Here in the Northeast, we have had a rocky spring with the temps swinging from beach weather to rainy, cool November type days. Finally it seems to have settled, the soil is warming, and we can think about getting those transplants into the garden and planting seeds for flowers and vegetables.
Whether you have planted tomatoes, eggplants, or peppers from seeds indoors in March/April, or bought transplants from the local nursery, it will be almost time to move them into the garden or into large pots. Transplants have already been “hardened off” if purchased from a nursery. If you have your own seedlings indoors, they need a period of about a week to be moved outdoors preferably in a partially shaded spot for a few hours a day and taken indoors at night. This process acclimates them to the direct light and to the breezes. Wait until the garden soil has warmed and is not soggy from all the rain. The rule of thumb is to wait to plant in the garden until there are about 5-7 nights in a row with temps at 50 degrees or above.
These warm weather loving vegetables need at least 6-8 hours of direct sun a day, not filtered light. If you don’t have that in your garden, consider putting them in pots on a back or front porch that gets sunlight.
If you are using pots that you used last summer, it’s a good idea to take out the top third of the soil , put it in the compost pile, and refresh the pot with quality organic potting soil (not the soil you put into the ground in the garden). If you are planting into the ground, amend your soil with either homemade compost or organic compost bought from a nursery. Espoma, Fafard, and Coast of Maine are reliable brands for potting soil and compost.
When putting tomatoes into the ground or pots, remove the lower leaves, the first ones that grew on the plant, or plant in with those two leaves buried in the soil. This will strengthen the stem. As the plant grows, continue to remove lower leaves so they don’t get splashed when watering and cause disease. Two initial plant feedings are required — usually at transplant time and then at sign of first fruiting and several times throughout the summer. I like Neptune’s Harvest Fish Emulsion, two capfuls in two gallons of water.
Plant these veggies about 2 feet apart from each other to allow for growth and for adequate air circulation. Disease can occur when plants are too close together and air cannot get through. A common condition for tomatoes is blossom end rot which results when the plant cannot absorb calcium in the soil. If your family eats a lot of eggs, you can save the eggshells (rinse them out) put them in a food processor to crush and then mix into the soil when planting to boost calcium. When leaves on a tomato plant start to grow between the main stem and a branch, that leaf is called a “sucker” and it needs to be pinched off throughout the season. If you need to stake tomatoes or eggplants, use a soft, flexible tie like old stockings or thin strips torn from old shirts. Try to avoid the hard plastic green ties that cut into the stem of the plant.
It is helpful to know if your tomato plant is a determinate one or an indeterminate one. Here’s the difference: a determinate plant will grow to about 3 feet and then stop; an indeterminate one can grow to 5-6 feet or as long as the growing season lasts. These latter ones do better in the ground with staking, and the former can be grown in a pot. The determinate ones are better suited to limited space in the garden or on a porch and do not need to have the suckers pinched.
If your plants are in a pot, they will dry out faster than in the ground and may need to be watered every day in the hot summer. Put your finger in the soil at least an inch down to feel for dryness. Do not overwater or overfertilize as these practices can cause the plant to stress and perhaps die.
I like to plant different varieties each year of tomatoes, eggplants, and squash. I have found Sungold and Green Zebra tomatoes to be very tasty as well as Patty Pan yellow squash. This year I am trying kabocha squash and three different types of eggplants. My daughter’s fiancé will teach me how to make hot sauce from the habanero and cayenne peppers I planted for him from seeds.
Many vegetables can be directly sown in the garden or pots. Lettuce loves the cool weather as does kale, beets, arugula, radishes, peas, carrots, and mustard greens. Lettuce will usually bolt in the hot weather and become bitter so plant your seeds now and again in late August. These early crops are especially fun if you have children you want to introduce to gardening as these veggies sprout quickly. Seeds need the same help as transplants: lots of sun, nutrient rich, well-drained soil, some fertilizer and adequate spacing. You can thin the seedlings if they grow too close together. I like to sow my seeds in a succession planting way — not all at once but some every week so there is a continuous growth. That way if a heavy rainstorm occurs or if it rains for several days, I won’t lose all of them at once. Also throw down more seeds than you think you need as the birds will enjoy feasting on them. Do not handle your vegetable plants when they are wet as that will spread disease.
I like to buy my seeds from Johnny’s of Maine or High Mowing in Vermont as they sell organic seeds. It’s not enough to have organic soil as the seed itself must be organic. You may also get a more flavorful vegetable if you purchase seeds from the geographical area in which you live and where that seed was grown, which is why I stick to the Northeast nurseries for my New York garden.
You can interplant flowers among the vegetables. I plant lots of marigolds as they are natural pest deterrents. You need a group of marigolds not just a few plants here and there. Herbs like sage, dill, and rosemary are also deterrents. I throw lots of basil seeds around my tomato plants even those in pots. Pinch your basil plants from the top not from the bottom so they will bush out and grow more prolifically.
Planting colorful flowers and savory herbs among your vegetables will yield a beautiful and delicious summer garden.
For further information or help with setting up your garden, please contact Priscilla Warshowsky at firstname.lastname@example.org . Priscilla is a Certified Master Gardener and her mother, Ruth Shaw Ernst, was a published author of two books on organic gardening.