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How do you grow juicy tomatoes?

juicy tomatoes

How do you keep birds from eating your strawberries?

What is the hottest pepper?

How can you avoid cabbage worms?
(and still plant cabbages, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, & kale)

Pesty slugs?

Why do my carrots look like a multi-armed octopus?

Japanese beetles eating everything in sight?

These questions, and more gardeners' FAQs (frequently asked questions) will be answered here.

If you have a gardening question, please e-mail it to:

We will do our best to find an answer for you and post it to this forum, as we are always working to gather advice from master gardeners, professional farmers, and experienced urban farmers, to provide you solutions to vegetable gardening problems and preventative measures, too! Please visit often, as we add more useful gardening tips for you.


cherry tomatoes

So, how do you grow juicy tomatoes?

  • Start the process by getting healthy tomato seedling plants from Clover's Garden Center.
  • Plant tomatoes in fertile, sandy loam soil, with plenty of organic matter (compost).
  • You can choose to plant them directly in the garden or in a large pot on the patio, remembering that they will need at least 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
  • Soil pH range of 6.2-6.8 is best.
  • Rotate your crops - plant tomatoes in a different location in the garden every year.
  • Tomatoes need warm temperatures - wait until May 10-15th to plant tomatoes outside. Of course, you can buy your tomato plants sooner, and plant them in a large pot, putting the pot out on sunny days to get a head start on the the growing season. Just remember to bring them in at night.
  • Plant the seedlings deep - "trenching in" their long stems up to the the first set of leaves.
  • Keep plants evenly watered at the roots- a good soaking 8-10 inches deep is better than a light sprinkling. Avoid watering the foilage.
  • Hand weed around the base of the tomato plants is best, but if you cultivate or hoe don't go any deeper than 2-3 inches, as you can injure the plant's roots.
  • Support your tomatoes - if you keep the plants off the ground, they can grow 4-5 feet tall, so make sure you get sturdy, tall tomato cages! Or if you choose to stake and tie your tomatoes, make sure to place the stake in the ground at planting time, as not to damage the tomato plants roots later, and be careful to use a stretchy materal (old pantyhose or t-shirts cut into 1 inch strips work great) to tie the plant to the stake to avoid pinching off the plant, and allow for movement in the wind.
  • Mulch your tomato plants once the soil temperature has warmed up (early June) with straw or similar material to keep weeds down, and moisture in the soil.

Visit Clover's Garden Center for a huge selection of tomato plants, from small, Sweet 100's to giant, juicy Beefmasters... and we have heirlooms to hybrids - check us out!

How do you keep birds from eating your strawberries?

fresh-picked strawberries

A farmer friend suggested that you paint some small rocks (the size of strawberries) red, and place them in the strawberry patch early in the season, during the first year that you put in a strawberry patch. When the birds swoop in for a feast, they will discover the rocks instead, and will avoid the area when the real strawberries ripen, as they will only remember the rocks.

If you are skeptical that the rocks will work, net your strawberry patch with cheese cloth or poultry netting. It's a bit more work putting it up, and removing it to harvest your crop, but it will surely keep the birds out. Remember to protect the sides, too, or they will just walk right in.

Note: Strawberries are a perennial, so they will grow and spread from year to year. It is a good idea to mulch them with straw in late November or early December to protect them from a harsh winter. Then, in spring, remove the straw from the top of the plants and use it to mulch around the plants, to keep the weeds down, and the berries off the ground.

How can you avoid cabbage worms?
(and still plant cabbages, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, & kale)

cabbage worm

The most chemical-free way to rid yourself of cabbage worms is to remove the small, yellow clusters of eggs on the undersides of the leaves of your cabbages, broccoli, and brussel sprouts in spring when they first appear. Make sure you remove them from the garden and completely squish the eggs. Once the eggs hatch, you can also handpick the worms from the leaves for a pleasant morning of bug squishing.

Another method is to make a plant spray of 1/2 cup crushed hot peppers and 16 ounces of water, then mist the affected plants, making sure the spray gets on the worms. Usually 2 applications a couple days apart will clear up the problem. Make sure you wear gloves and avoid contact with the spray yourself, as hot peppers are a serious skin irritant.

Bacilulus thuringiensis (BT), a naturally occurring bacteria that is harmless to humans but can destroy the bugs can also be applied to the affected plants. It comes in a liquid form, that you spray on all parts of the leaves, including the undersides. You will have to reapply it every couple days or after a rain, until all the worms are gone.

What is the hottest pepper?

cayenne peppers

The heat of a chili (or pepper) is usually measured in Scoville Units. Created by American chemist, Wilbur Scoville, his test dilutes pepper extract in sugar syrup until the "heat" of the pepper is no longer detectable by a panel of judges. Thus, the human factor of the test provides a range value rather than an exact meaurement. The number represents the the dilution rate to remove the heat, thus, the higher the number, the hotter the pepper.

Clover's Garden Center sells hot chili pepper plants for your vegetable garden, and here is the ranking of our "top 10" from hottest to mild:

  1. Caribbean Red - around 400,000
  2. Orange Habanero - around 200,000
  3. Thai Chili - around 75,000
  4. Cayenne - around 40,000
  5. Tabasco - around 40, 000
  6. Serrano - around 15,000
  7. Hungarian Hot Wax - around 7,000
  8. Jalapeno - around 5,000
  9. Anaheim - around 1,000
  10. Poblano - around 1,000

If you are looking for sweet peppers, we have them too: Melrose, California Wonder, Big Bertha, Red Bell, Yellow Bell, Chocolate Bell, Pimento, & more!

Stop in to see our selection of mild to HOT, HOT, HOT peppers.

slimy slug

Pesty slugs?

Diatomaceous Earth is made from the skeletal remains of single-celled aquatic plants called diatoms. The dust-like particles absorb moisture from soft-bodied bugs like slugs and aphids, causing dehydration and death. It feels like talc powder, and will not harm people or pets.
Note: it can also add moisture retention to your soil, as it absorbs water.

Japanese beetles eating everything in sight?

japanese beetle

Milky Spore (Bacillus popilliae) works to specifically attack the white grubs of Japanese Beetles. It spreads naturally as each infected beetle larvae dies, the decomposed remains release billions of new spores into the soil. This process occurs over time (2-4 years), but only one application is required as the disease continues to multiply on its own, as long as larvae are present. When there is no longer a grub infestation, the disease remains dormant, waiting for subsequent populations. According to the USDA, milky spore disease can suppress the development of large beetle populations, and it is not harmful to beneficial insects, birds, bees, pets or humans.

Why do my carrots look like a multi-armed octopus?

crunchy carrots

The secret to growing beautiful, slender, sweet carrots is deep, loose, sandy soil, devoid of any rocks or hard, clumpy soil.

Mix the tiny carrot seeds with some unused coffee grounds and radish seeds, then direct seed them in the garden early in the season. The coffee grounds will help repel root maggots, and the radish seeds will germinate quickly, to mark the row. As you harvest the radishes, you can also thin the carrots, making ample room for the carrots to grow nice and thick.

Also, mound the soil up around the shoulders of the exposed carrot roots as they grow to protect them from the nasty carrot fly, and keep the root tops from turning green and bitter.

Keep the soil evenly moist, as if the soil drys out, your carrots can crack and split.

Carrots taste better if they are grown in moderately fertile, slightly acidic soil rich in organic matter. Be careful not to over-fertilize.

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web page updated: 02.26.14