Frequently Asked Questions

Hattie's Plant FAQs

This page serves to answer most frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the plants Hattie’s Garden sells for the home gardener in early spring. It also serves as a FAQ on the vegetables, produce and flowers Hattie sells during the market season running from May through November either at the Historic Lewes Farmers Market (HLFM) on Saturday mornings, or at Hattie’s Garden on Thursday afternoons.

This page is organized by three FAQ Topics

  1. Tomatoes from Hattie generally sold in 1/4 inch pots for your container or home garden (e.g. container growing, fertilizer, tomato varieties, etc.)
  2. All other Plants from Hattie generally sold in 1/4 inch pots for your container or home garden (Eggplant, Herbs, Peppers, & Flowers)
  3. Produce, Vegetables and Flowers that Hattie sells for your consumption during the market season.

You are always welcome to e-mail Hattie with any questions not covered here.


Frequently Asked Questions about Hattie’s Tomatoes

tomato-varieties-header

What can you tell me about tomatoes?

Tomato Varieties

There are more than 7500 varieties of tomatoes grown worldwide. They originated in the tropical highlands of the South American Andes.

Tomatoes are a perennial vine. If a tomato plant stands upright, it has been bred to do so.

Tomatoes are botanically a fruit and a berry, but the USDA classifies them as vegetables. In 1893, in order to include tomatoes under the vegetable tariff law that did not apply to fruits, the U.S. Supreme Court declared it a vegetable based on the fact it was eaten mostly at dinner or a meal and not for dessert!

Classification

There are at least 3 different and simple ways to classify tomato varieties.

  1. Heirloom – also referred to as open-pollinated, or hybrid: This classification centers on a tomato’s genetic line.
  2. Determinate or indeterminate: This classification centers on the length of time a tomato produces fruit during season.
  3. Shape: Whether a tomato is a hybrid or an heirloom, or determinate or indeterminate, it is also classified according to its shape. There are four broad shape classifications for tomatoes:

    • Globe tomatoes: the most heavily commercially-cultivated fruit
    • Beefsteak tomatoes: the biggest fruit, not to be confused with the particular variety named ‘Beefsteak.’
    • Paste tomatoes: thick-walled fruit, used to make sauces
    • Cherry tomatoes: bears small fruits in long clusters.

See our tomato page for a list of the varieties available at Hattie’s Garden.

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What does heirloom mean?

“heir-loom [air-loom] -noun 1. A valued possession passed down in a family through succeeding generations. […] 3. A cultivar of a vegetable or fruit that is open-pollinated and is not grown widely for commercial purposes. An heirloom often exhibits a distinctive characteristic such as superior flavor or unusual coloration.” —American Heritage Dictionary

Heirloom vegetables are plant varieties that have a history of being passed down within a family or community, similar to the generational sharing of heirloom jewelry or furniture. They have been maintained through open-pollination for at least five decades and sometimes centuries, usually by small farmers or in small ethnic regions. An heirloom variety must be open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms.

Heirloom Tomatoes

heirloom_tomatoes

The “heirloom” in heirloom tomatoes signifies an old variety that was passed down from generation to generation. Heirlooms predate the intensive commercial farming that started in this country after World War II.

Some tomatoes now marketed as “heirloom” are actually a cross between two different heirlooms (crossed on purpose or by nature), or are a cross between an heirloom and a hybrid tomato. The cross is then stabilized over several generations so they become open-pollinated.

Note: The terms heirloom and open pollinated are sometimes used interchangeably.

If you save seed, always keep only that seed from your best plants. Good seed savers always select from seed from their open-pollinated plants that are displaying characteristics they want to encourage color, taste, cold-hardiness, etc. This also means you might buy an heirloom seed from one source that grows out differently from the same variety from another source!

The heirloom varieties we sell for you to plant in your garden are:

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What does hybrid mean?

Hybrids are formed when two plants of different varieties of the same species are crossed for specific traits. This practice has been conducted by farmers and gardeners for thousands of years by cross-pollinating two different, but related plants over 6 to 10 plant generations, eventually creating a new plant variety. The process requires patience, but is rewarding. By selectively cross-pollinating related plants in this way, farmers could create varieties that were healthier and stood up to the farmer’s micro-climate — their soil, their weather patterns, their predatory insects.

Hybrids take the best characteristics of a male and female plant and breed them into one plant by hand pollination. A hybrid seed is often marked F-1 in the catalog. That means it is the first filial generation and will not be reliable for staying true to the seed. In other words, if you plant the seed grown from a hybrid plant, you may get any variation including traits from both parents, but it will likely not be the same plant as the original hybrid.

The key distinction is that hybrid seeds cannot be harvested or replanted for the following growing season. In general, hybrids offer some combination of best traits of the two parents such as dependability, lower care, early maturity, better yield, improved flavor, specific plant size, or disease resistance. Peppermint is an example of a hybrid of spearmint and water mint.

Commercial vs. Non-commercial Hybrids

What is generally true is that hybrid varieties developed for commercial growers are bred for characteristics that make them less perishable and easier to ship. These characteristics are important to producers who are interested in transporting crops over long distances. Unfortunately, commercial hybrid varieties generally trade off flavor and texture in order to be less perishable and easier to ship. That’s one of the reasons that tomatoes from the supermarket taste so lousy.

In contrast, hybrid tomatoes sold by local farmers, like Hattie’s Garden, are not bred for their ability to withstand shipment. These hybrid varieties can be just as tasty as an heirloom varieties. For further reading, see our commercial vs. non-commercial tomatoes FAQ.

Hybrid Tomatoes

Hybrid Tomatoes

Hybrid tomatoes are specially pollinated under controlled conditions. Some of the benefits hybrid tomatoes can provide compared to their heirloom counterparts include improved disease resistance, higher-quality fruit or a specific growth habit.

Hybrids are usually noted as “hybrid” or by “F1” or “F2”. An F1 hybrid is a filial 1, first generation cross. An F2 or filial 2, is a cross of two F1 hybrid types. If you saved the seeds of most hybrid tomatoes and re-planted them, those seeds would not have the same characteristics as your first planting.

Our hybrid tomatoes are:

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Does hybrid mean it is also GMO?

F1-hybrid-plants-are-not-GM

There are some folks that are confused about the difference between hybrid tomato plants (as well as hybrid vegetable varieties) and genetically modified organism (GMO) varieties, which have had specific changes introduced into their DNA through genetic engineering techniques.

That is incorrect. Although many of our tomato plants are “hybrid” varieties, which means two different tomato varieties have been cross bred together so that best traits of each parent is preserved, this does not mean they are GMO and they are completely safe to grow and eat. At this time we do not know of any tomato seeds being sold anywhere that have been “genetically modified”.

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What are cherry tomatoes?

Cherry_Tomato_Mix

Cherry tomatoes can be either an heirloom or hybrid.

They are small tomatoes ranging from the size of a currant to slightly smaller than a golf ball.

Cherries usually have more concentrated sweetness than regular sized tomatoes and are especially fun for kids to grow, pick and eat. Pop them in your mouth while in the garden, or throw them into your salads for a colorful display. They are easy to dry for the winter and make great salsa. They are also remarkably easy to grow, although contrary to the size of the fruit, cherry tomato plants are generally very viney and big—except as indicated below.

Our cherry tomatoes are:

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Why do so few cherry tomatoes work in containers?

Many customers ask for cherry tomatoes for containers. The thinking is, small fruit, small plant. The reality is most cherry tomato plants are to their ancestors in the wild and much taller and more viney plants than large fruited tomatoes. But, you can grow cherry tomatoes in containers if you pay attention to how the plant will grow. You won’t have to support heavy fruit, but you will have to manage plenty of growth and you will want to prune it some most weeks. If you do a container cherry, provide a place for the plant to trellis—place the container against a fence or lattice work of some kind so you can tie the tomato plant as it grows.

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What are paste tomatoes?

Paste

Paste tomatoes are seedless (or nearly so), meaty, and on the dry side―qualities that also tailor them perfectly to sauces and sun-drying. While they can’t be beat for making the best tomato sauce, paste, and salsa, their intense flavor, firm texture, and few seeds mean they are just as appealing whole, eaten right off the vine, or featured in recipes that usually call for other types of tomatoes.

Paste tomatoes can be classified as heirloom or hybrid.

Our paste tomatoes are:

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What is the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes?

Indeterminate v Determinate

One of the most common questions about tomato plants is what the difference is between determinate and indeterminate varieties. Once you know the difference, it’s easy to make informed decisions about which tomatoes will work best in your garden.

The most simple explanation of the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes is that determinate tomatoes bear their crop all at once, while indeterminate tomatoes bear fruit over the course of a season.

Determinate

These varieties stop growing once they reach full size, which is usually three to four feet tall. As a result plants set all their fruit at once, bearing over a four to five week period and then are done. If you want to grow in containers, you’ll probably want to stick with a few different determinate varieties. They are more well-behaved and better suited to container culture. You can certainly grow indeterminate tomatoes in containers, but be prepared to be vigilant about staking or caging, as well as pruning the suckers to maintain compact growth.

caging

They may require a limited amount of caging and/or staking for support, should NOT be pruned or “suckered” as it severely reduces the crop, and will perform relatively well in a container (minimum size of 5-6 gallon). Examples are: Rutgers, Roma and Celebrity (called a semi-determinate by some).

Indeterminate

These varieties of tomatoes are also called “vining” tomatoes. They will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost and can reach heights of up to 10 feet although 6 feet is considered the norm. They will bloom, set new fruit and ripen fruit all at the same time throughout the growing season.

They require substantial caging and/or staking for support and pruning and the removal of suckers is practiced by many but is not mandatory. The need for it and advisability of doing it varies from region to region. Experiment and see which works best for you. Because of the need for substantial support and the size of the plants, indeterminate varieties are not usually recommended as container plants. Examples are: Big Beef, Goldie, most cherry types, Early Girl, most heirloom varieties, etc.

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Do you sell tomato varieties suitable for container growing?

Below are the tomatoes that should be most successful for container growing with links to learn more about each variety.

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How do I grow a tomato in a container?

tomato container potsGrowing a tomato in a container requires using a quality organic potting soil and supplement with a good organic fertilizer, following the directions on the label—more is not better. Avoid products with chemical fertilizers such as Miracle Gro soils; they will wash out of the soil more quickly and your tomato is going to be in the pot for the long haul.

Find the largest pot you can. For true dwarf tomatoes or those with rugose foliage, you might get away with a 12” pot, but I would suggest something a good bit larger. Measure the diameter across the top and pay attention to how much the pot—that will dictate how much soil the container holds.

A straight sided container will hold more soil for nutrients and for the roots, so always go larger if it is a tapered terracotta pot.

You can stake the tomato directly in the pot (i.e. put a stake down into the soil in the pot and tie the plant to it as it grows). This will be less effective the larger the plant and the smaller the pot, but it will give you the ability to move the pot around.

For a larger plant, a great way to deal with the growing plant is to trellis or stake the plant outside the pot. Put a stake or trellis alongside the pot. This will give you greater stability and less need to prune. But you will need a more permanent place for your pot.

Tomatoes need lots of light, at least 6 hours of sun a day, so locate them appropriately – this is one of THE most important factors in getting good tomatoes.

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Can I grow other tomato varieties in containers besides the ones you listed?

You may, in fact, grow any tomato plant in a large container, but some are much more suited to this type of culture and will be much easier to manage, while still producing a good amount of fruit for you.

Indeterminate varieties will stay smaller in a container, but will not give you nearly as much fruit as a plant with shorter vines. If you do grow indeterminates and heirlooms (most of which are indeterminate) in a container, make sure you use the largest container possible. It must be a good bit larger than a 12” pot (diameter across the top) and the larger the better.

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What does open pollinated mean?

Open Pollinated

Open-pollinated (OP) seeds can reproduce themselves entirely true to their type. This type of seed is great it can be harvested and planted perpetually and maintain the same characteristics each planting season.

Seeds from open-pollinated varieties produce plants and fruit that are identical to their parent.

Note: All heirloom varieties are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated varieties are heirloom varieties.

An open-pollinated plant is pollinated by the wind or by insects and will display lots of genetic variation.

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What is the difference between commercial and non-commercial tomatoes?

The distinction between commercial and non-commercial tomatoes is more important than the differences between tomatoes, whether hybrid and open-pollinated, or heirloom.

commercial tomatoCommercial tomatoes have to stand up to shipping all over the country and even all over the world. They have to be very firm with thick skins that will tolerate that kind of abuse. They have to hold well, that means to stay ripe for a long time before they go bad. They also have to be very uniform in size, shape, and color. People expect a tomato to be round and red all over – and so they are. All of these qualities take precedence over texture and flavor. 

The good news is many are becoming less duped by the “perfect” grocery store tomato. There is a growing demand for freshly harvested tomatoes, and small farmers like us, are growing them for market. What sets places like Hattie’s Garden apart from commercial growers is that we live on a farm and grow our own tomatoes.

hattie-tomatoesIt can be a lot of work getting these fussy tomatoes from the field into your kitchen. They do not tolerate stacking – they must be placed in a single-layer in boxes or trays. Especially for larger tomatoes, they must be placed upside down so they don’t get crushed by their own weight. They must be picked when they are a little under-ripe or they will never make it. These tomatoes wait for no one. You eat the tomato when they tomato is ready. And they do taste so much better.

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How often should I water my tomato plants or other vegetable plants growing in pots?

watering
You will need to water every day during the heat of summer and the roots are likely to burn if the container itself is not protected from direct exposure to the sun. One way to mitigate this is to paint the pot white so it reflects the heat, or simply put something in front of the pot to block the sunlight from heating the pot. Keeping tomato plants properly watered is more difficult in a container and you do not want the pot to dry out completely, but you don’t want it to be overly wet, especially at the beginning of the growing season. Allow the first couple inches of soil to dry out before watering. You will need to water every day during the heat of summer and the roots are likely to burn if the container itself is not protected from direct exposure to the sun. One way to mitigate this is to paint the pot white so it reflects the heat, or simply put something in front of the pot to block the sunlight from heating the pot.

Be sure to water to the point of saturation in the heat of summer. Sometimes you may want to water, let it soak in and come back later and water again until it drains out the bottom. Letting the plant dry out will seriously compromise your vegetable production. For tomatoes, you might end up with blossom end rot…This is caused by the inability of the plant to get the calcium it needs at the time it needs it. It is usually not caused by a lack of calcium in the soil, but a lack of water or a plummet in temperature that makes the calcium unavailable to the plant. I will sometimes get it on certain varieties if they are planted to early in the season and the weather is still cold and unsettled. You plants will grow out of that stage, but if it keeps happening, then your watering schedule may need to be adjusted.

Follow all the same principles for watering other vegetables, allowing the top couple inches to get rather dry, but never allowing the entire pot to dry out. By mid-summer, you will be watering daily and will even water twice a day when we have heat waves. As the weather gets incredibly hot, you must provide some protection for the pot. A pot sitting in direct sun will heat up much more than a plant in soil in the ground. Shade the pot, shade the plant, do whatever it takes to take some heat off. Move the plant to a place of afternoon shade, or simply put a lawn chair near the plant in a way that it blocks the sun during scorching afternoons.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Hattie’s Plants

What makes your potting soil superior?

We use Vermont Compost Company potting soil. Even though it is expensive to have shipped to Delaware, we insist on using it and have never found anything produces the results we get from this soil.

Vermont Compost CompanyWhy a compost-based potting soil such as this? And why is this compost-based potting soil the very best?

Karl Hammer, owner, operator of Vermont Compost Company began blending potting soil in the 80’s. Karl has been making compost and blending potting soil for over 20 years. A compost-based soil contains a large, diverse and vibrant population of soil microbes. The life in this soil helps to suppress soil born disease organisms.

Perhaps most importantly, this soil sets up your plant for life. The microbes work with the roots of the seedling to release nutrients from soil humus. The compost serves the role of organic matter in the soil, feeding the plant as the plants need it and helping to establish a complex root system. A compost rich soil will also provide sites for the retention of soluble nutrients as they become available, so please plant in composted soil if possible!

healthy soilThere are also some differences when growing in organic potting soils. The soil microbes will not be active enough to produce good growth until it is consistently at 60 degrees and above. You could get faster results if you used a chemical fertilizer, but you will not get a healthier plant. In addition, the plants must be moved into larger containers sooner than those you may find at the box stores.

Through the use of chemicals such as insecticides, growth regulators and chemical fertilizers, the plants you see at box stores may stay in their same smaller containers for much much longer than ours could and thereby add value for the retailer by greatly increasing shelf life. And of course, disease and insect resistance is enhanced through the use of such insecticides as neonictotinoids, the scourge of wild pollinators. For instance, treated seeds are soaked in neonicotinoids and that chemical then becomes active within the plant cells throughout the life of the plant.

I strongly recommend all folks interested in sustainable growing, buy plants from organic sources whenever possible. You will find many of us at the HLFM! And talk to us so we can help you understand how to have a healthy garden. And always buy untreated seeds!

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What can you tell me about eggplant?

Eggplant

With their unique taste and texture, eggplant is available in markets throughout the year and throughout the world, but they are at their very best locally grown and in season from late July through October in our region.

Eggplants originated in India and have been an important part of Indian and Chinese cuisine dating back to the 5th century B.C. They belong to the nightshade family of vegetables, which also includes tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes.

Eggplants come in all colors and shapes and grow to perhaps three feet high. Giving them just a bit of support is often helpful. The varieties range slightly in taste and texture, and in general the eggplant has a pleasant rich and complex taste.

Recipes often speak of soaking or salting to remove bitterness. This should not be necessary with any of these varieties as they have been selected because of their lack of bitterness. Bitterness is also more common in an eggplant that has sat too long on the shelf in a supermarket. Harvested in a timely fashion and eaten fresh, bitterness should never be an issue for you and soaking and salting have never been necessary for me.

Hattie provides two types of eggplant.

Asian – Asian eggplants are thin and long and do not need to be peeled. They are terrific for all kinds of dishes, especially middle eastern and Asian dishes and can be sliced in rounds for pizza or sliced long-wise and grilled for a few minutes with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (oh that is good!).
Italian – Italian eggplants are more like the fat, black eggplant you are used to seeing in the supermarket, but they will be much nicer from your own garden. Use them like you would Asian eggplants and also for the traditional things like eggplant parmigiana when you need good thick slices.

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What can you tell me about peppers?

Peppers

Peppers are another member of the Solanaceous or Nightshade family. A tender, warm-season vegetable like eggplants and tomatoes, peppers grow slightly less tall than eggplants but don’t mind a bit of support so they don’t fall over from the weight of their fruit.

Keep in mind you should rotate this entire family. That is, it won’t do to plant peppers or eggplants where you had tomatoes the year before. To do so will encourage diseases and insects specific to that entire family.

Hot Peppers

Hot Peppers

Do you want to add a little kick and a little flavor to your dish? Hot peppers are gastronomically indispensable. Adding hot peppers to your food is always an adventure. 

They come in all shapes, sizes and colors but how hot is each type of pepper? Actual pepper heat is described by the convention known as Scoville units.

The Scoville scale is a measurement of capcaisin concentration. Too complicated? Just compare the numbers and you’ll have a good idea of what you are getting into. Keep in minds though that nothing works so well as tasting the pepper before you use it!

scoville-scale

Our hot peppers available in order of heat:

Sweet Peppers

sweet peppersIn the United States, the term “sweet pepper” encompasses a wide variety of mild peppers that, like the chile, belong to the capsicum family.

Sweet peppers can range in color from pale to dark green, from yellow to orange to red, and from purple to brown to black. Their color can be solid or variegated. Their usually juicy flesh can be thick or thin and the flavors can range from bland to sweet to bittersweet.

The origin of sweet peppers can be traced to the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Central America. In 1492 Columbus first mentioned the sweet pepper as a spice.

Bell Peppers

Other Sweet Peppers

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What can you tell me about herbs?

Herbs

Growing your own herbs is easy and very rewarding. Herbs are often suited to easy container growing and become fresh ingredients for all of your cooking.

Herbs are also incredibly nutritious and literal storehouses of vitamins and minerals, as well as disease-protecting flavonoids.

Additionally, each herb seems to have its purported medicinal qualities. Medicinal properties attributed to herbs are the stuff of folklore, but as we look at the research being done today, we find many of these attributes have begun to hold up to scientific analysis.

Hattie provides three types of herbs.

  1. Basil: There are many types of basil and we sell several popular varieties. Basil does not like cold weather. In fact, it is very tender and won’t like nighttime temperatures much below 50 degrees. Always wait until the weather is settled before planting out basil.
  2. Hardy: These herbs (also known as cool weather) are those that can be planted earlier than warm weather herbs and can withstand frost and often freeze conditions. Many are hardy enough to overwinter and hardiness information is included for each herb.
  3. Tender: These herbs (also known as warm weather) should be planted after all danger of frost is past. Some of these herbs are actually perennials and would live year-round in a warmer climate where it doesn’t freeze. Some are annuals and will go to seed during the growing season, providing important habitats for beneficial insects and bees. A perennial tender herb can be overwintered inside or simply replanted every season and treated as an annual.

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How are Hattie’s flowers different from Big-Box Stores?

Larkspur from Hattie's Garden

Flowers from Hattie’s Garden are very different from what you would get at garden centers and “big-box” stores. These mass-producers usually offer product that are treated with Plant Growth Regulators (PGRs) and other toxic chemical fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides.

When you first buy Hattie’s flowers, they normally may not be in bloom or even show the beginning of blossom buds. However, they will be green, healthy and ready to take off in your garden or to be planted in your containers. And they will perform magnificently.

The flowers you buy in the big box store have nearly all been treated with Plant Growth Regulators (PGRs) and other chemical fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides. A flower in a small 6-pack or 4-pack with a minimum amount of soil has to be kept in that space a long time in order to reach bloom stage. To do this, nurseries must apply PGRs to keep plants from becoming leggy and given regular doses of chemical fertilizer to bring them to bloom as quickly as possible. What you see are flowers that should have come after the plant had become established in your garden.

When you buy a flower this way, it will never be as healthy as it should be and whose flowers should be removed when you plant. There is good reason for the nursery industry to do this for optimum sales. This is “eye candy” and customers want to see what the flowers actually look like. More flowers will eventually grow on the plant and the plant will grow in size, but that first flush of flowers in the pot is never a good sign of a truly healthy plant unless that pot is large enough to handle the plant’s normal growth.

To be sure you are buying healthy, robust vegetable and flower plants, find someone like Hattie’s Garden or a small local nursery that grows plants for their own field use as well as your personal garden. You will get healthier plants. You can feel good knowing that you are supporting local growers who take care of the environment. And you can ask questions about how the plants were grown.

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What is in an organic fertilizer that makes it so much better?

organic-fertilizer

By law, fertilizers much list nutrients as Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potash (Potassium). The number on the bag must represent what is immediately available for plant nutrition and cannot represent what will be available as the organic product breaks down over time. Therefore, you will see much lower numbers on a bag of organic fertilizer than on a chemical fertilizer since it is largely composed of ingredients that become available to the plant over time.

In addition, only the three nutrients will be listed, but their sources will also be listed and here is where we begin to see the benefits of using organic fertilizers. For example, a good organic fertilizer might include green sand, alfalfa meal and humates in addition to beneficial bacteria.

  • Greensand is your source for a slow released potassium and is an old ocean deposit mined in places like New Jersey. Greensand also contains lots of trace minerals as well as iron. Greensand is also an incredible soil conditioner, improving the ability of our soil to retain moisture and to store and retain nutrients. In addition, the changes in soil structure from greensand are permanent!
  • Alfalfa Meal acts as a slow release fertilizer for nitrogen, but alfalfa meal is much more than that. Because the alfalfa plant digs deep for its own nutrients—roots go as far as 12 feet down–it mines plenty of trace minerals as it grows. Alfalfa meal also contains triaconatol and this “fatty alcohol” is a plant growth stimulant. Trace minerals include magnesium, manganese, sulphur, selenium, iron and more.
  • Humates are incredibly stable forms of organic matter. Humates are essential for a biologically healthy soil and are the basic building blocks of vegetative life on our planet. They are formed from the biological and chemical breakdown of animal and plant life over extreme periods of time…we are talking about millions of years. In brief, humates improve the transfer of nutrients through cell membranes of plant root material—but they do much more. They are also easily destroyed in conventional agriculture.

Build your soil, grow healthy food—adopt organic principles!

Further Reading: Organic Fertilizers – The Nutrient Story.

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When do I fertilize my plants?

Fertilizer

Fertilize plants only during their active growth phases and wait month or so before fertilizing newly purchased or freshly repotted plants. Never fertilize a weak plant. Plants adapting to a new environment qualify as weakened. And never fertilize a dry plant (with a liquid fertilizer solution).

If you use organic fertilizer, you are usually safe to just follow the directions on the product.

But keep in mind that more plants are killed, stunted, burned or otherwise harmed by over-fertilizing than by under-fertilizing. Never over fertilize! Too much fertilizer will weaken your plant, make it a haven for insects and disease and fail to give you the vegetables you would like.

Additionally, in summer when you are constantly watering the plant, the watering will cause some of the nutrients to wash out faster. Also, if we get huge amounts of rain with inches at a time, the soil will be washed out.

Top the pot with some compost if you can and tighten your fertilizer schedule so that you are fertilizing on the shorter end of the recommended schedule.

Never use MORE than it asks for at a time. Remember that with organic fertilizer and compost, it is easier to make mistakes because the ingredients are not immediately soluble. With a commercial fertilizer it is much easier to incur damage by over-application.

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Why shouldn’t I buy my plants from a Big-Box Store?

toxic chemical fork
It is easy and very tempting to walk into Lowe’s, Walmart, or even the supermarket and buy lots of inexpensive plants for your garden. But you have a right to know how these plants have been grown. You may be aware of the controversy surrounding neonicotinoids, a popular pesticide in the U.S., and bee colony collapse. The link has not been direct enough to prove causality in the United States, but it is clear these chemicals are weakening our bee population, making bees increasingly vulnerable to other disorders.

Any plant you buy from these larger stores will very likely have been sprayed with numerous pesticides and fungicides, some of which become systemic. That is, they remain in the plant as the plant grows and then become available to pollinators as the plant flowers and to humans who consume edible plants.

Plant growth regulators have now been approved for use in the vegetable transplant industry. They help eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, etc. stay more compact on the shelf and keep them from getting “leggy.” (Believe me, my tomato plants get leggy very fast and are at a saleable stage for maybe two weeks if I’m lucky—with an optimum size for just a few days.) The label on one such growth regulator cautions growers that the chemical might still be found in the fruit of the plant. Originally developed for the ornamental trade, you will not find any studies done on the safety of growth regulators for edibles. In fact there are many chemicals approved by the EPA for use in edible products that have not been studied for human toxicity.

As a grower myself, I know how tempting it is to use growth regulators. When my plants get too large for their pots, I either put them into bigger pots or compost them. If I compost them or have no room to plant them, then I suffer a loss. Businesses like to minimize loss and chemical growth regulators are a great tool for maximizing the shelf life of plants. Those of us growing more sustainability-minded must assume the loss and mitigate it through good planning and good sales and probably higher prices.

Another good reason to steer clear of box stores is the questionable health, age and vigor of the plants you might buy and the way in which they have been grown. Plants may be “root-bound” and will never grow to their full potential. If you want flowers all summer, don’t buy the plant that is already blooming in its pot! It will not give you what a healthy green transplant would. Plants don’t bloom in their infancy and if they do, then that means the plant is older and its life has already been shortened and its size truncated. Many plants will have suffered a good dose of some type of growth regulator during their life, at least once. Growth regulators keep the plant from jumping out of its pot too early so shelf life can be extended.

To be sure you are buying healthy, robust vegetable and flower plants, find someone like Hattie’s Garden or a small local nursery that grows plants for their own field use as well as your personal garden. You will get healthier plants. You can feel good knowing that you are supporting local growers who take care of the environment. And you can ask questions about how the plants were grown.

Further Reading:

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Frequently Asked Questions about Hattie’s Produce

What can you tell me about lemongrass?

Lemongrass-stalks

Lemongrass brings a distinctive, pleasant citrus aroma to a wide range of Asian cuisine, adding its unique flavor to everything from marinades, stir-fries, salads, curry pastes and cold drinks.

A wonderful citrusy-lemon flavor is present throughout the entire plant, but especially the stalks which can be used in its entirety. The grass blade can be sliced very fine and added to soups. The bulb can be bruised and minced for use in a variety of recipes.

Lemongrass is a powerful antioxidant with antifungal and antibacterial properties and is a good detoxifier. It has many other medicinal properties and is very good used in Thai, Vietnamese and Indian dishes or your own inventions!

  • The base of the lemongrass stalk should be peeled and the bottom 4 inches is the portion to chop and freeze. You can mince or puree prior to freezing.
  • You can then use the tender inner leaves and stir fry or use in sauces or salads.

Easy Ways to Use Lemongrass

  • Soup: Simmer sliced lemongrass in chicken broth with garlic and ginger. Strain; add shredded chicken, rice noodles, lime juice, and cilantro. (Remove the fibrous lemongrass as you eat or before eating.)
  • Shellfish: Combine white wine, chopped lemongrass, chopped shallots, and crushed red pepper. Add two pounds of mussels; cover and steam until all shells have opened.

Recipes: lemongrass tea and lemongrass miso soup.

Preparing Lemongrass

There are two main ways to cook with lemongrass, and each determines how you handle it. To infuse teas, broths, soups, and braising liquids, trim off the spiky tops and the bases, crush the stalks with the side of a knife to release their aromatic oils, and then cut them into 1- or 2-inch pieces. Remove the pieces before eating (they tend to be woody) or eat around them.

To use lemongrass in marinades, stir-fries, salads, spice rubs, and curry pastes, trim the top and base of the stalks—you want to use only the bottom 4 inches or so. Then peel off any dry or tough outer layers before finely chopping or mincing. Lemongrass holds up to long cooking and gains intensity the longer it’s cooked. If you’d like a strong lemongrass flavor, add minced lemongrass at the start of cooking, browning it along with the other aromatics. For a lighter, fresher lemongrass flavor, add it near the end of cooking.

How to Store

To store, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for two to three weeks, or freeze for up to six months.

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What can you tell me about Hakurei Turnips

Hakurei Turnips (pronounced “hawk-ur-eye” or “hah-kur-ee”) are not your run-of-the-mill average turnip! Their sweetness is often a surprise to those tasting them for the first time.

Hakurei Turnips

These turnips are some of the most versatile of vegetables – both their root (the turnip) and the greens (which do not have the small hairs that are found on other turnip greens) are edible and delicious. Their texture is crisp and tender with a mild taste, unlike a radish, and they can be eaten raw. They work wonderfully in salads or slaws, but cooking along with their beautiful green tops, enhances their natural sweetness.

These turnips are an excellent source of fiber. The white bulb is full of vitamin C, and the green tops are a good source for vitamins A, C, and E, as well as calcium.  

Quick Tips

    hakurei-turnips

  • Use top greens as early as possible as they lose nutrients rather quickly.
  • Don’t bother peeling the Hakurei turnip, just give it a wash before eating.
  • Eat them like an apple. Seriously. The body of the turnips holds a texture not unlike apples with a distinct, earthy sweetness, hold enough water to go down nicely, and are great sliced and eaten raw.
  • Cut into thin medallions for a a great addition to stir-fries. Think of them as a replacement for water chestnuts.
  • Cooked turnips will turn buttery. Tossed into soups and stews, braised, steamed, pureed or glazed, sweet turnips add a refreshing, creamy dimension to dishes.

Storage

  • First, separate the greens from the root and use the greens in their own dishes. Be sure to leave about half an inch of stem on the root to avoid cutting into the turnip itself.
  • Sweet turnips store well in your refrigerator in a plastic bag. Be careful to keep them from freezing, as their thin skin does not protect the pulp.
  • For best sweetness, eat within a week.

Preparation Tips

Glazed Hakurei Turnips

  • Cook greens as you would any other greens.
  • Sautéed and seasoned with some soy sauce, lemon juice and cayenne pepper.
  • Sliced thin and eaten raw.
  • Add slices to olives and cherry tomatoes to make delicious appetizer.
  • Roast in the oven with other roasted vegetables.
  • Excellent cubed or sliced and pickled.

Recipes

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