John Tullock grew up on a farm in the hills of eastern Tennessee and has never lost his fascination with the natural world. He earned a master’s degree in aquatic biology from the University of Tennessee, and has been involved with aquariums, water gardens, wildlife conservation and, of course, gardening, for over forty years. His current passions include growing food and raising rare plants on his quarter acre suburban residence near Knoxville. He is the author of numerous books, the latest of which is The New American Homestead: Sustainable, Self-Sufficient Living in the Country or in the City. When not gardening, writing or lecturing, he does market research and product development for a national retail trade group.

Recent Blog Posts

Jan 31
Only Fifty Days to Go  

Jan 17
Indoor Growing, and a Word About Potatoes  

Jan 10
Time for Early Plantings  

Jan 03
New Year, New Garden  

Dec 13
Seed Catalogs Arriving Soon!  

Dec 07
New Vegetable Gardening Book  

Nov 29
Sustainable Holiday Decorations  

Nov 15
The First Hard Freeze  




New Year, New Garden
by John Tullock - posted 01/03/15

Happy New Year!

Even before New Year's Eve, we had received a couple of seed catalogs. Now, we have half a dozen, with more undoubtedly on the way. Whether you realize it or not, the 2015 gardening season has begun!

Now is the perfect time to think about what you will grow in your vegetable garden come spring, and seed catalogs are full of great suggestions. Trending this year are compact vegetable varieties suitable for containers or small space gardens. Plant breeders seem to have outdone themselves with lots of new tomatoes, peppers and squash, staples of the summer garden here in the South.

Tomatoes rank high on almost everyone's list, and there are varieties suitable for all kinds of growing situations, from patio pots to a traditional row garden. When looking for tomato varieties, consider how much support the plants will need. Indeterminate tomatoes typically grow a bit larger in Tennessee than the catalog listings indicate. Be prepared with a large, sturdy trellis. If you cannot provide appropriate support, consider one of the smaller tomato types that can be grown in a hanging basket.

Peppers, both hot and sweet, are also popular. Peppers are typically more compact than tomatoes, but nevertheless benefit from a cage or trellis. Some peppers bear so much fruit the branches will break if left unsupported. Several new introductions remain small and are suitable for patio containers.

Squash have gained a reputation for being uncontrollable sprawlers that take up too much room, but recent introductions promise gourmet-quality squash on compact plant. Most of the better summer squash types are Cucurbita pepo, a favorite target of the squash borer. The surefire, organic way to control this pest is to prevent its access to your plants. Keep squash covered with a row cover or grow tunnel until female flowers appear. Then, remove the cover to allow access by pollinators. Once the squash is mature, borers are less of a threat. A few varieties of summer squash are parthenocarpic, meaning they will set fruit without a pollinator. You can keep these types covered for the entire season. The cultivar 'Cavili' is one such. Another is 'Easypick Gold' shown in the photo.

Among the early, cool season crops, lettuce is probably the most rewarding one for small space gardens. Looseleaf and loosehead varieties of lettuce will give you the most salad greens per square foot. Butterhead lettuces, such as the miniature heirloom Tom Thumb, will grow to maturity in a six inch pot, and are pretty enough to partner with flowers. Scallions grow well with lettuce, and combine well in salad, too. We are partial to 'Parade' an annual scallion that makes long, straight onions with lots of white stalk.

Early January is the time to start celery, onions and leeks from seed, in order to have plants ready for moving outside around the first of March. Leeks and onions grow well in a sunny windowsill. For celery you will probably need supplemental lighting, unless you have a greenhouse. Supplemental lighting for growing vegetable plants indoors continues to improve. Many good choices are available. LED units are the most expensive, but have the lowest operating cost.

Here are some links to seed companies that you may want to investigate:

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Seed Catalogs Arriving Soon!
by John Tullock - posted 12/13/14

We are still tidying up here and there from last season's garden, and what should arrive in the mail last week but the new catalog from Park Seed (Greenwood, SC). I have awaited this catalog with great anticipation for more than 50 years, and each holiday season it never fails to delight. Only a few years ago did they modernize some of the photos. The pictures of children that used to appear, holding a giant sunflower, for example, or a really large tomato, were so old that many of those people no doubt have grandchildren by now. For sure, some were older than I am, because I remember seeing them in the catalog when I was a child.

Seed catalogs remind us that the best time to plan next year's vegetable garden is right after the holidays. Not only do the catalogs fill your mailbox, or inbox, at that time of year, but also thinking about a lush garden of vegetables and flowers is a great way to fight the post-holiday blues.

I note with pleasure that this year's catalog offers many new varieties of vegetables that are compact enough for container growing, something that is becoming every more popular in urban and suburban settings. When space is at a premium, a few large containers on a patio or balcony can produce a surprising amount of food. Besides a wide variety of herbs, lettuce and other greens are an excellent choice for containers.

Among the new cultivars that caught my eye in the Park Seed catalog:

Nasturtium 'Phoenix' is an interesting new selection with flame-like flowers in a variety of colors. Trailing nasturtiums are great "spillers" for a container herb and veggie garden.

Pak Choi 'Toy Choi' grows only 6 or 8 inches tall, perfect for a porch box or planter. Ready in 40 days, you can raise a crop before the weather warms up, getting double duty from the same container.

Arugula 'Speedy' provides another opportunity for a quick crop ahead of warm season vegetables like tomatoes. This new arugula selection matures in only 30 days.

Carrot 'Atlas' produces roots somewhat like radishes. It would make a good companion, in fact, for 'Park's Beauty Blend' radishes.

Among warm season crops, I am anxious to try Eggplant 'Patio Baby,' which produces mini-eggplants on plants remaining under two feet tall.

Pepper 'Sweet Pickle' and its hot, spicy cousin 'Cayennette' would look great flanking an entryway in 16-inch pots.

Another intriguing trend that plant breeders seem to be following: crossing two heirloom vegetables to produce a new hybrid. A great example is 'Genuwine' (pictured) which is the offspring of Costoluto Genovese and Brandywine. Expect higher yields, hybrid vigor, and excellent flavor.

We'll have more suggestions from the catalogs as they keep rolling in.

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New Vegetable Gardening Book
by John Tullock - posted 12/07/14

My new gardening book is out. Idiots Guide: Vegetable Gardening would make a perfect gift for the gardener in your life, especially if, like so many other Americans, he or she is planning to grow some food next season. Although the book will not be available until January 6, 2015, you can pre-order now from Amazon. The book covers all the basics of growing vegetables in containers or raised beds, and gives detailed information for all the most popular vegetables for backyard production. Advice on when to plant, when to harvest and what to do with the harvest make the book a useful compendium, even for experienced gardeners. If you want to grow part of your food next year, my new book is a great place to start!

Home food gardening has for the first time surpassed flower gardening as a popular pastime, and the only thing we Americans spend more time at that gardening is watching TV. Therefore, food gardening has become a huge trend. It is easy to understand why.

Many people have concerns about pesticides or chemicals used in food production. If you grow your own, you know exactly how it was raised. Further, nothing can beat fresh, homegrown vegetables for taste or nutritional value. The moderate exercise involved in growing a great garden helps your joints, burns calories, and can be managed by people of all ages. Perhaps most importantly, you will get a lot of satisfaction from growing and cooking food for yourself and your family. Scarcely any other activity is more uniquely human than growing food.

When the holidays are over, the bleak days of January provide opportunity to read and plan for a bountiful garden in spring. With the help of my new Idiots Guide: Vegetable Gardening, even your very first vegetable garden will reward you with fresh, delicious produce all season long.

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