The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location, click here for the interactive map . The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones.
The USDA system was originally developed to aid gardeners and landscapers in the United States.
The map is available as an interactive GIS-based map, for which a for broadband Internet connection is recommended, and as static images for those with slower Internet access. Users may also simply type in a ZIP Code and find the hardiness zone for that area.
If you want an accurate map to not only provide general band guidelines for the USA but can also be so detailed that your town, down to the zip code, is reported on. The hardiness scales do not take into account the reliability of snow cover. Snow acts as an insulator against extreme cold, protecting the root system of hibernating plants.
The zones do not incorporate any information about summer temperature, thus sites which may have the same mean winter minima, but markedly different summer temperatures, will be accorded the same hardiness zone.
As the USDA system is based entirely on average annual extreme minimum temperature in an area, it is limited in its ability to describe the climatic conditions a gardener may have to account for in a particular area: there are many other factors that determine whether or not a given plant can survive in a given zone.
Hybrid plants are created when breeders cross-pollinate two different varieties of a plant to produce a modified variety (a hybrid) that contains certain traits of each parent. In hybridization, pollination is carefully controlled to ensure that the right plants are crossed to achieve a combination of characteristics, such as bigger size, better disease resistance, fruit maturity, etc. The process of developing a hybrid can take years and may require many more years to get it right.
An example of a hybrid tomato is Juliet, a Roma-style grape indeterminate tomato that is known for its great taste and heavy production along with improved disease resistance. Another is Sun Gold, a yellow cherry tomato. In general, hybrids offer some combination of traits from each parent, when done correctly the traits are the best of each parent.
Crossing involves taking the pollen from the male flower parts and transferring it to the female. The first generation, often referred to as F-1, of offspring from this cross all look and act the same. They also show what’s known as hybrid vigor: these plants come out stronger than their parents. If you attempt to take seeds from the hybrid fruit you will either end up with infertile seeds (sterile) that will not sprout or a plant that exhibits traits related more to one of the original parents and not the hybrid you took the seeds from.
Many times the seeds of hybrid plants are owned by the developer. Trying to use them for commercial purposes may be cause for legal action – be aware of this. Hybrid plants and fruits are not necessarily better than naturally produced such as heirlooms but you would never know due to the mass marketing of commercial growers.
According to Burpee, when defining heirloom plants, “the term is usually applied to fruit, flower or vegetables varieties that were being grown before World War II”. These plants have had generations to develop the characteristics that give their fruit flavor, the plants natural growth habits and, unfortunately, this sometimes leaves the plants susceptible to disease.
Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated meaning that mother-nature does most of the work. Plant a grouping of seeds of an heirloom pepper or tomato and you will collect seeds that will produce plants with most of the characteristics of the parent plants. Considerations should be made for bees coming to your garden after having visited your neighbors’ gardens adding a bit of variance – but that may be good. Heirloom vegetables may produce a “mixed bag” harvest. The harvest may come in less predictably, and fruit size can vary greatly even on the same plant.
One of the main reasons I like to garden with heirlooms is you are growing a plant that is an extension of nature. Heirloom seeds are generations in the making. Nature has established the characteristics not a scientist. When growing with heirloom seeds, harvest some seeds to use next year and for sharing with family and friends to add diversity of choice for everyone’s garden and bring diversity in the natural gene pool.
Most heirlooms are not archaic plants that some adventurer discovered after fighting off hungry cannibals, as Burpee describes it: “Many heirlooms are commercially-bred varieties from the seed catalogs of the 19th and early 20th Centuries.” If you have never attempted to grow heirloom plants, give it a try, you may find flavors and plants you like.
Growing your own food is both cathartic as well as an environmentally conscious endeavor. Starting gardens using seeds takes gardening to the very root of the process. By taking it upon yourself to raise your own “crops”, you will know exactly what has gone into & onto your food. I have been gardening most of my life, sometimes having unbelievable years with excess so much that canning and preserving became a nightmare while in other years I scratched my head trying to come up with an answer to that year’s failure. I try to grow “as organic as possible. I fight the pests and weeds as organically as possible. When the garden starts to produce and we eat the first tomato or pepper, knowing it is clean of harmful synthetic chemicals is comforting. Also knowing the food came from 200 steps away and not 2,000 miles away along with the associated costs is well, rather satisfying.
A few years back I decided to venture out and try varieties that could not be bought at the local commercial greenhouse. Tomato varieties such as Cherokee purple and yellow pear were not offered yet they are our favorites. Buying pre-started beets were more expensive than just buying produce from the local supermarket. I also want to know what the heck I am growing and eating. The goal was heirloom, organic and nothing GMO. In order to do that I had to plant my own seeds.
There are a lot of articles out on the web today about starting seeds and the ease of doing so. I recently read an article that soft pedaled the process, and in my opinion, got it wrong. Frankly, it is easier to go to the local greenhouse and buy a flat of whatever and plant than it is to start your garden with seeds. If you decide to buy plants, you will be limited to the varieties and types of vegetables you grow but you will have less sweat in the game. Going down to the store and choosing packets of seeds is easy (and fun) but you are just at the beginning of a long process. Considerations such as where to house the seedlings, the amount of space needed, planting medium, temperature, humidity, time and lighting should be thought out and handled before you ever plant your first seed.
Housing your plants & space
Before you buy the first packet of seeds, a plan needs to be made as to where your plants will be housed. Considerations as to space:
Do you want 5 plants or 100? You will need to plant more seeds per type of plant then you will end up putting out into the garden. Plan for seeds not sprouting, seedlings dying and seedlings that will not grow. My rule of thumb is, plant 1 ½ times more then you need. Your space considerations should take this into account.
Will you use stand-alone individual containers, or will you use seed trays? For corn I go with large containers right from the start. I plant the seeds in mid-April and move them to the garden in late May. Beans are started in late April in small flats and then moved to the garden in late May, same goes for cabbage, cucumbers, squash, etc. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are started in small flats in early March, right after they set their first true leaves, I move them into 2” x 2” cups before ultimately going to the garden in very late May. Spinach, beets, carrots and onions are planted straight into the garden.
Do you have enough containers? If you want ten good tomato plants – plant 45 seeds in 15 cups (15 cups being the 1 ½ times rule). Expect 8 seeds to be crap, 4 seedlings to die and 8 seedlings to be just garbage. That would leave you with twenty-five plants to choose your ten from (quick note, you want to get to 1 plant per cup, you will need to pull extra seedlings – be merciless). If the seeds all sprout, and you are like me, you can care for them, plant them in individual pots and at the end – share any excess plants with family and friends.
Is the space you are thinking of warm enough? In my first shot at starting seeds, I planted in my basement. The temperature was in the high 50’s. The tomatoes, peppers and eggplants did not spout for 3 weeks. I finally moved them upstairs and they sprouted within a week. I moved them back to the basement and the cold temperature on those warm weather vegetables stopped their growth. They went into the garden in late May and did terrible – word of warning.
Is there an ability for fresh air and/or air movement? Stagnant air can potentially lead to disease (damping off) and/or unhealthy plants. The ability to bring in fresh air or at least moving air, in my opinion, is good. If you use a fan to move air within the plant nursery, the airflow will help move stale air away along with the added benefit of making the plants a bit hardier & stockier.
Are there ample electrical outlets available? – yes you will need electricity. You will need electrical outlets for lighting. Being able to use fans is good (see above). If the area is cold, you will want to use a heater to raise the temperature.
If the seedlings turn to small plants before you can get them outside and into the garden, do you have larger containers they can be replanted in and is the space large enough to handle the larger containers needed?
You can, but you should not, use soil from your garden to start your seeds. Garden soil is usually heavy and may have lots of little critters, organisms, fungus, etc., issues you really do not want to deal with when starting your seeds. There are a lot of seed starting soils on the market today and most are good. The best are light mixes, vermiculite and peat along with other stuff. They will hold moisture, are lite enough for the seeds to sprout without too much wasted energy and are proper PH (proper PH is very important). If you want to create your own starter soil try: 80% vermiculite and 20% potting soil.
As mentioned before, if you plant warm weather seeds in a cold area expect little to nothing. Articles note that tomato seedlings cannot process nutrients correctly in cool conditions. Most gardeners want summer vegetables and that means a warm “nursery”. Try to make the area around 70°F. You can spend the money on heat mats – they do work, I have one that I use to give tomato and eggplant seeds an extra bit of care. The mats are an added expense and … require electricity. The better choice is a space heater – not a crap one that will catch fire but a decent one that has good temperature control and is powerful enough for your nursery space. Remember when starting seeds, you need to do it right.
Unless you have a greenhouse and can provide roughly 8 – 10 hours of sunlight each day, you will need lights. As everyone should know, normal house lighting will not do a good job, they will work but your seedlings will not get what they really need. House lights do not provide the full spectrum of light waves that seedlings and plants need to flourish. My first “grow lights” were florescent tube full spectrum grow lights – the setup was expensive. Today there are LED’s that can be bought cheaply, and last much longer than florescent tube lights, on Amazon that can be put into any house-light fixture. 2 – 4 lights and you have a well-lit nursery for your seedlings.
Moving your plants outdoors
When the time comes, and it will be different for each variety of plant, you will set the young plant out to “harden up”. This is not so the plants are acclimated to the temperature – do not even think of doing that. Putting tomato plants, etc. out into 50°F days are 40°F nights will only stop their growth, so much so that the plants will have a tough time getting back on track. All the work you did will end up for naught. Moving the plants out should be done at each type’s ideal temperature. When starting gardens using seeds, the hardening is for the plants to get used to the direct sunlight. Plants cannot go from a “grow light” environment directly into sunlight. Too often the plants and their leaves are not ready – too much sunlight too soon can burn the leaves and kill the young plants. The best way to harden off the plants is a week-long process such as:
Day 1 & 2 – put plants in direct sunlight for no more than 2 hours. Remainder in shade or back under the grow lights. IF THE plants look good
Day 3 & 4 – put plants in direct sunlight for 3 hours. Remainder in shade or back under the grow lights. IF THE plants look good
Day 5 & 6 – put plants in direct sunlight for 4 hours. Remainder in shade or back under the grow lights. IF THE plants look good
Day 7 & 8 – put plants in direct sunlight for 6 hours. Remainder in shade or back under the grow lights. IF THE plants look good – plant them.
Both string/wax beans like cucumbers, always have a “reserved section” in the vegetable garden. They are relatively easy to grow, if handled right are big producers and beans are able to be eaten fresh, added to recipes, cooked as stand-alone main or side dishes. They can be blanched and frozen and they even store well as pickles (dilly beans). Beans figure prominently in my ultimate quest to grow enough food –GMO and pesticide free – to provide a year round supply.
This year I planted 3 seven foot rows of bush beans for 2015. I chose 1 type to plant. It was a bush bean from Burpee called Garden Bean Stringless Green Pod. The Advertising for these beans states:
HEIRLOOM. This Burpee bred bean is entirely stringless; it’s brittle, meaty, juicy and has exceptional flavor. Plant yields are early and extremely high; pods are round, about 6″ long and slightly curved. Plants are entirely self supporting. A 2 oz. seed pack will plant a 20 ft. row. Our seed is not treated.
Growth Habit: Bush Days to Maturity: 50 days Sun: Full Sun Height: 12-18 inches Spread: 10 inches Thinning: 6 inches Sowing Method: Direct Sow Fruit Size: 6 inches
They are spot on when describing flavor and the fact the pods are stringless. I will say all seeds germinated, the plants lasted all season, although I should have cropped and did a second planting in August.
We had a really bad season in 2015, weather and animal damage was the “order of the day”. First up was some animal was making short work of any bean plant near the edge of the garden. Leaves were eaten off and many times even the plant was chewed down. My guess is a rabbit since they are very common although my neighbor harbors a woodchuck and gray squirrels are all over. Anyway, the outer edge plants suffered all year.
June 2015 weather in the Northeast was cold. None of my plants really did anything during the month except survive. When July rolled around and everything warmed up and the beans took off.
By Mid-July we grew enough for weekly side dishes. That continued through frost – mid-October. The weight count harvested on the 21 feet was 13 lbs. Nothing was canned or frozen. A 13 lb. harvest is lower what my books say is the average harvest (14 lbs.) for the amount planted, it is very low based on past experience. There are prior years where a 16-foot row of pole beans would provide for 2 side dishes each week and enough to can/freeze for weekly side dishes from November 1 – April 30 of the next year.
Next year I am going back to pole beans. I am going to try Fortex (a pole snap bean) produced and sold by Burpee.
Snap beans – the most popular garden beans — include bush and pole varieties, which vary in shape, size, and color. Tender filet beans are a type of green snap bean with stringless, slender, delicate pods. They are grown just like other snap beans.
Shell beans – grow like snap beans, but the immature pods stay tender for only a few days as the plants hurry to produce mature seeds. They are very easy to dry.
Scarlet runner beans – produce clusters of red blossoms that attract hummingbirds and bumblebees. You can eat the young pods like snap beans, or let the pods dry and harvest the mature beans.
Lima beans – stand up to humid heat and heavy insect pressure, which makes them a fine bean for warm climates.
Beans do best in a soil with a PH of 6.0 – 7.5. Beans benefit from fertile soil. Before planting add some well-rotted compost, peat moss or fresh top soil into the garden bed. Beans make most of the nitrogen they need. When growing beans in a new garden site, inoculating seeds with nitrogen-fixing bacteria before planting can help kick-start this process.
For bush beans, plant seedlings 6” apart and keep the rows about 2 feet wide. Pole beans should be plant at about 10” apart in rows at least 2 – 3 feet wide. Pole beans need poles to grow on. I place posts 6 feet high about 2 feet apart and use wide garden netting for the plants to climb up. Mature pole beans are heavy and can bring down your entire row. Make sure the poles are firmly anchored and strong. It is not a bad idea to use cross beams to create a strong “fence row”.
Bean seeds germinate best when soil temperatures range between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In spring, sow seeds in fertile, well-worked soil starting on or after your last frost date. Some of the problems you may encounter are:
• Many times the seeds will just sit until the weather is just right – that early in spring the soil may not get to the optimum temperature.
• If the soil is too wet, the seeds may rot or the young plants may “damp-off” and die.
• If you are “blessed” with squirrels like I am, they will dig up the seeds and eat them.
If you are planting seeds directly into the garden, plant them about 1 ½” deep.
I like to start the seeds about 3 weeks before the last expected frost inside the house under grow lights. Keep the seeds warm. They should sprout in about 2 weeks. Empty the pots of any seeds that do not sprout, pull the seed and replant the pot with a new seed. Plants that come up deformed should just be discarded and the pot should be replanted with a new seed. The previous 2 comments are more for me, way too many times I attempt to “doctor” the plants – it rarely works and the effort is not worth it. I plant the young plants about 2 weeks after the last expected frost – weather permitting, which means if the seven-day forecast is for decent, dry weather.
I let pole beans grow the full season. For bush beans, you should make additional plantings at least 1 more time during the season. Again, because I do not grow 50+ feet of row, I start seeds in pots about 3 weeks before I replant. When the seedlings are big enough, pull out the older plants, throw down some 10-10-10 fertilizer, a touch of lime (if necessary), add a little compost and replant. You will be happy you did. Even though you are giving up about 2 weeks of fresh beans, the new plants will end up producing more than the older plants would have.
Harvesting and Storing Beans
First thing is first, according to James Underwood Crockett, bush beans should produce roughly ½ lb. per foot per planting (so 2 plantings will give you 1 lb. for each foot.) Pole beans are different; you should look for a minimum of 1 lb. per foot for the season up to 2 lbs. If you are lucky shell beans will produce about ¾ lb. to 1 lb. per foot.
Harvest snap beans when they are young and tender. If you let the bean pods mature the plant may stop producing or will produce much less. The plants can be damaged or worse if you are not careful when harvesting. I like to use scissors or I will hold the plant where it connects to the bean pod. Most bush beans will produce a second or third crop of beans after the first one is picked. Harvest pole beans at least twice a week to keep the plants productive. The mature beans of all snap bean varieties usually make good soup beans.
Allow shell beans to stay on the plants until the pods turn tan and the beans inside show good color and a hard, glossy surface. If damp weather sets in just when your beans should be drying, pull up the plants and hang them in a dry place until they are dry enough to shell and sort. Allow your shelled beans to dry at room temperature for two weeks before storing them in airtight containers. If you think insects might be present in your stored beans, keep them in the freezer.
Saving Bean Seeds
To save dry beans for replanting, select the largest, most perfect seeds from your stored beans. With snap beans, it is best to harvest beans at the season’s end since it will not interfere with the food harvest. Be patient, because snap bean varieties that have been bred to stay tender for a long time are often slow to develop mature seeds. Under good conditions, bean seeds will store for at least three years.
Preventing Bean Pests and Diseases
Mexican bean beetles sporting black spots often lay clusters of yellow eggs on leaves, which hatch into yellow larvae that rasp tissues from leaves. Handpick this pest in all life stages, and try spraying neem oil to control light infestations.
In upstate New York, Japanese beetles are the devil to beans. The best organic method to fight them is to use Japanese beetle traps. If you use pesticides, you will end up dealing with: when you can theoretically harvest and the damage done to non-target insects (bees).
Beans grown in sites that recently supported grasses are often sabotaged by night-feeding cutworms. Another reason I like to start indoors and plant 3 week old plants.
Several fungal and bacterial diseases cause dark spots and patches to form on bean leaves. To keep from spreading diseases among plants, avoid working in your bean patch when foliage is wet.
Bean Growing Tips
Extend your harvest of bush snap beans by planting them two or three times, with each sowing three weeks apart. In warm climates, make a sowing in late summer, about 10 weeks before your first fall frost is expected.
Grow more beans in less space by growing pole varieties, which produce more per square foot by making good use of vertical growing space.
Cucumbers have always been a staple in my gardens. They are relatively easy to grow, if handled right are big producers and cucumbers are able to be eaten fresh, added to recipes and they store well as pickles.
This year I planted 10 feet of cucumbers. I chose 1 type to plant. It was a “slicing” cucumber. I chose Burpee’s Straight Eight. The Advertising for these cucumbers states:
A cucumber superstar, this classic has excellent flavor and is widely adapted. This heirloom, All-America Selections winner is a cuke for all seasons. Pick when 8″ long for top flavor. For perfect cukes, grow them on a fence or our space-saving Trellis Netting. Sow seeds 6″ apart in rows, or plant 5 or 6 seeds in groups (hills) 4 to 5′ apart. Sun: Full Sun Height: 6-8 inches Spread: 36 inches Days to Maturity: 58 days Sowing Method: Direct Sow Fruit Size: 6-8 inches
I planted 10 feet of straight eights – 4 mounds of 2 plants each. I found the Burpee straight eight to be a very good cucumber. Fantastic taste and prolific. One issue we had with them is if we let them go a week extra, we would need to scrape out the seeds since they started to take over the cucumber.
We started the cucumbers in mid-May in the green house in large seed pots filled with starter soil. They were not planted until the second week of June when the plants already had 3 sets of leaves. I set up a plastic wide-mesh fence so the plants could climb. As far as fertilizer, we used miracle grow 10-10-10 – 3 times during the season. We had no issues with pests and in-fact honey bees were common the entire summer around the “cukes”, something that made me happy since for the last five or so years seeing honey bees in any quantity has become very rare. I try not to use chemicals and in late September we lost all the cucumbers to powdery-mildew. So, word to the wise – beware.
We ended up picking 32lbs. over the season. Almost all eaten or given to the “kids” In accordance with my garden book written by James Underwood Crockett – that is a decent average for the amount I planted.
Some Cucumber Info:
Even though long, dark green, smooth-skinned garden cucumbers are familiar vegetables in the produce sections of most groceries, cucumbers come in a wide variety of colors, sizes, shapes and textures. You’ll find white, yellow, and even orange-colored cucumbers, and they may be short, slightly oval, or even round in shape. Their skins can be smooth and thin, or thick and rough. In a technical sense, cucumbers are actually fruits, not vegetables.
All cucumbers belong to the botanical plant family called Curcubitaceae. This broad family of plants includes melons and squashes.
While there are literally hundreds of different varieties of cucumbers, virtually all can be divided into two basic types: slicing and pickling. Slicing cucumbers include all varieties that are cultivated for consumption in fresh form. Pickling cucumbers include all varieties that are cultivated not for consumption in fresh form, but for processing into pickles.
Cucumbers are fairly easy to grow if you take care of a few things:
1. They like a fairly neutral soil.
2. They are heavy feeders so when planting make sure to add either: compost, well rotted manure, some grass clippings or anything that will help provide nourishment for the plants.
3. They need water so make sure to provide plenty and if you keep the water off the leaves all the better to avoid powdery-mildew.
4. You can double crop cucumbers. Start the second sowing in late June in pots. By late July pick all cucumbers from 1st crop, pull out plants, add some 10-10-10 or 5-10-10 fertilizer and plant the young plants. This should give you a good crop by Mid-August and depending on your average frost dates, you should have cucumbers “till-the end”.
Cucumber plants naturally thrive in both temperate and tropical environments, and generally require temperatures between 60-90°F. For this reason, they are native to many regions of the world. In evolutionary terms, the first cucumbers were likely to have originated in Western Asia (and perhaps more specifically in India) or parts of the Middle East. It was not until the time of the European colonists that cucumbers finally appeared in North America in the 1500’s.