Tag Archives: tomatoes

Seed starting log: Optimal conditions for germination

Gardening, I have found, can be either a highly scientific process or a highly artistic process. This depends largely on who you are and how you think. I started out a couple of years ago with no real plans, just a few seeds and a real desire to make this work. It kind of did, but mostly didn’t. Last year, we were a little more deliberate about it. We calculated seed starting times, tried to put them under lights, and transplanted them out when we thought they should go out. Some varieties flourished, like the ‘rose Quartz’ tomatoes and the Russian kale, but others didn’t really take off until August, leaving me with very little time for a crop in my 5b growing season. 

This year, we decided on an intentional, deliberate and – dare I say it? – scientific approach to seed starting. Plants are very much like people. Finicky and particular, they really care exactly how you treat them. And if you don’t treat them the way they want you to, they simply will not respond. 

Here are some lessons I’m learning as I start my seeds. 

  • Tomatoes like to germinate in the dark. Just make sure the place you put them isn’t freezing, and they’ll come up just fine. I like to plant my seeds in yogurt cups with drainage holes poked in and covered with plastic wrap. My tomatoes are mostly germinating between 3-5 days after planting, at which point I take off the plastic and move them under the grow light. 
  • Peppers like light and warmth. These guys are not going to do great if I try to sprout them in my basement under the grow light system. I’ve been preparing my yogurt cups, putting the whole thing inside a ziploc bag, and putting that on top of the radiator. My cubanelles and mini yellows sprouted beautifully. I’m still waiting on the ‘Santa Fe’ peppers, which haven’t been on the radiator. I think my experiment is working. I also sow the seeds directly on the soil surface to allow the most light penetration. 
  • Don’t drown your seedlings. Use a spray bottle, tepid water, and some love. How would you like a bucket of ice cold water dumped on you whenever you got thirsty? Your plants hate it too. 
  • Love your seedlings. I know this sounds goofy, but I firmly believe that your seedlings can feel your love and affection. Care for them as if it matters, and they will respond. 

The realization that I’ve come to is that the scientific approach and the Zen approach are probably the same: treat your plants the way they want to be treated. They will flourish. 



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Seed starting log: Dwarf tomatoes

A fresh, ripe juicy tomato is the crowning glory of the home gardener’s summer bounty – we all know that. There’s a lot that goes into that process, though, from selecting your seed variety all the way to knowing when to tell your plant that enough is enough. One of the biggest challenges with growing your own tomatoes, especially in a location with cold winters, is knowing when to start them. Most guides will tell you 6-8 weeks before the last frost in your zone.

The tough thing about that is that in many zones, my Zone 5b Pittsburgh garden included, I can’t really tell you when the last frost will be. Yes, the almanac says May 1. But honestly, I don’t quite trust that. One terrible frost and all the tomatoes will be goners. Having said that, delaying seed starting just to push the transplant date well into mid- to late-May is not a great plan either, knowing that it will cut my growing season short. Of course, there’s the added hitch – I simply don’t want to wait anymore! It’s cold, snowy, icy and bitter outside. I work odd shifts, sometimes not seeing the sun for days. Those little sprouts of green poking their heads out are pretty much all I have to remind me that this isn’t the end of the world.

So your question is probably this: What’s the solution to all this?

Well, there’s a magical little thing called a dwarf tomato. These are usually determinate varieties, which means they set fruit all at once, and are compact and well suited for container growing. Some examples of this are Tiny Tim, Goldilox, and Hahms Gelbe Topftomate, all of which I’m hoping to grow this year. The advantage of starting these seeds early is that even as they start to grow, you know that they won’t start to sprawl and creep all over the place. Even in case of a late frost, you can comfortably keep them indoors in containers and they won’t get rootbound or get out of control.

I started ‘Tiny Tim’ and ‘Hahms Gelbe’ a few days ago. I’ve heard great things about both varieties. Tiny Tim is a small red cherry, and Hahms Gelbe is a slightly larger yellow. Remember that tomatoes need lots of light to avoid getting spindly and leggy. Keep the grow light no more than 3-4 inches away, the closer the better. I’m using a cool fluorescent bulb set up in my basement, which is about 65 degrees F.

Follow along with me and we’ll see what they do this year – it’s all a big experiment!

It’s been a long and lonely winter

Friends, it’s been one of those years. Tough times all around, and now the continuing drudgery of day after day of ice and snow is really starting to wear on me. Spring, I’m sure, is on its way. Maybe took a wrong turn somewhere, maybe decided on an unplanned pit stop – but on its way somewhere.

I’ve been trying to beat the drudgery by perusing and flipping through seed catalogs over and over again. Kitazawa, Seed savers exchange, Annie’s annuals, Bountiful Gardens, Horizon Herbs, and of course the ever inspiring Renee’s gardens have all been the recipient of remarkable shares of my attention, especially during this month of working nights.

I’m excited about this year’s planting selection – some dwarf tomatoes, a few slicers and sauce tomatoes, several cucumbers and peppers, and a whole host of wildflowers. This year we’re thinking about doing much more container gardening and only putting greens, herbs and flowers in the ground. Last year’s containers did beautifully, as you can see in this post. In our rocky rental soil, only a few plants could really thrive – a few Dragon’s Tongue bean plants, a Golden Cherry tomato, 5 varieties of kale that produced from May straight through to the end of November, and a lemon thyme that is somehow, miraculously, still poking its green head out through layers of snow and ice into the -10F air.

I’m looking forward to things getting a little warmer. My dad, who is in a much warmer climate, has started his seeds – some of them outdoors, no less! I’m sending him a few more seeds for his collection, a selfish venture as I hope to experience an early vicarious spring!

Here’s a few of the dwarf tomato seeds I have for my dad, along with a drying variety.

 

Here’s hoping my next post will start with a joyous “Here comes the sun!”

It’s almost time to start seeds…

It’s time to plan the garden!

I’m torn between about 25 different kinds of tomatoes – I think I’ll have to narrow to about 6-8. I’m thinking a currant variety, a couple of cherries, a slicer, a pickler and a paste should be a good start. Any thoughts?

In the meantime, I’m scouring the blogs of friends and fellow gardeners, hoping for inspiration.

One of my favorites with plenty of tips and an experimental mindset not unlike my own is Small Kitchen Garden. Daniel over at SKG has plenty of ideas, suggestions and even a seed giveaway!! Gardening can be an expensive venture if you don’t find economical ways to procure new plants, so I suggest you all hop on the giveaway wagon and maybe you’ll get lucky!

As we get closer to seed starting date (probably in another week and a half or so), I’ll let you know what I’ve decided on. In the meantime, what are YOU planting this spring?

My Very First Quinoa Bowl!

I’ve been hearing a lot about quinoa lately. It seems to be all the rage with everyone from hippie health freaks to Indian aunties who want to keep their husbands from getting diabetes. It’s being used as a replacement for rice, oats, millet, you name it. My dad’s been recommending quinoa to me for a while, telling me that it’s the secret to getting through my increasingly never-ending days, but I haven’t really known how to get started using it.

Heidi over at 101 cookbooks has several recipes up that I’ve never tried, so today seemed to be a good day to get started on my own quinoa adventure. I bought quinoa at Whole Foods a couple of weeks ago, but it’s been sitting in my pantry, forlorn and sad-looking. My refrigerator is home to a bag of yellowing brussels sprouts and borderline wrinkled grape tomatoes, so it was time to give them all a chance at life. My inspiration came from this recipe, but I didn’t have several ingredients that I would have loved to include, like tofu and baby bella mushrooms. In the end it turned out to be quite simple, a quick mix of brussels sprouts, roasted cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts and pesto stirred into a fresh, hot pot of quinoa. Since Chicago is still freezing (what is going ON?), this was a lovely one-pot lunch that warmed me up and filled me up at one go. I’m ready to hit my long day of work now, satisfied that I’ve done my part towards being healthier!

Ingredients:

1 cup cooked quinoa
8-10 small brussels sprouts
grape tomatoes – you can use however many you want
1-2 tablespoons pesto – here’s a recipe in case you don’t have store-bought
a handful of pine nuts
a pinch of sea salt
a teaspoon of brown sugar
a splash of olive oil
Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Slice the grape tomatoes and Brussels sprouts in half.

3. Stir together a splash of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and a teaspoon of brown sugar and pour the mixture onto the tomatoes.

4. Gently toss the tomatoes in the mixture and arrange them cut-side-up in a baking dish.

Aren't they cute all lined up?

5. Do the same with the Brussels sprouts and arrange them in another baking dish.

6. You can throw in the pine nuts along with the Brussels sprouts.

7. Bake everything in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the tomatoes are well roasted and the Brussels sprouts are golden brown.

Ready to pop into your mouth!

8. Stir everything but the tomatoes into the quinoa along with a spoonful of pesto and a pinch of salt.

9. Transfer the whole dish into a plate and top with the tomatoes.

10. Enjoy!