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    Save the Date: Perennial Plant Society’s 30th Plant Sale is April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the new Expo 3 Building at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Here’s where you can find the newest varieties of perennials, shrubs, vines and annuals from local growers, along with long-time, never-fail favorites, ready for spring planting. Learn more at the PPS website.

     

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A great garden starts with the soil

QUESTION: Last year my small tomato garden did pretty good, but some of the tomatoes began to rot on the bottom. Someone told me it was because of the lack of lime in the soil. What do I need to put in the hole in order to have good soil for growing tomatoes?

soilIt sounds like your tomatoes developed the condition called blossom end rot. It’s generally due to a lack of calcium, but other factors could also contribute. Tomatoes need adequate moisture as they grow, but they should also be planted in soil that drains well and that contains the nutrients they need. So you may have to do more than just putting something in the hole.

In fact, any good garden begins with good soil. If the soil in your tomato bed is clay or sandy, you can improve it by working in compost, leaf mold, rotted manure or other organic matter. I’ve heard garden experts describe good soil to be the texture of moist, crumbly chocolate cake.

Before adding lime, it’s a good idea to have the soil tested to see what amendments may really be needed. Your county’s Extension service can provide the necessary instructions on how to have that done. A soil test also shows the soil’s pH – the measure of the acidity or alkalinity in the soil (tomatoes prefer slightly acidic soil, with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0). The cost of the test is reasonable (a basic soil test at the Soil, Plant & PestCenter in Davidson   County, Tenn. is $7 per sample, and includes the soil pH, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium in the soil).

Back to that question about what to put in the hole: I’ve heard some gardeners say they crush a couple of eggshells and place them in the bottom of the hole when they plant tomatoes. You could try it; it wouldn’t hurt, especially after you’ve improved the soil with all that other good organic matter.

Garden seeds: How old is too old?

QUESTION: How long do seeds last? If a seed packet says “purchase by 12/11,” would the seeds still be good for this year?  I’m looking at sunflowers, green beans, and other summer vegetables.

Packed for 2011. Still good? Probably, if they’ve been kept dry and cool.

It’s probably a common experience among gardeners to find packets of last year’s seeds – or seeds from two or more years ago (opened or unopened) stashed in a forgotten corner. They look too good to throw away, but is it worth wasting time and space in the garden to plant them if they may not germinate?

The good news is that many seeds last beyond the “sell-by” or “packaged for” date that’s printed on the packet, especially if they’ve been kept in favorable conditions – dry and reasonably cool. Seeds of parsnips, onions and leeks are among those that will only be good for a year, but seeds of most of the common garden vegetables can last two, three, or some, even five years. Here’s a short list from vegetable researchers atOregonStateUniversity:

Two years: sweet corn, lettuce, parsley, peppers, chard.

Three years: Bush and pole beans, carrots, cucumbers, melons, peas, squashes, tomatoes.

Four years: radishes, turnips.

Seeds of annual flowers are generally good for 1 – 3 years, the researchers say; seeds of perennials can last 2 – 4 years.

You can test the viability of a packet of seeds by placing a few in a moist paper towel in a warm room for a few days to see if they germinate. Seed Savers Exchange provides detailed instructions here.

If you have seeds left at the end of the season, the best way to store them is in a sealed jar with something to absorb moisture (rice or powdered milk are two suggestions). Store the jar in the refrigerator or a cool area in the house, such as a basement.