Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Five Free Horticulture and Gardening Online Classes

These free classes are great ways to expand your knowledge of horticulture, botany, and other gardening-related topics. These classes are offered free and are done completely online, there is no residency required. There is also no credit given for these classes; they are strictly for knowledge only.

Plants and Landscapes

Utah State University offers Plants and Landscapes classes. This class offers eight sections. They include an introduction, overview, summary, plant life cycles class, nomenclature, plant physiology, annuals and perennials, and landscape use. The videos in the courses can be streamed or downloaded.

Annuals and Perennials

The Annuals and Perennials course at Utah State University offers seven classes for the gardener or landscaper. They include an introduction, overview, summary, annuals, perennials, sustainability, and woody plants. Combined with the course above, it is a great overview of plant knowledge.

Planning and Preparing Your Garden

Offered by Brigham Young University, Planning and Preparing Your Garden has sections on soil preparation, planting for a defined space, and different gardening strategies. There is some minimum software requirements for the course and you'll need to make sure your machine is capable. There is a left side link to a software setup to make sure your machine can run the program.

Growing Vegetables, Fruits and Nuts

The Growing Vegetables, Fruits, and Nuts program at Brigham Young University is available online and is very different than most distance-learning courses. It offers a grading system, so those in the class can monitor their progress. This course offers three lessons and students are encouraged to work on their own gardens while keeping a journal for supplemental learning. The class features how to plant nut trees, appropriate gardening tools, problems in growing fruits, and vegetable growing.

Agriculture Science and Policy 1 & 2

Tufts University has two Agriculture Science and Policy courses that work on more commercial applications than backyard gardening. However, proper horticulture techniques go a long way in giving a great education. According to the website, "This course highlights the relevance of natural resource conservation for ensuring healthy agricultural, food and environmental systems, as well as the various approaches for implementing it. This course, the first of two semesters, focuses on soils, water, air and energy. The second semester delves into plant nutrients, plant- pest interaction, crop breeding, and livestock production."

These classes are a great way to expand your horizons in gardening or refresh your memory on some of the horticulture you may have forgotten. They are all able to do be done at your leisure.


Brigham Young University, Tufts University, and Utah State University. Links are given in subheadings.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Growing the Best Tomatoes from Seed

Usually, when we plant tomatoes we buy plants. There are many different varieties available from heirloom to exotic colors. It can be hard to find some types in plant form. This is where using seeds can help the avid tomato gardener.

Seeds can be purchased from local vendors, farmers, or online. The most variety will be found online. You can also join seed swap forums to find seeds at very low to no cost. When your seeds arrive, you may either plant them in seed starting pots or place them in the freezer until you are ready to start the seeds.

Tomatoes love hot weather. They are able to tolerate temperatures down to 40F without dying, but constant exposure to cold will result in weak or dead seedlings. Be aware of your planting zone. You can find your gardening zone by consulting the USDA's Plant Hardiness Guide.

When you have found your zone, you can determine when to start your seedlings. Gardeners in colder climates will need to start their seedlings indoors, about six to eight weeks before the last frost. Those in warm areas can sow their seeds directly into their garden or use the indoor starting method.

Tomato seeds can be started in small peat pots. Once the tomatoes are growing well and have two 'true' leaves, they can be transferred to larger containers. Moving seedlings to larger containers will help prevent them from becoming root bound.

As soon as the weather is warm enough in your zone, you can prepare your garden for the seedlings. Work compost into the rows or plots where you plan to place your plants. Allow the compost to sit in the ground for a few days before planting, as compost can still produce heat if it has not properly decomposed. A few extra days will help prevent the roots of your plants from being burned.

At least three days before planting it is a good idea to place your plants outdoors to 'harden off'. You may notice that once outside the plants begin to have a deeper green. This is a good sign! Your plants are becoming tolerant to the outdoor temperatures and if in a sunny place, they're soaking up the sun they need to grow happily.

Now you can place your plants into the garden. A good rule of thumb is to remember that each tomato plant should be placed around 18 inches from the next plant. If you do not have a ruler, use your arm as a guide. While this method isn't perfect, it will help your plants remain far enough apart to grow successfully. Your arm, from the elbow to the tip of your fingers, is enough space between plants.

The hole you place your plants in should be deep, six to eight inches, and wide enough for the roots to spread. Place the plant in the hole, then mound the dirt up around the plant - all the way up to the first two leaves. Placing the soil around the tomato in this manner helps give the plant stability.

Keep your tomatoes watered - plants in a garden need more water than in containers. Add fertilizer in the form of compost tea once a month and you will be surprised at how well your tomatoes grow!

Source: 20 years of personal gardening experience