I've been busy the last few days trying to finalize the tomato seeds I want to order for this year's garden. I have plenty saved of tried and true favorites such as 'Brandywine,' 'Japanese Black Trifele,' and 'Yellow Pear,' but I try to make a point of trying a few new-to-me heirlooms every year.
I'm almost positive I'll be growing 'Jaune Flamme,' a small-fruited variety that has a reputation for being very flavorful. Cherries and other small-fruited tomatoes are always a big hit around here, especially with the kids. Most of those are eaten before we can even get them into the house. Other small fruited tomatoes I like are 'Yellow Pear,' 'Red Pear,' and 'Red Currant.'
Another variety I'll be trying this year is 'Pruden's Purple,' a beefsteak heirloom variety that is rumored to equal or surpass 'Brandywine' in flavor. We'll see about that -- 'Brandywine' is probably my all-time favorite tomato. I have a feeling I'll enjoy comparing and contrasting the two this summer.
Along with those two, I have several packets of seeds I've received from friends, and I can't wait to try them. I'm sure there will be at least one or two impulse tomato seed purchases during February and March. Sometimes, I just can't help myself.
Which heirloom tomatoes are you planning on growing this year?
Latest Articles on About Organic Gardening
About Container Gardening guide Kerry Michaels has a useful (and fun) list of questions one should ask oneself before deciding to start plants from seed indoors. There are several things to consider before diving into the world of indoor seed starting. First, there's the equipment and space issue. Seed flats take up space, and often more than you think they will. If you don't have a really nice, bright window, you will have to rely on artificial light. This takes up even more space, and relies upon having a power source nearby.
But, as Kerry's list suggests, perhaps the biggest part of deciding whether to start seeds indoors is evaluating yourself. Are you gong to be attentive enough to see this through? You will have weeks ahead of you during which the tiny seedlings will be relying solely on you for light, water, and nourishment. You will be their only protection from pest and disease issues. Once they are planted outside, it gets easier.
But, I digress. It's a useful and lighthearted list. Stop by and check it out!
This week's question:
"I've heard that growing sprouts indoors is easy, but then I read about E. coli in sprouts and I wasn't sure if it was safe to try. Can I grow my own sprouts? And how would I do it?"
Growing Sprouts Safely
Any food that you consume raw carries a risk for food-borne illness, and that includes fruits and vegetables. There have been about a few cases of outbreaks of illnesses due to raw sprouts. Most commonly, the problem is Salmonella or E.coli bacteria. I've been growing and eating raw sprouts for over ten years, and haven't had a single problem. There are many things you can do to help ensure a healthy batch of sprouts:
- Look for seeds specifically labeled as "sprouting seeds." These seeds are guaranteed to be pathogen-free.
- Keep everything clean, clean, clean. Start with a very clean jar, soak the seeds in fresh, clean water, and rinse with clean water. When they've finished sprouting, rinse and dry your sprouts and store them in a clean plastic or glass container in the refrigerator.
- During the soaking process, keep your sprouts in a cool, dark place.
- Don't soak your seeds too long. It should take one to three days, tops, for most sprouts. Soaking and rinsing longer than that will increase the likelihood of encountering harmful bacteria.
Sprouts are a tasty, nutritious addition to the diet. If you follow a few simple precautions, there's no need to worry about E. coli or other bacteria. It's very easy to do -- here are simple instructions for growing sprouts in a jar.
Latest Articles on About.com Organic Gardening:
I don't know about you, but I am in full holiday shopping mode. We're just about finished shopping for the kids, and now my attention is turning to the gardeners on my shopping list.
Books are always a good choice, especially if you're buying for a gardeners who is just starting out. When I started gardening, Barbara Damrsoch's Garden Primer was my constant companion, as were the Lone Pine books dedicated to growing in my region. Other favorites came along: McGee and Stuckey's The Bountiful Container; Gayla Trail's You Grow Girl and (more recently) Grow Great Grub; and Stu Campbell's Let it Rot!
Here are some great gardening book reviews from the gurus here on the About.com Home and Garden channel. Happy shopping!
- What's Wrong with my Plant? (And How Do I Fix It?) by David Deardorff
- Herbal Tea Gardens: 22 Plans for Your Enjoyment and Well-Being by Marietta Marcin
- Fresh Food From Small Spaces by RJ Ruppenthal
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting by Chris McLaughlin
- Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin
- The Complete Compost Gardener's Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin
- Don't Throw It, Grow It! by Deborah Peterson and Millicent Selsam
What are your favorite books about gardening?
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- How to Grow Spring Flowering Bulbs Organically
Ah, holiday plants. You know the ones I mean: the paperwhite and amaryllis kits that show up in just about every type of store this time of year. Christmas (or Thanksgiving) Cactus. Poinsettia! We could (and some of us do) grow these plants all year long, but for many of us, they are tied strongly with the traditions of the holiday season.
The good news is that it's also quite easy to care for these plants organically. The biggest key to success with any plant is giving it the conditions it needs to grow its best. All of the plants listed above need bright light. The bulbs (paperwhites and amaryllis) can be moved into less-bright areas of your home once they start blooming; this will often prolong the bloom time, actually. But once they're finished blooming, they should be put back in bright light if you plan to keep the bulb and have them bloom again the following year.
As far as fertilization, I like to give my holiday plants bi-weekly feedings of vermicompost tea, which is quite easy to make and great for your plants. Here is more information about growing these traditional holiday plants, courtesy of my fellow About.com Experts:
Gardening expert Marie Iannotti has some great tips for caring for your poinsettia, as well as how to get it to bloom again next year.
Our Flowers expert, Jamie McIntosh, has plenty of advice for growing a holiday cactus.
If you want to grow beautiful paperwhite narcissus, check out container gardening expert Kerry Michaels' tips for forcing paperwhites.
Flowers expert Jamie McIntosh provides a wealth of information about choosing and growing amaryllis.
I hope these links are helpful! Which holiday plants do you grow in your home?
Well, the jack-o-lanterns are carved, the pumpkin seeds have been roasted, and the Halloween cookies have been baked and decorated. I hope you all have a safe and happy Halloween! Below are some of the most recent articles here on About.com Organic Gardening:
- Review: Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars
- Review: Paradise Lot
- Review: The Urban Homestead
- Review: Rodale's Organic Gardening Success Series
- November Organic Gardening To-Do List
- Review: Made by Hand by Mark Frauenfelder
- Two Short Reviews: Black Plants and Herbal Remedy Gardens
I recently received this email from one of my readers:
"I have a weed on my BE Susans, was wondering if you could help me. It started about a month ago, a thin vine that latched on to the stems. Strangely, this weedy vine did not have roots. It just hooked around the stem and made it's way up to the BES flowers, choking them off. The weed ended up flowering, tiny white flowers, a few weeks ago. Those flowers are now green balls. Any idea what this is and what I could do about it? I've been picking it off by hand, but I had it in the same place last year too so I would like to figure out how to rid it for good.Thanks!"
Without having seen the weed, I'd venture that you're dealing with bindweed. Bindweed has roots, but the vines are able to spread so far, so fast, that it can sometimes seem that there are no roots. My guess is that you'll find roots somewhere nearby, possibly several feet away, and that the end of the bindweed vine is what you're seeing tangled up in your black eyed Susans.
Bindweed can be a real pain to get rid of for good. The seeds stay viable in the soil for thirty years or more, and the roots can extend into the soil to a depth of three feet. The only surefire way to get rid of them immediately is to dig out the entire plant, being sure to get all of the root -- as you've noticed, this can be a challenge because sometimes tracking down the spot where the vine meets the soil is pretty difficult! Less instantaneous, but much easier, is to simply keep pulling it out whenever you see it. Bindweed, like every other plant, needs its leaves for photosynthesis. If you keep pulling off the leaves and vines whenever you see it, eventually the plant will starve to death and stop coming back.
When we moved into our current house, there was a terrible patch of bindweed behind the garage. It took us a couple of years of dutifully pulling it out, but it finally stopped appearing.
One more thing: don't compost the bindweed vines. It will form roots and start growing in your compost. Throw it in the trash instead. Best of luck to you!
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Gardening can become a pricey proposition -- but it doesn't have to be. It is definitely possible to garden on a budget and still have a beautiful, bountiful garden. All it takes is some creative thinking, some patience, and (as in all gardening) effort.
I've always been a frugal gardener. I reuse materials destined for the trash for seed starting, I make compost instead of buying fertilizers, and I start plants from seeds and cuttings whenever I can. I am a bargain shopper when it comes to plants; I can't remember the last time I paid full-price for a plant.
This tendency toward frugality increases my enjoyment of gardening. I love figuring out creative ways to save money, and I get a kick out of getting something out of the trash or recycling bin and putting it to use instead of buying something new. If you're hoping to start gardening more frugally, check out my article full of tips for frugal organic gardening.
Growing up (the few years we had a garden -- my parents were not into gardening) September was the month in which we pulled everything out and the patch behind the garage became a boring and barren place until the following June. But September is a great time to sow a few seeds in the vegetable garden. It's very likely that you (like me) have been pulling out tomato plants that have ceased to be productive, or maybe you've just gotten tired of dealing with powdery mildew on your cucumber and squash vines. This doesn't mean that your garden is finished -- there are plenty of vegetables you can plant in September, no matter which region you garden in.
In my case, I'll be planting mesclun, turnips, beets, spinach, peas, and mache this month. Some of it will be planted in areas that recently held tomato plants and summer squash, so I'll be adding a good layer of compost before planting to increase the nutrients in the soil. I'll also start thinking about what I want to plant in my low tunnel for winter crops -- most likely, mache, lettuce, and spinach.
Of course, sometimes, you are ready for a break from gardening, and that's fine too. Some years, I'm gung-ho to keep gardening, and others, not so much. Even those years in which I'm feeling less-than-enthusiastic about gardening, I end up throwing a few seeds down. It's always nice to see something green and edible growing in my garden in October!
If you're not into canning your tomatoes, but you want to find some way to preserve them before you are over-run, you may want to consider drying them. Sun drying is the traditional method, but if you live in an area where it's just too humid to dry tomatoes outside, you can use your oven to accomplish the same thing.
When you've finished drying them, you'll have to decide how you want to store your dried tomatoes. If you plan on using them within the next few weeks, you can place them in a jar, cover them with olive oil, and store them in the refrigerator. If you have a lot of tomatoes, and need long-term storage, place your dried tomatoes in freezer bags or other storage containers and store them in your freezer. Either way, they really liven up pizza, pasta, or salads.
This is one of the easiest ways ever to preserve your tomatoes. Have you tried drying your own tomatoes?
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