Tomatoes plants have three main requirements- sun, water, and a well-drained, rich soil. The more sun you can get your plants the larger your yield. You really need at least 7 hours of June sunlight per day to grow decent plants, and 12 hours should get you beautiful plants, with a lot of tomatoes.
Your soil needs to be well-drained, whether in a container or in your garden. We recommend a mix of 20% sand, 20% perlite (or peat, although perlite is far superior), and 60% compost for containers. If you are planting in an outdoor garden it never hurts to condition the soil with sand and compost. When purchasing sand, be certain you do not use sandbox sand- you want "cut" or "builders" sand, although Quickrete-brand all-purpose sand works well too. Make sure you don't accidentally buy the concrete mix!
Start seeds under soft-white fluorescent lights 7-8 weeks before soil temperatures in your area reach 62F, and the danger of frost is past. Don't worry about buying the expensive "grow lights" as the soft-whites work just as well. The shoplight hanging fixtures cost $8 or $9 at Lowe's or Home Depot. If you buy two of them, 4 bulbs, and a cheap timer your total investment shouldn't exceed $25.
Start seeds in trays filled with seed starter mix or use jiffy pellets. Make sure that your trays are adequately drained and that you have your lights about 1 inch above the soil. The preferred air temperature is at least 67F, with warmer being better. Your lights should be on for 12 to 14 hours a day- a timer works well for this. Once the seeds have sprouted you will want to adjust the lights so that they are within 1 inch of the leaves. If the lights are too high, the plants become leggy (tall and skinny). Don't worry too much about the leaves touching the light bulbs.
It is possible to grow tomatoes in a window, although I have never had much success with this technique. You really need a bay window, facing south, to get the job done.
Once the plants have reached a size (2") where they are crowding each other in the trays, or roots are starting to emerge from the netting around the Jiify pellets, you will want to transfer them to 3.5" or similar pots. Mum pots work well for this, as do 16-ounce plastic cups with holes punched in the bottom. Plants will not become rootbound when planted in these containers until they reach 12 to 14 inches in height. When you transplant them take care not to damage the roots, and make sure the mix in the receiving pot is moist. Seedling roots die almost immediately when exposed to air or dry planting mix. Pepper seedlings need to transplanted at the same soil level, while tomato seedlings can be planted deep enough that the soil is over the first set of leaves (remove them first by plucking, not tearing).
the plants under lights for 13-14 hours per day until it is warm enough to take
them outside for a few 70F+ afternoons. Take care to keep them sheltered from
the wind. Make sure they don't spend more than 15 minutes in direct sunlight
the first day as the leaves will sunburn- it's best to start in the shade for a
day or two, then work yourself to part shade, and then full exposure. If the
low temperature will remain above 52F you can leave them outside
After a few days you can leave them in direct sunlight for an hour or so. Gradually acclimatize to direct sunlight, and don't expose to temperatures under 52F. Once your garden (or container) soil temperature reaches 62F, you can plant (provided you won't see more than a couple nights in the 40's). If you plant too soon, the roots get chilled and the plant never fully recovers.
Plant tomato seedlings deep! You can pull off the bottom two leaves and bury it up to the next set of leaves. They will form roots on any portion of the plant that is in contact with moist soil. Now, here is where many tomato gardeners fail. They rush to get their plants in the ground as early as possible. Big mistake! When you dig your hole you want to feel soil that is not cool to the touch. If it is, leave the hole open for at least a week to allow the soil to warm sufficiently. If you have a thermometer, use it. I always pour a bucket of warm water in the holes about 20 minutes before I plant.
Many people wonder how large their tomato plants should be when placed in the garden (or large container). The plants pictured below are ideal in size (left pepper, right tomato). You generally don't want fruit to be forming on your plants, but flowers are fine.
When you remove the plant from the pot take care not to bend the stem. You can gently pull the roots apart so that they aren't tangled.
The Perfect Size to Transplant
Tomatoes do great in containers. In fact, I have found that they consistently perform better in 15-gallon containers than in the garden. Anything under 7 gallons is a waste of time without fertilization. You may grow a nice-looking plant, but few tomatoes will be present. There simply isn't enough soil volume to provide the roots with enough room to grow.
It should be noted that container soil is much warmer than garden soil during most of the season. This gives container gardens a distinct advantage during the early season, but can cause some problems in July and August. When daily high temperatures reach the high 80's and 90's, you really need to liberally water all container plants on a daily basis. This helps to keep the soil temperature below 80F. The Cherokee Purple shown below (16" container) yielded 36 tomatoes last year. This picture was taken 3-4 weeks after transplant.
Kale can be grown easily in both containers and the backyard garden. A member of the cabbage family, Kale prefers cool temperatures and will be sweetened by a touch of frost. Optimal soil temperature is 60 - 65 degrees F. PLEASE NOTE: Hot weather turns kale bitter.
Cover seeds with about ½ inch of soil and don’t allow the seeds to dry out before germinating. This is very important!
Kale plants like to grow in a rich soil, high in organic matter and slightly acidic (5.5 - 6.5 pH). You’re growing it for the foliage so don’t worry about having too rich a soil mix.
Kale can be direct seeded in the garden or started indoors and set out as transplants. Here in Ohio I start seeds indoors in April for transplant in May after last frost. Space plants 12” apart. I also sow outside in August, September, and October for a continuous fall harvest.
Growing Swiss Chard
Swiss Chard is one of those vegetables that tastes best when eaten straight from the garden. It seems to lose taste as it sits in a grocery store cooler.
Swiss chard is very easy to cultivate and
needs only 50-degree soil to germinate. The plants are quite cold-hardy and
grow well into December here in
Swiss Chard does exceptionally well in containers, but bear in mind that you will need one at least 12 inches in diameter. Larger pots can easily accommodate 3 to 5 plants.
Before sowing your seeds it is best to soak in warm water for 10 to 20 minutes. Sow seeds 1/2-inch deep, a few inches apart, directly in the garden or container. They prefer a rich, well-drained soil. Matures in 60 days, baby leaf in 30 days. Swiss Chard has excellent re-growth properties and can be continuously harvested for many months.
Growing Asparagus from Seed
asparagus from seed - either in pots or directly into the beds - gives the best
viability, with a survival rate of around 100%. In addition, with direct sowing
there is no transplanting or root shock to delay valuable root development.
The best time to sow asparagus seeds is around mid-April when the ground is warm enough to initiate germination. A good tip is to soak the seeds in water for a couple of hours before planting. You will find that this will help to speed up the germination process considerably.
As soon as the bed has been prepared, rake over the top layer into a fine
tilth, then sow the seeds into thin rows down to a depth of about 2 inches. Each subsequent row should
be between 12 and 18 inches apart. Water them well if conditions
The new seedlings should emerge in about 3 weeks. As soon as they are large enough they can be thinned out to about 2 inchesbetween plants. Once the seedlings reach about 6 inches high they can be thinned out again to around 16 inches apart. For the rest of the year you just need to keep the beds weeded and the plants well-watered.
You will need to remove any female forms as soon as they become identifiable - normally from their berries.
It is best to sow the seeds in individual pots. It doesn’t hurt to soak the seeds for several hours in warm water prior to planting. Place the pots in a warm room at under lights. Germination should occur within 3 weeks. Once the danger of frost is passed you will need to “harden off” for at least a week.
they are ready to be moved out into the asparagus bed they can to be planted
fairly deeply, leaving a couple of inches of soil above the level of the
compost. Keep them nicely watered over the summer period and - as always - keep
the bed free of weeds, especially perennial weeds which will compete with your
seedlings roots for nutrients.
Growing your own plants can delay establishment of your bed by an additional year, but it does ensure that you are starting with new crowns that have not lost vigor from being lifted, stored and shipped. Begin harvesting the second year.
Vegetable Seed Storage
Seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place with as little light as possible. Kitchen cupboards are about the last place in the house to store them. Temperatures in cupboards will fluctuate wildly on days when you are using the stove or oven.
A spot in the basement farthest from your furnace and/or water heater is generally best. If you don't have a basement I would recommend a closet on the north side of the house. I have found that a shoe box is about the best storage device made.
Vegetable Seed Viability in Years
Beans & Peas 3