Gardening Archives

Your First Vegetable Garden: Tips For Success

Starting your own vegetable garden can seem like an overwhelming task. There is a lot of preparation and trial-and-error involved. What are you going to plant? Where are you going to plant it? How big does the plot need to be? How do I care for vegetable plants? What do I do after the harvest season ends? The list of questions and concerns can seem endless.

Planning Your Garden

No one has ever looked back and thought “Wow, I wish I had prepared less for that.” Outside of gardening, careful planning and preparation is a skill that has contributed to many successes and victories. In the preliminary stages of your first vegetable garden, decide what you’ll plant. Tomatoes are common, as are herbs. Researching what can grow best in your area can help, too. Also find out how much space they will need to thrive. Corn, for example, will need more space than carrots. How many plants do you want? This depends on the amount of space you have available. Can you sacrifice several yards or a few feet? Even a small herb garden can fit on a windowsill. If you’re having trouble visualizing how much you want or need, start smaller than larger. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. Plus, you can always make your garden a little bigger next year.

Prepping the Yard

You’ll want to put your vegetable garden in a spot that has at least 6-8 hours of sun per day, as required by most plants. A shady spot can limit their yield and make them more susceptible to disease. If you are having trouble finding a spot in your yard with full sun, you’ll have to adjust which plants you want accordingly. Veggies like lettuce and kale actually grow nicely in partial shade. Preparing your soil for a vegetable garden is fairly foolproof. Vegetables grow best in soil that has high amounts of organic matter and good drainage. To test the drainage capabilities of your soil, water your target area and wait for a day. After a day has passed, dig up a chunk of soil and squeeze it in your hands. If water flows out, your drainage capabilities are lacking a bit. You can improve drainage of the soil by adding compost or consider installing raised beds. Before you plant anything, till the area to loosen the soil and water is thoroughly. It should be ready for plants after several days.

Planting and Caring for Your Veggies

Plant your veggies according to directions. Some varieties you can plant from seed (like carrots or peas), while others may do better planted when they are already young plants (like tomatoes). After you plant them, give them a nice drink of water, about 1 inch. Don’t water again until the top inch of soil is dry. Typical gardens don’t need to be watered more than once per week, but you may need to supplement that during times of droughts. Remove weeds as soon as they appear, because they are going to be competing with your plants for water and nutrients. You can also keep weeds from rooting by carefully tilling the surface of the soil with a hand tiller. Make sure you have proper lattices in place for vining plants like tomatoes and peas. When your plants start bearing fruit, you are free to pick it whenever you like. The general rule is if it looks good enough to eat, then it probably is.

Emily Kaltman writes for The Grass Outlet in Austin, Texas. She enjoys writing about nature and eating from her family’s vegetable garden. 

tomato-plantQ&A call with Ernie Shivers

Tomato fertilizer used in proper amounts does result in nice sized and better tasting tomatoes, but fertilizing too much can cause problems as we’ll see in this Q&A session.

Q: I quit trying to grow tomatoes a few years ago because, I can grow lovely, tall, healthy looking plants but, no tomatoes? Is there something I can do to grow great tasting tomatoes? I always planted them where they would have full sun all day. Can they grow and produce in shady areas?

A: I haven’t experienced that but I suspect he is using too much fertilizer. He’s getting a nice healthy plant but no tomatoes, this can happen when too much fertilizer is added.

Q: What am I doing wrong? Last year I had one grow so high that I attached it to my porch and it went as tall as the roof, but I could not get any tomatoes. This year I thought I would be slick and try several different varieties of plants… They all grew, but NO tomatoes. What am I doing wrong?

A: Again, it sounds like he should cut back on the fertilizer.

Q: Every Friday, I go outside and fill my 1 1/2 gallon container with 1 scoop of miracle-gro for tomatoes and 1 1/2 gallon of water and sprinkle it on my 4 tomato plants. They are so big, they vining on to each other. I think its probably ok to stop fertilizing now. Whats your opinoin. Will this make huge tomatoes?

A: Yes, I think she’s right. Good idea about using Miracle-Gro and watering, but cut back on the fertilizer. Miracle-Gro can help with getting bigger tomatoes in proper amounts.

Q: I’m going to try to grow a tomato plant in a pot on my back deck. My pot is about 12 ” deep, and 14″ around. Will this be big enough? I filled it with potting soil, now do I need to add a fertilizer before or when I plant the actual plant? I live in Iowa, so I figure I’ll plant this thing about Mothers day.

A: Fertilizer can be added at the time of planting or afterward, both with great results. The size of the pot is adequate.

Q: What can I use to grow my tomato plants stronger and faster?

A: Most tomato plants begin bearing fruit between 75 and 90 days. Get plenty of sun light and make sure the soil is moist.

Q: We have had rain for two days, especially heavy late yesterday. Purple and Black Prince all have a lot of cracking and some of it seems to be healing. I’ve never had this problem before as I usually pick them after blushing. I was hoping to ripen some of them on the vine. Can this fruit be eaten if it heals? How will I know if it is OK?

A: When the tomato grows fast, the skin will split. When that happens pick those off the vine and let them ripen inside. Sometimes flies will lay eggs in the crack, if this happens you should discard the tomato.

More tips and jokes in the podcast. Listen to the Q&A session:

Free Compost For Your Garden

Some city and county parks and recreation departments in the US make compost and provide it free of charge for their citizens, you just need to go pick it up.

Some counties and companies also provide raised beds for people who don’t have the space. They rent the space and provide everything you need to start a raised bed vegetable garden.

An interview with Karen Cancilla of Gro-O

Excerpt from the interview…

“Organic means a lot to me personally because of my health issues… I have a sensitivity to pesticides and different types of chemicals. When I was buying organic food, I was never sure how organic it was and it spoiled quickly and never all that fresh, so I decided to grow my own food at home.”

“I grow everything that I love… all of my own vegetables and fruit here in the LA area. I grow everything in raised planters. I’ve found a way to do it that’s not time consuming.”

“Last year I grew about 650 pounds of food, but I don’t count the pumpkins.”

“There are fruits and vegetables we will never buy again.”

“There are different inexpensive ways to grow even when there’s frost and you can get a few extra months even where there’s snow.”

“The Gro-O garden planner is software that you can design your raised planters or garden in the software. If you enter your zip code, it will tell you when to plant and what to plant and when to harvest along with reminder emails.”

Listen to the interview:

Budget Gardening: How To Get Started

organic-produceOne of the most off putting things for those wishing to start gardening, but on a low budget is that they may be put off by the cost of by the perceived cost of starting to garden. Fortunately, gardening doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby to get started in and is relatively cheap.

Whether you have little space or money, you’ll be fine in the garden – so, let’s take a look at some beginners tips to ease you into your green fingered ways.


A lot of equipment can be got second hand and also very cheaply. In fact, in a lot of cases people will be only too happy to get rid of it when cleaning the clutter from their sheds or garages. Sites such as Freecycle and others can be great places for picking things up. That said, your own rubbish can double up as useful in the garden. For instance, old sinks, pots and trash cans are all useful in the garden area and can also look quite attractive. Alternatively, most big shops do a range of low cost equipment that will do the trick.

Compost is also very easy to make and you can do so with a lot of the left overs that you have and usually recycle. These can be added to a compost heap and then will end up turning into compost with a little help from you and Mother Nature.


Seeds are also easy to come across and if you have green fingers you can also grow plants from cuttings. EBay can be a good place for specific seeds and newspapers and magazines can also throw up some great finds.

Cheap plants are the best for beginners – something that can be considered beneficial for a number of reasons. These plants take little care and are often hard to kill and strong too. They also don’t require much food, or high tech equipment to look after.


Herbs are also a good starting point as they work well, grow in pots and once more are very hardy and strong. They don’t cost much and also spread quite well. Of course, if you like to cook, they double up as very useful kitchen flavouring.

Fruit and Veg

If you want to go as far as growing fruit and vegetables then kale, potatoes and radishes are a good start and don’t take much care, or cost a lot of money. Just plant them in some lifted soil or even hire a rotivator for a couple of hours – it doesn’t cost much. Currants and gooseberry bushes are also a good option in the fruit department and grow quickly and taste great. They’re also expensive in shops and so you can save on them by growing them.

These tips show you how low in price it costs to garden. It’s worth it on a number of levels and a real interest for life, so why not give it a try.

Cormac Reynolds is a keen gardener and has written for a variety of websites and home improvement blogs on the area.

tomato-plantQ&A call with Ernie Shivers

What is the best way for growing tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers?

“Plants that you shouldn’t grow near tomatoes include cucumbers, cantalope, some types of squash and other vegetables that grow along the ground. These plants will get into your tomato plants and grow up the vines and perhaps hinder the tomato growth, so it would be better to grow those in another location.”

Is it possible to grow tomatoes from the seeds of a tomato that you buy from a supermarket?

“Maybe, but if it’s a hybrid tomato it will produce a plant but no tomatoes. However, if it’s an heirloom tomato, then you would get the plant and the fruit.”

I had a problem with the chip monk, I was told to go to my nearest monastery and talk to the frier about it.

“The best way to handle chipmunks is to get a mesh screen and put it around the base of the plant. They primarily go after the green or ripe tomatoes.”

I’d be interested on any tips you may have on controlling pests!

Checkout our membership area and get access to the free videos that cover a number of pests that attach tomato plants.

I’m trying to grow tomato plants indoors with homemade upside down hanging planters… how much water should I use when watering and is their a special soil to use?

“Have plenty of sun shine, good soil, water frequently, fertilize from time to time. Treat the same way you would a tomato plant in the ground.”

From California: I am having a problem with white flys this year, more then last year on some of my tropical plants and I want to keep them away from my tomato plants. I have learned that worm castings work well so I am going to give them a shot and  see what happens there.

“I’ve used soap suds on my tomato plants to keep white flies away. You could also use a mild insecticide.”

I am growing tomatoes in pots. Is there any way to keep the bugs off of them without having to use chemicals? Is there a right way to grow tomatoes in pots?

“It depends on the bug, whether it flies or stays on the plant.”

“We have a video that covers how to grow tomatoes in pots.”

My husband is growing tomatoes in our backyard in tubs. For the last 2 years the bottoms start to turn a tannish brown when the tomato is ripening? What are we doing wrong?

“That sounds like blossom end rot. Handle that by putting a little lime in the soil with the plant; the lime will control that blossom end rot.”

I live in north florida and i want to grow tomatoes. what varieties should i try? It gets very hot here in the summer.

“Shade the plant during the hot weeks of the summer using an open mesh cloth to shadow your tomatoes. Of course watering your plant every day can help with that as well.” “Some people get this problem when planting next to a brick wall or something that reflects the sun’s heat on to the plant.”

Get off to a great start this season by getting free access to some of our videos and podcasts that answer all of the basic questions about growing tomatoes today.

Listen to the interview:

Kids Can Garden Too!

At this time of year the garden is in great need of some TLC after the winter has taken its toll, and the kids want to be entertained outside, so why not combine the two and involve the children in your gardening tasks?

By showing them a few simple techniques, and perhaps giving them the slight incentive of a little pocket money, they will be eager to help and learn all about the garden.

To make the task of readying the whole garden for summer, section a piece off for the children to maintain themselves, and show them how to dig up the weeds. We all know kids love to dig so you should have no problem encouraging them to do this. The only thing you need to stress for this task is just what constitutes a weed; you don’t want your favourite plants being ripped up by small hands! Having them look after a piece of the garden will give them responsibility and teach them how plants grow and how to look after them.

If the weather is bad and you can’t work outside, this is a great chance to sort out the garden shed and maybe re-pot any seedlings you have growing in there or a greenhouse, and this is definitely something the children can help with.

Watering the garden is an easy yet time consuming task, so get the kids to do it. You could even incorporate it into their weekly chores. When hosepipe bans are in place a water butt is great for collecting rain water, but if you don’t have one of these you can recycle your old bath or sink water, which is very environmentally friendly too.

Kids love a competition and a great way to have one in the garden is to plant sunflower seeds and see whose grows the tallest. As they grow relatively quickly and can grow in a pot, they are also great to add colour to even the smallest of outdoor spaces. You could have a whole family competing as a bit of fun!

Once the gardening is finished, make sure you enjoy your efforts as a family and take some time to relax and play games together. A great way to keep the kids busy is to create your own treasure hunt with cryptic clues placed around the garden that will eventually lead to the treasure (or a small bag of sweets)!

The most important thing to remember to keep kids interested in gardening is to mix the chores with the fun parts and you will grow your very own brood of horticulturists!

8 Steps to Homegrown Tomatoes – Part 1

Get Part 2

Becoming a Professional Bee Keeper

Some people mistakenly believe that beekeeping is a simple task. In fact, it takes commitment, dedication and some skill. Beekeeping can become a professional activity, providing an individual with steady income.

What does it take to become a professional beekeeper? The answer to this question involves several requirements and basic steps. A beekeeper can make money through the production of honey, wax, bee pollen, propolis and royal jelly. All these products can be created through specific procedures that a beekeeper needs to master.

Basic Beekeeping Prerequisites

To become a professional beekeeper, a person needs to get several questions answered.

It is of uttermost importance to find out whether you are allergic towards bees. All people experience pain and swelling if a bee stings them. Allergic people, however, experience a more severe and threatening reaction.

Blood tests can be used to determine if a person is allergic to bees. You can also know how your body reacts if you have been stung before. If you experienced no severe swelling and pain, you are not allergic to bees.

Professional beekeepers are knowledgeable. They read and know a lot about bees, keeping bees and making different products. Information can be found through a basic web search or through reading specialized beekeeping literature.

Knowing All About Beehives

Once you know everything about the basics, you will have to determine where to position the beehives and how many of them you would need.

You will need a garden or a lawn, where the beehives will be placed. For best results, you need a space that is not neighboring houses. You risk disturbing your neighbors otherwise.

Beginners should start with two or three beehives. Beehives and bees should be purchased solely from licensed providers. A new beekeeper should get started in May so that bees have the chance to grow strong and survive the winter.

Professional beekeepers will also purchase all the equipment needed to take care of bees. This step might be somehow expensive but if you are serious about it, you will have to get professional tools.

Medicines and Veterinary Care

Beekeepers should also make sure that they have the medications needed to keep bees healthy.

Bees need treatment against some of the most common diseases that affect them. Read about such conditions, what results they cause and how to prevent the disease from occurring.

You might use the services of a vet occasionally. Veterinarians can examine bees and determine how healthy they are. An inexperienced beekeeper might have difficulties determining if bees are suffering from a certain condition.

Love and Respect for Nature

If you want to be a professional beekeeper, you will need to learn how to love and respect nature. You will be successful only if you enjoy the activity.

Professional beekeepers are curious about the details of this business and they are daring enough to experiment. Honey can be produced in a number of ways and learning how to do that will guarantee the success of the beekeeper.

Technologies are constantly improving and people are discovering new ways to increase production and to make beekeeping an even more winning activity. A professional beekeeper needs to have an open mind and the desire to become better. This is the only way to make sure that the business will turn out to be a successful one.

Jamie Highland writes about various family, animals, and baby topics. For more info or to check out the bee baby shower theme or some baby shower gifts, visit My Baby Shower Favors.

Tips to Growing Tomatoes

Tomatoes are temperamental and spoiled. When I say this I mean you have to be very careful with how you grow your tomatoes, otherwise you will end up will all sorts of problems like: flower drop, fruit end splitting and blossom end rot.

Tomatoes like it where it is warm, they thrive on sunlight you will want to plant them in a spot that receives around eight hours of sunlight each day. Temperatures should be in the warmer area.

You will first need to prepare your garden by heavily tilling the earth; tomatoes require loose soil with lots of organic matter. So you will also need to invest in some fertilizer.

The soil should have a PH of five point five to around six point five. The PH will affect the flavor of the finished produce so it is important to be sure that you understand exactly how you want to affect your soil and where you need it to be.

If your soil is too acidic you can use limestone to make it more alkaline. Be careful limestone will affect different soils in different ways, so check your soil and determine the proper amount needed to attain the correct PH.

After you have the organic matter added and the PH balanced you will want to make nice even raised beds. You want to have the roots reaching into the water not totally submerged.

This will prevent fruit deformation, or discoloration, and also make the plant grow better as well. If you are getting too much water in your plant it may result in flower drops, fruit splitting or blossom end rot.

Blossom end rot appears when the fruit starts to mature. You may begin to see a small water soaked spot near the blossoms end as suggested by the name of the disease.

Flower drop is where the fruit is congested with water and gets too heavy and for the plant to hold it; it then falls to the ground where it becomes compost. Fruit splitting is similarly cause by over intake of water, but it is where the fruit splits and when the innards of the fruit are revealed to open air it begins to rot while still on the stem.

So to control these from happening you have to regulate the water supply, this is best done by keeping the rivets even so that the water is evenly absorbed by the plant. Do not over water your tomato plants; if they are soaked up to the base of the plant you have too much water on them. One way to make sure you don’t over-water is to have an automatic irrigation installed with Orbit sprinklers .

So remember these tips and you will be a professional tomato gardener in no time. Tomatoes make a lovely addition to any garden; you may become the envy of your sister neighbors.

When Is The Best Time to Plant Tomatoes?

In this video we provide guidance to help you pinpoint the optimal time for you to plant tomatoes in your region:

  • Planting from seed indoors
  • Planting outdoors
  • USDA Hardiness Zone Map
  • Answers to common questions
  • The primary factor to determine when to plant in your area

Here are related videos if you missed them:

Growing Highly Productive Tomato Plants


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Fresh Tomatoes in November


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How To Compost (Video)

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How to Prepare for the Next Tomato Growing Season

What are some of the things to do now to get ready for next season?

Ernie: Well, the vines are going to die after you get a frost. So you can then take your cages, or stakes and put aside to be used next spring when you plant your new crop. You can leave those stalks and tend to them later or pull all the stalks up and put them in a pile and burn them. After you get that taken care of, you can even till your soil if you like. I think it is a good idea to till the soil about once a month even during the winter time, so that you are bringing up to the surface any weeds, seeds, things like that, and the cold weather will kill them. 

Why do you burn the tomato plants?

Ernie: That is to destroy any harbor for bugs and worms and things like that. They will run over in your garden and make a home out of plants like corn stalks, tomato plants and that sort of thing. Bugs make a home there for the winter and next spring they will be ready to get back into your garden plants. So burning them is a good way to dispose of those.

Any other tips for preparing for next season?

Ernie: Let’s see. You can be making your plans for next season, going through your garden catalogs; you can visit your seed store, making a list of things you want to plant, and things you need to do. You can go ahead and buy fertilizer; a lot of seeds won’t be available until next spring. You have to wait on those.

What about people who want to use their current seed –let’s say they had a really good crop from certain plants and they want to save the seed and plant them next year?

Ernie: Some seeds, you can do that. The hybrid seeds are not as good for that, because you may get a plant from the hybrid seeds, but you won’t get any fruit. Take squash, okra, beans, peas, things like that –you can take those seeds, save them over the winter. It is not a bad idea to put them in a bag, in your freezer. Hold them until next spring and they will be fine. It is just the hybrid seeds – most of the tomato plants you buy are hybrids -so, they are not going to do too well. But the little cherry tomatoes and things like that, they are not hybrid, so you could save those. If you had initially dropped them in the ground, they are going to come up next spring anyway.

How do you know if you have a hybrid tomato?

Ernie: It’s on the label when you buy it. 

So for example, heirloom tomatoes would not be a hybrid?

Ernie: That’s true, yes.  Heirlooms have been saved over and over from the same plants, so those are going to be OK.

Is there a certain procedure for saving those seeds, for the tomato plants?

Ernie: It is a good idea to cut the tomato, take the seeds out and lay them out on a paper to dry. Then put them in a plastic bag and put them in your freezer and keep them over the winter. Then you could plant them indoors starting in February or you can wait and plant them outdoors. It would probably be best to start indoors in February.

We have a video done by Still Lake Nursery on how to plant tomato seeds for next year once you save them. Or if you buy your own seeds, they show exactly how you do it. Anything else before we move on?

Ernie: I guess we pretty well covered it. It is a good idea to wrap your plants to last longer through the cooler weather. Once a month you want to till your soil during the winter months for weed control for the coming season in order to keep your ground in good shape and ready to go next spring.

Does it make sense to put some kind of mulch or compost on the ground now?

Ernie: I would suggest to not do that because it can become a harbor for insects if you cover the ground with mulch. It will be best to wait till you get your plants out, to mulch it.

We will be having another session on composting coming up sometime soon and we will get that one done here too.

Ernie: Good, look forward to it.

Photo courtesy of Mattox

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