Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

231 Joe Lamp'l Vegetable Gardening

September 23, 2022 Fred Hoffman Season 3 Episode 231
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
231 Joe Lamp'l Vegetable Gardening
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

We have a wide ranging discussion with nationally famous TV gardener, Joe Lamp’l, about his new book, the Vegetable Gardening Book.  But we also venture into the warm season garden when he talks about his tomato cages, which are built to look good and last a lifetime.
In the question and answer segment, America’s Favorite Retired College Horticulture Professor, Debbie Flower, has warnings worth heeding if you will be building a raised garden bed out of cinder blocks.
It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!

More info at the home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, Transcripts and episode chapters also available at Buzzsprout

Pictured: Joe Lamp’l
Subscribe to the free, Beyond the Garden Basics Newsletter
Smart Pots
Dave Wilson Nursery

The Vegetable Gardening Book by Joe Lamp’l
Homestead Tomato
Farmers’ Defense Sleeves

Got a garden question? 

• Leave a question without making a phone call via Speakpipe, at

• Call or text us the question: 916-292-8964. 

• Fill out the contact box at

• E-mail: 

All About Farmer Fred:
The Garden Basics with Farmer Fred Newsletter, Beyond the Basics

Farmer Fred website:
Daily Garden tips and snark on Twitter
The Farmer Fred Rant! Blog
Facebook:  "Get Growing with Farmer Fred" Instagram: farmerfredhoffman
Farmer Fred Garden Minute Videos on YouTube
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases from possible links mentioned here.

And thank you for listening.

Thank you for listening, subscribing and commenting on the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast and the Beyond the Garden Basics Newsletter

GB 231 Joe Lamp’l. Cinder Blocks for Raised Beds. TRANSCRIPT

Farmer Fred  0:00  

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. It's made in the USA. Visit slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's

Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot.

Farmer Fred  0:31  

Today, we have a wide ranging discussion with nationally famous TV gardener, Joe Lamp’l, about his new book, the Vegetable Gardening Book, as well as cool season gardening tips. But we also venture into the warm season garden when he talks about his tomato cages, which are built to look good and last a lifetime.

In the question and answer segment, America’s Favorite Retired College Horticulture Professor, Debbie Flower, has warnings worth heeding if you will be building a raised garden bed out of cinder blocks. 

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!


Farmer Fred  1:20  

it's cool season vegetable planting time. What are you going to plant? Well, let's get some tips. We are talking with Joe Lamp’l. if the name sounds familiar, Joe has been on TV, he has a garden podcast, he's done a lot. And he has a new book out called “The Vegetable Gardening Book, your complete guide to growing an edible organic garden from seed to harvest.” And reading about you Joe, I am impressed. It's like you are my brother by another mother. I should say, you're my younger, more industrious brother by another mother. You have a very impressive website, , People have seen you on TV, on “Growing a Greener World.” You have a podcast and so much more.

Joe Lamp'l  2:02  

You know, it's  funny, Fred, when people ask me all the time, those I haven't met before, maybe aren't aware of me. They say, Well, what do you do? And then I don't know. Why 30 years later, I still struggle to answer that question. But I'm trying to figure out how to do it succinctly. So that it doesn't take 30 seconds. But it's kind of diverse, but it's all related to gardening and gardening education. So through all forms of media.

Farmer Fred  2:26  

You got it all going there. You've moved on from blogs to Instagram, and other things. And you're even  hosting a trip to Europe next year.

Joe Lamp'l  2:38  

Yeah, my second in a row, we're going to different places. My first trip was this May to England,  to London and all about. it's been interesting, having gone to England for the first time ever, just a couple months ago. And standing there,  on the Mall of Buckingham Palace. And all of that was fascinating. But we want to make up for lost time. And I say we, my wife and I, because forever, I’ve been traveling for my television shows domestically all over the country, but rarely taking my wife with me because we're in work mode. And that just takes a different focus. And it's not like being on vacation. Let me just say that,  because I sometimes forget where I even am. So now in the latter years,  we're making up for that, and doing some garden tours through a company called Earthbound Expeditions. And each year I can pick where I want to go and how many trips I want to take and they organize and take care of all the details. So my wife likes that. And I like that. And so we're gonna go to  northern Italy, southern France,  a year from now. 

Farmer Fred  3:40  

Oh, very good. That's nice. I think if I was going to do one of those, I'd want to go to Scotland, but it would then turn into tours of single malt scotch distilleries. So probably not.

Joe Lamp'l  3:49  

Well, there's some of that mixed in you know, they it's not just gardening. 

Farmer Fred  3:53  

 Your schedule exhausts me. You're always doing something. I'm amazed that you had time to write a vegetable gardening book that profiles 40 of your favorite crops. But what intrigues me about the book the most, is the first half of the book, and all the things you do. Your basic theories of gardening and practices when it comes to gardening. There's just so much there. And I listened to the podcast that you hosted but you were the guest on,  talking about your new book. And right towards the beginning, you uttered a phrase that raised a flag in my mind, and you said “the soil food web”. And immediately I thought of Elaine Ingham and the Soil Food Web. And if people don't know who Elaine Ingham is, she's a microbiologist, who has basically promoted, shall we say, kinder, gentler use of the soil. In a lot of situations. She's the one that convinced me to get rid of my rototiller and get a chipper shredder. Which makes perfect sense  when you're trying to build up the soil.  And a lot of what you talk about on the TV show, and on your podcast, too, it's very familiar to me. Because it's all about the soil.

Joe Lamp'l  5:16  

It is all about the soil. I say for every dollar that you have to spend on your garden, put 90 cents of it into the soil, because you want to feed the soil. You want to provide the nutrients to the soil. Because that is the soil food web. That's a living network, a whole other community down there with billions and billions of organisms that are creating the environment for the plants to thrive. But we need to give the soil, the microorganisms in the soil, what they need to thrive, or at least help them with that. And so building up the soil health and maintaining a constant focus on that is really one of, if not the most important, jobs we have as organic or no till gardeners.

Farmer Fred  5:54  

Yeah, no till gardening and cover cropping is now becoming very big in California Agricultural circles as it should be. But for the home gardener, how practical is no till gardening? because they're doing it in limited spaces.

Joe Lamp'l  6:10  

I think it's very practical. Because even in a raised bed environment, which is where I do most of my food growing,  I've got these nice big raised beds. But it's hard not to sometimes disturb the soil even a little bit. But I certainly don't see the need to bring any sort of tiller in there. And to the extent that I even mess with my soil, is I use a broad fork, which is just kind of a wide, thick pitchfork, essentially. And I just open up space in the soil once a year prior to top dressing, and then I come in right behind it with some good homemade compost, which goes down into those openings I just created. But I'm not tilling because when I'm tilling,  whether I'm doing it in an in-ground bed or raised bed or wherever that may be, you're really mixing up that soil to a fine texture. And so you're releasing a lot of the nitrogen that was in the soil. Plus, you're disturbing the networks that have been there, and you're burning up that carbon and just too many things that you don't need to do. When you're feeding the soil, the microorganisms will come get what you put on top. It's like a cake, where you put an icing on top. But in this case,  the icing works its way down into the cake part via the micro organisms and the earthworms and the soil foodweb and all the organisms that are there. And that's what you want, those deposits that we make with our compost are working their way down into the soil thanks to the help that we have from all those living organisms. And we need those deposits every year. Because if we don't, our bank account, which I liken it to, would be depleted, because of all the withdrawals by the plants of the nutrients. And so we're coming to provide reinforcements with those soil amendments each year. I do it several times a year.

Farmer Fred  7:48  

I've been hearing more and more from people who are adapting the strategy of matching the compost to what they're growing. If they're growing annuals, they're going to use a bacterially based microbial product like food waste, kitchen compost, whereas if they are growing trees and shrubs, it's chipped and shredded tree branches.

Joe Lamp'l  8:08  

it is intriguing, I find that to be a little potentially intimidating for people. For many of the people that I work with, just getting them to compost is my first priority. And for many people, they don't compost because they're intimidated by just what you said, you know, gosh, oh my gosh, do I need to do fungi based or bacterial based? And how do I do that? And what about those ratios? And is it three to one or, what? Which is which, the greens and the browns? What I'm trying to do for people is demystify and uncomplicate the whole process. And if it's a matter of just breaking down organic matter from the kitchen or from your garden into a homogenous biodegradeable mix that has plenty of both beneficial fungi and bacteria, so that whatever the needs of the plants are that's in the soil, then that's good enough. And that's really the method I subscribe to myself, because I would love to have the time to be a little more refined and how I do it but with the results that I get, I'm not complaining and it works for me. And I want people, to get back to my book, Fred, and what I wrote, I want people to to be encouraged, not intimidated, by the process. And I want them to feel like it's doable and accessible and not intimidating. And so I want them to do as I do, not do as I say. What I do is try to keep it as simple as possible. Certainly I could go more complicated but I haven't found the need to, yet. And I don't want to make people feel like they do, either.


Farmer Fred  9:47  

You’ve heard me talk about the benefits of Smart Pots, the original, award winning fabric container. Smart pots are sold around the world and are proudly made, 100%, here in the USA.

Smart Pots is the oldest, and still the best, of all the fabric plant containers that you might find. Many of these imitators are selling cheaply made fabric pots that fall apart quickly. Not Smart Pots. There are satisfied Smart Pot owners who have been using the same Smart Pots for over a decade, actually approaching 20 years.

When you choose Smart Pot fabric containers, you know you’ll be having a superior growing experience with the best product on the market.

And your plants will appreciate Smart Pots, too. Because of the one million microscopic holes in Smart Pots, your soil will have better drainage, and the roots will be healthier. They won’t be going round and round on the outside of the soil ball, like you see in so many plastic pots. The air pruning qualities of Smart Pots create more branching of the roots, filling more of the usable soil in the Smart Pot. 

Smart Pots are available at independent garden centers and select Ace and True Value hardware stores nationwide. To find a store near you, or to buy online, visit smart pots dot com slash fred. And don’t forget that slash Fred part. On that page are details about how, for a limited time, you can get 10 percent off your Smart Pot order by using the coupon code, fred. f-r-e-d, at checkout from the Smart Pot Store.

Visit slash fred for more information about the complete line of Smart pots lightweight, colorful, award winning fabric containers and don’t forget that special Farmer Fred 10 percent discount. Smart Pots - the original, award winning fabric planter. Go to smart pots dot com slash fred.


Farmer Fred  11:41  

Let's get back to our conversation with TV gardener Joe Lamp’l.  One of the simple things you do, nd it's something I've been doing for years, and it really works, and you talk about this in your book. It is your mulching process. It's just ground up leaves that you put on top of your raised beds.

Joe Lamp'l  11:57  

Gosh, it brings me so much pleasure every time I go to the leaf corral, which is what I call it, which is the collection point for my fall leaves that I've just shredded up from the collection of about three weekends in November of my neighborhoods in the area where I'm loading up their brown recyclable bags, because all the homeowners associations around here require that they get their leaves off their property and out of sight. I guess at least for me, fortunately, they are putting them in these bags that are on their curb, and then it's free for the taking. And I let people know in advance if they want me to come pick them up to let me know. And on those Saturdays, I have their address in my phone and I'll go pick them up. And literally Fred, in a weekend, I can have 300 bags in the course of half a day,  just making lots of trips close by, it adds up fast. I get 20 bags a load. And if they're a mile or less away,  I'm there and back in a few minutes. And next thing you know, I'm on to the next one. And before you know it, it adds up. But anyway, I shred those, I put them in my leaf corral. And I let those break down over the following five or six months and then in spring  they get top dressed in my garden as the mulch. And  by then I just love the feel of semi composted shredded leaves. And I love the look of it. I love how they work. I love how they spread into the garden, how you can manipulate them and how they already look like they're going to work the moment they hit the soil. So it's an effort and it's free, by the way, that's not a bad thing. And you're keeping them out of the landfill. Because all of those bags were destined to the landfill. Unfortunately, they're not even going to a recyclable or compostable facility. They're going straight to the landfill. So I'm doing something good there, too. So it's all good.

Farmer Fred  13:36  

I take it one step further than you, because I have more free time than you do. I will actually go to my neighbor's house and say can I rake your leaves? They say, “Sure, why not?”

Joe Lamp'l  13:45  

I've had plenty of people where I put the ad out to say can I come get your bag leaves? And I say it that way on purpose because I'm tired of getting those same emails. “Oh, you can come get my leaves that are not bagged, but you can feel free to come rake them up.” Not that I would mind that. But it's not practical. So good for you. That's good exercise, for sure. Especially in the fall. It's great time of year to do it.

Farmer Fred  14:05  

Well. You're in the business of gardening. I'm doing this for fun.

Joe Lamp'l  14:11  

 there's that. 

Farmer Fred  14:13  

In your book, which is a wonderful book, too. I love the pictures in the vegetable gardening book. You have many many pictures of your raised beds. Tell us about your raised beds, how big are they, what are they constructed out of, and then we'll get into tomato cages.

Joe Lamp'l  14:29  

Yay. Okay. So the beds themselves are untreated cedar timbers, and they're six by six, so they're nice thick, bulky. You can sit on them. They are timbers and they stack three high, so that's an 18 inch high bed and the length is 12 feet and the width in most of my beds are four feet wide. And four of them are three feet wide so it fits perfectly, the way my garden is laid out. It's perfectly proportioned that way. I just love the dimensions of those beds and somebody sent me a mesage the other day on Instagram and they wanted to know about my beds and then I send them the information and they said, “Well, now that you've had them for 10 years, what would you do different?” And, it was an easy answer. I said I wouldn't do anything different. I love the layout. I love the beds, I love everything about my garden. The one thing I would have done that I wish, one thing I wish I would have done, is put hardware cloth across the bottom because two years ago, moles started finding their way in, burrowing underneath and into my smorgasbord of earthworms and so forth in the soil. And now they think they've got an all you can eat buffet, and it's to my detriment. But anyway, those are my beds, I love them. And they've served me well .super productive and would not change anything else about them.

Farmer Fred  15:39  

Do you have drip irrigation in those beds?

Joe Lamp'l  15:42  

I do . I love to hand water. So I have them all configured with individual custom individual spigots in each bed. Each bed has a dedicated spigot, and so depending on what I'm growing and when I'm growing it, I have the opportunity to put in soaker hoses or drip irrigation depending on what I'm planting in that bed. And they each have individual battery operated timers so I can customize each bed according to what I'm growing. But in the fall, I usually don't even hook it up. I'd take it down because I'm going to be doing that anyway for the wintertime. But in the fall  we get a decent amount of rain, and I'm not traveling as much in the fall and I'm home to  hand irrigate with my watering wand, which is my favorite way to water because I'm out there with the plants and I'm looking and I'm standing still and I'm paying attention and I'm giving the plants exactly the water they need. So all of the above Fred. Drip, soaker and watering wand. 

Farmer Fred  16:33  

We should point out that you live outside Atlanta, Georgia. tell us about living in USDA zone eight , what sort of weather patterns do you have?

Joe Lamp'l  16:41  

For right now, tomorrow it might be zone eight, currently it is still seven B, last time I checked. You could easily be 8, it feels that way this summer. And you know, the beauty of it is we were able to grow year round. That's all only probably gonna get easier. But you know, the summer is tough here because you have the heat and you have the humidity. And you got those afternoons thunder showers. And so if you like growing tomatoes, even as a champion of growing them, you kind of get tired of maintaining them in July because you know the diseases have come on by then the pests have found them and you're spending more time maintaining your tomatoes than anything else. And that said,  I still grow 60-something  tomatoes every year. Not sure why, but I just can't stop myself and I never regretted except in the midst of dealing with all the cutback but then you forget about that. So that's the summer. It is challenging mainly for the pest and diseases because of the heat and humidity and it's in for me, working in the garden every day because we film for my television show and we film for my online gardening Academy. We're doing online course videos all the time  throughout the growing season, which means we're out there in the summertime. This year, Fred, it was hotter than any other year that I can ever remember. And this is me filming for television gardening, hosting for over 20 years, every day, in the summertime, for these three series that I've hosted for my life in television. I've been outside in the midst of the heat down here in Atlanta all those years. But I've never ever felt like I did this year outside in the heat. It was oppressive this year, more than anything else. So it was weird. I remember telling my crew that many times this summer, I’d say, “I can't believe it's 830 in the morning and I'm already dripping wet” Im in a t shirt but it is what it is. That said, it all goes away in the fall. It's  cool, the pest and disease pressures gone, the humidity is gone. You get to grow your cool season crops. And those are some of my favorites. Most of the My Favorite Crops are actually cool season crops with the exception of  the tomatoes in the summertime and the peppers. I love the fall the best. And so we're thankful. I'm thankful that we have that time. And then because our winters aren't that severe, much of what I grow for my fall season, I can overwinter even without cover. But if I want to add some, you know frost protection, I can do that with  fleece or whatever. They're still going strong in the spring when they start to bolt and they're going to seed. I have to pull them out to make room because it's time to plant summer  crops again. So it's not a bad problem.

Farmer Fred  19:11  

Yeah, here in the West, we don't have the humidity issues you have back there. But certainly the heat and the sun issues have certainly changed gardening and we're seeing that currently with tomatoes and peppers especially, there's more sunburn. There's more sun-related diseases. there's cat facing going on.  And you're wondering, okay, how do we deal with this next year then? Do we plant in more shade? What do we do?

Joe Lamp'l  19:35  

Yeah, that's such a good question. And it's interesting that this question is coming up a lot more lately and you know, with our online gardening Academy, we have a lot of students and we have weekly zoom calls. We call them office hours, but we have students all across the country, many out in the west coast, and the Southwest , desert Southwest and Texas especially. And everyone is just struggling. This was a really hard year for a lot of people because of the heat. And so this conversation was coming up all the time, and many people were resorting to shade cloth around their plants to try to knock down some of that heat in the middle of the day. And they were experimenting with that for the first time this year. And you know, there were some aha moments from that. And many people thought that they would wrap their plants with the shade cloth and only to find out that it actually exacerbated the problem, because the shade cloth was eliminating the airflow, the free airflow, and it was actually holding in some of the heat that wouldn't have been there had they provided some spacing. And so they rectify the problem in the course of the growing season by finding a way to suspend the shade cloth over the plants with some free flow air in the meantime. And that that seemed to really make the difference. And they were using roughly 50% shade cloth. And it knocked the temperature down. I think the average was five to seven degrees. And it made a big difference. And so that's one of the things. and then of course, more frequent drip irrigation. pinpointing  the water where you want more, and for longer periods of time. We're learning as we go,  it's more than we ever have had to deal with. What do we do now?  So we're figuring it out as we go, I guess that is the point of what I'm trying to make here.

Farmer Fred  21:25  

I can see more PVC structures over raised beds in the future, to be able to give you that airflow and yet provide more shade.

Joe Lamp'l  21:34  

Yeah, yeah. In fact, I even tried, I almost did that myself this year. And fortunately, I wised up because I was going to do it on a Saturday afternoon when I was trying to get some protection over some plants, at the same time was buying some livestock panels to provide some deer protection around the plants. And then I just started thinking, Well, why don't I just suspend the livestock panel because it's very flexible and you can create a hoop out of it over the top of my plants and then just drop shade cloth over that. So I basically killed two birds with one stone with that, accidentally. But you know, it worked. To your point, I think the PVC is going to be more ubiquitous than ever in the garden here around in the wintertime for  the frost protection and then in the summertime with a shade cloth, from hardening off all the way through knocking off a heat in the middle of the summer.


Farmer Fred  22:32  

You want to start the backyard fruit and nut orchard of your dreams? But you don’t know where to begin? Or, maybe you’re currently growing fruit and nut trees, and you have a million questions… such as what are the tastiest fruits to grow, where can I go to buy some of these delectable fruits and nuts you’ve been reading about…and, how do I care for all these fruit and nut trees, including planting, pruning and harvesting?

I have one online stop in mind, where all these questions you might have will get answered:

It’s dave wilson dot com, That's Dave Wilson Nursery, the nation's largest wholesale grower of fruit and nut trees for the backyard garden. They have planting tips, taste test results, and links to nurseries in your area that carry Dave Wilson fruit trees.

Click on the Home Garden tab at dave wilson dot com for all these links, including a link to their years of informative videos about growing fruit and nut trees that they’ve posted on the Dave Wilson Nursery You Tube Channel. Start the backyard orchard of your dreams at Dave Wilson Dot Com!


Farmer Fred  23:40  

Let's get back to our conversation with TV gardener Joe Lamp’l. For probably the last 30 years, I've used the same tomato cages, which are made of concrete reinforcement wire. it's sold in four by five foot sheets, you just bend it into a circle and secure them. And they last forever. You've taken it up a notch with your tomato cages by using livestock panels, which is a much thicker metal. And you need bolt cutters to cut it.

Joe Lamp'l  24:08  

Yeah, but if you get a nice sized bolt cutter, it cuts like butter,  because you have those long handles and they're not so thick that you can’t.  Even somebody who would say that they are not strong at all , can still cut right through it. I did that, Fred, because I had those same challenges that you had, and they weren't great. When you have 60-something tomato plants, and each one needs a cage and  at the end of the season, you've got to put those things somewhere, and they've got a memory. So if you try to uncouple them and lay them out flat, they want to roll back up. And then you're stacking 60 of those things, however you can wherever you can and for me,  I don't have that ability. And then for television and all the media we create, I really wanted something that stood out that had kind of an architectural appeal to it too. So these, because they're galvanized metal, they don't rust. They're square When you put the two 90 degree panels together, they come together as a square. And  they're super strong, they are not going anywhere, because the way that you cut the bottom they make stakes that go into the ground, nothing's going to knock them over. And they are amazing. And from the feedback I've gotten from people that have seen the posts from around the world, and they've built them in their gardens, nobody's complaining. and they rave about them. And it makes me very happy to know that people are really enjoying these things, I did it out of a need to just say, I'm tired of messing with cages, I need something that really works. And living on a small farm, I had those livestock panels around, I just grabbed one of them one day, and I said, I thought I could do something with this. And I'm not a very creative person, but give me enough time and I can come up with something. And  that's what came up, these tomato cages. And that's one of my best non-regrettable moments in the garden, was coming up with those cages.

Farmer Fred  25:53  

And you can find directions on how to do it on page 242 of Joe Lampl’s book, “The Vegetable Gardening book”, for instructions on making the ultimate tomato cages. One thing that you stressed in the podcast talking about your book on your own podcast was cleaning your tools, and how fastidious you are about cleaning tools. But if you're trying to reduce diseases in your garden, before you put your tools away, you better clean them,

Joe Lamp'l  26:21  

you really should. Having a sharp blade, having a rust free tool, having one that doesn't overwinter pathogens on it. And it may be hard for people to get their head around the fact that that can happen. But it can. It’s a really good practice, when you feel like you're going to put your tools away for the year or for the season, knock the dirt off, get your steel wool out, whatever it is to clean them up, shine them up. First time I really did that fastidiously was when I was doing a video for somebody that wanted to have a demonstration on how to de-rust your tools and clean them up. And so I pulled all my tools,  because I had plenty of them that had a little bit of stuff on them. And I was so happy at the end of that process, showing the different ways that you could clean them up and you get the rust off with various processes, and they almost look brand new again. And it was just a proud moment to know that when you have good quality tools, and you take care of them, they'll literally last a lifetime, if you don't lose them. And besides the fact that they're clean, and they operate well, because you've sharpened them up to get the rust off and remove the potential pathogenic issues on there, that gets you off to the best start going forward. Not only mentally. You are really feeling good about your tools, and they're easy to work with. And they're not stiff, and they're, you know, lubed and all that. They're clean. That's the best thing you can do, one of the best things you can do, at the start of the season. You don't want to handicap yourself going in.

Farmer Fred  27:43  

Yeah, and maybe wrap yellow or red electrical tape on the handles so you can spot them laying on the ground. In your book, you talk about your super simple, seven step maintenance routine. And I really liked the one about keeping some big containers handy around the yard for you to throw stuff in.

Joe Lamp'l  28:00  

Yes, yes! I'm pausing. Because it just seems so simple. But it's such a thing. Let's face it, we're going to have weeds that we need to get out of the garden beds, we need to cut back dead or diseased material. And it's got to go somewhere. For a lot of us, there's only so much time that we have to spend in the garden when we're out there. And when we're in the moment, we've got that momentum and want to keep the pace going. But when you stop because you don't have that place to put that stuff in the moment. Well, now you're putting your tools down, you're heading off in a different direction, you might see something else you need to do. And then you get off on a detour, or a tangent, or that chasing of that squirrel. And next thing you know, your hours have gone by and you never got back to where you started. And it just makes a big difference. To me, the momentum is a big thing and just feeling like you've got what you need when you need it where you need it. It is such a no brainer. For me. It wasn't until I made a real concerted effort to make a point of making sure I always had something in the garden, ready to go. And now I know the stuff lives there. For that very reason. You know, gardening is not hard. But it can sometimes be not easy either. Just because it's not always convenient because we're not as organized as we want to be. And those are little things that we can do to make that more streamlined.

Farmer Fred  29:13  

Well, I think it's because, too, we're getting older, we get a little bit wiser and we don't want to trudge back to the garage to look for something. So we finally figured out, oh, let's leave it in the yard. It's like people who keep spare tools in the yard. They've taken an old outdoor mailbox, put it on a post somewhere in the garden, and they keep their hand tools inside that metal mailbox.

Joe Lamp'l  29:34  

 I've done that.  I go to that more than my real mailbox. There's so many things. I got one of those jumbo mailboxes, and I started thinking about what are the most important things that I use the most, and what are the things that I would need in case something happened? So there's the band aids and the antiseptic and there's the sunscreen and there's sunglasses and there's of course my pruners and my micro snips, and my soil knife, and plant tags and markers. And you know, on and on. And that's just from memory and there's other stuff in there, it’s so full. It stands to get  a cleaning out every once in a while because you keep shoving stuff in there. Oh yeah, of course your favorite gloves? Of course.

Farmer Fred  30:19  

Yeah. To get a hat.

Joe Lamp'l  30:22  

For sure. So yes, it's, it's like one of those moments where you think what took me so long to get around to doing this? And I want to come up with something that's not a mailbox because it looks a little funny in there. I mean, I'm used to it. But I'd like something that is a little more clever. But a mailbox works as good as anything, because it's rain proof. And it has a nice tight fitting lid. So there's nothing wrong with it. But someday I’m hoping to get a brainstorm to come up with something that maybe I have to make. But you can't beat the simplicity of a mailbox.

Farmer Fred  30:51  

Speaking of brainstorms, or having that moment, did you ever have an aha moment in the garden that took you down a different path? 

Joe Lamp'l  31:01  

Yeah, I'm sure I've had a lot of those. I had one recently. And, this isn't going to be the most earth shattering news. But back to the tomatoes for a second: by  mid to late July. Down here, they're just  worn out, they've been producing like crazy. I've been maintaining them like crazy, I'm tired, they're looking tired. And we have a really hot month ahead, with August. But I have learned over time that if you are patient, and you don't throw in the towel, and you don't pull them out, there’s a 50-50 chance they'll come around. they'll work through the pest and disease cycles, and the climate will get more favorable. And next thing you know, they're doing really good things. Again, they've rebounded. And so an aha moment for me, is on that one, where I've just said, I'm just going to come back to that one later. And next thing you know, it's weeks later, but by then, it's looking so much better than it was at about the time you were thinking about pulling it out. And now it's producing again. And because of those that I left in the ground, I've got ripe tomatoes, producing. Just today I was out there this morning, picking cherry tomatoes off a plant that probably  wouldn't have been there had I pulled it out when I thought about it. But because I didn't, I am enjoying fresh, delicious tomatoes every morning when I'm out there doing my chores. And I will now because it's going to produce until frost kills it back. So I've got until almost Halloween to enjoy tomatoes.

Farmer Fred  32:29  

We are seeing the same thing here. we had a bout of over 110 degrees for five days in a row. And that knocked back production considerably. And it's only now that we're back into the 80s that the tomato plants are starting to set flowers again. And I know for the cherry tomatoes, they will produce again. But for the beef steaks, well, it's the end of the season.

Joe Lamp’l  32:50  

Yeah, you've got some time for them to produce from flower and get growing. So I'm with you there too. That said, I have  one beef steak left that's in all forms of growth at this point, with ones I picked off today and others that are coming on and so we'll see. But that's just part of what I love about gardening. It's never boring. It's always changing. No two days are the same. And for me this season, having tomatoes this late in the season is something that are rare to see because I've pulled them all out.

Farmer Fred  33:20  

Well, I hate to ask this question, because all gardening is local. But what is that beefsteak tomato variety?

Joe Lamp'l  33:26  

It is a Homestead variety. And I thought it was something else until I went down and looked at the tag. And it surprised me because I was thinking it was a different variety. But it's not, it's a Homestead . So I've made a note that that one will be going for me for a long time. It seems to be extra hardy, resistant to a lot of the things the other plants succumb to.

Farmer Fred  33:49  

Yeah, especially with all the changes going on. Yeah, one aha moment. I've noticed over the last decade or so, and I've done  30-40 years of gardening on the radio. And it used to be the questions that would come in would begin with the phrase, “what should I buy to solve whatever problem?” and now what they're saying is, “what can I DO to control this problem?” So we've gone from buying something to doing something, from eradicating something to controlling something. and boy, that's a step in the right direction.

Joe Lamp'l  34:23  

That is a huge step. I love that. And I've noticed that too. And when I, like you, back in the day,  you know what can I spray on this? What can I put on this to kill it? Thanks to the work that many of us have done to help educate people that there's a kinder gentler way and if you understand that of all the bugs in your garden, only 1% are pests and 99% are either beneficial or neutral. So why would you put something on your garden that's non selective, that's going to kill everything when only one pest is bad? Beating that drum over and over again by many, many people is getting through, and through all forms of media, too, as new gardeners are coming on. A lot of times their parents weren't gardeners, because they were, you know, both working and they didn't really have time to garden; or maybe they weren't reaching for the chemical bottle right off the bat. But for those that did, for that generation who had parents, that's what they did. That's what that younger  generation did, too, because that's what they knew from just watching what their parents did. But this generation, many cases, their parents, they weren't that reaching for that bottle. So now these people are just starting from scratch, fresh, and it's not even something they even think about right off the bat. Like you said, they just want to know what they need to do to manage the situation, working with beneficials or how do I how do I deal with this, but they're not even prompting with the question of what can I put on it or spray on it to kill it . that just doesn't enter the equation anymore. And I just love that. It's been a long time coming but I feel like we've rounded the corner and then some.


Farmer Fred  36:01

Wondering what to do with all that end of season corn. How about fresh corn soup? On this week’s Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter and podcast, Master Gardener and professional chef Andi MacDonald has the chilled corn soup recipe that’s rather special - it uses the corn cobs that usually get tossed!

Find a subscription link to the newsletter in today’s show notes, or visit our website, Garden Basics dot net, where you can sign up to have the free, Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter and podcast delivered to your inbox each Friday. Also at Garden Basics dot net, you can listen to any of our previous editions of the Garden Basics podcast, as well as read a transcript of the podcast episode you are listening to now. 

For current newsletter subscribers, look for All About Phytonutrients in the next Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter, coming out on the morning of Friday, September 16th, in your email. Take a deeper dive into gardening, with the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter. And it’s free. Find the link in today’s show notes or at garden basics dot net.  


Farmer Fred  37:20

Let's get back to our conversation with TV gardener Joe Lamp’l. Even though your book is entitled “The Vegetable Gardening Book,” you point out that to attract beneficial insects you have to have the flowers that attract them, or as I like to call them, the good bug hotels. And there are plenty that you can plant in the garden. What are some of your favorite good bug hotels to plant in Georgia?

Joe Lamp'l  37:34  

Well, you can't deny the zinnias. they are a magnet for all kinds of pollinators that are coming in. And I got a lot of milkweed too. And that is huge for the all types of bees and wasps and Syrphid flies and just every kind of thing that you would want to come visit your garden. But  over the past few years, we've really been introducing a lot of perennials, native perennials, into the garden, a lot of salvia, some native asters and things like Joe Pye, some Solidago. And just different things that I have throughout my property in my landscape, my native plant landscape beds, but now that I'm bringing them in, dedicating space around the interior garden borders, around my raised beds, it's just more vibrant than I've ever seen it, it's more beautiful than it's ever been. And so we're dedicating more space. I've got a farm manager, that's a really great flower person. And so she's commissioned to really focus on making the garden about 50-50 flowers and edibles next year, we've got the room for it, and the flowers won't really work their way into the raised beds so much. But we've got a new space around the perimeter, interior perimeter of my garden for those flowers. And so that's gonna be a nice addition, in many ways, but primarily for attracting more pollinators to help with pest control.

Farmer Fred  39:01  

When you have the good guys on your side, you don't need to be buying any sort of pesticides to spray. And you have to be patient, too. You have to look at those aphids and say, Oh, let’s watch it for a while. Let's see what happens. And usually the lady bugs, the lacewings, they will find those aphids and help you control them. You just need a little bit of patience. And if you don't have the patience, then use your garden hose.

Joe Lamp'l  39:27  

I'm glad you said patience because I was gonna say it if you didn't, but you said it. That’s one thing that's amazing to me. And I've learned a long time ago to be patient but it's really affirming. When you see those aphids on your plants. If you take the time to just look on those plants beyond the aphids and just look for the lady beetle larva or the lacewings. They're there. They're probably there and if they're not there, they probably will be there soon, if you give them a chance. And that's where the patient part comes in. But once they're there, they don't waste any time getting down to business and they're ravenous especially the ladybug larva, the non adult lady beetles. They eat more aphids per volume than the  parents. And then you've got the help from all the other beneficial insects too. And it's a beautiful thing. And Mother Nature really has it figured out. We're so impatient, especially in this day and age, when everything is instant, everything, you want instant results in your garden too. But that's the place to really kind of go to slow down and take a breath. And that includes with your pest control.

Farmer Fred  40:25  

Growing plants is like raising kids, the benefit to plants is, they don't talk back. You mentioned on your website,, about growing beets in containers, when every other source about growing beets from seeds advises to plant them directly into the garden.

Joe Lamp'l  40:42  

There's nothing like trying it to see if it works. And I've been growing them in cell trays for a lot of years now. And then transplanted them into the garden. And I'm the guy that wants to just see how it goes and try it differently. And so like you said, rarely do you find anybody that says you can plant it either way, but I I love starting seeds ahead of the growing season. So I want to grow everything from seed, in containers and cell packs or whatever. So beets as part of that. And when I planted them outside, and I got amazing beets from it. It was like, “Well, this is easy.” I mean, it really works. So I've done a video on it to talk about that. It really is the easiest way for me to grow beets. But this year, a couple weeks ago for my big course that we're working on, it launches next spring, it's organic vegetable gardening, I'm showing everybody in the course, how to grow the Fab 40 from seed to harvest. So we're bringing the cameras out  three times a week, all from when we started in March, until we stop sometime late this year, we're documenting every aspect every phase of growing the warm and cool season crops. And so just two weeks ago, I sowed seeds of beets into the garden directly, and I transplanted beet seedlings that I had started inside. And we're going to see how they both do when it's time to harvest. Are the transplants going to beet up and root up, and we're going to be able to get big beets out of it? Or are the ones that I direct sowed going to do better?  I'm not set on one way or the other, I just want people to see what happens from our documenting the process in real time. And that's part of the fun of it, we're gonna have a lot of successes, but there are things that aren't going to go according to plan. And they're gonna see that too. I want them to see side by side comparisons in real time, too, as I do them in my garden. And we're going to document that. So I think it's not one or the other. It's either or, or both.

Farmer Fred  42:34  

How tall are these beet transplants when you do transplant them?

Joe Lamp'l  42:38  

They're about three inches tall. And they have a bit of an extended stem below the leaf set going down into the roots. But that's typical of cool season plants that you start inside. They tend to be a little bit what people might consider leggy, but it's just that point between the roots and the part where the leaves are coming out. But then when I put them into the ground, I just go ahead and  I just put soil back around. So in the ground, when you look at them, they look like they're upright, and I've buried about an inch of that stem below the rosette area. And they do fine. And they beet up well.

Farmer Fred  43:14  

How big are the containers that you're starting the beets in?

Joe Lamp'l  43:17  

I use 50 cell trays. So they're about one and a half by one and a half inches.

Farmer Fred  43:22  

 I believe you live dangerously.

Joe Lamp'l  43:25  

You know, I've done this for a long time. And I let them grow out in their cells for four weeks. And then I put them outside late August, early September. And they've done really well. For years.

Farmer Fred  43:37  

I have to take issue with you on something you said on your podcast when you were talking about your book. When you were talking about getting away from junk food, you use the word “popcorn”. Now, as a popcorn grower myself, I love homegrown popcorn. There's just so many varieties, heirloom varieties, that you can plant that have actual popcorn taste, unlike these huge Styrofoam balls that they sell as popcorn in this day and age. But popcorn, being a whole grain, has plenty of good fiber in it. And it's what you put on the popcorn that’s the junk.

Joe Lamp'l  44:10  

I'll grant you that. 100%. When I even said it, I heard myself say what I said,  that wasn't the best example. And if I had more time, I would have gone back and said, Well, really? It's not the popcorn. It's the butter and all that other stuff. Yeah, I would have changed that. If I'd have gone back and done it. I agree with you.

Farmer Fred  44:25  

Yeah, but there are things, there are spices you could put on it to to mitigate the lack of butter and salt.  cinnamon for example.

Joe Lamp'l  44:34  

Yeah, there's good fiber in that popcorn. It's a good thing. Yeah,

Farmer Fred  44:37  

 It's a real food. It's not out of a factory in New Jersey. All right. One more question. You talked about not being fond of okra, but Okra flowers are beautiful.

Joe Lamp'l  44:50  

They're totally beautiful. The buttery yellow hibiscus flower of the okra. and let me clarify, as far as not a fan of okra. The reason I'm not Not a fan of it is it's massive in the garden. It's very stately I have it in the corner of my garden, the Western backside of my garden, so the sun doesn't allow it to shade anything else out of my garden. So it has a dedicated spot, it gets very tall, even the four and five foot varieties in an 18 inch high raised bed, I have to stand on the edge of the bed to harvest okra at this point. I purposely planted the smaller, shorter variety so that I didn’t have to get up on my bed. I don't mind, but it's a little precarious. What it is Fred, for me, it's it's getting into the plant to harvest. It's the sharpness of the leaves, the irritant on the leaves. But I use the “farmers defense sleeves” on my arms to protect mine. You know what those are?

Farmer Fred  45:43  

I will get some.

Joe Lamp'l  45:45  

let me tell you, they've got a great product. And I have nothing, no interest in their product other than the fact that I'm a huge fan of it. But they're just basically nylon, I don't know what the material is, maybe polyester or whatever. There's the stretchy material that you can just slip on over your arm, all the way up your arm. And you can reach in there and you won't get scratched up by your cucurbits or your okra or any of that stuff. And you just pull them off when you're done. And it's  beautiful and they had these really cool patterns too. It's almost  fun to wear them and you feel it feels pretty cool when you got them on. 

Farmer Fred  46:22  

Yeah, I know if I'm working on the corn or in the zucchini patch, I will usually slip on a long sleeve hiking shirt, but you just gave me a great idea. I've got some removable bicycle sleeves that fit over your arms that you can take off while riding when the weather gets hot. That might work as well.

Joe Lamp'l  46:39  

Exactly, that arm protection is huge for that kind of stuff.

Farmer Fred  46:43  

Yeah, that's another thing that happens as you get older and you do more in the garden. You start doing things that make more sense. Is there anything we left off though, that you want to talk about?

Joe Lamp'l  46:55  

I guess I would just close with, just because of the season that we're in, whoever's listening to this, if you're not doing a fall garden, even if you're in a part of the country where you feel like it just gets too cold too soon, or you haven't started yet. There are things that you can grow outside that will grow quickly, that you can enjoy that you can't grow in the summertime and you're missing an opportunity to extend your season and spend time in the most pleasant time of the year away from the heat and the pests and the diseases and all those things that frustrate you during the summertime. This is that time where you get to grow things and taste things and eat from the garden fresh food that you don't get to partake in the summertime. So for those that haven't done it yet, please give it a try. And there's still time to do it now. But if you don't do it this year, do it next year. So I guess I leave you with that, Fred. I'm sure there's a lot of other things I'll think about after we sign off. But that's one. The cool season garden is also more nutritious, too. Yes, yes. There's that. 

Farmer Fred  47:45  

All right. Here's the website, it’s It's Joe Lamp’l, star of the public television show, Growing a Greener World.  and  one of the top rated gardening podcasts, is the Joe Gardener show, and that's been going on for what, almost 300 episodes now?

Joe Lamp'l  48:09  

Yeah, I know. Exactly. Gosh, we're coming up on 300 episodes, which is, I think, like five years, something like that. We haven't missed a week.

Farmer Fred  48:16  

Congratulations on that, too.

Joe Lamp'l  48:19  

Yeah, thank you. It's the most time consuming thing we do. But I can't imagine not doing it.  a lot of people depend on it. And I love doing it.

Farmer Fred  48:27  

And I love doing a podcast  too, because I can edit what I say. Unlike radio.

Joe Lamp'l  48:33  

yeah, right. We sound brilliant when we put that finished product out there.

Farmer Fred  48:37  

That's what I tell everybody. I'll make us sound like geniuses. Right. Joe Lamp’l. check out the website For more information, check out his new book, The Vegetable Gardening Book” by Joe Lamp’l. Joe, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Joe Lamp'l  48:52  

Fred, thank you for the opportunity. I really enjoyed our conversation. Thanks for having me on.


Farmer Fred  49:03  

We like to answer your garden questions here on the Garden Basics podcast. Debbie Flower is here, America's favorite retired college horticultural professor, and we get a note from Matt, who lives in eastern Iowa. And he says it's either USDA zone four or five, depending on the map and/or the year. And Matt offers you praise, for saying, “first as a science graduate, you have a very informative podcast. I am a longtime gardener. However, this is my first year into fruit tree care on my in-laws farm where my family and I now also live. So I picked out a few specific fruit episodes to listen to and thank you for your guests and their knowledge. My question is this. What about cinder blocks, concrete blocks used as raised beds. Are they safe for plants? Are they effective for growing? is there research into their use as raised beds? Are water based stains or food safe paints okay to use on the outside to give them a more attractive look? What about painting cinder blocks?

Debbie Flower  50:02  

Yes, my short answer would be yes, they're safe to use. And they're certainly available. They're certainly inexpensive. You can modify the shape of your raised bed in many ways, the height, diameter, shape, etc. So they're very easy to use that way. But as to the question, Is there research that backs me up? I could not find any. I found lots of university research sites that said yes, you can make your raised bed out of cinder blocks, but not anything that had research. A couple of things I think of that you might consider if using concrete block as a raised bed for safety reasons. One is they are made from primarily cement, and cement is high in calcium, and they've traveled on a truck or whatever, they may have dust all over them. And if that dust with calcium in it gets into your garden, that will affect potentially the pH, meaning the alkalinity or the acidity of your soil, and it could take it into an undesirable range. Calcium makes soil more alkaline, so I've rinsed them off before I planted anything in them. Some cinder blocks contain fly ash, I'm very familiar with fly ash, because of some work my father did on incineration. Fly ash is the ashes leftover after garbage is burned. They would take a very long time to leech out of the blocks, I assume, having been told in the past that it takes concrete 30 years to cure. So if you're using new blocks, it'll probably be 30 years before they give up any of their contents. If you using old blocks, they are more likely to leach the calcium discussed previously. And the potential fly ash contents. Now, not all cinder blocks have fly ash in them. So if you can contact the manufacturer in any way and find out what is in them, that would be very helpful. I did go to an extension site.  I believe it's from Maryland, on using safely, materials  for building raised beds. And they suggested you could paint the cinder blocks with Polymer paint, which I then had to research and that's either acrylic or vinyl, so that's plastic. So you could put plastic on them. If I did, I would do it only on the outside. Understand that that's going to break down too. And the more sun it's in, the faster it's going to break down and then you've introduced plastic into your garden. So the polymer paint, I don't think is such a great idea. I like your idea of food grade stains and dyes.  I'm not familiar with them. I've made Tufa pots in which we got the concrete stain from the hardware store where we bought the cement. But I don't know about its safety in terms of food crops. So I don't know that I would use that. Another suggestion and this is for the inside to prevent the leaching. It's not for the outside for the beauty. It is to line it with a pool liner. That's a thick plastic material that will prevent leaching from the blocks into the soil. Do not line the bottom you definitely need the drainage but use the pool liner to prevent that leaching.

Farmer Fred  53:31  

One thing you may want to line the bottom with, if you have the problem of gophers or moles, is hardware cloth on the bottom of the raised bed to keep them from burrowing up from underneath.

Debbie Flower  53:40  

Absolutely, absolutely. Yes.

Farmer Fred  53:43  

What about using something like landscape fabric on the inside of the wall?

Debbie Flower  53:49  

landscape fabric is spun fabric. It's not woven, it's spun, if that makes sense. And it's sold purportedly to prevent weeds from growing into gardens. And what we found over and over and over again, is that the weeds just root right into the landscape fabric. If the chemicals, the undesirable chemicals from the cinder blocks could dissolve in water, it would not prevent them from getting into the garden. If they're too big for that the calcium would dissolve in water. If they're too big for that though, they wouldn't make it through the landscape fabric. So I have very mixed I don't like landscape fabric in the landscape. 

Farmer Fred  54:25  

My thought is that when you go to remove the stubs of the former plants in the raised bed, you're going to be bringing up that landscape fabric with it.

Debbie Flower  54:34  

Exactly, because the plants are going to root right into it. And so it's going to be more of a problem than a solution. So sorry, I don't have an answer for the stains and the dyes. But I think your idea of using cinder blocks for raised beds is a good one. You'll need some rebar to bang in the ground and put them over so that the blocks don't collapse midseason. But good luck with that garden.

Farmer Fred  54:56  

Debbie Flower, thanks for your help.

Debbie Flower  54:57  

You're welcome Fred.

Farmer Fred  55:01  

Garden Basics With Farmer Fred comes out every Tuesday and Friday and is brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Garden Basics is available wherever podcasts are handed out. For more information about the podcast, visit our website, GardenBasics dot net. That’s where you can find out about the free, Garden Basics newsletter, Beyond the Basics. And thank you so much for listening.

Joe Lamp'l Vegetable Gardening Pt 1
Smart Pots!
Joe Lamp'l Pt. 2
Dave Wilson Nursery
Joe Lamp'l Pt. 3
Beyond the Garden Basics Newsletter
Joe Lamp'l Pt. 4
Q&A: Cinder Block Raised Beds