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Time to Plant the (Kitchen) Garden

Next week is the official kick-off for planting veggies and herbs for fresh spring and summer dishes.

Although nothing is ever certain when it comes to the weather in southern Connecticut, most of us who grow our own vegetables have Mother’s Day circled on the calendar.  Traditionally, most gardeners and nurseries will tell you to wait until after Mother’s Day for planting, when frosts have (hopefully) ceded to more mild weather. It comes as no surprise that our local garden centers will be packed this Sunday.

Tomatoes – Everybody’s Favorite

Tomatoes are by far the most popular plants in the backyard garden. As eager as I am to get into mine, I realize we’ve had a cool spring. Until the weather warms up a bit, we might have to wait to plant our seedlings.  Daytime temperatures should average around 60° or higher once tomatoes are in the ground.

Before planting your seedlings, make sure your soil is well prepped. Give it a good weeding and tilling, adding some fertilizer such as 5-10-10 (a mixture of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium). To determine how much fertilizer you need to mix into your soil, check the label on the package. This will tell you how much fertilizer per square foot of soil.

Popular varieties of tomatoes at our local garden centers include Early Girl, Beefsteak, Better Boy, Plum, Cherry and Grape. They all do very well in Stamford, as long as you grow them in a sunny spot. That means at least 6-7 hours of hot sun each day.

Seedlings should be spaced about 3 square feet apart.  This gives the roots ample room to spread out and the leaves plenty of space for air to flow through.  Planted too densely, tomatoes can develop diseases with their fruits, stems and leaves. 

Keep in mind that your plants will grow tall and heavy. Staking them early, before the leaves and stems become unwieldy, is a good idea. After you plant each seedling, include a stake next to it. I find that using old cotton rags for tying are easier on the stems than twist-ties or wire. 

Where to Shop

Most of the garden centers I’ve visited this week are still waiting for their tomato shipments. Both and Eden Farms have a few six-packs of tomatoes, running between $2.50 and $2.99 per pack. Varieties include Early Girls, Supersweets, Beefsteaks and Celebrity’s. The rest of their stocks will start coming in towards the end of the week. Prices will be around $15.99-18.99 per flat. 

Eden Farms has a nice selection of peppers and cauliflower in, however they will be expecting much more. Exquisite Environments also has tomato cages for $29.99.  These are beautiful plants set-up in pots with a cage to keep them sturdy. They not only provide homegrown produce, but they look and smell great on a sunny terrace or patio. I saw a few with fruits on the vines already.

is also expecting tomatoes by Sunday.  They currently have plenty of other plants, including squash, zucchini, cucumbers, beets and a number of beans.  Their 4” pots are $4.99 – a bit more than other locations – but the seedlings look strong and healthy.

Herbs and Other Vegetables

All three garden centers have a good selection of herbs, too. Because my garden is small, I like to grow herbs in pots to give larger plants more room to grow.  When deciding which herbs to go with, think about how often you use them in your cooking. As much as I love tarragon, I don’t use it often, so I rarely plant it. Basil, on the other hand, is a big favorite in the house come summertime. Pesto, caprese salad and antipasto are just a few of the dishes that make a weekly appearance at my house. 

The same goes with the rest of your garden.  If you’re a big fan of salsa, plant jalepeño peppers and cilantro. Peppers don’t take up too much room, and cilantro is an excellent herb to complement many warm weather dishes. Cucumbers, however, grow outward. Their tendrils like to climb, so it’s helpful to give them a cage to grab onto (I use a piece of chicken wire propped up against a post in the garden).

Zucchini and squash are other real estate hogs.  You’ll need a good 5 square feet per plant.  On the flip side, root vegetables such as beets and carrots, don’t take up much space at all.  And as you probably can guess, corn gets pretty big!

On Saturday, the will be holding their annual spring plant sale from 8:30 a.m. -3:00 p.m.  In past years, there have only been perennials for sale, but new this year are vegetables and annuals. Need an extra reason to stop by? UCONN Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions.

What is your favorite vegetable, fruit or herb you like to plant in your garden? Do you have any tried and true tips you’d like to share with other Patch readers? Let us know and happy gardening!

Regina May 16, 2011 at 02:27 PM
Very informative article for someone thinking of starting a small garden! Thanks!

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