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Once the placement is determined and the dirt loosened we combine a natural fertilizer such as steer or chicken manure or mushroom compost with a soil amender in our case a mulch because we have clay soil. I do not own steer, grow mushrooms or keep chickens, though I know some that do. I draw the line at having a steer in my yard even though it’s important to have good amendments when planting for proper drainage. Good drainage makes gardening much easier and more successful. There have been years when our plants just didn’t grow the way we knew they could. It took a while but we finally have enough composted materials in the soil to have thriving plants.
Wait! Don’t click the close button with the thought that this is too much for you to do. Please consider, for those of you who are stunned at how much effort we put into our plants, there is an alternative. Purchase pre-packaged garden soil and use that.
A really great way to get composted materials is to compost your own from garden clippings and fruit and vegetable trimmings from the kitchen. Worm castings are great too. My daughter’s kindergarten classroom had a worm bin. Easy to do if you don’t mind tending it a few minutes a day and no bad smell, really. The idea is to reduce cost and stay local. What’s more local than your own compost? We add the fertilizer and the soil amender directly to the hole and dig it in until it is mixed thoroughly. Then we add a few extra shovelfuls of amender and plant the tomato or pepper. We have been known to use commercial potting mix for our amender.
The trick with peppers and tomatoes is to plant them deep. If you can remove the bottom leaves and plant it so the root ball is a few inches or more below the soil line you will have a stronger root system. Each variety of pepper or tomato is different and it’s best to plant them with room to grow according to their eventual size usually indicated on the plant marker or ask your Master Gardener. Our neighbors use 5 gallon buckets for their tomatoes and seem to get some nice results.
The Cilantro needs a hole about twice as wide and deep as its root ball. The soil line in the container should be level with the soil line of the root ball. Cilantro grows tall, about 15 inches. Cilantro also grows well from seed.
Onion sets are easy to do. They like the same soil amendment treatment as the other plants. Press them into the ground stem side up and cover lightly with soil and press down on the soil around them. If you live in an area with a short growing season sets are the way to go. Seeds if not planted too deeply, read the packet carefully, can give you a lot of green onions. If you plant new seeds a few weeks after the first planting you will have a longer harvest. Larger onion formation requires more space. As your onions develop harvest them so that you will eventually have onions 4 inches apart.
Wherever you plant your tomatoes they will need support unless they are in hanging containers. If you find your pepper needs support a sturdy stick or bamboo stake threaded through the center is helpful. My current favorite support system is vegetable net with 4 in squares stretched between two steel posts about 5 feet high and as wide as needed for the number of tomato plants you will plant. I like to weave the branches in between the net and I don’t have to tie anything. It’s cleaner and easier to access the fruit if you are willing to weave the branches once a week or more. I remove the lowest branches that shoot away from the line of the net. This makes for a tidier garden and less bulk.
We have used cages with a good deal of success. We found we needed to reinforce with rebar due to wind and rain and tie branches to the cage to keep them off of the ground. There are many web sites that explain different ways of supporting vegetable plants. I saw an amazing, and pricey, tomato cage at the Master Gardener’s sale. It was sturdy, heavy duty, a large cylinder with enough space between the wires to access the fruit and train the plant. It would definitely last much longer than the wire cone shaped support system. Any way you can keep the fruit off of the ground or out of the dirt will do the trick. Be creative and have fun with it.
Watering your plants, tomatoes especially, should be done on a schedule and not more than a few times a week if even that. Keep in mind container gardens need more frequent watering than their in the ground counterparts. They do not have as much room to stretch their roots to find water. That said, the less you water the tomato plant the more it will produce flowers for fruit. Having it die of thirst is not what we want either. Watch the leaves. If they curl up and the branch tips are drooping from more than just the hottest heat of the day, it’s time to water. Yellow leaves may mean you are watering too much. In other words if the leaves have shriveled up to look like your great aunt’s wedding bouquet in the display case at the cabin you may want to consider shopping at your local Farmers Market for pre-made salsa and hang up your trowel. On the other hand the onion sets prefer to be evenly moist. This does not mean drenched and soggy. I like the idea of soaker hoses and drip irrigation. My father’s humble yet gorgeous garden for many years has been watered with soaker hoses with great success. The patio container lemon and lime trees on a timer system for watering has been very helpful because I don’t have to water them when they go out of town.
Come on. I dare you! Make a Salsa Garden and add a few grains of salt to the mix.
She and her husband Roger are the parents of four young adults in San Jose, CA. When she’s not dating her husband or hanging out with her puggle Jake, Kathi is speaking at retreats, conferences and women’s events across the US.