A Real Bargain

I’ve been gardening most of my life. I took horticulture classes, but the real education came from getting my hands dirty. I sometimes think the smartest gardeners are simply those who’ve made the most mistakes—and learned from them. I ought to be in genius territory, by now.
When I was a little girl, I used to follow my dad around as he worked in our yard. I got to do really fun stuff like picking Japanese beetles off the roses that grew along the fence. Once he gave my sister, brother and I each a three foot square in the garden and told us he’d plant anything in that little patch we wanted. I picked a hollyhock, a cherry tomato, and a pumpkin. I can remember Daddy smiling at that, but he never said a word. 
The reason for the smile came later that summer when I had to go out whenever he mowed the lawn and lift the long vines so he could mow underneath them. Still, I can remember getting what seemed like a huge amount of little Sugar Pie pumpkins—enough to set up a table in the front yard and sell them for 25 cents each.
I still have a soft spot for starting seeds. There is something magical about planting a tiny little speck and watching something grow. Maybe that’s the same reason I like bulbs—I can plant a little brown bulb and get a sunny yellow daffodil. I have been lucky indeed to be able to help select the seeds and bulbs for The Great Big Greenhouse for the 29 years I’ve been here.
Right now, I’m planning my summer vegetable garden. I still have kale wintering-over in my raised beds, but I have already begun pawing through seed racks, dreaming of tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash. Sometime this month, I’ll sow those first seeds for the long-season veggies—like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants 
There are good reasons for starting some veggies from seeds—an amazing array of varieties to choose from, for one thing. How can I not try a tomato with the intriguing name of Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple or Mortgage Lifter? Of course, when I grow my own seeds, I also know how they were grown and what products, if any, were used. 
After I choose my seeds, I’ll settle down to read the information on the back of the seed packet. The seed packet is more than just a pretty picture of the finished product, it’s also the best source of important information on how to successfully grow this plant. Seed packets tell me when to start the seeds, whether they are best started indoors or out, how deep and how far apart to sow, and how long it takes the seedlings to emerge. Some will even provide tidbits of information about successfully growing the flower or vegetable. 
Botanical Interests Seed Company even takes this a step further—the whole inside of the seed packet is chock-full of information.  For example, in looking at the inside of a package of larkspur seeds I see it goes into detail on how and when to sow the seeds. It tells me how to stake tall flowers and even shows me how to make cut flowers last their longest. All this and more for the grand price of $1.79. 
Now that’s a real bargain!
Posted: 3/11/2013 by Bonnie Pega | with 10 comment(s)
Filed under: BonniePega, Bonnie'sGarden
Antonio--for your seeds, when you first plant them, just sprinkle the top of the soil liberally with crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper. That will make it uncomfortable for them to dig.
3/21/2013 1:55:17 PM

Hi Antonio--When squirrels are eating your tomatoes, it's usually during the heat of the summer--and a dry spell. They are looking for the moisture content. I use a repellent called Hot Pepper Wax--it's an extract of cayenne pepper in a surfactant (which makes it adhere to the plant better). I use that in conjunction with a water source--a bird bath, for example. In my case, I simply use a big plastic plant saucer that I fill with water from the hose.
If you use the repellent alone, your results won't be as good because if it's dry enough and the squirrels are really thirsty, they'll go for the tomatoes anyway.
3/21/2013 1:52:52 PM

My question is how to prevent squirrels from eating my seeds and tomatoes.
3/20/2013 8:16:16 AM

Hi George,
One of my favorite heirloom tomatoes is Cherokee Purple. But I've tried German Johnson, Mortgage Lifter, Green Zebra, Green Grape, Abe Lincoln and like them all. While I always plant at least one Cherokee Purple, I still try to plant a variety I've never tried before. I'll challenge you to do the same. Start with a Cherokee Purple but every year try another variety you've never tried and you'll find that tomato that screams "SUMMER" to you!
3/16/2013 9:17:05 AM

Thanks for your follow up. Do you have any recommendations for really great tasting heirloom tomatos?
3/13/2013 11:20:11 AM

Hi George. I have a fantastic selection of seeds right now. I have Burpee, Botanical Interests (who has some of the best seed packet info out there), and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange--a Virginia based company who specializes in heirloom organics.
3/12/2013 2:40:49 PM

Hi Steve, I usually topdress my vegetable garden with a couple of inches of good compost--I love mushroom but composted cow is just fine, as well. If I have time, I'll let it sit for a few weeks before I work it in. If not, then you can till it under right away and plant.
3/12/2013 2:38:28 PM

What is the best way to prepare soil for planting vegetable seeds? I want to make sure everything is organic. Are there products you recommend? Thank you for your help.
3/12/2013 12:06:51 PM

This is a wonderful post. Thank you! Question: When will you have the best selection of veggie seeds available? After reading your post, I'm particularly interested in trying some heirloom tomato varieties this year. Thanks.
3/12/2013 11:37:32 AM

Leigh Perry
What a delightful way to motivate me to start thinking of summer plants and their delicious or lovely products! Thanks for sharing your personal story--I loved the part about your dad letting you learn from the experience of planting pumpkins with long vines that had to be moved every week for mowing!
3/12/2013 10:40:35 AM

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