Avoiding the Plague of a Thousand Tomatoes and Starting Your Own Residential Garden

Every year like clockwork, I think something like “I want to grow watermelons this year!” then quickly realize, it’s July and Home Depot only has 10 different types of tomato plants, none of which are San Marzano, Cherry, or Grape. But time and again, and to my own sabotage, I buy up 4 different types of Beefsteaks and call it a day, then find myself plagued by a 1000 tomatoes in late August.

If you ever thought about making your own residential garden or maybe you already have one and are looking for a different perspective, it’s a decent amount of work on the front end but maintaining the garden itself is not particularly difficult. Whether you choose a flower, vegetable, or fruit garden (or some combination of those three), having a garden adds a fun element to your Summer from enjoying beautiful flowers to eating a freshly picked pepper.

Find a Good Spot. You need to locate a great spot for a garden. Not all “great spots” are going to look the same. Here in Aspinwall where grassy and sunny yards are few and far between, you may have to adopt a bit of an unconventional garden. Your “great spot” might be a couple of large pots that a tomato plant or a pepper plant may grow in. Your “great spot” might also be a 20 foot by 20 foot area in your back yard. It will all depend on the circumstance.

If you do intend to plant in the ground, make sure that your soil is good for a garden. Soil testing can identify garden problems before they occur. Consider reading through the following articles before you test your soil:

Monohan, Julie. “10 Easy Soil Tests That Pinpoint Your Garden’s Problems.” https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/gardening/a20705682/soil-testing/ (June 10, 2018);

Gardens also invite all sorts of butterflies and bees.

Marc, M. “How to use a soil test kit.” https://www.lowes.com/n/how-to/test-and-improve-your-soil (Dec. 8, 2020);

Reich, Lee. “Soil Testing is Worth the Effort.” https://www.finegardening.com/article/soil-testing-is-worth-the-effort (Accessed February 20, 2021).

How to Use Your Square Feet: Whether you are growing plants in a pot or your yard, you need to do the math. Measure the area that you intend to plant your garden with a yard stick or a measuring tape. You can do this 9th grade math style, that is, length multiplied by width. Write down these numbers, you will need them to map out your garden.

Choose your Plants: There are some considerations you need to make in choosing plants: (1) Does this plant grow in this climate? (2) How much space does my plant need? (3) Do I have enough space to accommodate my plant? (4) How much light does my plant need? (5) Will my plant be able to grow in my soil?

First, confirm the plant you want to grow can actually grow in Aspinwall. There is a reason that you don’t see any coconut trees here. You can confirm this through a simple google search and oftentimes on the back of a seed package.

Second, you can identify how much space a particular plant needs by reviewing the back of the seed packet.

Third, make sure you have enough space for your plant(s) to grow. Compare your plants needed space to the area available in your garden. It is best to map out your garden before you plant your garden. This map doesn’t need to be color coated or even have a key, a crude idea of how you will use the space that maps out where plants will be placed is all that you need.

Fourth, does your garden have the requisite light requirements for your plant? Take a look at the back of your seed packet and determine how much light your plant needs. Make sure the space you intend to plant has this same required light.

I did a poor job managing space in my garden in the summer of 2019 because I did not read the spacing requirements on the back of my seed package.

Fifth, check the back of your plant packet or perform a google search to determine the soil requirements for your particular plant. If your soil does not meet the requirements, you may be able to use a compost, or some other additive to improve your soil. Your soil test compared with your plant requirements should allow you to identify any shortcomings. Some quick research or speaking with a Lowe’s or Home Depot Associate will allow you to remedy your soil’s deficiencies.

Starting Your Garden in Doors and On Time: Finally, it’s time to start your garden. Take a look online or the back of your seed package. There should be information regarding when is the best time to start your plant inside and when you should place your plant outside.

Some seeds germinate better after being placed in warm water overnight, you may also want to consider and research the best methods for your seed’s germination.

Here’s a Quick and Dirty Chart of When to Start Your Seedlings Inside:

March: Beets, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale, Lettuce, Onions, Peas, Peppers, Spinach, and Tomatoes

April: Carrots

May: Beans, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Corn, Cucumber, Squash

When to Harden your Plants and When to Plant Outside: When to transplant outside is a bit trickier of a question and particular to a plant. I recommend performing a google search for each plant you intend to grow. For background, you must know the last frost date and your areas USDA Hardiness Zone. In Pittsburgh, the last frost date is May 26 and Aspinwall sits in USDA Hardiness Zone 6 according to Urban Farm. See Grow Pittsburgh. “Seeds and Seedlings.”  https://www.ufseeds.com/pennsylvania-vegetable-planting-calendar.html (Accessed Feb. 10, 2021); Urban Farmer, https://www.ufseeds.com/pennsylvania-vegetable-planting-calendar.html (Accessed Feb. 10, 2021).

Good Luck!

Blog By: Mary Hancock

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