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When is it safe to plant tender plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in the Pittsburgh Area?
We recommend planting out near the end of May to be safe. We usually plant our tomatoes and peppers around May 10 or 15, though we could still be risking a late frost with these plantings. We wait to plant eggplants til early June because we find they really need warmth to do well. We plant our cucumbers in mid June because we find the pest pressure from cucumber beetles starts to decrease then.
What is the best way to transplant seedlings?
Transplanting seedlings from the pot into the garden is stressful on them, and you want to minimize that stress and shock to give them the best chance of success. Don't transplant during mid-day, especially not on a hot, sunny, midsummer day. Chose a mild, overcast day, or early evening, when the sun is not blazing down.
Gently remove the plant from the pot and place in the planting hole. If the plant shows signs of being rootbound, many vegetables would prefer you loosen their roots gently (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants). Others do not like their roots disturbed at all so try to be gentle with them (cucumbers, squash, beans). Gently firm the soil around the planted seedling, then mulch with chopped leaves, dried grass clippings or straw, and water well. If you have some seaweed fertilizer, water with this to further lessen the stress on the plant and give it a boost.
What do you do with your chickens in the winter?
As long as you have the right breed, chickens are surprisingly hardy. So the answer is we don't do too much different than we do in summer. Our chickens are hardy breeds: Barred Rocks, Australorps, Easter Eggers, Delawares, and Wyandottes. In the winter, they need to be protected from harsh winds, so we wrap their chicken run with plastic to block wind. They also need dry bedding and plenty of fresh air and ventilation in their coop, which has a door open at the bottom and a ridge vent along the top. If chickens are closed up tight in their coop with no ventilation, moisture from their breathing can condense on their feet, combs, and wattles and give them frostbite when they are roosting at night. Ventilation prevents this, and they are able to stay warm by huddling together on even below zero nights. No winds or drafts should be able to blow on them though.
Chickens need plenty of fresh water as well in the winter, so you either have to change it daily (or more if its really cold) or invest in a setup that will keep it from freezing. We like setting the waterer on a poultry fount heater with a thermostat that only turns on when necessary, but keeps the water above freezing. Finally, chickens get bored easier in winter so sometimes I hang a cabbage from the roof of their run that they can jump up and peck at and I throw scratch down into their bedding so they will have fun looking for it. A dust bath is also necessary so a large tupperware container with peat moss and a little diatomaceous earth does the job when all the soil is frozen. Give chickens a chance to be outside in the winter. They will prefer it to their coop, except in the very worst of weather.
Can you give me the rundown on tomato types and planting?
Well, sure, let us break it down for you!
The 2 Types of Tomato Plants
Determinate: This means the vine stays shorter, and the tomatoes come in all at once over a few weeks instead of over a longer period. These types of tomatoes are great if you want to try growing tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets or want to grow tomatoes for canning or processing. Many early tomato varieties are of this type. You should not "prune" this type of tomato, or pinch off suckers. Some determinate varieties we offer are: Rutgers, Silvery Fir Tree, Roma, Sprite and Green Grape.
Indeterminate: This type of tomato plant grows very tall! Indeterminate vines continue to grow and set fruit all season. Most delicious heirloom and beefsteak type tomatoes are indeterminate. These large vines need hefty support. We use 5 foot tall tomato cages, or you can use strong stakes or trellis. One way to contain them (kind of) is to pinch off suckers that grow. Most of our tomato varieties are indeterminate.
Ok, now that we have that straightened out, how about planting the seedling? The seedlings you purchase from us are in 3 1/2" pots, which gives room for a vigorous root system. If it is late in the season and you find the plant you have purchased is a little root bound, break up its roots with your fingers. Don't be too gentle...break up the root ball into a few sections - you won't hurt the plant! Ok, this next part is optional, but this is how we do it. Dig a hole that is much deeper than you think you need (we use a posthole digger). We like to throw a handful of worm castings and a shovelful of compost in each hole. Remove the bottom sets of leaves on your plant and bury the plant about 1/2 way. This will help the plant root out along the stem and give it a great jump start! You can also bend the stem to bury it horizontally, instead of digging a deep hole.
Firm the soil around the seedling, mulch, and water well. Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so once they established in a few weeks, fertilize with an organic fertilizer that has potassium and phosphorous and not too much nitrogen, to encourage flowering and fruiting and discourage overabundant foliage growth. If you have tons of leaves and no tomatoes, you probably have excess nitrogen going on. Bone meal or organic fertilizers based on rock dusts are good options for fertilizing.
Some of my plants are struggling...why?
Ok, this is a hard one to answer without seeing your garden, your soil, and your plants and hearing about what you have done or have not done. We love playing plant detective though so feel free to bring in some pictures of your problems and we will go from there! In general, plant health stems from soil health, so we have to start there. To help give your plants a chance of success, we recommend:
1) Compost and other organic matter added to the garden.
2) Mulching the garden to moderate temperature and texture and conserve water.
3) Watering deeply with drip irrigation or the hose. Try to avoid wetting the foliage as much as possible, as dry leaves are less hospitable to the spreading of fungal and bacterial disease.
4) Worm castings and kelp add magic to soil and are hard to overdo.
Ok, if you have all those covered and you are having problems, ask us directly and we will help you try to figure it out!