This week’s weather in my part of Connecticut is fantastic. My tomato babies will love the heat in the greenhouse from the sun and the breezes flowing thru the doors and vents. I am not, however, putting my tomato plants outdoors yet too much because it has been very breezy and windy. I use caution because I don’t want to dry out the delicate tomato start leaves.
This time of year is very busy for plant business people so I don’t really even have that much time to write this am, but as I sip my coffee no. 2, I wanted to post a quick hello and a pic or two. When the breezes subside, I will be rotating out my tomato starts in groupings this week to harden them off (acclimate). I try to avoid full sun and place them on trays where there is some shade from a nearby dawn redwood tree (a tree very useful because it looses its needles in the winter (thus, no shade is cast during winter on my greenhouse) but gets the needles growing now so it provides the shade I enjoy for my hardening off of the tomato plants.
If you put your tomato plants out in full sun immediately from your indoor growing environment, it will burn the leaves and white patches will appear on the leaves afterwards (usually you will see it the next day on the leaves). So I always do shade, part shade, part sun and luckily I have that available. I also use tables, shelves, and it becomes a little crowded, but in addition to focusing on hardening off the plants in non-full sun locations at first, I make sure things are spaced inside and out to allow air circulation around the plants. This helps prevent diseases on the leaves or other issues.
Some of my tomato starts are ready to be potted up and I usually do some to one gallon pots as needed. Others are still okay in their smaller pots, but if they start to lean, I know it is time to twine them to a small wooden stake.
Most of my plants are spoken for now, but I believe I still have some of the wonderful heirloom Cherokee Purples available. And Ground Cherries, those are still small and I’m not sure why, but I have faith they will perform when the time is right. This is the first year I am growing the Ground Cherries from seed. They are like hot pepper plants apparently, they really need heat to grow well from seed. I discovered the ground cherries last year, they taste like pineapple!
Well, this is all I can write for today, I have to get out there, get plants watered, out and then off to a site to prep for planting later this month. BTW, I wait to put my tropical plants and tomatoes/warm season vegetables in their permanent outdoor pots and or grow bags till Memorial Day. Hardening off is taking place now on good days with sun and not too windy or cool conditions. And I will rotate them out in groupings. Plus they still need to grow some. So happy about the great weather to do all!
Have a great day and week! Enjoy this weather!!
Cathy Testa containercathy at gmail.com 860-977-9473 Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT Zone 6b Container Gardener Plant Enthusiast Nature Lover!
I started to transplant seedlings from my seed tray into small pots yesterday. It was a very sunny warm day and a pleasant time to work on this, but it did take me half the day to complete, and I cut back on the amount of seeds I have sown as compared to last year.
Most instructions or reference books will indicate to transplant once the first true leaves have developed. Above is a photo of the stage at which I transplanted them yesterday. Usually, I wait a bit longer for those two top true leaves (above the cotyledons) to be a bit larger, but I had time to work on this and will be away from my greenhouse for the next few days. It will be sunny for a day or so and the temps will rise so putting them into bigger pots will help to reduce moisture loss or chances of soil dry out while I am not here to attend to moisture monitoring. (Tip: Water your seedling tray so the soil is moist before removing the seedling to transplant into a pot.)
I used 5-6″ round pots and added fresh slightly pre-moistened potting mix (not seedling mix) and I used a clean golden knife to make a hole to insert the seedling into. I’m probably over cautious and handle all with care as to not damage the small seedlings. The golden knife was from a utensils set I received as a gift over 30 years ago – yes, as a wedding gift. The funny thing is I never really liked the gold color so I stored the set – and now they are used as gardening tools for me in the greenhouse. I can’t remember who gave that set to me. They would be surprised to know I’m using them this way today.
I make a nice pocket to insert the seedling into the round pot. I do not fertilize at all at this point. The seedlings’ roots are still very fine and tender. I tend to not fertilize at all until a month later. Some recommendations will say to start fertilizing with half-strength with soluble plant food. I don’t do this at this stage. They will be able to stay in these pots for a 2-3 weeks, I think. I’ll keep you posted as I go along. It really depends on the amount of sunshine we get for growth results. (Tip: Remember, it still can snow in April – it did on 4/16/21).
I put some of them on a table set in the middle of my greenhouse and others on table racks. (Note: I do not recommend leaving on the glass like I did above, it is better to have air circulation below the pot as well as above, in my opinion. But sometimes I run out of space.) These are Cherokee Heirlooms above. Again, I usually wait till the seedlings are a bit larger but I had the time to do the work yesterday, so I got it started.
I also have quite a few Fox Cherry (yummy!!) tomatoes potted up (transplanted) as well. They are looking nice. I’m sure when we get more sunny weather, these will pop up rather quickly in growth. (Tip: If a seed shell is still stuck to the tip of a leaf, use a spray bottle to mist some water lightly on the seed, and it will remove easily.)
You can use seedling mix if you wanted to, but I tend to use potting mix at this stage. I handle them carefully, not pulling by the leaves but gently inserting the golden knife into the seedling tray cells and pushing up the root area as I remove them to put in the black pots. Sometimes I will bury the tomato plant just a little deeper. The stem has tiny hairs that turn into roots, but it is not necessary to do this (plant deeper) if you don’t want to. If your seedlings are leggy and stretchy however, this can be helpful.
I sowed these for the first time last year, the Goldies! See photo below. We had too much rain last year when they were outside, but I am hopeful this year will be better for these babies. I am careful to not over water them right now, because they are so tiny and tender right now, I don’t want any rot to set in at the base of the stem. Good air circulation on hot days in the greenhouse is helpful. If the sun is out and the temps rise quickly, vent the doors, and turn on a light fan. It is important to not make the soil soaking wet, and checking them often. At least I do.
Well, just a short post for today. We are getting rain all morning, up to 1 pm, then will be sun this afternoon, some of tomorrow will be sunny too. Bring on that sunshine. My new little tomato starts need them.
Remember, if you are local and interested in some of my tomato starter plants in mid-May, get on my list. I am not growing as many as last year, due to trying to conserve expenses (pots, soil, etc).
Growing tomatoes definitely does NOT suck. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of summer container gardening!
I’m in the early stages of seed sowing this year, and here are some photos to share with basic tips, with all kidding aside! 🙂
Tip No. 1 – Pre-moisten the seedling mix
I use a clear bowl and pour a small bag of “seedling” mix into it and then add water from my watering can. Using a clean and sterilized small scoop or utensil, gently stir the mix. It is best if you are able to do this a night before to allow the mix to absorb moisture, but a few hours before is fine as well, but this step is crucial. Allow that mix to take up a bit of moisture so it won’t float out of your seed tray and also the mix sometimes needs to rehydrate before use.
Tip No. 2 – Use a clean tool to make a tiny hole
Sometimes I have used a bamboo skewer, or you may just use your hands, I guess, but I prefer to make a tiny hole with a tool and then drop the seed into the hole with tweezers. You have the option of one seed per cell or a few seeds (and separate them later), but I tend to do one per cell in most cases. Again, make sure the tool you use is clean and I avoid reusing them unless they are easily cleaned. What I mean is after one tray, I may toss out that little plastic straw I used or put it in a recycle bin for use other than seed sowing. Be careful not to transmit things from tools. I’m referring to sowing tomato seeds in this post (and some of the hot pepper seeds).
Tip No. 3 – Seeds In Hand
Pour some seed into your hand or a paper cup as you work to drop them into the seedling mix – guess this is not really a tip but I have a good pic of me with some tomato seeds in my hand. Make sure if your hands happen to be wet to not to put an unsown seed back into your seedling packet because you will transfer some moisture from your hand to the seed to the packet. If you don’t use all of the seeds in your seed packet, store the packet in a cool, dark, dry place away from hot sun, temp flux’s, or moisture or damp conditions. And know how long seeds last for whatever you are sowing. Some seeds last 25 years, others last 2 years.
Tip No. 4 – Use a Grow Light
This is the first year I am using a high output energy efficient high bay fixture grow lamp. My trays are in my greenhouse BUT we get lots of cloudy days when I start to sow seeds in my area of Connecticut (usually starting in March thru May). On the cloudy days, I’ve been turning on the light. It hangs over the trays with a pendant chain which I am able to lower and rise the position of the lamp fixture by taking the chain and an S-hook to adjust it. I do not have it on a timer, I turn it on in the mornings on cloudy days, and turn it off by dinner time. It is only needed when the seeds germinate and are showing above the soil. This is a fluorescent lamp style. Tip is to watch it carefully as the seedlings grow so you do not burn the foliage as they grow higher.
Tip No. 5: Use clear coversto help maintain moisture of the seedling mix until they germinate is very much recommended, however, I tend to not do that – because I work from home, I check the trays every day at least twice a day. I look to see if some cells have dry soil (lighter in color, touch top to feel moisture if need be), while others are still are moist. I literally will carefully water only the ones that are dry, so because I am home and a plant addict, I check them often. If I was not home all day, I would be concerned about them getting too dry and go with the clear dome covers instead to help retain moisture during the phase of waiting for the seeds to germinate.
Tip. No. 6 – All same type of seeds in a tray
I made one minor error, I put tomato seeds in the same big tray in several rows and in the same tray, some hot pepper seeds in adjacent rows. Pepper seeds take a lot longer to germinate (3 weeks) because they really like very warm soil and air temperatures, while the tomato seeds germinated in five days! So now I am like, ah, I have to put the tomato side under the light. Next time, I will avoid that scenario. They only need the light when they rise above the soil. Hopefully this is making sense, LOL.
Other General Tips for Sowing Stages:
Don’t sow too early. Don’t sow too late. Know the timing. I’ve discussed in prior posts. Visit trays twice a day to monitor watering, as noted above unless using dome covers. Take photos, its fun and it allows you to see adjustment ideas for the next season. Label seed packets with a Sharpie marker if seeds are still in the packet (I put a dot on the back if I used only some of the seed and a check mark on the back if all seeds were used.) Record the date sown on the plant label and on a wall calendar or notebook. When the planting season arrives, you will get too busy. Taking notes is important. Remember that in mid-May (for CT zones), you have to harden off the seedlings outdoors for a while before you actually plant them in patio pots, grow bags, raised gardens, etc. Watch the weather forecasts. Target your weeks before based on the expected last spring frost in May (usually mid-May). Target your planting time when safe to plant outside (usually around Memorial Day, usually).
Types of Lights
I did minimal research on lights to be honest. There are several types of artificial lights for the greenhouse world. You do not need lights when the sun is shining in a greehouse for seedlings of this type, and the heat rises in a greenhouse quickly on sunny days, so you may need the alternate – a fan, or small gentle fan for your trays. Using a light should help the strength of my seedlings this year. As I’ve noted above, for many years, I did not use grow lights at all and I was successful. There are incandescent lights, high intensity discharge lights, fluorescent lights (the type I got), and light emitting diode (LED). All of these I will research when I have time I guess! LOL. Some are more expensive than others and some are hotter than others. Note: Some fluorescent fixtures are not good enough for other types of plants, but they work for seedlings with the right T strength. It is too complicated for me to go into and I’m still just learning about them so not much more I can offer on that for now, but if you do get lights, be sure you consider the placement, how you will adjust the height of them or the trays below. I read someone said they use books to raise the trays, rather than lower the light fixture but I also have a heat mat below. And I don’t want to bring books that may get wet into my greenhouse and keep dampness below the trays. Yes, I’m an*al that way – I over think it. Do research on the lights first if you have never used them, there are lots of neat setups now for indoor home growers. I just read of one that is a small shelving system perfect for apartments with lights already installed, etc. Many options out there.
And tomatoes do not s*ck – I was just kidding – it was a joke. Don’t slap me. Sorry, couldn’t help it.
Have a GREAT weekend!
Cathy Testa 860-977-9473 Container Garden Enthusiast Zone 6b Connecticut Dated: 4/1/2022 April Fool’s Day
Potting Mix is probably one of the most important aspects of success for growing healthy plants in patio pots. It must be a quality product. If the bag of soilless mix is damaged, not a good brand, or these days, possibly unavailable, you are in trouble.
Every single product or tool we use to grow plants (pots, trays, fertilizer, seeds, soilless mixes and specialty media, labels, etc.) has increased in prices and there are continued delays in the supply chain. This will affect all of us this year again potentially, however, it won’t stop us (because we love plants, or course! But I see it coming and if you haven’t noticed these issues, you will.)
I usually don’t make my own potting mixes for my container gardens, seedlings, or starter plants, but this year, I am highly considering it. In fact, I just read an article here, where they share a downloadable PDF file of how to make your own potting mixes. BTW, I trust sources from universities or extension services the most. By making your own mix, you are in complete control of each component. I’m guessing it may be cheaper but I am not sure until I compare apples to apples, so to speak. However, there is such an ease with opening a reliable trusted brand of professional potting mixes, if they are available and fresh.
Traditional pre-made potting mixes contain perlite and/or vermiculite, and peat. Good mixes are light-weight, have good water holding capacity, and mixes vary based on the specific growing needs (seeds, transplanting, bedding plants, plugs, potting up, etc.). Some mixes will have things like beneficial mycorrhizal (or biofungicides to prevent root diseases). Some will contain alternatives to peat, such as coir. Some have organic fertilizer added, and some don’t. Some mixes are pH adjusted and contain starter nutrients. This list goes on and on, and it all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? That is if you can find it and trust it.
After using various bagged potting and soilless container mixes for ten years, I am able to tell when a mix is healthy the minute I opened the bag. I’ve talked about what to look out for when you buy potting mix for your container gardens, patio pots, and planters here on my blog. I still need to update that article I wrote, called “The 5 Must-Do’s for Successful Container Gardening” which I wrote a long time ago and did a brief update to it in 2019. But it still needs lots of work. Potting mixes is a big topic. I just haven’t had the time to really dive into a more extensive version of that article.
Now here we are in 2022. And I’m frustrated with the potting mix scene. I’m not alone. Lots of plant related Facebook groups have questions on potting mixes. People are frustrated because they get issues in or from the mixes (i.e., fungus gnats), and they just want good results, and so do I. They fear using the wrong type or brand, and even I have from time to time. Why? Because lately some results from “some” mixes let me down, and now with supply-chain issues, I wonder how this will impact availability and quality of mixes in 2022.
Potting mixes are like a good foundation to building a house. And we all know what happened when one ingredient in concrete for home foundations became a huge issue, where houses had to be lifted and new foundation poured because house foundations were cracking and deteriorating. Well, I kind of feel this way about potting mixes. Potting mixes are the foundation to starting seeds, potting up your indoor houseplants, and building up soil mixes in your outdoor container gardens and patio pots, along with other components as needed. If one thing is wrong with them, it may lead to issues (e.g., poor drainage, insects harboring, or no moisture holding capacity). And there are many sources of potting mix brands out in the market, and it is growing, as defined in this link based on recent market analysis. The affects of COVID have impacted production and demand. It makes me wonder, what will roll out of those long awaited semi-loaded trucks, when they do arrive.
For years, I had no issues acquiring the potting soilless mixes I needed, but the past couple years, eh, I’ve encountered some issues. And this year, because of all the things still impacting our supply chains overall, well, there are now potential issues with availability. This is my prediction, but we will see. I did receive a comment that orders were all back ordered a few months ago but the bottom line is lately we just can not predict what will happen next. So, my overall thought is, will potting mixes be in short-supply this year? And how will you or I manage that if so? What adjustments will need to be made? And also, remember, being flexible in the growing scene is key. I struggle with this because I want to be in control, but I’ve learned over the years, you must be flexible and strong! LOL. Because growing plants is a science and an art, and a bit of a guessing game sometimes too.
Cathy Testa Container Gardening containercathy at gmail.com Zone 6b
I have tons of gardening and plant reference books in my home office on tropical plants, succulents, landscape designs, perennials, woody trees and shrubs, vegetables, herbs, fruits, container gardening, and more plant related topics, but I do not have many reference books specifically about annual flowering plants (such as sunflowers, zinnias, or marigolds). I guess that is because my passion with plants started with mostly large showy tropical plants, and annual flowers have always been somewhat of a staple plant to me in Connecticut, thus they are not typically the unusual types of plants I enjoy. I use annuals rarely and only when I want that pop of color in a container combination in the summer. I find annual flowers typically look tired towards the end of summer because they are fast growers and push out lots of flowers, exhausting lots of plant energy, whereas tropical plants and their flowers last well into the autumn season here in Connecticut.
However, I discovered upon researching amaranth annual flowers (herbaceous ornamentals or a short-lived perennial in some climates), a particular species caught my eye last year in a seed catalogue. What I read in one of my books is that they are plants from the “tropics” of the Far East (per the one book I have on annuals, which is an old book!). The book indicates they are “brilliant, heavy-looking plants, reaching 3 to 5 feet tall” and grow in rich or poor soils. Another website indicates they are native to India, Africa, and Peru. In some ways, they are similar to the tropical flowering plants I already enjoy; plants from warmer regions. This is why I picked them as a candidate to sow from seed last year, plus the species I selected is a variety that grows much taller than normal, very tall, reaching 48″ tall. This would be perfect as a specimen plant with my other large showy tropical plants such as canna lilies, elephant ears, castor bean plants, or banana plants in my container gardens and patio pots.
Coral Fountain Amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus) Love-Lies-Bleeding, Amaranth, or Tassel Flower
Of all the common names or flower descriptions of this plant, I guess tassel flower represents the flower form the best in my opinion of this species I selected. The plant’s large plumes (technically called inflorescences) dangle down in clusters of coral colored tassels as if they are fastened at the top of tall stalks. The flowers are fuzzy, clumpy, and resemble dreadlocks (another great word to describe their form and appearance!) They are chunky and petal-less. They resemble fountains or waterfalls in form, and may be used in wedding bouquets, as cut flowers in vases (long-lasting), and in container gardens where you wish to present a dramatic unexpected showy element. The foliage is not very large, and are a lime green lighter color on this type of amaranth, and I read the leaves are edible, but I did not experiment with that aspect, yet. After admiring the interesting aspects of this flowering annual with cool attributes, I decided to sow some seeds last year and give them a try.
When to Sow the Seeds
The seeds should be started indoors either at the end of March of middle of April based on our weeks before our typical spring frost timing in Connecticut (or use the appropriate 4-6 weeks before your last frost of your planting area). You may also direct sow these seeds in the ground after the threat of frost has passed (frost threat ends mid-May usually in Connecticut – check your weather and seed sowing charts). The seeds take 75 days (or about 2.5 months) from the time you transplant them to produce flowers. Starting them earlier will give you more time to enjoy the flowers which last well into the end of summer. The seeds are tiny and the packet has up to 250 seeds. That’s a lot of amaranth sowing, so use caution when sowing to not over do it.
Some Sowing Problems I Experienced
However, I experienced some problems when I sowed them. I did a whole flat tray of them, and they seemed to not be really pushing growth a while after germinating, so I painstakingly put them in 2″ round mini pots one by one and thought I’d wait to see if that would help. It did, but one day I left the tray of the mini pots outside by my greenhouse and a rain gutter above rushed water down on them during a rain fall that day – pretty much destroying them all. All the tiny seedlings got stressed and the potting soil completed washed out. My bad – I’ll remember there is a gutter above problem next time, but I did manage to salvage a few seedlings and decided to put them in planters later when they were large enough to transplant after all chances of frost. I think the reason they may have been slow to grow from seed initially is because seeds germinate best at 75-80 degrees F and they need a night temperature of at least 65 degrees F after transplanting. Maybe my night temps at the time in my greenhouse were not warm enough but I am not sure.
Exposure Full Sun or Some Shade
One of the containers I planted them in is a rather large round black container in my back yard (probably at least 3 feet in diameter and about 4 feet tall). I put canna lily plants, elephant ears plants, and some of the amaranth transplants I managed to salvage in it. The seed packet indicated the plants like dry, hot conditions in full sun but will grow in partially shaded areas. The large black round pot is on the east side and gets shade part of the day. The packet also indicates the plants are drought tolerant (and may get root rot in poorly drained soils where is stays wet in the ground all the time, which was not a concern for me since I do all in patio pots and container gardens with sufficient drain holes). A drought tolerant plant is beneficial for container gardening, however, as you don’t have to worry about dragging the watering hose or watering can out there too often in the summer to water it. They are very easy to grow and tolerate poor conditions once the plants start to grow and get established, in fact, you may want to use caution with not overwatering it once it is doing well. Wet soils for this plant may lead to root rot per various sources.
Use Large Pot Sizesand Sturdy Stakes
Because this species of amaranth grows very large and tall, place this plant in an area where you enjoy witnessing them cascading at the corners or edges of your patio pots. Consider taller upright planters because of how the plumes will descend down in big chunks towards the ground level. You want to be able to enjoy how they flow downwards like a waterfall without them hitting the ground. Fortunately, that was the case of my big round black pot in the backyard. As I started to see them progress, I thought about the wild and unusual form being a real show stopper if they were staggered in huge garden. The plums grow so long and become top heavy thus a good support stake is recommended when they start growing flowers. I used thinner bamboo poles which would be hidden against the stalks in the pot. The weight of the flower plumes becomes substantial as they start to grow well and large into the summer months.
Companions with Darker Foliage
Consider pairing it up with plants with darker foliage and use tall plants too. The color of this amaranth’s leaves are a light lime green with an oval shape, and the flowers are a light coral color. It will show up more against a darker foliage plant, like a canna lily with plum colored foliage or a castor bean plant with the darker foliage. And consider pairing them up with other plants which are mid summer bloomers so you will get a mix of bloom colors for the look you wish to achieve in your patio pot or container gardens. I noticed hot pinks looked great with them too for contrast. Think hot pink canna lilies.
Used in Floral Arrangements for Weddings
I started to create a board on Pinterest last season to show what the flowers would look like, but this board is of other photos of various Amaranth plants. I discovered quite a few photos where the flowers are used in wedding bouquets and arrangements, but the only consideration I had on that is when the flowers reach maturity, they tend to drop tons of tiny little seeds. When I placed some in vases last year, it dropped lots of seeds on my outdoor patio table. I wondered how they work with those as cut flowers for floral arranging to avoid that problem (the potential mess it makes), and realized that would take some more research. I now realize you would have to harvest the flower tassels before they mature to avoid the abundant seeds in them later. The flowers plumes bloom from July to frost, and mine were full with flower plumes towards the end of the summer here in Connecticut. If you wanted to grow some for a wedding, you would want the wedding to be a summer wedding and again, harvest them before maturity so you don’t get a situation of tiny black pepper sized looking seeds falling down your wedding aisle runner. The plumes also look great in tall vases and provide a rather exotic interesting vibe in outdoor spaces. They may be used as fresh flowers or in dried flower arrangements. In fact, I saw some in a floral shop this winter and I kicked myself for not saving the plumes of my own last summer.
Food for You or Pollinators
Some reference books indicate they are favored by bees and that is true, I did see lots of bees visiting the tassels of its petal less flowers and took photos, and at times I would witness a bird perch on the tall thick stalks. Additionally, there is some information about how parts of the plant are edible and seeds may be used in porridge. I didn’t really look into that much however. Maybe this year when I grow them again, I will do so. The seed packet indicates amaranth are one of the most nutritious of the ancient grains. This turned out to be a stunning plant, which friends and family noticed, when they visited. I had one by my entrance stairs, and one day, my brother shouted out as he was leaving, “That plant is cool!”
These photos motivate me to sow and grow again in 2022. I know we experienced some rough wet summer weather (as noted in my prior post) last year, but photos are what prompt me to grow again. Let’s hope we have a good growing season this year!
Nothing pleases me more than when a person who purchased a starter plant from me sends or texts me a photo as they start their harvest, such as in this photo above, sent by Shannon. Doesn’t that plate of fresh Goldie tomatoes make your mouth water?! I am planning to grow these golden delicious heirlooms again in 2022.
I also add a new tomato or two to my sowing and growing list for each season and will be providing that list to my regulars or post it on www.WorkshopsCT.com soon.
This photo of a tomato, with a bit of a purple hue, sliced up on a white plate was taken by me last summer. It is the Paul Robeson tomato with orange, green, and purple hues. It produces large sized fruit and the fruit resists cracking. I plan to sow some of these seeds as well this year. Another keeper on my list. And I pray for better weather so I can eat more of these this summer!
An an absolute must to repeat sowing again are the basils. OMG, how can one have a fresh home-grown tomato sliced up on a plate without fresh basil leaves? I can smell it now – almost!
So in January, as I write this, on 1/13/2022, I have decided on which I will sow again and have ordered my new varieties for sowing. Check! Seed ordering done!
On winter days like today, with soft white fresh snow falling, many of us start daydreaming about the seeds we will sow in a few months, and perhaps start planning out our key sowing dates, as well as ordering various supplies for starting our seeds.
Starting Seeds Indoors
Starting seeds indoors is something I’ve been doing for a few years now for warm season vegetables (tomatoes, hot peppers, and some herbs), and every year, I like to try new varieties or heirlooms. I’ve been successful with using my greenhouse to grow my seeds indoors, along with using appropriate supplies and soil mixes, and providing care (watering, monitoring, etc.) without the use of grow lights, however, this year, I think I’m ready to take the plunge and experiment with supplemental lighting.
Types of Lights
This post will not explain what you need, what type of lights you should get, or any of that, because I will be in the midst of researching and starting with just testing out one system of lights above some trays of seeds in a couple months in my greenhouse, however, I can tell you why I feel I should turn on the lights over my trays of seedlings for the first time this year.
Because it will improve the results – I think…
With a greenhouse, you have lots of advantages, such as space, heat, and “natural” sunlight. However, many winter days are cloudy and cold, with not much sunlight at all in the months of February and March (March is usually about when I start my warm season vegetable seeds). Cloudy days limit growing progress, but it won’t stop progress. I have been able to grow my seedlings fairly well but it does slow things down not having sufficient sunlight every day.
Heating Mats, Nursery Pots, Soil Mixes, and Labels…
I thought, because I’ve invested so much already by investing in using the heat mats for seedling trays and everything else, not to mention the cost to heat a greenhouse, why keep on spending? But, in the world of gardening, you always seem to be getting another item to improve your growing processes. I decided I would purchase one of the fluorescent lights sets to hang over the trays during germination and help the plants once they start to grow. My thought is I will only use the lights when the days are cloudy. On sunny days, I’ll allow the sun to warm up the greenhouse and provide the natural sunlight for the plants.
Seeing Lights in Greenhouses
I remember walking into a very large nursery up north once, and they had lights all hanging above, and thinking, hmmm, they use supplemental lights. From what I’ve been reading, the lights should be placed about 3-6″ above the seedling trays once they germinate, but you have to watch you don’t burn anything when you move them this close to the trays. I will be doing so and monitoring how the plants look. There are signs to pay attention to if the lights are too close, which I will know, because I’m accustom to monitoring plants.
Are Lights Needed to Succeed?
Some people will argue that you most definitely need artificial supplemental lights to succeed with growing seedlings indoors, but I’ve always argued that is not 100% true. I’ll let you know what I think after my first season trial with supplemental lights for my seedlings. But, I have done it without supplemental lights for years, so you can do it, but using the lights will improve the seedlings health overall. I’ve used heat mats to help keep the soil warm in the greenhouse, and adding lights may give the seedlings an extra boost. It may take them from normal to champion status. Kind of like training an athlete. Improving each time.
Types of Lights
There are fancier and more modern light options out there beyond the fluorescent types, but I’ve decided I will take baby steps this year. I want simplicity, ease of hanging them, plug in style to an outlet, and give the lights a try. I’ve just ordered the system, and some more nursery pots because I know I’ll go thru them light crazy. Then I decided I need more labels, and the supplies list begins!
Light to Germinate
Most of the seeds I grow require light to germinate (some seeds require darkness), and they need light to grow well once they have germinated in order to grow strongly. Using a greenhouse really helps of course, and/or using the fluorescent lights will improve the results – but if you use both a greenhouse and supplemental lights – it should be awesome, I hope. As long as all other factors are done appropriately along the way, such as using good seedling mix, accurate timing of starting seeds before the frost dates, and monitoring. I usually check my seedlings every day once they germinate.
Plants Produce Their Own Food
Plants use light to produce their own food. If light is not available after they germinate, they are slower growing, they may be stretchy looking from reaching for sunlight, but once natural sunlight is provided on sunny days, if they experienced a day or two of clouds, they tend to rebound very quickly in a greenhouse setting. Plus a greenhouse gets very warm on sunny days! Once I use the new supplemental lights on the cloudy days, I should see them be stronger than ever before. Stay tuned as I share my progress.
Cathy Testa containercathy at gmail.com Broad Brook, CT Zone 6b Area
Is there such a thing as a storm proof tomato? I thought of this after several strong rainstorms here in my area of Connecticut. My dwarf plants and compact tomato plants did not get any damage from the winds.
I put tomato plants on a table this year. My thinking was squirrels would be less likely to jump up if they were a little higher. And I placed a couple pots on the deck floor (red ones shown above) as well. The strategy somewhat worked, along with the fact my cat roams this area, but something did damage my plants besides the rainstorms experienced earlier, because I would find tops bent. I think a squirrel got onto my roof and jumped down onto them.
I placed three tomato plants towards the front of the table, two heirlooms and one dwarf in the center. Behind those big pots are two compact Tiny Tim tomato plants. They did not get any damage and are loaded with tons of green tomatoes.
Tiny Tim Tomato plants are a perfect small container or patio pot size. They grow small grape-like fruit and are much smaller than typical cherry tomato fruit sizes. The plant grew perfectly, no blemishes on the foliage, and lots of green tomatoes forming, but due to our rainy season, it is taking a while for them to ripen. I am hopeful however, each bite counts.
The seed packet indicates this variety will struggle if planted directly into the earth. It is perfect for small containers (mine pot is 14″ diameter and 11″ deep) and it grew perfectly. This one is great for window boxes or to put on a table as a centerpiece. Great with children too. I would have been eating these earlier in the season, but our weather reduced ripening quickly. Placing them behind the big pots helped to hide them from potential tomato robbers too.
The other tomato plant which survived windy rainstorms was the Mandurang Moon Tomato, which is a dwarf, but certainly doesn’t look that way in the photos. It has grown quite tall, about 4.5 ft or so, but it did get toppled over by a squirrel jumping on it from my house roof top. I have to trim back some trees by my deck so they don’t have a way to get on the roof.
The color of these Mandurang Moon’s are a very pale yellow. The plants are disease resistant and the stem is very strong. The stem on dwarfs are thicker and this helped it from being bent by any windy rainstorms this season. Again, lots of fruit for a while now but not ripening very quickly due to our poor weather. Hopefully we still have a chance at some sunny weather to keep things warm for our tomato plants (technically it is time and temp, not necessarily sun to help them ripen).
It’s been disappointing to not have many ripened fruit (yet), but every bite counts. Above is a photo of the Tiny Tim and Mandurang Moon fruit. Nice snackers.
It is a little heartbreaking to see all these fruits on my plants stay green. I just noticed one on my Stoneridge turning this week. Maybe there is still hope. Above is either the Goldie tomato (heirloom with sweet golden flesh – usually!) or the Cherokee Purple – I can’t remember which when I took this photo.
I’ve been worried that this year’s bad weather will discourage my tomato plant buyers next year, but one person sent me this photo of her Cherokee Purple starting to ripen. She told me their plants are huge and she is pleased. That was good news because this year, I grew a lot of starter plants! I love doing so and plan to do so again next year, providing everyone will still be interested!
I’m not kidding when I say, I think I grew about 400 tomato plants this year! Crazy! But most of them sold and I think I tossed out about 30 (after offering them out for free to any non-profit like garden places). I just could not keep up with them, so I will have to cut back a bit next season, if I can.
This was the first year I attempted growing a mix of peppers – one of which is Ancho Poblanos. It is amazing the rich shiny deep black color which evolves from the prior stage of green color. I just placed a few on my grill one day while also cooking some chicken, and they were so delicious! I am excited about these and plan to grow more of these from seeds next season.
I also like to grow hot pepper plants, which I put some of the Matchbox Peppers in the same pot with my Tiny Tims. And I grew Serranos for the first time this season in small pots. One small plant is loaded with the Serranos – all green right now. I have to figure out the best way to preserve them. Still wondering when they will turn red, but the plant is healthy.
My Stone Ridge tomato plant has lots of big fruit now too – about 2 are just starting to change color. I am not sure how the flavor will be as it seems all is behind schedule this season. The plant is extremely tall (over 6 ft) and still producing flowers. It can grow to 8 feet tall and is a big indeterminate plant.
So, this year’s lesson, the dwarf and compact plants survived the gusty rain storms, but the rain fall slowed down the ripening of our tomato fruit. Mother Nature never ceases to provide a new twist on the season’s challenges. She keeps us in check always!
Have a great weekend!
Cathy Testa Container Gardener and Installer Grower of Tomato Starts Blogger Kayaker (when not busy!) Plant Gift Creator
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
Thank you for visiting. Please feel free to ask questions.
Cathy Testa 860-977-9473 email@example.com Container Garden Designer Small Time Grower One-Woman Owned Business Plant Enthusiast Location: Broad Brook, Connecticut Post dated: April 28, 2021