Secret Ingredients For Exceptional Growth

28 07 2013


Welcome back to Kitchen Stadium for a special edition of Iron Chef… In The Garden.

Let’s listen in on the Chairman as he announces the secret ingredient.

Today's secret ingredient is... seaweed and fish guts!!



Not to be rude, but what the heck are you talking about? And what does this have to do with Iron Chef?

Well, I have a small confession. These ingredients have absolutely nothing to do with Iron Chef. You can say I’m full of fertilizer. Actually, these secret ingredients are fertilizer. They have everything to do with turning your plants into fine, large specimens with the biggest harvests.

Think of Warren Buffet in the financial world, Oprah in the entertainment world, Wilt Chamberlain on the dating scene. Side note- 20,000 women, Wilt? It’s amazing you could even walk, let alone run down the basketball court…


I think I know why he’s smiling… That’s right. He must have a garden…

That’s how well your plants will fare with periodic feeding… in the garden. And to clarify, when I say fish guts and seaweed I mean hydrolyzed fish and liquid kelp.

What exactly are these? Let’s start with hydrolyzed fish. Either whole fish or fish scraps are processed with enzymes to break down some of the more complex proteins. Unlike fish emulsion, it is not heated. The end result looks like a peanut butter milkshake. But for God’s sake don’t drink it. And don’t pour it on your plants.

Wait a second… isn’t this supposed to be fertilizer? Why aren’t we putting it on the plants?

We will be putting fertilizer on the plants. And I guess we are pouring or spraying it on the plants. But we aren’t POURING the fertilizer on the plant. Too much of a good thing will end up burning the plant- undiluted this is more like the creature’s acid blood in the movie Alien. It needs to be diluted to prevent harming the tender leaves. Usually 1 tablespoon per gallon of water is plenty.

Liquid kelp is a concentrate of kelp harvested from the ocean and liquified. The same rules apply to this fertilizer. As tempted as you may be to drink an oily black-green liquid, don’t do it. Only 1 tablespoon per gallon of water, please. The kelp actually smells more like fish than the hydrolyzed fish. Ever hear the one about the blind guy that walked by the fish market?… um, never mind.

Hydrolyzed fish and kelp-- Just a shot of each makes the perfect drink for your plants

Hydrolyzed fish and kelp– Just a shot of each makes the perfect drink for your plants

How do you apply this fertilizer? You should give foliar feeding a try. Instead of (or in addition to) watering or spraying the ground around the plant, spray the leaves. More of the fertilizer is absorbed by the plant using this method, leading to better results. And how well does it work? Check out a recent shot of tomatoes below.


A special thank you goes out to my coworker Mike G., who introduced me to these products. Thanks Mike! PS- you can use me as a reference.


Trashy Peanuts

21 07 2013

“Listen here young man. I want you to take those Peanuts and throw them in the garbage. Right now.”

What a great idea!

I grew potatoes in a trash can before. It was a fun experiment, and the harvest was fun and easy. Peanuts require extended periods of warm weather (at least 120 to 130 frost free days), and the Rubbermaid container will help the plants get a good/warmer start. And you know what they say, everybody loves a nut.


Ahem, don’t you mean that everybody loves a legume?

What the heck is a legume? A peanut is a legume. Despite the name, a peanut is not a pea and is not a nut. It is actually related to other legumes including beans and lentils.

Is Mr. Peanut aware of his origins? Actually, I have always wondered about the origins of Mr. Peanut. I mean, a peanut with a top hat, cane, and monocle is not an everyday occurrence. I think it looks like a costume. It’s as though he is a superhero with a secret identity.

Off topic: What is Mr Peanut’s secret Identity? That monocle had me thinking of Colonel Mustard and Colonel Klink. But I doubt that a Colonel Peanut would willingly give up his rank.

Colonel_Mustard-2 colonel-klink

The top hat is the real giveaway. And after a few Scooby snacks in the back of The Mystery Machine, it’s time to unmask Mr Peanut. It turns out he is… Mr Monopoly?!?!?!


“And I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!”

But you know how truth can be stranger than fiction. Below is the true, and humorous, story of the peanut mascot’s origin.

Back to the peanuts. Be sure you have plenty of warm growing time. In the case of Central Pennsylvania, that meant starting the plants indoors several weeks before soil temperature reached 65 degrees. Also grow the peanuts in a light, loamy soil. The plants get blossoms that eventually insert themselves into the soil in a process called pegging. (As a warning, do not search the term ‘pegging’ without including the term ‘peanut’. That’s a mistake you’ll only make once. Trust me, you don’t want to see the results. Then again, maybe you do if that’s your sort of thing. I sure didn’t.)

peanut02 peanut01

Anyway, warm air, light soil, and some room to grow. I have the plants spaced fairly closely in the can, but there is enough room for peanuts to grow. In no time at all, (or 4-5 months, whichever is longer), you should have a fine peanut harvest.


Got worms?

22 06 2013

I got worms… but not the kind you might expect

It seems as though there are too many garden pests these days. Aphids, stink bugs, cabbage loopers, and now even some of the larger garden pots have ants crawling through them. How do I control these pests without blowing up the yard, killing the neighbors dog, or destroying the last surviving bee hive on the planet?

It’s time that I gave nematodes a try. Nema what? Nematodes. Pronounced “NEEM-uh-toads”.

Oh… you mean like these?

Not at all. In fact nematode aren’t toads at all. They are microscopic worms that go after garden pests. But aren’t nematodes a bad thing? Wasn’t there an article somewhere talking about how much damage they cause to crops?

Well, think of nematodes as your neighbors. There are the good ones that invite you to a party or bake you a pie. There are the bad ones that lock people up in the attic for years. For our example, we’ll assume they are not one and the same. I don’t want to wake up after eating a slice of cherry pie, wearing nothing but my birthday suit and shackled to the wall. I learned my lesson the last time… What a lousy attic party… Eh, too soon…

Back to the worms. Yes, there are nematodes that attack crops. We will avoid those. In a plot twist that would make the best mystery writer proud, parasitic nematodes are actually beneficial. They are wonderful little assassins, with an interesting method of dispatching their victims. Apparently, they enter the target through various orifices (take your pick), then proceed to release a toxic bacteria that kills the target pest and turns it into a great food source and great place for the nematode to reproduce. “My oh my, Mrs Nema, I’ve heard that the dead grub school district is a great place to raise kids.”

I decided to try the Heterorhabditis bacteriophora nematodes, as they can get rid of the ant queens residing in my planters. The package I ordered was intended to cover 1600 square feet. The package that arrived was a plastic container the size of a small deck of cards. It looked like it contained several clumps of sawdust.nematode2

I followed the directions and applied them to my garden beds and planters. Actually, I sort of followed the directions. I did not mix them enough, I did not use a sprayer, I applied the entire package over less than 200 square feet. Let’s say that enthusiasm got the best of me.

I think I know the question you want answered- Did they work? They jury is out, but the results look promising. I will provide periodic updates on the pest population in my garden.

More Tomatoes: Giving some support

16 06 2013

Our plants are in the ground; and though they may be small at first, they will eventually grow into amazing specimens with that desirable tomato harvest. This will be a thing of beauty: globes that are large, round and smooth; I just need one in my mouth for a taste. When the ripe orb touches your lips it’s just heaven. It is important to provide appropriate support for the girls, keeping them high and proud for the world to admire. Am I still talking about tomatoes? Um… yes, tomatoes.

Tomatoes need to be kept off the ground, away from the dirt, pests, and soil-born pathogens. How can we accomplish this?

Let’s explore four different categories of tomato support:





Poles are the easiest to place in the garden, but may require maintenance through the growing season. You drive the pole into the ground next to the Ms Tomato, being careful to stay away from the roots. Then just gently tie her to the pole, working your way up the main stem as she grows. Note that indeterminate varieties continue to grow throughout the season, and may outgrow a post if not long enough.

Just like me, this corkscrew post is twisted and fun...

Just like me, this corkscrew post is twisted and fun…

Just for fun I purchased some corkscrew posts to use in one garden bed this season. I’m sure the neighbors got some ideas if they overheard me talking about a screw in the garden or even a corkscrew in the garden. Either way, it sure makes gardening more fun. I just installed the post in the ground and gently wrapped the main stem around the corkscrew. Those limbs wrapping themselves around the pole is a thing of beauty.

In honor of Father’s Day, I am reminded of something comedian Chris Rock said. It’s a father’s job to keep his daughter off the pole. Of course he was referring to a different kind of pole. In our situation, it’s better to revise the quote. It’s a gardener’s job to keep the tomato plant on the pole.

Trellises are used in a similar way to posts. The plant is gently tied to the trellis as she grows. Some can get creative by tying up side shoots as well, having the plant grow flatter against the trellis. Have you ever had all of your limbs tied up? Trust me, the tomatoes won’t mind, either, as long as the ties aren’t too tight. What’s that? You haven’t had all of your limbs tied up before? How presumptuous of me. And I guess your level of enjoyment would also depend on whether somebody is tied up during a bank robbery, a kidnapping, or a third date. But I digress…

Trellis picture I "borrowed" from another site... I don't have a tomato trellis. This is for illustration purposes only.

Trellis picture I “borrowed” from another site… I don’t have a tomato trellis. This is for illustration purposes only.

Have you ever been to a vineyard? Think tomato plants instead of grape vines and you get the trellis idea.

Nothing but net... The netting underneath the tomato plant allows her to roam free while staying off the ground

Nothing but net… The netting underneath the tomato plant allows her to roam free while staying off the ground

By nets I don’t mean trellises, although netting can be used on a trellis. What I am referring to is netting installed under the tomato plant. The net is either in combination with a series of posts or the walls of a garden bed. It provides support for the tomato plant, keeps the fruit off the ground, but lets the tomato plant continue to grow au naturelle without other support. Using lingerie as an analogy, think of this growing method as the under wire shelf bra of the gardening world. And who said gardening couldn’t be exciting?

Now let’s stop my mind from wandering and get to my current favorite method of keeping the tomato plants up. Of course I am referring to cages. Time for the cage match, it’s a rage in the cage, starring Nicholas Cage… Yes, a cage…

Row of tomato cages... Aren't they pretty?

Row of tomato cages… Aren’t they pretty?

Why cages? Without them things can eventually get out of hand. Just ask Siegfried and Roy. Cages allow the plant to continue to grow upward without encroaching on other real estate in the yard or garden. The netting discussed above can lead to sprawl. You don’t have the continual maintenance of tying up the plant during the growing season, as with the pole or trellis.

Looks good in the right kind of cage...

Looks good in the right kind of cage…

Looks bad in the wrong kind of cage...

Looks bad in the wrong kind of cage…

You can purchase cages or make your own. It’s important to choose the best design for your garden. Some will look better than others. Kind of like a cage dancer… She may look hot on stage, not so hot in a holding cell…





I decided to make my own using a huge roll of 5 foot tall 14 gauge galvanized wire fence. I don’t think I would have succeeded without my bolt cutters and pliers. The assembly was a lot of work, but check out the results. The cage is basically a wire cylinder with larger holes created at different levels for harvesting. The cylinders have diameters ranging from 19 inches to 24 inches. All wires are wrapped into curves to prevent sharp edges. Keep things smooth and rounded for your comfort and the comfort of your plants. Send me a note if you would like more assembly details.

The openings in the  tomato cages invite your hand to explore the plant for a delicious harvest...

The openings in the tomato cages invite your hand to explore the plant for a delicious harvest…

I’m glad you took time to join me with my exploration of tomato supports. Remember to provide them with support, and they will reward you with a beautiful, and bountiful, harvest.

T2 — TOMATO PART 2: Planting a few ideas

26 05 2013

Less than 10 days from our last frost, and my tomatoes are growing. This picture is from May 25th in Central PA.


Did you ever have one of those days where you had only three things to buy at the grocery store? One thing led to another, and you ended up with two carts full of groceries, and a case of beer. Not a problem … until you discovered you completely forgot about the original three items on your list.

(Well, you remembered beer, so things aren’t that bad.[ Coming soon: why beer is good for your garden] ) But you get the idea.

The Tuh-MAY-der post Part 1 was kind of like that. There were so many things to say, that I missed a few tiny details. Such as planting.


What do you mean Dave? You said to plant them. Like, put them in the ground. Duh.


Well, sometimes how you do something is just as important as knowing that you need to do it.


The woman in your life asks you “Do these pants make my ass look fat?” Knowing how to answer the question is even more important than knowing that you need to answer in the first place.


Anyway, here are a few things to remember when planting tomatoes.








  1. No trenchcoat needed for this trench
    Don’t dig a round hole. Make it more like a long trench
  2. Deeper, baby! Deeper!
    Dig the hole for the tomato deeper than you intend to plant it. This helps lighten the soil and aerate it. The roots don’t have to work as hard to get to nutrients and water


    A manure martini? None for me, thanks, but the plants would love to have one.

  3. You’re full of manure… with a twist of lime

    What’s that supposed to mean? Have you been drinking?
    My sobriety has nothing to do with this…. I love you, man….Woooooo!!!
    No, what this means is you should be adding compost to the soil mix in this hole
    I may use composted manure, among other types. As for lime. Add it to the soil for calcium. Calcium deficiencies can cause blossom end rot. Don’t lose your crop to something easily prevented.

  4. sideways2c

    Tomato planting- Illustrated

    This entire situation has gone sideways
    And so should your tomato. Remember the trench? Your tomato plant should be planted at an angle in this trench, closer to horizontal than vertical. Plant the stem up to the lowest leaves. (Don’t plant any leaves. The lowest on the plant can even be removed if there are sufficient healthy leaves remaining.) The stem will grow roots and add to the root system. The soil surrounding the root system will warm up sooner and grow faster

  5. How about a drink?
    For the plant, that is. Give it a decent watering after planting. Do not compress the soil when you water. You don’t want to cancel out the soil aeration from earlier.


With your feet planted firmly on the ground, and your tomatoes planted firmly in the soil, you can eat some Planters nuts then  go over to that special someone and plant a big wet kiss. Let me know if this planted some ideas.

Oh, and if you want to know what my favorite answer to the dreaded “Do these pants make my ass look fat” question, leave a comment on this post, and I will send the answer to you privately.


I hope that you enjoyed Part 2. Stay tuned for Part 3



Toe-MAY-toe, toe-MAH-toe, tuh-MAY-der… just shut up and pass the ketchup

18 05 2013

Let me sing praises to the tomato, that most wonderful fruit.
I mean, that most delicious veggie.
I mean… Ms Tomato, I hate to sound indelicate, but are you a fruit or are you a vegetable?

Ms Tomato pauses, then answers in two simple words. “It depends.”
What exactly does that mean?
Apparently, the answer to whether a tomato is fruit or vegetable depends on whether you are in botany class or in law school.

The botanists out there know that a tomato is the sexual organ of the plant, the ovary containing the seeds – definition of a fruit.

Off topic– Thinking about the movie site Rotten Tomatoes…
What would Hannibal Lecter have to say?
“Ms Tomato, I would like to eat your ovaries with some fava beans and a nice Chianti… FFFFF”

How about a fresh tomato, Clarice…

As for the lawyers, they know that the supreme court decided the issue in 1883. The case of Nix v Hedden was over that taxation of tomatoes. Vegetables were taxed by the Tariff Act of 1883; fruit was not. The court unanimously decided that it didn’t matter what the dictionary said. Everybody thought tomatoes were vegetables anyway, so they should be taxed.

Now that we solved that, it’s time for planting!

Next big question: start them from seed or buy the plants? There are benefits to both. Buying the plants is fast and easy. Starting from seed, on the other hand, is a lot cheaper and gives you a better variety.

Starting seeds indoors? Give them light… lots of light. (SEE Grow lights in the Basement) Keep the plants from drying out, but don’t over-water. For indoor seedlings, it’s good to get wet, but too much of a good thing can be fatal.

(Growing tip- periodically have a fan lightly blow on the plants. It will dry out the soil a little and will strengthen the stems.)

Seeds should to be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost, and transplanted after the last frost date. I ignore that advice and plant mine 12 weeks before last frost, setting them out when the forecast looks like frost is going to be rare.

You have to keep the plants from freezing. Think how long you would last if somebody froze your limbs every night. It almost destroyed Schwarzenegger’s movie career. Have you ever seen Batman and Robin? Arnold played Mr Freeze, one of his most cringe-worthy performances ever.


This Ahnold killz plants. Hasta la vista baby!

Last week’s casualty of the big frost

Anyway, protect your tomatoes from Mister Freeze. One gallon water jugs work as a heat sink to keep the plants a little warmer at night. Place three around the plant. The sun will warm them up in the day. They will give off the warmth at night. Be sure to cover the tomatoes with garden fabric or mini hoop house when there is a threat of frost.

I hope PART 1 was as much fun for you as it was for me.
PART 2 is coming soon.

Grow lamps in the Basement… Dude!!

30 03 2013

Just the other weekend I modified the grow lights I have in the basement to better distribute light for my seedlings.


Seedlings in the basement? What exactly are you up to, mister? What is really growing in that basement of yours? Isn’t that stuff illegal?


Two things- No, I don’t live in Colorado. And everything I grow in the basement, from flowers to vegetables, is all legal. None of that wacky vegetation for me.



Friends are eager to help out when you mention basement grow lamps

It’s important that your seedlings get sufficient light before you transplant outdoors. The proper illumination will ensure your plants get a good start, strong and not spindly. You can buy your own lighting system, but where is the fun in that? I built a variation of a CFL grow light I found on the net.



But before putting the parts list together, it’s important to to watch a Cheech and Chong movie and eat a few bags of Doritos….


There, much better. On to the parts list for the original light:


One 2 foot section of dryer vent

One lamp cord with plug (I used an extension cord)

Two ¼ inch, 1 foot long threaded posts

Eight nuts to fit the threaded posts

One mountable light socket

2 anchors to mount socket

Three Y-shaped socket splitters

Chain for mounting


Now put on that tie dye t-shirt and turn on the Grateful Dead. It’s project time.


Let’s refer to the colorful diagram below. The one that looks like I was on drugs when I drew it. Does Advil count? (The only joints I worry about are my aching knees.)


Refer to these to build your lights


Step 1 – measure out the places to drill the holes. ¼ inch holes go in 5 places: the very center of the duct work, and at each of the corners. The corner holes should be at least 1 inch from the side edge, and 1 inch from the bottom edge. The red X in the picture marks the spot for the ¼ inch holes. Drill the holes in the designated locations [diag A]


Step 2 – use the light socket to measure out the smaller holes (1/8 inch with the orange X); drill accordingly


Step 3 – Douse yourself in patchouli and go to a Phish concert


Step 4 – Thread nuts onto each side of the threaded posts. [B] Insert the posts through the corner holes. [C] Thread a nut on each side of the post to secure to the dryer vent [B]


Step 5 – Strip down to your birthday suit and play the bongos as loud as you can. (Special credit to Matthew Mcconaughey for thinking up that one )


Step 6 – Build a flux capacitor [D]. Go back in time and meet your parents. Hilarity ensues.



Step 6b – Feed the ‘blue’ lamp cord through the hole you drilled in step 1, leaving enough cord to connect to ‘brown’ light socket. [D] Attach the socket to the vent using the ‘gray’ anchors. [D,E]


Step 7 – Attach the wires to the light socket [E]


Step 8 – Bake some brownies. Eat them. Take a nap.


Step 9 – I think there were two… Uh, two… What were we talking about?? Oh yeah, grow lights.


Step 10 – Connect a Y splitter to the socket. Screw 2 Y splitters into the two sides of the first one. The final result is 4 sockets. [D]


Step 11 – Screw CFL bulbs into the sockets. [D]


Step 12 – Attach Chain [F] and hang your new lamp.


Step 13 – Admire your handiwork.


Step 14 – Grow things.


The reworked lamps differ from the plans shown, but they give you an idea of what the final result looks like.