May 31, 2011

Tomato Tuesday: Sideways Starts

I just took a peek at the weather forecast and it looks like next week may be our week here in Seattle.  I'm going to go for it and transplant my tomatoes this weekend. Eek!

I saw my Grandma this weekend and she offered a wonderful tip on planting tomato starts. She also gave me some rhubarb crisp. Jealous? You should be.

My Grandma always plants her tomato starts sideways into her garden to build a sturdier plant. This also creates a larger root system allowing the plant to take in more water and nutrients. Confused? Here is a very scientific drawing of what happens:
As you can see, roots will begin to grow from the buried tomato stem. 
Here is how to do it:
1. Pinch off the bottom stems of your plant.

2. Dig a trench that is 3/4 the length of your plant. One side should be deeper than the other to accommodate the current root structure. You want the root structure to be about 3-4 inches from the surface.

3. You can sprinkle some kelp meal into your trench to give the roots a little boost. You may have some leftover if you followed my tip from this post on creating your own Pacific Northwest organic fertilizer!

4. Add water to the trench if the soil is dry.
5. Remove your plant from its container very gently. The soil that my start was in was very fluffy and light so I did not break up the base at all.

6. Place most of the plant into the trench, with the top quarter of the plant above the ground.

7. Fill in your trench with soil, add mulch to the top to keep the soil warm.
8. Do not worry that the top of your plant is lying on the ground, after a few days the plant will correct itself and grow up (see drawing above).

This technique is ideal for those with "leggy" tomato starts or in shorter growing seasons. If you have a longer growing season this may not be necessary for you as your plant has had enough time in the garden to establish a strong root system. 
I will share pictures of this plant as it switches directions and grows up, I just have to figure out how to keep it warm until next week. Maybe a wool blanket? 
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May 26, 2011

Grandma's Secret Weapons: Easy Steppin'

My Grandma found this "dirt" colored carpet that she placed in her garden making it easier for her to maneuver. It also serves as a weed barrier; nothing is coming through that puppy!

As you may recall in this post, I commented on how you should not step in your garden. You will compact the soil and may damage delicate roots, so having a designated pathway that you always use is the way to go.

Here are some other ideas for garden pathways:

My friend Hanni at laid down cardboard and hay for her pathway. (This is a great post if you get a chance to read it!)

Gravel contained by larger rocks
Image from

Wood chip pathway
Image from

Image from

What have you used as a pathway in your garden?
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May 24, 2011

Tomato Tuesday: Buying Starts

Growing tomatoes from seed is rewarding, but getting the timing right can be difficult. If you start your seeds too early your plant may outgrow its container and be ready to move outside when the weather is not ready.

If you plant too late, you run the risk of your tomato plant not having enough time to fully mature and produce fruit!

So why not let someone else figure it out and buy some starts!
When choosing which tomato plants to buy, here is what you should look for:
  • Consistent dark green leaves. Avoid plants with pale leaves or spots. 
  • Thicker, sturdier stems and base. Plants that have been started indoors can sometimes be wimpy. You want a tough plant that can withstand wind and rain. 
  • Don't pick the plant that already has flowers. I know it's tempting, but this is a sign that the plant is stressed. The plant needs to concentrate on getting bigger, not producing tomatoes yet.
  • Shorter plants are best. Long or "leggy" plants have been deprived of sun. 
(The plant on the right is the better option)
Photo credit

If you are in the Pacific Northwest, it's still not time to plant your tomatoes, you can buy your starts but make sure to bring them in at night!
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May 23, 2011

Growing Radishes

Let's talk radishes. 

Why grow them?
  • They are a cool weather veggie that can be planted BEFORE your last frost date.
  • When temperatures haven't warmed up, radishes will keep you motivated because:
  • They germinate and grow quickly!

How to grow radishes:
  • Sow them directly into your garden. There is no point in buying starts as they grow quickly. Only 30 days until they will be ready for harvest! 
  • Once they have sprouted, thin them out so they are about 2-3 inches apart. 
  • Try planting a few new seeds every week so you don't end up with all your radishes ready for harvest at once.
  • Keep them moist to avoid losing that "radish crunch".

What about insects?
  • I'm afraid that worms do love radishes. 
  • You may find holes in your radish leaves, or in the actual radish. A few holes in the leaves isn't a problem, holes in your radish is.
  • To prevent this you can try covering your radishes with a "floating row cover". This will also keep your radishes from over-heating. You can find a floating row cover at most garden stores (click the image to view more info. You could also try using cheesecloth. 
  • Other tips: when planting the seeds use epsom salt, wood ash, or coffee grounds, and place in the row next to the seeds. 
Tips on growing radishes:
  • They have shallow roots,  so that you can grow them in containers.
  • They do not like temperatures above 75 degrees. If you're a lucky duck soaking up 75 degree weather, you should grow your radishes in a location that receives a "cooler" sun (morning or partial sun). 
  • You can harvest radishes whenever they look ready. The longer you leave them in the soil the more spicy (but spongy) they will become.
  • If your radish "bolts" or shoots up a long stem with a flower, you've lost her. This most likely happened because the weather was too warm or you did not provide enough water. 
What got me on a radish kick? Check out this post from about a homemade butter she made to have on her just-picked radishes:

Check out her blog to find out how to do it:

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May 19, 2011

The Rhubarb Twist

I spent last weekend visiting with my 86-year-old Grandma and learned some new things about her:
  • She has an iPad and is a pro at using it. She is googling things, checking the weather, and of course reading my blog.
  • She has a Facebook account.
  • She makes a mean rhubarb pie:

While visiting, I followed my Grandma out to the garden where she showed me the "Rhubarb Twist". (I hope you are picturing my Grandma and I dancing in the garden, it's similar to the tomato shuffle.)

When harvesting rhubarb, you want to sharply twist off the stalk to avoid pulling on the roots. You can cut them off but you have to be very careful not to damage any other parts of the plant. Doing the twist is much more fun.

Some things to know about Rhubarb:

  • Rhubarb is a cool weather plant, perfect for the Pacific Northwest!
  • Don't try to grow them from seed unless you are a pro-gardener. It is much easier to buy starts.
  • Rhubarb gets quite large, allow approximately 3 feet of room around your start for it to grow.
  • You can grow rhubarb in a container. It may take a little longer to achieve your first harvest, but it works! 
  • Make sure there is adequate drainage for your rhubarb.
  • Do not harvest the first year you plant it. You want to give the plant time to establish itself. 
  • Once your plant is established, you can start harvesting in early spring and continue harvest for several months. After the weather warms up, your rhubarb will lose its flavor. 
  • Once the stalk is 10 inch long, you can harvest. Also it does not necessarily need to be red!
  • Do not harvest more than half of the plants stalks.
  • Don't eat the leaves. They are poisonous!
  • A rhubarb plant can last for 10 years! It is perennial and will come back year after year 
And last but not least,  rhubarb pie is to die for:

Sorry, she didn't share her secret recipe. 
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May 17, 2011

Tomato Tuesday: Hanging Baskets

To be honest, these Tomato Tuesdays are a little depressing. It still hasn't warmed up past 50 degrees at night and so instead of doing the "tomato shuffle", I've opted to keep my tomatoes indoors in a sunny window. 

(In case you are wondering, the tomato shuffle involves moving your tomatoes outside, in the sun, out of the sun, and then indoors....repeat)

On with today's can grow tomatoes in hanging baskets/containers!
(image from
Here is how to do it:

  • Don't skimp on the container size. If you want a healthy plant, give it room to grow. 
  • Make sure to have plenty of drainage holes, as tomatoes like a consistent water flow, not too wet, not too dry.
  • Place your container in a sunny spot, out of the wind. 
  • Containers can dry out quickly, so make sure to water frequently (on hot summer days you might have to water twice a day). Don't worry I have a tip for this that I will share at a later time.
  • Only one plant per container.
  • Look for tomato varieties that are called "tumbler" or "tumbling". Cherry tomatoes will also work!
  • The best containers to use are the ones that are lined with sphagnum moss as the container will hold water more efficiently. 
(image from

I'm going to be growing "Rambling Red Stripe" tomatoes in a hanging basket this year. I had to order the seeds, but have heard these are great tomatoes for hanging baskets!
(image from

Tomato hanging baskets are great for those in apartments or with small gardening space!
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May 16, 2011

Raised Beds

Have you heard the word? Raised beds are sooooo in right now. 
You don't have one? Uhh, get with the times.
(A glimpse at my Grandma's garden!)

In all seriousness, there is a lot of hype around raised beds and it's not just because you don't have to bend over as far to garden. Here are the top reasons why you should have raised beds:

  • Increased oxygen in your soil which assists with root growth. 
  • The soil in your yard is most likely not ideal for growing, it's either too dry, too acidic, too clay like etc.  Using raised beds allows you to have perfect fertile soil. A simple formula to follow if you are adding new soil to your raised bed:  mix 1 part compost,1 part sand or perlite to 2 parts soil.  
  • Soil in raised beds usually stays warmer.Warmer soil will increase the growth rate of your plant.
  • Raised beds increase drainage. 
  • Less weeding!
  • You don't have to bend over as far when gardening.
(Yes, he is winking at you)

When building a raised bed here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Check out Lasagna Gardening for any EASY way to create a raised bed anywhere. 
  • If you are using wood to contain your raised bed, do not use pressure treated wood as the chemicals will seep into your garden. Cedar in my opinion is the best wood you can use as it will last longer. 
  • Make sure the bed is south or west facing for the highest sun exposure.
  • Your bed should be 8-12 inches off the ground to reap the above rewards. 
  • Make sure you can reach all areas of the raised bed without stepping on the bed. Stepping on your garden bed will compact the soil making it difficult for roots to spread. 

Here are a few unique raised beds that I like:

Here you can see Michelle at used retaining wall blocks.

Don't have room for a raised bed? Try this technique developed by the Urban Garden

Now get with it!
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May 13, 2011

Grandma’s Secret Weapons: Worms In Your Compost

For most people when their Grandma sends them a photo, it’s of lovely things like her homemade apple pie, a beautiful sunset, rainbows, or hummingbirds.

Here is what I was sent:

I loved it. We are a strange family.

Facts about composting with worms or vermicomposting
  • There are specific types of worms you use for Vermicomposting. The most common are called “Red Wiggler” or “Red Worms”. You can purchase them at your local garden store. Regular earth worms will not work!
  • The benefit of adding worms to your compost is that it speeds along the process and leaves you with a finer compost.
  • Vermicomposting is ideal for small spaces! You could even have a worm bin in a small Rubbermaid plastic bin.
  • On average one worm will turn over the equivalent of half its weight per day. Good to keep in mind when purchasing worms.

What conditions are needed in your worm bin
  •  Moisture, do not let your worm bin dry out! You can either place a piece of cardboard over the top of your pile, or water it down if it dries out.
  • Your standard composting rules apply, just remember no pet waste, dairy, meat, or oil.
  •  Darkness: The worms like to be in the dark. Having the worms in a bin with a closed lid is preferable.
  •  Air: Although they like darkness they still need oxygen, check out one of my Grandma’s ideas for this. You can also drill holes into your container.
  • Do not stir you compost! After a few months your worms have completely organized your compost just the way they like it!
  • Your worms may enjoy a bed of newspaper, coir, or dried leaves.

  • If your bed gets too moist (more than what a wrung out sponge looks like) add some dry materials, or increase the air flow.

If you are looking to start a simple worm bin, here is a great resource:

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May 10, 2011

Temperature Tips on Tomato Tuesday

 I'd like to thank my sister-in-law for coming up with the clever alliteration. My apologies if you are one of those "read out loud" types as I imagine you now have spit on your screen courtesy of today's tomato title...I'm on a roll, somebody stop me.

Tomatoes are one of the most popular plants to grow, but also the most finicky....sigh
Fear not! For it is my hope that in a few short months we will be sharing salsa recipes, munching on caprese salad, and watching "Fried Green Tomatoes" whilst stuffing our faces guessed it!

Generally speaking, tomato plants do well with a range of 50 degrees F to 80 degrees F.
In the Pacific Northwest, our evenings are still dipping below 50 degrees,  so our tomatoes aren't quite ready for the garden.

Growing tomatoes in containers is the easiest way to solve this dilemma. You can leave your tomato plant outside during the day and bring it in at night. Just make sure to bring the plant in at night as soil in your container tends to be cooler than in your garden.

So what happens if you already planted your tomatoes in your garden? What most likely will happen is your tomato plant will not bear fruit. When a tomato plant is exposed to colder temperatures,  the blossoms drop off of the vine before they are able to be pollinated. 

You can however stage an intervention and protect your harvest from temperatures below 50 degrees by implementing the following techniques. If you have been following my blog, you know the drill. 
  • Hot Kaps you can leave these around the base of your tomato plant until temperatures warm up.
  • Automater trays: I have not used these before and I've read mixed reviews. The purpose of them is to keep the soil warm, evenly distribute water and fertilizer to the roots, and prevent weeds from growing around the plant. If you have used these before, please share your thoughts!
  • Water walls (Wall-o-water): See this post from Suburban Hobby Farmer on Water Walls. I have used these before, I did notice a difference!
  • Cloches/hoop house: using a large cloche combined with a layer of mulch can increase your soil temperature by 10 degrees! 
My blogging buddy at Cohocton River Rock Minifarm said that these are also called hoop houses, or low houses.

Get ready for some terrifically, tasty, tender, tomatoes!
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