Did You Know? How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’m excited about today’s post. It’s a visual of our vegetable garden this year. We were way late planting this year, especially since we had awesome weather this spring. We finally got our plants in the ground on May 7. Last year, it was the first week in April. I also have to give full credit to Sean and Anna Taylor…their home houses the vegetable garden and they have done pretty much all of the maintenance and watering this year. I just haven’t had the time. It’s no excuse, but it’s absolutely true. OK…so here are the pictures.

 

vegetable garden
Look at the little baby tomato plants!

 

Can you even see the little baby tomatoes? They looked so pitiful when surrounded by the tremendous cages. I did a post about the veggie garden after planting and I mentioned that I was embarrassed by how small the plants were. Can you see why?

 

vegetable garden
Here are the plants a month later in early June

 

 

vegetable garden
Here are the same plants at the end of June

 

There are bush beans in the background that were doing fairly well until Bambi paid the garden a visit. Here’s a picture of the damage:

vegetable garden

 

The hugelkultur beds that we installed earlier this year are progressing along nicely. One is filled with eggplant and the other with peppers. I can’t say that the wood is helping give back moisture quite yet but these beds are a process. I’m sure that once the wood starts breaking down more and can finally fill completely up with water, the results will be phenomenal.

vegetable garden

 

Do you want to know what I love most about this picture? The weed-free pathways. Ah…they are so dreamy. It makes me so happy to not see weeds. There are still weeds in the garden but at least we know that this area doesn’t require our attention.

We tried planting squash, zucchini, watermelon and cucumbers from seed instead of starting them indoors first. I heard Paul Wheaton talk about veggies that are sown directly in the garden having better drought resistance than those started indoors. So we tried it…and…epic fail. We had a few plants come up but the overwhelming result was nada. Nothing. Zilch. Lesson learned. Here are a few pictures of what did come up.

vegetable garden
One of our two Mandurian Round cucumber plants. We wanted many more of these but…

 

vegetable garden
Suyo Long cucumber…again, we wanted more but…

 

vegetable garden
Here’s what our squash and zucchini have turned into…a wonderful home for squash bugs. I dusted these heavily with diatomaceous earth before I left

 

Here’s a picture of “Eddie” our scarecrow. He swivels and keeps a watchful eye over the garden.

vegetable garden

 

My son, Myles, picking peaches in the garden.

vegetable garden

 

Maddie in the jungle of German Johnson tomatoes.

vegetable garden

 

So, that’s an overview of the vegetable garden this year. How does your garden grow? Send me pictures so that I can share them with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

 

 

 

Pests and Diseases: Squash Bugs

I hate them. I hate them, hate them, hate them. Squash bugs are my nemesis in the vegetable garden. Hate is a very strong word that I reserve for only the most vile of creatures. Squash bugs fit that description. In past years in the veggie garden, they have decimated the squash and zucchini. Once they finished up there, they moved onto the cucumbers, then the muskmelons and then the watermelons. I hate them.

Squash bugs resemble stink bugs and they smell like them too. Side note: if they release their smell on you, the smell is pretty yucky. But if you get them first and smush them, they smell like green apple Jolly Ranchers. There’s your useless trivia for today. Squash bugs are particularly fond of the cucurbit family which explains why they traveled throughout the garden destroying our veggies as they did. They usually start with squash and zucchini and kill them first. They don’t seem to prefer the cucumbers, muskmelons and watermelons but once the population has exploded, the critters need something to eat. I have to tell you this story about just how bad they were a few years back. The kids had helped get the garden established and took a lot of pride in it. They noticed that the zucchini leaves were wilting and turning yellow so they ventured in to see what was the matter. Once they got close to the zucchini, they discovered that the leaves were covered in squash bugs of all ages…old, new, and in between. They blazed a trail out of the garden screaming the whole way. Hilarious! I didn’t take the picture below but I could have…they were that bad.

squash bugs
Photo courtesy of www.umn.edu

 

If your garden is infected with squash bugs there are several approaches that you can take.

  1. Conventional pesticides – sadly, I’ve taken this route. The ubiquitous Sevin dust was used one year and a chemical containing bifenthrin was used the next year. Neither had very good results. And I felt horrible afterwards…what if a honeybee walked through the insecticide and took it back to the hive…what if the ladybugs pranced through it…what if a praying mantis was looking for dinner at the time…what if, what if, what if?
  2. Trap crops – I’ve read of this technique but never practiced it. I understand the principle but not the logistics. From what I read, you plant a susceptible crop (Zucchini Black Beauty comes to mind) and let the squash bugs take over. Then you treat the trap crop or dispose of it. Sounds good right? BUT if you treat the trap crop, whose to say the beneficials aren’t there trying to feast on the squash bugs? If you dispose of the trap crop, how do you do that so that the majority of the squash bugs are killed? I don’t have the answers…please fill me in if you do.
  3. Hand picking – this works if you have a few squash bugs here and there. If your plants look like the picture above, you better enlist some extra hands and pray for more hours in the day.
  4. Wooden boards – I’ve read that you can lay down boards and the squash bugs will congregate underneath overnight. Then you can take care of them. My problem with this treatment method is two-fold: first, my garden is not at my home…too much shade. Secondly, I have a full time job that requires me to leave the house at 6:15 AM…not much time there to go hunting for squash bugs.
  5. Planning – I had the perfect plan this year to beat the squash bugs. We would plant squash and zucchinis everywhere in the garden and harvest, harvest, harvest. When the squash bugs became overwhelming, we’d pitch the plants and move on. What happened in reality? Pretty much, nothing. Life happened and we have a few squash and zucchini plants. Perhaps this technique will work for someone else…
  6. Diatomaceous earth – I did a post about this wondrous compound yesterday but I haven’t tried it…yet. My only concern with using DE is killing the beneficials too. I’m sure that I’m overthinking this, as is my nature, but it really bothers me to think that I could be killing all of those beautiful creatures.
  7. Chickens – this is the best option…ever…when it comes to getting a handle on squash bugs. Luckily, my garden buddies, Sean and Anna, are raising hens this year. They have six young girls that would love to get in the garden and peck the squash bugs. If you have chickens, let them out to free range in the garden. If you usually keep them in a tractor, you’ll have to let them out so that they can access the base of the plants. The key here is to monitor the hens and only allow them in long enough to get their fill; otherwise they’ll peck all of the veggies that are meant for your plate.

 

So…after all of that, what have you done to control squash bugs in your garden? What has worked and what hasn’t? Let me know so that I can share it with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

 

 

Did You Know? Free Fertilizer

Today’s post may seem a bit obscene to some people but I think it’s a great way to use a waste product and it’s free fertilizer. This free fertilizer is urine. Yep, good ole pee. (I’m glad my 6 year old son doesn’t read these posts or he’d be repeating that incessantly for the next week) Urine is composed primarily of water with the second component being urea. Urea is one of the main ingredients of fertilizers and provides the plant with nitrogen that is needed for foliar growth. With that being said, why not use what God has provided us already?

Let me throw out a few disclaimers here:

  1. Don’t use your urine if you are suffering from any illness. The last thing you want is for your soil and plants to be exposed to pathogens.
  2. Don’t use your urine as fertilizer on plants that you’ll be eating the greens from. Skip the lettuce, cabbage, spinach, etc. and instead focus on veggies like tomatoes and peppers.
  3. If you are growing your veggies in containers, dilute the urine before watering your plants. I can tell you from personal experience that you can quickly burn the roots of your plants if you don’t.

 

 

free fertilizer
If your pepper plants look like this, consider giving them some free fertilizer

Speaking of burning your plants, it seems that men’s urine is much more potent than females. If your plants are in the ground and being watered on a regular basis, you shouldn’t need to dilute it first. If you live in an area with little precipitation, consider diluting it as the urine will act like a regular fertilizer and the salts can build up quickly in the soil. Also, don’t “fertilize” your plants every day; fertilize a couple of times and observe them for a few days. The urea is quickly absorbed by the plants and you should see results within a few days. If your plants still haven’t greened up after 3 days or so, give them another shot of fertilizer (pun intended) and wait for results.

I can’t think of a better way to get your son to help you in the garden. What boy doesn’t like to do his business outside? I know that mine does. An added benefit of using urine as free fertilizer is that it can help deter deer…for a while anyway. So, have you used free fertilizer in your garden? What kind of results have you had? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me your results. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

Friday Free For All: Companion Planting for Your Vegetable Garden

companion plantsToday’s post is about companion planting for your vegetable garden. If you listen to anyone for long enough about gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, they’ll tell you about which plants go well with others. That marigolds help repel bad bugs in the garden and that onions don’t get along with pole beans. It can all get very confusing, so I made this chart to help you keep it all straight. I don’t claim that it’s all-inclusive but it’s a very good start. So what shouldn’t you plant with peppers?

Companion Plants

Did you check the chart? If you did, you know that peppers are great with everything! I would love to gather all of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers’ experiences and continue to update this chart. If you’d like to help, please leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

Friday Free For All: Tips for Keeping Your Vegetables Fresh

tips for keeping your vegetables freshSo the broccoli is ready in the garden and it’s delicious! My dilemma is harvesting it before it blooms. Some of the heads have escaped being eaten; I didn’t get there in time and they’re blooming but that’s OK…it’s more food for the beneficials. I’ve noticed that if I leave the cut broccoli overnight, it doesn’t have the same crispness that the grocer’s does; perhaps you have this problem too. I thought that we would look at some tips for keeping your vegetables fresh after harvesting them from the garden.

  1. BROCCOLI – so if your broccoli is more floppy than crisp the day after you harvest it, try soaking it in ice water for a few minutes before you’re ready to use it. Of course, if you’re cooking it, you can skip this step because you’re going to make it floppy anyway. I think that broccoli is best stored in the fridge.
  2. CUCUMBERS – cucumbers are best stored outside the fridge on the countertop. Unless you’re ready to eat one of course. I love a cold, crisp cucumber so we keep a few in the fridge when they’re in season (and the 5 gallon buckets of them are overflowing).
  3. LETTUCE – lettuce prefers the fridge to the countertop. We generally grow romaine and I like to wash it and then place it in layers of paper towels so that it’s ready to use when we need it. All of the paper towel and lettuce layers go into a ziploc bag and then into the fridge.
  4. TOMATOES – some people swear by keeping their tomatoes on the countertop…that it makes them last longer. Others say they keep longer when in the fridge. Personally, I don’t have a refrigerator big enough to handle all of them so I usually keep the majority of them out of the fridge in the aforementioned 5 gallon buckets. If we have problems with blossom end rot, I still pick those tomatoes for canning…I just cut the bad ends off. Those I try to keep in the fridge since they’ve been injured.
  5. PEPPERS – it’s been my experience that peppers are better stored on the countertop. If they’re kept in the fridge, mine tend to look shriveled up…like all of the moisture has been sucked out of the skins.

 

Here’s another tip that you can keep in mind the next time you’re bringing in your harvest. Many herbs and greens can be kept fresh in your refrigerator by placing them in water like you would cut flowers. A bouquet that you can eat…now that’s an arrangement I’m interested in!

What are your tips for keeping vegetables fresh? Do you have any secrets that you’d like to share with the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community? Leave me a comment below or send me an e-mail. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening! And happy Friday!

Friday Free For All: Is It Too Late to Plant Your Vegetable Garden?

I’ve received quite a few questions in the last week asking is it too late to plant your vegetable garden? I understand why people are concerned…the weather has been spring-like for the past seven to eight weeks here in central Virginia and fellow gardeners have been planting their crops for weeks. Lest you feel alone if you’re just getting around to planting your veggie garden…we just planted ours last weekend and still have a few more plants to get into the ground. Life gets busy and time slips away from you and before you know it, its second week of May.

There are a few plants that you may have missed the boat on if they’re not in the ground. Let’s take a look at those before we move on to what you should be planting now and whether they should be started from seeds or transplants:

  1. Broccoli
  2. Cauliflower
  3. Potatoes
  4. Cabbage – I have a little disclaimer to make here; I know several people that plant their cabbage plants with other warm season veggies and they seem to do fine. Experiment and try some now if you want to…what do you have to lose?
  5. Fava Beans
  6. Peas

 

So what can you still plant in your veggie garden? Virtually everything!

  1. Tomatoes – only from transplants
  2. Peppers – only from transplants
  3. Cucumbers – seed or transplants
  4. Squash – seed or transplants
  5. Zucchini – seed or transplants
  6. Melons – seed or transplants
  7. Sweet potatoes – sets
  8. Basil – seed or transplants
  9. Carrots – seed
  10. Pole or bush beans – seed
  11. Lima beans (aka butterbeans) – seed
  12. Lettuce – seed or transplants
  13. Cilantro – seeds or transplants

 

Now with cilantro, you need to watch it closely so that it doesn’t go to seed. If it does, it turns into coriander instead of cilantro. I wish that someone would develop a cilantro that wouldn’t bolt so early. I can’t ever seem to have cilantro and tomatoes that are ready at the same time. You can always dehydrate the cilantro and use it in salsa later but it would really be nice to have fresh cilantro available when the tomatoes start rolling in.

I want to give you a reminder that I know you already know. Don’t be discouraged by the size of your plants when you put them in the ground. It’s so easy to look at your 6″ tall plants and then see your neighbors that are 2′ tall and be discouraged. But don’t be. Our veggies are so small right now that I’m embarrassed to post pictures of them. I’m embarrassed but I’m not discouraged. Look at these two pictures of the broccoli that we planted on March 22.

is it too late to plant your vegetable garden

 

Here they are on May 6:

is it too late to plant your vegetable garden

 

Aren’t plants amazing? Now get out there this weekend and get your veggies in the ground! Let me know what you’ve been up to in your vegetable garden. Send me your pictures…I’d love to share them with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. Send them to stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. If you’re a little less boastful, then just leave me a comment below. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

 

Reader Questions: Growing Salad in Summer Heat

Today’s Reader Question comes from Kate in Virginia:

I need your ideas on growing salad throughout the summer. My lettuce bolts when it gets hot outside and my spinach just stops producing. Do you have any recommendations?

Great question Kate! The Mid-Atlantic gardening region warms up quickly in the summer and we’ve already experienced 90+ degree days and it’s only the first week of May. As you know, salad greens are cool season crops that enjoy temperatures above freezing but below 70 degrees. A few spikes in the thermometer won’t put an end to your salad greens but sustained hot temperatures will. So what can you do to keep the temperatures cooler?

Do you have any lightly shaded areas that you can use for growing salad? Not dense shade but a nice cool, lightly shaded spot. I know that my yard has several pockets of cooler growing areas…your landscape probably does too. Take advantage of these areas by tucking a few salad greens into empty spots.

Consider creating your own shade. There are several ways that you can accomplish this. Do you have any potted plants that you could place near your salad greens to cast shade on them? Or can you grow your salad greens in easily movable containers that you can move to shade when the temperatures climb?

growing saladAnother way to create shade is with shade cloth. Shade cloth is used extensively in the nursery industry and it’s practical to use in your veggie garden. Create some hoops out of PVC and secure your shade cloth to it for instant shade. Here is a link to Gardener’s Supply where a 6′ x 12′ piece can be purchased for $27.95. If you have a nursery grower near you, give them a call to see if they have any shade cloth that they’d be interested in selling…often times, they have scrap pieces lying around that are too small for their beds but may be perfect for yours.

Let’s talk about plant selection. Try to find an heirloom seed supplier that is located in your gardening region…they may have varieties of salad greens that have been selected to perform better in the heat. Since you’re in Virginia, take a look at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They’re located in Louisa and have a variety of romaine lettuce, Jericho, that grows well in our summer heat. If you’re looking for spinach that will keep on keeping on, try Red Malabar spinach. It’s a vining type that needs to be trellised so it will take up less room in the garden too. Southern Exposure recommends growing them on your pea trellises…as the peas finish growing, the Red Malabar spinach will take over where they left off.

I’m sure that other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have other creative ideas for growing salad in summer heat. Please leave a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

Reader Question: Unusual Vegetables

Today’s Reader Question comes from Reggie in Clinton, New Jersey:

I enjoy reading your posts about the vegetable garden. I’m going to try your method of lasagna gardening in one section of my garden this year. I hope that it works! Since I’m trying new ways of doing things this year, I would also like to try some different vegetables. I’ve always grown tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers but I’d like to try some new things. Any recommendations?

Do I have any recommendations…is water wet? Nothing gets me more amped up than the veggie garden. To think that you can plant a seed the size of pinhead and then you are able to harvest that plant a couple of months later, that is inspiring! Let’s talk about some of the more unusual vegetables. For other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers, some of these veggies may not be new to you but I’m sure that you’ll find one or two that you haven’t grown before.

SWISS CHARD – this a plant that is grown for its foliage. If you harvest it when it’s young, you can use it in a variety of ways. It can be added to salads or used in stir fries. If you can’t seem to harvest it before the leaves get too large (that’s the lazy gardener in me shining through), you can dehydrate it and add it to soups and sauces. It’s a great way to sneak more veggies into your family’s diet. You can either sow seed directly in the garden or start seeds indoors. As a side note, the cultivar ‘Bright Lights’ is used as an ornamental plant and it looks great in mixed containers.

 

unusual vegetable

Photo courtesy of www.appforhealth.com

GARBANZO BEANS – if you’re a fan of hummus, you’ll love growing garbanzo beans. Otherwise known as chickpeas, garbanzo beans are relatively easy to grow. They are a legume, which means that they can take nitrogen from the air and fix it in their roots. Pretty cool. If you have a section of your garden that receives light shade, garbanzo beans will flourish there. Down here in Virginia, the hot summers can be a bit overwhelming for them so they appreciate a bit of afternoon shade. Sow them directly in the garden as they don’t transplant well.

 

unusual vegetables

Photo courtesy of www.blog.gardenerd.com

CARROTS – no, this plant isn’t going to wow your gardening friends when you show off your unusual vegetables. Unless you grow one of the cultivars that produce purple carrots…or white carrots. Dig up one of those for your friends and they’re sure to be impressed. Consider growing ‘Cosmic Purple’ or ‘Lunar White’. If you’re more into reds, ‘Atomic Red’ is a great choice. Who knew carrots could be so exciting?

 

unusual vegetables

Photo courtesy of www.packetseeds.com

LEEKS – if you enjoy using onions while cooking, consider growing leeks. They impart a sweeter flavor than onions and are easy to grow. Plant them and then harvest when you need them. Leeks are tolerant of cold weather so you can leave them in the ground throughout the fall and winter. Just add soil around the stalks to blanch them further.

 

unusual vegetables

Photo courtesy of www.avalongardens.org

TOMATILLOS – I love Mexican food. I could eat it morning, noon and night. Of course I’d probably be as big a house if I did…something in my brain is hard wired to continue to eat long after I’m full. If you share my love of Mexican food, give tomatillos a try. They require pretty much the same conditions as tomatoes and I’ve heard of people growing them to replace tomatoes if they have disease issues on their maters. One of my favorite Mexican sauces is salsa verde…it’s the tomatillos that give it the delicious flavor.

 

unusual vegetables

Photo courtesy of www.liseed.org

HERBS – Speaking of Mexican cuisine, grow cilantro to add to your salsa. Grow parsley to add Vitamin A to your dishes. Rosemary is a perennial herb that tastes scrumptious with chicken. Oregano is also a perennial that is mandatory for Italian cooking. Basil adds flavor to any dish that it’s added to. Chives are also perennials that are delicious with potatoes.

 

unusual vegetables

Basil photo courtesy of www.fuoriborgo.com

OK Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers, what unusual vegetables do you grow in your garden? Leave comments for Reggie in the section below or you can e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list, become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

Reader Question: Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Today’s Reader Question comes from Chad in Virginia:

I’m planning on growing tomatoes in containers this year as my yard is quite small and I have dogs to contend with. Can you give me some tips and things that I need to consider?

Congratulations on not using your space limitations and dogs as an excuse to not grow your own food. It’s so important that people take charge of some portion of their food production; plus those tomatoes will be the most delicious that you’ve ever had. Let’s dig right into the ins and outs of growing tomatoes in containers:

  1. The container – make sure that the container you will be using is large enough to sustain a tomato in July. That 12″ tall tomato that you buy from the garden center will grow to be a 3′-6′ giant, depending on the cultivar. I think that the container should be at least 12″ in diameter…the bigger, the better.
  2. The soil – when growing any plant in a container, it is imperative that you not use garden soil. When garden soil is placed in a container, it creates an aeration and drainage problem. Check out this article for more information. So what should you use? If you can afford it, use a pre-mixed soilless media that is specifically formulated for containers. If your pockets aren’t that deep, use compost (bagged or from your own pile) mixed with vermiculite, perlite or another amendment to provide greater aeration. If you are using bagged compost, mix several types together at the very least.
  3. Watering – this is going to be one of the most important factors to take into consideration when growing in containers. While that little tomato plant from a 6-pack is cute and easy to maintain now, it is going to require a great deal of moisture when it’s producing tomatoes for your salads and sandwiches. Daily watering will be the norm and in the hottest parts of summer, you may have to water in the morning and evenings. To extend the time between waterings, consider putting a rotting log in the pot to create a hugelkultur container. Read this article for more information on how hugelkultur can reduce or eliminate the need for watering.
  4. Fertility – your tomatoes will be hungrier in containers than they are in the ground. When they are in the ground, they have all of the soil around them to garner nutrition from. In your container, they are limited to the soil in which they grow so you will need to supplement with additional nutrients. Consider making compost tea from your compost pile or using a fish fertilizer. There are many fish fertilizers like Neptune’s that have less smell than others.

 

I want to take a moment to discuss some of the benefits of growing tomatoes in containers. When the sun is beating down and it’s 98+ degrees outside, you have the ability to move your containers to a shady area for a bit of a respite. If your containers are heavy, use a hand truck or dolly to help with the move. Another benefit of growing in containers is you can avoid the first frosts of fall. Move your plants to the garage for the evening a couple of times and you’ll have fresh tomatoes long after your neighbor’s have bit the dust.

I hope that I’ve offered you some helpful tips for growing tomatoes in containers. Don’t limit yourself to just tomatoes, unless that’s the only veggie you enjoy. Consider peppers, cucumbers, watermelons, muskmelons, okra and leafy greens like spinach and lettuce. What other vegetables have Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers grown in containers? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

Seed Starting 101 – Part 5: An Update

Happy Monday everyone! Today I thought that we would take a picture tour of what’s going on with the seedlings that we started earlier in Seed Starting 101 – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. They’ve grown up quite a bit and most of them have been planted in the ground. The pictures that are in this post are from a couple of weeks ago. Let’s have a looksie…

seed starting 101

The four rows at the bottom are two types of onions: Granex and Yellow Spanish. The row above the onions is the eggplant and the rows at the top are members of the brassica family: broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

seed starting 101

Here are some asparagus babies. I know that most people buy crowns but it’s more fun to start them from seed. In the next picture, you can see what last year’s asparagus seedlings look like.

seed starting 101

Aren’t they cute? Sure they’re not big enough to eat but perhaps next year we’ll be able to harvest a few.

Let’s look at the brassicas that I started: broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

seed starting 101

In this picture, I wanted to point out a few things. First of all, look at how many plants are growing in the one peat pellet: 3. Of course, that’s too many and they need to be thinned. I prefer to thin the seedlings when I am planting…that way, if the stems get broken on the way to the garden, I have a backup. Pinch off the seedlings that you don’t want…don’t pull them or you run the risk of disturbing the roots of the seedling that you want to keep. Also, look at how flimsy my plants look when compared to the broccoli in the 4-pack in the background. I’m not worried a bit about the flimsiness; if the stem decides to bend back towards the ground when it’s planted, it’s OK…the broccoli will taste the same in the end and the plant will be none the wiser.

I also wanted to point out that gardening is not about perfection…it’s about experimenting and learning what works. Who cares that your broccoli lean to one side or that your cucumbers curl instead of growing straight? Find wonder in the plants that you can grow that the plant tags say you can’t because your climate is too cold. Or too hot. Or they need full sun. Or they need full shade. I dare you to push the envelope this year…plant something in your garden that you’ve always wanted but haven’t tried because a magazine said that it won’t work in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. Perhaps you don’t want to start with a $150 tree but try a $8 perennial. The joy that you’ll receive from it, even if it only lasts one season, will be worth it in the end.

So, what have you started from seed this year? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. And don’t forget about our contest to celebrate our 100th post. Subscribe to the website for e-mail updates and share one of our links on Facebook. Once you meet both of those requirements, I’ll throw your name in a cyber hat for a drawing. Let me know if you have any questions about the giveaway. Happy gardening!