Tips for Direct Sowing in Hot Weather

Last week we finished harvesting our spring-planted cabbage and broccoli. Now it’s time to sow our first seedling bed for our fall brassicas: besides cabbage and broccoli, we’ll add cauliflower and Chinese cabbage. Later we’ll make sowings of fall carrots, beets, lettuce, rutabaga, turnips, and greens like spinach, chard, kale, and mustards.

Sowing outdoors during high heat can be tricky, but if you follow these tips you’ll find it’s worth the effort:

1. Sow in a closely-spaced nursery bed and transplant later. This lets you concentrate your efforts (keeping the soil moist and weed-free) on a small, more manageable area. (Don’t do this for crops that don’t transplant well, like carrots.)

2. Choose a location with afternoon shade. This will protect the sprouting seeds from drying out.

3. Sow under lightweight row cover or the newer temperature-neutral proteknet. Both protect from insect pests and help retain soil moisture.

4. Sow successions! Two weeks after your first sowing make another planting of the same varieties or other, earlier-maturing types.

5. Count backwards. Plan for cool-season crops to mature when cool weather hits, and use the days to maturity to plan when to sow.

6. Transplant and/or thin your plantings. Giving plants more space helps their roots access enough moisture. Young seedlings grow faster in hot weather, so plan for quick turn-arounds. Summer-sown brassicas may be ready to transplant in 4 weeks or less (they should have 3 true leaves).

Check out our Fall and Winter Quick Reference for more details about timing and what to plant for fall and winter harvest.

Order now if you haven’t already reserved your planting stock for garlic and perennial onions. Each order comes with a Garlic and Perennial Onion Growing Guide to get you started.

Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

Most of you have probably already transplanted your tomato seedlings, but here at SESE we do it a bit later than most. Why? Because we want the vast array of tomatoes we grow for the tastings at our late August open house and at the Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival in September to be ready for picking just at the right time for those events. We’re growing more than 70 varieties for you to come and taste!

Just a tiny selection of the tomatoes going in our tasting patch
Just a tiny selection of the tomatoes going in our tasting patch

Here’s the technique we use for quick and successful transplanting of tomato seedlings:

After hardening them off for a couple weeks in our cold frames, we’re ready to take them out to the garden. For us, this means lots of careful labelling and mapping to keep all those varieties clearly separated!

Step 1: We start by spreading hay thickly over the whole area where the plants will go. This serves to keep the ground cool, hold moisture in, and choke out weeds, and in the long term it adds organic matter to improve the soil. If you try this, make sure you get hay that hasn’t been treated with herbicides or pesticides. You’ll also want to get hay that’s been sitting for a year or so, giving all the seeds a chance to have sprouted and died, or you’ll be growing grains alongside your tomatoes.

Step 2: Make a nest in the hay at each place where you want a tomato to go. Space them about 4 feet apart and make each nest about a foot in diameter, pushing the hay away until you can see the ground.

tomato planting nest

Step 3: Dig a hole at the bottom of the nest, toss in a double handful of compost, and mix the compost with the soil you have loosened.

removing tomato seedling from flat

Step 4: Gently pull the seedling out of its container and lay it on its side at the bottom of the hole you’ve dug, all the way at one edge of the nest space. This way you can cover not just the root ball, but also a good portion of the stem with soil. You want to bury a third to a half of the plant. Tomatoes will grow roots along any portion of the stem which is underground, and this method gives you a much sturdier root structure. Be careful that the sideways portion of the stem is supported by soil so it doesn’t break.

tomato seedling planted

Step 5. Cover the root ball and stem portion with soil and press it down firmly. Good soil to root contact is essential to get the plant sucking up water and nutrients right away. Then pull the hay back into place all around the stem of the plant, tucking it in cozily. Finally, give it a good watering and watch your baby grow!

Tomato seedling tucked in

If you do come to the Heritage Harvest Festival, here are a few of our top picks to look out for:

  • Rutgers 250 This is a brand new variety which brings added durability to a flavourful old heirloom and we plan to add it to our 2017 catalog.
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry This one is always a favourite at tastings, an intensely sweet wild cherry tomato originating in Mexico.
  • Garden Peach A delightful novelty tomato disguised as a peach.

Planting for Pollinators: Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Eastern Black Swallowtail

As a garden lover, you know that pollinators are in trouble. For decades now huge amounts of pesticides have been dumped on US crops in order to control pests (335 million lbs in 1965, up to 948 million lbs by the year 2000, as the bugs keep gaining resistance.) At the same time pollinator populations are being destroyed. Compounded with the chemical stress, they are losing their food sources as more invasive species of plants that they cannot eat crowd out native species. It’s up to us enthusiastic gardeners (even if you’re not quite as enamored of all the creepy crawlies as I am) to plant the first line of defense and grow with an eye not just to our plates, but to the care of our buggy friends. We know from how quickly our Insectiary Mix gets snapped up that people want to be doing this, so we’d like to offer more in-depth information about particular pollinators and how to attract and care for them.

Butterflies are an easy sell for gardeners. Unlike wasps and bees, no one is afraid of them, and they make a beautiful addition to any garden. Moreover, butterflies help to pollinate your plants and feed your songbird population. While adult birds can live well on seeds and berries, nestlings are unable to digest these yet and require juicy caterpillars to help them grow. Without a steady supply of caterpillars arriving at the nest – it takes thousands to feed one clutch – baby birds starve to death. Read more here.

The Eastern Black Swallowtail is a wonderful candidate to attract to your garden. They are efficient pollinators and their striking black wings dabbed with yellow and blue are a delightful sight among the flowers. There are hidden benefits too: the caterpillar of the black swallowtail smells bad to predators and helps to deter them from your garden. The black swallowtail has a large range, covering all but the northeastern part of the United States, and extending well south into Mexico.

So what can you grow to draw these lovely critters? Black Swallowtail caterpillars feed on plants in the Apiaceae family – that’s carrots, dill, fennel, parsley, celery, caraway. Keep in mind that feeding caterpillars means sacrificing some plants, so if you’re trying to feed yourself too it’s a good plan to grow extra plants that you won’t mind sharing with the caterpillars.

A quick guide to recognizing the black swallowtail in all its stages:

Eggs: tiny yellow spheres on leaves and stems, turn brown before hatching (actually, it’s turning translucent and the brown is the caterpillar seen through.)

Caterpillars: They grow in 5 instars. Starting out black and spiky, they moult to light green striped with black with yellow spots, with a little spike in each yellow spot. The last three instars are similar, but often with more light green at each and spikes disappearing.

Pupa: The skin splits to form chrysalis (no cocoon like with silk moths), held on to a twig with a thread harness. It can be green or brown. The last generation of the season overwinters as a pupa, for as long as nine months.

Adult males have more yellow, females more blue on the wings, and a wingspan of about 7-8.5 cm.

More about black swallowtails.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

Saving the Past for the Future