Friday, April 12, 2013

For the Love of Tomatoes

I started my tomatoes from seed in January.  My husband LOVES tomatoes, so this year, we've decided to give prime garden real estate to more tomatoes than we've ever grown.  Since tomatoes don't produce after the temps in the evenings get above 80º, we have a very short time to produce a good tomato harvest.  Also, plants basically fry in the heat of the Texas summer.  The plants were ready to go in the ground on our last average freeze date, March 15th.  I took off a week from work to plant the tomatoes and the other spring veggies.  Here is the hubby planting the maters.

Planting the babies March 18, 2013

Root system of transplants.

Planting deep so that roots can develop along the stem.  We also mixed in a handful of organic veggie fertilizer, a handful of compost, and a handful of earthworm castings. Once planted, we watered with a weak combination of liquid organic fertilizer and fish emulsion.

We planted 3 Homestead 24 plants, 4 Pantano Romanesco plants, 1 Rutgers, and 2 Beefsteak tomatoes.  (We still have some large cherry tomato and tomatillos to plant.)

We got 10 of the tomato plants planted, stopped for the day, watched the news and discovered that a freeze was heading our way in a couple of days.  How frustrating!!  We haven't hardly had any freezing weather and then as soon as we try to start the garden...WHAM!  We spent a couple of days watching the weather and coming up with a plan.  We decided that since the plants were planted deeply (at least 18" deep) and not much top growth was showing, we'd cover them with buckets and hope for the best.  We watered them well to help protect the roots.  My husband also decided that we could use Christmas lights to generate a bit of heat inside the buckets at night to raise the temps inside a bit.

Under the buckets 3/25/13  (obviously from Home Depot!) with Christmas lights.  Wonder what planes flying overhead thought!!  LOL

Freeze burn on leaves.

Some green remains, but a lot of freeze damage.

This one looks really sad.  The poor thing was already in trouble to begin with.  It's stalk had bent during some winds, so we went ahead and planted it about 2 days prior to the cold front.  We planted it deep so that the bend was underground and hoped for the best.

After we uncovered the plants, we gave them some more fertilizer (just diluted fish emulsion this time) and started babying them.  Thankfully, the weather cooperated until this week when we got lows on Wednesday night in the upper 30s.  We once again watered and fertilized well in anticipation of the cooler temps.  Once again, the buckets came out and we covered the babies.  This time, they did fine and everything is green!  We haven't lost one tomato plant yet!  Now, if they'd just start producing, I'd be happy!!

This is the same plant as the middle pic in the set above.  We've cut off all freeze damaged leaves and it's put on new growth and doing great!

This is the little one that had the broken stem and almost died during the first freeze in late March.  Look at it now!  

This is the same plant from above that had almost no green growth on it after the freeze in March that I thought would die.  Lots of new growth now!

I heard today on the news that we might get more cold weather next week.  I have my lights and buckets ready!!  All I can say is that these guys had better produce a HUGE crop with all this attention they've gotten!!  What we do to save our plants!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Where We Are

As expected, February was a wild ride weather-wise.  We have had several cold days and lots of freezing temps.  Great for the garden, but bad for me when I've got spring fever.  The tomatoes are growing like weeds, I tell ya!  I need to start taking them on field trips during the day so they can begin hardening off.  I'll be ready to get these guys in the ground in about 2 weeks.

The picture above was taken on 2/24/13.  They have grown several more inches since then and are about 18" tall with thick, hairy stems.  Four days later, I walked into their room and found this:

This little Pantano Romanesco mater is getting a bit anxious for spring!  I clipped off the bloom so the plant would spend its energy making leaves and such rather than on trying to produce tomatoes.  This morning, I noticed some buds on one of the Large Red Cherry plants.  I have been watering them from the bottom every other day and weekly with water and fish & seaweed combination.  They love that fish and seaweed!  It smells up my house for the whole day, but if it makes the maters happy, that's okay by me.

The pepper seeds never sprouted, so I've got to replant those.  I've had horrible results trying to sow peppers the past 2 years!  What is up with that?!?

Meanwhile, out in the sunroom where we have all of the planters from outside stored for the winter...

My aloe vera has a flower stalk on it!!!  Unbelievable!  This thing is overcrowded to the point of sadness and it only gets watered (inside) about once every 3 weeks.  Guess it's happy because it's going to make me a flower.  I just hope it's not some really bad smelling thing!

Lastly, the onions did get put in the 2nd week of February.  It was actually nice, just before the freeze settled in.  They're doing great and came through all the dreary, cold weather just fine.  (I need to snap a pic of them since you can actually SEE them now!  LOL)

Coming up soon, I need to get my carrots started and I still need to put my potatoes in the ground.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Seed Starting Success

The tomatoes are off and running!  This picture was taken 2 days ago.  The seedlings have their first set of real leaves and are ready to be thinned and more dirt added to their cups.  The cool thing about tomatoes is that they will develop roots along their stems, so if you add dirt to the seedlings while they're growing, you'll end up with transplants with stronger and more developed root systems.  When you plant them out, you can plant them deeper than you normally would (so that only the leaves are showing above ground) for an even better chance for growing more roots and doing better in the garden. 

On Thursday, I watered the seedlings with a shot of seaweed and fish emulsion, diluted in a lot of water of course, and this is what the seedlings looked like this morning.

Yikes!  They grew like crazy in just a matter of days!  On the agenda today is thinning the seedlings and adding more soil to the cups.  I will actually pot up the seedlings I thin out, so I'll have double the number of most varieties.  Some of these are already over the top of their cups and it's almost time to adjust the lights up so they don't touch the bulbs.  I will continue to fertilize them with the seaweed & fish emulsion mixture weekly.  I also need to sow my peppers and a few herbs.

I received my order of onion sets from Dixondale Farms this past Wednesday!  I ordered a short-day sampler (1015Y, Texas Early White, and Red Creole) and a bunch of Texas Legend onions.  Those also need to get planted today.  This year, I ordered their organic fertilizer and plan to use that to see if it helps my onion harvest.  I've had less than stellar results with onions the past 3 years and I'm determined to have success this year.  I absolutely LOVE onions and would plant that exclusively if my husband didn't think we needed other veggies and such in the garden. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013


The first seedling has sprouted!  It took about 4 days.  I planted these late on Sunday afternoon and have my first sprout this afternoon.  There are several more seeds getting ready to pop.  When I checked on the seedlings around lunchtime today, I noticed several with their necks poking out, so we should be ready to move them to the light station in a day or so. 

As I've monitored the cups, I noticed that they tended to dry out faster than when I'd started seeds previously.  I did two things.  First, I lowered the lid so that there was a smaller opening between the lid and the top of the roaster.  Secondly, I watered twice or three times a day with WARM water.  I don't use really hot water, but it should be good and warm.  I have a 1 liter soda bottle that I use.  The lid has pin holes in the top so it acts as a watering can and comes out in a gentle stream.  I've also been using a moisture meter to test the soil and a thermometer to monitor the soil temp.

Also waiting in the wings are the seed potatoes.  This year, I have Purple Majesty (purple skin and purple flesh), Yukon Gold (white), and Red Lasota potatoes.  I've had them on a shelf in my kitchen pre-sprouting.  They're doing great!  My plant out date is Feb. 14th, so they still have a few weeks to wait and grow.  The Red Lasotas haven't sprouted fully yet, but they do have a lot of eyes forming and I can see several spout wannabes on them.  I also have some pretty red-almost burgundy skinned potatoes that my husband picked up at Sprout's a month or so ago that have been growing since we've not used them.  I'm thinking they'll get planted as well. 

While the potatoes are waiting and the first batch of seeds are growing under the lights, I'll start the last of the tomato seeds and start the first batch of tomatillos and peppers.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Seed Starting Adventure Epic Fail!

 Well, my big time seed starting project 1.0 was a bust.  Boo!!  I checked on my seeds on day 2 after planting and I found MOLD in all my containers!  I think it was a combination of high heat, high humidity, and not enough air circulation.  I tossed all the contents of the containers into the compost pile where the mold will be taken care of as the compost does its thing.  I was going to toss the containers into the recycling bin, but hubby encouraged me to rescue them, clean them and reuse them.  I soaked them in some hot Clorox water, cleaned them out, and have started the great seed starting adventure 2.0.

 Seed Starting 2.0 is still using the roaster oven, but as you can see, I've elevated the lid and have a fan going for air circulation.  The air temp inside is about 72º.  I'm thinking of leaving the top off at night or raising the lid a bit more to give even more air circulation.  We'll see.  Tomorrow I'll mist the cups and see how things are going.

We also set up our other seed starting station.  This structure has lights and a heat source.  We still need to put the plastic covering on it to create a greenhouse effect.  We used this set up successfully 2 years ago.  (Last year, I didn't start any seeds indoors as hubby was still experiencing some heart complications during January.  Sometimes life gets in the way of our fun.)  We also need to get one more light fixture and some hardware to hang it with from Home Depot.  Not exactly sure how I'm going to see those containers at the very top, but I'll figure it out! 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Seed Starting Adventure 2013

This year, I'm starting almost everything from seeds.  This isn't new for me as I've started almost everything from seed for the past two years.  This year, however, I'm trying something different with just my tomato and pepper seeds.  I'm using a roaster oven to start them.  Just so you don't think I'm completely off my rocker, I got my idea from a post on All Things Plants . Thankfully, when my oven died the week of Thanksgiving and my turkey was sitting in my fridge waiting to be cooked, we purchased an 18 qt roaster oven.  If you'd like to give this seed starting method a go and don't have a roaster oven, check out flea markets, thrift stores, Goodwill, and garage sales for a good deal on a used oven.

The first thing I did was line the bottom with heavy duty aluminum foil.  I then place a baking rack on the bottom and placed a mostly filled cup of water in the pan.  I turned the dial just until I heard it click on and saw the light come on.  I left the oven to warm for a couple of hours.  I tested the water temp and it wasn't quite warm enough, so I increased the heat a bit (as seen by black line on the dial) and left the water to heat up again.  This time when I checked it, it was just a touch too warm (92ºF), so I adjusted the temp down a bit.  This time, when I checked it, the temp was perfect (89ºF)!  You want your temp to be 80º-90ºF. 

This year, I'm using 6 oz yogurt cups the hubby and I have been saving all year.  I've never eaten so much yogurt in my life!  I can fit 27 cups in my roaster.  Once the seeds germinate, I'll move them to the middle bedroom where the light system will be set up.  Please note the future tense "will be" because it's not ready yet!  I told the hubby we have 3 days to get it together, which means lots of de-cluttering and straightening of that room. 

For my seed starting medium, I'm doing something a bit different.  I'm using an actual seed starter and adding a few other things to it.  In the past, I've used potting soil, but that's really too heavy for seeds.  This is what I've got going for this go 'round of seeds.  To LadyBug Brand's The Germinator mix I'm adding a small handful of horticultural cornmeal (an antifungal to help deter fungal growth), Texas green sand and lava sand to help with drainage.  I also added a dash of tomato and pepper food. That hospital pan comes in quite handy in the garden, so don't throw those things out if you have the pleasure of bringing one home.

Today, I planted the following tomato varieties:
Homestead 24
Large Red Cherry
Pantano Romanesco

I am planting 6 cups of each variety with 2 seeds per cup.  Since my roaster only holds 27 cups, I planted 6 of each of the first 4 varieties and only 3 of the Rutgers.  When I start the second batch of seeds, I'll start with the Rutgers and move on to the rest of the tomatoes and peppers.  I'm not sure I'll plant as many peppers as tomatoes, though.

I filled each cup about half-way with planting medium then watered well with warm water.  Seeds  need warmth to germinate and I've found this helps.  I then put my seeds on, sprinkled on a bit more planting medium and watered with warm water again.  (Please note the use of the old cat litter tray!  Again, good way to reuse and recycle.  Perfect for carrying plants)

Once watered and everything, I put them in the roaster oven.  I can fit 15 cups on the bottom of the roaster pan.  I put a cooling rack on top of these cups and can fit an additional 12 cups, maximizing the space in my oven.  If this works well this year, I might look for a 2nd oven to use next year. 

Now the lid is on the cups and they are nice and warm, hopefully doing their seed thing and beginning the sprouting process.  I'll check on them in 3 days to see if we have any sprouts!  Stay tuned for updates!