Six Essential Gardening Tools

Original Illustration by  Rachel Rolseth

Original Illustration by Rachel Rolseth

After a few years of gardening, you start to get a feel for the tools that you can't live without, and the gadgets that looked cool at the garden store but you never really use...

To help you decide on what tools might be right for you, we asked the knowledgable ladies at Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply to give us their must have gardening tool picks. For a few of us this might just be the first time you realize that the small shovel thing is really called a 'trowel'. 

A basic gardening tool kit should include a hoe, gloves, growl, pruner, trowel, watering can and shovel. Original Illustration by  Rachel Rolseth

A basic gardening tool kit should include a hoe, gloves, growl, pruner, trowel, watering can and shovel. Original Illustration by Rachel Rolseth

When deciding on what to buy, a big consideration is how much to spend. You want your tools to be reliable, but that doesn't mean they need to be the BEST EVER the first time you buy them.

Chances are you'll make some adjustments as you go. Luckily Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply has you covered for a range of options. From wood to metal, beginner to expert, they have a wide price range of quality tools to choose from. 

GARDEN TOOL ESSENTIALS | WHAT TO SPEND

Shovel: price range, $15-30
Great for moving earth and digging holes, breaking ground on a new plot, planting shrubs or small trees. 
Trowel: price range, $8 to $15
Great for moving smaller amounts of earth, planting and weeding. A must have multifunctional tool for ever gardener. Some even have measurements on the side for plant depth, a handy lil feature. 
Pruner: $15 to $75
Great for trimming woody perennials, trees, shrubs, thicker stocked plants, etc. Also great multifunctional tool for cutting twine, vines, opening packages, etc.
Pro-tip - Keep em sharp and dry when not in use (otherwise they'll rust easier) 
Hoe (hand hoe or long handle): $15 to $75
Great for turning over soil, quick weeding in a large area or for edging. These come in both long and short handle options so find the one best suited for you. 
Gloves: nitrile, range, $5 to $10
Great for keeping hands (somewhat) clean, protecting against thorns and other unpleasant pokey or itchy things, and for general use around the yard. 
Pro-tip - get a few pairs, keep them dry between use (so they don't smell) and buy leather or canvas ones if you're dealing with roses, thinner gloves won't do it
Watering Can: $10 - $40
Great for gently watering your plants, pots and container gardens. This method can take a little longer than a hose or sprinkler but you have more control over the water flow and can use that extra time observing your plants

For more information, call or stop by Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply. They have everything you need to get started this season, including the most adorable chickens you've ever seen.

Happy Gardening!

Seed Starting Part 1: Why should I start Seeds?

Photography by   Anne Ingman

Photography by Anne Ingman

It's March here in the Northland, but don't let this warm weather fool you. The temperatures can and WILL fluctuate and nightly freezing is still happening throughout most of the state. (It's actually snowing as I write this). While we northern gardeners are busy dreaming of dirt, gathering supplies and planning our plots, we are mostly just waiting. Waiting and waiting.  Waiting for our seeds to arrive in the mail and waiting for the ground to thaw.

The good news is, you don't have to wait any longer to get your garden on! The end of March and beginning of April is the perfect time to start your seeds indoors. No matter how many times I start seeds, I never tire of this yearly ritual. It pleases me to no end to transform my kitchen into a mini-greenhouse for an afternoon and then watch my little babies growing happily on a sunny shelf.  I just love to get my hands dirty once again and to smell that soil and to... oh, I'm sorry, where was I?!?!   Oh right!  If you’d like to try your hand at starting seeds, or have tried it before with less than stellar results, I'm here to tell you: YOU CAN DO IT.  

It can be a real drag to live in Zone 4 but we love our home state and I won't trash talk her. Here in Minnesota we straddle Zones 3 and 4 according the plant hardiness zone map . This means, our growing season extends from mid May (last frost date) to mid September (first frost date). That means, we need to give tender plants and plants that require a longer growing season a head start.  But let's get right down to it. 

Save Money
It is way more economical to purchase your seeds, a few trays and soil than it is to purchase plants that have been grown in a greenhouse.  You can get an entire seed packet for the same price as a single tomato plant at the market.

Plant Variety
If you look at any seed catalogue, or even the seed stands at coops or nursery's, you have much more choice in what you plant. Cherokee purple tomatoes? Velour green beans? Hansel and Gretel eggplants? Hello?

Organic Veggies
If you're into organic gardening (and I know you ARE), then it makes sense to know that the veggies and herbs you'll be planting have been planted in organic material and come from organic seed.

Don't worry.  You don't have to start all your seeds indoors. Many plants can be direct seeded into the garden. Greens, such as spinach, lettuces, sorrel, and arugula; root veggies such as turnips, radishes, beets, and carrots, (their roots do not like to be disturbed); snap peas; green beans; and herbs can be direct seeded when the ground warms up. 

The veggies we northerners are wise to start indoors are those heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, and plants that simply need a head start indoors because they require a longer time to mature. These include the brassica family: brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower. This is not an exhaustive list so if you're unsure, check the back of the seed packet for detailed seeding information.

With that in mind, think about what it is that YOU actually want to grow. My advice: Don't bite off more than you can chew--literally.  I am notorious for planting way more seeds than I have space for!  Think about the things that you would really like to have in your garden.  What do you like to eat? What does your family/ partner/ roommate (if you like them) like to eat?  What things tastes better fresh from the garden? What do you have space for? If you have access to a seed catalogue, page through it and mark the things you’d like to try.

I strive for variety in my garden, so I purchase several varieties of tomatoes and peppers and make notes about which ones my family likes best. My goal is to have a tomato tasting party this year because it is my personal belief that one can never have too many tomatoes. They can be eaten fresh, canned, salsafied, roasted, frozen, and sauced (if you need me in August you know where to find me). We pickle jalapenos every year, so I know I need at least six jalapeno plants. For most people, one or two of these is enough. My boys eat broccoli like it’s candy, so I make sure I have enough of these too. This is very subjective and personal, so I won’t tell you WHAT to plant, but I will tell you HOW.   

Once you have your list, it's time to get some seeds. Most seed vendors can be found online and once you order from them, you will likely be on their mailing list and receive future catalogues.

These online sources are great places to find seeds: 
Botanical Interests
Fedco Seeds
Johnny Seeds
Seed Savers Exchange
Seeds of Change
Rare Seeds 

Choose high quality seeds and organic when available. It is possible to reuse seeds from year to year if they are stored properly.  I have had excellent luck reusing seeds over from previous years. Here is a quick reference guide for how long you can expect seeds to last. Again, don't order more than you know you can use, or plan a planting day with friends and share seed packets!  

Now that you have your seeds, get your supplies together and we will see you next week to walk you through each step.
 

SUPPLY LIST
Containers: Seed trays or pots and covers
Labels
Squirt bottle or small nozzled watering can
Sunny window (south or southwest facing)
Soil: Seed Starting Mix (do not attempt to use soil from your garden)

Seeds!

You can find everything you need to start seeds, including a large variety of seeds at   Eggplant Urban Farm Supply  .

You can find everything you need to start seeds, including a large variety of seeds at  Eggplant Urban Farm Supply.

 

Welcome Amanda Eastvold to Tootie & Dotes! We scooped this babe up after some light stalking per our first introduction at last year's Champagne & Chandeliers event. 
Amanda know's gardening and homesteading (probably better than most of us) and previously worked with Humble Pie Flower Farm making flower arrangements. Get to know her more in our latest round of Lady Briefs

Speaking Tomato: What Your Plant is Trying to Tell You

It's around August each year that our tomato plants start developing all kinds of interesting looking spots and defects. 

Use our diagram to identify what your plant is trying to tell you about its current state. We explain solutions and tips to solve these common Tomato Plant problems.

In many instances, if your plant is to far gone pull the plant but DO NOT compost, you could be spreading the disease to your compost bin, no bueno. With that said, many of these issues can be avoided next year by rotating your plants locations, mulching thoroughly and avoiding overhead water (keep those leafs dry!). 

Illustration by  Ashley Barlow Art.

Illustration by Ashley Barlow Art.

VIRUSES
Do you have a sad tiny plant that isn't producing much fruit and has misshapen odd leafs unlike any of your other tomato plants? There are more than 20 common viruses that can impact your plants health and harvest. The sad fact is you should really pull and destroy these plants immediately to prevent the virus from spreading. Chin up, there's always next year!
 

LEAF WILT
Avoid over-watering tomato plants; just because a plant is wilted doesn't mean it needs more water. Check the soil; if the soil is dry (does not stick to your finger) then water your plant concentrating the water at the base of the plant, not overhead. 

 

PESTS (Caterpillars + Whitefly + Greenflly + Blackflly + Slugs)
Inspect your plant's leafs every few days for holes, bumps or bugs. Plant spearmint (in pots to prevent spreading), clover or daisies in proximity to your tomato plants to attract paper wasps, a natural predator of the horned caterpillar that rarely have stingers (next year to do list, check!). Feel free to manually remove pests at the end of a rough day with a big squish between your fingers (hey it's also organic). If you think you have slugs apply a thin layer of Diatomaceos Earth dust around the base of each tomato plant. An insecticidal soap picked up at your neighborhood garden center (we like Eggplant Urban Farm Supply) will also help fend off pests. 

 

RED SPIDER MITES
Look for thin spiderwebs all over the plant or for the spider and eggs themselves on the underside of the leafs. Spray plants with a fine mist of water, twice daily, as the spider mite can only thrive in hot dry conditions. An insecticidal soap picked up at your neighborhood garden center (we like Eggplant Urban Farm Supply) will also help but should be sprayed every week.


GREENBACK
You may start spotting the green unripened areas around the stem of the plant. Because this problem is caused by high heat and too much sun you really can only prevent this from happening by providing some shade for the plant (eg. a trellis, other taller plants or trees, we like giant sun flowers). Tomatoes with greenback are still edible, just cut the green sections off or allow them to ripen more in doors in a brown paper bag for a day or two.

 

SUN SCORCH
This will first begin to appear as a white or yellow spotted area on the upper side of tomato that faces the sun. It's not really dangerous to the plant but long bouts of high heat can cause the fruit to blister then you might get fungal problems. Cages can help and a little extra nitrogen in the soil but rethink next year's planting spot. Give the plants a little shade provided by a fence or taller plants. If you know your growing space is susceptible to Sun Scorch plant tomato varieties that naturally have larger heavier foliage


TOMATO BLIGHT
Early tomato blight forms spots on the leaves, which then turn yellow and die. The spots may start out small and shrunken and as they get bigger they get longer. Spots which are on the stem near the ground can cause the stem to shrink.
Avoid overhead watering (do we sound like a broken record yet?) by watering at the base of the plant. Water your plants only in the mornings to give the leafs time to dry out. If you see anything that even remotely looks like blight, begin a spraying program of alternating organic copper spray, and Serenade biological fungicide, both of which are safe to use on edibles. If you have Late Blight (blue gray spots on the leafs and fruit that are turning brown) pull the effected plant immediately.
Real talk, I plant a few extra plants (spaced far apart to prevent overcrowding but also to prevent problems from spreading)  and if any of my plants show any sign of blight I pull the plant. The earlier the better to prevent it from spreading to other healthier plants. 


BLOSSEM END ROT
If you've spotted a dark, rotting spot on the bottom of your tomatoes the soil pH should be 6.5 to 6.8 to free more calcium in the soil chemistry. Test results will indicate the amount of lime to add. Even better, lime also contains calcium. Work the lime into the top 12 inches of soil. Use a lime labeled “fast-acting,” which is better than ground limestone unless you have weeks to wait for the lime to react in the soil. If the pH is already correct, the soil test will recommend a different calcium source, such as gypsum.  Also, add crumbled egg shells to your compost or bury them in your garden over time to help maintain the calcium levels. 


FRUIT SPLITTING
This is almost unavoidable during the end of a growing season, unless you are in a green house. Water regularly and fertilize the soil often to keep the plant happy and the soil around it healthy. We like Dr.Earth on our tomatoes.