Start your tomato seeds now – It’s almost time to start planting!
And, so, it begins…
Typically in the San Fernando Valley we will plant tomatoes outside around the end of March or beginning of April. Counting back 6 – 8 weeks from that target date is, well, now! That means it’s time to start tomato seeds and nurture them indoors until nighttime temperatures are consistently in the mid-fifties and the seedlings are strong enough to be planted in the ground.
Last weekend I started 18 varieties of tomatoes from seed. That’s just the beginning. I’ll start more seed but I also will allow plenty of room in the garden for tomatoes that I buy at seedling sales. Going to the sales and searching for new varieties that I haven’t yet tried is one of my greatest pleasures and I’ll never stop doing that!
We had a lovely afternoon on Sunday and I took full advantage by doing my seed work out in the garden. Frankly, the mess is easier to clean there so, if you can be outside or in a greenhouse to get your seed started, all the better.
I began with a huge plastic tub full of the ingredients that go in my seed starting medium. I like the plastic tub because it’s easy to move, easy to add water to and the high sides contain my potential spills. If you’re really doing a lot, you might find mixing the medium in a wheelbarrow very convenient.
Into the tub went equal parts organic peat moss, organic vermiculite and organic perlite. When mixed together the combination will provide a light medium that will retain enough moisture to encourage germination without drowning or rotting the tiny seeds.
Using my hands, I lightly lifted and tossed the ingredients to combine.
Then, I gently added water and mixed again. You want the medium to be moist when you add the seed.
Next, I took my containers (I like little pulp pots) and scooped some of the growing medium into them.. I gently pat it down without compacting and then added more to fill each cell to the top.
Using the end of a pencil, I made three holes in each cell. The holes were about 1/4 inch deep. I dropped one seed into each hole and then carefully covered them up with the potting mixture that was displaced when I made the holes.
I immediately added markers to each tray of seeds so I would know what I was growing. Seems like a no-brainer, but even though I do this right away I somehow always end up with one mystery plant! I included the name of the tomato and my start date on the marker.
Using a spray bottle filled with room temperature water, I moistened the growing mixture, taking care to spray each cell. The growing medium should be moist but not wet. To help retain moisture, I then put the trays into ziploc bags. The bags are left open so air can circulate.
My grow lights are set up (but not turned on until the little plants begin to appear) and heat mats are turned on. I’ve put the bags with the seedling trays on top of the mats as seeds need heat to germinate. Now, I’ll give a light spray of water each day and watch and wait.
See how easy it is? Now, go get set up to start your seeds. And, check back often. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of my seeds and the next steps of this seedling adventure.
So, back to selecting your seeds. You’ve got a pile of seed catalogs, everything looks fabulous, and you don’t know what to order. Ordering everything seems easiest or maybe ordering nothing.
No!! Neither option is a good one! Start by thinking about how much you want to grow. How much space do you have? And how much of that space will get enough sun, at least 8 hours per day (more for larger tomatoes) to successfully grow tomato plants? Do you have a favorite variety that you want to have a lot of? Do you want to grow tomatoes to eat sliced or in a salad or do you prefer to grow for sauces or canning?
Once you establish what you really like to do with your tomatoes and about how many you can grow, start thinking about the tomatoes you’ve enjoyed in the past. This is where keeping a garden journal comes in. Look at your notes. If Green Zebra didn’t do well in your extreme heat, cross that one off your list. If Kellogg’s Breakfast loved the heat (it does), and you absolutely loved the flavor, it would be a good one to grow again.
I like to break down my seeds list into color categories. If I don’t, I’m liable to end up growing a whole lot of bi-colored, sweet tomatoes and not have much to can for later use. So, I make a chart, as seen in the photo below. As you’ll see, I have each color listed and then different varieties within each color column. I’ve also included a very important number. This is often referred to at DTM or Day To Maturity. This is not an absolute but an approximation of how long it will take to produce ripe tomatoes once planted in the ground. Since many of these varieties are new to me, I’ve also decided to include a quick note about size when ready to harvest.
Now comes the fun part. Juggle. Mix it up. You don’t want to have all medium-sized red tomatoes coming in at the exact same time. Remove a few reds and add a few somewhere else. In fact, you don’t want all of your tomatoes ripening at once. Choose some that are early producers (55 – 60 days), some that are late (90 – 100 days) and some that will produce mid-season (75 – 80 days). Ultimately, you want to have a variety of colors and sizes coming in at any given time. You want diversity to keep things delicious and interesting.
Ok – you’re ready. Grab those seed catalogs, make your list and order! It’s almost time to start your seeds!
There are so many ways to enjoy a tomato it’s often difficult to decide what to do with them.
Some are absolute perfection when eaten raw while others are ideal for canning. Some you just want to pick and pop in your mouth while others make a superb addition to a panzanella or caprese salad or a hearty soup. With so many options, how is it possible to know which to use?
The fact is, if you ask 100 different tomato growers what their favorite tomato to eat is you‘ll get 100 different answers. For me, it’s Pineapple. I like a slightly sweeter, not too tart tomato. Pineapple is like a tropical fruit. Its beautiful color, a blend of yellow, blush and pink echoes in the flavor. The taste is as sweet and yummy as its outer beauty.
If I’m making a salsa, I always like to include black or purple tomatoes. The black and purple varieties tend to have a slightly smoky flavor that adds depth and complexity to any recipe. They’re also quite fabulous sliced nice and thick to layer on a BLT. Black Krim, Cherokee Purple and Black Mammoth are standards in my garden.
Choosing the right seed catalogs and seeds to fit your garden and lifestyle needs.
Choosing seeds to grow for your garden can be an overwhelming task. There are so many seed catalogs to choose from, each with pages of vegetables that all sound fabulous. I’m going to share with you how I approach the task and make it less daunting, keeping the fun in the process.
In anticipation of buying seed or putting in a garden you need to give it some careful thought and really consider your needs, space and desires. A little advance planning will help keep your thoughts clear and will be more useful than you can imagine.
Even before you select the seed, I suggest you weed out some of the seed catalogs. They may all be pretty but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. This is the perfect time to remember not to judge a book by its cover!
As soon as the calendar turns to January, my mailbox fills up with seed catalogs, booklets and pamphlets and I’m sure yours does, too. I’ve decided that if I use a simple system I can make selecting seed almost as enjoyable as planting and growing the crops themselves.
So, here’s my plan and I think it will work for you, too.
Some seed companies are easier to work with than others. There are those that I’ve worked with in the past and had a good experience. I know they have a quality product that meets or exceeds my personal standards. So, I begin with the ones I know and trust. I also know that if I have questions, they will gladly and within a reasonable amount of time answer them – even if I call multiple times. When considering seed catalogs, I urge you to invest a few minutes and see who gives the customer service you may need. Call up and ask a question or send an email to see how long it takes for a reply.
Do you have some idea of what you want to grow? Knowing what you want to grow might help narrow down which seed catalogs have what you are looking for. Some catalogs are all about one vegetable while others will offer seed for a cornucopia of crops. Start with the definite’s and then later you can look at the others. Obviously, I’m rather tomato obsessive. The seed catalogs that feature mostly tomatoes are very appealing to me. I know that whoever assembled the publication and all that it offers “gets” me.
I try to flip through each catalog as soon as it arrives. A pile of them on the counter will frustrate me and I would probably just throw them all away. Handling them when they arrive eliminates the mess. So, as I’m flipping through I’m looking at pictures. I want to see beautiful photographs of every single thing they offer. This is not a time when I want to use my imagination. Photos need to be in color! Black and white means nothing to me in terms of tomatoes or any other vegetables.
I like seed catalogs that offer several varieties of each vegetable. I want choices. No matter which one I’m looking at, the descriptive paragraph needs to be concise and full of details. I want to know some basic information about each variety like whether it’s a hybrid or an heirloom, the approximate days to maturity, and anything they can tell me about growing habits. In the case of tomatoes it will also indicate whether the plant is “Indeterminate” or “Determinate”, referring to the plant’s pattern of growth and setting fruit. I also want to know something about the plant that reflects the writer’s personal experience. With so many varieties sounding so fabulous, something about flavor, shape or how the vegetable is used can be very helpful.
Lastly, I want to look at the catalogs from the brand new companies. These are probably somewhat limited but companies that are young are usually really on top of what’s new. They’re enthusiastic and eager to share all that they know and do.
Once you’ve narrowed down which catalogs to devote your time to you’re ready to use page markers, sticky arrows or post its to keep track of what interests you most.
I’m going to give you a day or two to get to this point. In my next post, we’ll explore how to narrow it down to which seeds you want to order and grow. I suspect that you’re probably already on overload so let’s break this down into small steps. You’ve got a little bit of time.
To be continued…..
Remember when all canning jars looked pretty much the same? There were Ball and there were Kerr and that was about it. Well, times have changed!
Have you noticed all of the really cool looking canning jars available in the cookware stores? Weck Jars, available at cookware shops come in some very unique sizes and shapes. No matter what you’re preserving and in what quantity, there is a Weck Jar for you. These jars have rubber seals that are kept tight with metal clips. I’ve also seen Bormioli Rocco Fido Canning Jars locally. They come in a variety of sizes and also have rubber seals. These jars have one clamp for closure rather than the three clips that Weck jars have.
A quick Google search comes up with pages of online ordering options for your canning needs. There are square jars and hexagons, minis and extra large. Sure, you can still get the round, glass jars with metal lids and rings. But, why not have some fun and make the packaging as delicious as what’s inside?
Speaking of what’s inside…Read my recent blog post about my favorite tomato for making sauce and canning. My Favorite Sauce Tomato.
Ahh, New Year’s. A time to reflect, a time to look forward and a time to make resolutions so the New Year can be even better than the last. Don’t forget to think about your garden when making your resolutions. To start things off, I’ve come up with some great New Year’s resolutions for tomato growers to ensure the best tomatoes ever.
So, here they are – My suggestions for The Tomato Grower’s New Years Resolutions!
Tempting though it may be…Even though the sun is shining and it feel’s like spring, I will not give in to the urge to plant tomatoes outside early in March. (Remember, soil and nighttime temperature needs to be about 55 degrees)
I will plan to and actually allow three feet in between tomato plants. Yes! Three feet! The reasons are many. Tomatoes have big root systems and need lots of soil around them to keep healthy. Additionally, good air circulation for foliage and growing fruit will help reduce disease and improve health.
I will properly support my tomatoes with stakes (for the center stem) and cages or trellis for heavy branches and fruit. That means no flimsy cages better suited to growing flowers than six-foot high tomato plants. Without some help from you heavy branches will break and fruit will rot on the ground.
I will feed my tomatoes regularly with a well balanced, organic fertilizer. I know you want to buy that familiar brand that’s on sale at the big box store. Don’t do it! I promise, it’s worth the extra expense to use the good stuff. You’ll produce healthier plants with more fruit to harvest, and more of the nutrients will be in the tomatoes than if you use the other stuff. ‘Nuff said?
Now, here’s the hard one. I want feedback from all of you on this. I want to know if you actually stuck to it!
I will not, no matter how hot it is and no matter how thirsty my plants look, I will not over water my tomatoes! Tomatoes do not want, need or do well with daily watering. Don’t do it!
When I first plant, I water my tomatoes twice a week. That’s a very deep soak. If you’re not in sunny Southern California, make that once a week. After one month, I take my cues from the plants. If they’re droopy early in the morning, they need to be watered. If not, leave them alone. Take a leap of faith and trust me on this!
Of course there will be more detailed tips as we get closer to planting season, but in the meantime, Happy New Year to tomato growers everywhere!
My favorite holiday gift for every tomato lover!
This may be really obvious…but I’m suggesting the 2013 Tomato Growing Guide Calendar as the perfect holiday gift for tomato lovers because it is just that!
Created just for tomato lovers, the 2013 Tomato Growing Guide Calendar serves two really important functions. Yes, it is a monthly calendar for the new year and there is plenty of space on each date to note events and appointments.
In addition, each page of the year includes a beautiful picture – all are photos taken by me in my garden. Every month also has details about what to do in your tomato garden and it’s coded for different growing regions across the country. There are 17 years worth of tips and suggestions that I share from my tomato growing experience. With ample room to jot down notes it also becomes a helpful record keeper. This is most definitely a helpful tool for everyone growing tomatoes.
The 2013 Tomato Growing Guide Calendar hits home with tomato growers and people who simply love to enjoy eating tomatoes. The recipes included are easy to prepare and delicious. Whether you grow tomatoes and need the gentle reminders about tomato care or have fond memories of hand-picking vine ripened tomatoes in your Grandfather’s garden this is a gift that’s sure to please.
Tomato Growing Guide Calendars are shipped via US Mail unless you have some special delivery needs (we aim to please).
To order, click here!
I have absolutely fallen in love with these little green things. These innovative plant clips are perfect for gently holding tomato branches up to stakes or cages. They are roomy enough to steady the central stem without cutting into the plant like some materials will.
Ultimate Plant Clips snap together easily and attach to plants without any tying or twisting. One of the reasons that’s important is it’s hard to tie or twist with gloves on but attaching these really is a snap! Removing them when they’re no longer needed is just as simple. The best part, though, is that they are reusable. Use them from one season to the next so there’s less clean up and waste from your garden.
No matter where you buy your plant clips, you’ll want to be sure to order more than a few. Your favorite gardener will love using them all over the garden.
I love my pruners! I use them all the time and I like to have several pair.
I have the long handled ones that I use for pruning roses or cutting back grape vines. It’s the short handled ones, though, that I use every day in some way. Also known as secateurs, these pruners have short handles and are operated with one hand. A spring between the handles causes the jaws to open again after closing. When not in use, the jaws are held closed by a safety catch or by a loop.
Why do I have so many pruners? One lives in the tool box in the car so I always have it at the community garden. One lives in the shed out back. One is under the kitchen sink and the other one always seems to be lost!
I really do use my pruners every day. I use them to deadhead roses, and cosmos, and dahlias and every other flower I grow. I use them when I cutback the hydrangeas in fall and roses each winter. I use them to harvest tomatoes. Yes, you read that right! Sometimes tomatoes can be very easily plucked from the plants but to be safe, I like to cut them. If not, it’s too easy to accidentally remove the stem and tear into the skin. This is especially true of cherry tomatoes.
There are several really good brands of pruners and they’re available at most of the garden shops. Felco, Corona, Fiskars are all great lines that offer various sizes. Some have a slightly padded handle, which I like. There are some made just for left-handers. The shape is most important to me as I want them to have a small enough point to be able to get into small places.
My Mother once told me that if you give someone something sharp as a gift they need to give you a nickel. It’s something about not severing a friendship. I really don’t know the full details about that superstition but here’s what I do know – every gardener loves to get new pruners. Just make sure they have a nickel ready.