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How to start a kid-friendly vegetable garden

There’s a natural connection between children and the outdoors. And there’s nothing more special than caring for the Earth and enjoying Mother Nature in the family backyard. Toddlers, children and teens can explore a new hobby when they get outside and get growing.

This month, we’ve partnered with The Edible Schoolyard to encourage kids and families everywhere to grow their own food.

Here are our 5 tips to get kids growing.

5 Steps to creating a kids vegetable garden

1. Let them pick the plants.

“We’re growing broccoli and cabbage!” said no enthused child ever. Take a trip to your local grocery store or farmer’s market and let the kids pick out their favorite fruits and veggies. Research which ones will grow best in your yard and get ready to plant.

Choose to start seeds or purchase transplants for your new garden bed. Help kids understand what types of plants will thrive in your yard by asking them to pick out the sunniest and shadiest spots in the yard.

2. Prep Your Bed

Before planting, start at the beginning of the process by explaining the uses for different garden tools.  Encourage kids to pick the spots for their new plants. Ask them to check the plant tags for information on spacing and sunlight and then determine the best spot.  Be sure to bring a tape measure.

3. Plant

It’s a well-known fact that most children love digging holes. Once they’ve accomplished that task, it’s time to plant. Demonstrate how to gently remove plants from the container and loosen up the roots before planting.

4. Add nutrients and water

Just like people, plants need healthy nutrients to grow big and strong. Choose an organic fertilizer such Espoma’s Bio-tone Starter Plus or Start! liquid fertilizer to give plants the boost they need.

5. Create a schedule

Get kids involved in maintaining the garden by creating a monthly chart that includes days to water and feed. Chart when plants should be ready for harvest and create a countdown for your favorite plants.

Want to help? Be sure to Like our Facebook page and follow along!

Top Seeds to Sow in March

It’s our favorite time of year again, spring is here! This marks the start of prime time gardening season as the weather begins to warm up.

Now’s the perfect time to put on some gardening gloves and repot indoor plants or start fresh with new seeds outdoors. Either way, March is the time to get a head start on rejuvenating your outdoor garden to ensure your harvest is ready by mid-spring or early-summer.

Beets

Healthy and delicious, the best time to plant beets is right now. They’ll harvest quickly, leaving us with an early summer treat. Plus, beets are known to lower blood pressure, fight inflammation and they’re rich in nutrients and fiber.

Broccoli

One of our favorite greens, broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse. It contains Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Fiber and Folate. This cool-weather crop can germinate in soil with temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to keep the soil wet, though, because this plant is thirsty.

Cabbage

Whether leafy green or perfectly purple, this annual vegetable is perfect for colder temperatures. Pests love Cabbage, so be sure to keep an eye on it. Try using natural repellant methods instead of harmful chemicals to keep your cabbage healthy and safe.

Carrots

Why plant orange carrots when you can choose from the entire rainbow? Choose from purple, black, red, white or yellow. Not only are they good for eyesight, carrots are also one of the best plants for reducing the risk of Cardiovascular Disease.

Lettuce

This true cool-weather plant is actually stunted by hot temperatures. Perfect for early spring gardens, lettuce requires light watering since its leaves will develop quickly. And, don’t forget to use organic mulch to conserve water. Once true leaves grow, it is time to harvest the crop before it becomes bitter and tough.

Spinach

Perfect for salads and sides, spinach loves the spring weather. This green is extremely sensitive to excessive heat. Spinach is fast-growing, forming flowers and developing seeds in no time at all.

Onions

Onions have disease fighting power and high nutritional value, making them one of the healthiest vegetables to eat. Onions can endure all of the hardships that come with early spring weather. Note that this crop will not be as fruitful if temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Peas

Sweet peas, snow peas and snap peas are perfect for planting in March. They’re easy to grow and so delicious.

Give seeds a boost this spring by using Espoma’s organic liquid Start! plant food.

6 Heirloom Plants We Love

Contrary to popular belief, tomatoes are not the only heirlooms out there. Heirlooms are plants that are grown from seeds that have been passed down through the generations for at least the past 50 years. They must also be open-pollinated, which means they’re pollinated by insects or wind without human intervention.

Your organic vegetable garden wouldn’t be complete without some heirlooms. So grab your shovel and get ready to plant.

Here are six heirlooms we love!

1. Armenian cucumber

This cucumber is also known as yard-long cucumbers or snake melon, because of the cantaloupe-like scent that’s released when sliced. It yields large amounts and turns yellow when ripe. They’re also great for slicing and pickling!

2. Black Diamond Watermelon

It has a blackish green rind that covers its bright red flesh. The seeds are black and can grow to be pretty big. This watermelon is drought resistant and prolific, which means that it produces a lot of “offspring.”

3. Clemson Spineless Green Okra

This plant yields large amounts of pods that should be harvested when they reach three inches long. It will keep growing until the weather cools down during the fall, so it’s possible for them to grow up to 6 feet or taller in warmer areas. It is also a traditional favorite for soups and stews.

4. Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage

This cabbage is dark green and has a smooth, sweet flavor. It usually harvests pretty early, but is slow to split and bolt. After it matures, it’s best to keep it in the garden for another two to three weeks. It is also really rich in vitamins and minerals.

5. Rutabaga

This plant is grown in the cooler seasons and is desired for its root, the Swedish turnip. It is essentially a natural cross between a cabbage and a turnip, but its yellowish root and smooth leaves differentiate it from an actual turnip.

6. Spaghetti Squash

The squash starts off as white and eventually changes colors to a pale yellow once it matures. It can yield up to four or 5 plants and they will last several weeks after harvesting. This plants it known for its double as a healthy substitute to pasta.

Once your vegetable garden gets growing, don’t forget to feed with an organic fertilizer such as Garden-tone.

Top Peppers for Sowing

Now that spring is here, we’re ready to get our hands in some dirt. And what better way to do that than by starting some seeds. All you need is light, heat and an organic seed starting mix.

Before you begin, check the last spring frost date in your area,  then count back 4-6 weeks. That’s when you’ll want to start seeds.

First up on our list for planting, is peppers. There’s nothing better than adding a spicy pepper to a garden fresh salsa. Plus, once you’re ready to grow outside, peppers can even be grown in containers.

5 Spicy Peppers for Sowing

1. Cayenne Pepper

This extremely red pepper is long and skinny. It is very spicy, which is why it’s best in a dried, powdered form. Cayenne peppers are known to boost metabolism, aid with digestion, relieve pain caused by migraines, prevent blood clots and relieve joint/nerve pain.

2. Habanero Chili

This pepper is one of the hottest in the world, next to the ghost pepper. It can be found in many different colors ranging from red, light yellow, brown, and orange. The heat of this pepper can be unpredictable, but regardless is always hot.

3. Serrano Pepper

This small pepper has think walls and is commonly used in hot-salsa. It starts out green, but as it ages it turns red then yellow. The best time to pick Serrano peppers is while they’re still green or in the beginning stages of changing colors.

4. Thai Chili Pepper

Also known as the Bird’s eye chile, Thai chilies are relatively tiny, but spicy. It could be either green or red. These plants are commonly grown year-round and can be brought indoors in winter.

5. Tabasco Pepper

This pepper got its name from the Mexican State, Tabasco, where it originated. It starts out as a yellow-green color, turning completely yellow, then orange, and then bright red at its ripest point. This plant can take up a lot of space in gardens being that it has the potential to grow nearly 60 inches high.

Ready to start seeds? Learn how here.

Fall is for Planting: Cool-Season Veggies

There is nothing better than the taste of fresh picked produce, except maybe when its fall, and you expected your garden to be put to bed by now!

Even though leaves are starting to change, your organic veggie garden has plenty of time left to produce. Help your fall garden thrive with these four tips from Behnke’s Garden Center.

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Fall is For Planting: Four Tips for Growing a Cool-Season Organic Veggie Garden

  1. Start planting. Now is the time to plant fall veggie seedlings. Fast growing, frost-tolerant plants such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, beets carrots, lettuce, spinach and herbs will keep growing even as the temperature drops.
  2. Fertilize. For a bigger harvest, feed veggies monthly with an organic fertilizer. Your soil has been hard at work all summer and is in need of nutrients. Keep your garden growing with a healthy feeding.

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  1. Harvest soon. Once your crops start ripening, go out and pick every day. Here’s when to harvest your organic veggies:
  • Lettuce and spinach: Cut outer leaves when young and tender.
  • Kale: Pick when the leaves are as big as your hand.
  • Carrots: Pick when the top of the carrot is 1” wide.
  • Broccoli: Cut broccoli when its head is 4-7” wide.
  • Cauliflower: Cut when its head is 2-3” wide.
  1. Don’t forget to Cover. If frost arrives sooner than expected have a plan to protect your crops from the cold. Water your bed and then cover with a sheet, blanket or tarp. Keep the cover from touching plants with stakes and use bricks to hold it in place. Remove cover when temperatures warm again.

What are you growing in your fall garden? Let us know in the comments!

Behnke Nurseries garden center in Beltsville, MD has provided plants, ceramic pots, and gardening supplies to gardeners since 1930.  Behnke’s offers a very wide selection of perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees and houseplants, and the experienced staff will advise you on the best options for your garden. The Holiday Shop provides a charming Christmas experience and carefully chosen accents for year ’round, while the selection of bonsai by Ducky Hong is unsurpassed.  Behnke’s welcomes gardeners of all levels of expertise: come and learn at their frequent free lectures.

July Garden To-Do

Lazy days of summer? Think again! July can be a busy month in the garden.

While watering and deadheading may seem like tedious tasks, harvesting and enjoying the bounty are the reward for months of hard work.

Here are seven things to do in the garden this month.

summer gardening tips, garden checklist, summer garden

1. Follow the Watering Rule

Follow the primary rule of summer watering to ensure garden plants get the right amount of water. Water thoroughly and deeply in the morning by making pools in the soil around the roots. Deep watering allows roots to grow deeper and stronger, making them less likely to dry up and die.

When you water will depend on your weather. Check dryness by touching the soil. It should be moist at least 1” below the surface.

Water containers and hanging baskets daily until water runs from the drainage holes.

2.Pick, Eat and Replant

You can finally enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Harvest tomatoes, peppers, peas, carrots, cauliflower, beans, broccoli, leeks, onions, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, Brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce, melons, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, pumpkins and rutabagas.

Harvest tree and vine fruits when they are able to be gently plucked or twisted from their stems. Berries, apples and stone fruits should all be ready for picking in July.

Pick, dry and freeze herbs for use later in the year.

Sow seeds of cool-season crops such as greens and root vegetables for harvesting throughout August and September. Plant garlic for harvest next season.

Prune tomato suckers weekly and cut off any leaves growing below the lowest ripening fruit trusses to improve air circulation and prevent diseases. Thin fruit trees for a more robust harvest.

3. Plants Need to Eat, too

Continue to feed hanging baskets, container gardens and faded annuals with liquid fertilizer Bloom! every 2 to 4 weeks.

Vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers are heavy feeders. Continue to feed every 2 weeks with organic fertilizers Tomato-tone or Garden-tone.

Feed roses monthly through the summer with Rose-tone.

Houseplants are actively growing now and will benefit from monthly feedings of Grow!.

summer gardening tips, garden checklist, summer garden

4. Continue to Create a Safe Paws Lawn

Using an organic lawn food, as well as organic mulch will eliminate the hazards that chemical fertilizers, pesticides and synthetic mulches present to you, your family and pets. July is the time to feed your lawn with the summer revitalizer from our annual feeding program.

Water lawn regularly, slowly and deeply. Mow to 3″ to protect from summer heat.

5.Keep an Eye out for Pests

Watch for insect or disease damage as the weather gets hotter and plants become more stressed.

Beetles, aphids, slugs, snails and spider mites are just a few of the pests that visit your garden in summer. For best solutions ask your local garden center for suggestions and consider the Earth-tone Controls.

Keep an eye out for powdery mildew. Remove any affected leaves to prevent further spread.

6. Weed, weed, weed

Clear weeds regularly, as they fight your plants for nutrients and water. Plus, you’ll want to pull before they have a chance to flower and go to seed. Otherwise, you’ll fight even more weeds next season.

Cover freshly weeded beds with a layer of compost or mulch to conserve water and blanket weeds reducing their spreading.

summer gardening tips, garden checklist, summer garden

7. Prune and Deadhead

Prune summer flowering shrubs as soon as the blossoms fade. Deadhead annuals to promote more growth. Pinch fall blooming flowers such as coneflower and asters in mid-July to promote a fall garden full of color.

Try to hold off on planting anything new until the fall as the hot temperatures and dry conditions can strain young roots. And you’ll benefit because most stores  offer major end of season sales. If you do plant or transplant, make sure to fill the hole with Bio-tone starter plus and keep well-watered.

Bonus: Enjoy! Take time to slow down and enjoy your garden with friends and family. We sure will be!

Turn Your Tomato Garden Upside Down

Everyone loves growing tomatoes. And tomatoes are one of the easiest plants to grow.

This summer, put a new twist on growing tomatoes by adding upside-down tomato planters to your organic vegetable garden.

Growing upside down might seem crazy, but it’s actually the perfect solution for those with limited space.

When choosing a variety, opt for smaller tomatoes like cherry or grape or those best suited for containers. Their small size and light weight prevents them from falling off the vines before they’re ready to eat!

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Choose Your Container

Purchase a 5-gallon bucket or container to serve as your planter. Drill a hole about 3” big in the bottom of the bucket. If you’re feeling creative, paint the bucket to match your outdoor décor.

Start Planting

Fill 1/3 of the bucket full with Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix.

Carefully remove the tomato plant from its pot and loosen roots from soil.

Turn the bucket onto its side and put the roots of the plant through the hole. Hold the plant in place while turning the bucket upward.

Fill the bucket half way with Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix.

Pick a spot to hang your planter that gets at least six hours of sun daily. The container will get heavier as the tomatoes grow, so be sure to choose a sturdy base.

Water your upside down planter regularly. And fertilize with Espoma’s Tomato-tone, a premium plant food formulated specifically for growing plump and juicy tomatoes.

Watch this Garden Answer video to see how you can DIY your own upside down planter.

Soon your garden will be filled with delicious ripe tomatoes! For more tips on growing tomatoes, check out our organic gardening guide!

How to Create an Upside Down Tomato Planter

Laura from Garden Answer demonstrates how to make an upside down tomato planter. She uses Espoma’s new liquid fertilizer, Start!, to give plants the nutrients they need to grow.

Learn more about planting tomatoes in our organic guide.

Plant Tomato Seeds in 4 Easy Steps

Nothing beats that first bite into a delicious, ripe tomato – even better when it’s fresh out of your summer garden! Just talking about tomatoes has us craving homemade salsas, Caprese salads and a delicious medley of fresh summer veggies.

If you’re as excited about tomato season as we are, why not get started now?

In practically no time at all, you can start tomato seeds. The best way to get a head start on growing tomatoes is to start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost date in your region.

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Pick Your Plant

The first step to starting seeds is deciding which tomato is the one for you. With thousands of varieties, it can be hard to choose just one! This list of easy-to-grow tomatoes will make your decision simple and stress free.

Start Seeding

When starting seeds indoors, you only need three simple things: warmth, light and an organic plant food.

Fill seed trays to within ¼” of the top with Espoma’s Organic Seed Starting mix. Follow instructions on the seed packets to see how deep and far apart to plant. Cover with soil, press down and lightly water.

Place tray in a larger pan of shallow water for a minute so the water seeps up from the bottom.

Place seeds in a warm spot between 65-75°. Try the top of the fridge, or purchase a heat mat.

Loosely cover tray with plastic wrap or the cover from your seed-starting kit. Check seeds daily for moisture and water as needed.

Give seeds 12-16 hours of light daily. Supplement sunlight with grow lights if needed.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Getting bigger

Once you see sprouts, remove the cover and move seeds to a sunny, south-facing window that is 65-75°F. Then, turn the container a little each day to prevent leaning seeds.

Add Espoma’s Organic Tomato-tone, a premium plant food formulated specifically for growing plump and juicy tomatoes, once seeds have sprouted. Tomato-tone’s organic composition feeds your plants naturally and will not force rapid growth at the expense of blooms and tomato yield.

Ready to Plant

Once the last frost date has passed, you’re almost ready to plant! Start by hardening off plants and placing seedlings outdoors for seven to 10 days for a few hours each day. Cut back on watering, as well. Now that plants are good and strong, it’s time to plant!  Gently remove plants from containers without damaging the roots. Plant in a prepared bed and mix in organic starter plant food, such as Bio-tone Starter Plus, to keep roots strong.

Now you’ll have delicious tomatoes in no time!

Go forth, and grow! When you’re organic gardening, be sure to feed tomatoes lots of Tomato-tone during the growing season.

And if you’re looking for more info on tomatoes, such as growing heirloom tomatoeshybrid tomatoes or non-red tomatoes, please visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

Total Guide to Growing Tomatoes

For good reason, tomatoes are the popular kid in the garden. Everyone wants to grow them, but not everyone knows how! So we have collected everything we know about tomatoes – from choosing which tomatoes to grow to how to harvest – and put it in one place!

Have success with Espoma’s Total Guide To Growing Tomatoes!

Five questions to ask before growing tomatoes

Best Tomato Varieties for Beginners

Should I grow heirlooms?

Hybrid tomatoes

Non-Red Tomatoes

organic tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting tomatoes from seed

How to plant tomatoes

Ensuring soil health

Growing tomatoes in containers

Growing tomatoes upside down

Turn your tomato garden upside down

Growing tomatoes

organic tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to fertilize tomatoes

3 Ways to Support Tomatoes

How to mulch tomato plants

What to know about pruning tomatoes

What are tomato plant suckers? 

How much water do tomatoes need?

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Blossom end rot

 

Tomato woes – How to solve common tomato diseases

Keep Tomatoes from Cracking and Splitting

Protect your plants – 4 common tomato pests

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Harvesting tomatoes made easy 

Step-by-step Instructions to Can, Save and Preserve Tomatoes

Saving tomato seeds