Tete a tete“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt” ~Margaret Atwood

Spring blooming bulbs are (finally!) underway and require no attention other than regular admiration but there is plenty to do in the garden during the longer spring days.

  • Start out with spring garden cleaning – cut down stalks of dead plants you left up all winter as habitat for overwintering insects, shake any remaining seed pods onto the ground (if you want plant seeds to self-sow) and clear away debris
  • Check your tools to see if any any wooden handles are dry (linseed oil is good for this) or need sharpening; check pots left outside to see if any have cracks.
  • If you haven’t had your soil tested, now’s a good time to do it. While local cooperative extension services often offer soil testing, UMass Amherst is also a good option.
    *  More useful information on soil testing in a previous post
  • Get going (if you haven’t done so already) on indoor seed starting – tomatoes and peppers and other plants that need to wait for warmer soils to be planted outside should be started 4-6 before average last frost date.  Useful instructions on seed starting from a previous post are right here, and instructions for an easy DIY seed starting stand (also from previous post) are right here.
  • Give the garden a good raking over to loosen the top soil and break up any clumps of dirt – this in preparation for sowing seeds for cool season planting.

GardenSeeds_2015What can be planted this time of year? Lots!

*  Greens: Lettuce, spinach, chard, mustard, kale
*  Root crops:  Carrots, radishes, beets, turnips, kohlrabi
*  Early peas such as snow peas and sugar snap

Here’s a planning calendar for what to plant and when plus an article on preparing your soil.

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There are plenty of good looking tomatoes ripening on the vine in various plots in my community garden. There are also a number of very sad looking tomatoes with yellowing/brown leaves and withering stalks.

Are DC gardeners destined to eventually lose their tomatoes to wilts or blights or other diseases?  My answer is no, and here are some tips to help combat tomato collapse:

  1. Testing your soil. You can improve your chances of growing good crops if your soil has the right balance of nutrients. Right now UDC is offering free testing during July and August. Another  option is UMass Amherst’s soil testing lab.
  2. Watering slowly and deep – slowly so water doesn’t splash onto the leaves, deep so that roots grow down and pick up more nutrients. Best time to water is in the morning
  3. Cutting off leaves when there is a hint of yellow or brown – or proactively cutting off the bottom sets of leaves to mitigate splashing spores onto the leaves in the first place
  4. Practicing good sanitation – don’t touch the tomato leaves when they are wet, don’t inadvertently spread disease by touching unaffected plants after you’ve been handling diseased plants
  5. My alley neighbor, who was a knowledgeable gardener, swore by using a copper spray to combat these diseases. I’ve also read of an effective spray using baking soda or potassium bicarbonate called the Cornell spray. The Internets also shows gardeners using copper wire (inserted into plant stem just above soil line) or making a cut and inserting a copper penny. I think I’ll stick with the methods listed above.

In some cases, the tomatoes aren’t affected (although the plant looks stunted). But if the stalk is withered then the plant should be pulled up and put into your trash (not compost pile). Any tomatoes on the vine should be fine to eat. If they’re green, leave them on your counter top to see if they ripen. Or look up some good green tomato recipes (like this green tomato curry).

What are your tips for growing good tomatoes?