6 Garden Tasks to Complete Around the 4th of July

Here are 6 suggestions of how to stay busy in the garden during the 4th of July Holiday: 

Harvesting:

    • Cool-season crops: Harvest vegetables like peas, lettuce, spinach, radishes, and kale and early season cabbage.
    • Herbs: Regularly harvest herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro to encourage new growth.

 

Planting:

    • Succession planting: Sow seeds for a second crop of fast-growing vegetables like radishes, lettuce, beans, and beets.
    • Fall crops: Start planting seeds for fall-harvested vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower indoors or in a shaded outdoor location. Fall is a wonderful time to garden in Montana but if you don’t start your own seeds you may miss out as many nurseries do not restock these plants as starts. At Green Thumbs, we have a limited supply of plants for fall planting as well as all of the supplies you need to start your own seeds.  Most seeds need about 6 weeks of growth before transplanting and another 6 weeks of growth after transplant.  Sowing seeds around the 4th of July will put your harvest around the end of September–perfect timing for those cool weather lovers.

 

Weeding and Mulching:

    • Weeding: Keep on top of weeds to reduce competition for water and nutrients.  Removing weeds before they flower and produce seeds is integral to reducing weed pressure in the following seasons. 
    • Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch to help retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds. I like to use GardenStraw premium straw mulch for this task.  Before putting down the mulch, make sure your soil is damp.  Put the layer of mulch on top of the damp soil and then water on top of the mulch.  Watering the mulch helps it to not blow away but also to not rob the soil of water.  

 

Pruning and Deadheading:

    • Pruning: Prune back overgrown plants to encourage healthy growth and increase air circulation–especially hanging baskets that have a lot of petunias and calibrachoa in them.  Remove approximately 30% of the petunia vine when pruning.  This will be painful (for the gardener) for a couple of days but you will be rewarded with an abundance of blooms and longevity of your hanging basket for the remainder of the season.  Don’t forget to also fertilize your planters and hanging baskets.  At this point in the season, your hanging baskets have been in the same planter for at least 12 weeks and they are HUNGRY! I use Jack’s Petunia FeED on my annual flowers at least bi-weekly.  If you have not done any fertilization that is ok–it’s not too late!
    • Deadheading: Remove spent flowers from annuals and perennials to promote continued blooming.

 

Fertilizing:

    • Feed plants: There are many ways to fertilize your garden and it may depend on what you have already done or not done up to this point in the season.  For example, I have a container garden that I put granular slow release fertilizer in at planting time.  I will not reapply this fertilizer until about 70 days have passed–for my tomatoes and peppers, this will not be until the end of July as I was a little bit late in transplanting this season.  However, I will apply liquid compost tea to give my plants a little bit of a boost and make sure that there are enough beneficial microbes in the soil to continue breaking down the granular slow release fertilizer.

  

Staking and Supporting:

    • Support plants: Stake or cage tall or vining plants like tomatoes, beans, and cucumbers to keep them upright and prevent damage.  I like to support my tomatoes with a steel stake and vine clips. 

Growing Sauce Tomatoes

Each year, I dedicate around 200 square feet of my home garden to growing tomatoes. Approximately 150 square feet of that space is reserved for varieties that are particularly well-suited for making sauce. If you’ve grown a “standard” tomato, you can certainly grow sauce tomatoes, but there are a few quirks to be aware of.

Before we dive into the quirks, I want to emphasize that any tomato can be used to make sauce. However, certain characteristics make some tomatoes better than others for this purpose.

Characteristics of Good Sauce Tomatoes

  1. Varieties with a Meaty Texture and Few Seeds

When making sauce, it’s best to remove the seeds to achieve a smooth texture. This is often done using a food mill. The fewer seeds that need to be removed, the faster the process goes. A meaty tomato, which means more flesh and less juice, is also important.

  1. Varieties that are Easy to Peel

Peeling your tomatoes is crucial for texture. In my experience, larger varieties are easier to peel (or mill), but many sauce tomatoes are commonly less than 4 oz.

 

  1. Varieties with High Yields

I almost never have enough garden sauce. Varieties that don’t produce well in my garden get replaced until I find the highest-yielding tomatoes. Most sauce varieties should produce 10-15 lbs per plant. Some of my favorite sauce varieties include:

-Federle

-Celebrity

-Martino’s Roma

-Speckled Roman Roma

-Amish Paste

 

Growing Sauce Tomatoes

  1. Sauce Tomato Plants Get Huge

Most tomato varieties need to be trellised, and sauce tomatoes are no exception. In my garden, sauce tomatoes typically grow 5-6 feet tall. Without a trellis, the plants would creep or “vine” on the ground, causing the fruit to rot before it’s ripe. Set up your trellis at transplant time and continue to support branches throughout the growing season.  I give my sauce tomatoes at least 2 square feet each to allow them to reach their full size potential instead of cramming them together.  In my experience, I have gotten better yields from less plants that are spaced farther apart than I have with more plants spaced tightly together. 

  1. Sauce Tomatoes Generally Mature Later in the Season

It’s not uncommon for sauce tomatoes to take 80 days or more to reach maturity. One of my favorite sauce varieties, “Federle,” makes me nervous every year because the plants grow quickly but don’t start fruiting until late July or August. I have yet to miss a harvest from an 80-day variety (knock on wood), but I also plant a large number of Celebrity (70 days) and Martino’s Roma (70 days) to ensure I have tomatoes maturing in July and early August–just in case.

 

  1. Sauce Tomato Plants Often Look “Weak”

The growth habit of many sauce varieties of tomatoes is very viney.  It is not uncommon to think that these tomatoes are “ugly” or not healthy; however, they are perfectly fine and that is just how they grow.  

 

4. Sauce Tomatoes Need Cal-Mag!!

Sauce tomatoes grow very quickly and are prone to cracking and Blossom End Rot.  Begin watering in a liquid Cal-Mag product as soon as plants begin to flower and through the remainder of the growing season.  Read more about Cal-Mag and tomatoes here.

 

 

Don’t Forget to Grow the Additives

While the flavor of home-grown tomato sauce tomatoes is wonderful on its own, I love to grow common additives to make my sauce even more rich! Suggested additives to grow include:

  • Onion
  • Basil
  • Garlic
  • Oregano

Harvest

I harvest my sauce tomatoes as soon as they “blush.” This is the stage where they have a bit of a pink tint to their flesh but are not perfectly red yet.  I do this to maximize my yield and allow some of those later maturing fruits to blush on the vine.  There is sufficient scientific evidence that says once a tomato has blushed it will not gain anything else from the plant so you are not missing out on more flavor or nutrition.  Once a tomato has blushed, it will continue to ripen to fully red on the counter inside–safe from pests & the elements! Let your tomato get fully red inside as ripe tomatoes are much easier to process into sauce than less ripe.  

If I do not have enough tomatoes to make a batch of sauce, which is common early in the season, I put the whole tomato in the freezer once it is fully red.  When I am ready to process a batch, I pull the tomatoes out of the freezer to fully thaw.  The skin of frozen tomatoes comes off easily.  If I had to freeze my tomatoes, I remove the skin by hand as they thaw instead of in the food mill.  

Do my Tomato Plants Really Need Cal-Mag?

Do my Tomato Plants Really Need Cal-Mag?

 

The short answer: Yes, all plants need calcium and magnesium but whether or not the gardener needs to add it to their fertilizer routine it may depend on….

  • What type of tomato you’re growing

If you’re growing a cherry-type, salad-type or other small fruited tomato, the cal-mag in your soil and other fertilizers will likely be enough. If you’re growing larger “all-purpose”, “beefsteak” or “heirloom” type of tomato, you will benefit from applying Cal-Mag fertilizer when these tomatoes begin to flower.

  • If you’re growing in pots or in the ground/large raised beds

If you’re growing your tomatoes in a container garden (aka pots), they will be relying solely on you to provide their nutrition.  My favorite way to do this is to apply a dry “slow release” product at planting time like Down to Earth Rose & Flower Food or Lilly Miller Tomato & Vegetable Fertilizer and reapply once per month through the growing season.  Then, I water “weakly” weekly with a compost tea product like FoxFarm BigBloom + Cal-Mag upon flower formation.  I treat my raised beds/in ground plantings in a similar manner; however, these beds are fertilized according to a soil report that is custom to my soil in my yard.  This soil report often tells me to apply Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate), Langbeinite (Sulfur, Potassium, Magnesium) and other NPK containing fertilizers so some of my calcium and magnesium demand is already being added to build my soil.  I still water in Cal-Mag bi-weekly instead of weekly, again, at the time of flower formation to ensure that my tomatoes do not have Blossom End Rot.

  • What kind of fertilizers or soil builders you’ve already applied/ going to apply 

Again, check the label of the products that you are already applying. If they already have a calcium and magnesium content, water with additional cal-mag bi-weekly.

  • If you’re providing ample water to your tomatoes

Providing liquid Cal-Mag to your garden tomatoes will be in vain and a waste of time and money if your tomatoes aren’t getting enough water.  The lack of calcium is a culprit to Blossom End Rot, but so is inconsistent watering (which leads to a lack of calcium in the plant).  

 

The long(er) answer…

 

Understanding the Role of Calcium and Magnesium

Many food crops are calcium loving and tomatoes are no exception. Calcium is crucial for tomato plants as it aids in the formation of cell walls, preventing issues like blossom end rot.  This nutrient ensures strong, healthy plants that can support the weight of numerous fruits.

Magnesium is a key component of chlorophyll, the molecule that enables plants to photosynthesize and create energy. It also aids in the uptake of other essential nutrients, promoting overall plant health and growth.

Most products come pre-formulated as “Calcium + Magnesium” and many times nitrogen and iron are in the mix.  This is due to the source of calcium and magnesium and has a good bit of chemistry to it, but to simplify, calcium works better when magnesium is in the mix as well.

Why Use Calcium-Magnesium Fertilizer?

The primary reason most gardeners use Cal-Mag fertilizer is to prevent Blossom End Rot.  Blossom End Rot is a common issue in tomatoes where the bottom of the tomato fruit becomes dark, sunken and rotted looking.  While Blossom End Rot does not render your tomato completely unusable, it is unsightly and does cause yield loss.  Large fruited tomatoes are very prone to Blossom End Rot and will see the most benefit from using Cal+Mag.  Don’t forget that calcium and magnesium are still crucial to plant growth as they are on the list of 17 Essential Elements for plants. 

How to Use Calcium-Magnesium Fertilizer?

Calcium and Magnesium can both be added to the soil via “amendments” such as:

  • Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate, may help lower soil pH over time)
  • Oyster Shell Meal (Calcium)
  • Crab Meal (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Calcium, Magnesium)
  • Bone Meal (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Calcium)
  • Fish Bone Meal (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Calcium)
  • Dolomite Lime (Calcium, Magnesium, raises soil pH)
  • Langbeinite (Sulfur, Potassium, Magnesium)
  • Epsom Salts (Magnesium)
  • Lime (Calcium, raises soil pH)
  • Seabird Guano (Phosphorus, Calcium)

Add these amendments to your soil per a soil test’s recommendations or follow the label on the product.  In most soils in the Gallatin Valley, gypsum, bone meal and langbeinite are the most common additives.  Add these amendments to your garden before planting.  Always consult a soil scientist before applying amendments to your soil–especially if this is a new concept to you.  I would recommend reading The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon if soil health and amending is of interest to you.  

These amendments can be added to pots and container gardens as well but be sure to check the calcium and magnesium content of other fertilizers you plan to use.   Most container gardens are filled with “Potting Mix” which tends to be more acidic than our native soils in Gallatin Valley.  A simple pH test kit can be used (kits are around $10) to check your pH. If it is above 6.5, you may want to add Lime instead of Gypsum to your potting soil.

Begin using liquid Cal-Mag when your tomato plants begin to flower.  Do this weekly or bi-weekly depending on your fertilizer plan or soil report.  Follow the product label for how much to add per gallon of water.  When mixing any liquid fertilizer, fill your container about ⅓ full with water.  Then, add your fertilizer and fill the rest of the way with water.  This helps to mix the product with the water.  Popular liquid Cal-Mag fertilizers are:

  • FoxFarm Bush Doctor Cal-Mag (OMRI Listed Organic)
  • Botanicare Cal-Mag+ (Contains iron)
  • Roots Organics CalMag (Contains sulfur, CDFA Organic)

Cal-Mag is not a complete fertilizer and are not the only nutrients that your plants need.  However, by implementing Cal-Mag into your routine, you will be rewarded with stronger, happier plants that do not lose yield to Blossom End Rot.

Tomato Tips

Before we get too deep into this blog post I want to post a warning to all of my readers:

 

Growing your own tomatoes will likely leave you living without fresh tomatoes from your last harvest in the fall until your first harvest the following season!

 

Tomatoes can be challenging to grow in our climate, yet every year gardeners across the state of Montana find success–without the use of a home greenhouse.  There are a few things to be mindful of when growing your own garden tomatoes:

 

Choose short season varieties 

Sometimes listed as early to mid-season, these varieties will have fruit ripening in 60-75 days from transplant.  80 days will usually be just fine.  85 days often works but is pushing it. I would not plant only late maturing varieties (80+ days) but instead mix in a few early season varieties with my late season varieties.

 

Start with transplants

The growing season in southwest Montana is not long enough to direct seed tomatoes in the garden.  The “starters” that are found in greenhouses have already been growing for 6-8 weeks–giving you a much needed head start.  If you’re reading this blog post and it’s after April 15th, you do not have enough time to get tomato seeds going and are best off to purchase starts from the nursery.  When selecting starts, choose plants that look healthy.  They should have green leaves, a sturdy stock that is at least pencil thick and be 6-12 inches tall with leaves tightly grouped together.  Choose plants that do not have any obvious pest or disease issues.  If the plants that you are purchasing have fruit or flowers before you transplant them, remove the flowers. It is painful (for the gardener) to do so but removing those flowers/ early fruit will allow the tomato plant to build healthy roots from the start. Building strong roots early in the season will reward you with heavy harvests later in the summer. Additionally, many of those early flowers/ fruit produce “catfacing” tomatoes which often have an undesirable leathery texture.  Short term pain is well worth the long term gain. 

 

When to transplant

Plant your tomato starts outside after the danger of frost has passed. For much of Gallatin Valley, this is on or after June 1st.  Tomatoes will NOT tolerate frost–watch the weather and plan accordingly.  IF you have planted your tomatoes and we are going to get a cold night, be prepared to provide them with some sort of protection (frost cloth, hot caps, etc).

 

How to transplant

Plant the root ball 3-4 inches below the original soil level covering part of the stem.  Remove any lower leaves that will get buried or be touching the soil.  The tomato stem will produce more roots along the portion that is planted. Remember, bigger roots= more fruits! If you are unable to plant deeply, you can plant “sideways,” still burning a portion of the stem.  I like to add Xtreme Gardening’s Mykos (beneficial microbes) to my transplant hole because it helps my plants establish new roots more quickly.  I also add a fruiting fertilizer (Down to Earth Rose & Flower Food) to the transplant hole as the tomatoes will begin to grow quickly after transplant. Repeat applications of dry fertilizer monthly or supplement with a liquid fertilizer every week.

 

Set up your trellising/caging system at the time of transplant. Your tomatoes will grow quickly and it is much easier to trellis/cage them while they are small.  Continue to attach your tomatoes to their support system as they grow.

 

During the growing season…

After you have transplanted your tomatoes, much of the work is done.  When plants begin flowering there are a couple of things that I do to encourage the plants to fruit.

 

#1 When the first flowers form, begin weekly applications of liquid Calcium + Magnesium fertilizer.  This will help prevent blossom end rot in your tomatoes.  However, if you are not consistently watering your tomatoes, the CaMg application will be in vain.

 

#2 Prune lower non-fruiting leaves and definitely any leaves that are coming in contact with the soil.  Remove any suckers growing in the axils of the stems.  By removing some of the plant’s leaves and suckers, your plant will be able to focus on fruiting and ripening those fruits.

 

Growing tomatoes is well worth the effort.  The flavor of home grown tomatoes is unmatched by standard grocery store tomato flavors.  Need more help? Stop by Green Thumb Garden Supply at 111 S Broadway in Belgrade, MT.

Petunia Hanging Basket Care Guide

We all love the big, full hanging baskets often seen downtown Bozeman. With some basic care, you can achieve the same beauty at home! Here’s a basic care guide:

  1. Placement: Choose a spot that receives plenty of sunlight. Petunias thrive in full sun, so aim for at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
  2. Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Water your petunias regularly, especially during hot, dry weather. Hanging baskets tend to dry out faster than in ground plantings, so check the soil moisture daily and water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Early in the season (May-Mid June) you may only have to water every other day. During summer’s peak (July, August) you may need to water twice daily. It is not uncommon to water daily or even twice daily (morning and evening) depending on the size of your planter and how much direct sun it receives throughout the day.
  3. Fertilizing: Petunias are heavy feeders– meaning they greatly benefit from regular fertilization. For best results, use Jack’s Petunia FeED, a water-soluble fertilizer formulated for flowering plants, following the instructions on the package. Do not skip out on fertilizing your hanging baskets!! They are in a small container and will inevitably run out of nutrients.  When the plants do not have nutrients, they will not be able to continue to grow.  I like to do “Fertilizer Friday” and fertilize all of my hanging baskets on the same day on a regular schedule. Consistency is key!
  4. Deadheading: To encourage continuous blooming, remove faded flowers regularly. This process, known as deadheading, prevents the plant from putting energy into seed production and redirects it into producing more flowers.
  5. Pruning: Trim back leggy or overgrown stems to promote bushier growth and maintain a tidy appearance. You can do this by cutting back the stems to just above a leaf node. It is best to do this in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler and the sun is not too hot.  You can also prune to your desired shape–if you want your hanging basket to be round, prune it that way.  You can cut off several inches at a time.  It may feel painful to prune; however, in about a week you will be rewarded with a mountain of blooms! Pruning regularly will also help keep your hanging basket looking beautiful all season long.
  6. Protection from Extreme Weather: During periods of intense heat, heavy rain, or strong winds, consider providing some protection for your hanging baskets. Move them to a shadier spot or bring them indoors temporarily to prevent excessive stress.

By following these care tips, you can keep your hanging baskets looking vibrant and healthy throughout the growing season. The goal is to have beautiful hanging baskets until October!

Brilliant Brassicas: Tips and Tricks

Garden crops in the Brassica family–cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, etc–are some of my favorite plants to grow every spring.  They allow me to get in a crop before I am ready to plant my warm season veggies like tomatoes and peppers, helping to maximize my space.

 

When to Plant?

The biggest question every year is: when should I plant (insert any garden crop here)?  With the brassica family planting them early, but not too early, is key.  They thrive in the cooler temperatures of May and June.  I aim to plant most of my brassicas between May 7th-May 14th.  My favorite cauliflower variety “Clementine” matures 55 days from transplant. If I am able to transplant into the garden on May 7th, that means I should be harvesting around the first week of June.  This leads me into my next tip…

 

Plant varieties that mature quickly…

…Especially if you are working with limited garden space.  Many varieties of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage mature in 45-60 days.  A few of my favorite varieties are:

 

  • Broccoli: Di Cicco (45 Days)
  • Cabbage: Early Jersey Wakefield (60 days)
  • Cauliflower: Clementine (55 days); Early Snowball (60 days)

 

Fertilize! Compost alone will not be enough…

Brassica family plants are heavy nitrogen feeders.  While compost is beneficial, it’s often not enough. Apply a “grow” type of fertilizer at planting time per the instructions on the label or recommendation from a soil test.  I like to use Down to Earth’s Bio-Fish along with Xtreme Gardening Mykos to give my plants the best start possible.  I reapply Bio-Fish every 2-4 weeks while the brassicas are growing.  By the end of May when temperatures have warmed slightly, they will grow very quickly and be more demanding for nutrients.  

 

Don’t garden for the cabbage worms….

Have you ever seen those delicate white butterflies fluttering around your garden? They may seem harmless but their eggs hatch into green caterpillars that have a voracious appetite for brassicas.  These caterpillars can skeletonize your plants and ruin your harvest in a matter of a few days.  I control cabbage moths by spraying Monterey B.t. every 14 days after transplanting.  Monterey B.t. is approved for organic gardening. Nobody loves spraying their plants with pesticide; however, B.t. is far more gentle than many other pesticide options that are used by large commercial agriculture.

By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to a thriving Brassica patch in your garden, providing you with a delicious early harvest and maximizing your gardening space efficiently.

5 Seeds to Start in February

As the warmer days beckon, it’s time to embrace the spring fever and dip our toes into spring seed starting! While February is only the tip of the iceberg, there are a few things that should be started this month for robust transplants in the spring. Here are five delightful seeds to sow for now vibrant spring transplants:

  1. Onions: For those situated in Montana, opt for long-day type seeds.
  2. Leeks: These mild-flavored delights are a versatile addition to any garden or kitchen. Start them now for robust, flavorful leeks later in the season.
  3. Pansy/Viola: Bring a burst of color to your garden beds with these cheerful and resilient edible flowers.
  4. Chives: A perennial and a culinary staple with a hint of onion flavor, chives are a must-have herb for every gardener.
  5. Lavender: Add a touch of fragrance and elegance to your garden with the timeless beauty of lavender. Start these seeds indoors now, and by the time spring arrives, you’ll have aromatic lavender plants ready to grace your garden beds or containers.

Stay tuned for a post in March about what to get started next!

Do You Really Need a Seedling Heat Mat for Starting Seeds?

Starting seeds is an exciting endeavor for any gardener, whether you’re a seasoned pro or just beginning your green-thumb journey. One common question that arises is whether a seedling heat mat is necessary for successful seed germination. The short answer? In most cases, no, a seedling heat mat will not make or break your seed starting endeavor.  However, there are some situations where a seedling heat mat is an extremely useful tool and can help promote the success of your endeavor.

Why You Might Want a Seedling Heat Mat

While not strictly necessary, incorporating a seedling heat mat into your seed-starting setup can offer several advantages. Firstly, it can enhance the overall health and vigor of your seedlings. Consistent warmth at the root level encourages robust growth and helps seedlings establish themselves more quickly.  Secondly, if you’re working with seeds that are more than a few years old, a heat mat will greatly improve your germination percentage.

Speeding Up Germination

Another benefit of using a seedling heat mat is its ability to accelerate the germination process. By providing a stable, elevated temperature, these mats create an optimal environment for seeds to sprout. This can be particularly advantageous for varieties that require warmer soil temperatures to germinate efficiently.

Creating a Warm Micro-Climate

Many gardeners start their seedlings in places like garages or basements, which often tend to be cooler in temperature than a standard 70 degree F house. In such situations, a seedling heat mat becomes essential.  The mat helps create a warmer micro-climate within your seed-starting tray and dome, mimicking the conditions of a sunlit nursery bed.

Factors to Consider

While seedling heat mats offer undeniable benefits, they’re not universally necessary. Before investing in one, consider factors such as your local climate, the types of seeds you’re germinating, and your available indoor space. Some seeds, like tomatoes and peppers, thrive in warmer conditions and may benefit greatly from the use of a heat mat. On the other hand, cool-season crops like lettuce and broccoli may not require the extra warmth.

 

Remember, gardening is as much an art as it is a science. Experimentation and adaptation are key to finding what works best for you and your plants. So, while a seedling heat mat may not be an absolute necessity, it’s undoubtedly a handy resource that can contribute to your gardening success.

The Importance of a Great Seed Starting Mix

Seed starting is a rewarding and therapeutic hobby that allows gardeners to expand their garden’s varieties each spring.  Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, one crucial aspect of successful seed starting is often overlooked: the seed starting mix. The quality of your seed starting mix can make or break your seed starting, as it sets the foundation for healthy and robust plants.  Let’s dive into the qualities that make a seed starting mix great:

 

Excellent Drainage

Proper drainage is crucial for seedlings. A high-quality seed starting mix is designed to retain moisture while allowing excess water to drain away, preventing root rot and other water-related issues. The ideal mix should have good aeration and structure, ensuring that your seedlings’ roots have access to oxygen, which is essential for healthy growth.  Many all-purpose potting mixes have excellent drainage: however, this is often achieved by using large chunks of perlite or forest products.  While those components are great for a potting mix, they are not great for a seed starting mix.  Large chunks can deter seedling from sprouting or cause unusual growth. 

 

Consistent Texture

Inconsistent soil textures can impede seedling growth. A great seedling mix should have a very fine texture–meaning that there are very few large chunks throughout the mix.  This consistency promotes even germination and root development, leading to healthier and more robust plants.  

 

pH Balance

The pH level of your seed starting mix is another crucial factor. Different plants have different pH preferences, and a quality mix typically maintains a neutral pH or can be adjusted to suit specific plant needs. By starting with a balanced pH, you create a favorable environment for your seedlings to establish themselves and take up essential nutrients.

 

Optimal Nutrient Balance

A high-quality seed starting mix will typically be void of nutrients. Unlike garden soil and potting mix, which can be too compact or nutrient-rich for delicate seedlings, a well-formulated seed starting mix offers the roots a place to grow.  Seed Starting Mix is NOT meant to be used as the sole nutrient source for seedlings–especially those that need to be planted indoors 6-12 weeks before planting outside.  A seedling mix is best used in a small container to germinate seeds.  After germination, the seedling will produce “true leaves.” At this point, it is time to transplant or up-pot the seedling into a nutrient rich potting mix or begin a light liquid nutrient fertilizer if you would like to keep the seedling in its current container.

 

Disease Prevention

One of the most significant benefits of using a good seed starting mix is disease prevention. Garden soil can harbor harmful pathogens that may harm your delicate seedlings. A seed starting mix, on the other hand, is typically sterile or pasteurized, minimizing the risk of soil-borne diseases. This reduced risk can help your seedlings avoid common problems like damping off, a fungal disease that can devastate young plants.

 

A high quality seed starting mix serves as the foundation for healthy and vigorous plants, providing the optimal nutrient balance, disease prevention, excellent drainage, consistent texture and pH balance that young seedlings require. By investing in a quality seed starting mix, you set your plants up for success and increase your chances of enjoying a bountiful and thriving garden. 

 

Green Thumb Recommendation:

At Green Thumbs, we have used many brands of seed starting mix but we certainly have a clear favorite: Black Gold Natural and Organic Seedling Mix.  It is a blend of micro-perlite, coarse peatmoss and silica for strong plant growth.  It is ready to use right out of the bag–just rehydrate before planting your seeds!  

If you’d like to try your hand at making your own seed starting mix, we sell many common components such as peat, perlite, vermiculite, compost, coconut coir and more.  Visit us at 111 S Broadway in Belgrade, MT for all of your seed starting needs.

Garden-to-Table Thanksgiving: Potatoes

In our previous post, we explored the unconventional yet delightful presence of Brussels sprouts in our Thanksgiving feast. Today, let’s journey back into the heart of tradition and shine a spotlight on the mighty potato.  As a timeless favorite on the Thanksgiving table, the potato brings comfort, versatility, and a touch of homegrown goodness to the holiday spread.

 

The Joy of Growing Potatoes:

Potatoes are one of the easiest plants to grow, harvest and store!  From planting the seed potatoes in May to watching the lush green foliage emerge, the journey to a September harvest is a rewarding experience. Home gardeners have the opportunity to choose from a variety of potato types, each offering distinct flavors and textures. My favorite way to grow potatoes is in a fabric grow bag.  Gardeners can also plant potatoes directly into the ground.  Check out our potato growing guide for containers here. We also have a guide for growing potatoes in the ground that can be found here.

 

Varieties of Potatoes for Thanksgiving:

Different potato varieties bring diverse qualities to your Thanksgiving table. Russet potatoes are excellent for mashed potatoes, while Yukon Golds offer a buttery flavor perfect for roasting. Huckleberry Gold potatoes, developed by Montana State University, are my favorite variety for making mashed potatoes as they have a naturally buttery flavor and are wonderful mashed. Potatoes grow very well in the Gallatin Valley.  In fact, there are approximately 10,000 acres of seed potatoes grown in Gallatin County. If you missed out on growing your own potatoes this year, you can stop by Green Thumb’s in April to purchase locally grown organic seed potatoes for your own garden!

 

Harvesting Potatoes for Thanksgiving:

Potatoes are typically ready for harvest when the tops of the plants begin to yellow and die back. This is generally in September and October.  Gently dig around the base of the plants to unearth your homegrown potatoes. After harvest, brush off as much soil as possible.  Place the potatoes in a cool, dark place until Thanksgiving!  

 

Thanksgiving Recipes Featuring Fresh Potatoes:

    • Creamy Mashed Potatoes: Boil your garden potatoes until tender, mash them with butter and cream, and season to taste. The result is a side dish that’s rich, velvety, and full of homegrown goodness.
    • Roasted Garlic Rosemary Potatoes: Toss diced potatoes with olive oil, minced garlic, and fresh rosemary before roasting until golden brown. This aromatic and flavorful dish is sure to become a Thanksgiving favorite.
    • Potato Gratin: Layer thinly sliced potatoes with cream, cheese, and herbs for a decadent potato gratin. Bake until bubbly and golden for a show-stopping side dish.

 

This Thanksgiving, elevate your celebration by incorporating homegrown potatoes into your feast. The journey from garden to table adds a layer of connection and appreciation for the food on your plate. Whether you’re savoring creamy mashed potatoes, indulging in roasted garlic rosemary potatoes, or enjoying a potato gratin, the freshness and flavor of homegrown spuds will undoubtedly enhance the spirit of gratitude around your Thanksgiving table.