How to Grow Asparagus

Asparagus is a long-lived cool-climate perennial that is high in a plethora of vitamins and minerals while being low in calories. It can adapt to all but the hottest areas of the South, but does especially well in zones 3 through 7. Zones 8b or higher have too mild of winters and the plants don’t go completely dormant. They cannot thrive in mild winter climates.

Usually only young asparagus shoots are eaten, as once the buds begin to open, the shoots turn woody very quickly. You’ll want to situate your asparagus patch where the growing fronds will not shade out your other vegetables but still be in direct sunlight. In addition, the site you choose should be somewhat protected from the wind so that the tall fronds do not blow over.

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Grow Your Very Best Tomatoes

Believe it or not, tomato harvesting time isn’t far away. Before long, you’ll be enjoying plenty of juicy tomatoes in bountiful amounts if you follow some key growing tips. Here are a few of our favorite ways to make sure you get the most out of this year’s tomato crop.

1. Water is crucial.

Your tomatoes need at least 1 inch of water each week, either by rain or by other measures. Take care not to let your tomato plants get too dry and wilt. Dehydration is one of the top killers of tomato plants. Even plants that seem to “rebound” after a water shortage tend to suffer shock that can lead to smaller tomato harvests. They also seem to be more susceptible to diseases and other problems, too.

Your best bet is to water your plants early in the morning and when you water, try to water at the base of the plant. Water on the foliage (other than rain water) can potentially cause diseases, fungus, and other problems. Soaker hoses are a great investment for your tomato bed for this reason.

It’s Not Too Late To Grow Beautiful Heirloom Tomatoes This Year

However, don’t overdo it – take care not to overwater your plants. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other diseases. Check the soil. If you insert your finger into the soil a few inches and it is dry, water. If it is moist, let it go another day or so.

2. Prune those little stems…

As your tomato plants grow, you’ll want to prune away the little stems at the base of the plant. Measure the bottom 6-8 inches at the main stock of the plant. Any little stems you see appear, gently pull them or prune them off. These branches are often called “suckers” because they will suck nutrients away from the fruits and the main producing areas of the tomato plant. Pruning them away will allow your tomato plant to put its resources into the fruit and aids in the ripening process. Pruning sucker stems will also help reduce the chance of disease, fungus, and bug infestation, so it’s a win-win!

3. Give ’em support!

Big or small, your tomato plants need a strong support system to thrive. Choose whatever method you like best: Stake, trellis, cage, fencing, lattice, or get creative and make your own out of repurposed materials lying around. (I actually like to use tomato cages turned upside down. They seem to work better that way!)

Your tomatoes will thank you for the added support by giving you bigger and better harvests. Tomatoes become weak very easily and can crack when they aren’t given the support they need to grow tall and strong. Allowing your tomato plants to sprawl along the ground is an open invitation to bug infestation, mold, mildew, and disease problems.

4. Feed and fertilize…

How to fertilize your tomatoes is quite a gardener’s controversy these days. Special tomato fertilizing “formulas” as well as old wives tales abound. No matter what you think or use, one thing is for certain: Tomatoes are very heavy feeders in the garden. They suck up a lot of nutrients from the soil and to have abundant and healthy harvests, usually require some sort of feeding and fertilizing regimen.

I recommend using an all-natural fertilizer, like ProtoGrow for optimum results. (It’s also what I use in my own tomato beds.) Apply ProtoGrow at the time of transplanting and then again after 2-3 weeks. Use it once again when you notice growth begins to accelerate and again when fruits begin to set. I also use SeaMazing each year on my tomato beds to remineralize my soil.

A note on wives-tale fertilizers: There are some gardeners who swear by feeding their tomato plants with coffee grounds and crushed eggshells. (As well as other things like salt and baby aspirin.) I have personally tried a few of them with mixed results. I say go for it and try it if you’d like … but do it in moderation. Dumping large amounts of anything, even helpful things, on your soil can have consequences.

5. Don’t forget the mulch.

Mulching around your tomato plants is a good idea for several reasons. It will encourage water retention, and will help keep diseases out. It also regulates root temperature and adds to the overall health of your soil as nutrients break down over time. Use organic mulch for best results. Choose compost, untreated grass clippings, straw (do not use hay), or shredded leaves.

Got Tomato Tips?

We want to hear them! Send us your best tomato growing tips at orders@heirloomsolutions.com and we’ll publish some of our favorites.

Grow Your Most Nutrient Dense Tomatoes Ever!

The Simple, 7-Ingredient  Compost Tea That Will Revolutionize Your Garden

 Earth, by its very nature, is in a partnership with microbes of all kinds. From the deepest seas, to the highest mountains, microbes such as bacteria, yeast and fungi are a key part of our planet’s ecosystems, performing vital functions like making nutrients bio-available to plants and animals, and helping our soils maintain structure and moisture.

It turns out that we can take advantage of these symbiotic soil allies to great effect, and one of the easiest ways we can do this is by creating our own aerated compost tea. We’ll get into the how of compost tea, along with a recipe, in a moment, but first, let’s look at the why.

The main purpose of compost tea, besides adding a nice dose of pre-digested fertilizer to your garden, is to increase the number and diversity of beneficial microbes in the soil. How are they beneficial? Fungi, for example, help plants take up phosphorus, manganese, zinc, iron and copper, secreting digestive enzymes that dissolve and break down compounds so that plants can absorb them. They also dramatically increase the amount of water plants can take up, and act like a huge extension of their root systems. Other microbes predigest different compounds and help plants take up different nutrients.

In addition to the aid they give us below-ground, microbes on the leaves of plants also may be important allies, helping in the fight against disease by both filling an ecosystem niche that would otherwise be open to pathogens, and creating conditions that make it difficult for existing pathogens to live or reproduce.

Many beneficial bacteria, for example, produce acids that make it difficult for pathogenic yeasts and fungus to thrive. Although there is less scientific study in this area, the theory that aerated compost teas help with above-ground diseases is borne out by my own experience. Last year, some haskap bushes on my farm had a nasty fungus infection on their leaves, so I mixed up an aerated compost tea and sprayed it on them. Within days the fungus had completely disappeared.

So, now that you know why it’s good to use compost teas, let’s get into how you can make your own. I’m going to go over making aerated and aerobic (oxygenated) compost tea specifically, but you can also make anaerobic (lacking oxygen) compost tea by simply putting a bunch of (ideally, deep-rooted) plants like comfrey into a bucket or barrel with non-chlorinated water, letting it sit for about a week until it gets really nasty smelling, and then putting it on your soil. (I would avoid plant leaves with this stuff). Another anaerobic mixture known as effective microorganisms is also incredibly useful and can be purchased online and then mixed up at home.

Aerated Compost Tea

The Simple, 7-Ingredient Compost Tea That Will Revolutionize Your Garden

Image source: Pixabay.com

Materials Needed

  1. Bucket or barrel. At least 25 gallons is ideal for anything but the smallest garden.
  2. Air pump sufficient for the amount of water. You can get good ones at hydroponic shops. Tiny fish tank aerators are not the best ones, although they may be sufficient for a 5-gallon bucket.

Recipe: Ingredients 

  1. Non-chlorinated water.Chlorine in the water will kill microorganisms.
  2. Vermacompost and well-aerated compost are best. The more diversity of compost, the better. It should smell good, like forest soil, and not stinky. 5 pounds per 25 gallons.
  3. Unsulphured molasses. Food for bacteria, etc. 1 ¼ cup per 25 gallons.
  4. Liquid kelp. Fertilizer and microbe food. ½ cup mixed into 5 cups of water before adding to the mixture.
  5. Humic acid. Microbe food and soil conditioner: 1-2 tablespoons per 25 gallons, mixed into 2 cups of water before adding to the mixture.
  6. Rotten wood chips, straw or hay (optional). Decomposing high carbon materials encourage fungal inoculation. 1-2 cups per 25 gallons will do.
  7. Steel cut oats. Food for fungus. 1 cup per 25 gallons.

Directions

First, put the water in, then the molasses, and then add everything else. Some people like to put all of the solid materials into a pillowcase or similar (like a tea bag), but I prefer to mix them directly into the water. If you’re a little off in the amounts, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have enough molasses to sustain the microbe populations for the amount of time you will be bubbling your brew. I should also note here that a compost tea recipe can be as simple as compost and molasses. The other things will take it to the next level.

Next, stir the container well, and put in your air pump bubbler. It’s good to stir the mixture from time to time. Let it sit for 24 to 48 hours (the full 48 is better).

Once you’re done bubbling, remove the air pump and give it another good stir. Now it’s time to apply it to your plants. If you’re going to create a foliar spray for leaves (definitely recommended), let it settle and skim the liquid off the top so that it contains fewer solids and won’t clog your sprayer. To spray it, simply evenly cover the leaves on the top and bottom. For soil application, use buckets or other manageable vessels and dunk them into the stirred up mixture in order to get the solids as well as the liquid. Then, apply to the soil around the plants, ideally covering up to or beyond the drip line.

That’s all there is to it. You should notice a significant kick to your plant growth, especially if you do this every couple of weeks during the growing season. Just make sure not to fertilize beyond the first two weeks of summer in temperate climates, as this could prevent new growth from hardening off in time and you may lose it to frost.

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