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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How to Build a Raised Bed Tomato & Vegetable Garden: Complete Details, Pictures and Video

How to Build a Raised Bed Tomato & Vegetable Garden:
 Complete Details, Pictures and Video

Raised bed gardening is something I have been doing for the last 10 years. I wouldn't garden any other way. The benefits and future savings, outweigh the minimal work and cost needed to set up a basic raised bed.  A raised bed garden allows you to grow twice as many vegetables in the same space you would use if the garden bed were dug at ground level.  Raise bed gardens warm quicker and can be planted sooner than flat earth gardens. They allow you to extend the growing season and also focus soil resources to a targeted area.

What Do Raised Bed Gardens Look Like?

There are many raised bed garden designs. My raised beds are nothing fancy, just framed beds. My raised beds are also always 4 feet wide. This allows you to reach in to the center of the raised bed from any side. The goal is to not walk in them as to not compact the growing area with your weight. I have 4x4 foot raised beds,  4x6 foot raised beds, 4x8 foot raised beds and even a 2x10 foot raised bed. The sides of a raised bed should be a minimum of 6-8 inches and can really go as high as you wish.

4x4 Raised Garden Bed - The Rusted Garden Blog
4x4 Raised Bed Garden - The Rusted Garden Blog

What Are the Benefits of a Raised Bed?
  • Higher vegetable yields: You will get 2x's the vegetable production out of a raised bed than a standard flat earth bed. You can plant vegetables closer together because of better soil conditions.
  • Better soil: You can add garden soil, organic matter and all the other good stuff to your raised bed. Soil compaction is greatly reduced because you never step in the bed. Soil compaction inhibits plant growth, oxygen uptake and water circulation.
  • Better drainage: Your raised bed will drain quickly and be less prone to staying soggy thus preventing disease and rot conditions.
  • Better air circulation and more sunshine: Raised beds tend to get better circulation and more sun depending how you set them up. Air circulation helps cut down on plant diseases.
  • Better water conservation: You only water where the vegetables are growing. You can also install slow drip soaker hoses in the bottom of your raised bed garden.
  • Easier pest and weed control: It is easier to fence in your raised bed garden if there are animal problems. Weeding is easier and because you can plant more plants in a raised bed garden, they tend to shade out weeds. Finding smaller damaging insects and controlling them is also easier.
  • Earlier start and later finish: You can start gardening earlier because raised bed gardens warm more quickly in the season when compared to a flat earth garden. You can garden later into the season because raised bed gardens stay warmer as Fall arrives. They can also more easily be covered with row covers or adapted for cold-frames.
  • Easier to tend and manage: You can raise a bed up to two feet. This requires less bending. Once the soil is prepared, little work is needed to maintain it. Since you don't step in it, the soil stays loose and workable all year round. It is also easier to reach in and tend to your plants and pick your garden produce.
  • Saves time and money and they look great.  Your cost over time diminishes. It costs money to build the raised beds initially but you save money over time by only concentrating resources to where the vegetables are actually going to be grown. You save yourself time by only working the area that will actually grow vegetables. They look good and really help create an organized garden. Less mud too. You can mulch between raised beds for a clean working area and you will never have to step onto muddy garden soil.

Fall Raised Beds After Storm - The Rusted Vegetable Garden Blog

What Kind of Wood Do I Use?

I use pressure treated wood. It will last seven to ten years or longer. You can use wood that isn't pressure treated but it will decay and need to be replaced in about three to four  years. The biggest controversy, years back, was whether or not pressure treated wood had harmful health risks.

This argument was a legitimate argument when pressure treated wood contained arsenic. Most pressure treated wood now uses copper and NOT arsenic. Check with you local lumber yard and ask what chemicals are used to pressure treat the wood they sell. You can also use plastic products, metal, cinder block, hay bails and even stone. You are not limited to wood. I personally prefer wood.

What Size Boards Do I Get?

The length of the board I recommend is an 8 foot board. This length is perfect for a planting row and if you cut the board in half you get two 4 foot boards. That creates a perfect dimension of 4 ft. x 8 ft.  The boards I use are 6-12 inches wide. I recommended a minimum of 6-8 inches for your sides. You can go up to 24 inches for the sides of your raised bed garden. 
According to research 6 inches provides enough height to improve soil warmth and gain drainage benefits.  I do have beds were I stacked two frames on top of each other to create 12 inch sides. I use this for my cold frame. If it is more difficult for you to bend or reach, higher sides is the way to go. You can always add another level when needed. Board widths vary from 6 inches to 12 inches. If you want the sides to be higher you will need to stack frames.

Why is a 4 Foot width the Perfect Dimension?

If you stick out your arms you have about a 2-3 foot reach. If you were to walk around your raised bed garden you could reach in from either side and tend to the garden without every stepping into the box. That is one benefit of raised bed gardening. The garden soil stays loose all year around because you never step on the soil  that supports the vegetables. Compacted dirt harms vegetable roots and prevents your plants from growing. You don't want to build a frame where you have to step onto the soil to reach the middle of the framed area. That defeats one of the purpose of a raised bed.

Building the Raised Bed Garden Frame

I want to keep this simple. Often to much goes into perfecting the construction. It doesn't need to be perfect. To build the frame you need wood, 3-4 inch deck screws and a drill. Do not use nails. They tend to get pulled out of place if the board warps.
  • Decide on the frame sizes.
  • Purchase the wood. Let's assume you decide on two 4 ft. x 8 ft. frames. You will need to purchase six 8 foot boards. They should cost you $6 to $9 a board depending on if you choice 6, 8 or 10 inch wide boards..
  • Get the wood cut at the store. I suggest going to Home Depot or a place that will cut the wood. You should ask to have two 8 foot boards cut in half. That will give you four 4 foot pieces of lumber. You now have all the sides for two raised bed garden frames. 
  • Purchase a box of 3-4 inch deck screws. I suggest 4 inch screws. You will need 24 screws to build both frames.
  • Drill 2-3 pilot holes (see video below) on each side of the 4 foot pieces of lumber. The drill bit should be smaller than the width of the screws you are using. You do this to prevent the boards from splitting when you put in the screws.
  • Screw the frame together.
  • You now have a secure raised bed garden frame.

Same video for device compatibility.

Preparing the Site for the Raised Bed
I want to keep this simple too. Your garden will grow no matter how you prepare the soil and over time you can perfect it. You will need a level. It helps in making sure the frame is (well) level. If you don't have one, you can use your eye.
  • Drop the frame where the garden is going to be. I will assume you know to select a sunny location. You can use spray paint, dirt or even flour to trace out the frame. Once you trace out the frame, move the frame to an out of the way place.
  • Dig the grass out. I wouldn't spend much time banging clumps. You will be buying soil. Just dig down enough to get the roots and remove all the grass. I bag my yard waste and set it curb side.You could also just turn the clumps over as I did for this bed.
  • Now that you have a grass free space, put the frame back on the garden plot. Use the level and a hand shovel to make sure the frame sits level on your raised bed garden plot. You may have to move dirt around to raise or lower parts of the frame. It doesn't need to be perfect. Your site is prepared.

Trace Inside of Bed - The Rusted Garden Blog
Remove Frame - The Rusted Garden Blog
Turn Bottom of Raised Bed - The Rusted Garden Blog

What Do I Need to Buy to Prepare the Garden Soil?

I am going to give you the supplies for one 4 ft. x 8 ft raised bed garden. The sides for this example are 6 inches. If you make 12 inch sided frame you will need to double the bags of garden soil. Just double the bags of the garden soil, nothing else. This is enough to get your started and on your way. You can add grass clippings and other organic matter over time. You don't need perfect soil to start.
  • 8 bags of garden soil in the one cubic foot range. More is better. Make sure you buy garden soil and not the bottom line top soil. Any product that has organic matter in it is fine. It is typically billed as either premium top soil or garden soil.
  • One 8 foot cubic bail of sphagnum peat moss.
  • One bag of the cheapest 10-10-10 (or close to that) bag of fertilizer. This is enough fertilizer for many raised bed gardens.If you want to be 100% organic just use a matching product.
  • One bag of pulverized lime. This is enough lime for many raised bed gardens. 
  • You can add additional bags of composted cow manure or humus as you decided.

Preparing the Raised Bed Garden Soil

Keep in mind your soil will get better over time and vegetables will grow in most soil. Perfection is not the goal. With these amendments to your plot, you will have no trouble growing vegetables. It is just the beginning of your raised garden beds.
  • Open the bag of sphagnum peat moss in the middle of your framed bed. Do not rake it yet. Sprinkle in four cups of pulverized lime over the pile of peat moss. Take precautions not breathe in the dust. Mix the peat moss and lime together and rake it evenly over the plot. Peat moss can be acidic. Lime is alkaline. Mixing them together helps balance the PH. You don't need to test your soil.
  • Sprinkle three or four cups (8 ounces per cup) of fertilizer over the raked peat moss. The fertilizer will get turned into the earth. 
  • Turn the peat moss and fertilizer into the existing soil. You are not adding the bags of garden soil at this time. You are creating loose earth below the frame of you garden plot. This is the benefit to raised bed gardening. You will have loose soil to at least a depth of 18 inches depending on how high the sides are on your raised bed. Make sure your break up any large clumps. The peat moss provides organic matter that will hold moisture.
  • Open four bags of garden soil and rake it evenly across the surface of your raised bed. You want to turn the earth again making sure your not standing in the garden. You should do this from outside the frame. Turn the bags of garden soil into the earth. Extra effort to dig deep and turn extra earth is worth it at this point. You have now created good quality soil at deep root growing depth. You have mixed the the standard earth in your area with peat moss and garden soil. It's been boosted with fertilizer.
  • Open the remaining four bags of garden soil and rake it evenly across the surface of your raised bed. Sprinkle one or two more cup of fertilizer evenly across the entire surface of the garden. Mix the bags of garden soil in with the existing earth to about 10 inches. You don't need to go as deep. You are making a well amended 10 inch level of soil for seed planting.
  • Rake the garden even and break up clumps. Don't worry if your soil doesn't come to the top of the wood. Over time you will add grass clipping and other things. Do it at your leisure or when organic matter is available. It's ready to be planted.

Double Digging Established Raised Beds

After your raised bed has been used for a growing season, you might want to consider preparing it with a method called double digging. In your second year of the raised bed you can bring in what every amendments you wish to use. Double digging is a method to get deep into your raised bed and loosen the soil and add new soil amendments.. Here is what it looks like in pictures. I also have included a link to the original blog entry: How to Double Dig a Raised Garden Bed . You can do this every 3 years or so. It does not have to be done yearly.

Double Digging a Raised Bed - The Rusted Garden Blog
Double Dig Method - The Rusted Garden Blog

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Two Things About Tomatoes: What are Heirlooms and Hybrids?

Two Things About Tomatoes: What are Heirlooms and Hybrids?

Tomato seeds are often described as heirloom seeds or hybrid seeds. What do these terms mean and where did they come from are answered.

Heirloom Tomatoes - The Rusted Garden Blog
What are Heirloom Tomatoes? 
Heirloom tomatoes or seeds came out as a classification term that was coined in the 1980's by Kent Whealy. He borrowed that from another gardener that classified his vegetable seeds that way. Essentially it meant seeds passed down from generation to generation much like a family heirloom chest or object. Heirloom tomato seeds were born and the words have been used together ever since.

In my opinion there are only two kinds of heirlooms: Nature made heirlooms and commercially created heirlooms. The length of time that a specific tomato plant and seeds have been around, and are 100% true to form, also defines whether or not it is classified as an heirloom. True to form means that the seeds grow to give you the same exact plant and fruit. You will find different opinions on the amount of time a variety must exist... I am fine with saying 50 years.

Natural Heirlooms: have been around probably 100's of years and are true to form. They have been passed down from generation to generation or have been growing wild, only to be discovered by some lucky gardener. Nature created them. This is what an heirloom means to me. That is what I look for.

Commercially Created Heirlooms: are tomatoes that were either created for commercial use in the 1940's and 1950's or created by people to cross tomato characteristics. These heirlooms have to go through a long process of breeding over many many generations of plantings to create seed that is true to form year after year after year. This process could take a decade. And it takes another 40 years of staying true to form to be called and classified as an heirloom. People created them and over a 40-50 year period, the new characteristics have become true to form when the seeds are planted.

Short Version... the tomato variety has been around for at least 50 years and the seeds of any generation produce the exact plant and tomato from which the seeds were collected. They are true to form to the plant from which they came. The stable characteristic of the plant and tomato could have been an act of Nature or an act of a Breeder.

Heirloom Tomatoes - The Rusted Vegetable Garden

What are Hybrid Tomatoes?

A hybrid tomato is rarely a product of immediate Nature. Over centuries sure, but not a common occurrence. Hybrid tomatoes are Breeder made tomatoes where two types of tomatoes are hand pollinated in a closed controlled environment. The goal is to get the crossed qualities you desire as a breeder. These desires were mostly that of commercial industries in the 1940's and 1950's. Qualities like uniformity, long shelf life or high fruit production. Hybrids now-a-days come from breeders and seed companies.

They (Burpee for instance) are in theory crossing varieties to give you 'better'  tomato plants and seeds. Either quicker bearing fruit, better tasting fruit or better disease resistance. In my opinion, they are doing it to make a buck. Breeders control the seeds and keep the original crossing varieties a secret. They try and make us believe the hybrids are better. Better enough to spend too much money on seeds when there are perfectly good heirlooms seeds around. The seeds from these plants will NOT produce the same plant and tomato if planted the following year. They are NOT true to form. Yep, you have to go back and buy them again.

Short Version... the hand pollinating or cross pollinating of two tomatoes to produce a plant with combined 'desired' characteristics so seed companies can charge us more money. Don't be fooled.

Heirloom Tomato Salad - The Rusted Garden Blog

Heirloom Tomato Seeds (Saving Seeds)

Heirloom seeds are open pollinated. Open pollination is Nature. There is no human manipulation of the pollinating process. Tomato flowers have male and female reproductive parts. They pollinate themselves. There is no cross pollination between two distinct plants. Very rarely, an insect may cross pollinate a tomato. This is however extremely rare. With heirloom open pollinated tomatoes, the seeds of that tomato produce the exact plant and tomato from which the seeds were saved, when planted again the following year. Seeds are true to form year after year after year.

Short version... you CAN collect and save the seeds and get the same exact tomato next year.

Hybrid Tomato Seeds (Saving Seeds)

Hybrid seeds are cross pollinated by hand and it is a closed pollination process. Humans cross pollinate two types of tomatoes to get new or 'hybrid' tomato characteristics. These characteristics do not show up in the immediate fruit that forms following the cross pollination. The seeds of that plant will have the cross or 'hybrid' characteristics that a breeder wants.

The seeds that are collected are called F1 or first generation seeds. When your plant F1 seeds you get the tomato that has the designed or 'hybrid' characteristics. With hybrid seeds the seeds collected from the F1 fruit will NOT give you the exact same plant and tomato from which the seeds were saved. They are NOT true to form. These are called F2 or second generation seeds. The seeds will produce variations based on a scientific explanation beyond the scope of this entry.

Short version... you CAN NOT collect the seeds and get the same tomatoes next year form hybrid tomatoes. You have to go and buy new F1 generation seeds or plants.

Heirloom and Hybrid Tomatoes in Conclusion

They both taste better when grown in the garden and picked from your garden versus the store bought cello-packed tomatoes.

Heirlooms are tomatoes that have been handed down from generation to generation and when Nature made, they might be 100's of years old.

Hybrids are made by crossing two tomatoes together. They can be bred over time to become true to form seed and in about 50 years can be classified as heirlooms. Or hybrids can be made each year and sold to us as F1 generation plants and seeds that have 'attractive qualities'.

It is your choice to which tomato seeds you enjoy and buy. It seems to me Nature does a fine job of creating tasty resistant tomatoes for any particular region. I am not sure why I would need to pay more for hybrid plants or seeds but you can decide what you want in your garden.

An Heirloom Tomato: The Russian 117 Bicolor Oxheart

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Monday, February 25, 2013

What is Permaculture? What is a Hugelkulture Garden Bed?

What is Permaculture? What is a Hugelkultur Garden Bed?
(Following the Way Nature Forms Earth Mounds)

This is just an introductory entry on permaculture and Hugelkulture garden beds.

A fellow gardener, well small scale farmer, I met through one of my Google+ Gardening Communities has a  home farm. He is blogging and video taping the entire process of developing a home farm and covering almost every aspect you can think of when it comes to home farming. You can find his blog at Daddykirbs. He is currently shooting a series of videos on Hugelkultur Garden Beds. Below is a clip from his blog that explains Permaculture and Hugelkuture.

'Permaculture? What is it? Well I'm still learning to answer that question for myself, but basically it's designing our environment more like nature. When we mimic nature our gardens will thrive and be more self sustaining. We help the soil along by providing more materials like compost, clippings, mulch and in the case of Hugelkulture we bury wood.

It is my goal to use my farm in a more sustainable way. Or as a gardening buddy of mine on Google+, +Dan Grubbs,  says "regenerative". The idea of restoring our land to a more fertile and fruitful existence.'

Hugelkulture is a very interesting concept that has been practiced in Europe for centuries. It deserves a little more explanation. Following the principles of permaculture and mimicking nature, a Hugelkultur raised bed is really nothing more then burying rotting or fallen wood with leaves, mulch, compost and soil. Essentially whatever is available. You are making a planting mound with wood at the core. The key is the wood core. You are creating a layered mound that forms within Nature in your gardens.

This design creates a self sustaining mound. It naturally holds moisture. It decays over time and continually creates nutrients and the top planted plants, often fruit bushes and vine crops, thrive nicely. The natural decaying process continues over years as in Nature.

Not only do you get to use unwanted fallen trees and bury leaves and other materials... you get a great planting bed for blueberries, pumpkin vines and the like. You need less water, less fertilizers and less general maintenance. Did I mention it is great for soil aeration? The roots of your plants will enjoy the ability to grow down into spaces instead of fighting their way through hard compacted soil.

Here is Blake Kirby's full construction video for building a Hugelkultur Garden Bed.

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Oregano, Sage & Thyme: Seed Starting, Transplanting & Acclimation - Getting Them Outside!

Oregano, Sage & Thyme: Seed Starting, Transplanting & Acclimation
(Getting Them Outside!)

This the general process for getting most of your indoor seedlings outside. I highlight the process with oregano, sage and thyme. They can handle the cool weather. The video shows all the steps and offers a lot of tips.

 The Basic Process for Herbs

You start them in flats under grow-lights. In 6-8 weeks they are ready for transplant cups. They will stop or slow their growth if left too long in the seed cells. Herbs are much more forgiving if left too long in cells than other vegetables.

If weather permits, you move them in and out of the great outdoors to acclimate them to the sun and cooler weather. A shelf greenhouse unit make the acclimation process so much easier. Acclimation takes about a week. In 2 or 3 more weeks you will have mature herb transplants, ready for your garden. Just in time for Spring!

I spent maybe $25 on the supplies needed to start my herbs. The finished process, as you will see, nets me about 100 herb transplants. I can recycle the flats, tins and cups for next year. The cost gets cheaper. So... at about $3 a transplant from a local store, I have $300 of herbs. Starting your herbs and vegetables indoors will save you money. Here is a look at the whole process to getting them outside so they can finish maturing.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Setting Up Shelf Greenhouses Outdoors: Tips & Tricks

Setting Up Shelf Greenhouses Outdoors: Tips & Tricks
(Don't Let the Wind Knock It Over & Don't Burn Up Your Seedlings)

The shelf greenhouse units work. They will cost you $25 to $40 depending on where you get them. I showed you the basic set up in a previous blog post. Here are all the tips and tricks to setting up the unit outdoors. The shelf greenhouse units can successfully acclimate indoor plants to the elements and help you start seeds directly outdoors in seed trays.

Outdoor Shelf Greenhouse Units - The Rusted Vegetable Garden Blog

Managing Full Sun and Heat Build Up

It is about 50 degrees today. You can see the condensation. It is working as designed. The first tip to using these units is to understand how HOT they can get. Even with the temperature only reaching 50 degrees, the inside can heat up quickly in full sun.

If it is a 100% cloudy day with no sun at all you can typically just keep it zipped up when temperatures are in the 50's. Full sun or mostly sunny days are the concerns. Below is based on mostly sunny to full sun days. Full sun will cook the contents of your shelf greenhouse. Beware of the sun.

At 50-55 degrees...
Keep it zipped up till 12 noon.
From 12 noon to 3pm unzip one side or similar.
From 3pm onward zip it back up.

If you can't manage it that day, unzip one side and close it when you get back from work. The heat will build up quickly beyond what you might expect

At around 60 degrees unzip on full side.
From 4pm onward zip it back up.

When the temperature is in the high 60's and above, you will need to unzip both sides. You can zip them back up in the  later afternoon.

Heat will build up fast in full sun days. You will have to keep an eye on how your weather is going to pan out each day.

Securing Your Greenhouse to Post - The Rusted Vegetable Garden Blog

Don't Let the Wind Blow Your Greenhouse Over

I learned the hard way and lost a half dozen flats and seedlings. The shelf greenhouse units must be secured to posts. I drive tomato stakes into the garden and secure the greenhouses to them. You will have to poke a hole in the plastic and tie it down. I only tie it to one post as shown. Duct-tape patches the hole.

Securing the Greenhouse Top - The Rusted Vegetable Garden Blog

There is one post clearly in the picture and you can see a second post in the back. Tie the top of the greenhouse to both stakes. Just wrap the string around both posts and the top of the greenhouse above the zippers. This will keep it from falling over. Trust me - they fall!

Acclimating Your Transplants to the Outdoors: Start on Cloudy Days

Getting your indoor plants outdoors and acclimating to the great outdoors is about a week long process. You can do it by moving them in and out of the house and around yard. I find using these units is so much easier. The condensation actually helps decrease the suns intensity. However, I recommend putting your indoor seedling/transplants out when you have 3 days of cloudy weather. Check the weather. Slow acclimation to the sun is key. They will toughen up in 3 days and be able to handle more intense sun.

Methods to Help Bring the Heat into the House

When temperatures are going to be staying in the high 30's and 40's, you might want to use some tricks to bring heat into the greenhouse. You can paint milk containers black and fill them with water. They will slowly release the days heat they absorb through the night. You can line the shelves with black plastic and they will absorb heat and raise the temperature in the shelf  greenhouse during the day.

Black Milk Containers and Trash Bags - The Rusted Vegetable Garden Blog

Secure the Shelving Units

The shelving units are strong enough to support your trays but they easily shift and move. A small piece of duct-tape will secure them to the post.  You can tape the bags down too.

Secured Trash Bag and Shelf - The Rusted Garden Blog

You can use the shelf greenhouse to directly start seed trays outdoors for your cool weather crops. And you can use them to take over and acclimate your indoor seedlings and transplants. I am using them for both options.

Growing Plants in a Shelf Greenhouse - The Rusted Vegetable Garden Blog

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Test Germinating Tomato Seeds: Quickly Revisited

Test Germinating Tomato Seeds

*This was originally posted in January. I wanted to bring it back up for a quick Sunday review. March 1st is a great time to start tomatoes is Zone 7. You might want to test germinate your tomato seeds and save yourself self money. It takes about a week to test sprout them.

Most seeds are stamped on the back of their packs with the growing year. Seeds have a small amount of moisture in them and they can naturally last years. Some seeds 'dry out' faster than other seeds. You can save a lot of money by test germinating your old seeds. 

Why test germinate? Do you really want to spend more money if you have seed or wait several weeks only to realize your seedlings aren't sprouting.? Besides it is something to do in the winter!

You can increase the shelf life of your seeds by storing them in air-tight containers in the house. I have tomato seeds that have lasted 3-4 years. 

Testing them is pretty easy. The video shows you all the steps but here is how you do it.
  • Moisten a paper towel and wring out the excess water
  • Put 10 seeds,  scattered on the towel
  • Fold the towel in half and then in half again
  • Put the towel in zip lock back and label it.
  • Store it out of the sun at around 70-75 degrees
  • Check on it at day 5,7, and 10.        

If 8 out 10 seeds sprout then you have an 80% germination rate. If you have 2 seed germinate then you have a 20% germination rate.

Don't worry if the towel grows mold in colors of red, green and black. It happens.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Starting Tomatoes Indoors: When to Start Them, Days to Maturity & Soil Warmth

Some Information to Consider When Starting Tomatoes Indoors 
(Days to Maturity and Soil Warmth)

Tomatoes are a favorite of many if not most gardeners. Even if you don't like to eat them... growing a 6 foot plant with 50 pounds of tomatoes on it is rewarding.  Rewarding, if not for the sheer size of the plant, your neighbors will love you for what you produce and give away.

I will be blogging and making videos this year based on what I am actually doing in my garden. Now is the time to start thinking about tomatoes (Zone 7ish) if you are going to be starting them indoors.

 When to Start Tomatoes Indoors

I often get asked, "When should I start tomatoes indoors?" The answer is based on when you want to get them outdoors.  So... when do you want to get them outdoors? Do you want to use containers or earth beds? Do you want to be the first on the block to have red tomatoes? Do you want to use solar warmers, hot-house cages or other tricks to keep tomatoes warm so that you can plant early?

Fresh from the Garden (Soon!) - The Rusted Vegetable Garden Blog

The answer for tomatoes is 6-10 weeks before they would go outside. If you don't have the capacity to manage larger transplants indoors or protect them, then you  want to start them 6-8 weeks before they would go outdoors. If you have the capacity to manage larger transplants then 8-10 weeks will work.

 Days to Maturity and Soil Warmth

Let me give you some basic information to help you decide on seed starting time. Most tomatoes will say X amount of time until maturity. That can range from 55 days to 90 days. What is important to realize is that the maturity date, for example '60 days to maturity', is from the time the tomato transplant goes into warm ground. It is not the date it is planted as a seed nor the actual day it goes outdoors into cool ground. Warmth is key.

Tomatoes love the warmth. But we often confuse 50-60 degrees days as good for tomatoes. It is, but the soil temperature is the key to getting your tomatoes growing and getting that 'X days to maturity' counter ticking. The ground, either containers or earth beds, really needs to be around 60 degrees. Tomato plants will not actually sit dormant in cool soil, they just won't start effectively growing. The timer is not on!

They won't really start growing until the soil warms nicely. There are tricks you can use to help with warmth but that will be the subject of other blog entries and videos.

A Garden Tip: black plastic trash bags placed on the ground will absorb heat and warm the garden soil. You can secure a bag  down with stones and cut a planting hole in the middle of it.

For now, it is time take this information into mind and figure out a plan for starting your tomatoes indoors. If you have questions feel free to leave me a comment. In very little time, we will all have bowl fulls of tomatoes like this... This season is beginning! Good luck in 2013.

Last Year's Tomato Harvest - The Rusted  Vegetable Garden Blog

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The Rusted Vegetable Garden Celebrates 1000 YouTube Subscribes: Give-A-Way

One Thousand YouTube Subscribers and...
Heirloom Tomato Seed 10 Pack Give-A-Way

I have had my garden blog for several years and really just started making HD gardening videos last year. I now have over 110 garden videos on YouTube. This year I am reaching some fun milestones and I want to thank everyone that helped me achieve one of my goals... My YouTube Garden Channel reached 1000 subscribers.

I work full time and gardening is, simply put, fun and relaxing. Gardening is somewhere between a hobby and a way of life for me. I enjoy sharing it with other people that carry the same passion. I like seeing how my efforts literally grow. Both in the garden and with my blog, communities and videos.

That be said.... THANKS! I am giving-a-way a 10 pack of heirloom tomato seed to a random replier to this blog entry. I will pick a random responder on Sunday at 9pm and send them a 10 pack of heirloom tomato seeds- hand collected from the Rusted Vegetable Garden.

If you are interested in winning the seeds. Just reply Seed Give-A-Way or something like that in the comments/reply section of this blog post.


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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Using Shelf Greenhouses to Start Your Gardening Season Early: Transplant Acclimation

Using Greenhouse Shelves to Acclimate Your Indoor Plants to the Sunny Outdoors
(A Joint Approach With Indoor Seed Starting)
A basic standard shelf greenhouse will help you get your garden off to an early start. They are excellent for starting cool weather crops outdoors like lettuces, spinach, kales and onions when the nights stay 30 degrees or above. Cool weather crops like the cool and colder weather and can handle frost. Below is an example of a shelf greenhouse that can be put anywhere in your yard.

I spent $30.00 on the example below from Big Lots. I found the same item packaged under a different name at Home Depot for $24.99 and you can find them shipped at a cost of $30 to $45 on Ebay. This exact model is used in different packaged boxes. You can identify it by looking at the design of the plastic pieces the metal tubing inserts to on the sides.

Because of the shape,  strong wind can blow it over. I suggest securing it to a deck post or railing or by putting rocks or milk container filled with water on the bottom shelf to help keep it stable. It can easily hold 6 cell flats which equates to a lot of seedlings and transplants.

You can also spray paint milk containers black and let them absorb the heat from the sun during the day. They will release the heat at night to help manage temperatures. I will write more about that in March.

A good way to use a greenhouse shelf unit with seeds started indoors during very cold days (when nights are still under 30 degrees) is to put the flats out in the shelf unit during the day as soon as you notice germination starting indoors. Why? Well you can actually begin to acclimate your indoor plants to the outdoors while they are young and just sprouting.

A sprouting seed expects to find full sun so it is protected. It is only after it grows weeks indoors  that it loses its ability to manage full sun. By putting the newly sprouted seeds outside in the sun... you are acclimating them. You should also put them outdoors regularly as they develop. Just bring them inside during the late afternoon and evening and let them grow indoors under house heat. This is a great way to grow and prepare your transplants for the great outdoors. They will be strong, fit and your garden will get started weeks early.

A Four Shelf Greenhouse Unit - The Rusted Vegetable Garden

Greenhouse Shelving for Your Garden - The Rusted Vegetable Garden

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How to Avoid Sunscold on Your Indoor Peas and Other Plants: What is it?

 Sunscald and Acclimating Your Indoor Plants to the Sun

So I almost called this 'how to avoid pea burn' but if you have the sense of humor of a teenager like me, you just chuckled too much. However, sunburn or sunscald is a real issue that happens with EVERY plant you grow indoors. Plants have to be acclimated to the outdoors for both temperature and sun, slowly. I am always in a rush.

Plants grown indoors do not develop protection from the sun. I know it sounds odd but indoor plants don't have the 'toughness' they need to prevent a basic sunburn. Peas, in this case, and all plants started indoors have to be slowly transitioned to the outdoors over about a weeks time. This process varies based on the week's weather in your area.

Sunscald Stem Damage on Peas - The Rusted Garden Blog

There is no perfect formula but I recommend trying to make the first day a completely cloudy day. If you have 100% clouds, the plants can really stay out for 4-6 hours. A 2nd day of this would be great. It has to be full cloudiness.

Generally speaking I believe a plant can only take about 1 hour of full sun to start. I would only give it about 1 hour a day, for 3 days, of full sun. Full intense sun is what you have to keep an eye on. The pictures I show you are of damage from direct sun over several hours. I was a bit lazy and figured the cold temperature would mean something. It didn't. Sun is sun. I only paid attention to the morning forecast.

I recommend searching on-line for some methods of acclimating your plants to the outdoors. At lot of it is based on your week of weather so I am not going to give you a specific plan but as for the first few days (above).

I have set up a plastic barrier this year that is 'cloudy'. My flats will go in that. I just don't have the time to acclimate them properly as I have to go to work. The peas were out on a cloudy morning that cleared up to full sun. They were in containers. They are pretty damaged.

Damaged White Burned Leaves - The Rusted Garden Blog

The White Areas are Sunscald - The Rusted Garden Blog

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Three Minute Garden Tips: Growing Sage Indoors from Seeds to Transplants

Three Minute Garden Tips: 
Growing Sage Indoors from Seeds to Transplants

Sage is a great herb for the garden. It has a strong wonderful scent and it can be used both as an herb and in perennial flower beds. The foliage and purple flowers look great in planting beds.

Sage is a hardy plant that will come back year after year in Zone 7 planting climates. It grows extremely well from seeds and you can grow a ton of indoor plants for your herb garden and perennial beds. This video shows you how to grow sage indoors from seeds to transplants. Enjoy!

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Three Minute Garden Tips: Growing Thyme & Oregano Indoors

This video shows you how to plant thyme and oregano indoors using an over-seeding method. You will see plant growth at 5 weeks and 7 weeks and just how well the herbs grow indoors.

The final part of the video shows you how to transplant them into containers. In about 9-11 weeks you will have transplants ready for your garden and the cost will be pennies per plant instead of paying $3-$5 for a transplant!

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Basic Grow-Light Closet Design: The Right Lighting

Basic Grow-Light Closet Design: Lighting Intensity

You can design your grow-closet in a 1000 different ways depending on your space and needs. The key, no matter what design, is the right intensity of lighting. I use fluorescent bulbs as do most grow-light closets.

Grow-Light Closet - The Rusted  Vegetable Garden Blog
The key as described in the video is to keep your bulbs 1-2 inches above the soil/starting mix when seeds are germinating and 1-2 inches above the leaves for your future transplants.

Grow-Light Closet - The Rusted Garden Blog
Poor lighting creates 'leggy' seedlings and transplants. You can also use foil to reflect light back towards the seedlings and keep warmth in, for germination.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Rusted Vegetable Garden Hits 200,000 Views

 The Rusted Vegetable Garden Hits 200,000 Views

I have had my blog The Rusted Vegetable Garden since 2009. I enjoy gardening and my passion drives this blog and my Google+ Communities.

Only fellow gardeners can appreciate the peace that is found in the garden and the pride found in eating your own garden grown vegetables as well as sharing them with others. I am glad I can share the feelings that go along with looking at seed catalogs, getting seeds in the mail and sharing pictures of tomatoes. Simplicity is the key to life. I'm glad others get it. Hard work at times Yes! but still a simplicity.

I am amazed that we have the tools to instantly post and chat with gardeners from around the globe. That is just amazing and a lot of fun.

In celebration of this blog hitting 200,000 views and sharing something I have a passion for... I am giving away some heirloom tomato seeds. If you are one the first 5 to reply below, I would be glad to send you some seeds. Just  reply to this entry and send your mailing address to me at therustedgarden@gmail.com.

Good luck in 2013! Growing things is good!

Thanks for Vistiing

PS The 5 Free Seed Packs have been claimed. TY.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

The Homestead Heirloom Tomato: Great for Hot and Humid Gardens!

 'Homestead' Heirloom Tomato: 
Great for Hot and Humid Gardens!

It is cold and rainy here. Up north they are digging out of a blizzard. What better time to look at a video on the 'Homestead' heirloom tomato and imagine the warm spring. February is a good time in many parts of the US to start planning out your spring garden. I have ordered many catalogs and made circles on some new tomato varieties for the 2013 season. One variety I collect seed from and grow every year in my garden is the 'Homestead' tomato.

The 'Homestead' is a semi-determinate plant which means it is between a determinate variety that sets all its fruit at once and dies and an indeterminate variety. Indeterminate varieties continue to grow and set fruit until the frost comes and kills them off. This plant produces a lot of 6-8 oz fruit and grows to about 6 feet. The plant in the video produced a lot of tomatoes (40-60) over the season. That was my best year for the 'Homestead'. What I like about the semi-determinate variety is that it will produce steadily over the season and it stays around 5-6 feet tall. It just doesn't get out of control like some indeterminate tomatoes do.

Tomatoes like warm soil but a lot of tomatoes won't set fruit or die back a bit when the temperatures hit mid 90+ degrees for consecutive days. The 'Homestead' doesn't mind the heat and does much better at setting fruit at high temperatures. Humidity... if you have it in your area, you know hot humid weather can create havoc for your garden tomatoes. Again, the 'Homestead' heirloom tomato does better than most in humidity. That is why I collect seed from these tomatoes every year and continue to grow them.

This video highlights the 'Homestead' heirloom at full maturity and the end of the video shows you picked and sliced tomatoes. Consider it for your garden! It is a great all purpose tomato.

Good Luck in 2013!

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Friday, February 8, 2013

Identifying and Preventing Vegetable Seedling 'Legginess'

Identifying and Preventing Vegetable Seedling 'Legginess'

When you are growing seedlings indoors you have to make sure you give them enough light that has the right amount of intensity. Intensity, not hours of light, is what matters. The right intensity lets the seedlings know they broke the surface and can move to leaf production and normal growth.

Vegetable seedling 'legginess' happens for one reason and one reason only... not enough hours of intense light. A plant becomes leggy when it germinates and breaks the surface of the starting mix and it isn't met by intense light.. If the light is bright enough or intense enough, it will stop growing its stem and start producing leaves. If the light isn't intense enough it will continue to grow its stem until it reaches a  light level that triggers it to stop. It is trying to get to the right place to start leaf production and normal growth.

When you are growing transplants indoors treat the surface of the starting mix as if that is a plant leaf. You want the light bulbs to be 1 to 2 inches above the starting mix so that when the vegetable plant breaks the surface it is met by bright intense light within 12 hours. If not... the plant will continue to grow rapid stem growth to reach for the light. That creates the leggy seedling. You have to let the plant know it broke the surface (that it is out of the earth) and the right light is available. So... 1 to 2 inches of space between the starting mix and light bulbs.

This video will show you how I created 'leggy' beet seedlings. I accidentally put the seed tray in my closet level that had bulbs 4-6 inches above the starting mix. As I say in the video, getting old stinks. I should have put it in my seed germination level where the bulbs are 1-2 inches above the starting mix.

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