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When is the Right Time to Plant Tomatoes?

Posted by on Mar 22, 2013 in gardening, tomatoes galore, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Knowing the right time to plant tomatoes depends on your soil temperature.

 

I’m getting lots of phone calls and emails from anxious gardeners and tomato growers wondering if it’s time to plant tomatoes yet?  The answer is…it depends!

Where are you growing? What’s your average nighttime temperature?  Have you thought about taking the temperature of your garden soil? Soil temperature is the key to deciding when to plant tomatoes.  The soil must consistently be 55 degrees or higher for tomatoes to thrive.  My general rule of thumb for tomato growers in Southern California is to wait until the end of the  third week in March. Then, check your soil temperature (I use a meat thermometer!)  If it’s still too cold, give it another week.

If you’ve purchased tomato seedlings but it’s still too cold at night for them to be planted outdoors, let them enjoy the sunshine during the day. Be sure to keep them somewhat protected from the elements and give them a feeding of diluted liquid fertilizer once a week.  Bring them in at night, putting them somewhere away from drafts or the furnace.

tomato seedlings

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Did You Start Your Tomato Seeds Yet?

Posted by on Mar 22, 2013 in gardening, tomatoes galore, Uncategorized | 0 comments

An Update about Tomato Seeds….

Did you start your tomato seeds yet? If not, you still have time but not time to waste. Tomato Sseds that you start now should be ready to plant outside in 6 – 8 weeks.  That sounds like perfect timing, especially if your climate will allow you to begin planting in the next couple of weeks. Spreading out your planting means you’ll be harvesting tomatoes for a longer period and that sounds really good to me!

When your tomato seedlings first emerge they’ll have two tiny leaves called cotyledon.  In just a short amount of time they will develop a second set of leaves, called “true leaves”.  Begin feeding once a week with diluted liquid organic fertilizer.

tomato seedling cotyledon

 

tomato seedling with true leaves

When seedlings are about 1 ½” tall they are ready to be potted up into 4″ containers with organic potting soil. (This will be in about 30 days.)

tomato seedlings

You”ll need to “harden off” the seedlings before moving them outdoors. Start the process by moving the seedlings outside for a few hours every morning. Pick a spot where they get a few hours of gentle sunlight and are sheltered from the worst weather extremes (eastern exposures are great). Don’t take them outside if temperatures threaten to drop much below 60ºF or if rain is imminent. After a few hours, move them back inside. Extend their time outside a few hours at a time over the next two weeks. At the same time, gradually increase their exposure to full sun and the elements. It’s not uncommon at this stage to find your seedlings bending over as they adjust to harsher conditions outside. If they start looking sad, reduce the time outside or stake them up with bamboo skewers.

Transplant outside when day time temperatures are consistently between 70-75 degrees and night time doesn’t dip below 55.

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Meeting John Valentino of “John & Bob’s” – A “Dirty” Tale…

Posted by on Mar 1, 2013 in gardening, Uncategorized | 0 comments

John Valentino, of “John & Bob’s Grow Green Smart Soil Solutions, and I met for a chat about….dirt!

 

Online relationships can be tricky and often misleading.  I’ve had an internet friendship with a man for several years. John always seemed friendly and cheerful.  I thought he seemed genuinely interested and committed to our friendship because he always replied to my emails quickly and with enthusiasm.  Our conversations often focused on our mutual interest, a passion for gardening.

From time to time we toyed with the idea of getting together to meet in person. We don’t live near each other so it just never seemed to work out. And so it continued, status quo.

Now, if you’re thinking this story doesn’t belong on a gardening blog because it’s going to get very dirty…well, it is. But, not the kind of dirty you might be expecting.  Read on.

As I said, John and I share a passion for gardening.  To say I have a “thing” for tomatoes is putting it mildly.  And, as crazy as I am about growing tomatoes, that’s John when he’s talking about dirt. But, don’t call it that.  It’s soil.  And, if he has anything to say about it, it’s healthy, vibrant, living soil that supports life from the microscopic fungi and protozoa to my eight-foot tall tomato plants.

John & Bob's rich, nutrient-filled soil

John & Bob’s rich, nutrient filled soil

 

As luck would have it, John and I did finally meet in January. He was an exhibitor at a local trade show so I drove over to meet him. I was beyond excited. I envisioned sitting down with this carefree guy, dressed in soiled jeans and work boots, chatting up a storm about all of our favorite tomatoes and the most delicious ways to enjoy them. I was thrilled to meet and have some face time with someone who plays such a huge part in my gardening success. You see, John is one half of John & Bob’s Grow Green Smart Soil Solutions.  I’ve been using their “stuff ” (as John refers to it) for years in my gardens and the results are outstanding!

John & Bob

John’s on the right.

So, that’s where the fantasy ended.  The effervescent exchange that I imagined didn’t materialize.  I arrived at our meeting location a few minutes early so I could stop by the ladies room before we met.  Of course, John was already awaiting my arrival, early and ready to get down to business.  He greeted me with a slight smile, dressed in perfectly pressed khakis and a crisp button down shirt.  This was not going to be the warm, fuzzy tomato talk I expected.  Without making my pit stop, John walked briskly and directed me to the John and Bob’s display booth.  I had trouble keeping up with my shorter stride.  John didn’t care.  He was a man on a mission.

John had something he had to show me.  To John, it wasn’t enough that I love, swear by and practically insist that my students use his products to grow great vegetables. John is a science and numbers guy.  I appreciated that he patiently explained to the importance of mycorrhizae (I can’t even say that) and the difference between the bad and beneficial nematodes.

Soil food web John & Bob's

 

More than that, though, he wanted me to see charts,  photographs and cost comparisons to further prove that the beneficial bacteria, fungi and protozoa that make up John and Bob’s product line make a huge difference in the overall health and production of  every garden and at a very reasonable cost.   My cursory glance and nod of acceptance wasn’t enough.  Look again, John insisted.  He showed me the impressive results of their field tests using the four John & Bob’s products, Optimize, Nourish/Bio-Sol, Maximize and Penetrate, at a residential garden, a university campus and a community hospital.  Yes, the landscaping looked spectacular. But John needed to be sure I saw the part about the cost of using his products in each situation compared to using bulk soil amendments.  It wasn’t just about the cost of the products, either. It was about the amount of time and labor (and cost of labor) involved in using the products.

You know how they say you have to hear something eight times to remember it?  Well, it might have been seven or it might have been ten times, but after saying it and showing me so many times, I got it!  I already knew that John’s products worked great.  I knew that I didn’t have to throw out my back to use it or pay an arm and a leg to get someone else to use it.  What I finally understood, though, was that ounce per ounce, John and Bob’s goes so much further than any other amendment I might use, that I’m actually using less product and I’m spending a lot less money!

John and I haven’t spoken since that meeting last month, but we have emailed a few times.  I had some questions about using John & Bob’s with  my seed starting mixture and he promptly and thoroughly answered my queries.  Yes, his stuff goes in right at the beginning.

It’s a safe and familiar relationship and it’s comforting, too.  I know if I need some info about making my garden beds even better, John will be right there for me.  Not the kind of dirt you might have expected, but just the kind of dirt this gardener needs.

 

You might also enjoy:

Laura Taylor in the Home Garden Reviews John and Bob’s

According to John: She’s A Little Odd!

Video: Amazing Tomato Comparison!

Laura Taylor Video - Tomatoes

 

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Growing Tomatoes From Seeds

Posted by on Feb 12, 2013 in gardening, Uncategorized | 0 comments

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.

 

Tomato seeds

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.

Seed mix

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.

Guacamole and Seed Starting 014

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.

Adding water to seed mix

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.

Guacamole and Seed Starting 017

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.

Planting tomato seeds

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.  Guacamole and Seed Starting 022

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.

Tomato seedlings

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The Seed Catalog Conundrum Part Two – Choosing The Seeds

Posted by on Feb 5, 2013 in gardening, News and Events, Uncategorized | 0 comments

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. Tomato Seed List 2013

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!

 

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