Gardening how-to part 2

gardener setting out plants

Photos from Unsplash

By Debbie Browning

Sooooo, one year into the pandemic and quite possibly into your recent interest in gardening. Specifically, vegetable gardening. Although we still swear by planting marigolds and other pest-deterrent plants around and sometimes in your garden.

If you're new to gardening, you should read last year's how-to garden installment first.


If this writer was a seed starter [still not going to happen] this story would have been written/posted probably around Christmas when the seed catalogs began pouring in. You would be facing the challenge of what grows well around here. I still say this early in your budding hobby [pun intended] you’re better off with starter plants. Maybe plant some quick-growing stuff such as lettuce when the ground warms to test those seed-starting waters. You might even break ground [groan] with a some cool-season seeds that can even be planted before the last spring frost! These include snap peas, lettuce, carrots, spinach, Brussels sprouts, radishes, arugula, kale, etc.

When the seeders start ordering is usually when I reserve my starter plants. Uh-oh. Not this year. Life happens. So I may miss out on some of my preferred varieties. I and my kitchen will survive.

hands holding soil


With your first garden now presumably under your belt, this is an excellent time to invest some time and effort into digging deeper [Sorry, apparently I’m in a punny mood.] into this pastime.

There’s been a bounty of new sites added to help gardeners of all levels. One of the best new ones is simply an addition to the long-time standby: The Old Farmer’s Almanac. There’s plenty more gardening how-tos, videos, etc, but they’ve added a Learn-to-Garden section.

This is really a one-stop shop for gardening, recipes, weather, planting by the moon’s phases, natural remedies, etc. There’s even a gardening store offering books & calendars, their garden planner, garden stakes, outdoor decorations & art, weed removal & garden tools as well as wind chimes, bells and spinners.


We're in USDA Hardiness Zone 6a, our last average frost-free date is May 10, according to the ZIP code locator at The Farmer's Almanac. Another site lists our average last frost date as May 7.

Most any gardening site – whether offering seeds or plants such as Burpee or Park Seed or Jung Seed, to name just a few. There are plenty of others! Plenty! -- offers information on all sorts of topics. As do many of the garden supply companies, such as Gardener’s Supply Company, because at some point you are going to need something that can’t be found locally – perhaps better tomato cages or grow bags. You may recall from last year’s gardening how-to of my fondness for grow bags. ?


Don’t discount the advice available on supply companies because Gardener’s Supply features an excellent advice library including probably the easiest explanation of heirloom plants/seeds because you will certainly run across that description these days! “Horticulturists differ on how they define the term heirloom. Many people consider a plant an heirloom if it is open-pollinated (non-hybrid) and has been around for at least 50 years. Others say it must have a record of being handed down generation to generation.
Why this is important:
• Varieties handed down over generations can adapt to thrive in the conditions of a specific locale.
• Some people think heirloom varieties are tastier.
• Because they're open-pollinated, you can save seed for replanting year after year.
• Some heirlooms are more susceptible to diseases than their hybrid kin that have been bred for disease resistance.”

Other definitions offered here include F1 Hybrid, Open-Pollinated, as well as Varieties and Cultivars.


Let me add a note of caution here: If you are growing on a screened porch, don’t bother with anything open-pollinated because the pollinators can’t get in! Unless you create a hole / window / access point in a screen, which rather defeats the purpose of a screened porch. ? Choose your battles. If heirloom veggies are your kryptonite / weakness / heart’s desire, then you need to create a gateway for the pollinators.


Another pre-season tip I came across recently in an email was to hold off on spring cleaning in your garden until the temperatures are reliably above 50 degrees [including overnights!] because many of the good garden-variety bugs overwinter in leaf piles, stem stalks, etc. It’s tough, I know, as I was out fiddling with my porch garden in late February. But other than pulling off a cover for a few warm days and trimming back some dead herbage, and watering same ... nothing else happened. Just getting out and taking stock of what’s needed and which herbs survived the winter under the fleece wrapping was a joy!


Other sites you may find helpful include:

Global Garden is a California-based business that primarily caters to high-volume indoor grow houses, both hydroponic and soil-based, but they have an excellent knowledge area, which just happens to include an article on my favorite containers -– grow bags! Never, ever dismiss a site that offers knowledge. There may be useful nuggets within! [Shameless plug: I did not find them, they found me because of my mention of grow bags in last year’s how-to story.]

This site also offers an excellent pests and pathogens category. Because determining what is causing the problem is half of the battle. Seriously. What works for your neighbor may not work for you so more possible solutions to try are better than one that doesn’t work or fails to completely eliminate the pests. You’ve also got to consider exactly how ruthless you want to be – will you be using chemicals? Strictly organic? Traps, etc?

Harvest to Table began as a California gardening aid but is now nationwide [if not global] in its advice. Can’t go wrong here especially with such detailed how-to-grow information for vegetables, herbs and fruit. [Another shameless plug: They found me last year because my how-to article included pest-deterrent plants.] I'll be checking out this Epsom salt advice since I was gifted the same for Christmas.

Feel free to comment, share a link you've found to be helpful or ask questions below.

Gardening is all about being social – even when we are still social distancing!

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