This years tomatoes in my square foot garden

IMG_2202It’s been all over the place for temperatures this spring.  We’ve had weekends where it was in the mid-70’s.  We’ve even had a couple of 80 degree days. Like other neighbors I begin to think its time to start planting even though there is still some much cooler temperatures ahead,  along with the possibility of a frost and lots of rain.

My tomato plants were looking pretty good inside so I thought I’d take a chance on them right now.  I hardened the plant off, and then I’ve protected it with a simple empty plastic container.  Some folks might call this a cloche.  I use the cap to moderate the temperature.  If the sun is coming out at all, I remove the cap because it will really heat up.  If it’s raining or generally a cloudy day, I’ll keep the cap on.  The cap is always on at night.

So far, so good.  My tomato plant is thriving nicely.  I’ve got about a dozen more started inside that will be hardened off this weekend.  By Mothers Day they’ll be in the ground.  All this work in an effort for the first tomatoes in the neighborhood-it really doesn’t matter too much.  Even if you got out and buy a large tomato plant with yellow blossoms on it, we all seem to get our tomatoes within the same 2 week period of time.

The varieties I’m growing this year are all my favorites: san marzano, sun gold, red cherry, rainbow cherry, 5 star grape, sun sugar, new girl, and rose.  Paste tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and slicing tomatoes-each only taking up 1 square foot of space.  It’s a great way to garden

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Square foot gardening classes and herbs

chivesIt sure is nice to have fresh chives available at this time of year.  They’ve been under wraps all winter and were planted last fall and I’ve already begun to cut them back because they’re such heavy producers.  They’re also a perennial crop-every year they’ll come up without hardly any work on your part.  That presents a bit of a problem if you don’t keep them trimmed back because they will invade other areas of your square foot garden.  For me, I keep them in place for 2 years and then I dig them out and plant something entirely different in that square.  And now is the perfect time to start your herbs inside in preparation for planting out mid-May.

I’ve been planting lots of lettuce and other salad greens directly into the garden the past few weeks.  Everything is already up and in a few weeks I’ll begin harvesting great lettuces for daily salads.  I’ve mentioned some of my favorites-Green Ice, EZ Serve, Four Seasons,  and Simpson Elite are some of the varieties I’ve been busy with.  You can buy these from Burpee and you’ve still got 3 more days to order seed packs with free shipping.

If you’re a northern Utah gardener and are interested in learning how to be a successful square foot gardener, I’m holding my second class of the season.  You can read about it here.  These are classes that teach the basic fundamentals with the addition of learning how to build a tomato tower, or vertical support structure.

If you’re interested in learning how to make compost better than you could ever buy in the nurseries, then I have an entirely different class which you can read about here.  Lots of fun things coming up this gardening season

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Lettuce, lettuce, and more lettuce!

multi-leaf lettuce in the square foot gardenThis is the best time of year to start planting lettuce like crazy!  The soil is cool-which it likes, and the days are getting longer.  I usually plant a couple of squares every 5 days or so, but that number will probably increase to 4 or 5 squares every 5-7 days.  There’s nothing like spring lettuce.  Well, fall lettuce is a pretty good rival, but it doesn’t beat spring.  This cooler, damp weather of spring is the perfect time to start.

I’ve been asked what other things I start at this time of year.  Though I start all my lettuces directly into the soil, I will plant a few things indoors in preparation for early summer starts.  Thinks like tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe, leeks, and cucumbers have all been sprouted and are now in little pot maker cups.  In just a couple of days they will begin to poke through the soil and it will be time to place them under lights.

One of the lettuces I’ve had a lot of success with is something called EZ Cut by Burpee. It’s a multi-leaf lettuce, meaning that if you cut it at the base all the leaves will be nearly all the identical size.  That’s different than other lettuces where the outer leaves are much larger than the inner cored leaves.  There’s another variety from Johnny’s(Salanova) and one from Jungs(multi-leaf) that I’ve also had experience with. You ought to give these a try.  Johnny’s has gotten to be a little to pricey for me, but the others from Burpee and Jungs are good.

If you need to buy seeds you should check out Burpee’s .99 shipping which is good until the end of this month.  It’s for any sized order and the promotional code is listed in the links on my blog.  It is not listed on the Burpee site. There’s so many fun things to check out this year.  Order a catalog or look through it online to see some of the new varieties available.

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Spring square foot gardening

spring square foot gardenLay down a weed barrier, build a box and put it right on top of it. Fill it with the perfect growing soil, add a grid, and start planting. That’s the beginning of a basic square foot garden. With the perfect mix put together in about 10 minutes, you don’t need to know anything about soil composition, pH, or NPK! Zero. As I’ve always said, if you don’t get the soil right nothing else will really matter. There are some who try to convince others that there’s nothing wrong with native soil. Not unless you don’t mind weeding! Let’s face it, native soil is one of the things that cause a lot of the trouble. Don’t skimp on the SFG soil-set yourself up for success by using the recipe of equal parts of peat moss, course vermiculite, and a good, blended compost.  Though we’ll still have some weather issues to deal with, now is the time that I direct seed lettuces, spinach, poc choi, arugula, and a few other things. These are cold weather crops that do just fine in our USDA growing zone of 6B. If you don’t trust the weather you can always start them inside under a grow light. If I do that, I always keep my shop-light about 2 inches above the plants. This assures that I’ll get no long, spindly looking plants. If you’re looking for a nice tutorial on seed starting click here.  You can also get there from the links on my page.

Here’s the lettuce varieties I direct planted today.  Prize head, Little Caeser, and finally this Gourmet Blend.  Only 3 squares of lettuce, each one holding 4 heads.  I finished by direct seeding this delicious swiss chard, and then 1 square of beets that I usually grow for the greens only.

In about another week it will be time to start tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage, and peppers indoors.  The timing usually works out pretty well, and it’s even better if you’re prepared to quickly protect your garden if you have to.

Burpee is having quite a few specials this month.  They are linked on the left hand side of my blog.  If you’re going to spend $45 on seeds, you might as well spend another $5 and get the free 72 cell watering kit.  And until the last day of March, shipping is only .99 for any size order.  Details are in the links.

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Winter spinach-square foot gardening style

winter spinach in the square foot gardenI had a good friend of mine tell me many years ago that if your spinach plants are established by the beginning of winter you could cut them back to just above the crown and you’d be the first person in your neighborhood to have fresh spring or even late winter spinach.  He said you didn’t even need to cover them as the snow would act as an insulator during the winter months.

Well, he was right about the earliness part.  I’m pretty sure I had the first spinach harvest in the neighborhood.  That particular year I took his advice and cut everything back and didn’t worry about protecting any of it.

By the time spring rolled around it certainly grew.  However, it grew unevenly-the leaves were more crinkled than what they normally would have been.  The biggest difference, however, was in the taste, which could best be described as close to shoe leather.  I learned that advice wasn’t going to work for me.

From then on out, I did cut back the crop in late fall, but I then protected it.  The difference in appearance and most importantly-taste-was huge.  Gone was the crinkle and shoe leather.  Back was the smooth texture and sweetness of the spinach I’d been used to eating all spring.  This picture is what it looked like today after being under cover since November.  The variety is Space, and it’s my favorite variety of spinach to grow.  This is the time that I direct seed my spinach for the earliest spring harvest that I can get

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