A juicy tomato this summer begins with starting sturdy transplants now.
The wait is over! The time to start tomatoes in our region is here.
If you garden in the Champlain Valley or lower Connecticut River Valley, begin planting tomato seeds indoors now.
If you're in the mountains, give it just one more week or so till mid-April to start them.
And as tomato varieties are nearly endless, if you're starting from seed, try some unusual types this season.
Once you've chosen a few varieties, take the seeds and sow them into two-inch diameter pots filled with potting soil. Place a couple tomato seeds in each pot.
As they germinate, thin them out to just one seedling per pot.
At this point in your seed-prep, you'll need to veer a bit from the usual practice of placing the seedlings to grow in a sunny spot indoors.
Placing your seedlings under grow lights will be a game-changer.
Grow lights placed just a couple of inches above the seedlings will be essential for the seedlings to grow strong and stay small and stocky.
Though tall, leggy seedlings grown on your sunny windowsill can certainly be transplanted into your garden, it might take them longer to catch up.
So to get a small, stocky and fast-growing seedlings, grow lights are the way to go.
Once the seeds begin germinating, keep moving the lights as they grow so they are about two inches above the seedlings.
You can also mimic the natural world by brushing your hand across the new seedlings, almost like you're petting a cat! This motion imitates the wind that would brush against the seedling outdoors.
Once they're about two and a half inches tall, start brushing them with your hand about 10 times once per day.
Doing this practice daily basis helps stimulate the cells on the sides of the stem to get bigger and doing so helps the plants stay shorter and stockier. You can actually reduce the height of your seedlings by about 20%.
Once the seedlings' height is three times the diameter of the container, repot them into a larger container and keep them growing strong, using your brushing technique!
When you're ready to transplant them into your garden or raised bed, you can harden them off by first taking them outside for an hour or so the first day. Then extend that period for about five or six days until you can leave them outside full time.
Hardening the seedling transplants will help prevent any kind of sunscald or stress due to the wind, weather or cold.
Once they are full-time outdoor residents, pop them into the garden soil and you'll be eating tomatoes in the summertime!
Q: I just discovered a thriving ant colony nest in my fig tree planter; tiny black ants attacking the figs as they ripen. I plan to just scoop up as much of the colony by hand as I can. But do you have any advice on further treatment or deterrent? - Lee, in West Ferrisburgh
A: Try to pull fig tree out of the container and knock off a bunch of the soil. It might mean taking out most of the potting soil to get rid of the any colony.
Then clean the inside of the container with a 10% bleach solution. Once clean, repot the fig with fresh potting soil and hopefully that will keep the ants away.
If you can evict the queen from the colony that has formed in your fig tree container, that will prevent them from coming back and recolonizing.
Q: We just moved into a house with a small yard and a dense neighborhood in Montpelier. At our old house we had a large garden plot but I'm reluctant to commit so much space to a garden since the yard is so small. I've looked into grow bags which seem hopeful as they can be moved as necessary and they'll give us time to figure out where the best light is. But what's your take on using grow bags? What tips or warnings might you have? - Sally, in Montpelier
Virtually any vegetable does well in a grow bag! Grow bags are made from a breathable fleece material and come in bright colors and a variety of sizes.
As the plant's roots get big, they get naturally air-pruned and won't become rootbound in a grow bag.
Another bonus to using grow bags is you can move them as needed into the sunniest spots in your yard.
Then when the season is over, dump out the compost or potting soil, wash the grow bags out if you like, then fold and stack them until next season!
All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.
Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.
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