Charlie's Homegrown tomatoes & jokes


Plant


StarX Garden





          Gardening is my favorite hobby.  I love any kind of plant or flower, but I especially like growing vegetables.  My kids say I can make anything grow!
          I live with one of my daughters and her family now.  I moved in right after my heart surgery.  Before that, I owned a condo and would walk to my daughters to work in my garden.  When I moved back to Michigan from Daytona Beach, Florida, she and her husband let me have my own spot in the side yard to plant my first garden in 15 years!  I really missed that!  I enjoy it so much! Now all I do is go out the door and I'm there, looking at all of my beautiful plants.

          Below you will find some gardening tips.  Later we will be adding pictures of my currant garden & some items from the past, including newspaper articles on some of my wonderful garden plants.


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Dad's pages will continue to be added to.
In Loving Memory.
(3/19/1917 - 2/26/2007)


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LADYBUGS
Ladybug
Attract Ladybugs... They're good for your garden

     Luring Ladybugs Into Your Garden:   Of all the insects in the garden, the ladybug is probably the most easily recognized.  Ladybugs, (also called lady beetles or ladybirds,) are a gardener's best friend.  Not only do they feed on insect pests, especially aphids, but their bright coloring also brings cheer into the garden.
          Attracting them into your garden takes some planning but can help immensely with your pest control.  However, if you just don't have the space to plant the types of plants that ladybugs like, releasing commercially bought ladybugs can help you clean up infested plants while you work to establish your own population.
     Identification:   Adult lady beetles are usually oval or domed shaped, and can range in color from red to orange.  The number of black markings can also range anywhere from no spots to 15 spots.  Some species are even solid black or black with a red spot (the Twice Stabbed Lady Beetle).
     The young, larval form of the ladybug is often less recognized.  They tend to resemble tiny, six legged alligators, blue-black in colour with orange spots.  Often, gardeners unknowingly squish or spray the larval form of the ladybug, not knowing what a benefit they are to the garden.
     Both adults and larvae feed on many different soft-bodied insects but aphids are their main food source.  One larva will eat about 400 aphids during its development and a single adult can eat a whopping 5,000 aphids in its lifetime.  They will also eat other insects such as mealybugs and spider mites as well as the eggs of the Colorado Potato Beetle and European Corn Borer.
     Life Cycle:  Within a year, there can be as many as 5 to 6 generations of ladybugs as the average time for growth from egg to adult only takes about 3 to 4 weeks.  In the spring, adults find food and then the females lay anywhere from 50 to 300 eggs.  The tiny eggs are yellow & oval shaped and are usually found in clusters of 10 to 50, near aphid colonies.  The eggs take 3 to 5 days to hatch and the larvae voraciously feed on aphids for 2 to 3 weeks before they grow into adults.
     In the fall, adults hibernate in plant refuse and crevices.  They often do this in groups where several hundred adults will gather at the base of a tree, along a fencerow or under a rock.  They especially like areas where leaves protect them from cold winter temperatures.
     Attracting Ladybugs in the Garden: Apart from aphids, ladybugs also require a source of pollen for food and are attracted to specific types of plants.  The most popular ones have umbrella shaped flowers such as fennel, dill, caraway, angelica, tansy, wild carrot & yarrow.  Other plants that also attract ladybugs include cosmos (especially the white ones), coreopsis, and scented geraniums, and dandelions.
     Apart from planting attractive plants in the garden, you can also promote ladybug populations by cutting back on spraying insecticides.  Not only are ladybugs sensitive to most synthetic insecticides, but if the majority of their food source is gone, they won't lay their eggs in your garden.  As difficult as it may be, allowing aphids to live on certain plants is necessary to ensure that there is enough food for ladybugs.  In addition, resist the urge to squish bugs & eggs in the garden, unless you're certain that they are not beneficial.
     Purchasing Ladybugs:   Sometimes, there just isn't enough room in the garden to have ladybug-attracting plants.  Purchasing ladybugs can help a population become established.
     Scientists have found that indoor-reared ladybugs fail to find their own food when released outside so the majority of commercially available ladybugs are collected from the wild.  Before releasing them into the garden, here are a few tips to help ensure that they stay where you want them:
   1. Only release ladybugs after sun down or before sun-up.  Ladybugs navigate by the sun and in the evenings & early mornings, they tend to stay put.
   2. Pre-water the area where you are releasing them.  Not only will the ladybugs appreciate the drink, moisture on the leaves helps the ladybugs to "stick" to plants.
   3. In the warm months, it helps to chill the ladybugs in the fridge before releasing them.  Ladybugs tend to crawl more than fly in colder temperatures and the overnight stay in the fridge won't harm them in any way.
   4. On severely infested plants like roses, drape a floating row cover or thin sheet over the plant and release the ladybugs underneath.  Within a day, the ladybugs will have found the aphids and will be happily munching away at them.
     The Asian Ladybug:   If you are planning to buy ladybugs for your garden or greenhouse, I encourage you to select the native ladybugs species, Hippodamia convergens, rather than the Asian ladybug, Harmonia axyridis.  Although the Asian is very effective at controlling aphids and is often the species of choice for commercial greenhouse growers, it is the main cause for "ladybug infestations" inside houses.
     While the native ladybug is happy to hibernate outdoors, the Asian species requires warmer temperatures and often ends up becoming a pest to homeowners as it congregates in large numbers inside. It also seems to be establishing fairly large numbers in the wild and there is some concern it will begin competing with the native species.  Some suppliers of predatory insects do sell both species but it's best to choose the native one if you can.


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ASPARAGUS
Asparagus
          This vegetable has attractive, feathery fern-like foliage that can grow up to 3 feet tall.  Time is required to prepare the asparagus bed, but if done right the bed will last for years.
     Planting:  In the north, plants should be set out in early spring.  In the South, set them out in the fall because it can be so hot in the summer that the young plants may not survive.  Asparagus does well in most types of soil, but it should be well drained.  Place plants 2 feet apart with 5 feet between rows.  Once the bed is established, which takes three seasons, 25-30 crowns will produce enough asparagus for most families.
     Dig a trench 12-18 inches deep and the length of your row.  Add 6-7 inches of aged manure or compost or a little peat moss.  Sprinkle on a dusting of balanced fertilizer and add a couple of inches of soil from your garden.  Mix well.
     With the mixture you have made, build up mounds at the bottom of the trench about a foot apart.  Set each crown on top of a mound and drape the roots down the sides.  Growth will be slow if roots are placed flat.
     Fill the trenches making sure the crowns are at least four inches beneath the soil surface.  The soil level of the row should be a little below the rest of the garden.  When the shoots grow up, fill in the trench with a little more soil to give the stalks good support.
     First Year Care:  Place a thick mulch around the small spears after they come up to keep the weeds down and to hold in moisture.  Let the new plants grow through the summer and fall without cutting shoots or ferns.  Let the tops die down in the late fall without interference.
     Choosing Plants:  Begin with two-year-old roots.  One-year-old plants will be cheaper but these younger plants often don't survive transplanting, and your first harvest will be delayed for a year.  The very patient gardener may want to try starting seeds in special beds and transplant them to their permanent spot in the garden when they are two years old.
     To Store Asparagus:  Stand the spears upright in a jar with about an inch of water in the bottom.  Keep the jar in the refrigerator.
     Second Year Care:  This spring and every spring you need to cut the old ferns that died over the previous fall and winter and clear them out before the plants begin to grow.  Also remove any mulch that's left in the bed.  Fertilize and cultivate well between the rows.  Be careful of spreading roots.  Mulch around the spears when they are tall enough.  Don't harvest this year.
     Third Year Care:  Repeat the process of cutting back the ferns, removing the mulch and fertilizing.  Harvest some spears by cutting with a sharp knife just below the soil when they are 6-8 inches tall.  Cut only the ones that are as thick as your finger and let the skinny ones grow into ferns.
          Each year you will need to leave some spears to grow into ferns. After the last harvest, pull all weeds and fertilize the bed.  Mulch heavily to prevent the growth of weeds.


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BEANS
Beans
     Types of Beans:  Beans are usually divided into three types.
     Green and Yellow Snap Beans:   These used to be called string beans, but the string has been bred out of most varieties.  They come in bush and pole varieties.  Pole beans will require some kind of support, and will produce the heaviest yield.
     Shell Beans:  These include lima beans, southern peas, and horticultural beans.
     Dry Beans:  Dry beans come from plants that have completed their growth and produced hard, dry seeds inside their pods.  When mature, the beans are packed with protein.
     Planting time:  Plant mid-spring to late-summer.  Be sure danger of frost has passed.
     Soil:  Well drained.  Root system is shallow.
     Sowing seeds:  Sow seeds directly into beds.  Climbing beans should be 6 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart.  Dwarf varieties should be spaced 2 inches apart.
     Fertilizer:  Add lime if the soil is acidic.  Rich soil or soil to which compost has been added will be fine until the beans begin to flower.  At this time, side dress with manure or additional compost.
     Sun:  Plant in full sun.
     Temperature:  Beans can't tolerate frost.  They need warm soil.
     Support:  Climbing varieties require trellises, poles, or other means of support at least 8 feet tall.
     Watering:  You must water in most areas because of the shallow root system.  At a minimum, beans should be watered after sowing, and when seedlings appear and during flowering.
     Maintenance:  Hill rows with soil during early growth to protect the plants from the wind.  Be careful when weeding the seedlings because the roots are near the surface.
     Harvesting:  Dwarf beans will mature in about 10 weeks and climbing beans will be ready in 10-12 weeks.  Frequent picking will result in increased flowering and greater yields.  Be careful when pulling the pods off so you don't damage the vines.  The pods are ready to pick when they snap easily and seeds are not yet fully developed.  Avoid harvesting in very hot or very cold weather.
     Bean Diseases:   Here are a few tips tp help avoid disease.
          1.  Stay out of the garden when plants are wet.
          2.  Rotate the bean crop each year to avoid soil-borne diseases.
          3.  Use mulch for walkways to keep rain from splashing soil and disease spores on the plants.
          4.  Never leave dead plant material in the garden, as this encourages disease.


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BEETS
Beets
          Beets thrive in cool weather, and can be planted in spring and late summer.  Roots may become woody in very hot weather.  They can tolerate a light frost, but not scorching heat.  Sow seeds 2 inches apart in square foot blocks about 1/2 inch deep.  They will germinate in about two weeks.  Thin to 3 or 4 inches apart, then mulch with clean straw.  Beets can tolerate partial shade, however full sun is preferred.
     Preparing the Soil:  Till soil 6 to 8 inches deep.  Work in plenty of fertilizer to improve the soil.  It is difficult if not impossible to grow good beets in clay soil without a raised bed.  Rake soil well to remove stones and debris.
          Beets need an alkaline soil, and the addition of a pound of lime for each square yard of bed will sweeten the soil.
     Planting:  Sow beets all season long in subtropical climates; during spring and autumn in warm regions, and spring through early autumn in colder areas.
     Maintenance: Good beets depend on a steady moisture supply.  A light mulch around young beets will help the soil retain the necessary moisture.  They do not tolerate weeds, but be careful not to damage the roots when weeding.
          Beets are sensitive to boron deficiency, which causes blackspot, sickly growth, and poor taste.  Only small amounts are needed, and if you use compost, the soil will be adequate.  If you're in doubt, sprinkle a little borax around the plant.
          Beets are seldom bothered by insects or disease.
     Harvesting:  Beets mature in approximately 3-4 months, however tender young "baby beets" are a real treat.  They lose flavor and the centers become woody as they get bigger.


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BERRIES
Berries
          Berries are almost the perfect home garden plant.  They are easy to grow, requiring little more than a patch of full sun and some well-drained soil.  Most have perennial roots with shoots that are biennial.  This means that the shoots (called "canes") grow vegetatively in the first growing season, go through a dormant season, then leaf out, flower, fruit, and die during the second growing season.
          Raspberries and blackberries are the two most common bramble crops.  Red, black, and purple raspberries are the three most commonly grown raspberry types.  Red raspberries have erect canes and are propagated by suckers.  Black raspberries have arched canes that root at the tips.  Purple raspberries are hybrids of red and black varieties.
     Planting:  Unless otherwise stated, these are the basic planting instructions for berry bushes:  Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball and a proper depth that is level or slightly lower than the soil surface.  Add organic matter (peat moss or humus) to the soil and mix thoroughly.  The amount of organic matter should equal 1/2 the volume of the soil.  Place the plant into the hole making sure that the hole has the proper width and depth.  Begin to back fill the hole halfway.  Make sure that the plant is straight before too much soil is in the hole.  Tamp the soil around the root ball.  Repeat the procedure of filling and tamping until the hole has been filled.  Give the plant a good initial watering, then again every 3-5 days after planting.  Top dress with shredded bark (2" deep) and fertilizer (1/2 lb. per year since planting, starting with the second season).
          Raspberries grow best in cool climates, and can tolerate a wide range of soil types from sandy loam to clay.  The most important requirement for the berries is that the soil is deep so that the roots are not restricted.  Raspberries should not be planted in an area following the cultivation of tomatoes, eggplant or potatoes.  Diseases that affect these plants may remain in the soil and damage the berries.  Plants can be grown in hills or in rows.  Red raspberry plants should be set 2 to 3 feet apart if planted in rows.  Before planting, cut the tops of the plants back to six inches.  Set the plants into the hole so they are 2 to 3 inches deeper than they were in the nursery.  Water after transplanting.
          To get maximum yields from raspberries, apply fertilizer every year in the early spring just as new growth begins.  Manure works well as does a commercial 5-10-5 fertilizer.  Apply this as a top dressing at the rate of 8 ounces per plant, or spread in a wide band no closer than about 6 inches from the crown around each hill.
          Some red raspberry varieties have long, slender canes that must be tied.  They can be staked or tied to a trellis.  Set the trellis posts at either end of your raspberry row and run wires between them.  Most red raspberry varieties are stout caned and can be planted in hills without training them to stakes.  The wires will just support the boughs when laden with fruit.
          Raspberry canes are biennial;  they grow the first year, fruit the second, then die.  Only the crown and the roots are perennial.  Old canes should be removed as soon as the fruit is harvested.  New canes grow from buds on the base of the old canes.  Two new shoots usually come up each year.  In addition, suckers grow directly from the roots of red raspberries.  The new canes and suckers should be thinned immediately after harvest.
          Berries should be picked in the morning after the dew has evaporated.  If picked in the afternoon, the berries will take longer to cool down, which shortens their shelf life.
           Blackberries and raspberries should be picked when they are plump, sweet, fully colored and can be easily pulled off the stem.  Different varieties may produce berries at different times, providing a longer harvesting period.
          Summer fruiting cultivars should have the old canes cut out as soon as the fruit has been picked.  Autumn fruiting cultivars should be cut down to within a few inches of the ground in late February.


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BROCCOLI
Broccoli
          A head of broccoli is a cluster of flower buds.  When the head is young its individual buds are packed very tightly.  As long as the buds stay tight, just let the head grow.  Once the head begins to loosen and spread out, they are about to bloom and the head should be cut immediately, regardless of the size.
          Once the main head has been cut, many smaller heads, called side shoots, will form on other parts of the plants.  They may not be large, but the number of shoots often makes up for the decreased size and they are just as good.
          Broccoli can be grown anywhere except in the hottest and coldest climates, but it does require cool weather to reach maturity.  Ideal temperatures are not more than 77 degrees during the day and not less than 60 degrees at night.
     Location:  Plant in a well drained, sunny location.  Broccoli can be planted in containers outdoors.
     Cultivation:  Prepare the soil with manures and compost and provide extra nitrogen supplement if the soil is sandy.
     Planting:  Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep into the soil.  After thinning, plants should be about 10 inches apart.  Successive sowings should occur at one month intervals.  If you are starting seeds indoors, use 4 inch peat pots and transplant when 4 leaves have appeared (6-8 weeks after planting).
     Watering:  The plant grows quickly, so keep soil moist by watering often, if necessary.  Plants requires less water as the heads begin to mature.
     Fertilizing:  Manure, especially poultry manure, is an excellent fertilizer for broccoli.  Weekly feedings with liquid seaweed fertilizer also improves crops.
     Harvesting:  When buds are large and firm but are not yet flowering, cut the large central head leaving about 6 inches of stalk attached.


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CABBAGE
Cabbage
          If the heads begin to crack, that means that the inside of the head is growing faster than the outside is.  This is sometimes caused by over-fertilization.  If it is allowed to continue to crack, the cabbage will go to seed.  To stop this, give the whole plant a 1/2 turn to break off some of the roots.  If this does not stop the cracking, give it another 1/4 turn a few days later.
          Cabbage will grow in a wide range of climates.  It will tolerate frost but not extreme heat that can cause the head to split.
          Locate plants in a well drained, sunny location.  Soil should be fertilized.
          Cabbage grows quickly, so keep the soil well watered.
     Planting:  Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep and 3 inches apart in seed trays or flats.  Transplants can be placed in the garden in the spring in cool zones and year round in other areas.  Transplant seedlings when 4 inches tall with 4-5 leaves.  Plant them about a foot apart.  Harden off before transplanting by withholding water for a couple of days.
     Watering:  Keep the topsoil moist.
     Fertilizing:  Work in plenty of manure.  Poultry manure is especially good.
     Harvesting:  Plants mature in 14-16 weeks.  Pick when the head is firm.  Remove it from the stem by cutting it.  Leave the outer leaves on the stem.


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CARROTS
Carrots
     Preparing the Soil:   Carrots need a well-drained, stone free soil that has been deeply worked.  If the root meets an obstacle in the early stages of growth, it will branch or may simply stop growing.  Carrots like full sun but will tolerate partial shade, especially if the weather is very warm.
     Carrots produce best in a raised bed.  Till the soil to a depth of at least 8 inches, adding plenty of compost or well-rotted manure.  Potassium promotes solid, sweet carrots.  Wood ashes contain highly soluble potassium, and reaches the plants quickly.  As you prepare the soil, work wood ashes into the top 4 inches of the soil, where feeder roots thrive.  Add lime if the soil tends to be acid.
     Planting:  Carrots are cool-weather vegetables, so start sowing about two weeks before the last expected frost in your area.  Make successive plantings every three weeks until the hottest part of the summer.  Furrows should be about 3/4 inch deep and 4 inches apart.
     Place a 1/2 inch layer of peat moss in the bottom of each furrow, sow the seeds sparingly on top, then cover with about 1/4 inch of soil.  Seeds must be kept moist to germinate.  Mulching with straw will help hold the moisture, and will also make it easier to water without disturbing the seeds.
     When sowing seeds, try to space them 1/2 inch apart.  The tiny seeds make spacing difficult, but it will be easier to thin without disturbing the plants you plan to leave if there is a little space between them.  You may want to try mixing radish seeds with the carrot seeds.  The carrot seeds are slow to germinate, and the radishes, which germinate and grow very quickly, will mark the row until the carrots come up.
     A second crop of carrots can be planted in late summer or early fall in most areas.  If a hard freeze threatens, protect your fall crop with a heavy mulch.
     Maintenance:  The first few weeks after sowing, determine the size of your crop.  Carrots can't tolerate a deep planting in a dry bed, so the trick is to offer them a shallow sowing with even moisture.  The seedlings grow slowly and can't compete with weeds.  Hand weeding is recommended until the carrots are 2 inches tall.  Thin the carrots 3 inches apart, and then mulch with clean straw and compost to keep the weeds at bay.
     Mulching also helps the soil retain moisture and prevents "green shoulder," which is caused by exposing the crowns of the carrots to the sun, making the roots bitter.  If the tops of your carrot roots start to turn green, pull the soil up around them.  Overwatering your carrots can cause the roots to crack.
     Common Problems:  The insect to watch for is the rust fly.  Carrots planted after the first week of June often escape the first generation of rust flies, and those harvested before September usually escape the second generation.  Interplanting onions or garlic in the carrot beds will also ward off the villainous flies.
     Compost and wood ashes will also scare off not only rust flies but carrot weevils, wireworms, and other carrot pests.  Probably the best organic way to get rid of pests is to soak the bed once a week with a thin mixture of wood ashes and water using a watering can.
     Most carrot pests and diseases are soil-borne and can be controlled by crop rotation.
     Harvesting and Storage:   Most carrots can be harvested in less than three months.  The largest carrots will have the darkest, greenest tops, but don't leave the roots in the ground too long or they will be tough.  Most are at their prime when about an inch in diameter at the crown.
     When harvesting, drench the bed with water first, making the carrots easier to pull.  When you find a carrot big enough, grasp the greens at the crown and tug gently with a twisting motion.  If the greens snap off, carefully lift the roots with a spading fork.  Use damaged roots right away and store unblemished ones.
     Thick cored carrots store the best.  There are three ways to store fresh carrots:
          1.  Leave them in the ground under a heavy mulch.
          2.  Store them in a root cellar or underground barrel.
          3.  Keep them in the crisper bin of the refrigerator.
     If the temperature seldom drops below 20 degrees F, you can leave carrots in the ground all winter.  A thick mulch will help protect them during hard freezes.


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CAULIFLOWER
Cauliflower
          Harvest cauliflower when the heads are about 6 to 8 inches across.  As with broccoli, be sure you cut the head before the buds begin to loosen.  The plant can be removed after the head is cut.
          Cauliflower does not like hot weather so set your plants out as early as possible.  Heads that mature in hot weather will have a bitter taste.
     Location:  Heads will discolor unless the plants are protected from full sun and frost.
     Cultivation:  Garden beds should be rich in manure and other organic matter.  Supplemental feedings will probably be necessary.  The white of the head is preserved by *blanching it* or protecting it from sunlight.  While the head is still small, tie the large leaves together over the head.  These will be replaced as the head grows.
     Planting:  Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep and 2 inches apart in seed trays or flats.  Seedlings take about 6 weeks to appear and are ready for transplanting when they are around 4-6 inches high.  Transplant only in cool weather.
     Watering:  Water well, but avoid watering directly over the head to prevent damage.  Head may need some protection during heavy rainfall.
     Fertilizing:  Work plenty of manure into the soil.  Poultry manure is especially good.
     Harvesting:  Plants mature in 4-5 months.  Remove the heads when they are about 8 inches wide by cutting.  If left too long, they will discolor and lose their crisp firmness.  Leaves can also be used as a vegetable.
*Blanching Cauliflower*
          Blanching cauliflower doesn't make it taste any better, but the snow-white curds of a blanched head are more appetizing than the green, yellow or brown curds you will get from an unblanched head.
          The heads are ready to blanch when they are about two inches across.  Choose a warm, sunny afternoon to work with your plants, and make sure that they are dry before you begin, because working with wet plants can make them disease and rot.  The only supplies you will need are some soft twine or rubber bands.
          To blanch the head, pull some of the leaves from the sides of the plant up over the head and secure them with the twine or rubber bands.  Cover the head and completely shade it from light and protect it from moisture, but leave openings for air to circulate.  Self-blanching cauliflower types such as "Fremont" or "Ravella" have leaves that naturally curl up over the head.
          Once you start blanching, never water your plants from the top.  Soak the roots, but leave the head and leaves as dry as possible.  Unwrap the heads after a hard rain and let them dry out.  Check them for insects from time to time.  They will grow quickly at this stage, and will probably be ready for harvest in a week or two.


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CORN
Corn
     Corn Growing:  Corn is a warm-weather vegetable that grows best during the long, sunny days of summer.  It needs full sun and windbreaks in areas where strong winds are a problem.  The rule of thumb for seeding corn is to plant it two weeks before the last expected frost date.  Corn is pollinated by the fall of pollen from male flowers (tassels) at the top of the stem onto female flowers (silks) lower down.  When corn is pollinating, water at ground level so as not to disturb the process.  To extend your harvest a few weeks, stagger your corn plantings.  This also prevents accidental cross-pollination of certain varieties.  If you plan to plant different varieties of corn, allow at least 100 feet between them.  Otherwise they will cross pollinate each other, and you will only get one variety.  This is especially important if you will be planting popcorn, as it usually dominates.
     Time your plantings by checking the days to maturity and counting back from the date you want to begin harvesting.  One thing to remember is that the harvest time may vary slightly if the weather is very cool or very warm during the growing season.  Timing your corn plantings is especially helpful if you're planning a midsummer vacation away from home.  You needn't miss a single, delicious ear if you plan it right.
     Soil and Site:  Corn likes rich soil with good drainage.  Ideal soil for corn is sand that stays moist, without being too wet.  The fastest way to improve less-than-perfect soil is to add plenty of organic matter (leaves, compost, grass clippings and crop residues).  If possible, work in a 1-inch layer of manure the preceding fall.  Alternatively, you can grow a green manure crop, such as buckwheat, oats, clover, rye, winter wheat, or vetch that will be plowed under in the spring.  If your soil is too sandy, organic matter will help it retain nutrients and moisture, which are vital to corn.  If you have heavy clay soil, organic matter will wedge between the soil's tightly compacted particles to loosen it and improve its drainage.
     As you're planning your garden, whether on paper or in your head, arrange the corn so it will be in at least four side-by-side rows to ensure good pollination.  Be sure it gets full sun, away from trees that might shade it.  Most corn varieties are tall and can shade shorter crops, so plant corn on the north or east side of the garden.
     If you've grown corn before in the same garden, change the place where you plant it, or rotate it, every year.  This can be tricky if you don't have lots of garden space, but when you rotate corn, you prevent disease and pest problems from recurring.  You also keep your garden's natural fertility in balance by moving heavy feeders, like corn, around.  If your garden is too small for yearly rotation, rotate it at least every second or third season.  If you run into a bad insect or disease problem one year, rotation the following season is a must.
     Fertilizer -- A Fish Story?   Many gardeners have heard that colonists learned from the Indians to plant each corn kernel on top of a dead fish.  This is no "fish story".  Decaying fish contain nitrogen, which corn needs for good growth.  The Indians and colonists may not have known why it worked, but they liked the results, so continued to do it.
     Because it needs a steady supply of nitrogen throughout the growing season, corn is called a "heavy feeder."  It's logical that a plant that can grow over six feet tall and produce hundreds of seeds needs lots of food.  It's not so much the amount of food that matters as a steady diet while corn is growing.  In fact, at planting time, corn needs about the same amount of fertilizer as most other garden vegetables.  During the growing season, however, you give corn additional feedings by side-dressing the crop.  Fish emulsion and manure tea are good choices.
     Going along with the notion behind the dead fish of early American times, you can use an organic fertilizer such as well-rotted compost, aged or dehydrated animal manures or concentrated animal or plant extracts like bloodmeal or alfalfa meal.  These materials may be available at little or no cost to gardeners in some areas.  In other areas they may be prepackaged and sold at garden stores and the prices can be high.  An advantage of these fertilizers is their ability to condition the soil as well as to feed plants.  They also provide nutrients over an extended period of time, which helps corn.
     How to Have the Earliest Corn   If you live in the North, it's not too hard to grow corn that's "knee high by the Fourth of July," and if you live farther south you can easily beat that date.  Choose an early variety like 'Earlivee', 'Early Sunglow' or 'Quickie'.  Plan to plant four to six weeks before the last frost date in your area.
     Planting Early:   Plant the seed about 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep.  If you want to, you can cover the rows with a plastic tunnel for extra heat or with chicken wire to protect the seeds from birds.
     When the seedlings are 8 to 10 inches high, give them their first dose of fertilizer.  Side-dress with a balanced fertilizer and then water.  Side-dress again when the plants are knee-high, and give a third nutrient boost when they tassel.  Soon afterward you'll have the first local corn.
     Mulch:  Some gardeners mulch their corn to prevent weeds and to keep the soil moist.  Although mulching can be beneficial in hot, dry climates, keep in mind that you'll need quite a load of mulch material - hay, straw, leaves, peat moss, etc. - to take care of a good stand of corn.  As long as you give corn a steady supply of food and water, it really doesn't require much other care.
     Thinning:  If you plant corn in hills or plant the rows too thickly, you'll have to thin out some plants to make sure the others have enough room to grow.  Thin when the seedlings are about four inches tall.
     The best time to thin is after a rain when the plants have dried but the soil is still moist.  The plants pull easily from the soil without disturbing neighboring seedlings.
     To thin, just pull up enough plants so that those remaining in the row or hill will be 10 inches apart.  If you crowd your corn a bit - about 8 inches apart - don't worry, it should do fine; but if you're just getting the hang of raising corn, give your plants more room.
     Planting Methods:   Once the seedbed is well worked and fertilized, you're ready to plant.  There are two traditional ways to plant corn: three to five seeds grouped together in small circles, or "hills" or spaced evenly down straight rows, one behind the other.
     Weed Control:  Weed your corn every few weeks, starting before you even plant a seed.  Work the soil several times before planting.  This not only conditions the soil, it stirs up and kills tiny weed seeds lurking near the surface.  It also buries some seeds so deeply that they never get a chance to sprout.
     Once the corn is planted, scratch the surface of the planting bed every week or so with a weeding rake.  When the corn is tall enough to be hilled, you'll automatically get rid of weeds by covering them with soil as you hill.
     Hilling:  Hilling is pulling up soil to mound it around the base of a plant.  When you hill a young corn plant, the added soil around its stem helps support it as it grows taller.  This protects it from being blown over in a strong wind.  To really anchor plants, it's a good idea to hill corn every two to three weeks until the plants start to tassel.
     Hilling also covers and smothers any weeds around the base of your corn plants.  You might say you're creating a "soil mulch" around your plants.  If dryness is a problem, extra soil helps the corn roots retain moisture.
     Watering:  During a dry season, watering is essential both when the corn is tasseling and when the kernels are forming.  At this time, the plant is devoting all its energy to seed production, holding nothing in reserve for a dry spell.  The plants are relatively tall and exposed to the wind and drying heat of summer, so they often "transpire" or give off moisture faster than their roots can take it up.
     During its growing season, corn needs at least an inch of water per week.  If it has to go through a dry stretch, it may not produce well.  If your garden receives less than an inch of rain in a week, water.
     When you water, water thoroughly.  Try to saturate the ground to a depth of about 4 inches.  Surface dampness will only encourage shallow roots.  (Sandy soil absorbs water faster than clay.)  One sign of too little water is if the corn leaves are curling or rolling.  If you want healthy, sweet, well-filled ears, pay close attention to the weather at the tail end of the season and water if your corn needs it.
     Harvesting:  Sweet corn should be harvested when its ears are completely filled out and a pierced kernel shows a milky white liquid.  You can also tell by feeling the end of an ear.  If it's rounded or blunt rather than pointed, the ears are ready.  The silks also dry up when the ears are almost ready to be picked.  The prime time for corn to be harvested comes 12-14 weeks after planting and lasts only a few days, so check repeatedly to see if the corn is ready.
     If you are too early, the juice will be watery.  Later, the kernels turn doughy inside as moisture recedes and sugar turns to starch.  Here are some other signs of readiness:
          Dark green husks.
          Brown, but not brittle, silks.
          Well filled ears.
          Sweetness is the key, so it helps to understand what makes corn sweet and why timing is so important in your harvest.  The plant manufactures natural sugars when the kernels are filling out.  These kernels are seeds that each contain a natural food-storage compartment as well as the corn embryo.  A seed can't store sugars, but it can live on stored starches throughout the winter months and in its early stages of growth the following season.  As soon as the kernels are full of sugar, the plant begins to convert it into starch.  For best flavor, harvest the corn before this change can take place.
          The sweetness of corn depends on the variety, temperature and amount of sunlight during the day when the ears are forming.  The plant makes the most sugar on cool, sunny days.  If the temperature is too hot, the sugar-making process is slowed.  That's why the long, crisp, sunny days of early fall produce the sweetest corn.
          To harvest sweet corn, grab an ear and twist it down and off the stalk.
POPCORN
Popcorn
     Popcorn Pointers:  The only way that growing popcorn differs from growing sweet corn is at harvest-time, and popcorn is actually easier to harvest because you don't have to catch it at the peak of sweetness.  Leave popcorn in the garden until the stalks and husks are brown and dry, then twist and snap each ear from the stalk.  Do this before the frost hits.  To prepare popcorn for indoor curing, carefully strip away the dried husk from each ear.  The kernels will be partially dried or "cured," a necessity for long-term storage.
     Besides drying on the stalks, popcorn requires another four to six weeks of thorough drying in a warm, well-ventilated place.  Corn can't pop unless there's the right amount of moisture inside the kernel.  When it's heated, the moisture turns to steam, which causes the kernel to burst.
     Place the ears in mesh bags or spread them out in an area where they'll have warm air circulating around them.  You can also hang mesh bags full of popcorn ears in your garage for about four weeks.  After curing, hang the bags of corn from the rafters of your root cellar.  The corn can keep for years in the cool, dry, dark conditions there.
     After a month of curing, the kernels can be taken off the ears and stored in airtight jars.  Whether you're removing the kernels before storage or just before popping, there's no real trick to it.  Simply grasp the ear firmly in both hands and twist until the kernels drop out.  Once started, the kernels drop off with very little pressure.  However, beware of the sharply pointed kernels if you're using your bare hands.  After two or three ears, you may have a few nicks and scratches.  If you want to remove the kernels from a lot of ears, it might be a good idea to wear gloves.
     Popcorn doesn't take much garden space for a sizable harvest.  Each ear is loaded with tiny kernels come harvest-time, and three or four five-foot-long rows should be plenty.  Many popcorn varieties produce one or two ears per plant, so you may have enough by growing just five or six plants.
     Pop homegrown popcorn just as you would store-bought.  Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a deep pot.  Sprinkle in enough kernels to coat the bottom and cover the pot.  As soon as you hear the first kernel pop, shake the covered pot vigorously while the rest pop.  When the popping stops, remove the pot from the heat and take off the lid to let the steam escape.  The popcorn is ready.  Enjoy it plain, or add your favorite topping.


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GARLIC
Garlic
          The bulbs you buy in the grocery store will produce a good crop of garlic.  Since the plants will do most of their growing in cool weather, it's a good idea to plant them in late summer or early fall and to mulch the plants over in winter.
     Planting and Maintenance:   Break each bulb into individual cloves, and plant the cloves 3 to 4 inches apart, with the pointed end up.  Give them two or three sidedressings with manure or fertilizer during the season.  The soil around them should be kept loose and moist.
     Harvesting:  Pull up the bulbs when the tops fall over and die.  Let them dry in the sun for a few days, then braid the tops together or place them in a net bag.  Hanging them in an airy location will help prevent rot.  Peeled garlic cloves may be stored in a jar of oil.  The garlic retains it's flavor and the oil will add flavor to salad dressings.
     Insects and Disease:
           Insects:
     Thripes are tiny insects that feed on leaves that cause white, blotchy areas.  The plants weaken and the yield is reduced.  Keep weeds out of the garden to eliminate insect pests.  A blast of cold water will remove thripes from plants.  Soap sprays may be also be effective.
     Onion Maggots are the offspring of a small fly that lays eggs near the base of the plant or on the bulb itself.  The maggots kill the plant by burrowing into the stem and bulb.  Pull up and destroy any plants before the maggots mature into flies.
           Disease:
     Neck Rot is the most common problem.  It strikes just after harvest or while the bulbs are in storage.  Drying the bulbs at warm temperatures with good ventilation and storing in a cool, airy spot will help prevent the disease.
     Garlic as a Companion Plant:   Garlic helps deter Japanese beetles, and it makes a great companion for roses and raspberries.
     Medicinal Uses:  Garlic has been used throughout the ages to ward off disease, and has saved many lives in epidemics of infectious diseases.  It is antibacterial and gives protection against colds and the flu.  Garlic improves circulation and lowers blood pressure.  It was proven in controlled clinical studies to reduce cholesterol levels.  Further studies indicate that garlic may have a positive role in the prevention of coronary heart disease, thrombosis and arteriosclerosis.  It may even offer some degree of protection against cancer.


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Leaf Crop ABC's
LETTUCE, SPINACH & GREENS
Leaf Crops
          Most greens crops thrive in cool spring and fall weather (50*F to 60*F).  Just compare the crisp, flavorful lettuce leaves harvested in spring with the often bitter leaves of a summer cutting and you'll agree.  A few greens can handle summer heat, but most of them prefer the cooler temperatures of spring and fall.
          A steady flow of moisture and nutrients is important for good greens.
     Leafy crops need plenty of nitrogen, too.  That's the key element in the good growth of leaves and it influences the crispness and quality of leafy crops, as well.
     The one thing most greens can't take is a lot of heat.  Spinach, for example, will quickly develop a seedstalk and start to stretch upward when it gets too warm.  This is known as going to seed.  When that happens, spinach leaves begin to lose some of their flavor.  A long hot spell can spoil heads of iceberg-type lettuce, too.  The heat loosens the leaves of the head, and they get soft and sometimes bitter.  If you can shade some of these crops as hot weather approaches, you can often keep the harvest going a few weeks longer.
LETTUCE
          Some people may think lettuce is lettuce.  Not so!  There's a wonderful assortment.  Each has a distinct flavor, texture and color, so you can have remarkably different salads just by varying the lettuces you use.  Here's a rundown of what you can expect in the lettuce department:
     Head Lettuce:  Head, or crisphead lettuces produce heads of tightly wrapped crisp leaves.  'Great Lakes', 'Iceberg' and 'Ithaca' are good choices for home gardeners.  Those in the South may want to try varieties better adapted to hot weather, such as 'Summertime' and 'Continuity'.  'Tom Thumb' is a good miniature iceberg type, growing only to the size of a tennis ball.
     Butterhead or loosehead plants form a head, but the leaves don't wrap themselves tightly together.  'Buttercrunch' is a good variety for home gardeners.  Its taste and crispness are terrific.  The leaves are crunchier than leaf lettuce.  The outer leaves of the head are dark green, and the inner leaves are lighter-colored.  'Dark Green Boston' and 'Bibb' are two other tasty and popular loosehead varieties.  You can harvest some loosehead plants before they form heads for an early harvest of delicious leaves.  A second crop will follow.  To harvest, simply take a knife and cut the entire plant off about one inch above the ground.
     Leaf Lettuce:  Leaf lettuce doesn't form a head at all - it grows up and out.  It's very easy to plant and will grow anywhere, almost anytime.  Make regular plantings every few weeks over the entire season, starting as soon as you can work the soil in the spring.  That way you always have lettuce that is young and fresh.  Harvest at the peak of freshness and taste.  Harvest leaf lettuces by picking off the large outer leaves or cutting the plant off an inch above the ground and letting it grow back.  'Black-Seeded Simpson' is an old favorite, and one of the earliest leaf lettuces you can grow.  'Simpson Elite' is a new improved version.  'Oak Leaf' has thin, tender leaves and takes heat well;  'Red Salad Bowl' is a red-tinged oakleaf.  'Green Ice' has crinkly leaves and is one of the slowest to go to seed.  Be sure to include some 'Red Sails' or 'Four Seasons' lettuce, too.  They add great color and taste to a salad, and look beautiful in the garden.
     Romaine Lettuce:   Plant seeds very early like other varieties, but plant them a little thicker because Romaine lettuce doesn't germinate as well as other kinds of lettuce.  The plants produce a tall head - 10 inches or more - of dark green leaves that close up firmly.  The tight, inner leaves are very tasty in tossed salads because they often have a pleasant, mild taste.  Romaine lettuce takes 70 to 80 days to form a full-grown head.  You can harvest it earlier, of course, just like loosehead lettuce.  Cut it before it forms a head, and it will come back to give you an additional harvest.  'Paris Island' cos is a vigorous, disease-resistant variety with dark green leaves;  'Rosalita' is a dark red-leafed cos with good heat tolerance.  'Rouge d'Hiver' is an early-maturing European red heirloom.  'Winter Density' will withstand a light frost.

Planning Your Greens Garden
          When you think about greens to grow you've got a big group of plants to consider, as well as different varieties of some salad crops.
     Planning Tips:
* Plant some lettuce or spinach between your corn rows, or on the shady side of a row of tomatoes.
     * Try multi-planting.  Plant lettuce, carrots and onions in the same wide row (15 to 16 inches across).  Harvest the lettuce when young, leaving expansion room for carrots and onions.  You can mix and match with other crops, too, including beets and spinach.
     Mulching:  A thick, organic mulch (straw, leaves, grass clippings, hay, etc.) is a must if you're growing head lettuce down South in the spring.  It will help retain moisture and keep the soil cool as warm spring weather arrives.  It's good in Northern gardens, too, where spring heat or quick-draining soils could hurt the crop.
     Cultivation:  Be sure not to kill or hoe around your head lettuce plants deeper than one inch - their roots are shallow.
     Booster Shot of Fertilizer:   Lettuce has a limited root system that can't go deep in the soil for nutrients.  Sometimes an application of extra fertilizer along the way - known as sidedressing - can help.  Make a light application of fertilizer every three to four weeks.

Spinach
          Spinach must have at least 6 weeks of cool weather from seeding to harvest.  Plant seeds outdoors 4 to 6 weeks before your last spring frost date, and again 4 to 6 weeks before the first fall frost date.
     Preparation:  Mix compost, manure, and/or fertilizer into each row or plot before planting.
     Planting:  Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep, about 12 seeds per foot of row, or sprinkle them over a wide row or bed.
     Care:  When seedlings are 1 inch tall, thin to stand 4 inches apart.  Water every few days during dry spells; mulch spinach planted in rows to retain soil moisture.
     Harvesting:  To harvest early, cut individual leaves as soon as they are big enough to eat.  When the weather warms up, cut the whole plant close to the ground, below the lowest leaf.  Harvest again after a few new leaves reappear.  Repeat as long as possible.

          Sprinkle in a few radish seeds.  After you've broadcast the main crop, sprinkle some radish seeds down the row.  They'll come up quickly and mark the row.  Use about five percent as much radish seed as the main seed.  You can either pull up the radishes while they're small or harvest them after you pick your crop of greens.

     Watering Greens Crops:   You can't beat greens that are crisp and succulent.  One of the most important things for highest-quality greens is a steady supply of moisture.
     Greens thrive in moist, but not wet, soil.  They require about an inch of rain or irrigation water per week, and perhaps a little more for summer greens in hot weather.
     If the water supply drops, greens will probably be the first crops in the garden to show signs of drought.  That's because many of them - especially lettuce - have limited root systems; and because their large green leaves give off quite a lot of moisture.  Sometimes on a hot, sunny afternoon many garden plants appear wilted.  That's normal; usually they'll recover by next morning.  If they don't, it's time to water.
   Watering Tips:
     * Irrigate early in the day to cut down on evaporation losses and to make your water go further.  This also gives the plants plenty of time to dry out during the day.  (Wet foliage overnight allows disease organisms to spread rapidly among plants.)
     * Soak the soil thoroughly enough that you don't have to come back and water again the following day.  Try to moisten the soil to a depth of five or six inches, at least.
     * If the soil is dry at planting time, water as gently as you can after planting, so you don't wash out any seeds.  Be sure to keep the seedbed moist until the plants come up.


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ONIONS
Onions
          Onions should be planted well before the last spring frost date.  During the first phase of growth, the onion will be producing lush green tops.  At some point, the tops will quit growing, and the bulbs will begin to mature.
          Onion seeds will take 100 to 120 days to mature.  Sets, which are small bulbs started the previous year, will mature three or more weeks earlier.  Onion plants, which are usually purchased in bundles, will mature at about the same time as the sets.  You will find the widest range of varieties in seeds.
     Preparing the Soil:   Onions prefer a well worked soil.  The fall before you plant, dig in compost or manure at the rate of about 20 pounds per square yard.
     In order to give the onions a long period of growth, seeds can be planted in late August in areas where winters are not too severe.  In colder areas, seeds can be started indoors.  If your season is long enough to give 100 to 120 days for the onions to grow and mature, you can sow seeds outdoors a month before the final spring frost.
     Allow 1/2 ounce of seed for every 100 feet of row to be sown.  Place two seeds per inch and cover with 1/4 to 1 inch of soil.  Thin once when the seedlings are still very small and can be transplanted into another row, then again when they are large enough to be used as green onions.  Mature plants should be three to four inches apart.
     Plant Maintenance:   Keep the plants free from weeds, as onions are less tolerant of crowding than most other vegetables.
     Water regularly until the tops start to yellow, then withhold water and pull the soil back so that the top two thirds of the bulb shows.
     Cultivation should be very shallow, because the roots are close to the surface.
     Harvesting:  When the tops are quite dry, pull the bulbs and let them dry in the sun until all the dirt on them is dry.  Onions can now be prepared for storage.  The long tops can be braided together so that the onions can be hung in bunches, or they can be hung in net bags or old stockings.  Continue the curing process for several weeks by keeping them hung in an area where air can circulate freely.  Afterwards, move them into a cool, dry, and preferably dark area for storage.  Use thick necked onions first, since they will not keep well.
     Bunching Onions:   Bunching onions will not form a bulb, but they make the tastiest green onions.  They are a perennial, and should be planted where you will not run a tiller or cultivator.
     Bunching onions are usually planted from seed, and you can begin harvesting when they are about pencil size.  They will not require mulch and will keep you in onions year round.  When your plants begin to produce flowers, leave them alone.  They will soon reseed themselves.
     Onion Problems:
           Insects:
     Thripes are tiny insects that feed on leaves that cause white, blotchy areas.  The plants weaken and the yield is reduced.  Keep weeds out of the garden to eliminate insect pests.  A blast of cold water will remove thripes from plants.  Soap sprays may be also be effective.
     Onion Maggots are the offspring of a small fly that lays eggs near the base of the plant or on the bulb itself.  The maggots kill the plant by burrowing into the stem and bulb.  Pull up and destroy any plants before the maggots mature into flies.
           Disease:
     Neck Rot is the most common problem.  It strikes just after harvest or while the bulbs are in storage.  Drying the bulbs at warm temperatures with good ventilation and storing in a cool, airy spot will help prevent the disease.


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PEAS
Peas
     Planting:  Peas should be planted in early spring, well before the last frost.  For an extended harvest, plant early, midseason, and late varieties.  Successive plantings of the same varieties tend to catch up with each other, resulting in one big harvest.
     It's a good idea to add "inoculant" to soil or seeds before they are sown.  This black powder is available anywhere seeds are sold.  It is not a chemical additive but a naturally occurring bacterial powder that aids peas' natural ability to "fix" nitrogen in the soil by forming "peanuts" of nitrogen on their roots.  In addition to helping plants actually enrich the soil in your garden as they grow and thrive, this inoculant also boosts the health of vines and the yield.
     Climate:  Peas like cool weather, but early plantings of dwarf varieties such as Little Marvel, Progress No. 9 or Wando will do well in warm climates.  Plant in wide rows so the peas will shade the ground and each other.
     Maintenance:  If you have planted your peas in wide rows, they will shade out any weeds that may try to come up.  They will also help support each other, so that with dwarf varieties, no other support will be needed.  In Southern gardens, wide rows will also help keep the soil cool and moist.
          Peas are legumes, and don't need much fertilizer, especially nitrogen.  Good soil that has been enriched with compost is all they need.
          Peas need adequate but not excessive water at soil level.  Avoid watering over the tops of mature leaves and flowers.
     Harvesting:  Pick when the pods are full, firm, shining and bright green in color.  The sugar content will be high at this time.  Frequent harvesting from the bottom of the plant prolongs the harvest.  Be careful when pulling the pods so that the vine is not damaged.
     Crop Rotation:  Crop rotation is a preventative measure which will stop the growth of diseases affecting the plant.  After harvesting, remove all vines and burn them.  They usually contain a variety of diseases and are not suitable for composting.  Plant peas in a different section of the garden next year.
     Companions:  Good companions for peas include bush beans, pole beans, carrots, corn, cucumber, radish and turnips.  Don't plant near onions.


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PEPPERS
Peppers
          Peppers are fast becoming one of the most popular of all vegetables to grow, second only to tomatoes.  There are hundreds of varieties available especially if you grow them from seed.  They come in all shapes and colors, and range from the sweetest to downright fiery.
          Often, gardeners get addicted to growing peppers by chance.  They buy a variety at the local nursery for fun and to experiment.  It turned out to be such a success, that the next year they plant three.
          There are almost as many varieties as there are of tomatoes!  They come in various shapes and sizes from small tapered or ball shaped ones to long cones and big round bells.  Thick fleshed ones are best for roasting and cooking, while the thinner ones are great for eating raw.  And some of them are HOT!
     Seeds and Seedlings:   Only the most common types - banana and bell types are usually available as started seedlings for transplanting into the garden.  For small gardens, these are the best way to go.
     Peppers cannot be planted out until the outdoor soil and night temperatures remain above 65 degrees.  Planting out too early in cold and wet conditions will stunt them and harm fruit production.  But remember, they must be hardened off just like your tomatoes before planting out.
     Pepper Pointers:   Peppers, especially hot pepper plants with their usually small and colorful fruits, are ideal for spot planting around a garden.  When growing peppers in beds, avoid planting the peppers where other members of the nightshade family have been previously planted as they are subject to similar diseases.  To prevent cross-pollination, hot pepper plants should not be planted near sweet or bell pepper plants.

     When buying pepper plants choose those that are sturdy with deep green leaves and without fruit or blossoms.
     Choose a location in your garden, patio or home that receives morning sun - and at least 6 hours of sun daily.
     While full sun and heat are good for peppers, too much can damage the fruit.  Protect them from intense afternoon sun with taller plants (or beans on a trellis), by planting them in a block no more than 1 feet apart.
     Transplant pepper plants to garden beds two to three weeks after the last frost and when the soil temperature is at least 65 F (18 C).
     When transferring pepper plants to a garden bed or container, do it in the evening or on a cloudy day to reduce the chance of sunscald.
     Keep the soil moist, not soggy, to encourage root development and prevent blossom wilting and bitter-tasting peppers.  Use a mulch, such as straw, grass clippings or plastic mulch, to keep moisture in and protect roots.
     Ensure that the soil drains well, so that the roots aren't sitting in water.  Raised beds are helpful in poor-draining garden soil.

     Soil Preparation:   Peppers enjoy soil that contains plenty of organic matter, supplemented with a balanced fertilizer or better yet, one with slightly higher nitrogen and phosphorous levels.  Place in an area that will receive the most sun and plant 18 inches apart with rows 3 feet apart.  Soil must be well drained.  Work the top 8-10 inches of soil several weeks before planting.  Break up any large clods.  Remove rocks, weeds, etc.
      If possible, spread 2-3 inches of organic material over the planting area.  You can use materials such as compost, leaves, peat moss or rotted hay.  Work it into the top 4-6 inches of soil.  Work the garden soil only when it is dry enough not to stick to the garden tools.  This is particularly important if you have clay soil.
     Planting:  Two to 3 weeks after your last frost, plant out your healthy, green plants 6-8 inches tall.  Make the transplant holes at least 3-4 inches deep so they will grow roots from the stem and better feed the plant.  Small fruiting varieties can go in at 1-1.5 feet apart.  Bell pepper plants will require more space, and may require staking or caging to support the heavy fruit, so get those in place at planting time.  Choose a cloudy day or an evening to plant.
     Watering:  Water the plants slowly and deeply to help grow a strong root system.  Do not let them wilt, or yields and fruit quality will be low.  Prolonged hot days may require that you create some temporary shade for them during the hottest part of the day.  Use anything from sheets of cardboard or wood, or erecting a frame to hold an opaque blanket, etc. that will shade the plants.
     Keep the watering regular to avoid alternating wet and drought.  Fluctuating moisture levels will cause wilt and blossom end rot.
     Harvesting:  Pick peppers at either their immature green stage, or when they reach their fully ripe red, orange or even brown stages.  Use garden shears to cut them from the stem, as pulling them will result in breaking off the stem.  Cool them as soon as possible after harvesting to retain flavor and quality.  If you have to rush out to pick green ones on the eve of a frost warning, treat them like tomatoes to get a bit more ripening.  Store them in layers between sheets of newspaper in a good, sturdy brown paper bag.  Close the top of the bag and store in a slightly cool, but dark place to allow them to ripen properly.  They will shrivel during this process.
     Storing:  Peppers can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks, but they will lose their peak flavor after a few days, so eat them fresh or cook them up as soon as possible.


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RADISH
Radishes
          Radishes are one of the easiest vegetables for the home gardener to cultivate, and they can be grown in all climates.  They grow quickly and become hot and bitter if left in the ground too long.  The small globe varieties are eaten fresh in salads and used as garnishes, while the long root forms are used for cooking.
          Radishes are grown throughout the year, and there are many varieties that do well in cool weather.  Sow radishes successively every two to three weeks for a continuous crop.  Radishes can be sown with slower growing vegetables since they will mature quickly and can be harvested long before other vegetables will need the space.  Radishes can be planted in lightly shaded places where other vegetables would be reluctant to thrive.
          Plant seeds directly where they are to grow about 1/4 inch deep and 2 inches apart.  Seedlings will appear in 1 to 2 weeks.  Keep the soil moist during the growing period.  It's a good idea to feed seedlings weekly with a complete liquid fertilizer.
          Radishes are ready to harvest 4 to 5 weeks after planting.  Plants left in the ground too long will be inedible.


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RHUBARB
Newspaper Article
          This is a very old copy of a newspaper article that the Traverse City Record Eagle ran about a rhubarb plant I grew.  In this picture, my daughter Tammy was 3 years old.  The rhubarb leaf was 3'X3'.
Rhubarb
          Rhubarb is a vegetable with a unique taste that makes it a favorite in pies and desserts.  Rhubarb is often mistaken to be a fruit but rhubarb is actually a member of the vegetable family.  Rhubarb is rich in vitamin C.
          Rhubarb is a perennial plant.
          Rhubarb leaves grow from the ground in early spring.  The leaves can grow up to a foot or more in width and length and the plant may grow to a height of several feet.  The blade or green leaves of the plant are poisonous.  They contain high concentrations of oxalic acid crystals which can cause serious problems when eaten.  These crystals can cause the tongue and throat to swell, preventing breathing.  The edible stalks are up to 18 inches long, 1 to 2 inches in diameter, and generally somewhat hemispherical in cross section.  These stalks are cut and used in pies, jams, jellies, sauces and juice.
          Once planted, rhubarb plantings remain productive for 8 to 15 years.
          Rhubarb tolerates most soils but grows best in fertile, well-drained soils that are high in organic matter.
          Rhubarb is relatively free of insect and disease problems.
          Rhubarb responds well to fertilizers.  The quality of the crop harvested depends to a large extent on the care and fertilization received.  Fertilize each year and cultivate shallowly as often as necessary to remove weeds.
          Plant rhubarb roots in early spring.  Plant the roots with the crown bud 2 inches below the surface of the soil.  The hole for the crown should be dug extra large and composted manure, peat moss or dairy organic should be mixed with the soil to be placed around the roots.  Firm the soil around the roots but keep it loose over the buds.  Water the crowns after planting.
          Good garden drainage is essential in growing rhubarb.  For home gardeners, planting in raised beds helps ensure against rotting of the crowns.
          Rhubarb responds to good care and watering.  Remove the flower stalks as they are seen.  During the first year of planting, the stalks should not be picked, since food from the leaves is needed to nourish the roots for the next year's growth.  One light picking may be taken during the year following planting if the plants are vigorous, and beginning the second year following planting, the entire plant may be harvested.  When harvesting rhubarb, the first step is to cut the stalks at the soil line or simply pull them out individually.  All of the stalks of a plant may be harvested at one time, or pulled out selectively over a 4-6 week period.  After the stalks are cut, the leaves may be removed.  If the stems appear soft and mushy, do not eat them.


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Root Crops:  Beets, Carrots, & Radishes
Root Crops
          Root crops are cool-season vegetables.  Their tiny seeds germinate best in damp soil that's between 50* and 60*F.  Early spring and fall are the best times to plant.
     Germination:   Germination is the sprouting action of seeds, and some root crops germinate more quickly than others.  Radishes sprout in just 2 to 3 days; turnips and rutabagas in 5 to 10 days.  The rest are slower, taking from 7 to 20 days to germinate.  When they do, tiny seedlings push their way up through the shallow soil covering.
     While the seedling develops into the greens above the ground, a large, edible taproot forms and grows downward.  It is the major storage organ of the plant, although it does form smaller, branching side roots to help it gather food, oxygen and water.  Some root crops have more of these hairlike roots than others, but you can scrub or wash them off before eating the vegetable.
     Growing:  As the root grows, it expands down, out and up; often showing its "shoulders" above the ground.  The sun discolors the exposed root, turning carrots green and turnips purple.  Green shoulders on carrots are hard and bitter, so pull the roots before they're big enough to show above the ground or cover them with mulch or soil.  The colorful top on turnips or rutabagas taste fine.
     A cross section of the roots shows that these plants are formed in three layers: a hard core, the edible fleshy part and the skin.  The best-tasting roots have the least amount of that tough center, and quick, steady growth helps with that.
     All root crops need food, water and air.  They also develop best if there are no soil clumps or rocks to check their growth.  Give them good growing conditions, and you'll enjoy straight, thick, good-tasting produce.  Poor or improper soil preparation is usually to blame for crooked or forked roots.  If you've ever bitten into a woody, fibrous carrot, you'll understand why good growing conditions are so important.
     When root crops grow wild, some are biennials, forming the root in one season and producing a flowering seed stalk the next.  In the garden, we interrupt this natural process by harvesting the roots before they start the reproduction process.  Once the roots send up a flower-bearing stem, they are beyond the eating stage.
     Differing Growth Rates:   Root crops all vary in their growth rates, as do the individual varieties.  Short, stocky carrots or beets mature fairly quickly, but long, tapered vegetables take longer to fully develop.  You can eat the roots as soon as they're finger or marble size, so you have a lot of flexibility when it comes time to harvest.
     Root crops could be called the "polar bears" of the garden because both the seeds and the plants are well adapted to sudden drops in temperature.
Even hard frosts won't hurt them.  In fact, parsnips and salsify need about a week of cool nights to sweeten them.  This is because the carbohydrates in the roots change to sugars when the soil temperature is between 34* and 38*F.
     Don't Transplant Root Crops:   Even though you can transplant all vegetables with some success if you're very careful and you know what you're doing, there's really no need to transplant root crops to the home garden.  If you want earlier carrots or turnips, get out in the garden earlier and plant the seeds.
     Generally it's hard to keep the sensitive roots of any root crop from being upset during transplanting, and this interrupts their growth too much for them to recover completely.  Chances are you'll end up with stunted or misshapen roots.  And it's really not worth the time or effort when they grow so well started right in the garden.
     Radish Essentials:   Plant short-season or spring varieties in spring or fall, depending on local temperatures.  Ideal growing temperature is 60*F to 65*F.  Cooler or warmer weather results in harsher-tasting radishes.  Plants will mature in 18 to 45 days, depending on the variety.  Plant winter types in the summer or fall.  They will mature in 45 to 70 days.
     Preparation:  Spring radishes can be planted right next to rows of larger, slower growing crops - no need to create a separate radish bed.
     Planting:  Sow radishes directly in the garden.  Plant spring varieties 1 inch apart, 1/2 inch deep.  To get larger spring radishes, plant seeds 1 1/2 inches deep, 1 1/2 inches apart, in rows 24 inches apart.  Plant winter radish varieties 1 to 3 inches apart.
     Care:  When young radishes are 1 inch tall, thin to 2 to 3 inches apart.  Provide even watering.  Heat and too little or uneven watering can result in tough, pithy, very hot radishes.
     Harvesting:  Pick spring varieties as soon as they reach the size you prefer.  Before they become tough and pithy, pull all the radishes, trim off the tops, and store in plastic bags in the refrigerator.  Winter varieties will keep adequately in the ground for a few weeks after maturity, in cool weather.  Store these radishes through the winter as you would carrots or beets, in sawdust or peat moss.
     Tips on Sowing Root Crop Seeds:  The easiest way to sow root crop seeds is to sprinkle them by hand, keeping your hand two to three feet above the row.  This scatters the seeds more evenly than if your hand is down very close to the row.  Mix some fine soil or sand with the seeds to help even out the distribution.
     You can also broadcast the seeds, mixed with dry sand, from a salt shaker if the holes are big enough, or right from the packet by tearing a tiny hole in one corner for them to slip through.
     Growing Root Crops:
Three essentials to a healthy crop of roots is thining, weeding, and watering.
     The First Thinning:   Thinning is a must with root crops.  Crowded conditions cause them to become stunted or twisted around each other, and that's not good.  You have to thin if you want roots that are big enough to eat.  Starting when the seedlings are approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch tall, you can thin by hand or use the simple but effective iron-rake method.
     Thinning with a rake is a snap.  Just pull an iron garden rake once across the row with its teeth going into the soil about 1/4 inch.  The teeth are spaced at intervals to catch just enough seedlings, pulling them from the row.  Don't look down as you're doing this - it's a horrible sight!  You may think you've destroyed the whole row of plants, but don't fret.  The remaining ones will perk up in a day or so.
     Raking also cultivates the soil, stirring up and killing "weedlings."  Most young weeds haven't had time to develop a deep taproot, so this initial thinning will dislodge them before they come up, exposing their shallow roots and killing them.  Some of the worst garden weeds have very strong taproots, and the idea is to catch these weeds before they put down deep roots.
     By thinning with a rake, you also break any crust on the surface, aerating the soil at the same time.
     You can thin by hand if the rake technique seems a little too drastic.  Simply pull up enough plants that the remaining ones will stand one to two inches apart.  You may not trust the rake method at first, but try it on at least part of a row.  With the rake you can thin (and weed) all your root crops in just a minute or two, whereas thinning by hand seems to take forever.
     The best time to thin is a few hours after a rain or a thorough watering, when the soil is damp but the plants have dried off completely.  (Never weed, thin or harvest around very wet plants, because you can spread disease from your hands and clothing without knowing it.)  Damp soil permits seedlings to be pulled without disturbing the roots of the remaining plants, and any weeds that start to germinate after a rain will be uprooted, too.  If it's very dry on the day you decide to thin, water the surface of the soil, so you don't pull up more seedlings than you intend.
     Because beet seeds produce clusters of seedlings, the simplest way to thin them is with an iron rake.  The rake teeth will uproot just the right number of seedlings.  If you thin by hand, don't try to remove any of the seedlings from within a single cluster.  It's too easy to disturb the remaining ones.  Instead, pull up whole clusters, leaving two - three inches between them.  If you like beet greens, sow the seeds a little thicker than is usually recommended on seed packages.  When the beets are a little bigger, thin them again; along with the greens.  You'll also get a great harvest of marble-sized baby beets.
     Thinning always seems more traumatic for the gardener than it is for the plants.  People don't like to pull up those helpless seedlings that have just barely made it through the soil surface.  Think of it as helping your whole crop and giving you more food to eat, and it will soon be a natural part of your garden routine.
     Weeding:  Try this trick in the early spring before you even plant a seed:  Wait a week or so between the initial soil preparation and planting day.  During this time, go out several times and till or stir the soil.  This exposes and kills the first batches of tiny "weedlings" lurking near the surface that may try to overrun your young seedlings.
     Once your plants are up, you should stir up the soil within the rows every four or five days until the seedlings are well established.  You can save a lot of bending over by using special hoes for weeding.  Many have a strong, narrow blade with a curved gooseneck to let you pull weeds from even tight spots in the row without damaging the stems or roots of vegetables.
     Once the plants get too tall to use a weeding tool, buckle down and hand pull every weed as soon as you see it.  Keep in mind that any weed that grows in your garden is a robber, stealing sun, water and food from your crops, and in the end, stealing food from you.>br>      To keep down weeds between the rows, stir the soil surface there, too.  Or, you can put down a two-three-inch layer of mulch (shredded leaves, straw, lawn clippings or even newspapers) between the rows to do the work for you.  Mulch has the added advantage of keeping the soil moist and at an even temperature.  Your root crops will really appreciate this.
     The Second Thinning and the First Harvest:  Thin again by hand several weeks after the first thinning to give the remaining plants space to reach their mature size.  (Enjoy the thinnings of these sweet, tender "baby" carrots and beets.)  This is also when you would harvest the radishes planted as companion plants.
     The third time you go out to thin:  You'll be harvesting for real.  See how you can kill a few birds with one stone, as each chore combines with the others?
     Watering:  Root crops need about one inch of water per week.  If you can supply this water evenly, with no long dry spells to inhibit the growth of the roots and greens, you'll encourage a healthy crop.  The exception to the one inch per week rule of thumb is the light sprinklings you should provide after sowing the seeds and until the seedlings emerge.  Once the seedlings are up, return to the following watering habits:
     Water when your garden needs it, not just by a calendar schedule.  Don't be tempted to water your plants if the greens are drooping in the late afternoon sun - this is normal.  But, if they look wilted before eleven o'clock in the morning, they need water.
     Another mistake gardeners often make is to give their gardens many light waterings instead of a few thorough soakings.  Once your seeds are sprouted, soak the soil when it needs it to a depth of four to six inches.  By watering deeply you encourage the taproot to grow down seeking the moisture.  Shallow waterings promote shallow root growth, which is exactly what you don't want, especially if you live in a drought-prone area.
     How much does it take to water your garden to a depth of four to six inches?  If you're using a sprinkler, set a pan in the area you're watering.  When the water is an inch deep in the pan, the nearby soil will be sufficiently soaked-about six inches down.
     Harvesting Root Crops:
Time to Eat!
     Start harvesting beets and turnips early for their greens, and baby carrots when they're the size of your little finger.
This will give you a good start on a long harvesting period; the roots left in the row will have more room to grow; and you won't be faced with an entire row of vegetables ready to be pulled on the same day.  Besides, the smaller the root, the better it tastes!
     For a few extra meals of beet or turnip greens, just go out and snip off the leaves you want.  As long as you leave some greens on the plant, it will continue to grow more of them - as well as growing a nice big root, too.
     Pull the largest roots every time you harvest.  People are tempted to leave the biggest ones, so they'll grow even bigger.  Don't do it!  By pulling the largest roots, you're sure to have them before they're so big they're all woody and bitter.  Again, this encourages the remaining plants to fill in and grow bigger, giving you what seems like an inexhaustible supply of medium-sized, savory roots.
     Once some root crops get bigger, you may have to wiggle them back and forth (or loosen them with a trowel, pitchfork or spade) to get them out.  If a top breaks off in your hand, don't give up.  Dig down into the soil and pull that root!  If you water the soil lightly before harvesting, the roots will pop out more easily.
     Harvest whenever you need fresh roots, picking just enough.  You should be able to enjoy all your spring-planted root crops in this fresh, garden-to-table fashion.
Where's the Biggest Carrot?
     If you want to find the biggest carrot in the row just by looking at the greens, remember this: the bigger the root, the darker the greens and the thicker the stem.  If some of the greens in the row look darker than the others, you can be sure the largest carrots are underneath.  With beets, radishes or turnips, the greens with the thickest stems will point the way to the biggest roots.
     How to Store Root Crops:  Here's how to have the produce from your fall garden last long andkeep well in storage:  Have your fall garden of root crops mature as late as possible by planting as late as possible.  Cold weather sweetens the roots and you'll be putting the freshest produce into a cool root cellar, garage or back porch.  Leave your last planting in the ground until the roots are fully mature; they'll store better if they're protected by a thicker skin.
     Whether you're going to eat most of your vegetables fresh, or you intend to freeze, can, or store them in a root cellar, a good rule of thumb is to harvest as close to the time you're going to eat or preserve them as possible.  This gives you the best flavor and nutrition.
     For a longer storage life, dig up the roots from your fall garden after two or three days of dry weather.  Your root crops will be dry, and by leaving them out for a few hours in the sun right after you pull them, you'll kill the root hairs, making the plant dormant, and the soil on the roots will dry and fall off easily.
Cut beet stems to 1 inch before storing.
     Never wash roots before you store them.  Just cut off the tops right out in the garden.  Leave about an inch of stem for beets, so they don't "bleed" in cooking.  For other root crops, cut the tops close.  Wash the roots just before using them.
     Only store the best roots.  Injuries are avenues of rotting that can spread to the other vegetables.  (Yes, one can spoil a whole bunch!)  If you should bruise any, eat them right away.  Also, don't ever clip off the bottom end of the root before you put it in storage; this too, can cause the plant to rot.
     Storage - Plain or Fancy:  You don't need an elaborate root cellar to store vegetables, even for months at a time.  You can easily extend the fresh life of root crops using whatever storage space you currently have.  The length of storage time may vary according to your storage method, but with any of the methods described below, you can be sure of at least a few extra months of fresh vegetables.
     To stay crisp and fresh, root crops just need cool, moist, dark surroundings.  Whether you have a root cellar or just a spot under the back porch for storage, the most important element for long vegetable life is an even, cold temperature.  Variations up or down of even five degrees can cause new growth to sprout (which you don't want) or rotting.  Here, insulation is the key.  There are many ways to give your roots the insulated low temperature they need.
     In-ground storage is the least expensive, most carefree root storage.
     If you have an unheated basement, you can build a root cellar by partitioning off one corner, installing some insulation and a good, sound door.  You're actually making a refrigeration unit.
     The temperature inside the root cellar will be coolest near the floor, and that's the place for your root crops.  Don't put them right on the floor - it may be too damp.  Raising them up on a few boards should do the trick.
     Place first layer of vegetables on 2 to 3 inches of insulating material.
     Cover vegetables with 1/4-inch layer of insulation.
     If your cellar is cool but not insulated, a large, sturdy cardboard or wooden box with two to three inches of some insulating material (sawdust is best, and moist peat moss or sand also works well) on the bottom and sides will do fine.  Place a layer of carrots on top of the sawdust, leaving two to three inches of space near the sides.  Cover the carrots lightly with sawdust - 1/4 inch is fine.  Alternate layers of carrots with sawdust, filling in all around the edges with sawdust as well.  Add a final two to three inches of sawdust on top, and store this "root box" in a cool basement area.
     Here are some other storage methods that work in a cool cellar.  Put the roots in a plastic trash bag, punch a few small holes in it, tie up the top and store the bag.  Or, put your roots into a trash barrel with a plastic liner, put the lid on and store the whole thing.
     If you have no cellar, you can still use the insulated box method.  But you'll need a really large box.  Line the bottom, sides and top with four to five inches of sawdust or peat moss.  Pack the roots in the sawdust and store the box in a cold place - your garage, back porch or an unheated spare room.  Whenever you need some vegetables, just take them out and repack the sawdust around the rest.
     Roots can touch each other in storage, just don't pack them in tightly.  Some moist air must be able to circulate.
     If your vegetables freeze in storage, don't panic.  You can still use them.  But once they've thawed they won't keep for more than a day or so.
     Of course, if you really want to keep it simple, your refrigerator crisper drawer will keep roots fresh for several months, but you can only store a limited amount this way.
     Combining Root Crops:
     Interplanting and succession planting are two ways to extend your harvest season.  Here's how.
     Interplanting:  In addition to radishes, you can plant any root crop with other vegetables and get terrific results.  Combine carrots and lettuce in a row, for example, or plant turnips with spinach, chard or lettuce.  For a real smorgasbord, mix carrots, radishes and onions in one row.  Every time you harvest one crop, you cultivate the row.  The remaining roots benefit from the additional room you leave.  Talk about growing a great salad in one garden spot!
     When you decide to combine your plants, choose partners that won't smother each other.  For instance, the fast-growing cool-season crops such as lettuce and spinach will be ready to harvest before the slower-growing root crops need the same sun and space.  You should harvest or pull the first crop completely to guarantee the success of the second.
     Succession Planting:   To have a constant supply of fresh root crops through the summer and fall, you can plant small groups of seeds two to three weeks apart, starting in early summer.


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TOMATOES
Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a good source of Vitamin A and fair source of Vitamin C.
     Shopping For Transplants:   Take the time to pick out plants with thick stems (the thicker the better) and large root systems, best indicated by a dark green plant in a deep container.  The tallest transplants are not necessarily the best ones.  Don't pick out a plant with blossoms or fruits.  Unless it's in a deep pot, it won't have a strong enough root system to support the fruit yet.
     Be wary of plants with blemishes or poor color.  Also, check the undersides of the leaves for aphids (small, pear-shaped insects) or tiny whiteflies.  You don't want to bring these pests near your garden.  They multiply rapidly and can cause lots of problems.
     Transplanting Tomatoes:   Transplanting is a major step.  Rushing your plants into the ground before they're properly hardened off, or roughing up the tomatoes' roots when you're handling them, can set the crop back.
     There are just a couple of basic ways to transplant.
Basic Guidelines
     Here are some general guidelines for transplanting.    *Soak the transplants with a water and fish emulsion or seaweed mix in their flats an hour before transplanting.  This helps to retain soil around the root, makes the root mass easier to handle and applies a quick feed of soluable fertilizer.
   *Have everything ready before removing the plants from the flats.  Have the soil prepared, the fertilizer applied in the furrow or in the holes, all tools at hand, etc.
   *Don't put too much fertilizer under the plants.  Excessive fertilizer shocks and burns plants.  It's better to hold off and give them extra nourishment later when they're established.
   *Protect against cutworms.  These ground-level pests can chew completely through thin tomato stems.  Before putting tomato plants in the ground, wrap a newspaper collar around the stems to protect the plants.  The collars should span from an inch or two above the soil surface to an inch or two below the cutworm's territory.  The collars are easy to use and last long enough for the stems to grow enough to discourage cutworms.  Tight collars of plastic can restrict the stem growth, so never use them.
   *Working quickly, cup the roots in one hand as you remove the transplant from its container, and tuck it into its home in the garden.  A smooth and speedy transition from flat to soil means less of a shock to the plant.
   *Keep transplants watered.  They need water in the beginning to help them get over the shock of being transplanted, to encourage new root growth and to replace the moisture they give off or "transpire" because of heat or drying winds.
     Staking Tomatoes:  To keep tomato plants from gobbling up too much garden space and to insure cleaner, healthier tomatoes, many gardeners support their plants, train them to grow a certain way and regularly pinch off unwanted growth.  Staking is one popular way of supporting tomatoes.
     Advantages of Staking:
   * It saves space.  You can grow more plants in a given area.
   * It keeps vines and tomatoes off the ground.  Fruit is cleaner with less rotting.
   * You'll get an earlier harvest.  The pruning that staked tomatoes require forces more of the plant's energy into ripening fruit.
   * Each tomato is larger than if not staked.  Pruned plants put more energy into fewer tomatoes.
   * It's easier to pick tomatoes and to work around plants.
     Disadvantages of Staking:
   * It takes time and effort to stake, train and prune plants.
   * Staked tomatoes are more susceptible to cracking, blossom end rot and sunscald problems.
          The total yield of staked plants is often lower than similar plants that are not staked.  You have to prune off side shoots and branches to support the plant with a stake and that actually reduces the total leaf surface of the plant.  The leaf surface is the site of the plant's food manufacturing operation, so less leaf surface means a smaller total food supply, and that affects total yield.
          Staked plants usually need mulching with materials such as hay or grass clippings.  The mulch helps retain moisture in the soil.  Staked plants actually need more water than unstaked tomatoes because they are held up and exposed to the sun and drying winds.
          Not all tomato plants need staking.  Determinate tomatoes stop growing at a certain height - usually when they're fairly short.  They stop growing because the main stem forms a flower bud at the top that produces fruit.  Most of the determinate varieties are early types, and they're bushy plants with short, stout stems that support them pretty well.  Some popular determinate varieties include 'First Pik', 'Oregon Spring' and 'Sub-Arctic Maxi'.
          Another group of tomatoes are the dwarf or patio types.  These varieties never need staking, grow only two to three feet tall, produce cherry-tomato-sized fruits and are great for containers or small gardens.  Popular varieties include 'Pixie II' and 'Small Fry'.
          A new type of dwarf tomato, called the dwarf indeterminate, combines the short, bushy growth of dwarf plants with the long production season and large fruit size of indeterminate types.  Examples of these varieties are 'Better Bush Improved' and 'Husky Gold'.
How to Stake:
          When you stake a tomato plant, try to put the stake on the prevailing downwind side so the plant will lean against it when the wind is blowing hard.
          Six-to eight-foot-high stakes are good for most tomatoes, although you can make do with shorter four-to five-foot stakes, if necessary.  Put the stakes in the ground right after you've set out the plants.  Drive them about a foot into the soil, three to five inches away from the plant.  Remember not to put the stake on the root side of trench-planted tomatoes.  As the plant grows, tie a strip of cloth, nylon stocking or coated wire tightly to the stake and loosely around the plant in a figure-eight fashion.  Leave at least an inch or two of slack.  Add more ties as needed as the plant grows up the stake.
     Caging:  Caging is a technique that can help you get better a better harvest.  In this method, tomatoes are supported by enclosing them in cages, constructed of wood or wire.  This way, the vine has support without being tied.  Tomatoes growing in cages do not need to be pruned.  Make sure the openings in the wire cage are large enough for your hand holding a tomato to fit through!
     You can make a good cage with a piece of concrete reinforcement wire 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide.  Put cages over the young plants.  The cage should be 24-inches in diameter.  Place the cages over the plants when they are small and stake the cage to the ground to guard against wind damage and breakage.  Check the plants weekly and adjust the stems so they grow up inside the cage and not out one of the side openings.
     Pruning Tomatoes:   Pruning means pinching off the shoots or "suckers" that sprout from the stem in the crotch right above a leaf branch.  If you let a sucker grow, it simply becomes another big stem with its own blossoms, fruits and suckers!  With staked or trellised tomatoes, pinch off the suckers and just keep the energy of the plant directed at one (sometimes two to three) main stems.
     If you want additional stems to develop besides the main stem, allow the suckers closest to the bottom of the plant to grow.  These will have more flower blossoms and are easier to train to the outside of the plant than suckers that sprout higher up.
     Tomato plants really grow fast when the weather warms up, and new suckers form all the time, so you should go on "sucker patrol" at least twice a week during the heavy growing season.
     If you live in a very hot, sunny area, you can let some of the suckers put out a couple of leaves and then pinch out the tips to stop their growth.  The sucker provides a little more foliage to help the plant manufacture food and also to help shade tomatoes from the sun.
     Pruning Unstaked Plants:   Unstaked plants can also be pruned, although it's not as necessary as it is for staked or trellised plants.  Pruning improves ventilation, which can help to prevent disease problems.  Pruning branches late in the season opens the plant up to more sunlight.  Then on cooler days the plants are a little warmer, which is good for ripening tomatoes.
     If you're growing determinate varieties of tomatoes, go easy on any pruning.  Because these plants are smaller and don't continue to set new fruits throughout the season, heavy pruning may reduce your yield drastically.  Also, be careful not to overprune in hot parts of the country.  Tomato fruits need protection from the bright sun or they may develop sunscald.  Tomatoes ripen better if they're shaded some by foliage.
     Pruning Tops of Plants:   You can pinch off the tip of the main stem above the top blossom of indeterminate tomato varieties to keep a flourishing plant from getting any higher.  This type of pruning can be helpful when a plant is outgrowing its support, or toward the end of the growing season when a taller plant won't help much in terms of increased production.  At that point, you'd prefer to see the plant put its energy into ripening the tomatoes already on the vine.
     Pruning Roots:  Root pruning is a special trick you can use to speed up the ripening of early tomatoes.  It simply involves cutting some of the roots of a plant when it has three or four clusters of tomatoes on it.  By cutting the roots, you put quite a bit of stress on the plant, which causes it to mature more quickly.  It's as if the plant were worried that it might not have time to complete its life cycle, so it rushes to mature some fruit and seed.  The plant won't die if you root-prune it correctly; the growth process is simply interrupted.  But after a little rest, the plant is ready to start producing again.
     To root-prune trench-planted tomatoes, take a long kitchen knife and make a cut down along just one side of the buried main stem, 1 to 2 inches away from it, going down 8 to 10 inches.  If the tomatoes are planted vertically, cut halfway around the plant, 1 or 2 inches from the stem and 8 to 10 inches deep.  If a knife doesn't work well for you, try a spade or a shovel.
     Watering: Keep the watering regular to avoid alternating wet and drought.  Fluctuating moisture levels will cause wilting and fruit split.  Splitting occurs when water has been applied to too-dry tomatoes - the fruit soaks up the water and literally bursts its skin!
Harvesting Tomatoes
     Getting Them to Turn Red: The red color of tomatoes won't form when temperatures are above 86*F.  So, if you live where the summers get quite hot, leaving tomatoes on the vine may give them a yellowish orange look.  It's probably better to pick them in the pink stage and let them ripen indoors in cooler temperatures.
     Tomatoes need warmth, not light, to ripen, so there's no need to put them on a sunny windowsill.  Place them out of direct sunlight - even in a dark cupboard - where the temperature is 65* to 70*F.
     Do not store them in the refrigerator to ripen, as they get mushy inside and lose their quality.
     Frost-Time Harvest:   Tomatoes succumb to frost, but don't panic when the weatherman predicts the first one and your tomato vines are still loaded with green fruit.  If it's going to be a light frost, you can protect the plants overnight by covering them with old sheets, plastic, burlap bags or big boxes.  It's usually worth the effort because the second frost is often two or three weeks after the first one.
     If a heavy freeze is on its way, go out and pick all the tomatoes.  Green tomatoes that have reached about 3/4 of their full size and show some color will eventually ripen, and smaller, immature green ones can be pickled or cooked green.

          Some people like to pull up the whole tomato plant and hang it upside down in a dark basement room and let the tomatoes ripen gradually.  If you try this system, check them regularly to prevent very ripe fruits from falling onto the floor.
     The Shelf Method:  Another method is to put unripe tomatoes on a shelf and cover them with sheets of newspaper.  Every few days check under the newspaper and remove ripe fruits or any that have begun to rot.  The newspaper covering helps trap a natural ethylene gas that tomatoes give off, which hastens ripening.  You can also place tomatoes in a paper bag with an apple or banana.  These fruits also give off ethylene gas, and helps to speed the tomatoes' ripening process.


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VINE PLANTS
Vines
          It seems to be a law of nature that the sweetest, juiciest garden vegetables are the ones that require the most pampering.  To be rewarded with fine melons, for instance, you have to treat the plants as if they're on vacation - lots of sun, water, food and warm weather.  But if you treat them like royalty, they'll return the favor by producing delectable fruits.
          Reserve a sunny, well-drained spot for your vine crops, preferably with a slight slope to the south.  Sunny means at least six hours of full sun every day.  The amount of space you allow depends on how many plants you and your family want, and whether or not you plan to support the vines with trellises or fences.  If you've never grown vine crops before, it's best to start small.  Cucumbers and summer squashes are especially heavy yielders.  One hill per person in the household should be more than enough.  If you intend to preserve or store much of the harvest, plant more.
          To extend your harvest and avoid an overdose of ripe squash or cucumbers, grow two varieties, one that matures early and one for later.  Or, stagger your plantings for continual harvests and to avoid losing an entire crop if weather or disease problems hit.
          Some varieties spread more than others.  Keep this in mind as you plan your garden.  If you plan to use supports, leave a walkway wide enough for you to cultivate by hand or machine.  If you intend to let the vines run freely, beware - some need lots of room.  One good place to plant vine crops is at the edge of the garden, so the vines can spread over the lawn.
     When To Plant:  Wait to plant sensitive vine crops until after the average last frost date, unless you provide protection for them.  Your local weather bureau can tell you when the average last frost date is expected, or ask an experienced gardener in your area.  The surprising thing is that it's usually earlier than you think.
     Vine Crop Care:  To get a good crop of squash, pumpkins and other vine crops you'll need to care for them well; weeding, watering and fertilizing.
     Weed War:  The most crucial time to control weeds is when the plants are young, before they start to run.  Using a hoe, rake or cultivating tool, stir up the top quarter-to-half-inch of soil around your plants at least once a week.
     Stay shallow as you cultivate the soil so that you don't injure plant roots.  You'll destroy the weed seeds just below the surface; you don't have to worry about deeper weed seeds - they can only germinate if they're near the top of the soil.
     Once the vines start spreading, the broad leaves will shade out many weeds.  However, you're bound to get some at the edges of the patch where you left room for the vines to travel.  Rake or cultivate this area (one to two inches deep) once a week before the vines reach it and you'll diminish the weed problem.
     Mulching:  One of the easiest weed controls of all is mulch.  It also improves the growing environment.
     To mulch, simply cover the ground around your plants with a layer of protective material (straw, hay, grass clippings, newspapers, black plastic).  This shades the ground, making it impossible for most weeds to grow.  Mulching also conserves moisture in the soil and, with the exception of black plastic, keeps the soil cool around the plants.  This is especially important for southern gardeners.
     Wait until the soil has really warmed up before mulching your vine crops.  Straw, hay or grass clippings need to be three to four inches thick to do the job effectively.  Alternately, five or six sheets of newspapers held down with stones will keep the garden weed-free.
     Where growing seasons are short, however, and you want your vine crops to receive all the heat they can, stick to black plastic or use no mulch at all.
     Thinning:  Young plants need room to develop a strong root structure and stem.  If they're crowded, they will survive, but there may be too much competition for a great crop.
     If you plant six to eight seeds in each hill and they all come up, thin out all but the best three or four plants when they're a few inches high.
     Thin plants in rows to stand 8 to 12 inches apart, depending on the variety.  There's no trick to thinning these vegetables; just pull up the smaller, least healthy-looking plants and leave the others.
     Gardeners usually discard the thinnings, but you can also transplant them to fill in a spotty row.  If you try this, handle the seedlings with care - use a big spoon or trowel to dig them and move them with lots of soil surrounding the root balls to protect them.

          One of the wonderful things about having your own garden is that you control when you harvest your vegetables.  You can pick them immediately before preparing them to ensure that you have the freshest produce anywhere.  Even better, you can also have the youngest.  Most commercial growers don't pick tiny vegetables, knowing they'll get more for their money by waiting a few days.  But the best picks - especially for cucumbers and summer squash - are the smallest vegetables on the vine.  Don't worry if it takes six zucchini to make a meal - there will be lots more where they came from, so splurge!  Just be careful not to step on the vines when you harvest - you may kill the plants.

     Harvesting Big Squash:   If a crop gets ahead of your harvest efforts - zucchini has a habit of doing this - and the fruits grow large enough, the plant will stop producing and go on to the next stage of reproduction.  You can still eat those larger vegetables, although they won't taste quite as good as younger ones.  Cucumber skins toughen as they mature, and summer squash loses some of its flavor.

     Harvesting Melons:   There are several ways to judge a melon's ripeness, and most people learn from experience, which is the most dependable method.  Here are tips for valid signs of ripeness for muskmelons and watermelons.
   Smell - check ripeness by smelling for a strong, "musky" or perfumey scent around the stem-end of the melon.  That unmistakable odor means ripeness every time.
   Skin - when the skin color changes from green to yellow or tan and the netting becomes pronounced, the melon is ripe.
   Stem - as fruits start to ripen, the stems separate or slip from the fruit, with very little pressure.  A crack appears between the stem and the fruit, signaling the prime harvest time.  When the stem finally separates completely, which is called full slip, the melon is very ripe and won't last long before turning soft and mushy.  Watch the slip signs and try to eat the ripest melons first to give yourself a steady supply of good ones.

     Harvesting Watermelons:
   Color - check the spot where the watermelon rests on the ground.  As the melon ripens, that "ground spot" turns from whitish to a deep, creamy yellow.  Also, the melon's shiny surface dulls somewhat when it's ripe.
   Thumps - unripe melons make a sharp ringing sound when rapped and ripe ones sound muffled.  However over-ripe melons make that same dead sound, so this isn't the most reliable test.
   Curly-cues - watch the tendrils on the stems to judge ripeness.  When the tendril closest to a fruit turns brown and dries up, the melon is ripe.  Beware, though: Some varieties may show this sign and not ripen for several more days, so you could be disappointed.


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ZUCCHINI
Me in my garden, 2002.
          This squash family member is best when picked very young.  Bushes are quite hardy and the plant is ideal for containers.  The shape is elongated and both green and yellow varieties are available.  Young zucchini is excellent in salads while older varieties are better cooked.
     Conditions:   Zucchini is a warm weather fruit and will not tolerate frosts.  It requires full sun to partial shade and will do well in almost any soil with good drainage.  Zucchini is a heavy feeder and the addition of compost and well-rotted manure will greatly improve its growing results.  When flowers begin to form, you will want to side-dress with more manure.  Keep the garden free of weeds which may harbor disease.  Cultivate lightly so as not to disturb the shallow root structures.
     Planting:  Plant when soil has completely warmed.  Plants can be started indoors 4 to 6 weeks ahead to speed harvest.  To sow directly outdoors, place several seeds 1/2 inch deep in a wide, saucer shaped depression.  Depressions should be 8 inches deep and excavavated soil should form a rim around the depression.  Leave 3 feet between these "hills".  Thin to 3 plants per hill once the true leaves appear.  Remove unwanted seedlings by cutting them off with scissors at ground level.
     Watering:  Try to keep the water off of the leaves and foliage.  Insufficient water will cause the fruit to fall off before it matures.  Leaves will wilt during very hot weather, but will recover when watered.
     Problems:  Powdery mildew and mosaic virus are the main problems.  Good preventative measures include not handling the vines when they are wet, planting in an area with good ventilation, and keeping the garden clean and free of weeds and debris.  Most insects that attack zucchini can be controled by spraying with a good herbal or natural insecticide.
     Harvesting:  Pick zucchini early and often.  Fruit that is 4-6 inches long will have the best flavor, and picking encourages more fruit.


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Some of the information & gardening tips were aquired from National Gardening editors & other sources as well as my own experience.


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Here's a good source of information.
Old Farmer's Almanac

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