Posts Tagged ‘mulch’

Community Kitchen Garden: Tomato Suckers and More!
By Janine Butler, garden volunteer
Do you know what I love about this volunteer gig? Every time I go to the garden I learn something new – this week was all about tomatoes (and yes, I say tom-ah-toe, not tom-ate-er).
Tom Brinda, Assistant Executive Director of Horticulture at Lewis Ginter asked the volunteers to ‘sucker’ some of the tomato plants, which means removing all the smaller shoots (or suckers) from the plant and leaving just the main stem. The sucker grows in the axis between the stem and a branch. It was scary at first removing all the suckers as it felt like we were ravaging the plants that had worked so hard to grow.  But under the watchful eye of Jody, a master gardener and Lewis Ginter volunteer, we all got the hang of it fairly quickly.  Removing the suckers will allow the plant to direct all its energy into the main stem; this will produce less fruit, however the fruit should be much bigger in size. The plants that don’t get suckered will produce more fruit overall, but the size of the fruit will be smaller. This hopefully allows us to get the best of both worlds – quantity and quality!
The first photo is a ‘before’ shot of a tomato plant, and the second is after we have thinned it out:
Tomato Before

Tomato Before thinning


Tomato after thinning

Tomato after thinning

 We had about ten volunteers this week, which was great, and we managed to get quite a lot done in a short amount of time. As well as the ‘tomato suckering’, we also did some weeding and of course, we put down some more mulch! Regular readers of this blog will know that we have shoveled tons of mulch! We move a pile of it, and then the following week there is another pile that has been delivered, ready to be moved again!


We also planted more zucchini seeds, in the same manner that we planted the squash seeds last month – by making rows of small hills of compost, cover with soil, then roll over the black plastic barrier, cut X holes in the plastic and put in about 4-6 seeds. These seeds should germinate in about 10-15 days.  We are also starting to see some veggies growing – an eggplant, green pepper and tomatoes. There’s not too many of them right now, but hopefully soon we will have enough to harvest and then we can take it down to the Central Virgina Foodbank where it will be put to good use.

The beginnings of an eggplant!

The beginnings of an eggplant!

Last week I also mentioned the mystery bug that is attacking some of the eggplants. One reader helpfully suggested that it might be a flea beetle, but I’m not sure (although I am definitely no expert). I managed to get a photo so hopefully someone out there can confirm what it is!

Mystery bugs

Mystery bugs

I would like to thank all the volunteers this week for their hard work, and again invite anyone to come by and help out. We work in the garden on Saturday and Monday 9am-12pm; it’s great fun and we would love to see you!


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by Janine Butler, garden volunteer

In last week’s blog, I commented on how well all the plants had been growing over the last couple of weeks.  Well guess what else has been growing?  Yep, WEEDS!  I spent a good hour or so on Saturday using a cool tool called a scuffle hoe – you move it back and forth as if you were sweeping the floor, except instead of collecting dirt it wacks the top of the weeds off!  It works pretty well for the broadleaf weeds, but we also have some pesky wiry, grassy weed, which is a bit harder to get rid of.  We might have to find something else for those guys.

Also this week, we continued to put down lots and lots of mulch.  I am hoping that if we lay it down thick enough then we can squash the weeds!  I have to admit I am getting pretty good at mulching; it must be all the practice I am getting!  And something else I learned this week – mulch needs nitrogen to break it down, and tomatoes need nitrogen to grow.  Some of the mulch we have is a little ‘green’ and new, so we had to make sure that it doesn’t get too close to the plants, especially tomatoes.  You don’t really want the plants to work so hard to get the nitrogen from the soil so you should make sure that the mulch is about 12 inches from the plants.  In an ideal world you would have older mulch, but we need so much mulch that we have to take what we can get.

Tom Brinda, Assistant Executive Director, at Lewis Ginter updated me on some of the other things that they have been doing.  Basil seeds had been planted, and they were starting to sprout.  Soon we will have to thin them out a bit to make room and help them grow bigger.  The staff have also been feeding all the plants, because just like you and me they also need good food to help them grow!  Apparently you should feed every couple of weeks; we will do that in two ways 1) by using liquid food to “water” the plants, and 2) by side-feeding, where the plant food is sprinkled on the ground a few inches away from the plants to encourage good root growth.

We also had some mystery guests this week and they seem pretty fond of the eggplants and peppers.  We are still working to find out what these insects are.  These bugs are quite round in shape, and a brownish color.  I will try to take a photo of them the next time I am out there – if anyone has any ideas what they could be then let us know!  We had a new volunteer this week, a teenager and  Tom put him on bug removal duty.  I will stick to mulching thank you very much!

After bug duty the teenage finished planting zucchini seeds. I was really impressed by his enthusiasm — it’s great to see teenagers taking an interest in planting and growing stuff.

I have also been impressed lately by tales from my friends and neighbors who are growing their own veggies.  My neighbor Susan has already got a spicy green chili pepper (just one, but more should be on the way) and a couple of peas.  My friend’s husband Dan has a fantastic garden going on in his backyard – I am trying to rope him into volunteering here!

I hope that you too are all having success in your own gardens! And if you’d like to join the fun, remember we are here working on the Community Kitchen Garden at Lewis Ginter every Monday and Saturday from 9 am to noon, so stop by and give us some help, if you have a green thumb.

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by Janine Butler, garden volunteer
Under the watchful eye of Tom Brinda, Assistant Executive Director of Horticulture & Education, the first team of vegetable garden volunteers got things moving on Saturday!  And what a team it was!  Five ladies, including myself showed up bright and early to continue the work that was started last Thursday during the Planting Day Celebration.

First off, we moved several 50-pound bags of cow manure. This was spread up and down the rows of cabbages and peppers that didn’t get manure prior to planting.

Then we placed old newspapers down around the plants, about 5-6 sheets thick. Tom must have been so impressed with our muscles moving the bags of manure that he then made us shovel mulch all over the newspapers to a depth of several inches. Who knew that there was such an art to putting down mulch?! As the location of the veggie garden is quite open and can get pretty windy, the mulch had to completely cover the edges of the newspapers so that the wind would not be able to get underneath and blow them away. Then we had to go back and make sure that there was no mulch touching the plants, especially the stems of the tomato plants, as this can damage them.

While some of us continued to shovel mulch, a couple of ladies moved on to the next task of the day. Tom wanted to get some squash seeds planted. They thought they were getting out of the shoveling … but no! Apparently, squash seeds grow best when planted in little ‘hills’. This means making small mounds of organic matter (about 2 shovels full), and then covering them fully with dirt (more shoveling). The hills should be spread out about 4 feet apart. Next we rolled out the black plastic over the hills, and then, you guessed it, we shoveled dirt onto the edges of the plastic to prevent it from blowing away. Finally we got to the easy part – making holes into the plastic by cutting X marks, and then popping three seeds into the dirt, about 2-3 inches apart. In about 10-12 days the seeds should begin to germinate. Depending on how many seeds do actually germinate in each hill, some of the seedlings may be thinned out to give more space to the remaining plants.

All in all it was a good day’s work but we still have many more days of work to go. Teams of volunteers and Lewis Ginter staff will be working regularly each week to get it all done. I’m hoping that we didn’t scare away the volunteers with all the shoveling this week – we need them to come back and do some more work next week!

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