Hardening Off Tomatoes 2022

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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!

Ground Cherries from a site I visited last year in New Hampshire – inspired me to try them this year!

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!

Seedlings and Transplanting

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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.

Seedling Tray as of 4/11/22

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.)

Into Potting Mix

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.

Seedling Size as of 4/11/22

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).

On a table

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.

Fox Cherry Tomatoes

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.)

Liking the Look of My Foxes!

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.

Goldie Heirlooms

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.

Last year’s Goldie!

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).

Thanks,

Cathy Testa
Zone 6b, CT
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
containercathy at gmail.com
860-977-9473
www.WorkshopsCT.com (products)
www.ContainerGardensCT.com (container designer)
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com (blog)

Cherokee on a Plant in 2021

Growing Tomatoes Sucks

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Ha! Ha! April Fools!

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! 🙂

Pre-Moisten

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.

Close Up of the Seedling Mix in a Tray
Make a little hole

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.

Seeds in Hands
On Seedling Heat Mats and Under Grow Lights

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.

Covers – Natural Sun was Hitting them in this photo one morning

Tip No. 5: Use clear covers to 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.

My Tomato Jungle Last Year (2021)

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

These Tassel like Flowers will Hang to the Ground and Last for Weeks in Container Gardens

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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.

Container Gardens by Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT – Featuring Amaranthus caudatus

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.

Coral Fountain Amaranth – Cascading Plumes

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.

Seeds Sown in a Flat Tray

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.

ACK! Rain gutters heavy downpour washed out all the soil

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.

An Insect was visiting some of the foliage

Use Large Pot Sizes and 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.

Castor Bean Plant Bottom Right with Darker Foliage
Coral Fountain Amaranth (bottom) near the dark foliage of an Alocasia (above)

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.

In a Vase at Cathy T’s

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.

Bees Loved – Many Visited!

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!”

Amaranthus definitely have a cool vibe!

Cathy Testa
Container Garden Designer
Broad Brook, Connecticut
Zone 6b
860-977-9473
containercathy at gmail.com
See also:
http://www.WorkshopsCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com

By My Stairs – the planting my Brother noticed one day!
Great Plant for our Important Bee Pollinators

Tomato Seed Sowing and Planning

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Tomato Plants 2021
Tomato Pots Deck 2021

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!

Goldie Tomato – an Heirloom

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.

Paul Robeson Tomato – 2021

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!

Basil 2021

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!

Cathy Testa
Zone 6b Connecticut
Container Crazy CT
WorkshopsCT
Container Gardens CT

Turning on the Lights

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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.

Baskets of Herbs I Grew without Supplemental Lights

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

Making Crushed Red Hot Pepper Flakes

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One way to extend your summer harvest of hot peppers is to make hot pepper flakes. I will say this prior to writing my process, I am not an expert in this process and just tried it out this season, and did the same process with yellow hot peppers a couple years ago, and it worked out well.

Serranos

I grew several types of hot pepper plants this season in containers and patio pots, all started from seed: Serranos (above photo), Matchbox (red pointy ends; grows on small compact plants), Habaneros (small yellow ones), and others like Ancho Poblanos (not shown in these photos).

Place on a cookie sheet

Ignore the big round ones (Cherry Bombs – too hot for us! And a bit more difficult to dry using this oven this method).

Dried in the oven

I don’t have an air fryer and wondered how that would work for drying out hot peppers, but anyhow, all I do is line them out on the cookie sheet, put them in the oven at a low temperature (175 degrees) and let them sit ALL day in there. I will check them occasionally, maybe shake the cookie sheet to toss them around, and just wait. The house will have a unique cooking smell.

Drying in the Oven at a Low Temp

It will take all day or maybe even out that night and put back in the next day for a few more hours to dry them out. I will cut some in half mid-way thru the drying process. Be very careful as the oils will get on your finger tips. Then if you touch your face, you will get a burning sensation.

Mini Grinder

Pick out all the peppers that are completely dry from your cookie sheet after it has cooled, and put them into a mini food processor grinder and pulse away. It is that easy. (Remove stems prior – again, you may want to wear gloves as the oils easily get onto your hands.)

Do not use any that are mushy

Note: Do not put any peppers in the processor that are still soft and not completely dry because they will just mold in the jar later. (For example, the big round ones, called Cherry Bombs, were just too mushy so I left those out.)

Grinded

After pulsing the mini grinder, wow, look at this beautiful color of very hot pepper flakes. I put my nose over the mix and it gagged me – not kidding. The scents were that powerful. I won’t be able to use these myself, but my husband will though. He shakes it on his soups and other meals during the winter. One jar is enough for the winter, but I’m sure he’d use more if I made more.

Ready for winter recipes

Use a Shaker Style Jar with holes in the lid

It is best to use a jar with a lid that has the open holes to shake and also, I will leave the open area open for a few days and toss these around to help the air circulation. It is important to not have any moist flakes in this – or it will just mold later. So when you dry them in the oven, be sure to not use any that are soft and not fully dried.

Growing Hot Peppers

I want to learn more about growing hot peppers because making these flakes is actually fun. There are probably better ways to dry them out – but everyone usually has an oven so this is a method I tried and it works out – for my husband. I can’t eat these – they are too hot for me.

Great Container Garden Plants

It was easy to grow various hot peppers in container gardens and patio pots. They are pretty much carefree. They like a very sunny location and do well in potting mix soils with regular watering as needed. Most of them turned to their specific ripe colors around the end of August and some still ripening in September (in my areas of Connecticut; Zone 6b). The plants can stay out till our fall frost which happens around mid to late October.

Starting from Seed Indoors

Starting them is an early start in March (about 8-10 weeks before our spring frost (referred to as a last frost). The seeds require a warm spot (80 degrees is ideal) so be sure to use seed heating mats and place in a warm location to grow them from seeds. They are transplanted into container gardens and patio pots 3 weeks after spring frost has passed.

Care

Basically, only thing you need is a good watering routine and perhaps some small thin stakes as some of my plants got rather tall (the serrano and habaneros). The other, Matchbox hot pepper, stays compact and is perfect for smaller pots. They are pretty too – covered in bright red vivid peppers. I find they do not get affected by insects or wild animals (like squirrels).

Uses

Think spicy Shrimp Fra Diavolo. I love making it in the winter months. It is also wonderful shaked into soups, stews, on top pasta dishes, and in chili recipes. If you can handle the hot spricy flavors and heat, it is wonderful.

Starter Plants

Because the seeds need good warmth (as noted above), they can be a little more demanding for starting from seeds, but I will try again next season. I have starter plants available in May so look me up if local and interested in the spring time.

Thank you for visiting,

Cathy Testa
Container Gardener
Container Garden Installer – for hire!
Hot pepper grower
Today’s date: 9/22/2021
Week’s weather: Rain rest of week, mid-70’s day
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Xanthosoma Surprise

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I had ordered more of the upright giant like elephant’s ear (taro) tubers to grow this spring but some of them gave me problems. There were some soft spots on them but I planted some anyhow and waited to see the outcome.

It took a long time for them to sprout and they grew slowly. Later, however, I noticed two tubers I planted in starter nursery style pots were forming clumps and the leaves looked different than what was to be expected for the tubers I ordered. It turned out two of the tubers were not the type of elephant’s ears I had ordered. They turned out to be a surprise. The company sent me the wrong tubers.

Xanthosoma (zan-tho-SO-muh)

Thus, it looks like I have a new name to memorize! Maybe I will call it Xant for short when I point it out to friends. Upon researching the plant and looking it over, I am pretty sure it is an Xanthosoma. The leaves are shaped with an indentation in the middle (like a shield). It is definitely not the Alocasia (an upright type) I was expecting yet it turned out to be a nice surprise to add to my collection of elephant’s ear plants.

I looked over the veins on the leaves as they were forming and a vein runs along the outside edge of the foliage, a distinct difference compared to my large giant upright elephant’s ears which do not have this particular vein pattern. I’m happy that a mistake was made by the company where I purchased the tubers from because now I have two of these gorgeous plants started. They also form a nice mass or clump of stalks with many leaves.

Xanthosoma in the center on the steps

The location where I put two potted plants of these received part sun all summer since putting them outdoors after our spring frost. I love the way it added to the tropical vibe between the tall canna lily plants. I usually pot ALL my plants into large patio pots with fresh soil but I just inserted the Xanthosoma in a decorative pot (blue one) rather than repot it, and I made the mistake of using an outer decorative blue pot with no drain holes, so every time we had a downpour of rain (often this year in 2021), I would have to take the inner nursery pot used to start the tubers out and pour the rain water out of the outer pot which didn’t drain.

Close up of Leaves – Believe it is an Xanthosoma elephant’s ear plant
Rain drops on the leaves

This is considered a tuberous perennial hardy in zones 9-11. It grows about 2-3 feet tall and I will store it the way I do most of my other elephant’s ear plants, by either digging out the tubers and storing in my basement in boxes, or taking the whole plant into my greenhouse for the winter. I probably will put one plant in the greenhouse to see how it tolerates lower temps and store the other via the tuber method.

During the summer, I started to fertilize it weekly and the soil was kept on the moist side all summer because of our routine rainfalls this season, which is what this plant prefers (moist soils). Hopefully, I will be successful at re-growing this variety next season. Eventually the foliage color improved and got darker, etc.

Zingiberaceae (zin-ji-bah-RAY-see-aye)

Oh gosh, another long name to memorize! This also is a new plant I tried this season, but not a mistake, a purchase from a local nursery. I saw it and immediately had to have it. It is a ginger plant (variegated with the yellow and green leaves) and I knew it would fit in with my tropical plant vibe.

I know I have the plant tag somewhere in my office. I will have to locate it. I’ve read that gingers are cold-hard in zone 7b, but we are in zone 6, so I have to figure out how to over winter it. Isn’t it gorgeous?!

Variegated Ginger Plant

Of all the new plants on my deck, this one is my favorite and a must keep. I don’t have room for it in the house and I am not sure yet if it will tolerate my low-temp greenhouse for the winter. I am considering dividing and and storing half by digging up the rhizomes and perhaps keeping half of the plant in tact, repot and put it in the greenhouse.

When I first got this plant, I planted it in a big blue planter but it wasn’t happy. The leaves would roll up and seemed to be coiling up from the sun’s heat. So I moved it and it still wasn’t happy mid deck where sun would hit it mid-day. Then I moved it further to the end where there is plenty of shade, and it thrived. It appears to do best in part shade. It also did not like drying out so I kept the soil moist. I always put time released or slow release fertilizer into my potted plants, but I also started to give it a balanced liquid fertilizer every couple weeks or so when I was pouring fertilizer on my other deck blooming plants. It definitely enjoyed that and took off. It is healthy and huge and I just love it. It did not flower however this season.

A Ginger Plant – Early Morning Photo
It’s Happy Place, where there was shade most of day except very early am’s.

Learning how to overwinter plants is often a trial and error process. Over the years, I have been very successful with overwintering various tropical plants. These two above will be new ones for me.

Another Agave

I also decided to repot an agave (another one) yesterday. It was in a green tall glazed pot and the pot was so extremely heavy, I knew the soil was staying way too wet. I wondered why, it had a drain hole and so I took the whole plant out and saw the soil was a very dark rich black color, so I think I may have put it compost. Again, rushing is not a good thing. I probably was rushing, grabbed some compost and planted it in that despite knowing agaves need well draining soil. That soil just retained way too much moisture, so I repotted it into a lower pot yesterday, adding perlite to professional potting mix, and put it in the greenhouse. This is a photo I took of it. You can tell the lower leaves are off color – a bit yellow – showing signs of just too much moisture. It should recover now.

Another Agave Repotted

I usually don’t get bothered by mosquitoes on my deck or in the yard, but this year, they are on killer attack. It has been difficult to work outside without getting dive bombed by them. They have bit me on the ear lobes, on my face and fingers, and legs. Why do I mention that, I’m not sure, but it makes me wonder how on earth landscapers do it all in this wet weather. For me, my motivations is the love of plants and how it makes me feel every time I look at them. Looking at my two new plants offered me curiosity and relaxation and I certainly want to do my best to keep them so I may regrow them next season.

What is next?

I will probably ask my husband to help me this weekend to move some of my bigger pots into the greenhouse so I don’t hurt myself! And we use the hand-truck and it is not too difficult. As mentioned prior, I’m doing some work early. I’ve already disassembled my tomato planters and I threw out some herbs too. I had to literally talk myself into taking out the herbs because some still looked okay but I had to repeat to myself, take them out – you will be too busy later. I also took down a long shelf style planter with several Mangaves and Agaves and moved them into the greenhouse and put the long two tiered planter in my home. My home doesn’t get enough sunlight for all of the plants, so the planter will be used for something else, we will see!

Next to do will be to disassemble some of my canna lily plants. I really need to take apart the rhizomes and un-crowd the pots. When you leave them in a clump year after year (if you store them that way), eventually they get too pot bound and won’t produce flowers. I also collect seeds this time of year from my Canna lily plants.

I’m also collecting Datura seeds for a new one I planted this season, it has purple upright flowers. Since collecting the seeds for this plant is new to me, we will see if I’m successful. The key is to wait till the seeds are fully ripened, and also to do some research. Each type of plant is different. I read you can put paper bags over the Datura seed pods and let them crack open and the seeds will fall into the bag. I didn’t use this method (yet), but it is a good idea – IF IT DOESN’T RAIN, which it did again last night. This means more mosquitoes! Ack.

One thing I just love about tropical plants is how fast they grow. They really make a show in one season. Years ago when my friends would visit, they would rush to my deck to look at all my plants and see what I had out. However, now I notice they just know I will have lots of plants and don’t seem as “surprised” as they used to, plus many have learned some tricks from me and have tropical plants of their own now. I guess they just expect Cathy T’s deck is always over loaded with plants – and I actually cut back this year. Giggle!

Well, I’m kind of rambling. Sorry about that. Hope this post is helpful or enjoyable – which ever is best for you!

Cathy Testa
Container Gardener
Connecticut
860-977-9473
Lots of photos on my Instagram under Container Crazy CT
Date of this post: 9/10/2021
Today’s Weather: Mostly Sunny 68-70 degrees F
This weekend – sunny all weekend –YIPEE!!!

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

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