Gardening Tips: You Say ‘Tomato,’ I Say ‘Get Planting!’

Editor’s Note: This column last appeared on 24 June 2020.


What to do this week

Tomato seedlings By Dwight Sipler from Stow, MA, USA (Tomato seedlingsUploaded by Jacopo Werther) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Bottom:

Tomato seedlings. (Photo by Dwight Sipler from Stow, MA, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Summer is here and we begin the frantic time of planting all the warm-weather crops as quickly as possible before too much of our very short season passes us by. Every year is different, but there are some general rules of thumb about what to do first.

By now, normally, you would have planted your potatoes, but this year it has been so cool you may have waited. If you did wait, plant them now. They will be fine if you get them in this week. The second priority is tomatoes. This is definitely the time to plant them too. Potatoes and tomatoes are both nightshade family members. They have other shared characteristics. Let’s start with the tomato.

You may have noticed that the bottom few inches of the tomato stem is a bit hairy. You should plant them deep enough to cover a good deal of this lower stem. This will help if your seedlings had been getting a little leggy while indoors, reaching for the sun from the windowsill. They will stand up better in the garden if some of that leggy stem is covered. The plant will be more wind-firm from being well anchored. Also, the plant will send out roots along that lower part of the stem if it comes in contact with soil, giving the plant a stronger foundation. You don’t have to dig the hole so deep that it covers a very long stem. You can bury some of the stem sideways. So long as it is well covered, it will produce root. Take off the lower leaves rather than burying them. This is how you properly plant tomatoes in any location, but it is especially good in Cape Breton’s windy climate.

Potatoes will also grow roots from the lower stem. That is why you add soil and create mounds as potato vines grow. The plant grows the tubers we eat from these roots, so the more you cover the stems by gradual mounding, the more potatoes you get. Most years I recommend planting potatoes a bit before tomatoes and would have advised putting them in the ground a week or two ago, but this year has been different. In any event, you should have both potatoes and tomatoes in before the end of this week.

Potato plants. (Photo by fir0002 |, GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons)

It still might be a little bit early for peppers and eggplants. They are always a challenge to grow here unless you have a greenhouse. If you have a micro-climate that suits these two plants, I would still wait a week or two. You should also wait a bit for squash, the entire family. I like to wait until the first of July to plant squash. While you are waiting, once you get your tomatoes in, move on to beans. Beans should go in the ground now if you haven’t gotten them in already. They can go in ahead of some of the more sensitive things, so long as your soil is not so wet that they rot, because it will be warm by the time they come up. Warm climate seedlings are above ground already, and need to have warmth in the air. Otherwise they will just pout, and succumb to mildew if it is too damp and cool.

One side benefit of planting all the cucurbits — including summer and winter squashes, watermelon and cucumber — late, is that you may miss the first emergence of the cucumber beetle. This pest is becoming more of a problem in some Cape Breton gardens, probably due to climate change, so skipping it is a definite plus.

Swiss chard, beets, carrots and kale can be seeded anytime from mid-spring onward, so you can do it now, too, if you have time, or put it off for a bit. They like it warmish even though they appreciate the moisture when germinating. With any luck, a late planting of carrots will mean missing the first emergence of another pest, the carrot rust fly.

This week and next may seem like a mad rush, but our season is so short, and some plants just can’t be planted any earlier because it is too cold, so get to it!


Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.





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