Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gardening 101 - Where to Start

Spring is here, and the outdoors just beckon you to come out and plant something.  I have the luxury of a big back yard that we tilled 2 years ago and set up for row gardening.  I quickly outgrew the space, though, and added a lettuce and herb garden this year.  As you can see, I also have various potted plants and herbs

So, you are new to gardening and want to know where to get started.  My first suggestion is always tomatoes in pots.  Tomatoes are reportedly going to be sky high in price this year.  So what is a better investment than about $10 worth of materials for all the tomatoes you can eat during the summer?

While I have the majority of my tomatoes in the ground (24 in all), I have my smaller ones in pots.  These aren't fancy pots.  I purchased the 5 gallon black, plastic pots that the nurseries use to sell their plants in.  I bought these for $1 a piece at a local nursery.  These are great for peppers and tomatoes that like it hot.  The black plastic absorbs the radiant heat from the sun, keeping the soil nice and toasty.  I have two yellow pears (an heirloom, cherry-sized fruit) and one red cherry tomato.  The 5 gallon pots are ideal for the smaller-fruit bearing varieties.  For a full-grown tomato, you will want to up the size to 8 or 10 gallons.  Make sure you use a good quality garden soil for potting.  I have had good results with the Miracle-Gro Garden Soil for Vegetables 1.5 c.f. ($5.28 at Walmart) which will get you three 5-gallon pots full.  Place a couple of rocks in the drain holes to prevent soil erosion but still allow drainage.  Take the plant out of the pot, and loosen the roots before planting.  I also like to add a handful of Plantone Organic Feed to the hole before planting.  Bury your tomatoes deep: down to the first set of leaves.  If there are some leaves at the soil level already, trim the lowest set off and bury down to the next set.  Tomatoes like to be damp, especially when fruiting.  A lack of water during harvest results in blossom-end rot.  Just make sure your soil never gets completely dry when you dig your finger down in the soil a couple of inches, and you should be okay.  A few weeks down the road, you will want to put in a tomato cage or stake to support the growth.  They won't need feeding again until they start to set fruit.  Then you can supplement every couple of weeks with fish emulsion or a commercial tomato feed during harvest.  You might have trouble with a critter or two; the birds are the most prolific.  There are some great dusts out there, organic and not to keep the pests away.  As for the birds, a couple of aluminum cans attached to the cage to make some noise will generally scare them away.  That's about it. Now you can look forward to your first harvest.

Feel free to post any questions or comments you may have, and I will try my best to give you my non-expert opinion, or at least point you to a great posting.  Happy gardening!

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