Tag: bonnie

8 Cool Vegetables to Grow from Seeds

Cool season vegetables are chill not just because they like frosty temperatures; they are also super easy to grow. Compared to some of our summer favorites like

tomatoes, these crops are definitely on the mellow end of the maintenance spectrum.

Here are eight cool season vegetables to try that are in my Home Grown Seed Collection. This laid-back lot will provide you with fresh produce during the chilly spring

and fall months. Each variety is simple to start from seed, relatively pest-free and doesn’t require much space.


Baby Broccoli ‘Aspabroc’ (Broccolini®) – You are probably familiar with Broccolini® from the produce aisle at the grocery store. Well, that is the branded name for ‘Aspabroc’. This baby broccoli has a mild flavor and an asparagus-like stem. I planted it in spring and it lasted in the garden until July. July!

75 days to maturity from direct seed

50 – 60 days to maturity from transplant

Broccolini® is a registered trademark of Mann Packing Company, Inc.

‘Aspabroc’ baby broccoli 

Baby Broccoli Aspabroc also known as Broccolini

Baby Broccoli ‘Aspabroc’ is also known as Broccolini®.


Cabbage ‘Stonehead’ – This AAS Award Winner did really well in my spring garden and we sold quite a bit to local restaurants. ‘Stonehead’ matures early

so it’s perfect for regions where spring is short or the first fall freeze comes early. I love the gray-green color paired with purple violas.
P. Allen Smith harvesting broccoli from his Home Grown Seed Collection

60 days to maturity from direct seed
45 days to maturity from transplant.

Collard ‘Bulldog’ – I’ll never turn down a helping of collard greens so I plant plenty in my garden. ‘Bulldog’ is a workhorse with a high yield. It isn’t quick to bolt, which is good in my zone 7 garden where summer heat comes early.

71 days to maturity from direct seed


Mustard ‘Miz America’

One of my absolute favorite cool weather veggies is ‘Miz America’ mustard. The taste is pleasantly mild, without bitter or spicy notes, and it maintains its gorgeous color even at a mature stage!


‘Deep Purple’ mustard has a nice spicy flavor.

Spinach ‘Imperial Green’ – If you are going to grow spinach, ‘Imperial Green’ is a must for your garden. I like that the stems are extra-long and

grow upright; makes harvesting very easy. You can direct sow spinach in the early spring garden before the last frost date and in late summer for a fall crop. ‘Imperial Green’ has been exceptionally heat tolerant for me.

25 – 30 days to baby leaf from direct seed
35 – 40 days to maturity from direct seed

Swiss Chard ‘Peppermint’ – This chard is pretty in pink! The stems are a lovely rose color that stands out in the vegetable garden. I sowed the seeds in spring and ‘Peppermint’ was still going strong in early August when temperatures were 100 degrees. Wowza!

35 – 40 days to baby leaf from direct seed
58 – 63 days to maturity from direct seed

Chard Peppermint

Chard ‘Peppermint’ is extremely heat tolerant.


Many people get nervous about starting plants from seeds, but these cool-season vegetables are pretty straightforward. Timing is everything. Check the maturity date on the back of the seed package and plan your sowing accordingly. For an autumn garden count back from the first frost date and for a spring garden count back from the last frost date if you are starting seeds indoors. You can direct sow collards, mustard greens, and lettuce after the last frost date. Your local garden center will have frost date information for your area.

Root crops that don’t transplant well and fast-growing vegetables like lettuce or spinach can be sown directly in the ground at the appropriate time. To get a jump start on other varieties, start the seeds indoors. This is true for spring and autumn gardens.

You can find these varieties and more in my Home Grown Seed Collection HERE.


If you live in Canada and would like to try these vegetable varieties from my collection, you can purchase them from Halifax Seed Company.

To learn more about planting from seed, check out my YouTube video below and subscribe to my YouTube channel to stay up to date on the happenings and tips from Moss Mountain Farm!


Kitchen Garden – Plant Selection

In the first installment of this series on kitchen gardens, I suggested several things to consider before you start the actual work, such as your garden’s climate, your budget and available time.

In this article I’ll share tips on getting your soil right, how to make irrigation easy, how to choose the right plants and protecting your harvest from wildlife.

One of the key elements to successful gardening of any kind is good soil. If you don’t get the soil right, gardening will be a constant struggle with less than rewarding results. Most vegetable plants are rapid growers and heavy feeders so they need rich soil.

Most people are not going to have ideal soil already in place and this is where framed beds come in handy. You will recall from last week’s article that a framed bed is a bottomless box that you place on top of the ground and then add your own soil mix.

Here is the recipe I use to create the perfect growing medium in my framed beds.
Framed Bed Soil Recipe – Blend together the following ingredients in these ratios:

  • 50% garden soil
  • 25% well-rotted manure
  • 25% compost or humus.

Fill the framed beds with this soil mixture to about 2 inches from the top of the bed, just enough room so you can tuck your kitchen garden plant selection raised bedplants in and add a layer of mulch. You can order soil, manure, and compost to be delivered by the cubic yard or for smaller beds you can use bagged material. One cubic yard covers about 100 square feet 3″ deep. My raised beds are 4 feet by 4 feet or 16 square feet and 12″ deep, so I used a little over 1/2 a cubic yard of soil for each bed.

Good garden soil contains a healthy amount of nutrients and trace elements that help your plants grow. Now I don’t want to oversimplify this, but generally the amount of food you give a plant depends on, among other things, it’s age and the type of soil you have. Plants need large quantities of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Those are the 3 elements listed on the back of fertilizer bags, represented by 3 numbers. These 3 numbers tell you the percentage of each nutrient in the fertilizer. For example, a typical bag of all-purpose fertilizer will show a ratio of 15-15-15, 15% nitrogen, 15% phosphorous and 15% potassium.

The first number is nitrogen and it helps plants produce vigorous growth and lots of leafy foliage. Nitrogen is ideal for spinach, but not tomatoes, because your plants would produce an abundance of leaves and not much fruit.

The middle number is phosphorus, and that element is important in the production of blooms and fruit.

The last number is potassium. This is good for strong root and stem development and disease resistance.

Like people, plants are primarily made up of water. Water transports nutrients throughout the plant and plays an important role in photosynthesis and keeping the plant cool. On average, vegetable plants need about 1/2″ to 1″ of water per week. Moisture should be distributed evenly throughout the bed on a consistent basis.
Soaker Hoses
To accomplish this, I have found that soaker hoses provide the best results for the least amount of money.

Just snake the hoses about 18 to 20 inches apart through the bed. When you attach the hose to the water faucet and turn it on, the water “weeps” from the porous sides of the hose. This keeps the soil moist, and the water directed toward the plant’s roots. An easy way to secure the hoses into place is use U-shaped pins made from wire coat hangers.

New soaker hoses can be hard to straighten out, making them unwieldy and difficult to control. Before you try to place them in your beds, stretch them out in the sun. The heat from the sun will soften them and make them easier to work with.

Additional Equipment
I also suggest that you get a timer for your watering system. This way you will not have to remember to turn the water on and off. Set your timer to water early in the morning. This allows plants to absorb moisture before the day heats up and cuts down on fungus problems.

If your region experiences frequent or intermittent rain it is also good to have a rain gauge on hand to help you determine if your garden needs supplemental moisture. Over watering can be just as damaging as under watering.

To retain moisture and even soil temperature, apply a layer of mulch. It is best to do this after the ground warms in the spring. Otherwise your garden soil will be slow to heat up and many warm season vegetables will falter in cold soil.

Ground or shredded bark is a good choice of mulching material because it breaks down nicely in the soil. It can be purchased in bags at garden centers. It is a good idea to allow the bark to age for a time before applying it. A 2″ to 3″ layer is sufficient. Keep the mulch away from the plant’s stem to prevent rotting.

If available, wheat straw is another possibility because it is relatively free of weed seeds. It works especially well as a path material because it is slow to decay. Check for bales at farmer’s co-ops. Straw should be applied in a thin, even layer and checked frequently for snails and slugs because they like it, too.

If you have ever browsed through a seed catalog then you know that there is a vast array of vegetables available for planting. There are so many varieties to choose from that it is hard to decide what to select. Fortunately there are a few guidelines you can follow to help narrow the field.
Growing Season
First, determine the growing season that the plant prefers. Vegetable crops can be divided into 2 basic categories – cool season and warm season. What this means is that some plants thrive in the cool temperatures of spring or fall and can survive light frosts, while others should be grown during the warm days of summer.

Now, cool season versus warm season is the broadest label you can apply to vegetables. These two categories can be further classified according to a myriad of other plant characteristics such as frost tolerance, days to maturity and whether it is an annual or a perennial. So after you determine the general growing season and look through the vegetables available for that season, select those that appeal to you and learn as much as you can about your choices.

Short Growing Season?
Here are a few tips that will help you grow warm season favorites, such as tomatoes, in cool northern climates.

Get a head start by selecting large sized plants rather than sowing seeds.

Grow vegetables in containers on casters so they can easily be moved indoors in case of late spring or early fall frost.

Select plant varieties with early maturity dates, such as ‘Early Girl’ tomatoes, which mature in 52 days.

Frost Dates and Maturity Dates
Knowing your region’s estimated first and last frost dates will help you determine the length of your growing season. Once you have these dates worked out you can check the maturity dates of the plants you have selected to help you decide when they should be planted. Maturity dates indicate the estimated amount of days required until harvest. You will find maturity dates on seed packets and plant tags. It is the number between the parentheses.

Of course, maturity dates are not set in stone. They are just estimates. You also have to factor in your garden’s individual kitchen garden plant selection raised bedgrowing conditions.

You should consider the size of your kitchen garden when you are selecting plants. Certain vegetables, such as corn, melons and potatoes, require more space than others. However, there are varieties available that are tailored especially for small spaces. Look for terms such baby, dwarf and patio.

And don’t forget vertical space! You can grow many vining plants on trellises and teepees to maximize space.

Hybrid vegetables are varieties that have been created by cross-pollination with the help of plant breeders rather than natural open pollination. Many people lean toward hybrids, but open pollinated plants can be just as rewarding. One of the perks of open pollinated vegetables is that their seeds will produce plants that are identical to the parents, whereas seeds from a hybrid plant will not reproduce true. I suggest that you experiment to discover what works best for you.

On many plant tags or seed packets you will see that the variety is an F1 hybrid. What this means is that it is a first generation hybrid and should be vigorous grower with good yields.

Heirloom plants are varieties that have been handed down generation to generation. They are open pollinated and were developed before 1940. I like heirloom plants because it is fun to grow the same varieties that my ancestors, or even Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, planted. Plus, most heirloom plants have persisted through the years because they are high quality.

All American Selections
When you see a red, white, and blue shield on a seed packet or plant tag, it signifies that the variety is an All American Selection award winner. This means that it has been tested in trial gardens and found to be an outstanding performer for home gardens. AAS awards are given to vegetables, flowers, and bedding plants. You can find AAS award winning varieties that were introduced has far back as 1933.

AAS varieties are a good choice because they are likely to be successful in a wide range of conditions.

One of the heartbreaks of vegetable gardening is discovering that all your hard work has been looted by the local wildlife.

For moderate problems you can hang area repellents such as bars of soap or bags of hair, but they are only temporary solutions. Once an animal realizes that such an object is not going to do it any harm, the repellent becomes ineffective. It is best to avoid commercial repellents that are sprayed on plants because the chemicals in them may be toxic. You can find non-toxic sprays based on hot pepper, citrus and oil of mustard. Vinegar may also work as well. Spray repellents must be reapplied every 7 to 10 days or after a rain.

An alternative to repellents is behavior modification. Simple electric fencing works well if you do not have children or pets. Another approach is to set up a motion activated sprinkler. The animals get shot with a dose of water when they enter your garden.

Now, if your kitchen garden is repeatedly invaded by foraging animals the best solution is to enclose it with a fence.

For deer, the fence needs to be at least 8′ tall and constructed of a heavy gauge wire. They will push right through chicken wire. I also suggest planting a hedge of deer resistant shrubs about 4′ away from the outside of the fence. Deer are excellent vertical jumpers, but they cannot cover much ground in a single jump, so the hedge will prevent them from leaping over the fence.

A shorter fence can be used if the wildlife is smaller, such as rabbits. Just be sure to select a material that they cannot slip through. To keep out burrowing animals, bury the fence into the ground about 2′ below the surface.

I hope that I have given you enough information to get you started on your kitchen garden. It really all boils down to a few simple ideas – get to know your site, plant in good soil, be consistent about watering and learn as much as you can about the plants you want to grow.

For further reading I recommend that you purchase a copy of The Gardener’s Table by Richard Merrill and Joe Ortiz. The information shared by these authors will take you from the garden to the kitchen with helpful guidelines and delicious recipes.

To learn more about kitchen gardens, check out the video below!

Kitchen Garden – Getting Started

I know many gardeners dream about having a kitchen garden, however taking it from fantasy to reality can often be a daunting task. Now, I’m not going to mislead you into thinking that growing vegetables is simple. But if you get a few elements right from the beginning and you don’t bite off more than you can chew, so to speak, the rewards are well worth the effort.

The quickest path to success is to grow your vegetables in framed beds. You will also see these beds referred to as raised beds. kitchen garden getting started raised bedBut for the purist, there is a difference. A raised bed is created by digging into the ground and amending the soil to create a 3′ to 5′ wide, mounded ridge that is high in the center and sloped on the sides. Framed beds are simply bottomless boxes that you build on top of the ground and then add your own soil mix. So, technically speaking a raised bed could be framed, but a framed bed is not necessarily raised.

In my kitchen garden, I have a series of framed beds built from 2″ x 12″ lumber. There are several reasons that I prefer to grow my vegetables in framed beds. The first is that I have heavy clay soil and a framed bed allows me to fill the box with an ideal blend of soil for growing vegetables. A small, framed bed is also easier to weed, water and harvest than long rows of vegetables. Finally, when the soil is above ground level it tends to warm quicker, so I can extend my growing season. To learn how I built my beds click here.

Now, whether you choose to garden in framed beds or prefer to garden in the traditional way, there are some general tips you should consider before you get started.

The first two things you should consider are the amount of time you have to work in your kitchen garden and your available funds. I suggest that you start small. You can always expand later. And you would be surprised how much you can produce in a small space.

Frost Dates
When it comes to vegetables it is important to know the average first and last frost dates in your area. This will determine your growing season. Planting schedules for most vegetables can be developed based on these dates. Hold off planting frost tender plants until after the last frost date. But be sure you have enough time before the estimated date of the first autumn frost to be able to produce a crop. Take a look at the seed packages and plant tags to find out how many days are required for the vegetables to produce. For local, reliable advice, contact your area’s Cooperative Extension Service.

USDA Hardiness Zones and AHS Heat Zones
If you are planning to grow vegetables that carry over from one year to the next such as asparagus, you should know your USDA cold hardiness zone. This will help you determine if a plant will survive the winters in your area. You can see the USDA hardiness map here.

The American Horticultural Society has developed a heat tolerance map that indicates “the average number of days each year that a given region experiences heat days – temperatures over 86 degrees (30 degrees Celsius).” This information is especially helpful if you live in a hot region of the country.

Most tags and seed packages will indicate the best growing zones for the plants. But if you don’t see it listed, be sure and ask.

Gardeners tend to be avid weather watchers and for good reason, weather has a direct effect on your plants. Unless you are a meteorologist, it is not likely that you will be able to predict the weather for the coming growing season, but you do know how it has fared in the past. For instance, I know that my area often experiences a few days of unseasonably cold weather after the last predicted frost date, which in my zone 7 garden is around Easter. Based on this information I always wait until the first of May, when the soil has warmed and I know temperatures will stay above freezing before I put out my tomato transplants.

I also know that a typical summer is hot and humid with minimal amounts of rain. Among other things, this tells me that I need to have a good irrigation system ready and to choose plants that are not prone to fungus such as powdery mildew, which thrives in humidity.

If you are not familiar with the weather in your region, check with a neighbor or fellow gardener. Not only should you learn about rainfall and temperature but also ask about violent storms, strong winds, humidity, and any other conditions that are common to the area.

Before you get started, make sure that you have a collection of essential garden tools. One of my favorite go-tos is the Long Handled Cape Cod Weeder and Trowel Set from Gardener’s Edge. You’ll need the trowel for getting your garden started. And, when it comes time for weeding, I love that the extended handle makes it easier to do this time-consuming task from the comfort of a seat if I need to.

I recommend a watering wand to help cut down on waste and a sharp shooter for digger deeper, precise holes than you can make with a trowel. You can find my list of other recommended garden tools here.

kitchen garden getting started raised bedSunlight
One of the most common mistakes people make is to try to grow vegetables in areas where they don’t get enough sunlight. A successful kitchen garden needs at least 6 to 7 hours of sun per day.

Warm Spots and Cool Spots
Although people within the same general area experience similar weather conditions, there are areas around your home that have their own microclimates. Temperature and wind are influenced by elements such as valleys, ridges, bodies of water, slopes and available sunlight.

4 Basic Microclimates Around a Home

  • Warm – Southern Sun Facing
  • Warm – Western Afternoon Sun
  • Cool – Northern Shade
  • Moderate – East Morning Sun

They are also affected by shifting sunlight and shadows. For instance, the north side of your house will be cooler than the south side of your house. These shifts occur throughout the day and over the course of the seasons as the sun’s path moves in the sky.

Outbuildings and tall hedges can cast shadows to create cool spots in your garden, while brick walls or white fences can warm up an area with reflected light and absorbed heat.

Recognizing where these microclimates are around your house can be a benefit to you. You may decide to plant heat loving vegetables such as tomatoes, squash and peppers in the warmest area of your garden and cool season favorites such as chard, lettuce and spinach in an area that is shaded from afternoon sun.

A final element that you should consider when selecting a location for your kitchen garden is accessibility to water.

Creating a garden, whether it is for vegetables or flowers, takes elbow grease. So you want to ensure that your efforts don’t wither away because it is a difficult chore to get water to the plants. Watering may seem like fun initially, but by August the last thing you will want to do is lug a hose around the garden. Make sure that your kitchen garden is close enough to an outdoor spigot or well that you can set up an efficient watering system. There are all kinds of innovative watering products available, complete with timers, that make watering less of drudgery.

So in review, once you have determined the amount of time and money you have available, the general climate of your region and the best location for your kitchen garden, you are ready to take a pen and paper and draw its shape and size. When designing your garden, keep it simple but don’t restrict yourself to a single square or rectangle. I find inspiration in the kitchen gardens and parterres of old estates such as George Washington’s Mt. Vernon. It is just a matter of seeing a design that you like and scaling it to your site. Just remember, start small in the beginning. As your success and interest grows, you can always add on.

In Part 2 of Starting A Kitchen Garden I discuss soil, irrigation, plant selection and critter proofing.

Garden Harvest Given to At-Risk Children

The cafeteria at Centers for Youth and Families overflows with organically grown tomatoes, peppers and more, and the staff barely has room for the harvest donation from Moss Mountain Farm. In the coming weeks, they’ll see even more produce arrive to provide nutritious meals for children in treatment and summer programs at Centers.

IMG_5208Moss Mountain Farm, owned by P. Allen Smith, has been fortunate enough to share its bounty with neighboring outreach programs. These hundreds of pounds of summer vegetables have been given to nonprofits in Little Rock and Conway. The Centers for Youth and Families was one location chosen to receive a donation because of a shared project to install a therapy garden on the campus. Centers for Youth and Families provides treatment for family issues and emotionally disturbed or at-risk youth in a residential setting, and studies have shown therapeutic gardening, sometimes called horticulture therapy, provides relief for stress and mental and developmental disabilities.

“On behalf of The Centers Foundation, it’s always an honor to receive donations from corporate and community partners like this, that will go on to benefit our children and youth. What makes this donation even more special is that it’s also symbolic of Centers for Youth & Families roots,” said Doug Stadter, president and CEO of Centers.  In 1884, Elizabeth Mitchell couldn’t bear the thought of children in need and began to taken them into her home. She quickly inspired others to do the same. Her actions led to the formation of the organization now known as Centers for Youth & Families. “More than 130 Years later, this is a great reminder of the importance of helping children and youth who need it the most,” Stadter added.

IMG_5200Centers believes the garden project would greatly benefit its patients, and while planning for that project continues, the Acre Garden at Moss Mountain Farm overflowed with a summer harvest of Bonnie Plants and those grown from Sakata Seeds. The farm produced crates and crates of Juliet, Yellow Jubilee and Sungold tomatoes as well as Banana and Yes to Yellow peppers, among others. The cafeteria at Centers proved to be the ideal landing spot for the farm’s harvest. And this donation will have the dual purpose of prepping the staff at Centers for an influx of fresh produce from its on-site gardens once the project is completed.  Smith and his farm plan to continue weekly donations as long as the harvest allows.

“Thanks to the generosity of the Moss Mountain Farm Foundation, children in our residential treatment program, emergency shelter and summer program are enjoying farm fresh, organic produce this summer,” said Stadter. “Providing a nutritious diet and teaching our kids the importance and fun of healthy eating is an essential part of our work at Centers for Youth & Families. We’re grateful to P. Allen Smith and the Moss Mountain Farm Foundation for being such a great partner in our efforts to build happier and healthier children, families, and communities across Arkansas.”

In addition to Centers, Moss Mountain Farm’s Acre Garden also supplied 125 lbs of fresh tomatoes, peppers and okra to St. Peters Food Pantry in Conway.

What’s the Fig Idea? Find out in the summer e-mag

The summer issue of our Naturally magazine is full of recipes, architecture, DIYs and more. Be inspired to party with sweet figgy bourbon cocktails, spicy green beans and sunny, heat-hardy flowers that will brighten up your home all summer.

In this issue, learn how easy it is to grow and harvest your own baby broccoli, get a peek into an historic piece of architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and learn how to make the most of your water feature. Click below to start reading!

Cabbage Patch Kid: How a plant inspired one girl to feed needy families

Many years ago, the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program — where third-grade students are given a cabbage plant to tend either at home or at school – inspired one young student in South Carolina to create an organization to feed those in need.

Katie's-Crops-1Katie Stagliano was given a plant in third grade. It grew to be almost 40 lbs! Her cabbage was too big for one family. So, she donated it to a soup kitchen, where it fed more than 275 people. Amazed by how many people her cabbage fed, Katie started a vegetable garden specifically to donate to hungry people in her community. Her initiative continued to grow and expand, and  in 2012, at the age of 14, Katie became the youngest person to receive the Clinton Global Citizen Award.  She met Matt Damon at the awards ceremony!

Katie's-Crops-2Today, she’s the founder and chief executive gardener at Katie’s Krops, a nonprofit organization that continues to grow food to feed the needy. Offering grants to students and schools, her organization has expanded into 51 gardens run by kids in 21 states. Those gardens produce thousands of pounds of healthy produce for families. We are so inspired by what Katie is doing, and to think it all started with a small cabbage plant donation.

The Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program is open schools across America. This program aims to connect children to their food and nature. Sometimes the cabbages grow up to 50 lbs! Principals and teachers can register here.  Plants will be delivered at the optimal time for your growing zone. Once the cabbages are grown, classrooms can submit entries for a chance to win a $1,000 scholarship. See previous winners here. Warning: They’re adorable.

1-2-3 Done!™ Lavender Vinegar

I recommend planting lavender in abundance because it has so many
uses, including as an infused vinegar that works as a facial toner,
hair rinse and all-purpose cleaner for your home. Harvest this
perennial just before it fully opens.

Lavender vinegar can be used as a fragrant fabric softener, a bath
fragrance, glass cleaner or, when diluted in water (8 parts water
to 1 part vinegar), as a facial toner, hair rinse or deodorizing
body splash. This easy recipe only has three ingredients and three
simple steps.


  • Enough lavender leaves and flowers to fill a 1-quart jar half full
  • White vinegar
  • Sterile, glass 1-quart jar with a plastic screw-on lid


  1. Place the lavender in the jar and fill with vinegar.
  2. Screw on the lid. Vinegar will react with metal so use a plastic lid. If your lid is metal, cover the top of the jar with plastic wrap before screwing on the lid.
  3. Place the jar in a dark place for 4 weeks, shaking occasionally

Lavender Fire Starting Bundles

This is a project that adheres to the philosophy of waste not, want not. After pruning your lavender plant, why not put the stems to good use? These dried lavender bundles help get winter fires started and sweeten the air.


  • Dried Lavender Stems
  • Raffia
  • Gift wrapping tissue cut into strips
  • Paper clip


  1. Gather lavender stems in a bundle.
  2. Wrap a tissue strip around the middle of the bundle. Use a paper clip to temporarily hold the strip in place.
  3. Wind raffia around the tissue strip and tie to secure. Remove the paper clip.
  4. When you are ready to start a fire, place the lavender bundle between the logs in your fireplace. Fire can be a fickle mistress, so be sure to use caution and common sense when lighting the lavender bundle.

Good to Know: Pruning Lavender

Lavender benefits from a light pruning every year to keep the plants full and bushy, which means more leaves and blooms to harvest. You can cut the plant back in spring, summer or very early fall. I generally do this task right after the flowers fade because it will help promote new bloom. If you cut your plant back in fall, be sure to give yourself time before the first hard freeze. Cold temperatures will kill resulting new growth. Remove about a third of the height of the plant. Avoid pruning back into woody stems where there aren’t any leaves growing because the stem won’t survive.

Lavender Fire Starting Bundles

Selecting the Right Tomato for Your Garden

Have you ever found yourself at the garden center staring at rack upon rack of tomato plants all begging you to take them home? With so many choices it’s hard to know which variety is best for your garden. Well, I have three questions to ask yourself that will make picking out a tomato easier.

What size is your garden?

Limited Space or Raised Beds

If you grow vegetables in raised beds or a limited space, choose a variety that stays fairly small. Look for determinate, bush and dwarf varieties. Although these plants stay more compact than some of the indeterminate varieties plan on staking them to give them the support they need and make room for more vegetables.

  • Better Bush (Determinate) – This plant produces medium-sized tomatoes on sturdy stems. It’s also a good choice for growing in a container. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Matures in 68 days.
  • Husky Cherry Red (Indeterminate) – This is a dwarf, indeterminate variety that will produce sweet, cherry-type tomatoes in continuous waves all summer. Grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Matures in 65 days.

Large Area

If you have plenty of space then you can grow any tomato variety, but you are in the unique position to select those that need room to sprawl and sturdy support. Many of these tomatoes are indeterminate and will give you tomatoes to harvest all summer.

  • Mr. Stripey (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – How about a beefsteak tomato that can weigh as much as 24 ounces? In addition to the hefty size, the fruits are an attractive yellow to orange with irregular red stripes. The high sugar content makes Mr. Stripey tomatoes extra tasty. Grows 8 to 10 feet tall. Matures in 80 days.
  • Sungold (Indeterminate) – These cherry tomatoes are so sweet you will find yourself eating them right off the plant. Sungold produces through summer and into fall. Grows 4 to 5 feet tall or larger. Matures in 55 to 65 days.


You can grow tomatoes even if you only have room for one container. For the best results select a container that is at least 20 inches in diameter and a tomato variety that stays compact.

  • Bush Goliath (Determinate) – This variety produces large 3 to 4 inch tomatoes on compact, robust, 3 foot tall plants. Fruits are sweet and perfect for serving sliced with a dash of salt and pepper. Give this plant support with a tomato cage or stake. Grows 3 feet. Matures in 68 days.
  • Sweet n’ Neat Cherry (Determinate) – Diminutive plants that will produce clusters of tomatoes in the smallest of spaces. Plant in a 10-inch pot and enjoy homegrown cherry tomatoes. Grows only 10 inches tall and 8 inches wide. Matures in 48 days.

Choosing a Tomato Variety

What is the climate like in your area?

Mild Summer Weather and/or Short Growing Season

Most tomatoes need warm temperatures to set fruit and time to ripen. If your garden is in a region where summers are cool and/or the growing season is short, select varieties with an early ripening season that are known to set fruit in cool weather.

  • Black Prince (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – This tomato hails from Siberia so you know it will do well in a cool climate. Dark fruits have a rich flavor. Grows 6 to 9 feet tall. Matures in 70 days.
  • Early Girl (Indeterminate) – Harvest vine ripened tomatoes in only 50 days. Fruits are a good size for multiple uses including that summer classic the tomato sandwich. Grows 6 to 8 feet. Matures in 50 days.

Hot Summer

Tomatoes like warm weather, but they don’t like it too hot. When the day time temperatures stay consistently above 95 degrees F many tomatoes will stop setting fruit until the heat breaks. Gardeners in hot summer regions can get around this by planting heat tolerant varieties.

  • Heatmaster (Determinate) – Both heat tolerant and disease resistant, this tomato is perfect for the hot, humid garden. Firm, medium-sized fruits are good for eating fresh from the garden. Grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Matures in 55 to 75 days.
  • Solar Fire (Determinate) – This is a tomato that was bred to take the heat. Plant it in spring for a summer harvest and, if you live where the growing season is long, again in midsummer for a fall harvest. Grows 4 to 5 feet. Matures in 72 days.

Tomato Arkansas Traveler

How do you like your tomatoes?

I don’t know about you, but I can eat tomatoes prepared in any number of ways. Fortunately there is a tomato for every recipe.


  • Mortgage Lifter (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – Huge beefsteak tomatoes with a mellow taste. A slice of Mortgage Lifter makes for the perfect BLT sandwich. Grows 6 to 10 feet tall. Matures in 70 to 90 days.
  • Arkansas Traveler (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – This plant will keep on producing fruit through heat and drought. Crack-resistant tomatoes are mild in flavor. Grows 6 to 8 feet tall. Matures in 75 days.

Salads and Salsas

  • Super Sweet 100 (Indeterminate) – Bite-sized, sweet tomatoes are ready for picking 65 days after planting. This tomato will continue to produce until the first fall frost. Great for gardeners with space and those who live where summers are cool. Grows 8 to 12 feet tall. Matures in 65 days.
  • Celebrity (Semi-determinate) – This plant stays 3 to 4 feet tall and produces fruit right up to the first frost. A large, all-purpose tomato with good flavor and a meaty texture. Matures in 65 to 70 days.

Sauces, Soups and Canning

  • Bradley (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – If you’ve ever been to the Bradley County Tomato Festival you know this plant produces some delicious fruits. Pink in color and mild in flavor. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Matures in 75 to 85 days.
  • Roma (Determinate) – This is the classic tomato for paste, sauces and cooking. The fruits are meaty and flavorful with less juice and fewer seeds than other varieties. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Matures in 73 to 80 days.


Tomato Terms

Determinate – Tomatoes are produced on the end of stems and ripen at roughly the same time. The plants tend to stay more compact.

Indeterminate – Tomatoes are produced all along the stems. These types of tomatoes will continue to grow and produce fruit until the first fall frost.

Heirloom – A variety of tomato that has been passed down from one generation to the next or open-pollinated varieties that were introduced more than 50 years ago. Seeds from an heirloom tomato will produce the same tomato.

Hybrid – A variety of tomato that is the result of a cross between to other varieties. Hybrids are developed for certain qualities such as disease resistance. Seeds from a hybrid tomato will not reproduce that same tomato.

Tomato Sungold

Growing Tomatoes

TomatoesIt may be hard to believe, but Americans once shunned this now classic fruit because it was thought to be poisonous.

The tomato is native to South America where they have been around since prehistoric times. Spanish explorers brought the plant from Mexico to southern Europe in the mid 1500s and from there it spread north and east.

Early Americans first grew the tomato as a curiosity, but thought that eating the fruit would be deadly because of its resemblance to nightshade. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that it became widely known that they were safe to eat, and since then it has become a one of our most popular fruits in the United States.

There are two broad categories of tomatoes, determinate and indeterminate. Now determinate just means the size of the plant grows to a determined height depending on the variety, say in the 2 to 4 foot range. Because of their compact habit they are perfect for growing in containers. Once they grow to a certain height, they flower and set all their fruit within a short period of time.

On the other hand indeterminate types of tomatoes don’t grow to just a limited size, they keep growing and growing, often 8 feet or more. As you can imagine these require more room to grow and they need to be staked. The plus side of growing indeterminate type tomatoes is that they produce fruit throughout the entire season. You can also find dwarf indeterminate varieties that produce the same amount of fruit, but as the name implies, are smaller in stature.

The best time to plant tomatoes seedlings is a few weeks after the last frost date in your area, when the soil has had a chance to warm up and night temperatures stay above 50 degrees F. In my zone 7 garden, located in the upper South, I plant tomatoes in May.

If you are going to grow your tomatoes from seed, start them indoors 5 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost.

When you purchase tomato plants from a nursery select those that are about 10 to 12 inches tall with a deep green color. You should avoid any that have blooms, holey leaves or crowded root systems.

Tomatoes need full sun to really thrive. Site them in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. To steer clear of problems with disease choose a new location in your garden each year.

The soil should be medium-rich, loose and well drained with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.

How far apart you space the plants depends on the type of tomato you’ve selected. Dwarf varieties should be spaced about 12 inches apart in a row. If you plan on staking your plants, space them about 24 inches apart. Set sprawling, indeterminate tomatoes about 36 to 48 inches apart.

Plant your seedlings about 1 inch deeper than they are sitting in the nursery container. This will help strengthen the root system and a better root system means healthier plants. Just be sure to remove any leaves below the soil line.

To discourage cutworms from taking out your young transplants, you should wrap the base of each seedling with a piece of aluminum foil. You can also protect them with a cardboard collar placed over the seedling and pushed 1 inch into the ground. A paper towel roll cut into sections works pretty well.

Building a Twig Teepee
Twine and Twig Teepee
Building a Twig TeePee
Secure the Top
with Wire
Building a Twig TeePee
Wrap Twine
Around the Legs

It is important to support your tomatoes as they grow. A simple wooden stake or bamboo pole will work. Use twine or some other soft material to tie the vine to the support. Tomato cages are also useful, especially for determinate and dwarf varieties. For the larger indeterminate types I find that commercial cages are a bit on the flimsy side, so I make my own out of concrete reinforcing wire. A 5 foot wide piece will usually do the trick. Simply bend it into a circle and hook the tines together where the ends meet. You want it to be about 16 inches in diameter. As a final measure I clip nylon netting to the cages to keep pests at bay.

Once you have planted your tomatoes keep them well watered until the roots are established. After that, deep soak them every 4 to 7 days. If it is hot and dry you may need to water every day, especially if they are in containers.

When you water, take care to not splash soil onto the leaves and stem as this promotes disease. And don’t skimp on the mulch. A good layer of mulch, 2 to 3 inches, will help keep the soil consistently moist, cutting down on blossom end rot, as well as prevent weeds from taking over. Just keep the mulch away from the crown of the plant.

Feed your tomatoes once a month with a blend that is high in phosphorous and low in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will result in lots of leaves, but not much fruit. A ratio of 5-10-5 is good. Start fertilizing when the fruits first start to develop and stop as they reach maturity.

By following these simple guidelines you can make this the best tomato season ever.

Good To Know

Tomatoes will drop their blossoms when night time temperatures drop below 55 degrees F or exceed 75 degrees F.

If you live in an area with a short growing season choose an early maturing variety that will produce fruit in 50 to 65 days. Early Girl, Jetsetter, and Vita Gold are just a few varieties to try.

To avoid sunscald, do not remove leaves that are shading fruits.

Blossom end rot appears as a pale, brown spot that turns black and flattens the bottom of the fruit. It can be caused by lack of calcium or inconsistent moisture.

To learn more about growing tomatoes, check out the video below!