Learn the Rules
Before You Break Them
Kevin Milaeger
My golden rule for spring planting, which I relate to customers regularly, is this: For plants that are originally from tropical or subtropical regions (tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and eggplant), wait until Memorial Day, and if the ten-day weather forecast predicts all nights to be above 50 degrees, go ahead and plant. I’ve gardened by that rule all my life, so now I feel I have enough experience that I can break it if I want to. That’s what I did this year. On May 23, with a favorable weather forecast, I planted my sixteen tomato plants. So far, I haven’t regretted it, and if the weather holds until June 10 or so, I can breathe easy. Peppers and cucumbers I plant later, in early June, as they are more sensitive to cold than tomatoes.
It’s funny how obsessive we gardeners can become. After planting my tomatoes, I found myself going out to check on them several times that first evening. I have no idea what I was expecting to find. I guess I just like being out there. Now it’s been two weeks or so since planting, and I still check them several times a day, but for me, this is fun!
Within a day of planting, some creature had dug a good-sized hole in the soil of one of the tomato pots, but with no harm to the plant. I suspected a squirrel since they are regular visitors to my yard, mainly interested in the bird feeders. I haven’t seen any chipmunks yet this year, but in years past they were my main nemesis. I set up a live trap and caught a squirrel right away and transported it to a new home, and I’ll keep doing that throughout the season.
I just planted my peppers and a few cukes. I have about eight kinds of peppers, and some I grow just for looks. I don’t eat anything hotter than a jalapeno, but I like to grow some of the really hot ones for their beautiful color. ‘Fatalii,’ for example, has small peppers that turn striking lemon yellow when fully ripe, and with more than a hundred peppers on the plant at once, it’s quite a site. There is a beautiful pepper called ‘Thai Dragon’ that has small, thin peppers that point upward, and are produced in clusters. There can be hundreds on the plant at once, and the color of the peppers changes as they ripen, so there are often several different colors at the same time. Gorgeous. My favorite pepper for flavor is ‘Fooled You’ jalapeno. It has the flavor of a jalapeno, with no heat. That tasty pepper, with a little onion and the right cheese, is a real treat. They are great grilled, too.
Unlike most other vegetables, pepper plants don’t mind being a little crowded in the garden. So, you can put more plants in a given area than you might expect. I have a very experienced gardener friend who plants them about 6” apart, and he plants hundreds of them. I like them a little further apart, and I always cage them. The cages help keep the stems and branches from snapping off during windy spells. This is especially true of the large fruited varieties, but I cage them all.
Questions about pepper production often come up at our greenhouse. Fruit production depends on how many flowers the plant produces, and the successful pollination of those flowers. Peppers like warm temperatures---they originated in hot climates, so growing them in Wisconsin is a compromise. For starters, don’t plant too early---night temperatures must be a minimum of 50, and 55 would be even better. Feed them with a fertilizer that is high in phosphorous (the middle number on the package.) This is key to flower production. Water the plants regularly, but don’t leave them soggy. You should then get plenty of flowers. However, it is then up to mother nature, and environmental issues sometimes affect production. If the flowers are stressed they can abort, and you will have no fruit. Then you will have to wait for the second flower set. Stress is usually excess cold, wind, or rain---things you can’t control. If you stagger your pepper plantings, the plants won’t all be blooming at the same time---a safeguard against blossom failure.
Remember, the goal of a plant is to reproduce, to set seed. For some plants, once the goal it accomplished, flower production diminishes. In the case of peppers, you should pick the first batch of peppers when they are still green, rather than waiting for them to turn red. This tactic signals to the plant that the seed did not reach maturity, and more flowers are needed (resulting in more fruit.) I don’t know if anyone has done a scientific test to determine the validity of this technique, but it is a commonly held belief.
Back to garden chores. Lastly, I planted the cucumbers. I like the “mini” kinds---you see them in the grocery store, usually five or six in a package. My favorite variety is ‘Mini Munch,’ which should be picked when about four inches long. It is very productive, and I end up giving away about 75% of mine. This cuke has very thin skin, so no peeling is required. And one cuke is just the right size for the evening salad at my house---no half cukes in the fridge, getting mushy.
Please email me (kevin@milaegers.com) if you have any questions or comments.






Archives  (Click on text for links)



May 2018-To Plant or Not to Plant

March 2018- Can you plant this early?

February 2018February’s Climatological Shift


October 2017 - Remember: Every Tomato Variety is Someone's Favorite
August 2017 - A Tomato Miracle
July 2017 - Our Big Garden & Some Unpleasant News
June 2017 - Mid-June Tomato Report
June 2017 - Tomatoes----The Acid Test
April 2017 - It's Time to Plant Onions
April 2017 - Raspberries: It's time for annual pruning
March 2017 - Warning! Internet Garden Danger!
March 2017 - Tomato Talk---Shorter Varieties are Trending
March 2017 - It's Only the Start of March, but...
February 2017 - Tasty Greens and Winter Tomatoes
February 2017 - Green is Right Around the Corner



October 2016 - Autumn Greens, Eggplant and more
September 2016 - The Tomato Polls are Closed, the Winner is...
September 2016 - Pity the Hornworm? Maybe not.
August 2016 - It's true!---Sometimes tomato beauty is only skin deep!
July 2016 - Summer Heat Means Fast Ripening
July 2016 - July Tomato Update---a few concerns
June 2016 - The Great Bell Pepper Challenge!
June 2016 - Super Start for 2016 Vegetables!
May 2016 - Tomato Planting Date Inches Closer!
May 2016 - Vintage Veggies Now & Disease Resistant Tomatoes!
April 2016 - A Few New Plants & Garden Updates!
April 2016 - Go Outside---It's Time for Planting!
March 2016 - Yep! ----It's Time to Plant Greens!
March 2016 - The Quest for the Perfect Tomato
March 2016 - Think Green! It's almost time to plant
February 2016 - Pepper Pointers: it's all about patience
February 2016 - I See Greens on the Horizon
January 2016 - Tomato Disease --- What can you do?
January 2016 - Tomatoes on my Mind!


November 2015 - My Late Harvest (The tomato picking continues...No Kidding!)

October 2015 - Its Mid-October---the End is Near!

September 2015 - 2015---Not the Year of the Pepper!

September 2015 - Top Varieties at Tomatomania 2015!

September 2015 - Get the most from September tomatoes!

August 2015 - Tomatomania 2015---Coming Soon!

August 2015 - Oh No!!!......Freaky Tomatoes

July 2015 - A Marvelous Community Garden

July 2015 - Finally----the first ripe tomato

July 2015 - Is it Possible to overdose on peas?

July 2015 - The Garden in July --- I'm still planting!

June 2015 - And Just When Things Were Looking So Good...

June 2015 - Tomatoes, Cukes, and a Whimsical Onion

June 2015 - Trials and Tribulations in the Veggie Garden!

May 2015 - Trouble in Tomatoland!

May 2015 - Tomatoes are Claustrophobic

May 2015 - A Little Chilly, but it's Rhubarb Time!

May 2015 - Joan's Rhubarb Torte Recipe

April 2015 - "Ketchup and Fries" plant video

April 2015 - Early May in the Vegetable Garden

April 2015 - What Vegetables Can I Plant Now?

April 2015 - Making Salad Interesting

March 2015 - Ready... set... GROW!

March 2015 - Unusual Potatoes --- Not Just for Tots Anymore!

February 2015 - Next Month is Spring!

February 2015 - Greens to Grow 2015



September 2014 - Tomatomania Review 2014!

September 2014 - Tomatomania Results by Category or Cummulative

August 2014 - Kale! Kale! The Greens are Here! Click here for Recipe

August 2014 - The August Harvest Begins

July 2014 - Greens to Grow for Fall!!!  Click here for Spreadsheet

July 2014 - My Tomatoes are Blushing

June 2014 - Some Tomato Concerns

May 2014 - Garden Update --- the Cold Weather Experiment

May 2014 - Is it Time to Plant Tomatoes?

May 2014 - Vintage Veggies #4 and Vintage Veggies List 2014

April 2014 - A Chilly Spring... What Can I Plant Now?

March 2014 - Start Growing Your Own Food Right Now


February 2014 - Greens to Grow   Click here for Spreadsheet



October 2013 - Keep Calm and Garden On!

October 2013 - Autumn Vegetables

September 2013 - Tomato Popularity Poll Results Blog

September 2013 - Tomatomania Category and Cumulative Results

September 2013 - Tomatomania 2013 BlogVideo and T-Shirt

August 2013 - Greens to Grow and Spreadsheet

July 2013 - Spaghetti Squash

July 2013 - New Tomato and Zucchini Recipe Blog
July 2013 - Tomato and Zucchini Recipe

June 2013 - Cold Spring - What it Means for Vegetables
May 2013 - Tomatoes in Containers
May 2013 - Vintage Veggies 2013
April 2013 - My Tomato Garden Preview 2013
April 2013 - Don't Forget Rosemary!
April 2013 - It's Planting Time
March 2013 - Onions
March 2013 - Vintage Veggies
March 2013 - Greens to Grow Update
February 2013 - Hot Peppers
February 2013 - Grafted Tomatoes
February 2013 - Greens to Grow


September 2012 - Tomatomania Results
July 2012 - Compass Plant
July 2012 -July 2012 - Heat Wave
June 2012 - Okra
June 2012 - Potato Onion
May 2012 - Gas Plant

May 2012 - My Tomato Garden
May 2012 -
 Vintage Veggie Fest
March 2012 - Growing Raspberries in SE Wisconsin
March 2012 - Winter Tomato Project
February 2012 - Success with Sweet Peppers
February 2012 - Vegetable Cukes Miniature 
January 2012 - Tomatoes New Varieties


September 2011 -Tomatomania Review  
August 2011 - Tomatomania Preview
August 2011 - Racine Vegetable Garden Tour
July 2011 - Vegetables in my Garden
July 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
June 2011 - Vegetables - Diseases made Simple
June 2011 - Vegetables - Container Growing
May 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
April 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Event Preview
March 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Announcement

September 2010 - Tomatomania Review  
August 2010 - Flowers Late Summer Color 
July 2010 Vegetables Cukes and Tomatoes 
June 2010 Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2009 - Tomatoes End of Season Review  
September 2009 - Tomatomania Review
July 2009 - Tomatoes General and Fruit Set Problems
June 2009  - Tomatoes Fertilization
June 2009  - Tomatoes Personal Experience 
May 2009 - Tomatoes General
May 2009 - Tomatoes Diseases
May 2009 - Tomatoes Selecting and Growing
April 2009 - Tomatoes General

Any questions or comments, please contact us at: gardenquestions@milaegers.com