Help for new vegetable gardeners

Kansans that are new to vegetable gardening often don’t know how much of each crop to plant. K-State Research and Extension has a publication that can help.

The “Vegetable Garden Planning Guide” gives information on the size of planting needed per person and the average crop expected per 100 feet. Also included is a garden calendar highlighting suggested planting dates and expected harvest dates. Crop specific information is detailed including days to germinate, plants or seeds needed per 100 feet of row, depth of planting, spacing within the row and spacing between rows. You can find the publication at your local county extension office or online at http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/mf315.pdf.

Another, more in-depth publication titled the “Kansas Garden Guide” is also available. This 77-page booklet has sections on planning a garden, composting, improving soil, seeding and planting, garden care, watering, planting gardens for fall production, insect and disease control, container gardening, season extension and harvesting and storing. This is followed by an extensive section on how to grow specific vegetables and herbs. You may buy one at the Brown County Extension Office for $4.50, or you can print a PDF copy from http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/S51.pdf.

Setting out Tomatoes Early

Gardeners often try to get a jump on the season by planting tomatoes as early as possible. Though this can be successful, there are certain precautions that should be observed, especially this year with the abnormally cool spring.

Adequate soil temperature: Tomato roots do not do well until soil temperatures reach a fairly consistent 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a soil thermometer to check the temperature at two inches deep during the late morning to get a good average temperature for the day. Most soil temperatures in Kansas now are in the low 40s. Plastic mulch can be used to warm soil more quickly than bare ground. Purple leaves are a sign of phosphorus deficiency due to cool soils.

Harden off plants: Plants moved directly from a warm, moist greenhouse to the more exposed and cooler conditions outside may undergo transplant shock. Transplant shock causes plants to stop growing for a time. Plants can be acclimated to outside conditions by placing them outdoors in a location protected from wind and full sunlight for a few days before transplanting.

Another way to harden off plants is to transplant them and place a cardboard tent or wooden shingle to protect them from wind and sun for two to three days. The best conditions for transplanting is an overcast, still day.

Protection from frost: Tomatoes cannot tolerate frost. Though we are past the average date of the last frost in most of Kansas, watch the weather and cover the plants if frost threatens. A floating row cover or light sheets can be used for protection. Actually, a floating row cover can be left on the plants for two to three weeks to increase the rate of growth and establishment.

Other tips for getting tomato plants off to a fast start include:

• Use small, stocky, dark green plants rather than tall, spindly ones. Smaller plants form roots rapidly and become established more quickly than those that are overgrown.

• Though tomatoes can be planted slightly deeper than the cell-pack, do not bury the plant deeply or lay the stem sideways unless the plant is very leggy. Though roots will form on the stems of tomatoes, this requires energy that would be better used for establishment and growth.

• Use a transplant solution (starter solution) when transplanting to make sure roots are moist and nutrients are readily available.

• Do not mulch until the plant is growing well. Mulching too early prevents soil from warming up.

Matt Young50 Posts

Matt Young is the Brown County Extension District director, as well as an agent in the area of agriculture and natural resources.

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