Growing tomatoes and peppers in central Ohio can be a bit challenging. With an annual average of only 150 days between the last spring frost and the first fall frost, there isn’t much time to get a long harvest period from crops that thrive in warm weather. Most of the larger sized slicing tomatoes take an average of 80 or more days to mature, meaning that from the time you plant a seed to the first ripe tomato will take 3 full months!
We work really hard at getting an early start on that 3 months so we can have large tomatoes earlier. Beginning in early March, we seed flats of tomatoes in 72 cell growing trays. To get tomatoes to germinate in the coolness of our basement, the trays sit on temperature controlled heat mats and are covered with humidity domes. After about 6 days at 75 degrees, the seedlings emerge and they are ready to move over to the light shelves. We use 4 ft long wire shelving that has pink LED grow lights suspended over each shelf. The lights are controlled with a timer to allow a 12 hour on/off photo period for the plants. After about 3 weeks in the trays, the seedlings are ready to be “potted up” into larger pots. The seedlings’ roots are quickly expanding and we find that 3.5 to 4 inch square pots give the plants enough room while maintaining efficient use of space under the lights.
After about another 3 to 4 weeks, the seedlings are 6 to 8 inches tall and are ready to be hardened off. Hardening off is the process of acclimating the plants to outside conditions. To harden off young plants, we transfer them to benches in our polycarbonate propagation greenhouse. By opening the vents in the roof of the propagation greenhouse, the seedlings are exposed to breezes and stronger sunlight, which quickly strengthens them and causes them to really ramp up their growth rate. If you don’t have a shelter like a greenhouse to harden off your seedlings, simply allowing them to hang out on the porch for a few hours each day will also help them adjust to outside growing conditions. Bring them inside each night, since overnight temps in Ohio can fluctuate quite a bit and you don’t want to shock your plants.
After a week of careful observation, watering and monitoring the plants’ response to being outside, it’s usually safe to plant them into their final spot. For us, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers all grow inside one of two high tunnels that we have on our farm. The high tunnels do a great job of controlling the rainfall that gets on the plants (like, none!) and also helps us control the air temperature. Tomatoes and peppers especially love the heat and will not produce well at all if the temperature drops below 50 degrees or so. In fact, studies show that even though tomatoes can survive temperatures below 50, exposure to low temps can permanently stunt their potential production of fruits.
So there you have it, our method of starting seedlings under lights to produce better and earlier tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. We hope this helps you get a start on your summer garden plans. There’s nothing in a store that compares to a home grown tomato!
Garlic is perhaps one of the easiest crops to grow with a little bit of prior planting. Here's how we grow it in central Ohio.
Garlic is my favorite crop to grow because its timeline is opposite of most of the rest of the crops that we grow. It is planted in October, overwinters in the ground, sprouts up in early spring and gets harvested in early July. Garlic levels out some of the workload in the spring by not needing too much of our time. Then when the busy planting season is winding down in early summer, it's time to harvest and cure the garlic. PlantingTo plant, begin by separating each bulb into cloves. Each clove will grow into a completely formed bulb. Cloves are planted about 4 inches deep and about 4-5 inches apart in a row. Each row is about 10 inches apart so that we can get the wheel hoe between the rows for weed control.Remove the scapes when they appear. Scapes are the flowering part of hardneck garlic varieties. Softneck garlic doesn't produce scapes.
Harvest Around July 4thIt's time to harvest the crop when about half of the green leaves have turned brown and are withering. For us, that's usually in early July. Waiting too late to harvest will mean the bulbs have grown too large and the protective paper covering will split, resulting in poor storage ability of the cured garlic. Harvesting too soon will mean smaller overall bulbs.To harvest, dig each row with a D-handle garden fork. Be careful not to pierce the bulbs with the tines of the fork. With the soil loosened, pull each bulb and shake as much soil off as possible. Leave the stems on the bulbs while curing. The bulbs absorb moisture from the green stems which also plumps up the bulbs. Cure in a dry, shady location with plenty of air flow. In about 3 weeks the stems will be dried and ready to cut from the bulb. We use pruning shears to clip the stems and heavy duty scissors to trim the roots. The bulbs are now ready to store long term. If cured and stored properly, hardneck garlic will store for about 4 months.