Tomato planting tips, Doug’s favorite tomatoes and live garden chat Thursdays at 11am as seen on KDKA’s PTLMay 15th, 2013
I’m having so much fun doing a live garden chat Thursdays at 11am for the Post-Gazette. Just log on here to ask questions, give tips and just talk gardening.
So you’re ready to plant tomatoes, peppers and basil? Here are a few tips to make those plants thrive.
It’s still a little early, but temperatures will be fine. Heat up the soils with black landscape fabric, all three plants like it hot.
Use succession planting, meaning planting some now and every couple weeks through June.
The plants will love the warm soil. When June arrives, mulch to keep the soil evenly moist.
Here’s a list of my favorite all time tomatoes, a description and where to find them.
1. ‘Limbaugh Legacy Potato Top.’ Get free plants on June 16, 2013 at 12noon in North Park across from the Skating Rink on Pearce Mill Rd. Here are some more details.
2. ‘Brandy Boy.’ Pink, meaty hybrid version of ‘Brandywine.’ Earlier and more prolific. Janoski’s Farm and Greenhouse
3. ‘Heart of Italy.’ Looks like a pink bull’s heart and is both tasty and meaty. Hahn Nursery.
“Fourth of July.’ Early, prolific and produces all season. Janoski’s.
4. ‘Eva Purple Ball.’ Pink tomatoes the size of tennis balls fall off the plant when ripe. Garden Dreams Urban Farm and Nursery.
5. ‘Sungold.’ Orange, sweet cherry. My wife’s favorite, nuff said. Hahn Nursery.
6. ‘Juliet.’ 1999 AAS winner pumps out lots of sweet, meaty but small paste like tomatoes. Hahn Nursery.
Join me at 11am on Thursday 5/2/13 to talk gardening on the Post-Gazette web page. Just click here to tell your favorite garden stories or ask a question. We are going to have fun!
Organic gardeners and conventional, chemical gardeners have the same problems, but just have different solutions.
Any problem in the garden can be solved with an organic product or technique.
Why organic? Hey, we all live down stream…right?
Trying to identify and solve problems by specifically dealing with a pest or disease without disrupting the balance of nature is the organic gardeners goal.
Organic products are available at all good local nurseries.
All the things I used on the show were from Hahn Nursery in Ross.
Organic fertilizers will keep your plants happy without destroying soil life.
Usually organic gardens create a balance of nature. When the bad bugs infest, things like insecticidal soap and horticultural oil can control soft bodied insects like aphids.
Chewing pests can be controlled by Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew. It’s active ingredient is Spinosad. It won’t hurt us or the good bugs.
Fungus problems can be treated with Serenade and organic fungicide.
Organic gardening is easy and good for you and the family…oh yeah…and everyone downstream too.
We meet lots of people over the years. Some come and go, but others always hold a place in our hearts. Fred Limbaugh was one of those special people.
I first met Fred on a warm day in the spring of 2000. After reading about my love of heirloom tomatoes, he was compelled to call and tell me about the tomato his family had grown for generations, ‘Potato Top.’ He invited me over to pick up a couple of plants to try.
“They’re the best-tasting tomato you’ll ever eat,” he bragged.
I listened with interest as he talked about the plant he loved and had given away to friends and family for years. Once they grew ‘Potato Top,’ they were hooked, said Fred, who didn’t even like to eat tomatoes but grew them for everyone else.
Over the years, Fred and I became good friends. We would visit at his home in Robinson, and on hot days he would offer me a cold beer but never drank one himself. We talked about gardening, his love of the outdoors, his beloved German shepherds and how he was getting along in his 80s.
Together, the two of us would walk down a steep embankment in his back yard to his cold frames filled with deep green tomato plants; they had thick stems and sometimes were covered in bright yellow blossoms. As he got older, he couldn’t get down there anymore. It was even hard for me to navigate, and I was 40 years younger.
Years ago, I started giving away the seeds of ‘Potato Top’ with the condition that gardeners send me some seeds at the end of the season so I would have more the next year to keep the program going. I wanted everyone to taste it and hoped that by sharing the seed, we could guarantee the survival of this tomato with potato-like foliage for a long time. Every year the project grew, expanding from Western Pennsylvania to other states and eventually to many other countries. One summer, I got 140,000 seeds back from readers all over the world.
Fred was never one for the limelight. As ‘Potato Top’ became more and more popular, he would call me and say with a laugh, “I never thought one phone call would turn into this.”
One time his daughters brought him to North Park, where I was giving away the plants. Wanting to recognize Fred for starting the whole project, I tried to make an announcement. But Fred wouldn’t hear of it, and in an instant he was gone, slipping away so he wouldn’t be noticed.
His health took a turn for the worse a few years ago. When I went to visit him at a nursing home, he was figuring out a way to grow tomatoes on a windowsill so he could still provide plants for everyone who asked.
That was the year I started growing plants for him, as many as I could in my little home greenhouse. They never looked as good as Fred’s; he just had a knack for getting nice stocky, healthy transplants. Eventually, I turned the job over to friends at Soergel’s, who were able to produce quality plants for him.
Several years ago, Fred passed away at 86. He was out for dinner the night before with his family and then was gone early the next morning.
I always felt we were kindred spirits whose love of gardening transcended the boundaries of age. I’ll never forget that first day we met when he gave me two large plants, their roots surrounded with newspaper.
In memory of Fred and with the blessing of his family, I’ve renamed the tomato ‘Limbaugh’s Legacy Potato Top.’ For decades to come, I hope gardeners will search the name of the tomato and rediscover its origins. They’ll learn about a wonderful man who wanted nothing but to share a big, meaty pink tomato with some friends. Little did he know that he would be sharing it with thousands of strangers, too. That always made him feel good, to know so many people were enjoying the tomato.
I miss that old guy and always will think of him as I sit at home filling seed envelopes to be sent to gardeners here and abroad. And it feels good knowing that his name will always be linked to a family heirloom that will live on in gardens around the world.
Recently this Pittsburgh heirloom was mentioned in Redbook Magazine. I’m sure that would make Fred smile.
For a free packet of ‘Limbaugh’s Legacy Potato Top’ tomato, send a business-sized (about 91/2-by-41/2-inch), self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Doug Oster, The Backyard Gardener, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.
Please send the right-sized envelope because anything else must be sealed by hand. I will stuff all the envelopes with the help of the Penn Hebron Garden Club.
This is a great time of the year to plant thing1s like raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, strawberries and other fruits.
There are many different varieties of raspberries and they basically grow like a weed.
Blueberries need acidic soil, fertilize them with Hollytone.
There two basic groups of strawberries. One will produce lots of berries in June and then stop producing. Everbearing strawberries produce fewer their berries over a long period.
Fill a planting hole with compost and put the plant in place.
Keep it watered all season to enjoy fruit for years.
It’s still too cold to plant tender crops like tomatoes and peppers, but there are lots of plants which enjoy spring planting.
Lettuce, other greens, carrots, radishes, beets and more will be happy right now.
Carrots and radishes can be planted together. The radishes will come up first, and then the carrots. As the radishes are thinned, the carrots can thrive.
By choosing the right crops, spring planting will extend the season a good month.
This year’s Spring Flower Show at Phipps Conservatory and Botanic Gardens is amazing. It’s themed around the children’s book The Secret Garden.
The show was featured on Pittsburgh Today Live.
I think the thing that makes the spring show so nice is the combination of spring bulbs and annuals you wouldn’t usually see together.
Join me at 11am on Thursday 3/24/13 to talk gardening on the Post-Gazette web page. Just click here to tell your favorite garden stories or ask a question. We are going to have fun!
Lilies are just one of the plants used as traditional Easter gifts. Hydrangeas, daffodils and other spring bulbs also fit the category. But there’s no reason to toss them after the holiday, all these plants will be happy in the garden and return season after season.
The Strawberries and Cream hydrangea need the most thought when planting. It’s bred as an indoor plant, but I’m going to try and put it in the garden. It can’t go outside until May and is probably best grown in a container sited with morning sun and afternoon shade. When winter comes, this plant needs to come back inside, it’s only hardy to zone 7, which is a little warmer than our climate. I’ll put mine in an unheated greenhouse for the winter.
The bulbs are easier to plant, when choosing the site be sure to find a place that will dry out in the summer. Even though fall is the best time to plant bulbs, these plants should go in the ground as soon as they are done blooming.
Growing from seed saves money, provides the opportunity to grow endless varieties and, most importantly, nurtures the soul.
Being able to say “I grew it from seed” just feels good.
The key is to start off with the right kind of growing medium. Use a planting mix or seed-starting mix from your favorite nursery. Don’t use garden soil or potting soil; it’s too heavy.
Moisten the mix before putting it into the container. I use plastic six-packs from last year’s flowers, but anything with drainage will do.
Lay the seed on the mix and cover it. Press down to assure good contact between the mix and the seed.
Cover the container with clear plastic and place it in a warm, bright location. You might be able to get away with a bright south-facing window, but you’re better off growing under fluorescent shop lights. Hang them from chains just inches above the plants. As soon as the seeds germinate, remove the plastic.
Start fertilizing at half strength a couple of weeks after sprouting, then continue about once a week.
When temperatures warm up, get the transplants outside to acclimate them to the weather — at first only for an hour and eventually overnight. The process takes about a week. Tender plants like tomatoes and peppers can go out into the garden around the third week of May. I usually wait until Memorial Day when the soil has really warmed up.
This year, I’m going to try a trick I learned at Janoski’s Farm and Greenhouse in Clinton. On a tour of the farm in April, I saw rows of tomatoes covered with two layers of floating row covers supported by wire hoops. A floating row cover is spun bound translucent fabric often used to extend the season. It’s really a greenhouse in the field. I’m going to try it with just a couple of plants.
Growing from seed is fulfilling, educational and fun. Give it a try.