While some gardeners have their “spring rush” vegetable garden in by now, seeds for succession plants to expand and/or extend the harvest will soon be needed. Remington offers tips on growing transplants and getting them established in the garden or in containers in your setting.

It’s a cool, late April “no sweat” day as master gardener LaDawn Remington refers to the temperature in her backyard greenhouse where we talk. Remington likes it cool enough outdoors to be comfortable working in the greenhouse and warm enough for plants to grow there. She grows vegetable transplants for her garden, for friends and others to set out in their gardens soon.

“I get energy from plants growing,” Remington said. “Like being around babies.”

For years, Remington has selected and grown heirloom seeds that she’s curious to try, some her favorites, some other’s favorites and a few hybrids. Credentials include her own gardening experience and training, thirty years of seasonal work at Gurneys Seed and Nursery and gardening classes she has taught for the Yankton Country Extension Service and others.

“I have my own system for starting transplants. Beginning in January, I have grow lights in the house.” Because of cool temperatures, she uses heat mats under the plant trays to warm the soil. Lights are adjusted for about twelve hour days. “I try to do what plants would have in nature,” she said.

She uses a potting soil that contains organic matter, compost and white flecks that keep soil workable that she gets from Diane’s Greenhouse. She plants seeds in plastic cells with holes in the bottom where they grow until the first seed leaf appears.

Then she transfers them into Styrofoam cups with holes in the bottom; several cups to a flat. The cup planter volume is more than 8 ounces, which is much larger than the small plant, but has ample soil to grow roots.

“I think of transplants as goldfish,” she said. “They’ll get only as big as the pot they are in. When they get the right conditions, they grow with little transplant shock. I usually have tomatoes by the 4th of July if not before.”

At that planting she adds a layer of Chickety-Do-Do aged manure. She uses no chemical fertilizer on her transplants.

For tomato plants, she also adds a layer of crushed egg shells to prevent calcium deficiency. She adds more potting soil as the plant grows so that about half the stem is below the soil. She says her tomato plants grow more roots for production. It also stabilizes the plant. Once the plant grows more leaves, she cuts off lowest tomato plant branches as more soil is added to increase rooting.

“I save egg shells all year and give some with the plants,” she said. She puts egg shells in a plastic storage bag and uses a rolling pin to crush the shells. She stores crushed shells in a recycled jar until she uses them.

“They don’t smell,” she said.

Remington is particular about water plants receive and how she provides it.

“I only bottom water transplants,” she said. “Even in the garden I use soaker hoses. You get a lot of disease from soil splashing up on plants.” Later she supplements with collected rain water.

She pours water into the flat holding cups with holes in the bottom. By capillary action, water enters the soil in each cup.

“To tell if they need water, I lift each cup and compare weights. If a few are lighter in weight, I put them in a flat with water to get an extra soak.” The flats have uneven bottoms that allows water to move from one end to the other. She lines the flats with perforated plastic sheets used for cross stitching, cut to flat size, to keep cups from tipping. Plastic sheets were a garage sale find.

As soon as spring weather begins to settle she moves flats of plants in Styrofoam cups to her plastic greenhouse.

“I can’t wait until plants go to the greenhouse. They take over the house,” she said.

Cups provide some inulation around each plant. Milk house heater with a thermostat and a shut-off if the heater tips over, adds heat on colder nights. Of course, some gardeners continue plants under grow lights indoors until transplants are ready for the garden.

“It’s coldest near morning,” she has noticed from watching weather reports. Her greenhouse has shade cloth above all season and row cover cloth down the sides for shade. She found a recycle use for baby crib bumpers to insulate the benches. She puts the plants below the bench to adjust slowly to light intensity of the greenhouse.

“I use a fan in the greenhouse and also brush plants with my hand. It circulates the air among the plants that are closer together than they are naturally. When plant stems move, they get stronger.”

Some Favorites She Grows

Thessaloniki red tomato has the name of a major city in Greece where it was developed to perform well in the hot Mediterranean sun. Remington enjoys selecting seeds to grow that are less common and interest her in other ways. She has posted information about the plants by their flats.

“Thessaloniki is my favorite tomato,” Remington said, for canning and eating fresh. They’re a little smaller, but are all the same size, just like in the picture.”

I grow them every year.” She enjoys them in BLT sandwiches and cans them for stewed tomato soup.

“I make Remington tomato soup using a pint jar of tomatoes and a pint jar of milk, each brought just to a boil separately. Add maybe ½ teaspoon baking soda to each pan (the soda will cause them to separately foam up), then combine them. This way the soup won’t curdle. My kids grew up on it, as did my husband — all Remingtons love it.”

San Marzano heirloom tomatoes are another favorite that she cans for sauces.

“They are not as juicy, best for pasta sauce. A couple come every year to get six of these plants. Two years ago, they weighed their harvest and got over 200 lbs. from the six plants. I like San Marzanos for salads too. In Italy, this tomato is popular for commercial canners. You can buy cans of them from Italy, but they are spendy.”

Celebrity is a hybrid tomato that she grows for its disease resistance in gardens where space doesn’t allow for year to year rotation.

Space with full sun (6 to 8 hours) is needed for tomatoes and Remington also looks for plants that are versatile for raised beds or containers for that sunny placement. She has known others to grow Thessaloniki in pots on the patio.

“Spacemaster” is Remington’s favorite cucumber for versatility and production. Upright bushes can be grown in a container or takes up less space in a small garden.

“National Pickling heirloom cucumber was developed by the National Pickle Packers Association from a Michigan Experiment Station,” she said flawlessly. Vines take regular space in a garden.

For burpless cucumbers, she selects Muncher Burpless heirloom cucumber and ‘Green Dragon’ burpless that has some disease resistance. Not a fan of pesticides, she puts yellow sticky tape in the garden to trap harmful insects.

“We have snakes and toads in the garden that like insects too.”

Armenian heirloom cucumbers are new to Remington this season.

“I don’t see them in the grocery store; probably because of their delicate skin,” she said. Peeling is not necessary. She likes to eat cucumbers and makes what she calls “cream” cucumbers.

“I slice the cucumbers and mix milk, Miracle Whip and a bit of vinegar, salt and pepper. I’m getting hungry for cucumbers.”

“Ground cherries (so called Cape Gooseberries or Golden berries in the grocery store) I grow every year,” she said. “They taste like mango/pineapple/pear to me. When the husk on the fruit gets tan, they are ready. I make jelly, but you can just eat them. The heirloom seed originated in Africa and came to the United States with slaves.” These plants require full sun and dried seed may be saved for future years.

“I got my start from a friend. They were common on old farmsteads.”

Remington also grows Victoria heirloom rhubarb; Stevia or sweetleaf, the sugar alternative plant; kale for kale chips; peppers; summer and winter squash and others.

Ready for the Garden

Remington and her husband have gardened on their city lot for 52 years. While their summer garden is not as large now, it continues to be productive.

“If you don’t use chemicals in your garden you’ll have lady bugs and lace wings that are predators for you. I had roses one time that were full of insects. I sprayed them. The next day they were full of ladybugs. I don’t spray anymore. It upsets the balance. I use diatomaceous earth from Ace Hardware and have insecticidal soap. I apply the diatomaceous earth after each rain with a hand flour sifter so it goes on evenly.”

“I hate weeding. Ground cover really helps. I use breathable (perforated) black plastic from Menards. When you put it down early, it heats the ground. Later it keeps the ground cool. I can work in the garden right after a rain. Weed barrier is worth a fortune.”

Remington grows many heirloom plants that may not be resistant to some diseases. Although they rotate plants year to year, the same ground has been in use five decades. She is extra vigilant about soil splash on any plant leaves. Soaker hoses water the soil. In addition to the black plastic, she adds an 18-inch diameter newspaper base around tomato plants and some others as protection from rain splash as well.

“I worked beside Ernie Meyers for years at Gurney Seed and Nursery. He always told people to ‘dig a million-dollar hole for a one-dollar plant.’ When you plant a tomato transplant, plant it halfway up its stem. You need to have loose soil so that the roots continue to spread out,” she said. She adds more crushed egg shells to the hole for tomatoes and may add a bit of manure; no other fertilizer.

Remington realizes that many don’t have soil and full sun for gardening and need alternatives such as raised beds or various recycled containers that fit the height needed to garden.

“We have church friends who used the metal track from a skid loader as a raised bed. On its side, it’s a big loop.” Now large animal water tanks with holes in the bottom have a second life for gardening.

Remington has areas in her yard from square foot and companion gardening she has tried.

“I first checked out the Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew from the Yankton Community Library and later bought my own copy. It’s a storehouse of information about gardening, no matter how much or little space you have. He companion-plants and uses trellises and other space-saving devices.” One of Bartholomew’s small space gardening books is designed for gardening with youth. But Remington realizes that gardening isn’t for everyone.

“If you haven’t experienced the taste of your homegrown tomato or gotten to select from all the varieties there are—that’s why I like gardening. A cucumber with the wax you can’t wash off, that’s so different from homegrown ones. I like food too much!” Remington said.

Share tips from your outdoor or indoor plant experience, give us a tour of your plant site, or tell us about other plant-related topics in our region and people who grow them. Contact news@yankton.net Attn: Brenda Johnson or write P&D, 319 Walnut St, Yankton, SD 57078, Attn: Brenda Johnson. Also, see “Plant Exchange Blog” at brendakjohnsonplantexchange.com or “Plant Exchange Blog” Facebook page online for plant topics.

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