Sunday, April 29, 2007

Organic Gardening and Great Big Plants!

My garden is an organic garden. I don't use any kind of chemical fertilizer or pesticides. I don't consider myself an environmentalist though and I don't try to make other gardeners feel guilty if they use chemicals. I simply think my flowers and especially my vegetables are far better by not using chemicals.

So what do I use for fertilizer? Lots of compost. I believe in feeding the soil instead of feeding the plants. A properly fed soil WILL feed the plants. I do have a bit of a problem however. I have expanded my vegetable, fruit and decoration gardens quite a bit this year and I don't have a sufficient amount of compost right now. Time for some 10-10-10 right? No way!

I am going to turn to a new product to help me out. It is an organic liquid compost enriched concentrate called Great Big Plants.

I have never tried it before but it sounds very promising. The company that makes it calls it "The Energy Drink for Plants". Here is a little of what they have to say about their Great Big Plants:

What's The Big Deal?
Great Big Plants is a concentrated organic liquid compost mixture that invigorates soil, producing maximum plant growth with minimum effort. The Big deal is bigger, brighter blooms; deeper, more emerald greens and plump, tastier fruits and vegetables.

I hope all of that is true. You can find much more information about the product at In addition to using this liquid compost on my garden in general, just for fun I plan to grow a side-by-side comparison. I will use Great Big Plants on one side of a bed and not on the other. I will document and photograph the difference, and share the results in a future post.

I can't wait to get those early tomatoes that are in the picture's background planted outside. I will give them a boost with Great Big Plants so I can brag about them and many other plants on future Green Thumb Sunday posts. Happy Green Thumb Sunday! Be sure to visit other Green Thumb Sunday participants!

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Early Girl Extra Early Tomato Update

Early Girl was the first tomato variety listed on my last post. With this variety, I am trying to have ripe tomatoes by my birthday on June 24th. Normally I don't get ripe tomatoes until early August. I wrote an extensive post about this about 3 weeks ago.

To update their progress, the extra early tomatoes are still inside, but they have outgrown the light table.

I was hoping to have them outside by now, but the weather hasn't cooperated and I want to construct a mini greenhouse covering to put over and around the plants once they are outside. I don't want to put them out unprotected too early.

If you didn't see the previous post, here is the photo montage I displayed of their life so far:

Then I put the plants back under the lights like they were in picture 8. It wasn't too long before they grew to this:

They had to be moved down to fit under the lights.

From there, they weren't getting enough direct light so I moved them to the floor and moved a light down to them.

They have now begun blooming, which I had hoped wouldn't happen until I got them outside.

Today is already April 27th. The normal safe from frost date to plant tomatoes where I live is May 15th and most people will plant them on Mother's Day weekend on the 12th or 13th. With any luck, I will get mine outside in the next few days. I hope that's soon enough to still get ripe tomatoes in June. Cross your fingers for me!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why Grow So Many Different Tomatoes?

As I was sharing with a friend my list of vegetables to be grown this year, he exclaimed "My goodness, why so many different kinds of tomatoes? They're all the same aren't they? Can't you just grow one variety of tomato?"

How insulting. To me that's like asking "why do you enjoy eating so many different kinds of dessert? Apple Pie, Hot Fudge Sundae, Pineapple Upside Cake, Cherry Pie, Chocolate Cake, Turtle Cheesecake, Peach Cobbler - They're all the same aren't they? Can't you just eat one kind of dessert and never eat any of the others? Variety is the spice of life and there are more tomato varieties available than dessert possibilities, especially for the home gardener. We are not limited to growing only the cultivars that travel well or are long keeping. We can look for flavor and interesting qualities. There are literally hundreds of different types of tomatoes. So how do I decide which ones to grow? When thinking of desserts there are different categories. For instance there are the pies, the cakes, cobblers, ice creams, etc. I think of tomatoes in the same way.

To me there are 2 main categories of tomatoes:

  • Heirloom Tomatoes (open pollinated)
  • Hybrid Tomatoes
  • Each category has 5 main sub-categories:

  • Early type tomatoes
  • Main Season tomatoes
  • Beefsteak Tomatoes
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Paste Tomatoes
  • Each Sub Category can come in several different colors:

  • The obvious red tomatoes
  • The less acid yellow tomatoes
  • Pink, Orange, Green, Purple, and "Black" tomatoes
  • Then there are what I call specialty categories:

  • Clusters or Vine Ripened types
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Varieties suited best to be sun-dried tomatoes
  • Etc.
  • Even within the same category, there are many different tomato flavors. With so many different choices available the question should not be "Can't you grow just one type of tomato?"! The question should be "How do you keep from growing 50 different types of tomatoes?"! That is why I have to cap my tomato team to 20 players (I have to have room for other veggies too).

    I listed the varieties of tomatoes (and everything else) in a previous post, but the list has changed a bit. The main reason for the changes is because after growing Heirloom Brandywines last year, I want to try many other heirlooms. I didn't realize before that Heirloom tomatoes should be considered a whole main category. I will write a whole post about the benefits of heirloom tomatoes soon. As for now, I want to share my updated list. My original strategy was to have two different varieties for most sub-categories. That way if, God forsake, I lose a variety to pest or disease I have a backup. Here is what I will be growing this year:

  • Early Girl (Early type)
  • Celebrity (Main type)
  • Burpee Big Boy (Main type)
  • Park's Whopper (Beefsteak type)
  • Burpee Supersteak(Beefsteak type)
  • Lemon Boy (Main type, yellow)
  • Golden Girl (Hybrid - Main type, yellow)
  • Gardener's Delight (Cherry type - red)
  • Sun Sugar (Cherry type - yellow/orange)
  • Cluster Grande (Cluster - Vine Ripening type)
  • Roma (Paste type - Salsa!)
  • Principe Borghese (Sun-Dried type)
  • As for the heirloom types that I will be trying this year, Park Seeds gave me the idea to grow a "rainbow tomato garden". I bought an heirloom rainbow blend seed pack from them with six different types of tomatoes, all of different colors. The only problem was that the seeds were all mixed together in the pack. I would have to grow all 20 or so seeds to be sure I would get all the varieties. Good idea Park, bad execution. Instead of growing their mix, I went to Pinetree Seeds, Johnny's Selected Seeds, and Totally Tomatoes and found my "heirloom rainbow" varieties. Here is what I settled upon:

  • Brandywine (red - last year's champion)
  • Dixie Golden Giant (yellow)
  • Kellogg's Breakfast (orange)
  • Caspian Pink (pink)
  • Aunt Ruby's German Green (green)
  • Pruden's Purple (purple)
  • Black Krim (black)
  • Last but not least I found a variety called Kentucky Beefsteak. It is an old fashioned giant orange heirloom originating from the hills of Eastern Kentucky. I just had to have it since I live and garden in Kentucky, and my brother lives in Eastern Kentucky. This one's for you Bro!

    There you have it - this year's top twenty tomato types. They have all recently been repotted into peat pots and are still living happily under the grow lights. Soon they will make their way to the outside garden and then... to my plate. I can hardly wait. I will eat so many tomatoes that I will get fever blisters and be too full for dessert.

    I'll trade a garden fresh organic heirloom tomato for a hot fudge sundae any day!

    Wednesday, April 25, 2007

    Raining in the Garden; Good Day for a Cat Nap!

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    Sunday, April 22, 2007

    For Green Thumb Sunday: A Guinea Pig's Garden?

    Green Thumb Sunday is about showcasing what you have growing in your gardens. Well this Green Thumb Sunday, I am being upstaged by Sammy, my daughters guinea pig. Everything I have planted outside in the garden has done poorly so far but Sammy seems to be a master gardener!

    She has planted a nice garden in the corner of her cage.

    I don't know how she did it, I guess she does have a green thumb. But wait, guinea pigs don't even have thumbs!

    Seriously, we just notice those sprouts yesterday morning. Obviously she spilled some of the seeds from her food bowl and her water bottle dripped on them. She spends most days out of her cage playing with her guinea pig brother, Fizzy. That would explain how the seeds could have undisturbed time to germinate.

    The sprouts must have been there for a couple of days without my family noticing. We all got a pretty good laugh when my daughter saw it and exclaimed that Sammy's garden is doing better than ours.

    It's not good to be out done by a guinea pig. I hope I grow better tomatoes than she does!

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    Thursday, April 19, 2007

    How do you find the promising new garden blogs?

    Several Internet articles report that there are 40,000 new blogs started each day! That means there are 1.2 million new blogs started per month! Gardening blogs make up only a small percentage of total blogs, but even if we only total 1%, then there are possibly 42,000 new garden blogs that were started in 2007! Out of those 42,000, there are bound to be some really good blogs that we have not yet heard of.

    I started blogging about my garden because I enjoyed reading so many other good garden blogs. I blogged all of last summer without anyone knowing my blog even existed. I just kept on reading everyone else's and eventually people started reading mine. Even now, I am always on the lookout for a new blog - either a really good one that I just never knew of, or a good one that was recently started.

    One such blog is All About Square Foot Gardening. Best I can tell, it was started in February. That makes it one of those 42,000 I previously mentioned. There are only half a dozen or so entries so far, but I am excited to keep an eye on this one. This site is designed well and Steve really seems to know his stuff when it comes to vegetable gardening and Square Foot Gardening. I am a big fan of Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening as I briefly mentioned in my first Black Widow post. Both his original book, "Square Foot Gardening", and and his "All New Square Foot Gardening" are full of great information.

    It will be pretty cool to read a blog dedicated solely to Bartholomew's principles. I'm looking forward to watching Steve's square foot garden unfold this season. Stop by this new blog and welcome Steve to the Garden Bloggers community.

    That leads me to the question in this post's title. How do you find the new garden blogs that are good? I'm sorry to say that I didn't know about Steve's Square Foot Gardening blog until he contacted me. I know his blog will become popular in time, but how do you find sites like his before they become mainstream? Maybe a better question would be; What advice would you give a new garden blogger to get his or her blog noticed by you?

    The first two things I can think of are to register with the top 100 gardening sites , and with Garden Voices. What are some other tips? If you are a blog owner, what are you doing to get others to notice your site? Or do you have a blog that is still a bit unknown? Please comment if you have something to add.


    Wednesday, April 18, 2007

    Creepy Crawly Close-ups for Wordless Wednesday!

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    Monday, April 16, 2007

    The April Freeze of 2007!

    Wow, oh wow has the weather been "unseasonably cold" for the past couple of weeks. I know this is not news to anyone. It’s just that I have never seen this bad of freeze damage. Not only were many of the garden plants hurt by it, but so were the trees! Look at our normally beautiful Sugar Maple tree!

    All of the leaves were killed by the many nights of freezing temperatures. When the wind blows, the leaves rustle like they do in the fall.

    Nature is a funny thing though. There is a peach tree about fifty feet from our maple and it still has about half of it's blooms!

    Unfortunately, this peach blossom is the exception to the rule. Many of our so-called hardy perennials were damaged. Look at the frost damage on these hostas and day Lilies:

    And now for the dead plants that really sadden me; my poor baby broccoli and lettuce plants:

    Actually, I think the lettuce may survive. My wife and I took a walk around the yard tonight and that is the kind of thing we found ourselves saying over and over. "That plant isn't too bad", and "That may make it" were the best we could come up with.

    The plants that faired the best were ones that had a bit of protection from an overhead tree or roof overhang. The plants around and slightly under my daughters' tree house did well. For instance, here's some Easter Lilies and Live Forever:

    The other thing that the cold has temporarily put a stop to is the reconstruction of our deck.

    We'll just call that the "before" picture. I like to stay positive.

    I will end on a positive note as well. These phlox seemed to sustain absolutely no damage.

    Just like the peach blossoms, I can't explain it. They are right out in the open like everything else. That's just the way nature is I guess. As for the rest of the spring, I hope the weather is better. In the garden it is okay to lose some once in a while. It just makes our successes all the sweeter. You cannot have the mountaintops without the valleys.

    Here's wishing you all a mountaintop growing season!

    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    Magic Sproutz For Green Thumb Sunday!

    I have written several times before about The Spinmaster Magic Sproutz Secret Fortunes plants. We have just grown two more of them and our new fortunes are "Adventures Await", and "Long Live".

    The symbols on the other side are a sun and a horseshoe. If those secret fortunes are referring to the garden this year, I like them! Adventures, long life, luck and plenty of sunshine - sounds like a winner!

    My family enjoys these Secret Fortunes plants but I would like to find some of the new Disney Magic Bean Message Plants. Has anyone seen these?

    They appear to be just like the Secret Fortunes Plants, but the cans have Disney characters like Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh on them. You also get to pick the message ahead of time. Messages are things like, "I Love You", "Thank You" and "Happy Birthday" so you can give them as gifts.

    I have not seen them in person. Robin commented on one of my Magic Sproutz posts about them. She found a website in Hong Kong called Sun's Collection selling them. That's where I got the above pictures. Does anyone know if these are available in the United States?

    These Spin Master Magic Sproutz products sure are mysterious. They are very hard to find in stores, and there is not a lot of information online. That is why I keep bringing them up. People are contacting me with questions about them, but I don't really know much. All I know is that my daughters gave me one last year as a gift and we really liked it. We then found them again later for $1.00 each at Walmart in the discount toy bin.

    These really are neat little novelty plants. As far as I could find out, the plant is called Jack Bean or Sword Bean, which is also called the Chickasaw Lima bean, Brazilian broad bean and other names. These are cool, but why are they hard to find?

    Here's the beef with these products as I see it; They are marketed as toys! Spinmaster Company, if you are reading this, please understand that you are missing a huge market by not showing these to us gardeners! We are the ones that can appreciate them. Our kids are the ones who would want these, not regular kids that happen to see them at Wal-Mart or Dollar General while they are looking for their favorite action figure. You need to put them on the shelf next to potting soils and seed trays at all the box stores where we spend insane amounts of money this time of year because we just can't wait to get our hands dirty and plant something!

    These Magic Sproutz products, especially the Disney Magic Beans, need to be put right next to the Jiffy Kid seed cups. Have you seen those? My kids just had to get one of each kind:

    These Jiffy cups are just a peat pot with a soil disc and a seed! Not near as cool as the Magic Sproutz Secret Fortunes. They need to be more readily available. Sorry about the rant. Do you agree with me?

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    Thursday, April 12, 2007

    Don't be afraid to start vegetable seeds indoors

    I am constantly amazed and dismayed by how many people tell me that they couldn't possibly start vegetable plants from seed indoors. I am especially surprised when the person with that thought is an experienced gardener. I am not here to debate or to put down those who don't start veggies from seed. I just want to write a bit for anyone who thinks it is a good idea to start seeds, but is afraid to try.

    Don't be intimidated because it's easier than you think. I know there is much written about all the things you need to start seeds and it may seem like a detailed science. I also know it sounds very expensive when people write that you need to have a $200 light stand with $20 grow light bulbs and heating mats and a self waterer and a timer and a soil block maker or massive amounts of peat pots and special trays and special soil and... and... and... Don't let them get you down! All of those things are nice, but most are not necessary. I've been successfully growing vegetable and flower seedlings for years, many times on the cheap!

    So what do you really need? Before I answer that question, lets ask another: Is it too late to start indoor seedlings for this season?

    NO. It is not too late for most vegetables. On my post about growing extra-early tomatoes, I got some comments from gardeners that they might have waited too long to start their tomatoes. For the record, I just started my main season tomatoes. The picture above shows how big they are today - just sprouts.

    The question of when to plant your seeds varies with where on earth your garden is located. Heat loving vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and melons should not be put outside until all danger of frost has passed in your area. I'm sure you've read that on the seed packets before. If you don't know when your average last frost is, you can call your county's cooperative extension service. But if you are reading this post, then you are an internet person and would probably prefer to find out online. There are conflicting reports of dates from one site to another, so be sure to check a few different resources. You can see the "frost free dates for US cities" table that I found to be the most accurate based on the few cities around me at or

    Once you've determined your last frost date, you should plant your seeds 4-6 weeks earlier, depending on the variety of vegetable you are wanting to grow. That information is usually on the seed packets as well.

    Okay, now back to my first question, "so what do you really need for seed starting". The seeds don't know or care how much money you've spent to get their life started. To germinate, they simply need light, a container with soil to root in, water and warmth. There are many ways to adequately provide these things for your plants. I am not pretending to be an expert and I don't want to tell you how to do things, so I will outline what works for me:

  • Lighting: I do not spend money on a fancy stand or on special bulbs, yet I successfully raise hundreds of plants from seed. I use ordinary shop lights with ordinary 40 watt florescent bulbs. Some people get away with putting their plants in a sunny window, but it is better to use florescent light. There is much written about using more expensive warm and cool lights, grow lights or multi-spectrum bulbs. I agree that all of those probably work, but so do cheap bulbs so that's what I use. I choose to spend my money instead on more shop light fixtures, and again I buy the cheapest ones available. The key to giving the seedlings adequate light is to keep the fixtures right above them, almost touching the plants even. To do this, I hang the fixtures with chains so I can lower or raise the lights as needed. I used to just hang a couple of lights above a small table. This year I built a bigger double-decker table to support 8 light fixtures. That's how much I believe in starting your own seeds.

  • Pots: You can plant your seeds in anything that holds soil. I now use the plastic cell packs to start the seeds because they are easy and re-usable. Some plants I transplant to bigger containers as they grow. At that point, anything is fair game. Right now, one of my big early tomatoes is in a sand bucket. Really, at any stage, you can use "free containers" if you don't want to buy cell packs. You can be creative and use margarine tubs, shallow cups, newspaper pots, plastic bag lined cardboard boxes, cake pans or whatever. I would stay away from egg cartons because they are pretty shallow. If you use them, you will soon need to transplant to something larger. No matter what you use, the key is to be able to put the pots in a water-tight tray or pan. The trays that come with the cell packs work the best for me. It is important to have a tray under your pots for watering.

  • Soil: Actually, you don't really want soil. The soil-less seed starting mixes are much better. Here is the one place that I don't compromise. Ordinary potting soil is cheaper, but not near as good for starting seeds. If you choose to transplant to larger pots as the plants grow, potting soil would be fine. I use the soil-less mix even when I transplant. It is my exclusive "dirt" until the plants go outside.

  • Water: Everyone knows that plants need water, but many people do not water properly. Seedlings need moisture to germinate and water to grow. The best method for watering seedlings is bottom watering. This is why I said that you need your pots in a tray of some kind. I never pour or spray water on the young plants. Instead I fill the tray under the plants with water. The roots and the soil-less mix soak up the water like sponges. Keeping water off the above ground portion of the plants helps reduce disease and keeps the plants from getting too cold. One important point here relating to the containers you choose: If you create your own pot, it has to be porous or have holes in the bottom in order for the plant to get the water. You may have to punch or drill your own holes. I had to do this when I used CD spindle covers as pots:

  • Warmth: To germinate, the seeds need to we warm. This is why so many gardeners have problems with their seeds not sprouting. This is also why so many garden writers push using heat mats. I'm sure they would be helpful but I've never wanted to spend $30 for one. I keep my seed starting operation in the basement, so I do have to consider the cold. The way I ensure germination is by using the seed trays with the clear plastic covers. After planting the seeds, I bottom water with warm water and put the cover on. It gives it a nice greenhouse effect. I then put the new plant trays in the laundry room where the dryer and furnace keep the room toasty. Everything I start this way germinates well. If you don't use the seed trays with lids, cover your pots with plastic wrap. Then look for warm places to put them like the top of the refrigerator, on top of a fish tank light, or next to a radiator. The pots do not need to be under the lights until after they sprout.

    Then What?

    After your seeds germinate keep them close to the lights. Keep the lights on for 12 to 16 hours per day. I keep the lights on when I am awake. I turn them on first thing in the morning, say hello to my baby plants, water them if they need it and adjust the lights. Just before I go to bed, I check on them and turn the lights off. I used to use a timer to accomplish this, but I would sometimes neglect the watering or light adjusting. Visiting the light stand twice a day is much better.

    I transplant most of my seedlings to larger pots when they get their 2nd set of true leaves. You don't necessarily have to transplant. If you choose not to transplant, as the plants get larger, they will run out of nutrients in the small pots. You will need to add liquid fertilizer or compost tea to the trays in order to keep the plants healthy.

    About a week before planting your new vegetable starts in the garden, begin getting them used to being outside. Put them outside for an hour or two the first day to experience the wind. The next day keep them out a bit longer. The next day, put them in the direct sunlight. If the night temperature is mild after a few days, keep them out overnight. This gradual process is called "hardening off". It is important to keep the plants from getting diseased, but don't worry too much about it. It is not an exact science. Some years when I didn't have time to fuss with them as much, I just moved the plants to the garage for a couple days before putting them out. If you are worried about this process, be conservative and only harden off half of your plants at a time.

    Since it took me so long to explain all of this, I hope I didn't make seed starting seem complicated. It is really pretty simple. There is a lot of information available out there on the subject. If you want to read what some other bloggers have said about seed starting, Carol at May Dreams Gardens asked some seed related questions and compiled a list of bloggers who answered them.

    I hope you decide to try starting your own vegetable seeds. There are many benefits to doing so - but that is material for another post.

    Happy Seed Starting!

  • Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    Dogs and Cats; Down on the Farm for Wordless Wednesday!

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