Sunday, April 27, 2014

How to Grow Great Tomatoes, peppers, melons, corn, and other heat-loving annuals

 4" tomato planted among gabion rocks, in compost covered with pine needles
          If you want to grow a tomato plant that makes a lot of great fruit, start with a plant that isn’t blooming yet, not even showing a sign of buds.  Buds are a sure sign that the plant is getting root bound and is trying to make seed before it dies.  The plant has switched from vegetative growth to blooming and won’t grow much after you plant it.  If the buds are still very small, you can pinch them and it might switch back.  If it is blooming, don’t buy it or plant it.
          It can be hard to find plants that are not blooming in the markets.  Gallon plants always have flowers, and fruits abound.  Even 4-inch pots are often budding or blooming.   Your best bet is to buy 4- or 6-paks, and check them carefully for buds.  Don’t despise seed.  I’ve seen many a volunteer out-produce starts.
          Tomatoes need warm soil, good soil, and regular water.  Don’t plant them before the soil warms up a bit.  Trying to beat the last frost is a losing game, because the plants won’t grow until the soil is warm, and pests will eat them.   A good sign that it is time to plant is sprouting of volunteer tomatoes or other warmth lovers where they were grown the year before.
          Spend some time preparing the ground first.  If your soil is poor and grows small weeds, cover it with about 6 inches of compost and enough pine needles or coarse bark to cover, or a foot of mixed leaves from the fall.  If it grows big, leafy weeds, two inches of compost may be sufficient to smother most weeds seeds and small plants.  Pull whatever comes through the mulch.

The corn and tomatoes in the center were planted in a foot of leaves, no compost on top.  The foreground bed to the left was planted too thick with peppers and tomatoes, but with gabion rock on top.

Plant your starts into the compost or leaves if they are thick enough.  If not thick enough, pull the mulch aside and dig in the soil a bit, and then pull the compost and top mulch back around the roots.  Do not plant it deeper than it was in the pot; that will just make it easier for pill bugs to eat the leaves.  A plant that is not root bound doesn’t need to grow roots from its stem.
Last, but not at all least, surround the plant with rocks, to soak up heat during the day and release it at night.  Night warmth is critical to growth.  A few big flat rocks are good; even better is a solid 2 to 3-foot circle of cheap river rock, called gabion rock at Copeland.  Covering a bed with them produces the best results, but removing them each year for mulching can be a chore. 
4" Peppers planted among gabion rock and Dog Creek glacier till

All of the above goes for peppers, with emphasis on warmth at planting time and starting small.  They are even more likely to be blooming in 4-inch pots; look for 6-paks.
Squash, melons, cucumbers, corn and beans are all better off bought as seed and planted when the soil is warm.  They hate any sort of root disturbance; seeds will beat anything started in a pot.  Melons and cukes benefit from warming rocks; squash, corn and beans don’t need them.  If your seeds don’t grow, the soil was too cold; replant.
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Saturday, April 5, 2014

The litter business is picking up

This gardener has gotten a bit old for the stoop work of gardening and is really tired of the litter in parts of this town and so has been moving on to cleaning litter from areas of public access and asking for donations and sponsors to continue and expand this much-needed work.  Starting litter pickup two days a week in early December, I made a bright green advertising tunic; started a website,; got a payment vendor; made a better tunic; started The Litter Cleaner Blog to document my work; made a sign for my truck; and recently started getting sponsors, including one Super Sponsor. 
Carl Wilson of KAJO/KLDR has pulled me away from Redwood Avenue and is paying me to clean his portion of the Miracle Mile, as he calls the Rogue River Hwy.  Logan Design has donated small and large bright green stickers for advertising.  The City of Grants Pass sponsors me with bright yellow litter bags, which they allow me to drop in our parks next to trash cans for easy pickup by their crew. 
You or your business can Super Sponsor weekly litter cleanup of a particular landmark, like the Caveman Bridge, the area beneath it, a stretch of road, or an alley, for $500 a year, less than $10 a week.  It need not be in a single payment; $250 is enough to get started cleaning.  Recognition on the GP Gardener Super Sponsor page, which includes your logo and business motto, must wait until you’ve paid $500 within a year.  Some areas may take more than one Super Sponsor to cover, but one is enough to get the work started.
It takes only $100 of donations in a year to be listed as a Sponsor, for which you can sponsor cleanup of either one day of an event (before, during and after) or weekly cleanup of your frontage if you are near a sponsored site and it is not too large.   Donations of any amount are greatly appreciated and any amount donated by website or mail will get you at least a thank-you note and a small and large sticker.  You will know that you are supporting cleaning of Super Sponsor sites ($10 a week doesn’t go far) or any other place I feel the need to clean. 
Donations for my litter-cleaning business are not tax deductible as a charitable donation, and will be reported as income for tax purposes.  Business sponsorships can be reported as advertising expense, since one is listed on the website and I tell people who is sponsoring a place as I clean it.
I can only cover so much ground, so I will be able to offer Super Sponsorships of new areas only until my work week is filled, so it pays to buy in early.
Please visit, read The Litter Cleaner Blog and donate today.  You can also like GP Gardener on Facebook.

Read The Litter Cleaner Blog and support litter cleanup in Grants Pass at
Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener        541-955-9040

Gardening is easy, if you do it naturally.