanging baskets, crocks, washtubs, ceramic or clay pots to wood boxes, or plastic buckets. You will want your container to have the ability to drain off excess water. Be sure to get some good quality soil (probably from the gardening center) that drains well and put a layer of gravel at the bottom of the container to aid with drainage.

Getting Started***Updated***
I use a mix of several items from the garden center and home. Here’s my recipe:
4  large bags organic garden or potting soil
1 small bag Perlite (optional) 
1 small bag Peat Moss or Coconut Coir (improves drainage)
1 cup organic bone meal (high in phosphorus)
1 cup organic blood meal (high in Nitrogen)
1 cup crushed eggshells (for Calcium)
Compost: 1 large bag store bought OR equivalent homemade 

You may also need:
Spray bottleOrganic Neem Oil (for insects and diseases)

Tomatoes take 50-80 days to harvest.  You can plant tomato seedlings after the last frost. Seeds can be started indoors just before the last frost.

Tomatoes love sun, and lots of it. Determinate or bush tomato plants work best for tomato container gardening. Soil should be rich in organic matter. Compost works best mixed in with the soil, and is a great organic fertilizer. Tomatoes tend to do well in soil that is a little acidic.

Mulch will be important around tomato plants. Since tomato plants prefer full sun, the soil will dry out.

You will most likely need to stake or cage your tomatoes. Again, depends on the variety. Bush tomatoes may need to be staked or caged for support. But, indeterminate tomatoes, or vine tomatoes, will need support since they continue to grow all season. A trellis works nicely with vine tomatoes.

Tomatoes take 50-80 days to harvest. Just pick them when they have turned their full color. You can pick them early and let them ripen in the windowsill. But, the tastiest tomato is vine-ripened.

Keep an eye out for tomato hornworms. They are the large, beautiful green worms that blend nicely with the stems. Also look out for cutworms. You may only know they are there by their dropping. But look closely and you'll find them.

Sweet peppers are a warm season crop, needing a lot of warmth to ripen on the plant. Make sure if you start seeds indoors, you will need to do so 8-10 weeks before they are ready for transplant.

Spacing these plants will depend greatly on the variety. Generally, pepper plants need 18-24 inches between plants, and 24 inches between rows. Here’s a great tip with bell peppers: plant a little closer together for more successful plants. Reducing the spacing between plants helps prevent sunscald on the fruit and prevents weeds.

Water your sweet pepper plants regularly. Mulching around sweet pepper plants will help control moisture loss, too. Fertilize sweet pepper plants when transplanting, and then again after the first fruit is produced. Be careful not to over fertilize. Blossom end rot can be caused by inconsistent watering and over fertilizing.

Focus on overall plant health and fruit production with fertilizers. Stick with something low in nitrogen. I use something with seaweed or fish emulsion: these are low in nitrogen.

Cucumbers are ready to harvest about 55-70 days after planting.

Of course, cucumbers need lots of sun—full sun, in fact. Cucumbers, also, like warm weather. If you have a limited growing season, start cucumber seedlings indoors early, so you’ll be ready to plant when the warm weather arrives. Wait till soil temperatures have reached 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cucumbers like soil rich in organic matter, well drained, and around a neutral pH (around 6.5). These all really go hand in hand, anyway. Just add some compost to your soil or your planter, and it should take care of the three soil preferences of cucumbers. Cucumber plants are flexible with the pH level. They’ll do great as long as the pH level is around 6.5.

Cucumbers can be planted in containers, rows, hills, or raised beds. One plant produces a lot of cucumbers.

Cucumbers grow as bushes or vines. Bush varieties grow well in containers. Vine cucumbers will need a trellis, and there’s more space for those in a garden out in the yard.

You can plant rows of cucumbers once soil temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Space rows 6 ½ feet apart, and plants should have about 2 ½ feet between them. But check your variety, if growing a smaller cucumber plant, you may be able to add more plants in a smaller space. There are some varieties that only need 8-10 inches between the plants.

Since cucumbers are a warm season crop, seeds do pretty well sowing directly into your garden. For row gardening, plant cucumber seeds about 6 inches apart. When the seedlings become established (have their second set of leaves- not just seedling leaves), you can thin seedlings to suggested planting space. By planting seeds 6 inches apart, you can count on getting enough cucumber plants.

Vine crops are often grown this way, like cucumbers, squash, and melons. The idea of hill planting is to start the root system in the center. From there they grow outwards, not competing with each other for water or soil nutrients.

Again, hill planting is for your vine cucumbers. Hills need to be about 3 feet apart. Plant about 5 or so seeds in the hill. Once seedlings have established, reduce to only three plants. Instead of pulling up the seedling, just cut it off. This will prevent any disruption to the root system.

Remember, vine cucumber plants are better trellised. These plants have healthier vines, and harvesting is easier since you can see the fruit.

Raised Beds
You can plant any type of cucumber in a raised bed. The benefit of using raised beds with cucumbers is soil drainage. Raised beds, in general, will provide well drained soil.

Cucumber plants are easy vegetables to grow. There’s not a whole lot of work to do while you’re waiting to harvest: trellis vine cucumbers and water. Watering is key, and you need to water deep to reach all the roots. Cucumbers absorb and need a lot of water!
If you are ever going to use an organic fertilizer, the vegetable garden would be the place to do so. Cucumber plants really absorb water, soil nutrients, and fertilizers around them. Chemicals are the last thing you want in your homegrown food.

Eggplants are ready for harvest when the fruit is glossy, firm, and full colored and not streaked with brown. Time from planting to harvest is 100 to 150 days from seed, 70 to 85 days from transplants.

Grow eggplant in full sun. Eggplant is not particular about the soil it grows in but will grow best in well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Eggplant prefers a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8. Add aged compost to planting beds before planting. Warm the soil in advance of planting with a black plastic cover.

Eggplant is sensitive to cold. It grows best where day temperatures are between 80° and 90°F and night temperatures between 70° and 80°F. Eggplant is best started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting into the garden. Set transplants in the garden no sooner than 2 to 3 weeks after the average date of last frost in spring, or when daytime temperatures consistently reach 70°F. Sow eggplant seed ¼ to ½ inch deep spaced 4 to 5 inches apart. Thin plants to 6 inches apart if the weather does not allow transplanting before plants grow 5 to 6 inches tall. Set eggplants into the garden 18 to 24 inches apart. Space rows 24 to 36 inches apart.

Eggplants require evenly moist soil to ensure the best and fastest growth. Do not over water or allow the soil to dry out.  Eggplants can grow 2 to 6 feet tall, depending on the variety.

Container growing
Eggplant is easily grown in containers. Plants will grow in pots at least 12 inches across and as deep. Choose a smaller growing variety. Container grown eggplants are easily moved out of cold weather; so you can extend the season in spring and autumn by moving plants indoors when frost threatens.

Spinach takes 4-6 weeks from seed. You can begin harvesting whenever the leaves are large enough for your taste.

Spinach prefers a well draining soil with a neutral pH. Because it is such a fast grower, it is also a heavy feeder. An organic fertilizer high in nitrogen, the first number on the fertilizer package, will help produce dark, healthy leaves. Fish emulsion and soy meal are good organic choices.

You can start spinach indoors or direct seeded in the garden as soon as the soil is workable. Spinach grows quite quickly, so don’t start plants indoors more than a 2-3 weeks before you plant to transplant them out. Spinach also matures and goes to seed quickly, so it is better to re-seed every couple of weeks than to try and plant a large crop to harvest over time. Sow the spinach seeds thinly in rows spaced about 1 -1 ½ ft. apart or simply scatter the seeds in blocks. Cover lightly with soil, firm in place and water well.

Keep the soil moist until germination
Growing Spinach in Containers: If space is tight or pests are many, you can easily grow spinach in containers. Even a relatively small 10-12" pot or a windowbox will do. Plant as you would in the garden, however you will need to water more frequently, since containers dry out faster.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer is Sizzling!

I am so excited summer is finally here, although it has felt like summer here in Florida since March!

Mary's Heirloom Seeds has provided me with an amazing assortment of seeds to plant this year.

I'll be experimenting and posting and fast as I can.

My garden has flourished in the heat but has required daily watering since south Florida has been in a drought. In May I transplanted my cucumber and it seemed like it doubled in size overnight.
My bell peppers and jalapeno peppers have been inching along and REALLY enjoy the heat.

I have only one complaint...cutworms on my tomatoes. I wish I knew when I started that they would devour all the beautiful green leaves on my Marglobe tomatoes... Oh well, hindsight is 20/20. The next planting is July and I'll have a "do's and don'ts" list.