February Garden Prep

For those of us who live in Texas and some southern states it is time to start thinking about the spring garden. In Texas I grow two gardens – a spring garden and fall garden. I start planting the spring garden the last week of February thru the first week of April.

The first planting in the ground is of peas, brussels sprouts, radishes, green beans and plants that like cooler temperatures to grow and produce. Before I can plant seeds I need to get the planting area ready. I used a raised bed system of gardening due to the coastal grass that will take over a garden planted in the ground. Those who plant at ground level, now is the time to start tilling and raking to remove the coastal grass that invaded the garden last year.

As I begin to prep my garden area, I am deciding where I am going to plant each plant. I rotate the places where I planted squash and cucumbers to keep the squash beetles at a minimum. Planting squash and cucumbers in the same place every year increases these pesky insects that can kill the squash plant and shorten your harvest. The beds need additional nutrient rich material added, either compost or in my situation sheep manure. I usually add the sheep manure after I have pulled the plants from the fall garden. Adding the manure in the fall allows the natural elements to break down the manure releasing the nutrients for the plants.

The time has arrived to start the tomato plants inside. I use a two “solo” cup method of starting tomato plants inside. One cup has a rock in the bottom and is used for letting the water drain from the cup holding the soil and seed that will eventually be a tomato plant. The cup that I will put the soil in and plant the seeds has small holes in the bottom allowing for drainage. Seeds and plants will die if there is too much water. I fill the cup 1/2 full of soil for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant seeds. I use potting soil or seed starter as soil when I am starting seeds inside. I do not reuse the starting soil as the nutrients are mostly gone. Using fresh potting soil or seed starter helps my seedlings get a good start before placing them in the garden.

A picture showing the two cups I use for starting seeds.

After the seeds sprout, I will gently add more soil to the cup. Doing this creates a good root system for the seedling to grow into a plant once placed in the soil outside. When the time comes to plant outside, the cup has been filled to 1/2 inch below the rim with soil.

Cups with various stages of tomatoes starting to grow.

Punxsutawney Phil may have forecasted six more weeks of winter, but spring will arrive and I want to be ready for a summer and fall harvest of fresh vegetables for my table.



Tomatoes in Winter

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

There are news stories that tomatoes and products made from tomatoes are going to be in short supply in the United States this year, until the next tomato harvest. Depending on if the drought continues for another year, it may be expensive to purchase tomatoes and tomato products.

Can a person grow tomatoes inside during the winter? Yes. Tomato plants like sunshine. If you have a window that can provide sunshine at least 6 hours a day, you can place a tomato plant by the window to grow. If you do not have a window or place to put a tomato plant, there are grow lights that do not cost very much.

Tomatoes need room for their roots. I plant my tomato plants in a five gallon bucket or equivalent pot. They also like the soil to drain well, meaning the pot or bucket has to have holes in the bottom for excess water to drain out. I have a tendency to over water my tomato plants, even outside I will over water and the plant will wilt and die. To be safe from overwater, do a simple test of pushing a finger an inch below the surface, if the soil is moist – do not water.

Tomatoes are self pollinators, meaning they do not need bees or butterflies to pollinate the flower in order to produce fruit. When you see blooms open, usually in the mornings, gently shake the plant, and let the pollen fall on the flowers to pollinate.

I start my tomato plants by planting a few seeds in a solo cup half full of potting mix. I only fill the solo or plastic cup half full, as tomato plants will form roots along the stem, if the stem touches soil. I wait until the new seedlings are a few inches tall, then very carefully add more soil. By doing this the young tomato plant develops a stronger root system.

Likewise, when I transplant the young, approximately six inches tall plant into the pot or bucket I am going to have it live in, I only have the pot half full of potting mix or soil. As the plant grows taller, I gently add more mix or soil until the soil is two inches from the top of the pot or bucket. When I put the plant in the pot, I add a hand full of crushed egg shells, to help prevent blossom rot on the fruit caused by not enough calcium.

I water and wait for the bloom, gently shake the plant, and wait for fruit.

Bell Pepper plant waiting to be planted outside after growing all winter in the house.

This planting method works for bell peppers, any type of hot peppers. I use an eight inch pot for the peppers.

Eggplants are another night shade classified plant that can be raised inside. I have not grown eggplants inside, but I would start with a 12 inch pot and see how the plant does.

If a plant needs more root room, you can always transplant into a larger pot.



Photo by Julia on Pexels.com

I love vine ripened tomatoes. I planted some seeds in solo cups inside the house. I also purchased three plants from a nursery. In this post I will show you the progress of those I planted and the method I use for planting them outside in containers and the ground.

Above is a purchased tomato plant, grape tomato variety I am planting into a large pot. Tomatoes can grow in containers, but the container or pot needs to be at least three gallons or larger. The larger the fruit the plant will produce the larger the container needs to be. The plant requires a root system to draw sufficient nutrients from the soil to supply nutrients to the plant and fruit. Larger fruit, larger root system to support the plant and fruit, hence a larger pot or container.

I fill my pot or container 3/4 full with soil, or potting mix. I make an hole for plant, making sure the bottom of the planting hole is 4 inches above the bottom of the container. Next I add crushed egg shells to add calcium to aid in the prevention of blossom end rot, a nutrient deficient disease.

I will pinch off or use scissors to cut off the lower leaves of the plant. I do not want leaves below the soil. The stem in the soil will start growing roots. I then fill with soil, then water to remove all the air from around the roots.

Every tomato plant needs at least one, but preferably two marigold plants. Why do tomato plants need marigolds, to keep away the tomato cutworm. These worms true identity is a caterpillar. The caterpillar will strip away the leaves and eat the tomatoes ripe or green, leaving you with a dying plant and no tomatoes.

Caterpillars are the young of butterflies and moths. The tomato caterpillar is the young of a moth, and the moths do not like Marigold and the scent marigold put off. If you do see little black feces on the leaves of your tomato plants, there is probably tomato cutworms. These worms camouflage very well with the tomato plant. But at night with a black light, they show up gloriously. I do not spray my tomato plants with insecticide, I find the cutworms and pick them off.

Happy gardening.