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Sunday, April 4, 2021

What is the Key to Having A Successful Vegetable & Flower Container Garden?

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I am often asked what is the key to having a successful container garden and the answer is consistent even moisture. If a container plant dries out completely, one time, it devastates the future growth and production of that vegetable plant. For instance, tomato plants, can manifest a physiological disease called blossom end rot. The bottoms of the tomato turn brown and rot. This is due to the plant not being able to access calcium through its roots. While fertilizer, sunlight, and pest and disease management are important, success starts with soil.




The number one reason this occurs, is not because there isn't calcium in the soil, it is because the root system dried out or watering and moisture have been very inconsistent. The bottom line to container gardening success, is making or buying a potting or container mix that holds water and helps the gardener maintain consistent moisture in their containers over the season. This is especially true come summer time when temperatures rise,  plants mature and begin producing fruit. 

I've written extensively on making your own container mixes from peat moss or coco coir but not everyone wants to make their own mixes. People have asked me about alternatives to peat moss as they want a product that is more sustainable. Sometimes people are concerned with coco coir with respect to its green foot print and the cost associated with moving the product across the ocean.  

Beyond Peat checks the bagged product box for moisture management in your containers and it is 100% peat moss free. It uses a Bio-Fiber technology to create up to 25% more air space for plant roots than traditional peat products. This patented process also creates a growing medium that can hold up to 7 times it weight in water. I've been working with this product and like the feel and consistency of the mixes. It is not just wood chips or other chopped natural materials. You can see the fibers in the product.

You will often find three general categories for bagged soils. The first is garden soil and that is best suited for your garden earth beds or the bottom fill of larger raised beds. It is a good product to mix into your existing soil to help build structure for vigorous root growth. Beyond Peat is certified organic, sustainable and locally sourced.  



The next type of bagged product, seen more often now-a-days, is a raised bed mix. This blend sits between garden soil and a potting or container mix. I have found the raised bed mixes are best used for higher sided raised beds and for filling the top 6-8 inches of the raised bed .  Raised bed mixes are often more expensive and aren't needed to fill the entire bed. You can put more inexpensive materials in the bottom 2/3 of the raised bed and the better quality raised bed mix in the top 1/3 of the bed. That is what the surface roots of your plants will enjoy.




Finally, containers require a better soil product that is porous and drains well, but also holds moisture. That is the key. Excess water can sit in the air spaces of poorer quality container mixes and plants can easily develop root rot. However, plants do need moisture. The Bio-Fiber process Beyond Peat uses to prepare the soil mixes, meets that mark. As mentioned the soil can hold up to 7 times its weight in water. You want the water to be held in the organic matter of your potting or container mix and not sitting is the air spaces between the soil. 

Selecting a soil product like Beyond Peat for your container gardens (and garden needs) is the key to container gardening success. The next steps for success, include setting up a watering and fertilizing schedule that increases in frequency as the season progresses, the plants grow, and the heat of summer rolls in. Many bagged products like Beyond Peat come with organic fertilizer in them and that helps your plants get off to a great start. I recommend fish emulsion as an adjunct water soluble fertilizer for your container gardens. The first step is selecting the right mix for you container gardens, the next step, and a future blog post, is managing watering and fertilizing over an entire season.

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Thursday, April 1, 2021

24 Cool-Season Crops You Can Plant in Your Gardens in Both the Spring and Fal

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A  Mix of Cool Weather Vegetables: The Rusted Garden


What Makes A Vegetable a Cool-Weather Vegetable?

The cell structures of vegetable plants differ in that some vegetables have plant cells that will burst if they freeze or encounter even a light frost.. Cool weather vegetables tend to have the ability to freeze without cell damage. They are designed for the cooler temperatures. The cells can freeze and defrost in the sun without damage to the plant leaf. When a extend cold comes that will freeze the roots or area where the roots meet the stem, that is when the plant usually dies or is damaged. So you have a lot of time to grow cool-season vegetables!

Cool-weather vegetables enjoy cool soil temperatures as well as ambient temperatures but most plants regulate themselves based on the soil temperatures. The cool-weather crops thrive when soil temperatures remain in, generally speaking, a range of 50-65 degrees. As the soil temperatures increase, the plants often move from leaf, bulb and bud production into full flower production mode. That is when you see lettuces bolt and flower, broccoli and cauliflower heads flower, radishes become pithy and our cool-weather crops  have one goal. That goal is to flower and produce seed. When the soil temperatures leave that 'cool' range that is when we often pull them and plant our warm-weather or warm-season crops.



Fully Frozen and Survived: The Rusted Garden

Cool season vegetables prefer the cooler weather. This group of vegetables grows best and taste their best with ambient temperatures of 50 degree (F) nights and 60-70 degree (F) days. These temperatures are easy to look up than soil temperatures.  Cool-weather vegetables can be broken into two sub-categories which are Hardy and Semi-Hardy.


Hardy Cool Weather Vegetables: 

This group of vegetables can manage well with mid 40 degree days and can survive a prolonged frost. Many vegetables in this group can over-winter in your garden and bring you early spring greens. Vegetables in this group can be planted up to 4 weeks before the average last frost date in your area. You can probably even get away with 6 weeks if you like pushing garden limits.


Semi-Hardy Cool Weather Vegetables: 

This group of vegetables doesn’t fare as well with frost although they can handle a light frosting with minimal to no damage. They prefer daytime temperatures in the 50’s and nights that don’t fall below 40 degrees, although they can handle nights in the 30’s. Vegetables in this group can be planted up to 2-4 weeks before the average last frost date in your area.





Cool-Weather Crops Can Often be Planted Twice a Season

In many gardening areas, you actually have two cool weather seasons. I plant in Maryland. I can start my cool-weather plantings March 1st and I can plant them again mid August for a fall crop. I actually also plant at this time to also establish vegetables that I will let over-winter. Your cool season crops can be planted in the spring and fall. In the spring, we often seed start indoors as the ground temperatures are to low for a speedy germination. In the fall we can direct sow the seeds as the warm soil temperatures actually increase the speed of germination. The key with fall planting is timing, as you are planting into the coming winter and freezing temperatures. You want to have enough time for your crops to mature.


Different Types of Cool Weather Vegetables

The exact split, between hardy (H) and semi-hardy (SH), and where to place a vegetable in the sub-categories is debated. It is best used for general planting guidelines and understanding they simply like the cool weather. My guidelines for each vegetable is based on my growing area in Maryland (Zone 7). I am giving you the general range for first planting of these vegetables when moving from cold weather to warm weather.. You can plant successive crops every 2 weeks as you wish based on your planting zone. I will be doing new blog posts on planting your fall season cool-weather crops. Planting these crops in August doesn't require you to start the seeds indoors or worry about planting around your last average frost date.


Some Cool Weather Vegetable Crops: The Rusted Garden


Asparagus (H) (Perennial) It takes about 3 years to establish a viable crop. It is a perennial plant that will start sending up stalks in March when planted the previous year. If you are planting it for the first time to establish it your garden, it is best to use transplants. You can grow them from seed in cell trays. They should be planting in the garden in May.

Arugula (SH) It can be started indoors and planted in the garden 2 weeks before last frost date. You can also plant seeds at the same time.

Beets (SH) It can be planted as seeds 2 weeks before last frost date. I have had success growing transplants.

Bok Choy (Pak Choi) (H) It can be planted as seeds directly in the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date. I do recommend growing it indoors and transplanting it into the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date.

Broccoli (H) It is best planted as a transplant 4 weeks before last frost date. I would not recommend starting it as seeds in the ground in Zone 7.

Brussels sprouts (H) It is best planted as a transplant 2 weeks before last frost date. I would not recommend starting it as seeds in the ground in Zone 7.

Cabbage (H) It is best planted as a transplant 4 weeks before last frost date. I would not recommend starting it as seeds in the ground in Zone 7.

Carrots (SH) Carrots should not be grown as transplants. They can be seeded in your garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date.

Cauliflower (H) It is best planted as a transplant 2-4 weeks before last frost date. I would not recommend starting it as seeds in the ground in Zone 7.

Celery (SH) It is best planted as a transplant 2 weeks before last frost date. I would not recommend starting it as seeds in the ground in Zone 7.

Cilantro (H) It can be planted as seeds directly in the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date.

Collard Greens (H) It can be planted as seeds directly in the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date. I do recommend growing it indoors and transplanting it into the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date.

Kale (H) It can be planted as seeds directly in the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date. I do recommend growing it indoors and transplanting it into the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date.

Kohlrabi (H) It can be started indoors and planted in the garden 2 weeks before last frost date. You can also plant seeds at the same time.

Lettuce (H) It can be started indoors and planted in the garden 4 weeks before last frost date. You can also plant seeds at the same time.

Mustard Greens (H) It can be planted as seeds directly in the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date. I do recommend growing it indoors and transplanting it into the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date.

Onions (H) If you are using bulbs you can plant them 6 weeks before last frost date. I have not used seeds.

Parsley (H) It can be planted as seeds directly in the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date. I do recommend growing it indoors and transplanting it into the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date.

Peas (SH) They should be planted directly in the ground 4 weeks before last frost date. Peas do not like soggy cold soil.

Potatoes (SH) They should be planted directly in the ground 4 weeks before last frost date.

Radishes (H) They should be planted directly in the ground 4 weeks before last frost date.

Spinach (H) It can be planted as seeds directly in the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date. I do recommend growing it indoors and transplanting it into the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date.

Chard (SH) It can be planted as seeds directly in the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date. I do recommend growing it indoors and transplanting it into the garden 2-4 weeks before last frost date.

Turnips (H) They should be planted directly in the ground 4 weeks before last frost date




Good Luck with Your Garden, 
Gary (The Rusted Garden) 




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Will Cicadas Harm My Vegetable and Flower Garden & What Do They Do to Trees?

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Let's cut right to the chase. The answer is no. Cicadas will not harm your vegetable and flower gardens. Unlike grasshoppers and locusts, they lack the mouth parts to chew plants. In fact, they are more like a mosquito and to keep it simple... have a long straw for a mouth that is used for sucking sap. They can't chew and they can't bite you.

The essential goal for the cicadas are to reproduce. Once you hear them, that is the time to consider covering your younger trees. Especially fruit trees. The video will show you examples of tree coverings and discuss how the female lays eggs in the tips of branches. Older trees can handle the damage but smaller trees can become damaged to the point they are severely weakened, die or become more susceptible to other insects and diseases. I recommend covering any fruit tree 5 feet tall or smaller.




The females will lay eggs in the tips of young branches. They cut a V shape into the branch and lay eggs. The eggs hatch and the larvae feed over a 5-6 week period. Eventually they fall to ground and move toward the tree roots. There life cycle revolves around trees for the most part. However, they may damage woody shrubs. The risk is much lower. After the cycle is over, I recommend inspecting your fruit trees and trimming off tips that have been damage. The damaged branches can be places for other insects and diseases to take hold.



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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

How to Have Tomato Transplants Ready for Your Garden in 6 Weeks - Container Size Matters

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Growing tomato transplants isn't really difficult once you have the basics down. It just takes some time to learn. However, growing large plants in 6 weeks, that are ready to be planted into a garden, can be challenging. The key is container size. Lighting, watering, and fertilizing will impact plant growth but cell or container size is often over looked. Generally speaking, a transplant's size is constrained by the growing space of the roots. The stronger and larger the root system, the more quickly the plant can grow in size. A lot has been written about lighting, watering, and fertilizing. I thought I would show you how container size impacts the growth of your tomato transplants. 




Here are several tomato plants that were all started on the same day with starting mix, lighting, watering, and fertilizing all being equal. The only difference is the size of the cells in which they were grown. The seeds were started on November 24th and today's date is December 29th. That is 5 weeks. You can see how the seeds started in the larger 6 pack, on the right, are much bigger plants. The roots had more room to grow and expand. Therefore, their overall growth/size is significantly larger than the other plants. The tomato transplants in the middle had more space for root growth than the plants on the left. You can also see a size difference in those plants.




Room for roots is the 'overlooked' key to getting transplants garden ready in 6 weeks. The plants on the left and in the middle are really ready to be potted up into larger containers and need a couple more weeks of growth. Starting plants in larger cells not only brings you larger transplants over the same time period, it can save you time, by removing the need to up-pot/repot plants. The container size you choose, to start your tomato transplants in, is really a function of space available under your grow-lights and the amount of transplants you are growing. 




The plants were watered equally and were fertilized around the 2 week and 4 week mark with a diluted water soluble fertilizer. The next step for the 5 week old plants, on the right, is acclimation to the the outdoor sun. Since seed starts are grown indoors, they do not have protection from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. They need to be slowly exposed to the sun and elements over a 7 day period. This additional week of acclimation brings the plants to 6 weeks of growth. They would be ready to go into the ground, if my ground wasn't frozen. Keep in mind that tomato transplants are best grown in soil that has reached 50 degrees and when the danger of frost has well passed. Here is the video that goes along with this blog post.




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The pictures below show how the root systems filled the actual growing space of the large, medium, and small cells almost equally over 5 weeks. The root growth is more expansive when the plants are given more starting mix to grow within from the start.  That is, there are more roots and root surface area in the larger cell. You can see how growth was restricted due to space limitations. Smaller cells do restrict the growth of the stem and leaves by limiting root growth or expansion.. Each cell type has value based on what you are growing, your space, and timing for getting plants into the garden.

You can find seed starting products at my seed and garden shop: Starting Cell & Flats. The largest cell in the this post is listed as Medium Cells at my shop.




Alternatives to purchasing cells could be recycled yogurt containers, cut water bottles, repurposed nursery pots or any plastic container. Make sure you place holes in the containers for drainage. Root systems of your transplants will quickly grow and expand to fill the space of the containers you use. The more root growth you have to start, the more top growth you get. Addressing root growth will allow you to grow large tomato transplants in 6 weeks.


Larger Cells - No Need to Up-Pot



Medium Cells - Up-Potting Perhaps


Small Standard Cells - Up-Potting Needed




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Wednesday, November 4, 2020

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting Your First Vegetable Garden

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5 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting Your First Vegetable Garden


I can't imagine not being able to have a vegetable garden. It has become an essential part of my life and happiness. My goal is to help you have a better garden. These are common mistakes people make when starting their first garden. 

Most garden plants really do require a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun. That 6 hours is firm for full plant production.  However, very often, gardeners don't take the time to make sure their future garden gets 6 hours of essential sun. In a perfect world a garden should get 8-10 hours of sunlight. Check the space that you are considering for your new garden every 2 hours, starting at 8 in the morning. It doesn't matter if the hours of direct sun are split up over the day, just make sure it gets a full 6 hours of direct sunlight.

Not only do you need sunlight, you need soil the drains well. Plant roots can't sit in soggy soil for prolong periods of time, think 24 hours. Sitting water, at root level, causes root rot. In short, water fills the spaces in the soil and replaces oxygen. Most gardens drain just fine. Watch your future garden space after a heavy run and see how it does. It should be able to shed the excess water, from the surface, within 60 minutes. If you are in doubt, dig a hole 12 inches deep and about 12 inches wide. Fill the hole with water. If it drains away in about an hour, you are good to go.




Along with good drainage, is the need for regular and consistent watering. No one can tell you how often to do this. It is too dependent on the soil in your garden, the size of your plants and your daily temperatures. The most important thing to understand is that you have to water the entire garden. Most plants send out surface roots. You need to supply adequate water to the surface roots and the deeper roots. Very often new gardeners just water the base of the plants. When in doubt, water your garden 2-3 times a week and supply enough water during those periods for water to soak a good 6-12 inches into the garden soil. Obviously, when you plant seeds or have small transplants you wont need to water this deeply but you will have to keep the top several inches moist. 


Don't Get Overwhelmed: Start Small - The Rusted Garden


It is more important to start small and wish you had more room to grow more plants than it is to have more space than you can handle. Overwhelming yourself with a garden that becomes too large to manage and care for, when the crops start maturing, is easy to do when you first start. You will have to learn to prune, feed, and manage pests and diseases. Start small, learn, and as your confidence grows, expand your garden.


Start A Compost Bin Right Away - The Rusted Garden
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Limited Space? Use A Trashcan to Make Leaf Mold


Organic gardening is wonderful but it is not about buying packaged goods with stamps of organic approval. There is nothing wrong with the products. However, very often, you are paying a lot of money for them. You just don't need everything they literally throw in your face with fancy packaging.

Organic gardening has been around for centuries. It is about sourcing your garden amendments from your immediate and local area. Make your own compost, order in manures locally and look for alternatives to paying very high prices for bagged organic products. No bagged product is better then good old compost and manure. When it comes to composting, it is not rocket science. Start a compost pile or bin right away and just fill it. Nature will take care of it for you.

And finally, the biggest mistake, in my opinion, is not starting your first garden. Fall is a great time to build the beds and set up your future new garden for the coming spring. Plants want to grow and gardens want to give. You don't have to know 'everything' prior to planting your first garden. In fact, you need to start planting and growing your gardening to find out if it is your new passion. If it is, your garden will also become your classroom. Each year you will learn more and become a better gardener. So... just get started!


Cheers & Good Luck in Your Gardens!
Gary

This Post is Sponsored by Sow Perfect Seeder





Subscribe to my YouTube Channel The Rusted Garden Homestead
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Visit The Rusted Garden Seed and Garden Shop for your Seeds, Starting Supplies, 
 Fabric Pots, Neem Oil,  Peppermint and Other Oils, Calcium Nitrate and More.
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