Yes, planting season is here. Successful herb and vegetable gardens require planning, preparing the soil, selecting gardening equipment, choosing and handling seeds and transplants appropriately, irrigating, fertilizing, and controlling weeds.

When selecting the vegetables to grow, consider what you and your family like to eat. Although the vegetables pictured in a garden catalogue may look delicious, there is no value in taking up gardening space with vegetables that no one eats. Consider how the produce will be used. Will part of it be canned, frozen, dried, stored or eaten fresh?

To help you find the best vegetables to grow in this area, Victoria County Master Gardeners invite you to our first Virtual Vegetable Bedding Plant sale. The virtual plant sale will be online from Feb. 17 to 19.

You will be able to shop online and checkout. Finally, you will then be able to schedule your own pickup time from a choice of time slots on Feb. 20. Your order is complete when you have chosen your plants, provided payment and selected a pickup time.

Here are varieties we will have ready for the sale:

  • Vegetables: Yellow squash, zucchini squash, white scallop squash, pickling cucumber, burpless cucumber, egg plant
  • Tomato varieties: Celebrity, mortgage lifter, sweet 100’s, better boy, early girl, patio, Juliette, yellow pear
  • Peppers: California wonder bell, sweet banana, sweet gypsy, jalapeño, serrano, nadapeno, sweet lunch box, chili pequin
  • Herbs: Cilantro, dill, Italian parsley, thyme, chives

Back to your vegetable garden. It is a good idea to have your soil tested, especially if this area is a new garden space. Kits are available at your Victoria County Extension Office. There is no need to test your soil more than once a year.

Today, I would like to focus on some of the basics for growing tomatoes. When selecting tomato varieties, you must choose between plants with different growth habits called determinate or indeterminate.

Determinate varieties (including bush varieties) reach a certain plant height and then stop growing. The majority of their fruit matures within a month or two and appears at the ends of the branches. These are popular with gardeners who like to can, make sauce, or have another reason for wanting most of their tomatoes at once. Most determinate varieties need a cage, but there are some varieties that are stocky like patio, or better bush, which usually just need a stake to keep them from toppling over in the rain or high winds.

Indeterminate varieties continue to grow and produce tomatoes along the stems throughout the growing season. Plants need extra-tall supports of at least 5 feet. Because indeterminate varieties throw out so many shoots, gardeners often prune them for optimum-sized fruit or train them on a very tall trellis.

Tomato names are often followed by capital letters that stand for resistance to certain diseases. V-Verticillium Wilt, F-Fusarium Wilt, N-Nematodes, ASC- Alternaria Stem Canker, ST-Stemphylium, SWV-Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus, LB- Late Blight. VFN is the most sought-after for our growing area.

Tomatoes are very resilient and forgiving even for amateur gardeners. Plant your tomatoes deep, leaving only the top two sets of leaves exposed. If your plants are overgrown you can dig a trench and lay them down in it. Then turn up the ends and cover the stem. Buried tomato stems develop roots along the entire buried area and provide lots of roots for feeding and plant support. Fertilize when planting and then top dress with more fertilizer when they start fruiting for greater production.

The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County.