Sacred Basil and How it Grows

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Last year, I sowed some sacred basil seeds for the first time. It is also known as Tulsi or Holy basil. Latin name: Ocimum tenuiflorum (Ocimum sanctum). I thought it would be an interesting plant to offer my clients for their herb gardens. However, I discovered not too many people of my circle of plant lovers were familiar with Tulsi basil. And neither was I.

Fast Grower

What I discovered is it is a fast grower from seed. It wasn’t long before it would fill my pots or cell trays when I started them from seed. It also has an unusual fragrance, even when it is small and just sprouting from the soil in my seedling trays. The seed producer describes it as, “Pretty, heavenly-scented basil used in teas and Ayurveda.” The seed must be sown early indoors or may be directly sown into gardens.

Attracts Beneficial Insects

I did grow some on a balcony garden last season and it grew lovely and lush in a large pot. I also grew some in my containers at home around a couple tomato plants. Wow, I was stunned at how beautiful, large, and lush the plants grew. I also grew some in big pots on my driveway, and every single time I went by those plants while they were blooming, bees were visiting them constantly. I thought, hmmm, this is a good pollinator attractor. Also, herbs tend to attract beneficial insects, which also helps your garden. The blooms last a long time and the plant stands firm, upright, bushy, and full. I thought if I could I would line my driveway with them and let the bees go crazy enjoying those blooms.

Long-Lasting Blooms

The blooms remind me of catmint, a soft blue. I can’t find the darn photo of when it was lush and full on my driveway, but let me assure you, it grows tall and bushy. If you look up the plant online, you will see it in gardens and find many people describing it’s benefits as a tea. It is similar in growth to regular basil but it grows much faster, as I witnessed in my own pots. It has a strong flavor and scent. You may add it to your water but chewing it directly, I read at least on one site per my research, should not be done. It is that strong.

Dried for teas

Tulsi basil can be dried and saved for months. Something I wanted to do – but did I? No, cause I was too busy tending to plants. LOL. But bottom line, if not for teas, I think it makes a splendid container plant, garden plant (perhaps on a border), and is easy to grow. If you want a full, lush, tall plant in a container, this is the one. I think it was about 1.5 feet tall, if I remember correctly. And I could envision it as a big stand or as a border along a walkway, just covered with bees. It is a long-lasting plant as well, all the way into the fall, it performed wonderfully.

Summer growers

Basils are grown outdoors in hot weather and struggle if it is still cool spring outdoors. You should wait till all chances of frost have passed and when the temps are right for basils. Don’t rush this one outdoors in early spring. They prefer well-drained soils and full sun, and a little shade is okay too. I always plant various basils in my herb planters on my deck every year. I can’t tell you the amount of times I snip from it. It is heaven. Why not mix up your selection of basils and add Tulsi basil to it?

Health benefits

See the links posted below of the various health benefits and research about this plant. The last link has information on how to make the tea.

Well, that is my Tulsi talk for the day! I still have some seed packets available if interested, please let me know. Also, if you know of a really good site that shows how to use, prepare, and store this type of basil, I’d love to hear about it. I can not find much about it in my current herbal books in my home office.

Have a great day,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Broad Brook, CT
Zone 6b
Always Learning, Always Loving Plants

Here’s a few links to more articles about Tulsi basil for your reference:

https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/basil-benefits#brain-benefits

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4296439/

https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1101/holy-basil

https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/5-reasons-why-you-should-sip-on-tulsi-tea-holy-basil-everyday-1806434

Tomatoes Outdoors; The Hardening Off Process

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Usually I start hardening off my tomato starts in mid-May, but when a good weather day comes along in April, as it will today per the weather stations last night on tv, I will begin my tomato exercise program where I pull some trays from the greenhouse and put them outdoors to get some natural sunlight during the day.

Today’s weather in CT (4/28/21) is predicted to be mostly sunny, in the mid-70’s by mid-afternoon, and sunny for the first part of the day, followed by clouds in the afternoon.

per my iPhone app

Location

Years before, I had a slope to deal with and placed them on the ground, now I have a small deck floor area which makes everything level. This helps tremendously. I will put them on portable tables, bins turned over, the wood floor, and on shelves I may have picked up here and there at tag sales or as road side finds. I also have a small drafting table outside which is usually in the greenhouse. It makes a perfect potting station for me. When not being used for potting things up, I put trays on that too.

Flats on a turned over watering bin

Weather

Big factor! If it is too windy and cool, I won’t put them out. I also use my weather app on my iPhone. I find this is the most reliable source of hour to hour weather predictions. I also bring a patio umbrella to the area so it is not direct sun for the delicate tomato leaves. And make sure that umbrella is stable. The last thing you want is for it to fall over from wind on your delicate plants! There is a big tree near this staging area, but remember, the trees are not leafed out yet so why I get the umbrella setup as well.

Timing

It is about 47 degrees F outside right now as I write this and cool, with rain from last night. I’m not going to put them out this morning, I’m waiting till it warms up a bit. I’m just particular that way – my tomato plants are my babies! So time of day is just as important as the location and predicted weather for the day.

Care

How your seedlings are cared for is super important this time of year. Spending months prior, seeding the seeds, monitoring the growth, carefully watering the seedlings, and inspecting all along the way. The last thing you want to worry about is damaging them during the hardening phases outdoors. So, I am sure to select the bigger of the seedling plants to go outside and I limit it to only a couple times a day. This makes for a great exercise program, going in and out of the greenhouse, bending and lifting trays, reorganizing only to move it all back inside a few hours later.

Hardening Off – Cathy T’s tomatoes on a long tray

Hardening Off Weeks

Usually the best time to start hardening off seedlings is a week or two before when you plan to transplant them into your container gardens, grow bags, patio pots, or gardens. This will acclimate the tender plants gradually for a couple hours every day. However, as noted above, this year, I’m doing some of this early on good days only and carefully monitoring them. I won’t do this on a day that I am not here to watch over them (literally, LOL). It is very important to make sure the place where you do this process outdoors is protected, to do this on non-windy days, and away from any potential problems.

Watering

Another important factor is to make sure you are watering appropriately, monitoring what is drying out, and pay attention to watering needs while hardening off plants. Watering is a tricky thing. You get a sense of how to balance the dry cycles (where the soil gets the oxygen it needs for the roots) and moisture cycles. Watering plants is best in the mornings, but you also don’t want to over water them. After a while, you get a sense of what is working and how the plants respond. It is definitely a science and an art. It also can be intuitive if you have a green thumb or are obsessed with plants, or it is an exact science. In fact, some big growers actually weigh the plants at different parts of the day and do this all by exact numbers and creating graphs! As for myself, I sometimes will observe if the soil looks dry on the top, feel the tray or pots for their moisture weight, know when I last watered, and in some cases, may take a seedling out to look at the roots and moisture. You want the moisture to be lower so the roots grow downward (versus wet on the top of the soil profile, which would not encourage downward root growth).

Plant Size

Some of my plants are in 5″ squares and others are still in 3″ round pots. I typically select only the larger seedlings for hardening off a bit early. The more delicate small ones I would not risk doing this early. It also helps to give the plants some natural air circulation by placing them outside in a protected location. I’m actually still potting up seedlings, even some which are still in the seedling starter trays. So, there are several different sizes and stages to my seedlings.

Showing Roots

I feel especially impatient this year because it felt like a long winter. I can’t wait to put all my plants outdoors permanently but we must hold back. If you try to cross the finish line too early, you risk all the hard work you put into starting the plants from seed in the first place. But hopefully all goes according to plan with no problems so you can look forward to eating big yummy juicy fresh tomatoes, like this one shown below from last year!

Tomato Plant Growing on Cathy T’s deck last year

Thank you for visiting. Please feel free to ask questions.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Container Garden Designer
Small Time Grower
One-Woman Owned Business
Plant Enthusiast
Location: Broad Brook, Connecticut
Post dated: April 28, 2021

April is a Big Grow Month

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My last post, before today’s post, was titled, March is a big sow month – well, to follow on from that, April is a BIG GROW Month.

I have many tomato seedlings started from seeds and growing now, and the more warmth, sun, and good days of April we get will increase their sizes over the next 3-4 or 5 weeks of indoor growing in the greenhouse before they are transitioned outdoors for a few hours to harden off and then ready by end of May.

End of May is my target date for planting the tomato starts in containers, because to me, it is the safest and warmest time. Memorial Day is the key date. And I truly can’t wait. I’m overly anxious this year, it was a long winter. I hated February, Ugh. Now it is April – yahooooo. That means weather will improve, we can be outdoors more, I’m cleaning up my perennials and shrubs outdoors, and I am checking on my starter plants daily, potting some up, all that jazz.

I spend time cleaning the greenhouse floors of debris, taking tables down to the greenhouse outdoor areas to prepare for when seedling will go outside for some real sunshine, and inspecting everything, but it is also still a waiting month. I so want to put all my nice tropical plants outdoors, but we can still get cold snaps. It requires patience. Sometimes I can’t take it – LOL.

This Connecticut weather is nutso sometimes. As we know, it snowed just last week. Yup on Friday. It melted fast – thank God. And tomorrow will be 70’s degrees, which will mean my greenhouse temps will rise fast tomorrow and I’ll be opening the side manual vent, and putting on small fans, etc. But then overnight, it can get cold just a couple days later. It is nutso! I know I said that already. LOL.

I still have not removed the bubble-wrap, which covers my auto-fan in the greenhouse up at the top on one wall, because I don’t want cold air to blow in on the cold snaps. I have to say, taking care of plants in a greenhouse, is a daily, if not minute by hour operation! Why they call it a “nursery.” And April is a big month of getting things growing more – as the warmer temps and more sunny and longer sun days improve.

April this month thru mid-May is a big grow month. I will little by little have more patience as I watch the seedlings grow larger and I pot them up. I can smell the tomato plants now when I’m in the greenhouse and brush against them. That familiar scent that says summer is coming.

In fact, the sun is out right now as I type this – so I have to keep this short cause I have a bunch of heirloom tomatoes I need to pot up today. They are ready for step two.

Have a great week!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

March is a Big Sow Month

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March is a key time to start sowing many warm season vegetables seeds in order to give them enough time to grow indoors before they are safely moved outdoors in mid-May.

I started sowing many seeds yesterday, and had to caution myself a few times to not over do it, which is easily done when you get on a roll. Because every seed you sow will need to be potted up at some point between now and May, you must ensure you don’t waste time, energy, and effort – as well as supplies, like seedling mix, etc.

It is important to remember, March is a big sowing seeds month. It is really when you start to hit some of the early seeds, like some hot peppers, which may be started between the 8 to 6 weeks before our spring frost date in Connecticut.

I will be sowing seeds now thru end of April for all kinds of plants. I still have some seed packets available. If you are local, and are considering sowing some of your own or want to sow with kids as a day project, now is a good time to reach out. Again, mostly seeds for tomato, cherry tomato, hot pepper plants, some herbs (parsley, thyme, basil, chives) and a speciality flower.

Other things I’m tending to is looking over some of my prized plants. And updating my WorkshopsCT.com site with current availability. Also, I’m planning out my container install game plans. And thinking spring!

A big Succulent!

We had the most gorgeous week last week, some days where we didn’t need a coat on for a period of time. The sun was just glorious and helped to push along some of my early sprouted seeds. But, I know that we get a “flash type snow storm” every March usually. In fact, last year, I wrote the words COVID with a sad face in the snow on my steps in March.

Last Year March 2020

While we need to still be patient, March is a key sow month. Time to pay attention to your calendars, consider getting your seeds now before it is too late if you haven’t done so already, and clean up supplies.

Seed Packets

Some things I’m thinking of getting for myself this year are Rain Barrels. I like the look of urn rain barrels and it is a great resource for on the go watering around the home. Another item I think I may acquire is a portable hose reel for my job sites, where it can quickly connect to an indoor tap, or perhaps a leakproof carrying type watering bag to carry water. A bag that may be rolled up like a tote. Good for me for my off site jobs because I usually have to put a lot into my truck, the more portable, the better.

Anyhow, I just wanted to do a super quick post about how March is a month to pay attention. Time to get those birdhouses out and get ready. Spring is coming but winter may show its face one more time!

Bert’s Birdhouses – Made by my Dad

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
www.WorkshopsCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com

What are these black spots on my plant’s leaves?

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I had a very nice afternoon seeing a friend I haven’t seen in a very long time due to, we all know, COVID! But yesterday, we finally met and she gave me a tour of her houseplants, asking various questions. Some of her plants in her home are traditional houseplants, some are succulents, and a few plants are in her basement for the overwintering phases of plants in our area of Connecticut.

Canna Lily Plant in the Basement

She actually wanted to show me how her Canna Lily plant in the basement, still in its pot, was pushing out new growth and also had a bloom starting on the tip of one stalk, no less, but the leaves of the plant were covered in brown spots. My initial question to her on that issue, was did she have any water dripping down on the plant’s leaves by chance? She said, no, no issues with that, however, her basement is probably on the moist side and the leaves were suffering. My immediate suggestion was to cut all the foliage off, especially since the base of the plant was showing a new shoot coming up from the rhizome below the soil, so she will get new growth on it as soon as we can place our pots back outside this year, around Memorial Day. Plus damaged or foliage with issues will only drain the plant’s energy, so it is always a good idea to cut off anything unsightly or bad on a plant if possible, always using clean, sterilized tools so you do not transmit any issues later when using those tools again.

Black Or Brown Spots with a Yellow Halo

I was curious, however, about the spots. When you see this photo, they are somewhat in a pattern. That led me to suspect it was more than just a bit of winter stress. There is something going on here. I thought, I will look it up in one of my many gardening or plant reference books when I’m back home.

Canna Lily Leaves with Spots

I have many books on my shelves in my home office. Over the years, I’ve collected many but I have never really written about any of them here on this blog. Perhaps today is the day to start. One place which I’ve stopped in to get various books in the past is a small bookstore in Northampton, Massachusettes. I was just there about a week ago and popped in. They don’t have an extensive collection of plant related books, but I tend to always fine a “good one” in a little corner of the store, where a limited supply of plant related books are stocked. I think whomever picks them out has a good eye.

I prefer to review the books in person versus buying online because I kind of know right away if the book is a good fit for me. I’ve learned a great deal about plants over the years, and I’ve read lots of books to find answers, learn more, and for the pure enjoyment of reading about gardens and plants. Some books cover things I already know or are already in another book on my shelves, or maybe it is too complicated, but whatever the reason, I usually instinctively know if I will like it. And I did like this one.

A cute handy book

How Not To Kill Your Houseplant Book

A book I picked up at that cute little bookstore a year or so ago during a prior visit is called, “How Not To Kill Your Houseplant” by Veronica Peerless. It is a small book, easily held in your hands, with a yellow hard cover. I remember I flipped through the pages and thought, hmm, this one is cute and decent. It has clear photos of the plant and goes over how not to kill it, best locations, light, watering and feeding recommendations, and care, etc. It has some information on common bugs and problems but it is not overly extensive or technical but just enough information to quickly find what you are looking for. It is also a visual type book, where photos lead you to what you may need to research.

So this morning, I pulled this little book out and immediately spotted the leaf spot in the book’s Plant Diseases section. Granted, Canna Lily plants are not technically houseplants. Out here, in our area of CT, I view them more as great tropical plants we put out in the summer months in container gardens or gardens. They are not winter hardy here. They grow tall, bloom summer into early fall, are easily stored by moving the pots into your basement as is, or by digging out the rhizomes from under the soil and storing those in boxes during our winter months. And I should note that some Canna Lily plants do suffer from various virus type of diseases, and some are not curable. In “some” cases, you may have to toss the whole plant.

Whole Pot of Canna Lily in the Basement

My friend, Linda, has the whole pot in the basement. The plant is pushing out new growth from the top of the soil, sensing the arrival of spring, and there is a window nearby too, so it did get a bit of light during the winter months. But, as I read the description of the Leaf Spot in the little book I picked up in Northampton, it said the problem is often caused by bacteria or fungi, which are more likely in damp conditions. Most basements are damp, so that made sense to me. Also, the fact each of the brown spots on her Canna Lily leaves had a “yellow halo” as described in the book leads me to believe it could be a Leaf Spot issue (or it could be a virus of the canna plant).

Book Image of Black Spot on a Houseplant

How to Treat Black Spot

My recommendation to Linda was to just cut it all down, stems and all, and it will regrow fresh growth when we move our plants outdoors in late May. Also, I suggested to her that if we get a spring tease day soon, put the pot outdoors for fresh air to allow the soil to dry out. But this may not solve the issue and she may need to treat it with a fungicide, which the book (or author, I should say) of the book recommends.

The book doesn’t specify any type of fungicide or particular brand. That is something you may want to ask your nursery person about when you go shopping this season, or when you order it online, be sure to read what the spray treats before clicking “add to cart.” However, Canna Lilies plants are easily dug out. Perhaps another route is to take the root ball out and pot it fresh in the summer. Without researching it further, I can’t say if a spray will fix it completely. It could be an incurable virus, and well, more research from my other plant books is required to make a more thorough assessment.

Other Plant Problems are Featured

Again, one of the reasons I enjoyed this little handy book, I think is partially their photos and images are well done. It shows other houseplant diseases such as, gray mold (Botrytis), Crown and Stem Rot, Powdery Mildew, Oedema, Sooty Mold, and Root Rot. Ack, those all sound horrible, don’t they? And of course, it shows the Leaf Spot issue discussed above. But a photo or diagram of each is depicted in this book.

Nice Visual Aid

This book is a nice simple visual aid. In the front, rather than your typical table of contents, are photos of each plant featured in the book with the page number and plant name. So, if you are unfamiliar with technical or botanical names of plants, you may easily recognize your houseplant from the photo, and then flip to that page.

Sometimes, I never get to read a plant book in it entirety. However, I super enjoy those days when I can sit in my greenhouse with a plant or gardening related book from my stock and flip through to read it or review sections of it. I recommended this book to my friend because I saw many of the houseplants she has in her home in this little book and thought this will be a handy reference for her.

BTW, I get no monetary payback from anything I post on this blog, so the book review is just my humble opinion. My payback is being able to help a friend with their plant questions. Feel free to ask me anytime and if I don’t know the answer, I will try to look it up for you.

Thank you for visiting today.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT

Tomato Seedling Stages

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One of the rewards of taking so many photos of my plants is being able to look back on them when I am getting ready to write another blog post. I was thinking about showing some photos of what my tomato seedlings looked like in various stages and in different seedling trays or pots.

Bumble Bee Cherry Mix Tomato on the left

These two tomato plants certainly look healthy. They are in 5″ square plastic black pots. I actually got the pots many years ago and they held perennials at the time, but I kept them because I liked the size and shape. I clean them with mild soapy water every year and store them to reuse. It is important to wash any re-used pots as they may create disease problems the following year. Often recommended is sterilizing them by soaking the pots and/or trays in a 10 percent solution of household bleach and water. Soak them for a few hours, rinse well, and let air dry. I do this the prior year because washing pots is easier when warm outdoors than in winter when we start seeds in March. The 5″ square pots are the perfect size for growing my baby seedlings “after I prick the plants out of their prior seedling trays” when I transplant them from the seedling flat trays into these square pots. Eventually, when they reach a decent size as shown above in the 5″ square pots, I will move them up into one-gallon pots after they’ve been growing in these 5″ square pots for a while if necessary.

Bumble Bee Cherry

By the way, the Bumble Bee Mix Cherry tomato is a favorite. It has multi-colored fruit (striped) and are sweet flavored. I start them early indoors in seedling trays and keep them growing till they are ready to harden off. I have seed packets available of this type again this year. The two plants shown above are the bumble bee type.

Outdoors late May hardening off the plants

In this photo, I’m holding one of those 5″ square pots and was placing them outdoors for a few hours daily around mid-May (after any chances of frost) on non-windy days, under some shade to protect the new tender leaves. When moving a bunch of tomato seedlings or tomato starts (some people call them that) from the greenhouse to the outdoors daily is when I get plenty of exercise going back and forth. It should be into an area protected outdoors, for a few hours every day, until they may be permanently planted in container gardens, patio pots, fabric grow bags, or gardens of the ground later in May.

3-3.5″ Cell Trays

The above photo show them before they get moved into the 5″ square pots. I like using the type of trays shown above as my seedling trays. Each cell is about 3-3.5″ diameter and deep. I tend to do one seed per cell in these because I like giving each plant it’s own undisturbed growing space but you may sow more seeds per each cell (to save on soil), and then prick them out carefully to another pot when they get larger to un-crowd them. Many sources will say to prick out seedlings (whether it is one or more seeds grown per cell) at the sign of the first set of true leaves. I don’t always move them out (prick them out) that soon. I sometimes wait until the plant seems sturdier and has maybe 2-3 sets of the true leaves. The true leaves are the ones shaped like a tomato leaf, where if you look closely you can see the seed leaf below those (shaped more oval) in the above photo. The seed leaf, called a Cotyledon, is the food storage structure of a seed and it is the first leaf to appear above the soil when the seed germinates. It will feed the plant initially, then the true leaves form. Once your seeds have germinated and are starting to grow, you must give them plenty of light and you may also remove them from a plant heating mat if you used one below the trays.

Fox Cherry tomato

By the way, it is Fox Cherry Tomato growing in the photo above. Another favorite variety I have grown the past couple years. It produces cherry tomatoes that are rather large, all orange and red color, and great on skewers on the grill. I didn’t get new seed of this type this year but still have some packets from last season, so I’ll probably grow a couple rows of these to offer.

Cathy Testa holding a 3.5″ seedling pot

You can see here I was holding a cell that had two plants in it from seed. You may prick out one by very carefully removing it from the soil with the soil around the roots intact as much as possible. I sometimes use a tiny bamboo skewer as a tool. I will insert the bamboo stick (like a skewer or tooth pick size) under the root area (placing it in the soil and under, going to the bottom of the soil to release it), and push it up, rather than “tugging” on it from the stem, which could damage the delicate tiny seedling. You have to handle them gently at this stage when you prick them out of any growing trays to move them into a bigger pot, otherwise, you will damage them. When I move the baby seedlings into larger pots (1-gallon at times if they get really large), I will use a coarser potting mix and add some slow-release fertilizer prills, but usually only for those tomato plants which are large enough for a one-gallon pot and that is usually when we are closer to hardening off the plant outdoors after frost.

Good photo of the trays

These 3.5″ cell trays shown above are a type I got a couple years ago and I really like them because the bottom holding tray is thick and sturdy. Each tray holds 32 plants (cells). This photo was actually from a seed starting session I held a couple seasons ago. Each person sowed a full tray and we used various types of seedling mixes. I wrote about our experiences with that in a prior blog post. When we fill them with seedling mix, it is to about 1/4″ from the top and sometimes I will gently tap the little pot on the table just to level the soil but you should not press down the potting mix as this would reduce the fluffy-ness and air to it and also would compact it. We use a small bamboo skewer to make a tiny pin-hole where the seed is placed. Some people will fill these cells to capacity with many seeds, but as indicated above, I usually do the one seed per cell.

Upstate Oxheart Tomato seeds

In my session that year, I handed out the seeds in these tiny paper like cups. You can see here the seeds of Oxheart tomatoes (which I wrote about in my prior post). The Upstate Oxheart tomatoes grow huge (giant) tomatoes! Sometimes we used tweezers to pick up one single seed to insert into the soil where we made a tiny divot hole in the seedling mix using the skewer. It is amazing that tiny seeds, made up of a seed coat (technically called a Testa), Endosperm, which is food storage tissue in the seed. Then there is a layer called the Aleurone layer, and a radicle which is an embryonic root. The root gets pushed into the soil first when the seed germinates and the top part of the plant, the Epicotyl, is the portion of the embryonic stem attached to the cotyledon(s) I mentioned above. The cotyledon (a seed leaf) is the food storage structure in the seeds and the very first leaves to appear after it germinates from the soil. All from a tiny single seed, which eventually grows into an amazing plant.

Oxheart in a Styrofoam Cup

One year, I came across these tall Styrofoam cups and thought I will use them to move them up from the 3.5″ cell trays but later, I decided I didn’t really care for these cups. First, they are not biodegradable, although cheap to find. And secondly, they toppled over easily, but they were doable. I used a nail to poke a bunch of drain holes in the bottom before pricking out a baby seedling to move into these Styrofoam white cups. Also, the shape being round doesn’t save shelf space as do the square 5″ pots shown behind them. The square pots are a great way to capitalize on space on the shelves in my greenhouse.

1 gallon Pots

Sometimes the plants grow rather tall and large before it is warm enough outdoors to plant them, and I will use either brand new one-gallon sized plastic pots typical in the nursery industry, or I’ll reuse a pot from a plant, always being sure they are thoroughly cleaned. And they must have drain holes. Here in these Monrovia pots are my nice looking tomato plants. I believe these were the Oxheart tomatoes which I mentioned in my prior pot have droopy leaves, which is normal for this variety of plant and its habit.

Empty Seedling Tray with the 3.5″ square cells, 32 cells per tray

As you can see, there are a few phases of seedlings. First is the smaller 3.5″ cells, then up to a 5″ square or maybe the Styrofoam cup idea, and then if the plant gets rather large, it is repotted again into a 1-gallon pot. This has been my typical process. So, you should bear in mind, the trays, seedling mix, and time it takes to do all and to have a space with sufficient sunlight or do all with grow lights indoors in your home. Seedlings are very much like tending to little babies requiring attention and care along the way. You can’t leave them totally unattended because you must monitor their growth and progress. You need to ensure they have appropriate moisture and air along the way. Sometimes you can place a very small fan to create a gentle breeze around the seedlings when they are larger (5″ pot size stage of pot or above, 1 gallon pot size) as this helps them to grow stronger and the air circulation reduces any chances of rot problems.

On Seedling Heat Mats

I would recommend the seedling heat mats. They gently warm up the potting media or seedling mix you used while you await for the seeds to emerge. The heat mats last a few years and are easy to store and clean up each season. I leave them on the whole time until the seeds emerge and look sturdy, then the trays get moved to other shelves in my greenhouse to continue growing. They are not kept on the seedling heat mats after they are growing well.

Speedling Trays – The stage where the Cotyledon has emerged first

Someone on a farm recommended this white seedling tray to me about 4 years ago. I do like them very much, the shape of the cells are v-shaped and it grows a strong root system, but I can no longer find the place where I had ordered them online, but I have seen them listed as hydroponic trays (they float). However, it seems the price of these are much higher now. It is a great long lasting tray, light weight, and easy to clean. The seeds grow well in these, but I’m not sure if I would pay the price for them now. In this photo above, you can clearly see the “cotyledons”, the seed leaf which is first to appear.

5″ squares with peppers and tomato

Here’s another clear photo of some plants in the 5″ squares growing along well. I put them on a white chair that day. I’m always taking photos – it is an addiction, a true problem, LOL. There is a tomato on the bottom left and some hot pepper plants.

New Yorker tomatoe seedling on left

This is a good photo above because it gives you an idea of the size of the 3.5″ cell pots (left) which I use when I sow the seeds initially, and then the 5″ square (right pot) which I use to move the seedling up into when the baby seedlings are a good size. This has a New Yorker tomato plant in it. I’m always trying out new varieties of tomatoes. It is part of the fun of tasting flavors later!

What the seedling looks like when it first appears!

Nothing beats that wonderful feeling when you see the seed has sprouted up from the soil! Here is the tiny seed leaves which emerges first. As soon as I see these, all the seedlings are carefully monitored to make sure the soil stays slightly moist. If you have a humidity cover over your seeds or over your seed trays, it should be removed at this stage. If it condensates too much, it will promote rotting of the very tiny delicate stems. Don’t over water either, if soaking wet all the time, this may lead to rot.

Other things you need to consider

You may use practically anything for containers to sow and grow your seeds. Anything with drain holes that will hold the seedling mix will due, however, be sure all is clean if reusing anything. The seed sowing trays (or flats) shown above are my favorite, specifically the black plastic tray with 3.5″ cells/pots, because they are sturdy, pathogen free, easy to place on shelves, and these plastic cell pots keep the soil evenly moist. It is important to pick the right sized flats because you don’t want to put a seed in too deep of a pot (cell) or in one too larger either. Each type of seed has a recommended cell size to be enhance germination. Anything from 2″-3″-4″ is usually a good average size to use for tomato and pepper seeds.

While waiting for the seeds to germinate, you need to always consider having the correct temperature (70-75 degrees F), and to keep the potting mixed used warm, a heat mat for plants/sowing gently does so – and I think the mats are worth the investment. Then you should watch the seedling mix to make sure it maintains moisture and humidity. You need to check on your trays daily. A clear cover over the seedling trays or flats helps with the humidity. All must be balanced and not stay or get soaking wet or totally bone dry. You can’t just forget about them. For example, if you decide to leave for a few days, they will dry out so you need to ask a friend or family member to monitor them. Once they germinate, light is a critical factor. Using fluorescent lights or growing them in a greenhouse is best. A greenhouse is not a typical thing for gardeners to have so investing in a grow light is a good idea if you want to improve your strength of the seedlings. However, I’ve seen it done by sunny windows inside the home and it can work. And one last thought, do not forget to put the labels in the trays or cells. You will totally forget. Add a date to the label on the backside of the label, which will help you determine when you sowed them should you not see them come up later. Most packets will indicate how many days till they germinate. If they don’t come up, you can at least look at when you sowed them. Some seeds are a little slow to germinate, like hot peppers. Tomatoes tend to germinate faster.

Well, folks that’s it for today!

Thank you for visiting again!!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Broad Brook, CT

Growing Dwarf Tomatoes and Are They Easier to Grow?

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Last season, I grew two types of dwarf tomatoes from seed. I was interested in dwarfs for a couple reasons, one being that dwarf tomato plants are well suited for growing in container gardens and patio pots and because I truly enjoy mixing up the types of tomatoes I grow.

Mandurang Moon Dwarf

Mandurang Moon Tomato was one dwarf I picked out. It has a dwarf habit which refers to the plant’s size (not the size of the tomatoes). It also grows a thicker stalk so it is a bit more solid and sturdy. And the tomato shape is round to oval, with a mild yellow to cream coloring. The size of the tomato fruit is larger than a cherry tomato, but not as large regular sized tomato. However, I had issues with starting them indoors from seed, and at first, I was miffed as to why.

Mandurang Moon next to a Fox Cherry Tomato

SLOW TO NO GERMINATION

I grew them along with all my other types of tomato seeds. All were placed in the same type of seedling trays and set on seedling heat mats in the same environment in my greenhouse, and with same exact seedling potting mix. I wasn’t sure what went wrong, but I quickly noticed the Mandurang Moon tomato seeds were not germinating well. I had only a few which sprouted as compared to other tomato seeds I was starting.

Mandurang Moon Tomato – Only a few germinated

THIS DWARF PLANT NEEDED MORE WARMTH

I took the seed packet back out of my files, and re-read the directions. A key aspect stood out. It says to “start seeds indoors in a warm location with plenty of light.” The “warm location” was key. Upon doing more research, I discovered warm could mean up to 80 degrees F. I can’t remember where I read that temperature, but I wrote it down in my notes so I would remember for this year, that these dwarfs may need a bit more paying attention to in regards to temperature and light as compared to the other types of tomatoes I grew from seed.

Size and color of this dwarf Mandurang Tomato fruit

COLD TEMPERATURES WILL PREVENT GERMINATION

My greenhouse, which is a lean-to style, is not heated to 80 degrees in March or April when my seeds are typically started. It is more along the lines of a 55-60 degree F greenhouse because I would be homeless if I heated the greenhouse to higher temperatures. Heat costs are high, so I keep it to 55 to 60 degrees F.

However, on sunny days, the greenhouse temperature quickly rises to above 80 degrees F. It is like the tropics on sunny days, no doubt. Usually this flux of temperatures (55 degrees F on cloudy days to over 80 degrees F on sunny days) scenario is not a problem for starting seeds, but apparently, it could be an issue for this type of seed (as noted, it needs warmth). Most seeds germinate best in temperatures from 60 to 75 degrees F. And having a greenhouse offers abundant sunlight unless we have clouds all day, which contributes to the warm and light requirements.

CLOUDY DAYS OF WINTER

In the winter, we get many cloudy days. I started to consider the seeds did not germinate well because overall my greenhouse is not warm enough. And I don’t currently use grow lights. Usually all is fine with my tomato growing from seed with the sun’s rays through the greenhouse windows and roof, but in this case, it may have caused the slow germination to no germination issue and made this dwarf a bit more difficult to germinate from seed. Although not all was lost. By the way, when I start researching grow lights, I will share it here. Supplemental light, especially if growing indoors in the home, could be as easy as mounting a fluorescent light above the seedling trays. Adding grow light enhances all overall.

VIABLE SEEDS

I knew the seeds were fresh and not old, so it was not due to a potential viable issue. If seeds are not stored appropriately, this could be a problem for germination. And as far as light, well, I’ve been fine for years with the sunlight I receive in my greenhouse (on the sunny days), but overall, seedlings need light once they emerge from the soil. Otherwise, they may grow leggy, and the best scenario is about 14-16 hours of light. One of these days, I may invest in grow lights but the greenhouse natural light has worked for me for many many tomatoes.

One I held in my hands shows the size and color – Yummy!

NUTURED THOSE WHICH DID SPROUT

I did have some of the Mandurang Moon seed which sprouted, and I was very careful to nurture them since there were not many, and I planted them along with all my other tomato plants outdoors when the safe outdoor planting timing approached. And the dwarf Mandurang Moon did produce fruit and they were delicious. So not all was lost. The seeds for this dwarf are started early indoors. And transplanted outdoors when they are about 5″ tall.

TIMING IS 6 TO 8 WEEKS BEFORE FROST

The timing of when to sow this dwarf type is indicated at 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date. That puts me in the March timeframe when it is still cold outdoors, but as noted, it often becomes a tropical oasis in my greenhouse on sunny days. However, I think what I will do this year is two things: Sow these seeds a bit later (closer to the 6 week date before frost date) and also I may just do a seedling tray inside the home to compare the differences. Will the fact my home is warmer than inside the greenhouse improve the germination rate and timing? We will see. Maybe I will have them germinate in the house and move them to the greenhouse when they get a few leaves growing so they will obtain ample sunlight to keep on growing. I will keep you posted! As far as the other dwarf I grew from seed, I will write about that one later!

Please, if you enjoyed this post, please comment and/or share any dwarf plants you grew in the tomato category. I’d love to hear if you have any tips to offer.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Mandurang Moon with a Mikado Tomato and some fresh Mozzarella and basil – all grown from seed!
Except the cheese of course!

My Honey harvesting our Honey Drop Cherry Tomatoes

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Last season, I grew about 5-6 tomato plants in 20 gallon black fabric grow bags along one side of my upper deck. The end of the deck, where we lined them up, is the east end and I put the plants along the deck’s wooden railing on the south side, opposite the wall of my house.

Each grow bag had one individual tomato plant in it and the grow bags were spaced out about 3 to 4 feet apart. I also put the grow bags on caddies with wheels (plant saucers) so I could turn or re-arrange them as needed. Each had a square tomato cage placed around the plant for support. I prefer the square cages, they fit perfectly in the fabric grow bags and remain stable.

This is what the plant looked like in the grow bag, but it gets over grown quite quickly in summer, with the tomato stems reaching up and over the deck railings, thus harvesting the tomatoes later in the season was getting a bit tricky.

Grow Bag with my Beautiful Tomato Plant growing along smoothly

No worries, my husband, Steve, loves tomatoes so much, he quickly grabbed a ladder from our garage and carefully climbed up to pick the cherry tomatoes which were unreachable from the deck side. We grew a few different types of cherry tomatoes in these fabric grow bags, but hands-down, one of my all time favorites is the “honey drop cherry tomato.”

Honey Drop Cherry Tomato 2020

We, my husband and I, snack on these delicious cherry tomatoes all summer long. In fact, sometimes I have to remind Steve to leave some for me when we get a basket full. He gobbles them up quickly.

AS CLOSE TO A HONEY TASTE AS YOU CAN GET

The honey drop cherry tomatoes are a beautiful golden color and are very sweet. The seed packet shows a bear going for the tomatoes, and this makes sense to me. They are as sweet as honey. And my honey, Steve, harvested them often for us (or for himself!).

The name of this cherry tomato is perfect because if you ask me, the flavor of them is as close to honey as you could get. It is like eating a piece of honey candy without the guilt. Thus, the bear on the seed packet, again makes sense. I’m not sure what else I can say about how yummy these are!

Steve harvesting them from the ladder

When Steve was gathering them for us from the ladder, of course, I was saying, “Be careful – don’t fall down.” I’m so happy he enjoys tomatoes immensely because I certainly put the effort into growing them (and I enjoy the whole process from start of seeds to the first and continuous tasty bites in summer), and I grow all my plants in container gardens. It is worth the effort for both of us.

FABRIC GROW BAGS ARE HANDY

I find the fabric grow bags work wonderfully on the deck, for many reasons. Such as they are light weight to set up initially, easy to order and store, they have handles attached, so I roll the plants around easily by tugging on the handle (in the beginning phases when I set them up), and the air is able to breath through the fabric which offers many soil and root benefits, yet, we know, or you may not know, depending on how often you visit this blog, that watering is required because the soil in the container gardens (grow bags in this case) dry out much faster than they would in the ground. Drainage works well through the fabric, thus no drilling of drain holes in the bottom of the pots (as done with plastic pots) is required. Also, when the season is over, and I cut all the tops of the plants off, Steve and I each grab one handle and carry the big root ball down to the driveway for when I do my clean up phases in the fall.

Honey Drop Cherry tomatoes

OTHER TYPES OF CHERRY TOMATOES

These cherry tomatoes are a nice size, but another type I’ve grown, Fox Cherry Tomato, is a bit larger, and you see some of those in the photo above (the reddish ones in the basket which Steve is holding). The location on the deck is pretty good from the standpoint of receiving full sun most of the day and the area is easy to water. We have a garden hose at that end of the deck always ready to do my routine of watering all plants in containers on our deck – which I rather enjoy, so it is not a bother to me. I find watering therapeutic. When I water my plants, at least daily in the heat of summer, I enjoy looking at the plants, seeing the cherry tomatoes ripen, and I may even have a hummingbird come by to investigate the plants near my cherry tomato plants, or I will watch the bees visiting the flowers earlier, things like that – I just don’t mind it.

Reaching in to find them all

You can see all the many clusters on this plant, hanging from above, and the plants seemed very happy indeed to keep on growing this way. In fact, it allowed some nice air circulation around the stems hanging to avoid any potential issues. Poor air circulation around tomato plants may lead to disease problems later. As noted in the prior post, a squirrel did find a tomato or two but overall, we managed to harvest them for ourselves. The squirrels could not really reach the clusters hanging so that was a nice benefit too.

WHEN TO SOW THE SEEDS

These cherry tomatoes are started indoors 4 to 6 weeks before our last frost date in Connecticut. They need a warm bright spot indoors (if you sow them in your home). I start my seeds in my greenhouse on heat mats and had no issues with these types of seeds sprouting easily and growing until I could harden them off outdoors later and before they are grown outdoors in their permanent locations. They were a popular selection when I sold the seedlings because those of you who bought them the year before discovered how amazing the flavor is and it is a vigorous grower. You can expect to start picking cherry tomatoes from it about 70 days from the time you transplant the seedlings into your containers, grow bags, or the gardens. In fact, I think if you are new to sowing seeds or starting vegetable plants, cherry tomatoes are one of the easiest to grow and you get a huge harvest, so it is very rewarding.

A FEW SEED PACKETS AVAILABLE

I have a few seed packets of the honey drop cherry type remaining from my last year seed orders, and I have other cherry tomatoes on the ready to grow this season. The Fox Cherry is another favorite, but for flavor, I have to say, I think the honey drop were the best last year – well, we can’t say that can we? Cause all fresh home-grown tomatoes taste amazing! I guess the main difference with the fox cherry and honey drop is the fox cherry tomatoes are larger. I also like to grow the Bumble Bee Mix Cherry tomatoes, which I will blog about soon. I got more of the bumble bee type (new seeds) because I ran out of those seeds last year. They are somewhat a striped color (pink, yellow, and sometimes a slight purple tone, also super tasty). The bumble bee type need to be sown earlier than the honey drop however, but no bother, I can’t wait to start sowing seeds.

By the way, the honey drop cherry tomato is indeterminate, with a vining habit (versus bushy) and keeps growing and growing giving you a steady supply of fruit until the fall frost kills the plants. I don’t pinch or sucker the plants. When they get a bit unruly because of so many stems growing, I may cut off some of the stems with clean pruners to give the plant more air circulation as needed. Otherwise, I let the ramble all around. I have taken a small round table to prop up some of the stems on the deck side as needed. I know it may seem silly, but it is all worth it to me and to Steve. We love these cherry tomatoes, and so will you if you decide to try them.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Please comment by clicking the link below or the red comment box (if viewing from a laptop), I’d love to hear from you. Let me know, what is your favorite cherry tomato to grow in your gardens?

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
http://www.WorkshopsCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com

How Many Seeds Per Packet

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Last year, when I was showing my seed packets for sale and my sowing process, a friend who was interested in both asked me, “How many seeds are in a packet?

This seems like a reasonable question to ask, especially if you haven’t tried sowing seeds before. In general, for the seeds I sell, there are about 25 seeds in the tomato and cherry tomato seed packets, except for one I offer called, Upstate Oxheart tomato. It has only 15 seeds per packet. Why? The tomatoes are nearly seedless and that is apparent when you cut a Oxheart tomato in half – and yes, it is shaped just like a heart – amazing. There are hardly any seeds in the actual tomato. This makes a challenge for the seed producers, so I always am sure to sow those seeds carefully as I don’t want to waste one – these tomatoes are big and juicy.

Oxheart tomatoes are not only huge! They are nearly seedless.

The same is about true for the hot pepper plants I’ve sown and grown, about 25 seeds per packet, and cucumbers. But plants like parsley will have 200 seeds, same with the basils, and they are smaller seeds than the typical tomato or hot pepper seed in size. In fact, they are so tiny that I am unsure how anyone could plop one tiny seed per a seed cell tray filled with seedling mix. Often, I will scatter seeds over the top of the seedling mix and lightly dust it with fine seedling mix to cover them. That is the case with how I handle parsley and basil seeds. Same with some lettuce mixes. I call it the ‘scatter’ method and I show exactly how I do it via my video’s. Videos are provided to my purchasers of seeds and seed kits, by the way.

Most seed companies will identify the number of seeds per pack, but other companies may just list the net weight on the packet or envelope. Some will provide this information in milligrams.

Seed sizes vary. Hot pepper and tomato seeds are about the same size, but larger seeds, like those of cucumbers or a moonflower, for example, are much larger and easier to handle. Larger seeds are great to use if sowing seeds with young children learning for the first time how to sow seeds. Think pumpkin seeds too.

I obtained Celosia seed one year. This is a flowering plant producing colorful fuzzy flowers, but the variety I selected is a mammoth type. It grows up to 60″ tall and you need to start the seed early indoors. When I opened the packet, I couldn’t believe how tiny the seeds were. There are 200 seeds per packet. Can you imagine sowing 200 seeds and having 200 of those plants?! So, I’m sure there is a method to sow seeds which are super tiny, but I decided to fill a square flat tray of about 3.5″ deep with the soil mix and just scatter the seeds on top. It worked. They germinated and then I carefully pricked out the seedlings when they were ready into 3-4″ pots to continue growing them. I have to admit though, I am not sure if this was the best or recommended method. To give you an idea of how small the Celosia seeds are, the packet indicates that there are about 600,000 seeds in 1 pound.

I often use the scatter method with lettuce mixes too, and will sow them in small long window box types of containers, always being sure to drill drainage holes in the bottom if there are none. I find for lettuce mixes, parsley, and basil, this scatter method works perfectly. It is important to scatter them as evenly as possible and you don’t need a whole packet to do this (unless your window box is huge). For example, one type of lettuce mix I sow has 500 seeds per packet. I often use half of the seed packet or less per container. Then I lightly top the seeds with fine seedling mix and let it all grow. If you want to prick out each individual tiny seedling later, you may do so to put them into larger pots (or the next size pot up) for the basils for example. Some may find the scatter method wasteful, but it works for me. Because you may harvest lettuce mixes, parsley, and basil repeatedly from the plant by cutting some off and just letting it regrow, I find this is suitable.

A larger seed popping up from the mix

Another time, I grew Panther Edamame Soybeans from seeds. The seeds are large, similar to cucumber seeds (but round), they are easy to handle. I was so excited when I grew these in patio pot containers on my deck. Because it is just me and my hubby at home, a couple plants was sufficient to get a handful of edamame beans to put in a bowl, add some water, and micro-wave to heat them up and then I toss some sea salt on them and eat the beans right from the pods. Yummy. They have a nutty flavor and these seeds may be direct sown into the ground or your patio pots if you want, versus starting them early indoors before the planting season. The packet holds about 100 seeds.

Some seeds need special treatment prior to sowing them, but tomato and hot pepper seeds are not one of them, but others like the moonflower needs to be nicked before you plant them. Otherwise, the hard seed coat prevents water from entering the seed for germination to start easily. When handling a seed that requires nicking (scarification), it is easier if the seed is bigger; it helps a lot as you attempt to make a nick in it without damaging the interior of the seed (the embryo). Many seeds with hard coats need to be nicked with a file, sandpaper, or a tool. Some may be soaked in water first. It is best to research the seed before proceeding and follow the recommended method. I have never seen a tool specifically for nicking hard coated seeds on the market (I think if someone invented it, it would sell like hotcakes). I read once that commercial growers use acid, something we surely can’t play with! Some hard coated seeds with crack open if you soak them for 24 hours.

Do you sow a whole packet of seeds? Let’s talk tomatoes, if you have 25 seeds in the packet, should you sow them all? Some may say yes because if any of them fail, you will have extra’s. Some will say no because are you really going to plant all 25 of those tomato plants? And if you did sow all of them, remember, you have to move them from the seed cell trays at some point into a next larger size pot and may even have to move them into a 1-gallon size pot before they go outdoors. This requires more pots and more potting mix.

Photo from Cathy T’s greenhouse – couple seasons ago. Can see the scatter method in the window box type planters.

One thing I love about the seed packets I get and sell is they are an envelope within an envelope. Each packet has a envelope (white) containing the seeds, and it has all the planting details on the white envelope. The white envelope is inside an outer separate envelope with even more plant information, and it is a colorful art pack made with a thicker type paper. It is almost like a little sleeve to protect your seeds within. I like that because if you don’t use all of the seed, you have a protected package to store them in.

Fox Cherry Tomatoes coming up – One seed per cell was used

Storing is another topic but when well stored, the seeds will remain viable based on the seed type and all of that, and the number of years is different based on the type of seed or plant. Look it up if you are concerned and use up all the seed if it is a type that doesn’t remain viable for more than one year. Parsley is an example. Parsley seed should be used in year one. At least for the type of parsley I have been sowing.

The next question that followed how many seeds are in a packet, was of course, ok, “How much soil (seedling mix) do I need?”

That is a good question! I love questions! LOL. The seedling mix often comes in an 8 quart bag in retail locations. I will put about that amount into a big bowl and add some water (I think it was one cup but I will double-check) and then very lightly stir it to moisten the mix. You don’t want mud or mush, you only want to lightly give it moisture. In fact, don’t pour the whole cup of water in there initially, pour some water, and mix and feel it in your hands. I often sow seeds in 32 cell plastic black trays with 3-3.5″ depth. I like that size plus they fit nicely on my seedling heat mats. I use about 8 cups of soil per tray, I believe. I will check my notes! Your containers or seed trays should be filled with pre-moistened mix or medium (as they refer to it) before you put your seeds in the trays. You may also moisten the mix in a plastic bag if you don’t have a bowl handy. Another method is to put the dry soil into your seed trays and set it in a base of water so the water will wick up into the mix prior to sowing your seeds. I don’t do this method however. I mix the soil with water like a cook does in the kitchen in a big bowl and it works for me. The seed kits I offer has mix, trays, and instructions as well.

By the way, I like the plastic trays because they are pathogen free and reusable. I have had issues with peat pots before. For some reason, they tend to grow mold on the sides. I tend to stay away from those now, however, if you use peat, I’ve read you need to moisten the pots first and never to reuse the peat pots which would be difficult anyhow because they fall apart. Peat pots are great for plants which do not like their roots disturbed (cucumbers) so you place the peat pot and the plant right into the ground when they are ready for outdoors. And I have never used compressed peat pellets. They are just not for me, perhaps because I always have soil mixes on hand. In fact, I got all my soil bags already last week. I wanted to plan ahead. More on the soil and potting mix world later, that is a big topic. Sowing starts in March so I am preparing ahead right now in January – and you should too!

Thanks for visiting.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
See http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com if interested in seed packet purchases.
Location: Broad Brook, CT
Part of East Windsor, CT

All You Need to Know About Starting Seeds Indoors

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If you search the web, you will find a plethora of sites offering many articles, step by step instructions, growing charts, and tips, but will any one link or article give you all the simple answers you need to start seeds indoors? Probably not.

Think about this – there are millions of vegetable plants you may grow from seed in our world. How could anyone sum it all up in one fell swoop?

When I started growing vegetable plants from seeds, the desire to do so was sparked by the love of art packs from a particular seed company. The art sparked my interest and then I started to buy seed packets. I was interested in unique tomato plants and flashy hot pepper plants, rather than the traditional types I ate growing up on a farm. Maybe I got overloaded with the same types of tomatoes from when I was a kid, I don’t know, or maybe it is my love of art and creativity that got me into the different, unique, interesting varieties because they are like a work of art to me. A colorful purple tomato to me is cool. Or a pepper shaped like a UFO – that rocks! Plus you get to eat them and they taste delicious.

Need I say more? This is a photo from last season!!

However, I have spent countless hours reading seed sowing books, reviewing growing charts, looking up frost dates from different sites and all of which seem to give a slightly different answer, and determining what supplies and seeds are best for my area of Connecticut, and then I spent hours putting my own guides together. I guess, in some ways, it is good that I am an organized person and an over-thinker! Maybe I looked at too much, because my head would spin. After all, you could just buy a pack of seeds and plop them into soil, and it would sprout – but would it be successful?

Today, I want to try to share some of my seed sowing considerations in a random casual fashion:

#1) Start small and pick easy to grow plants. So, what veggie plants are easy, what grows like weeds? Hmmm, well, that is a tricky question. One may say, well a pumpkin seed is sure to pop up from the soil or a cucumber seed, but do you like pumpkins, do you have space to grow pumpkins in containers or a garden? They sprawl out for miles (well, for many many feet) and so that may not be the best choice for you. And cucumbers, well, they vine up and down and all around, but they don’t like their roots disturbed, so even though they are easy to grow, they have considerations if you start seeds indoors and then transplant. In my opinion, some herbs are easy to grow, like parsley, or mixed lettuces seem easy, or some basils, but even if they are easy, they all have unique personalities to consider. For example, basils like warmth. If you put them out too early when cool in the early spring, they don’t like that and won’t flourish. Cherry tomatoes are easier than regular tomatoes in my experience. No matter what – you will get tons of cherry tomatoes from one plant – it is amazing! Parsley is easily and it likes a bit of the cooler weather, unlike the basils.

Shown in this photo, Thai Basil (top left), Sacred Basil (top right), Curley Parsley (bottom left) and Genovese Basil (bottom right). Easy to grow herbs, as seen last year!

#2) Get the tools ready. Do you need a grow light? Many people will argue you do. And it does increase your success at sowing vegetable seeds indoors. But what is success? A perfectly straight upright seedling? Maybe. Maybe not. After all, I know many people who grow seedlings in seed trays set on their old fashioned heat radiators in their home, and the seedlings leaned towards the window for more sunlight, but they made it – and make it into their gardens. However, as you learn more, you start to consider the options of getting a lighting system so it increases your success and makes for healthier seedlings. As for myself, I have a greenhouse which provides sufficient lighting when the sun is out. In early spring, on many days, there are cloudy days. So far, I’ve gotten by just fine without grow lights. As I learn more, maybe I will get grow lights to add to my set up, but it is not going to be this season. Anyhow, what I’m getting at, is at a minimum, think about the tools you will need to sow seeds and start to pick up your supplies based on what you think you want to grow. BTW, I do use heat seedling mats to encourage germination of the seeds and to increase the start of healthy roots. This I have found helpful to invest in. That is a tool you may want to consider ordering now.

#3) Soil mix – This IS critical. First, for the ultra beginners, you should know that you can not sow your seeds in dirt from the ground for vegetable plants you need to start indoors in seedling trays ahead of the growing season. Believe it or not, when I offered seed kits last spring, one person thought you could put dirt from the ground into your seedling trays. They said my instruction sheet enlightened them and they had no idea dirt was a no-no. So, when you go out to get your soil for sowing seeds indoors, get bagged seedling mix or sterilized potting mix for patio pots. Either will be fine. The seedling mixes are finer than potting mixes, usually fresher since it is going to be seed sowing time soon, and perfect for tiny seeds to make contact with the seeds, etc. If you don’t want to deal with that, and want to sow seeds in the dirt, pick vegetable plants that you may directly sow into the ground after all chances of our spring frost and when the garden soil is workable. But you need to determine which plants you can sow directly into the ground, things like beets, for example. Some plants prefer to be directly sown into the ground. If you pick this option – remember, you have to prepare your garden area ahead as well.

A tomato seedling that was potted up into a larger pot by Cathy Testa

#4) Timing. This is another critical factor. All plants grow at different rates. Some take longer and some are faster. They need a certain number of days or weeks before they produce fruit. If you start your seeds too soon, they will be outgrowing your starter pots, getting root bound, start to struggle for the moisture it needs, and even start flowering, which leads to fruit (and for ultra beginners, flowers are where the fruits are produced. I don’t mean to sound rude or condescending, but if you are new to the world of gardening and plants, and didn’t know this – don’t feel embarrassed. I didn’t either when I was a kid and I grew up on a farm!). So, say you sow your tomato seeds too soon, then they grow larger and larger indoors, and then you need to put them in a bigger pot, and then they get flowers and then, you want to put the plant outside but it is still too cold out – it may even freeze one night if the temperatures drop down. You could loose the flowers from the cold temps, now you will have no fruit. Potentially, all your seedling work is lost. The same goes for starting seeds too late. If you start too late, your plant will sprout, it will grow, and you will think, awesome, and, now I can put it into my gardens or containers in spring outdoors, fine, but then you wait and wait and wait after its been growing in the garden, and it is almost early fall and you still don’t have any peppers. You started the seeds too late indoors. Peppers take more weeks to produce their peppers for some varieties (as an example), they have a required longer growing season. Timing is a critical thing. Get yourself a seed sowing calendar, look it over, and count back the number of weeks it indicates on the seed packet (or inside the packet) as to when to sow your seeds indoors. You count back from your last frost date in spring which in Connecticut usually falls around mid-May. If you end up buying seeds from me or a seed kit, I already did all this timing homework for you in my charts and calendars based on the seeds I will have available for sale.

#5) Okay, what else is needed? I guess it is Determination + Enthusiasm. Last year, we had the start of the pandemic and lots of things were short in supply (including some foods), AND as we all know, people were home so they had time to start their own gardens. The enthusiasm to start sowing your own seeds for your own amazing vegetable gardens was very high, and many people came to me for advice and for seeds or seed kits. Everyone was so enthusiastic, I just loved it. The pandemic even created a seed shortage by seed companies because so many people were trying to grow their own for the very first time! But, growing plants from seeds is not like making brownies for the first time. You read the directions on the box, set it in the oven after mixing all as directed, and you are successful, and you eat the brownies. Sometimes in the plant world, there are factors out of our control. So, you read the directions, you sow the seeds, but then all of a sudden there is an issue after planting them outdoors and they’ve been growing for a while. Say it is blossom end rot or a tomato horn worm, and ack! You are bummed!! But if you are still determined, you will succeed. So you take on the challenge, fix it if possible, and then you reap the rewards of an amazing tomato harvest or pepper harvest. And it feels good, it tastes good, and it is right there at your finger tips. Oh, again, that makes me remember something, I think cherry tomatoes are easier to grow from seed than regular tomatoes, so that is another tip for beginners. Usually you get lots of cherry tomatoes! Like tons of them! Did I say that already?

Heirloom Tomatoes I grew from Seed!

Will those of you who gave tomato and pepper growing from seed last season give it a go again this season? Yes! I know you will. I know there are some of you that so enjoyed it, you are on board. But maybe not, maybe you thought all these considerations were too much, too many things to think about, and if you don’t like to water plants, talk to them, and treat them like a cherished pet dog that needs care, well, then maybe you won’t. That’s okay too. The choice is yours and if you decide to make that choice again this season, and get seeds and/or seed starting kits from me, I promise to be your cheerleader and encourage you as well as give you as much information as I can about how to start sowing seeds indoors based on my experience.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

For details about my seed offerings, visit http://www.WorkshopsCT.com.