Storm Proof Tomatoes

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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.

Cathy T’s Deck 2021 – Tomatoes before storms, early in the season

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.

Before storms and before damage from squirrel jumping 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.

A few Tiny Tim tomatoes ripening first week of August 2021

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.

Tiny Tim Plant

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.

Mandurang Moon Tomato

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.

Color of Mandurang Moon Tomato Fruit

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).

Every bite counts

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.

Green Tomatoes

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.

A friend’s Cherokee Purple

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!

My Growing 2021

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.

Ancho Poblanos Peppers

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.

Grilled Ancho Poblanos 2021

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.

Lots of Serranos on the plant – still green (8/6/21)
Stoneridge Tomatoes

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.

Growing in Spring

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

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

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

Easy Seeds to Sow are Lettuce Seeds

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Soft and fresh tender lettuce leaves were something I cherished from my father’s garden when I lived at home growing up. My mother made a homemade dressing with light white cream and some fresh chopped up dark green chives. She would toss the freshly picked and cleaned lettuce leaves with her easy made dressing and it was the most refreshing, light, and airy salad bowl you could eat. I think I most enjoyed the tenderness of the leaves. Soft and fresh, full of flavor, and nutritious. The slightly oniony taste of her dressing from the chives would cling and drip from the leaves as I happily munched a bowl of the greens. No need to add anything else, always delicious.

One of the easiest seeds to grow

Lettuce mixes are one of the easiest seeds to sow and grow. However, they do not perform well when it is super hot outdoors in the middle of summer, so you may pause during that time, but they are perfect to grow in the cooler times of the season, starting in early spring and again in the fall during the cooler weather. It won’t be long before I start sowing some directly in my pots and watch them grow.

Sow directly in window boxes

Usually I sow lettuce mixes or greens in smaller sized window baskets, hanging baskets, or in bowl shaped containers. Once they start growing a bit, I will sometimes set the container outdoors on sunny days to get fresh air and wonderful sunlight. They tolerate the cold, as long as you don’t leave them out wet and it is freezing outdoors. If the leaves are wet and the temperatures are below freezing, they may get damaged. Otherwise, they are fine in the cooler temperatures of early spring.

I usually set them outside on a small deck table and there have been times I did this when there was still snow on the ground. Then I will take the container back indoors overnight usually. However, in early spring, they may be left outdoors if desired. When I’ve done this, I definitely noticed the lettuce leaves perked up and enjoyed the cooler weather. Think of it like how you enjoy the crunch of a cool salad from the refrigerator. The cold temperatures do not harm the plants as it grows.

Cool season vegetable

Cool season vegetables, which lettuce is one of them, are sown and grown in the spring and fall. They may also continue to grow in summer but if it gets super hot, they may taste bitter. In fact, I think I remember some bitter tasting lettuce moments from my father’s lettuce at times in the summer. But we always were given the option to keep eating them if we wanted to, and that was a good thing. However, the preferred taste was during the cooler seasons.

If you are new to sowing seeds and want something that is easy, give lettuce mixes a try. You literally can scatter the tiny seeds over the top of your seedling or potting mix and cover them with a light amount of soil mix, and then watch them grow. As seen above, the tiny seedlings were starting to appear and because my greenhouse is more on the cooler side, there was no need for heating mats or a very warm spot to get them going, like you need with other types of warm season plants. Starting them indoors in my greenhouse is something I’ve done often and then, as noted above, moved outdoors as the spring temperatures started to go more from winter to spring. I harvest the lettuce leaves at a baby stage or when they get larger to make a fresh salad. Either is fine and they will continue to grow.

This year, I ordered more of the seed packets of a salad lettuce mix and I am offering the packets for sale as well as my kits. If you decided on the lettuce mix choice, I recommend you also try to pick up some window pots or bowl shaped pots to grow the seeds in as it is so easy compared to transplanting. Just make sure the container you select has drainage holes or that you will drill them into the base. If reusing a pot from last year, be sure to wash it thoroughly as noted in my prior blog posts before sowing any seeds in it. But pretty much, any container of at least 6-12 inches deep is recommended.

The mixes are pretty too

I also find lettuce mixes to be very pretty and ornamental in containers and patio pots. The seed packets I have available this season has several varieties of greens and it creates a mix of flavors, textures, and colors. Some greens may be lightly sautéed in pan if desired. Tossing them with some garlic is yummy. Eating lettuce mixes or greens when they are young and tender is the best time. In fact, plain old lettuce or head lettuce is not that tasty, it is the green leafy plants which add the flavor and texture. As you can see in the photo above of a mix I had a couple years back, the lettuce is speckled with dark plum tones. I love the look of that lettuce!

May sow direct in the gardens too

Lettuce mixes also may be sown in succession (repeatedly) and you get plenty of seed in one packet – up to 500 seeds! So if you are careful with sprinkling just the right amount directly into your containers, you may repeat the seed sowing process or sow many containers at a time. And of course, you may directly sow lettuce seeds into raised beds or the gardens of the ground. Shown above is a lettuce mix my friend, Dianne, grew last year. Just look at the deep merlot color of the lettuce sown directly in her raised bed. Wow, impressive. Every time I’ve directly sown seeds in containers, the seeds sprout and start growing and fill the container quite easily. It will be time in just a few weeks, early March, to start this up and I am looking forward to doing so. If you prefer sowing into gardens, you may start the seeds indoors and transplant as soon as the ground in your garden is workable. If there is a freeze after it sprouts, you protect them with a covering. It is best to avoid sowing midsummer as the seed does not germinate well in the hottest parts of the season, and again the flavor is better in cooler seasons.

Seed packets for sale

As noted above, I have seed packets available of a greens lettuce leafy mix and will provide details to anyone interested. The packets may be purchased individually or with a seed sowing kit. I am offering free delivery of the kits in my area of Broad Brook, CT for the next couple weeks. If you are not local, you may request a mailing of the seed packet with a mailing fee applied. But sooner or later, the supplies will run out so I recommend doing so soon. Plus, I will be busy in March sowing and growing my seeds too. And, oh by the way, I invite purchasers to my private Facebook page where I will sow all the seeds I offer and this helps beginners as well. You will see how to sow them and get growing tips all season. Hope you will join me this season. All the details about the kits are on my site called, www.WorkshopsCT.com.

Thank you for visiting and please share this with your friends. See the share links are below.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
http://www.WorkshopsCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
Located in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, Connecticut

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