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“Spring’s Coming – What’s In Your Garden?” Part 2

Successful Growing Tips for Beginners cont.

Tomatoes and peppers are a great choice for the beginner gardener and are some of my personal favorites. These plants tend to be hardy and relatively easy to grow. This year some of the tomato seeds I started can be seen in the bucket garden located in our Agventure Park area during Fair.

For this purpose, I chose determinate varieties (these are bush types that reach a certain height and stop growing). The majority of their fruit matures within a month or two and appears at the end of the branches. They also do not require the same amount of real estate that an indeterminate variety needs, making them ideal for bucket gardens or smaller growing areas. It may seem like there’s an overwhelming number of tomato varieties of both types, but try to choose a variety that works best in your area. Do you have many days over 100 degrees? Choose some of the heat loving heirlooms or hybrids specifically bred for hot climates. Near the coast? They have a plant for that! I have a serious love of all things tomato…can you tell?

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I do not have a greenhouse or any fancy setup for my seeds as you can see in the photos. I started mine on a seed-growing heat mat that keeps the soil at an optimal 75 degrees enabling my seedlings to get big quickly. I have a standard light fixture positioned very close (almost touching) the top of my seed starting cell kit. My light also adjusts so I can raise it as my seeds get taller. I also started my seeds in waves so that I have a continual harvest instead of everything ready all at once. Even if you buy plants, I recommend doing it in two weeks intervals so you do not overload yourself. Most people do not need or want hundreds of pounds of vegetables all at one.

Once my seeds outgrow the cells, I re-plant them in something larger. My choice this year was happy colored plastic cups (don’t they just scream spring?) with holes cut in the bottom. Last year I used coconut coir pots. It’s really up to you what you prefer.

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After a couple of weeks, I take the seedlings to a protected location outside for about an hour. I will do this each day for a week, adding one hour each day. By the end of the week, they will have lived outside for 7 hours straight and will be ready for planting. This process is called “hardening off.” Think of being planted outside as a workout. You cannot just go from sitting on the couch to lifting heavy weights or running a marathon without a gradual build up. Your plants need to work up to it as well.

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There may be a lot of information to process here, but the most important take away is very simple: HAVE FUN! No one starts any new hobby achieving perfection and it’s only through trial and error (lots of error) that we get better. Start small, grow something you love and maybe someday we will see your hard work entered in one of our competitions!

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