The Dish: 8 Home Gardening Tips
Lee Ann Freitas of Indie Growers gives us the ins and outs of backyard planting.
'Tis the season for growing, and Lee Ann Freitas of Indie Growers is fielding all kinds of questions about starting a garden right now. When should I plant? What should I plant? How much should I plant? Here she rounds up some backyard gardening tips for us green thumbs in training.
1. Plant your garden around Mother’s Day: Generally, you don’t have to worry about frost hitting, which is always a good rule of thumb, she says. If you are cultivating lettuce, radishes or peas, you can start those seeds outside now. The seeds will sit there and wait for the right temperature to germinate.
2. Go to small growers for plants: Since it may be too late, in some cases, to start your seedlings, Freitas recommends buying herb plants from Maplewood Farms in Portsmouth, and vegetable plants from Frerich’s Farm in Warren and the Southside Community Land Trust plant sale (May 14 and 15). “They are kind, they’ll answer questions, and they are family-run,” says Freitas.
3. Determine what to plant: How much do you cook over the summer, and what do you make? “When you think of summer, what’s the first flavor that comes to mind?” says Freitas. “People will say salsa, so cilantro… If you do potato salad, plant dill and tarragon. If you do pesto, obviously basil.” Freitas recommends three tomato plants and one cherry tomato plant per family and up to two zucchini plants to avoid being inundated with too much produce. Swiss chard, broccoli rabe and cabbage can be planted later in the season since they will survive colder temperatures. Lettuce can be planted in two-week intervals to stagger growth and avoid harvesting it all at once.
4. Best natural solutions to prevent pests: Plant alyssum which attracts beneficial types of insects. “You always have to have some sort of flower in your garden,” she says. “The most beneficial insects pollinate nectar.” Freitas also recommends adult lady beetles of the Green Lacewing variety, which are native to our local environmental ecosystem. “The lady beetles will eat aphids if you have an issue with that,” she says. “It’s nice to do the Green Lacewing because you will be putting out what is here already.”
5. Best natural solution for dealing with pests: “I seldom spray anything, but if you do, you can use a little bit of oil, like olive oil, and water,” says Freitas. “Olive oil will smother the insects. You have to have contact with the insect in order for the oil to suffocate it.”
6. Prevent cracks in tomatoes: There’s not much you can do about an ugly heirloom tomato, but you can try to prevent the skin from cracking by adequately watering the plants. “Cracks in tomatoes happen generally because of fluctuations in water,” says Freitas. “The peel will develop and say we have no rain for two weeks and then we get a deluge. What will happen is that skin will crack because it absorbs all that water.” There's no harm done if the tomatoes crack though. “I think we should all get used to ugly tomatoes, especially heirlooms,” she says.
7. Watering is the most important part of growing: People think they water plants enough, but often times, they don’t. Water in the morning, so your garden will be able to better handle the heat of the day, plus it will prevent fungus growth at night, which thrives in a dark, damp environment. Freitas suggests a life-saving solution for too many trips filling the watering can. “I prefer soaker hoses. The water goes to the most important part of the plant, which is the root,” she says. “If your plant goes dry for one day, you are going to set that plant back, change the physiology and it will taste different. Like cucumbers, you have to make sure they are watered, otherwise they get wrinkled and bitter in flavor.” She recommends buying several fabric soaker hoses (hello, Job Lot and Benny's!) and weaving them through your garden. When it comes time to water, you can simply set a timer and just let the hoses do the job for you.
8. Eat your flowers: Freitas also recommends planting edible flowers like alyssum, nasturtium and arugula. Nasturtium has many uses. “You can use the leaves when they are large to make pesto. You can use leaves when they are small as a salad addition. You can use the blossoms,” she says. “You can use the seed pods as capers or eat them straight up. The buds are yummy in a salad.” Freitas is working with cocktail connoisseur Willa Van Nostrand of Little Bitte Artisanal Cocktails at the Eat Drink RI Festival’s Grand Brunch, on May 2, for which Willa has created a nasturtium vodka. indiegrowers.com